Food, Sex, Power, Possessions, Arts, Psychology, and Religion: Why none of it helps or matters.

After hitting “publish” yesterday afternoon, I really didn’t plan on sitting down to write again until next weekend, but an event from this morning caused me to change my mind.

I woke up, disoriented, around 8:30. I dug my way out of my thick, blue comforter (that features golden sun and moon shapes) and spotted German Shepherd #1, lying nicely on the floor. He heard rustling, picked up his head, and we locked eyes. Before the whining had a chance to begin, I murmured that yes, we’d be going outside soon.

I threw on some clothes (dinosaur pajama pants and a black T) and skipped down the stairs, Bruster trotting eagerly behind me. We went outside together, where Silo (German Shepherd #2) was waiting, already smiling, already bouncy.

 

After throwing the stick and then the ball and then the stick and then the ball twenty times in a row, I returned to the house, leaving my small but growing GSD posse frolicking in the backyard. I rinsed dishes and placed them into the dishwasher; sprayed disinfectant onto the counter tops and then wiped them dry; and then I transported some of my and Charlie’s misplaced things (a belt, binoculars, junk mail and a month-and-a-half-late birthday card from my grandparents) from the diner table to our respective bedrooms.

I’d received the birthday cards two days before; it was sealed in a bright orange envelope and addressed to Rose (Jace) Yarbrough. I smiled; awwwww. Thanks for meeting me halfway, guys.

“You should be receiving your birthday card sometime THIS week,” Sierra had foreshadowed on the phone a few days before the card arrived.

“Grampy specifically waited to mail your birthday money because he wanted to send it inside of a Halloween card,” she explained, laughing a little.

 

With the diner table cleared off, I looked down at the old tile floor that’s been in this room, the hallway, and the dining room since the late 60s; it had such a thorough film of dirt on it that it looked like some sort of artsy, half-assed attempt at modge podge. I ran my bare foot across its surface and grimaced. I thought about the laundry piling up near the washer; I couldn’t even remember what was clean and what was dirty anymore. I remembered that there were broken bits of trim and shards of door hiding behind the master bedroom door, and recalled how musty the room had smelled the last time I walked into it.. how I’d ventured into the closet, where, now, only a few empty hangers, an unloved stuffed animal, and a box containing my wedding dress, gloves, and tiara sat.

 

I sighed. There was a lot of cleaning I could do today. I could also make phone calls; finally have the garage repairman come out and repair the electronic wiring shit that had been malfunctioning for two years. I’d already rescheduled with him 4 times. I could call Sarah instead, my old realtor; ask her who she’d recommend to paint water-damaged ceilings, and who could also maybe repair three partially destroyed doors and doorways. And then there was the living room.. it was this awful white-half-way-turned-yellow color; Vernon had recommended that I paint over it with a neutral color. Gray? I asked myself. Would that work? I like gray. Will the next homeowner like gray? My house isn’t even on the market yet — it might be a year, or three years, or eleven before I attempt to relist it. But these things are already on my mind. My mind is always racing. It’s impossible to just sit somewhere and think and feel and do nothing.

 

I sighed.

 

I suddenly remembered that there was leftover pasta salad in the fridge — Charlie and I had prepared it the night before; boiled noodles tossed in olive oil, Italian dressing, and balsamic vinaigrette with portobello mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, minced garlic and homegrown shallots. Delicious.

 

I poured some of it into a bowl, prepared a sandwich, and sliced a kiwi. I sat down at the table to eat my breakfast + lunch combo and decided to skip out on visiting my Facebook feed; there wouldn’t be anything new there.

 

Instead, I pulled up YouTube for the first time in a while and wondered what I could find to watch. Something interesting, I hoped. I’m not feeling a music video or cooking show tutorial right now.

 

In the “Recommended For You” section, a video title caught my attention: “How to Make Yourself a Better Person by Alan Watts.”

 

Ahhh.. self-help, I mused, mockingly. But still; I couldn’t help but click on it. I’ll watch 45, 50 seconds. If it seems lame, I’ll turn it off.

 

But the subject matter was riveting, so I ended up watching the whole 11-minute long video. I can’t accurately describe the impact that it made (and how much it resonated with me), but I’m including a paraphrased version of my favorite excerpts below.

 

You want to make yourself better, but you don’t know what will make you better or who can help you. So do this: Watch your thoughts. Feelings. Emotions. Build up a sense of separation between the watcher and what is being watched. Be the witness; impassive, impartial, and observant.

In the quest for happiness, perhaps you found the ordinary pleasures of this world — food, sex, power, and possessions — to be a drag. So you went into the arts; music, poetry, literature.. and discovered that these aren’t the answer, either.

 

“Wow,” I breathed. “It’s like this dude KNOWS me.. like he’s listened to my SoundCloud, read this blog, found my secret collection of personal journals.. all of it.” He continued.

 

So then you went to a psychiatrist, and when you couldn’t find answers there, you finally experimented with religion. But all of this is just seeking what you were originally seeking when you were seeking the candy bar; they — arts, psychology, religion — are just a dressed up and refined candy bar. Material things fall apart, you say, and spiritual things don’t. This is true. But none of it can make you better or keep you happy.

 

Again; that’s my paraphrased, watered down version of everything Watts said. And damn, it hit the spot.

It’s no secret that I struggle with depression, and that it’s (visibly) gotten progressively worse over the last 16 months. My mom thinks that it’s because I’m a divorced atheist (although I gently remind her that I’m an agnostic.. and that there’s a big difference between the two). I struggle with suicidal thoughts constantly — not because I’m miserable, or even sad, but because I’m depressed — overcome — by how futile and empty and inconsequential everything I do and say and love and care about is.

I was married to someone that I loved, and we lived a fairytale life together, and that wasn’t enough to complete me.

I had a beautiful brother who suffered from medical maladies his entire life and who ended up having a seizure and vomiting at the same fucking time and thereby choked to death. One minute, he was enjoying homemade macaroni and cheese and watching a kids movie in his bedroom; the next, he was on the floor.. still, silent, and gone for fucking ever.

I had a best friend for 8 years that I invested everything into and she turned out to be a heartless (but oh so godly) bitch.

And I loved the hell out of all of these people — I loved them unconditionally; I loved exactly who they were, and committed to loving and supporting whoever they turned into (because I knew, and accepted, that who they were would change, constantly). But that wasn’t enough. Come the end of their lives and our relationships, how does the fact that I really loved them matter or ‘count’ at all? How does surrendering to love do anything but promise to hurt and haunt and weigh me down?

And I’m working a job that I’m fortunate to enjoy the nature of, but even so, I have to step back and ask myself — so this is why you’re alive? To love people who leave and forget about you so easily? To work a job so that you can maybe go to school, maybe get a degree, and maybe become an underpaid educator or an intermittently compensated journalist, and then continue working to eat and sleep somewhere safe and buy new clothes that you don’t need and miscellaneous things that you don’t need either and..? Why? Why? Why? 

 

What’s the point?

 

In a recent post, I shared that writing is one of my deepest passions and that, if I could do anything for a living, it would be to live life for the sheer purpose of experiencing people and things, gathering data and details, and then publishing stories about people. So I guess that I’m still here, doing (waves arms around wildly) all of this, because I love to learn, I love to think, and I love to write. But even that seems senseless because of the fact that my words are impermanent; in 100 years, what I’ve written will (most likely) receive no passing view and mean absolutely nothing. These words will mean more to me than they’ll ever mean to anybody else, and I fully get that. So why write? And why stay to write?

 

“But, by staying, you can positively impact the lives of others,” someone might say. And this is true. We all make impacts, and impressions, on others (whether we intend to or not). Our influence might be uplifting, comforting, and inspiring (positive) or discouraging, unkind, and intimidating (negative). I do want to make others feel happy, accepted, loved, capable and important.. but even then; why do that? So we can all continue miserably pushing on for nothing — happily or unhappily working jobs that we’ll retire from X number of years from now and then die shortly thereafter? Do we toil and ‘live’ for the few years of retirement we hope and anticipate we’ll get, when our bodies are old and achy and tired? Or do we stick around for the 2 week-long vacations we take each year, where we either stay at home and lounge about, stupidly scrolling through Facebook and watching politicians perform on overpriced television channels, or do exhaust ourselves and our bank accounts (but become “cultured”) by traveling abroad? Do we keep taking out loans for bigger, better cars and bigger, better houses and waste money eating out in the name of good fun when we could cook healthier and cheaper meals at home? Do we birth children to reassure ourselves that a part of us will continue living and making a difference and being present after we’re just windblown ashes? Does that sort of take the edge off of futility?

 

I had a friend mention, recently, that they constantly struggle against their inclination towards nihilism. When I heard them speak the word, I loved the way it sounded, and when I looked the word up, I thought: Oh wow! So this is what I am at the moment. Somewhat of a nihilist. 

Here are a few web-sourced lines on the subject:

Nihilism is a belief in the pointless of existence. The absence of truth. The absence of reason. It makes existence feel insane and absurd.

Nihilism is used for a lot of positions in philosophy.. but the most common use is the view that nothing we do, nothing we create, and nothing we love has any meaning or value whatsoever.

Nihilism not only captures a philosophical point of view, but a certain mood, a certain melancholy: is this all there is? Is all of humanity just a paltry few years of events on an insignificant planet, about which the universe cares nothing?  Does anything matter?

Nihilism as an accusation is a challenge: if you don’t believe in God, or something else transcendent and eternal, why does anything matter?

 

I went to a show with a friend earlier this week; Die Antwoord (a band from South Africa) was performing. Their genre: hip hop/rave. I knew, from glimpses of images and isolated bits of sound, that the band was sort of out there, but I didn’t know exactly what they were like, and I thought it would be an interesting thing to experience live.

 

die-antwoord
Die Antwoord

 

I had to leave thirty minutes after the show began, after I’d seen enough creepy images on the screen, witnessed far too much twerking by the lead singer (who was, by this point, only wearing red, satin underwear and a baggy t-shirt), and heard too many references involving “motherfucker” and wanting to please “daddy.”

 

I felt sick, and not from the three sips of beer I’d had.

 

Sexual immorality and promiscuity have always troubled and bothered me in a special kind of way — when shown on television, pictured in magazines, or just manifested in life in general. There’s far too much to relate right here, right now. But I’ll say this: when I grew up, the only (unreasonable) expectations of my gender were to shave everything and wear thongs (sidebar: I haven’t shaved in three years now and I’m so fucking proud of it). Now, women have so many other expectations that I won’t go into detail on, but they make me sick.

 

I read the book “Gone Girl” a few months back (I went into the book blind — not knowing the plot or premise; only that it had been really popular and that I’d stumbled upon a free copy at a literary event). But, while reading the novel, one paragraph in particular moved me to the point of tears (because of how devastatingly accurate it was). I’m referencing it below.

Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be.

 

I’d met women like this before — cool girls; I’ve known them in the past, and I know them in the present. And at first, I was amazed by them; I believed them.

Wow — you’re okay with your partner watching porn, going to visit their ex, deleting their phone history every couple of days without explaining why and making you do things, sexually, that you aren’t comfortable with? You’re really cool with all of that?

And then, I began to resent them.

You’re setting the expectation that I should also be okay with these things; that if I’m not, I’m a selfish, withholding, and conservative prude. That I’m uncool.

 

And now, free of the shackles of a relationship and rejecting (nearly) all of society’s expectations, I just feel sorry for the cool girls. The ones who betray their authentic selves to keep up with appearances, and to superficially keep somebody who obviously isn’t worth their time around.

 

But it’s just one thing, among so many other things (discrimination; animal cruelty; unattainable beauty standards; religious warfare), that weighs on my soul; I’ve seen, firsthand, how the world’s level of sexual depravity has lowered itself to unimaginable depths just in the course of the last ten years, and I know it won’t get any better from here. It can’t. That’s not how the world works. It doesn’t re-erect old, broken boundaries; once it’s knocked down one of them — before the shock factor of the demolition has even had time to subside — it’s already preparing to fire at the next one. I know that TV ratings will only become looser; clothes will become shorter, tighter, and more see-through; relationships will become less and less committal and feature more and more ‘full disclosure’ statements at the on start, and I can’t keep pace with any of that. I refuse.

I hate to see young boys (and especially girls) running around the park.. 9-years-old, happy; innocent and free.. it makes me want to cry, because I can only imagine how stressed and miserable and unhealthy and confused they’re going to feel in just a few short years. How they’re going to do things they don’t want to do so they can be with people they think are good for them. How they’re going to question their looks, their worth, their appeal, and the solidity of their and their partner’s relationship constantly. Every day, in my mind, I watch the world burn, hotter and hotter, and I wish I could just finally close my eyes, because it’s torture.

 

So I’ll be honest. The things I love most in life are animals, people, music, and writing, and that’s what’s keeping me here. But if every person that I currently love were to be swept away in a tornado (or otherwise removed from this world), I would see no logical reason to continue living. The biggest reason why I choose to stay is because I can’t bare imagining the aftermath of leaving; how sad family members would be and how startled friends and co-workers would be. But if they were gone, and assisted suicide were legal (I’m sure it is, somewhere; I hate the thought of bleeding out or swallowing a ridiculous number of pills — I can barely take my iron pill with water in the morning without choking), I would handle all of my affairs, re-home my pups, donate my few possessions, and just dip. Why not? I mean really?

 

It is sad when your biggest motivation for staying alive is wanting to keep other people happy.

 

And I’d love to hear from you. Why do you stay? Why do you continue working and eating and sleeping and breathing? It takes more effort than you think to stay alive.. you’re just naturally accustomed to doing the work. So stop for a second and think about it; what makes this life worth it? Why are you still here?

 

 

Aun Aqui

The Most Beautiful (And Expensive) Trashcan In The Whole Entire World

A few months back, me and two of my friends were sitting together in a..

 

youuuuuuuu got it! A cafe. We were all sitting in a cafe together. Typical.

 

And the cafe was Saturn. One of my friends, Reed, had never been to Saturn before, so as he was looking up and around and slowly taking in all of the beautiful, outer space-themed aesthetics, I impatiently asked: “Have you noticed the trashcans yet?”

He flicked his eyes toward me and raised an eyebrow.

“They’re SHAPED like ROCKETSHIPS,” I explained, substantiating my sense of urgency by pointing at one of them.”See?

“Ahhhh. I do see. Nice.”

 

Now that he had a point of reference, I shared with him how deeply I longed to have a rocketship trashcan in my house, and Reed offered a logical solution: “You could walk over to the trashcan, get the brand name, and then try to find it – or a similar one – online?”

 

How brilliant! I marveled. I’m not embarrassed to say that I had never considered the idea before.

 

So I ran over to the rocketship and discovered that the brand name for its design was Wesco. I returned to the table, googled “wesco rocketship trashcan”, and THERE IT WAS! The exact one! For sale, and available to the public! And it was only $350.

 

I experienced a wave of euphoria (joy) and a jab of pain (devastation) at the exact same second; their combined effect sat like a nauseating and swirly mixture in my stomach.

 

“I could never.. justify.. spending three hundred and fifty bucks on a trashcan. I mean Jesus.” I paused, looking across the table at Reed, and then at Charlie. “That would be CRAZY,” I declared, daring (wanting) them to challenge me. Another pause. “Just think of how many burritos you could buy with the same amount of money,” I whispered.

 

So it was settled, then; the trashcan was out there, and it could be mine, but it wouldn’t be.

 

I moved on with life.. with its calming and predictable looping rounds of work and walking and biking and writing and grocery shopping and avoiding the laundry and drinking coffee and tending to the animals. I hung out with a few people. Slept 10 hours a night, every night. Ate burritos and bananas and mashed potatoes and salad. And I wasn’t even sad about the trashcan at all.

 

But then Charlie and I showed up early to a dance party at Saturn (home of the rocketship trashcan) two months ago. And that’s when things got bad again.

While we waited for the beat to drop, we shuffled over to a table with a TV screen that was hooked up to a game system and began a 2-player game of Mario. Once, when it was my turn to play (which actually happened pretty frequently, because Charlie sucks at Mario), Charlie leaned over and whispered: “Now’s your chance, Jace.”

 

I tilted my head in his direction without removing my eyes from the screen. “Yeah? For what?”

 

I could feel his breath on my ear. “For the trashcan.”

 

I paused the game and looked directly over at him. “What on earth are you talking about?”

 

He adjusted his glasses and took on a very sober expression. “I mean… the trashcan. One of them is right there — right behind you. You can grab it, fly out that emergency exit door,” he pointed toward it, “and then never, ever come back.

 

I laughed at him. “Oh my god. You are so stupid. A. Stealing is wrong and B. I couldn’t stand being banned from Saturn. It’s my favorite.”

 

He was joking, of course, and while my fictional self couldn’t help but imagine the whole scenario playing out — me, grabbing the trashcan and awkwardly fleeing the building with it; Charlie, turning the key in the ignition and flinging open the door to our runaway carI would never actually steal anything.

I only stole once.

Okay; twice.

Am I going to tell you about it? Of course I’m going to tell you about it.

 

Stealing Story #1: Stealy Stealer, take a bow.

I was like 5. My mom, dad, brother and I were walking into Toys R Us together (are those still around anymore?), and I can vividly remember seeing this magical, endless sea of pretty and colorful bows covering the floor. I don’t know how they got there, or why they were there, cluttering the entrance, but I was delighted by them. I picked one of them up — a red one (why I chose that one, I don’t know, because red’s never been a favorite color) — and I held onto it while we moseyed about the store. Eventually, we left the store, and when I hopped into the backseat of our family’s car, I was still gripping the bright and shiny bow in my hand. #andsomyattachmentissuesbegan

We stopped at a restaurant on the way home. I brought the bow in with me. After I slid into the booth and my brother, Bobby, sat down beside me, I plopped my bow onto the table so that I could look at it, and it was then that my mother finally noticed it.

Disclaimer: I can’t remember the conversation verbatim (twenty years removed from the event, it’s all a little hazy), but it probably went something like:

“ROSE!”

I looked up, startled.

“WHERE did you get that bow from?”

The toy store, I explained. Duh; where else?

“Did you buy that bow?” my dad (who was now also aware of what was happening) chimed in.

No.. it was on the floor.. it was free..

“How do you know whether or not it was free?”

I began to cry. Am I going to jail? Are you going to tell on me? Am I going to be on that TV show? Will they play the ‘bad boys bad boys, whatcha gonna do’ song?

“As soon as we leave here,” my dad warned, “we are driving right back to Toys R Us and you’re going to walk up to the manager and tell them exactly what you did.” Awesome. Now I have two things to look forward to: the waitress bringing me a grilled cheese with pickles, and my dad handing me over to the cops right afterwards.

 

Now that statement – the one from my father – I can remember clear as day, because I recall that – when the food came – I couldn’t eat any of it. Not a single bite. I was so scared that I would soon be leaving my family and going to jail that I just sat there, with quiet tears and a wild heart, staring vacantly at my cheap diner sandwich and watching my happy life end inside of a dark and solitary cell with the strangely upbeat ‘bad boys bad boys, whatcha gonna do?’ song droning insanely and relentlessly in the background.

 

Within the hour, our car was reversing its tracks.. rolling down the interstate and then slowing to a halt inside of the suddenly ominous Toys R Us parking lot. I stumbled out of the old, yellow station wagon, the sad bow dangling loosely from my left hand, and I struggled to breathe.

 

“Go on,” my dad urged. The manager – who looked very tall, very serious, and very official – was already waiting for me, standing out in front of the store; my dad had called him on the way, apparently, and explained what had happened.

 

My dad instructed me to walk up to the manager by myself. He wouldn’t be going with me. I obeyed. I can’t remember anything beyond this point; what it was like, returning the bow.. whether I tried to explain myself, or apologize, or if I just mutely stood there, equal parts humiliated and terrified. But I will never forget the time I accidentally stole a bow and almost went to jail for it.

 

Stealing Story #2: Did any of the cards make it worthwhile?

Fast forward five years. I’m 10 now. My family has moved from South Carolina to Florida. There’s this girl who lives down the street – Noel – and she is a hot mess; three years older than me, sexually promiscuous (at the tender age of 13), and unapologetically bad-mouthed. I took to cussing (for the first time) while in her company, feeling cool and validated in the presence of an older girl.

Well one day, me and this older friend biked out of the neighborhood together, pedaling all the way to the nearest gas station. After leaning our bikes up against the whitewashed brick building (back then, I never worried about locking my bike up — there was no need to secure it to a pole or a fence; that same bike was stolen out of my backyard a year later), I started to walk toward the gas station’s entrance, but an arm flew out in front of me and I knocked right into it.

Wait,” Noel instructed, slowly retracting her arm. “We’re going to try something new today,” she said more quietly, curving her lips into a devilish smile, “and I want to explain it to you before we go inside.”

How exciting! I thought to myself, already super intrigued and fully on board with whatever was about to happen.

And here’s what she told me: “When we go inside, I want you to talk to the cashier guy… ask him a question, or ask him to help you find something; whatever, I don’t care. While you do that, I’m going to grab a pack of Pokemon cards and sneak out with them, and then we’ll split the cards up when we both make it back to your house.”

I was instantly uncomfortable with the idea. Isn’t what she’s suggesting wrong? I wondered to myself. She didn’t use the word ‘stealing’, but that’s what it sounds like. I had about three seconds left to agree with the plan before Noel thought I was a wussy. I think it’s wrong, but Noel seems okay with it… even excited about it… so maybe it’s not, I reasoned (weakly). And I don’t want her to be upset with me or to stop hanging out with me.

So – without speaking the words – I nodded my head up and down to signal my agreement; okay — I’m in. I’ll do my part.

 

And we both did it. We executed the plan perfectly and we never got caught. And there wasn’t a single damn worthwhile card in the whole pack that we stole.

 

When I was 15, I suddenly remembered the incident, and I felt bad about it. Really bad. I felt so bad about being the accomplice in a small-scale robbery that I confessed the whole ordeal to my mother and asked her to please mail a check to that gas station. She did. We pulled up the internet together, found the gas station (which was located in New Port Richey, Florida), and she wrote out a check for $10. I wish I could remember what she put in the memo field of that check; “Stolen Pack of Pokemon Cards” would have been the most fitting description.

 

So those are the two times that I’ve stolen. As a child, I was basically a criminal.

 

But I never did end up stealing the rocketship trashcan from Saturn. Here’s what I did instead. 

 

I played a gig at The California Pizza Kitchen last month, out on their patio. It was nice; two hours of singing and strumming quietly in the background while ritzy Mountain Brook-ite guests sat outside and sampled wine in-between delicate bites of warm, salty pizza.

I noticed, at one table, that an older-looking gentleman was seated across from a young boy (presumably, his grandson). Wanting to play some tunes that he’d be familiar with (I figured that he probably wasn’t enjoying the Katy Perry and Gotye hits), I flipped around in my songbook and performed a tune by America, followed by a Monkees hit, and then a third song by Stealers Wheel. I didn’t look over to gauge his reaction to the sudden appearance of these oldies, but I hoped that he felt a little more comfortable and catered to by the change in direction.

 

Near the end of my set, this older gentleman and his grandson stood up from their table and prepared to leave, but before exiting the patio, he walked over to where I was set-up with my guitar and amplifier. I was preparing to start my next song.

 

“Hello,” he greeted me with a soft smile. “They don’t have a tip jar for you out here?”

I laughed good-naturedly. “Nope! But that’s okay.” It was a company-paid gig, so I wasn’t checking for tips.

“Well,” he looked around suddenly, and then lowered his head, “despite the fact that most of tonight’s applause has been coming from behind you,” and here, he motioned toward Charlie (seated at a table behind me), “you did a fantastic job this evening. When you’re finished here, you two go have a nice dinner on me.”

 

And here, he extended his hand. I was flattered.

 

I reached my hand out to meet his, beginning to thank him for the $5 or $10, and then I saw three digits on the bill he was holding. He was giving me a $100 tip.

 

“Oh my god,” I breathed, not knowing what to say or do. I really didn’t want to accept it, but I’d lost my words. When I looked up again, he was already walking away, smiling and nodding.

 

“THANK YOU!” I called out after him.

 

I turned my head around to look at Charlie. “ONE. HUNDRED. BUCKS!” I mouthed silently.

 

During the car ride home, I joked that the unexpected cash could go towards my rocketship trashcan fund.

 

“It would honestly be less expensive for you to have the image of the trashcan tattooed onto yourself,” Charlie laughed.

 

My first reaction was to laugh at the statement, but the more I thought about it.. it wasn’t that bad of an idea. “That’s actually pretty funny, Charlie,” I complimented him. “And original. Who the hell would voluntarily have a trashcan tattooed onto themselves?”

 

“AND,” he added, “you could ALSO have items floating around the trashcan.. like, empty containers and bags that advertise your favorite things (things you’d end up throwing away). A pint of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream.. a bag of sprouted sweet chili chips..”

 

“A BROWN CHIPOTLE BAG,” I exclaimed, becoming increasingly excited. “Charlie — I’m not joking; this is actually a REALLY neat idea. I’m going to consider it.”

 

And to my mother’s horror, I did. But I decided that I’d rather just have the damn trashcan.

 

After a full year of passionate longing and several months of deliberation, I ordered my rocketship trashcan online. Clicking “confirm” for the order sent shivers down my spine.

“Is this a terrible decision?” I asked myself.
“You know it is. But it was an inevitable one. Merry Christmas until 2020, Jace.”

My dream trashcan arrived two weeks later. Want to see it? Of course you do. I’m including a cell phone picture of the trashcan below, and the cost for viewing it is only $5/person, so you can just mail a check my way. In the memo field of the check, please hand write the date you viewed the trashcan along with the following verbiage (for my records and yours): “Digital view of the most beautiful and expensive trashcan in the entire freaking world.”

 

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Still here,

Aun Aqui

PS: If we’re friends and you’re local and you ever come to visit me, please understand that this trashcan is not to be used AS a trashcan. I keep it in my bedroom (to avoid incidents) and have a white, plastic bag in there (in case anyone forgets and makes a mistake), but it’s too drop dead gorgeous to have trash just tossed into it. The trashcan is for decorative and inspirational purposes only. There are other, actual trashcans located within the house that you can use to throw your shit away. I’d also prefer that you not touch it. I don’t even touch it. It weighs 40 pounds, so don’t even bother entertaining the idea of stealing it. You’ll fall down the stairs in the process of stealing it and IT WONT BREAK BECAUSE IT’S UNBREAKABLE, but you might hurt yourself. Who wants to be injured and in jail? -J

 

Let’s pretend that you’re filthy rich and never have to work again.. now what?

I’m a training specialist for a local credit union (and I curse too much on this blog, so I’ll preserve its reputation by leaving it nameless), and on the first day of each new hire class, I like to poll my students: “Is there a particular grocery store you like to shop at? One that you generally prefer over others?”

And without fail, and I’m talking about two solid years of polling now, I’ve ALWAYS gotten the SAME answer from at least one person in the group: Publix.

 

“Why Publix?” I inquire further. I enjoy exploring their reasoning.

 

And the answers vary; great customer service, clean floors, lots of BOGO deals, fresh meats and produce.. and the question, as well as their answer, is a great “launching board” to discuss how a company’s level of customer service is often the most important factor a consumer considers when they’re deciding whether they want to support/buy Store X or Brand X over Store Y or Brand Y. And I always take a little bit of pride in the fact that my very first job was working at Publix; the grocery store authority on providing consistently good customer service. 

 

I started off as a bagger who quickly mastered the art of bagging. When the cashier slid, in quick succession, a carton of eggs, a bunch of bananas, a small family of avocados and a box of saltine crackers down onto the sterling metal landing, I didn’t panic; I knew just how to bag them. First off, the eggs are raw, so you package them solo by tightly wrapping a plastic yellow bag around the carton. Then, you fluff out another plastic bag, place the sturdy box of saltines near the bottom of the bag, and then place the pre-wrapped carton of eggs on top of the cracker box (easier to carry this way). And then, lastly, you bag the bananas and avocados together because they’re madly in love — no; incorrect. You bag them together because they’re delicate and they bruise easily. Duh.

 

So bagging was simple, but pleasant, work. I was quickly cross-trained to work as a cashier, and that’s when the fun REALLY began. I now got to converse with customers a bit more, scan their items for them, key in 4- or 5- (organic) digit PLU numbers, carefully process in-house and manufacturer coupons, and accept various means of tender (cash, checks, and credit/debit cards). I was eventually trained to stock and block as well, and I enjoyed the peace and quiet that tagged along with the methodical nature of this particular kind of work.

 

After a solid year of employment and a generous $0.75 raise, I dipped; I enjoyed working at Publix, but I was attending public school, taking 11th grade classes there, and was also dual-enrolled in 12th grade online classes. I had enough on my plate, academics-wise, and found it difficult to balance my workload with my schoolwork.

 

But after living the unemployed student life for just a few months, I realized that I somehow had too much free time on my hands.

 

Where I grew up, out in rural McCalla, there was a collection of old and rough-looking trailers right off of the interstate. Well, one day, all of these trailer owners were offered – according to the rumors – some pretty generous payouts from a corporate entity (I’d be curious to know how much!) and BOOM; within the space of a year, loud and messy demolition and construction work ensued, and then suddenly – it felt like it happened magically, overnight – the area had EVERYTHING to offer: a movie theater, a Ross, a JC Penney, a Petsmart, a hair salon, ANOTHER Publix, and at least 15 other things. One of the new places was a Burger King.

 

Kinda weird for a vegetarian to work at Burger King, I considered the irony, but they do offer veggie burgers and onion rings. I shrugged it off and, without giving the matter NEARLY enough thought, I applied for an available position (cashier) and was quickly hired on.

 

Within a week, I was entering the fast food joint through double glass doors and reporting for my very first BK shift ever. When he – a tall, lanky boy with oily hair, tired eyes, and lots of acne – saw me, he mumbled a bored ‘hello’ from behind the register. I shared that I was a new co-worker, and then he motioned for me to join him behind the counter.

 

“So.. you’ll need a shirt. What size do you wear?”

 

I was about 95 pounds. “Probably a small.. possibly an extra-small,” I answered, indecisive.

 

“Kay.”

 

He walked further into the back of the restaurant, disappeared behind a door, and then returned with a rolled up red shirt tucked underneath his arm.

 

“All we have is XL,” he apologized, handing it over. I stepped into a restroom, tugged it on, and felt like a total joke; the end of the shirt about reached my knees.

 

Whatever, I sighed. The outfit is the least important part of a job. That’s what I thought at the time, anyways.

 

I returned to the front. The boy was helping a customer with a transaction and, when he saw me, he moved over a little so that I could stand beside him at the register. I watched silently as he keyed in the customer’s order, and once he’d finished, he turned to look at me.

 

“So if they want a burger, you click here.. drinks, you click there.. modifications (like ‘It comes with mustard but I hate mustard so leave that off’), you’ll go over to this tab,” he gestured, “and you can type something in if it’s not saved in the system as something you can just click.” A small line had developed while he shared these tidbits with me; he looked up, noticed, and walked away.

 

I repeat: He walked away. Leaving me standing there, clueless and drowning inside of a Burger King shirt that was 4 sizes too big, with a growing line of impatient and hangry customers staring me down.

 

WHAT THE FUCKING FUCKITY FUCK?

 

I somehow survived the morning and afternoon, but that night, I made one of the most cowardly decisions of my life. I quit the job. But that wasn’t the cowardly decision; it was having my dad do it for me.

 

He called BK the next day, asked to speak with the manager, and explained that Rose won’t be returning — she needs to focus on school during this time of her life. Would you like her to return the shirt? he asked.

 

I began working at McAllister’s Deli (which was located in the same shopping plaza.. #awkward) a few weeks later and enjoyed it much more.

 

When my family and I moved down to Florida, I waited tables at the local Cracker Barrel in an effort to save up money for college. This was my favorite job to date, for three reasons:

  1. I knew exactly what I was saving for, and it was something very important to me; college tuition costs. Having a ‘defined goal’ in mind motivated me to work hard and do well, and during the year I spent working at Cracker Barrel, I was able to stash $5,000 into savings for college costs and only spent $14 on myself during this time. It was for (of all things) a night gown I spotted at Ross one afternoon — one that featured a moon on it and read “Goodnight.” You’d think I would have bought a couple of burritos with the money or something equally as sensible.
  2. I liked that, as a server, I was able to stay on my feet, move around freely, and talk with people.
  3. Each day was exciting and surprising because you never knew just how much cash you were going to take home; it could be $40, but it might be $150.. it depended on a variety of things; your hours, your attitude, and the generosity of your clientele (sad but indisputable fun fact: church crowds are the GRUMPIEST guests and they leave the SHITTIEST tips EVER). The biggest tip I ever got, while serving (relative to the price of the order), was a $20 bill from a guy wearing a hat who ordered a coffee and scrambled eggs.

 

I left Cracker Barrel (and Florida) at the dawn of summer, deciding to drive up to New York and attend a 2-month Bible camp. My co-workers created a “Where’s Rosie?” map and tacked it up in the break room; I texted the manager updates as I drove from Florida to Alabama, Alabama to West Virginia, and – finally – from West Virginia to New York. I promised everyone I’d come back in the fall and resume work, but I ended up getting married and moving to Alabama to start a new life with my very best friend.

 

Here, at this juncture, my grocery store/restaurant career hit a dead end as I ventured into something completely new: the financial world. I began working as a teller with a local credit union and, after spending three full years handling cash, placing check holds, and proactively checking for bad guys (drug traffickers, money launderers, and suspected and known terrorists) on the OFAC list, I applied to work at another, larger credit union (deets here). I already liked the line of work that I was in, but I needed a change, and I wanted a challenge, and I also desired to work for a company that I could see myself growing and advancing with.

 

So I remained in the credit union world but took up a different position: call center rep. I loved the autonomy of this job, and learning something new every single day kept me happily engaged. But after a year, I requested a one-on-one meeting with my manager, who I admired and trusted deeply.

 

“I love working in the call center,” I began, and this was true, “but I’m sort of wondering if lending is something I’d be well-suited for. I know the topic’s a little advanced, and that it isn’t included in my current job scope, and that’s intriguing to me. Is there anyway that I could shadow our centralized lending department sometime.. just to get a feel for what they do and so that I can grasp the basics of their job?”

 

“Absolutely,” she responded. She scheduled a date and time for me to shadow a lending rep and, after just three hours of doing so, I knew: this isn’t the job for me. I was incredibly grateful that I’d been able to ‘experience’ the position before formally applying and transferring over to it, because I wouldn’t have been happy there; the verdict was that I liked working with people more than I liked working with numbers. Good to know.

 

Another four months passed, and then I read an email one afternoon.. one that advertised an HR position that had become internally available. I requested another meeting with my manager.

 

“I don’t know if HR is something I’d be interested in, but I also don’t want to appear stagnant,” I explained. “It’s definitely my intention to grow and advance with the company, and it’s important to me that I become cross-trained as much as possible. When I worked for a grocery store, as a kid, I could do three different things.. here, so far, I’ve only officiated in one department.” I paused. “Do you think it would be wise for me to apply for the position? Do you think I’d be a good fit for it?”

 

“Would you like to work in Human Resources?” she asked, in response to my question. “Would you like to help employees understand their benefits? Enroll in various programs? Answer payroll questions? Review salaries and determine increases?”  I thought about it. The honest answer was that that sounded super boring. 

 

“Honestly, no. Not at all.” I sat back in my chair. “No.. I wouldn’t enjoy it. I’m not going to apply,” I decided. “You know, sitting here and thinking about it, there’s really only one department in this credit union that I’d be genuinely interested in transferring to — only one that I think I’d enjoy more than I enjoy the call center — and that’s training.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Oh, yes,” I replied. “I’ve known since the 7th grade that I wanted to be a teacher — an instructor of SOME kind. But then, at the age of 19, I fell in love with the credit union world and abandoned the idea of ever teaching. But to work as a trainer IN the credit union world.. now that would be a fusion of two loves.” I smiled. “Yeah; that’s the only department I’d be interested to work in. Otherwise, I’m very happy, staying here in the call center.”

 

Our meeting ended, and I returned to answering calls. I’ll note, here, that the training department was small, so – reasonably speaking – I had no expectations of quickly getting an opportunity to transfer. But a mere five weeks after our meeting, a training position unexpectedly became available for the first time in two years. I applied within 30 minutes of the job bid going out, and then I was absolutely sick with anxiety.

 

I know that no one else would love this job as much as I would, I reassured myself, but who’s to say that I’m the most qualified? I’m very likely not.

 

Things happened quickly. I interviewed with two training reps the following week. I had bought a pair of heels – my first ever – just for the interview, thinking it would make me appear more confident and professional and hire-worthy.. but wearing them and awkwardly trying to make it up and down stairs in them just made me feel even more like a blundering fool. I made it through the interview and, an excruciating week and a half later, was informed that I’d gotten the job. When I shared the exciting news with them, my family couldn’t believe it.

 

“Wow, Rose!” I recall my mother exclaiming into the phone. “I really didn’t think you’d get it. I mean.. really. It’s like a miracle.”

“Thanks mom.”

 

And it’s been two years and four days since I began working in my credit union’s training department. I love it. Some people take work home in a negative kind of way, but I bring it home with me in a happy sense; I identify closely with my job. I’m proud to be a trainer. And the best news is, I don’t dread Mondays; come to think of it, I haven’t dreaded a Monday in the last three and a half years. It wasn’t always this way. Here’s what makes the difference for me:

  • Working for a company that helps consumers with their needs and, in the process of doing so, doesn’t take advantage of them (cough BANKS).
  • Having a supportive, reliable, and exemplary manager who feels like a friend and who challenges, teaches, inspires and encourages me.
  • Enjoying a certain degree of autonomy and creative control, where I’m able to make changes that increase efficiency and boost morale.
  • Connecting with other people, especially new hires, and helping them reach a level of confidence and self-sufficiency that they didn’t believe – back on day one – they could possibly achieve.

My job is, in a word, fulfilling.

 

And while I was testing out a new (work-related) online module a few weeks ago, I ran across an interesting question, posed by the cyber instructor: “What kind of work would you do for free?”

 

I paused the video and searched for my own answer. As much as I love my job, I honestly wouldn’t report to work 40 hours a week for absolutely free, I admitted. I’d probably swing by once a week for 8 hours to help out and view it as volunteer work.. a community event type deal.. but I definitely wouldn’t be here full-time.

 

I continued pondering the idea: What kind of work you would do for free? 

 

And to help myself answer the question, I built an imaginary scenario. It went like this:

 

Imagine that your current lifestyle could stay exactly the same without you going to work ever again. And I mean your rent or mortgage/ utilities/ groceries/ car payment/ gas/ insurance/ clothing costs/ recreational expenses/ everything is magically “taken care of” each week and month and you’re left with nothing but free time. Doesn’t that sound delicious? So.. finding yourself in these favorable circumstances, what kind of work would you do for free?

“Nothing. I’d watch TV.” Fair enough. I can understand the appeal, and some days, that might be a fun way of passing the time. But I couldn’t stand constantly doing nothing. 

And in this scenario, my immediate, unfiltered, and unchallenged response was write. I would spend my free time writing and I would be a writer.

 

Satisfied with my response, I clicked ‘Play’ and resumed watching the video.

 

“And what would your mission statement be?” the instructor probed further.

 

I sighed and hit ‘Pause’ again; another hard question. Mission statement? Like, what would my purpose or intention be? My goal? 

 

I thought about it some more, and the question became very personal. Why DO I like writing so much? I know I’m able to process and work through a whole lot of internal shit, yeah, but why else? And why have I made this blog public? It could have been private, easily. What was, and is, my hope; to connect with people? To be understood? To incidentally help someone else who might be thinking or fearing or experiencing similar things that I have?

 

I finally came to this conclusion:

I love writing because I think that words (and the stories they compose) connect people. It’s a simple answer, but it’s an honest one. I love reading about other people’s experiences as well as sharing my own. Writing is a great tool some can use to process, reflect, and heal — it’s free therapy! — but I also think that its benefits extend far beyond personal ones; writing is one of the most powerful ways to connect with others.

Picture putting a banker and a terrorist, or an atheist and a christian, or a human being and their least favorite person ever into a room together — sitting at a table, directly across from each other. Consider these people who are opposites, or dissimilar, or even hostile towards each other; how do you help them connect? How can you get them to set aside their bias, negativity, prejudice, and dislike so that they can understand, empathize with, and respect each other? I think that it boils down to experience. Have them pose questions like these to each other:

  • Have you been in love?
  • What, or who, have you lost?
  • What are you sorry for?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • What do you dream of?
  • What have you learned?

These are universal topics of interest — some of the best questions ever — and I love writing about these things; my joy, and my depression; my fun adventures and my deepest struggles, because I think that they make me – someone who feels awkward, alienated, and unlikable – relate-able. I don’t try to paint a picture of my very best and most ideal self on this blog and then set it on display for compliments and admiration; I tell the truth, and sometimes, the truth looks bad and it’s embarrassing to share.. but it’s also freeing. We can sit down at a table together, over warm cups of coffee, and I can stumble over the words.. telling you all of the things that I want to share.. but I much prefer thinking about them first — viewing them from this angle and that, and then flipping them over and turning them sideways and critiquing them ever further — and then, after all of this studying, I like to write about them and have you read about them. The written word (and I’m NOT talking about the Bible here) is so very beautiful to me. Because you get to see it; to look at it. The letters, all sensibly arranged together.. they look nice. Spaces here and there; they give relief. There’s punctuation that makes you feel something; capitalization that signals the start of something, or urges the importance, the severity, of something. And if, as you’re reading, you choose to speak the words out loud, then you also get to hear them. There’s something special about the very process of writing — the way you can tap, easily and freely, into your recent and old memories, imagine your best and worst futures, and deeper explore the things you might have glazed over, or the things that you may be inclined to suppress — and it – writing – is one of the few things that’s kept me alive when I’ve had no other inclination to stay.

 

So that’s the “work” I’d do for free, in a strangely Utopian world that doesn’t actually exist; I would sit down with people, on park benches and inside of coffee shops, and listen to them tell their stories, and then I would write them down, or type them out. I’d caution myself to embellish on these stories only a tiny little bit and I’d try to uncover general and universal life lessons wherever possible. I’d volunteer for community events, and travel, and live for the purpose of observing, just so I could see and share everything with you.. the bad stuff and the good stuff and the things I thought were so very interesting and that you’d probably like to know about, too. If there is a heaven out there, invisibly existing now or magically materializing at some point in the future (like a fully outfitted shopping plaza that erected itself overnight), it better have an infinitely endless stash of textured, linen paper and an entire world of fancy pens lying around, because I can’t imagine a better way to spend forever than by telling these silly and silent and terribly long-winded stories.

 

A few accurate quips on writing:

 

 

Writing for free, and writing forever (in heaven or hell or a swirly black hole somewhere)..

Aun Aqui

 

PS: Unrelated, but here’s me and my cool new $40 bike! (In case you missed it, here’s the backstory.)

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Touched by an…other human being

I braved a social event last Tuesday night. I’d been scrolling through my news feed the week prior when my eyes registered something intriguing: DISCO’s Letter Writing Club.

Oooooooh.. a writing club? If there was ever a club for me.. I instantly signaled my attendance: Going.

 

I’d heard of The Desert Island Supply Company before, in passing, and thought that it might be a record shop, a cafe, or something along those lines, but when I tugged on the store’s swinging glass door last Tuesday night, I was surprised to discover that I was mostly totally wrong.

 

What it (DISCO) actually is:

The Desert Island Supply Co. is a nonprofit creative writing program for students in Birmingham, Ala. We offer free after-school workshops plus in-school programs in area schools. Our space in Woodlawn also serves as a hub for creative community projects and events

 

The first thing I noticed, walking into DISCO, was that the front ‘office’ was super dressed down. The entire room was quiet, peaceful, and it housed lots and lots of shelves that supported and advertised the various items that were for sale, like plain, brown journals, sensible pencil sets, and dreamy little bottles of “Imagination Spray.” I didn’t see anyone hanging around in the area, so I quietly followed the curve of the room and, in doing so, stumbled into another room — a really big, really colorful, and cheerfully decorated one.

 

Three young (seemingly in their 20s) people were seated at a large wooden table; one of them (the only one who was not wearing headphones) heard something, turned around, and saw me standing there.

 

“Hiiiiiii!” the girl called out to me, smiling; she had long, brown hair and wore spectacles.

 

“Hi!” I responded. “Is this by any chance the letter writing club?”

 

“Yeah!” she welcomed me over with a nod. I settled in at the far right end of the table, plopping myself down onto a sturdy chair that made embarrassingly loud noises as it scraped across the concrete and then letting my backpack slide itself down from my shoulder and land, with a single thud, onto the floor beside me.

 

“We’re all just kinda doing our own thing.. it’s real nonchalant..” her voice trailed off as she continued doodling.

 

Sweet, I thought to myself, relieved. This a nice, soft introduction into the world of socializing outside of work.

 

So I settled my gaze onto the journalistic spread lying on the table; there were differently sized- and colored-papers and various styles of envelopes to choose from, as well as a single, see-through jar containing pencils and sharpies, all situated near the middle of the table. I leaned across the table and carefully withdrew a pencil, selected an old-looking piece of linen paper, and chose a sky-blue envelope. I ventured, at this juncture, to glance over at the two other people in the room; a guy with fluffy, dark hair (also wearing eyeglasses) scribbling on his own sheet of paper and a slim blonde hunched over in front of a laptop. They both seemed deeply engrossed in their own activities. I felt comfortable.

 

So I readjusted in my seat, lowered my head to the table, took the sharp-tipped pencil up with my left hand and began writing: “Dear future Jace..”

 

Sooooo,” the girl who’d welcomed me over began, turning her head to look at the blonde. “What’s your favorite thing that’s happened so far today?”

 

Shit, I sulked. This sounds like a group icebreaker question. I knew that I would soon be asked to answer this same question, so I attempted to formulate – ahead of time – a good response.

 

I can talk about work, I considered briefly, and then thought better of it. Nah. That’s boring. These are, likely, full-time college kids. Talking about work will make me sound old. I paused. Wait — I’m 25 now; IS that old? I shook my head.. no; probably not. How about the dogs? People universally LOVE animals. I could talk about waking up and hugging the pups? No.. that’s not interesting enough. If that’s the most mention worthy part of my day, they’ll think I’m realllllllly lame.

Another pause. You could talk about how much you enjoyed your Chipotle burrito this afternoon?

Fatass, I reproved silently.

 

While struggling to craft my own cool response, I was partially listening along as the blonde responded to the group leader’s question. She had been answering that, for lunch, she’d tried out a new restaurant downtown (it was delicious, we should all go), and now she was sharing a humorous class happening. Is she in high school or college? I wondered. Am I too old to be here? I asked myself again.

Probably. You’d be better suited for an old fogies’ bingo club. 

“And the girl’s poem was about chocolate milk,” the blonde gushed, incredulous. “Like, talking about how much she loved it and how it was made and just.. whatever. It was soooooo weird.”

 

I laughed, quietly but supportively.

 

“What about you, Ben?” the leader smiled, shifting her attention to the only guy in the room.

 

“Breakfast,” he responded simply.

 

See? I challenged myself, feeling vindicated. It WOULDN’T be dumb to talk about Chipotle.

 

“I char-grilled some tofu this morning,” he elaborated. “Threw in some veggies. It was amazing.” He smiled down at the table, apparently enjoying the recollection. “I just whipped it all up, stuck it on a plate, brought it outside, and sat out on my lawn, eating and watching the morning traffic go by.”

 

Tofu was remarkably uncommon common ground, so I ventured to strike up a sidebar conversation with the guy. We talked, briefly, about Chipotle, and Mandarin House, and how to properly soak up the icky, acidic juice that packaged tofu is always sealed with.

 

“And how about you, Jace? What was your favorite part?”

 

Sigh. It was finally my turn. I still didn’t know what to say.

 

“Well,” I began, deciding to just picture the dawn of my day and then re-watch the time lapse, “I enjoyed waking up with the bedroom window open. My room was chilly and it smelled like leaves. That was nice,” I smiled, really remembering it. “And then I was happy to report back to work for the first time in ten days. I spent the AM catching up on random projects and answering slash filing away 105 emails,” I’d been disappointed that it was only 105, “and then I was able to meet up with my new hires, which was good,” I continued, “because I’m always super nervous to say ‘hey’ to them for the first time.. afraid that they’re not going to like me.”

 

“Awwwwwww!” she sympathized.

 

“Yeah, but I met with them, they were all super cool, and we made some good progress through the first part of the training manual.” I smiled and nodded the end, deciding that I’d shared enough.

 

Three others joined us. One of them, a gentleman with perfectly tan skin, warm brown eyes, and a name I struggled to pronounce, sat down right next to me. We talked here and there throughout the letter writing hour, and then, when it was time to leave, he walked with me as I returned to the front of the store. He spent a couple of minutes pointing out some of his favorite “for sale” items, and then he repeated what I’d heard about fifteen minutes before, before collecting my items; an art show would be taking place at DISCO this Saturday.

 

“I heard about that!” I nodded. “I’m actually heading to ARC Stories that same evening,” I explained, “but I will try to swing by afterwards, if the first event ends in time.”

 

He replied that he’d been to ARC Stories before — a long time ago.. back when the storytelling events were so small scale that storytellers (and those who liked listening to stories) all simply met up at Urban Standard, talking and mingling over evening coffee and pastries. It sounded delightful.

 

“I’m going to try to make it out to ARC Stories this Saturday, too!” he said suddenly. “Want to meet up here before the event?”

 

“Sure!” I replied, excited to make a new friend. I appreciated his friendliness and confidence.. they compensated for what I lacked and effectually bridged the gap.

 

Fast forward a few days: I enjoyed the art exhibit and the storytelling event. In addition to my newest friend, three other friends also attended ARC Stories: my best friend, Charlie, along with my close friend, Reed, and his wife. The four of us went for a late Mediterranean dinner together afterwards: Makarios.

 

After sliding into a booth and placing our orders (which included grape leaves, garlic rice, a vegetables-with-hummus tray and a barbecue-doused baked potato), we all whiled the time away, chatting with each other. Charlie got up to use the restroom at one point and, when he did, Reed quickly leaned in toward me.

 

“So, while he’s in the bathroom,” he smiled kindly, “how are things with you and Charlie?”

 

“They’re good!” I whispered. “He’s doing really well. So am I. We’re both happy, being best friends. It was a difficult slash awkward adjustment at first, but I know we’re the most compatible this way. And I feel clear headed, which is wonderful.”

 

He nodded and leaned back again, visibly relieved and satisfied.

 

Charlie returned, we all stayed for another hour, and then I took a look at the clock: 12:30?! I should have been asleep FOUR HOURS ago, I thought to myself, amazed.

 

So we migrated to the parking lot. While Reed and Charlie continued with a conversation pertaining to Dungeons and Dragons, Reed’s wife and I began discussing a topic that seems to follow me everywhere, like a stray dog, or a shadow: religion.

 

“I grew up in a conservative sect, too,” she shared. “Totally broke away from it for a while. But I’ve enjoyed.. forgiving Christianity. Accepting certain parts of it back into my life.”

 

I could understand this.

 

“Same. Not that I’ve re-accepted ANY of it,” I clarified quickly, “but, I am far less averted to the religion than I used to be. I went from defining it as the center of my world — where everything else truly revolved around it — to absolutely abhorring the religion and disrespecting all of its adherents.. which was super ignorant and totally unfair,” I admitted. “But now, I’ve been able to bounce back and forth between those two extremes and finally settle into a sort of happy-medium; I’m certainly not interested in or committed to the religion, but I can respect those who are equally as much as I respect followers of other religions.”

 

She nodded, acknowledging that this sounded reasonable, and she smiled at me. I liked Reed’s wife. This was my first time meeting her in-person, and whether it’s tofu or religious dogma, it’s really nice to find common ground with people.

 

The following morning, my newest friend (from the letter writing club) messaged me over Facebook. He said that he’d enjoyed the storytelling event and that he wanted to share an article with me, as well as solicit my feedback on it. The article was about the plight of being single, and you can read it here, if you’d like.

 

“Enjoyed the article,” I responded a few hours later. “I like that it touched (haha — get it?) on the importance of platonic touch. Here are my fav parts,” I continued, and then I quoted them (see below).

 

The thing is, I will never be whole. I will never be some sparkling example of human equanimity. I will never be someone who doesn’t occasionally wake up in the middle of the night to cry. I can’t un-become the person my suffering has made me.

My partnered friends think because they were well put together they attracted a partner, but I think having a partner makes it easier for them to be well put together.

People condescendingly deride people who are ‘afraid to be alone,’ but in our society, some of our needs are only allowed to be met by a romantic partner, and I’m not talking about sex. Casual sex is totally fine in my social circles. I’m talking about affectionate touch. And, it is completely reasonable to be afraid of not getting that.

 

I put my phone down after sending my response, but with words from the article still bouncing around in my head, I continued thinking on the subject as I moved through my day. Not the part about being single or not being single — the part about being touched.

 

Growing up, I didn’t really get to experience a whole lot of “platonic touch.”

 

My family members – those in my immediate family, anyways – aren’t the touchy/feely types. Some people are, some people aren’t. They aren’t. So we didn’t grow up holding hands, or hugging each other goodnight, or kissing one other on the cheek. None of that. Ever. We just didn’t. And when I reached middle school and friends began hugging me in the hallway or grabbing my hands from across the lunch table, it totally weirded me out. Being touched made me so uncomfortable. I felt like the awkward recipient of a gift I didn’t know how to hold properly. But soon, those feelings of discomfort turned into intense cravings. I longed for my friends to hug me and hold me, because suddenly, it felt wonderful to be the recipient of platonic affection, and I knew it was something I couldn’t get at home. It’s not that, if I had walked up to my mother and asked her to hug me, she wouldn’t have; she would have laughed at me, and then hugged me, and then asked: “Are you okay?!” It’s that we’d already ‘established’ the parameters of our relationship. The things we did and didn’t do. And these parameters were firmly set in place — their distance, an arm’s length between us.

 

I used to enjoy visiting my best friend, Melissa, in the winters and summers. Particularly because I’d hop on a plane, spend a few hours alone, and then spend the next two weeks cuddling with my very best friend. We held hands when we ice skated, nestled our heads together while we slept in the same bed at night, and tugged on each other’s arms constantly, pulling the other person into the next room, or store, or along for the next adventure. And even though leaving her to return home was sad, I was strangely happy during the plane ride home.. partially happy, and partially anxious, because I knew that my mother was probably going to hug me. I’d been gone for two weeks straight, which was unusual; of course she was going to hug me. I might get three or four hugs from her all year long, and I knew that this would definitely be one of them. I wanted the hug, but I was also scared of the hug; how long would she hug me? How tightly? How long and tightly should I hug her back? When would it happen again?

 

While I wouldn’t describe myself as being an overly affectionate person (probably because that sounds weak and needy and I wear a leather jacket), I’ve realized, over the course of the past year, that – among many other things – I am a creature that craves touch. And with this realization came the related realization that chasing after affection has caused me to jump from romantic relationship to romantic relationship for the last decade without ever breaking my strideI’ve never not been with somebody.. until two weeks ago.

 

And in conducting some casual online research, I learned that this isn’t uncommon. Strong and unsatisfied cravings for touch and affection plague many people, and I read too many sad stories where girls and boys admitted, anonymously on blogs and forums, that they were staying in unhappy and unhealthy relationships because they couldn’t stand the thought of losing the person who hugged and held them. While investigating the subject, I also learned about the impact that physical touch has on the development of children as well as the hazards posed to adults who aren’t recipients of it. The benefits of physical touch, it turns out, are incredibly expansive, influencing – among many things – the resilience of somebody’s immune system, their tendency for violence, and, most interestingly to me, their emotional well being. The end of this article pointed out something that I’d never considered before, and when I did take a pause to imagine the scenario, it made me feel so very sad; some people go to the doctor’s office, sit down, and wait for their name to be called.. not for treatment or diagnosis, but because they long to be touched.

 

And we all know that we live in an increasingly techy and stand-offish world, where heart emojis have stolen real-life kisses away from people and thumbs up emoticons have replaced a solid, hearty and tangible pat on the back, so what can a person – especially a healthy, single, and childless person – do that will nurture their need for touch?

 

First, here are some things I’ve discovered that ‘help.’

  1. Having a dog (or two). Your puppy, kitten or garden snake might squirm a little when you hold it, but even a few seconds of squeezing an animal can help cheer you up.
  2. Is your real-life pet just TOO squirmy? Try sleeping with a stuffed animal. I’ve slept with a stuffed rabbit – named Governess – for the last six years, and I don’t consider the behavior childlike in a negative sort of way. I think it’s healthy. I’ve found that it’s helpful.
  3. Don’t be afraid to hug on your friends. Obviously, you want to be aware of people’s personal boundaries and respect their space bubbles, but if you have a friend or a couple of friends who you know are comfortable with being touched, flat out ask them for a hug when you’re feeling down. Platonic touch is a thing. Keyword: platonic. I’ve read, once again, sad accounts of people who have stayed in relationships that weren’t healthy for no reason other than their need for affection. Don’t let that happen to you, and if it is happening, stop it from happening. You’re in control. Don’t wait for someone else to make a tough or healthy decision for you. Remember: You’re in control.

 

Secondly, here are some suggestions from the interwebs:

  1. Book a massage! Not only will you have your need for touch satisfied, but you’ll relax a few muscles in the process. Double win.
  2. Go dancing. I’ve only been dancing twice now but have already discovered that there are people who are totally cool with walking up to a complete stranger and dancing with them. Now.. I’m not one of those people — I subtly dance away from those people — but if you’re cool with it.. shoot.
  3. Go to church. Even if you aren’t looking for Buddha or Jesus. If you’re checking for hugs, attend some kind of religious assembly and I bet you’ll hit the jackpot.

 

In summary, I’d like to share three particularly memorable moments that involved touching and that deeply touched me. Oddly enough, they all revolve around doorways. I realized this on accident.

 

Recollection #1: Goodbye, Panda.

Panda was a blue-eyed Siberian Husky with a fluffy, black-and-white coat, and in a household comprised of 5 dogs total, she was my mother’s absolute favorite. Why? Because she was sickly; the dog suffered from epilepsy, and for this reason, Sierra adored her.

Panda, whose mental strength continued to wane with each consecutive seizure, ate an extraordinarily large hickory nut while stalking through the backyard one afternoon and, as a result, was rushed to the vet. She quickly ended up in surgery (to have the blockage removed) and had to be kept overnight. Sierra was a nail-biting and food-shunning basket case.

Well I was sitting in my room the morning following the surgery — staring at my desktop computer and teaching myself a new song on the guitar — when I sensed and heard someone looming in the doorway. I looked up and saw Sierra just standing there, looking vacant and lost. I locked eyes with her and, instantly, things felt very strange.

 

“She’s dead,” she gasped, her voice uncharacteristically hoarse. “Panda’s dead.

 

She spoke the words and then I watched as my mother ran away. I zoned out for what felt like a century (and was, likely, a single minute), struggling to comprehend the finality of the news.

Without affectation, I slowly lowered the guitar to the floor and exited my bedroom. I could hear sobs coming from the living room, and I followed the sound of them. I saw my mother leaning against a couch, her head bowed, her body shuddering, and I walked up to her and I hugged her. I’d never initiated a hug with my mother before.. not in my whole entire life, but on a level that superseded all awkwardness and completely disregarded established and approved custom, I knew that this tiny and trembling little woman, who had never known that she needed to be hugged, needed to be held. I can’t remember for how long I held her as her body convulsed with tears, but I remember spending the rest of the afternoon digging alongside her, through foot after fucking foot of dry, red clay, so that we could bury Panda at home. In-between hours of effort, I walked inside, visited the kitchen, and then returned outside with a blue mug full of water. I remember setting the cup down onto a porch step so that I could resume my work, digging, and then I forgot all about the cup, leaving it sitting there on the porch step, collecting rain water and then drying up over and over and over again, for months.

 

Recollection #2: When there were no words to say.

Last November, I had to leave work early to go file for Chris and I’s divorce. It might have been a Tuesday.. how funny, for it to be something so ridiculously commonplace; just another weekday.

 

I clocked out at 2:00, or 3:00, and – after grabbing my backpack – walked over to my manager’s doorway. So many years later — another doorway — and this time, I’m standing in it.

 

She heard me and looked up from her computer. We made eye contact but didn’t say anything. I could hardly stand to breathe, the air felt so oppressive. Without a word, she rose from her chair, walked over to me, and put her arms around me. I started to cry. I felt like I was going to a funeral that day, and like that hug was my friend telling me that she was so, so sorry for my loss.

 

Recollection #3: I wondered if he would.

This was in the evening.. earlier this year, and late in the spring. Chris had dropped by the house for the first time in several weeks; it might have been to pick up an amplifier, or it could have been the night I cooked a veggie stir-fry and he swung by to collect some. I just remember him being there, in the house, for a while, and then picking up his keys and slowly waltzing over to the front door. Waltzing.. a goofy kind of waltzing; that’s how he walked sometimes.. sashaying this way and that with his head tilted back just a little. Looking casual. Exuding confidence. I remember opening the door for him, watching him step out onto the front porch, take two more steps towards his car, and feeling devastated; of course he’s not going to hug me goodbye.

 

But then, unexpectedly, he turned around, moved two steps closer to me, and extended his hand. I took it, and he held my hand for about ten seconds. I’m closing my eyes now; wishing I could remember his face, and our words, but I can’t.. but I will never, ever, ever forget him holding my hand.

 

That’s it.

Whether it’s a hug or an embrace, a handshake or a high-five, physical touch can communicate so much, and can say the things we want to know the most, that words just aren’t able to convey. To me, physical touch says:

  • I see you.
  • I understand you.
  • I care about you.
  • I love you.
  • I support you.
  • Don’t be afraid.
  • You can do this.
  • You’re not alone.

 

That’s all I’ve got. From one sad and lonely soul to another: If you ever need a hug or a hand to hold, you know you can always count on me.

 

Still here, figuring all of this shit out..

Aun Aqui

 

 

I want to ride my bicycle; I want to ride my bike.

The big vacation is over now, but there’s one cool part that I intentionally neglected to mention in my previous post. Rather than just state it – the news – outright, I’m going to tell you a moderately sizable story that reveals it.

For starters, I’ve been kind of wanting a bike for a while now. This has nothing to do with the story. This has everything to do with the story.

And on day numero tres of vaca, I headed downtown and stepped into Redemptive Cycles, this super cool, local bike shop that sells bikes and fixes them up. What I really love about the place: they donate bikes to people who are unable to purchase them and who, in return, help out in the shop for a certain (and brief) length of time. So you can understand that this is a company I would feel good about purchasing from.

 

But as I perused their selection and tried out a few different bikes, I had the feeling that I hadn’t found the one yet. I thanked the floor guy for his help and explained that I wanted to take some time to pause and reflect before making what was, to me, a big purchase. I then Googled “bikes birmingham al” and found two other local bike shops, both of them located in Mountain Brook and, conveniently, within the same little shopping strip. I drove straight to them.

 

A sign hung in the window of the first bike shop, advertising the mono-colored cruisers stationed out in front of the place: “Price just lowered! Was $2000, now $1500!”

 

“Why am I even here?” I murmured out loud, to Charlie.

 

Still, one foot already in the door, I went ahead and stepped all of the way in and threw a polite glance around the room. The attendant, taking in the sight of me (board shorts, band T, and dusty old Vans), clearly knew that he wasn’t about to make a sale, but he was still nice about it.

 

“Hiya! Anything I can help you with?”

 

“Just browsing today,” I answered quickly (to confirm his suspicion), “but, in particular, I was wanting to take a look at some cruisers.”

 

“Okay!” he responded, nodding his head up and down. “We have a few of those in stock and they’re all parked outside. They’ve actually just been marked down.”

 

Ha.. saw those. “Marked down” my a–

 

“Cool!” I responded just as enthusiastically. “I’m going to go take a look. Thanks for your help!”

 

And on we went to the next place.

 

I liked the next one a little more — Bob’s Bikes. An assistant named Hardwick (SUCH a cool name) rolled two intriguing bikes outside, into the alley behind the shop, so that I could try them out. The first bike was a total no-go; the second, cool but pricey. I told him the same thing I’d told Redemptive; I’m going to take some time to reflect.

 

“You’ll be dreaming about this bike tonight,” he warned, good-naturedly.

 

I laughed at him. “Maybe.”

 

I settled in at home late that afternoon and let out a sigh. Growing up with impulsive parents, instant gratification is a default expectation that I constantly have to keep in check. You don’t make the quick, pricey, and halfway-thought-out decision, I reminded myself. That’s the one you regret. I’ve seen this, so I know this. And spacing out the time between the onset of a desire and the gratification of that desire can seem like a bummer, but I swear, doing so is SO worth the while. 

 

And I wasn’t totally inactive during this “reflective” period. I proactively continued my search for dream bike.

 

I pulled up Craigslist from the comfort of my spaced-out bedroom and had a blast sifting through postings from locals. A few antique bikes caught my eye, but none of them fascinated me. I chose to inquire on a single posting that day; one advertising a women’s turquoise cruiser that was fully outfitted with saddlebags, a bell, and a chainguard. It looked nice. A little frilly, but nice. And cute. It also hardly looked used.

 

The chick was asking $150 for the bike. I emailed her, asking (for kicks) if she’d take $120 and, if so, if we could meet the following morning; I was anxious to ride my new bike.

 

She answered two hours later: yes and yes.

 

I was ecstatic.

 

But when I went to bed that night, I could hardly fall asleep — not from excitement and joyful anticipation, but because of heavy doubt and pending disappointment.

 

Why am I settling? I asked myself. I know this isn’t the bike for me.

But how do you ‘know’ that? I challenged.

 

Because; after testing out bikes in-person today, I discovered three things that I want that are absolutely nonnegotiable:

  1. I like “straight” handlebars.. not the weird ones that curve inward, towards you. Know what I mean? Like, okay.. I like this:
    straight-handlebars
    NOT this:
    curve-handlebarsAnd turquiose had those weird handlebars.
  2. I’m comfortable with hand brakes; NOT pedal brakes. As a kid, I really enjoyed being able to pedal backwards anytime I wanted, while in motion. Pedal brakes wouldn’t allow for this nonsense. I had also learned to grip the handlebar levers anytime I wanted to brake. It’s not that I couldn’t relearn how to do something; it’s that I, objectively, after researching, preferred the old way (the research I conducted indicated that hand brakes really are superior because you can better control the degree of braking, whereas, with pedal brakes, you have two basic options/settings: A. you’re going and you’re not stopping B. YOU’RE STOPPING STOP RIGHT NOW).
    Strike 2: Turquiose employed pedal brakes.
  3. I wanted a bike that looked cool. Not some fancy, frilly turquoise bike.
    Annnnnnnd you’re out, Turquiose, on the account of being too fancy, too frilly, and too freaking cute.

So, lying there in bed, I was upset with myself for being so hasty, and I was mad at the bike for being so disagreeable. But it wasn’t the bike’s fault; it’s a perfectly nice and functional bike. We’re just not well-suited for each other.

 

When I woke up, bike drama was the first thing on my mind.

 

I really hate to disappoint this lady, I thought to myself, but I can’t justify purchasing something I’m not going to use.

 

I texted her, notifying her of my order cancellation and apologizing profusely, and she replied quickly, saying it was totally no problem. That was a relief.

 

And then, I resumed my search, more calculating, nitpicky and discriminating with my browsing approach than ever before.

 

And with my well-defined standards and carefully crafted ideals in mind, I found it. A bike that perfectly matched all of my criteria.

 

I emailed the guy right away, cautiously hopeful that I’d hear back from him same-day. Ten minutes after sending my email, I walked downstairs and met Charlie in the living room.

 

“I want to email him AGAIN,” I complained, “just to point out that I emailed him TEN MINUTES ago and that he’s YET to respond.”

Charlie raised his eyebrows.

“OR,” I retracted, “my approach could be more like — hey, I emailed you recently; just wanted to make sure you got it.” I shrugged, like that wouldn’t be weird or pushy.. it would be reasonable and perfectly normal.

 

But I decided to wait it out, and I’m glad that I did; he responded just twenty minutes later!

 

In my email, I had asked:

  1. Love this retro bike; does the seat lower to 32 inches?
  2. I see you’re asking $45; would you take $40?
  3. If you answer ‘yes’ to 1 and 2, could we meet up sometime today?

 

In his email, he responded with:

  1. Yes
  2. Yes
  3. Yes

 

“Yesssssssss!!” I celebrated. “I’m getting my bike today!

 

The dude texted his address to me and explained that I was to give my name at the gate and state that I was visiting (fiction here) a certain William Whitaker.

 

“Oooh, fancy,” I thought.

 

Charlie and I drove out to his house together (because a good Craigslist rule-of-thumb is to NOT go visiting strangers’ homes solo) and it turned out to be a mansion. No joke. I didn’t snap any pictures of the inside or the outside, of course (because THAT would have been tacky), but pulling up and then walking in was a little intimidating. Mostly, though, it was interesting. What fascinated me was the fact that he seemed to be living in this enormous house (I’m estimating 10-15 bedrooms, 5+ baths) all alone.

 

He welcomed us inside through tall, wooden double doors and then we stepped into the ‘reception’ area. I looked at him; he was wearing khaki-colored trousers, brown leather ‘old-man’ shoes, and a tasteful, long-sleeved shirt.

 

“Are you interested in purchasing other items?” he asked immediately, foregoing niceties. I watched him push his eyeglasses further up his nose.

Items?

“Possibly,” I answered, not sure I was going to actually purchase anything (#commitmentissues) but curious to see what he had to offer.

 

And because of saying yes, I got a partial tour of the house.

 

He escorted Charlie and I into the kitchen first.

“These are for sale,” he narrated as we passed by items that lined the countertops, covered stand-alone cutting blocks, and cluttered a floating island; appliances that were unopened but pictured on boxes: toasters, blenders, microwaves..

 

We continued into a formal dining area.

 

“These are all silver,” he commented, gesturing towards endless rows of spoons, knives, forks and napkin holders. There were trays and trays of them.

 

Why the hell did dude guy purchase so many of each eating utensil in the first place? Did he host lots of parties? Like collecting them? Was it a strange compulsion?

 

Continuing onward, we journeyed into a living room, of sorts, that featured furniture I’d never dare to sit upon.

 

“These are crystal,” he announced, sounding bored and indicating the pitchers and serving bowls that were neatly arranged on glass tables.

 

Is crystal expensive? I wondered to myself, careful to not touch anything.

 

He ushered us downstairs, and here, I thought we’d descend into a basement. Finished, of course. But instead, we entered what looked like a hotel corridor, with plush green carpeting covering the floor, a neutral beige color painted onto the walls, and doors located at what felt like fixed intervals. How mysterious! I thought to myself, intrigued. He opened one of the doors and, inside of the room, there were various, random items for sale; miniature stools, picture frames, antiquish side tables..

 

“Do either of you golf?” he asked, sounding vaguely interested in hearing us answer.

 

“Nope. I skateboard. But my dad golfs,” I volunteered, “and that black-and-brown carrying bag looks cool.”

He grunted in a way that sounded like: “huh; nice to know.”

 

After completing the tour, he asked: “Well.. do you want to see the bike?”

 

“Yes, please.” He was so old and senile that he honestly might have forgotten that THAT was why I’d come in the first place.

 

He led us into a garage where my bike sat proudly, on its kick stand, in the middle. The garage was – it’s weird to stay – astonishingly beautiful; with smooth, gray concrete floors and stark white brick walls. It looked more like a cool, industrial bedroom than it did a garage.

 

“And you can have your pick of any painting in this room for just $20,” he pitched in a monotone voice. A true salesman. I smiled to myself.

 

“Hmmmm.. let’s see here.” I browsed the pictures hopefully, wanting to find something cool that I could justifiably buy from this sweet and lonely old man. But everything was super lame.

 

“I don’t think any of these will go with my home’s current decor,” I explained all fancy-like, which decor is actually totally inconsistent with itself and entirely random and chaotic, I reproved myself inwardly.

 

I paid him for the bike and thanked him for his time.

 

He stuck out his hand. “Jace, tell your friends and your family.”

I smiled up at him and shook his hand. “Will do, William!” None of my friends are well-off or in need of napkin holders, and my family lives in Nowheresville, Tennessee, but I’ll certainly tell them about you.

 

I steered my bike down the long driveway and Charlie hoisted it into the car; my bike!

 

I returned to Redemptive same-day (if I couldn’t support the business by buying a bike from them, I could at least pay them for some maintenance). I rolled my beautiful and janky little cycle into the building and the same floor guy as last time greeted me.

 

“I found the one!” I announced happily.

 

We took my bike into the back and he secured it onto a raised, metal “arm” that left it suspended in the air. He then tested the brake levers and the tires; inspected the gear shifter and the tubes; critiqued the coppery, rusty chain.

 

20161006_132119
Mi bicicleta ❤

 

“Alriiiiiight,” he murmured, looking up at me. “So your bike is old,” he began, “and it’ll need a couple of things; a new chain, and a replacement brake lever,” and here, he pointed out that the right brake lever was actually partially severed. I hadn’t noticed. “I’d also recommend a general tune-up.”

 

“Absolutely,” I agreed. “Do the tires seem okay to you?”

He investigated them. “They’ll do,” he responded. “Honestly, I’d recommend, at some point, changing out the tubing, but right now, it would just be cost prohibitive to invest that kind of money into..” he didn’t know how to say it. “Into this bike,” he finally concluded. I could tell he felt awkward, and that made me feel bad.

 

So I smiled. I appreciated his gentle honesty. I know my bike isn’t some fancy, retro-looking-but-actually-newly-manufactured hipster bike, but I adore it.

 

“Understood. Let’s go ahead and do everything you suggested,” I said, “and then, if I experience any problems with the tubing (or whatever), I’ll be sure to bring it back to you guys for more work.”

 

He drew up a ticket at the front, recording my contact information as well as the work order itself.

 

“Sooooo — can we maybe buy some time from you?” he asked hopefully. I thought this meant: “We won’t be able to get your bike back to you today, buttttt we can have it ready tomorrow!”

 

So I said: “Sure!”

“Awesome,” he breathed, obviously relieved. “Then we’ll try to have it ready by next Thursday.”

My heart sank. Next Thursday? But today is Wednesday, and my vaca ends next Tuesday!

 

“No problem; thank you so much for your help!” I smiled at him. At least I HAVE a bike, and I’ll get to enjoy it next weekend. 

True, I conceded.

When we left the shop, Charlie, acutely aware of my disappointment, apologized for the wait. “It’s okay,” I said. “Honestly, I was super bummed when I first realized how long it was going to take, but hey — I have so much reading and writing to do anyways!”

 

We met up with a mutual friend at Urban Standard (a local cafe) that afternoon. After visiting for a bit, I powered on my laptop so I could spend some time – you guessed it! – writing.

“Wow,” our friend commented, gazing over at it. “You’re such a target with that thing.”

 

I laughed. “Yeah; it’s a piece of shit.” And after twenty minutes of struggling to load my internet browser, I realized that my old 90s Dell laptop had finally gone caput.

 

“Well,” I whispered to myself, “looks like it’s time to purchase a new laptop.” And I was sort of REALLY excited about it. I’m not a big tech or car person, so I tend to use these things until they’re just irreparably worn out and MUST be replaced.

 

I stopped by Target on the way home, but their selection of computers was too limited, so I continued on to Best Buy. At Best Buy, I fell in love with the MacBook Air. Duh; who wouldn’t? The Macbook Air is like the Ellen Page of the laptop world. But I did not, correspondingly, fall in love with its price tag: $899.

That’s like $900, I considered, letting out a sigh.

And it’s not that I can’t afford it, I told myself. It’s that I don’t need a really nice laptop. Come on; be honest — what do I ACTUALLY do on the weekends? Go to the cafe. Get on WordPress. Write. Pull up Spotify. Listen to music. Use Google Drive to occasionally revisit the novel. So why spend $900 on something incredible when I’ll only utilize like 20% of its cool features?

 

So I windowshopped a few of the cheaper laptops on display. They were okay, but the specs were mediocre and the ratings were disappointing. They were also much bulkier than I care for.

 

Right at that moment, Charlie spotted a collection of chromebooks. I’d never heard of a chromebook before, but apparently, it’s a Google-based, stripped-down version of a laptop. And it’s extremely economical.

I. fell. in. love.

 

I spent twenty minutes jumping from chromebook to chromebook, practicing clicking and typing and navigating and comparing prices and ratings. Ultimately, the Lenovo Ideapad 100S won me over; it was the most intuitive and comfortable one for me to use. I 100% wanted to buy it, so I flagged down a guy on the sales floor and told him that I was ready to commit.

 

“Cool,” he said, fishing for a set of keys in his pocket. “What’ll you be using the chromebook for?”

 

“Writing at the cafe,” I answered dreamily, picturing how wonderful it was going to be to walk into Saturn with my brand new laptop the follow morning.

 

He stuck the key into the cabinet that was situated underneath the display (I hadn’t even noticed it there!) and, after tugging the cabinet door open, he paused. My heart sank.

 

I was peering over his shoulder; to the left, there were boxes of Samsung chromebooks; to the right, boxes of chromebooks by another brand. And in the middle, where my Lenovo Ideapad 100S should be, there was nothing.

 

“Hmmmmmmm,” he breathed warningly. “Looks like we might be out, but let me check the back.”

 

Oh my goodness, PLEASE be in the back, I implored.

 

It wasn’t.

 

“But we should have some more in by Monday,” he assured me.

 

Fantastic. So I’ll be able to bring it home on end-of-vaca eve. 

 

“Okay, no problem!” I answered, concealing my devastation (#firstworldproblems). “Thanks for your help!”

 

Then, for just a little bit, I was a pouty little brat, and Charlie very kindly put up with me.

 

“First, it was the bike,” I reminded him, “and I was totally okay with that, but dude.. biking and writing were the two big but simple things I was looking forward to doing while we were on vacation, and now, I can’t do either.”

 

“You can use my laptop,” Charlie offered in consolation.

 

“No,” I grumbled, inconsolable. “It’s just not the same.”

 

Soon, I decided to stop being a brat and to enjoy the day. We went hiking at Red Mountain and I enjoyed collecting rocks along the way. We ordered a veggies-and-tofu laden pizza from Mellow Mushroom and then picked it up and brought it home. We watched Doctor Who, played with the pups, painted a rocketship-shaped bird feeder that Charlie had purchased at Michael’s, composed and recorded a chillwave song in the little studio nook downstairs.. in summary, we were somehow able to have fun.

 

On Tuesday, in celebration of my first day back at work, my chromebook appeared on my front doorstep. I was so happy.

 

And on Thursday, Redemptive called, announcing that my bike was ready.

 

I rushed home from work that afternoon — changed clothes and hugged/watered the dogs — and then hurried over to Redemptive Cycles. I got there 15 minutes before closing.

 

“I’m here to pick up my bike,” I announced excitedly to the same floor guy I’d encountered two times before.
“Awesome!” he smiled.

 

While I waited for him to retrieve it, an older-looking woman strolled over to where I was standing. “You going riding with us tonight?” she inquired.

 

I was taken back. “Oh — no! I’m just picking a bike up. But that sounds cool,” I continued. “Do you guys ride often?”

 

She nodded. “Every Thursday. You should really come.”

 

We continued talking. I discovered that her name was Gina. Then, a tech girl named Erica appeared from the back, using both of her hands to manuever my bike to the front. Reunited and it feeeeeels sooooo gooooooood!

 

When she spoke, the voice sounded familiar. “I think I spoke with you on the phone earlier today,” I mentioned. “I’m Jace.”

 

“YEAH!” her face lit up with recognition. “I do remember speaking with you! It’s funny; I thought about mentioning to you that we’re all going bike riding tonight..”

 

“Ha! Really? Yeah — Gina,” I motioned toward her, “was just telling me about that. I’ll try to make it out next Thursday.”

 

But it’s doubtful because I have crippling social anxiety and will likely think of some excuse.

 

Just as I was about to checkout with my bike and a new bike lock, a broad-shouldered dude appeared from the back, walking over to say ‘hey’ to Gina and Erica. Erica was sitting on a stool now, taking sips of beer from a can that she had slipped into a cutely crocheted coozie.

 

“Hey,” this new guy addressed me. “I’m DeeDee.”

 

“Hey DeeDee! I’m Jace.”

 

“You really should come riding with us tonight,” he urged with a strange sense of conviction.

 

I was just floored at this point. I’d planned on picking the bike up, testing it out en route to Urban Standard, and then returning home at a decent hour to eat kale chips and hummus in bed with a nice work of fiction. And now three people were encouraging me to do something different — something fun and interesting and kind of dangerous that I hadn’t properly planned or prepared myself for. I didn’t even have my helmet in the car.

 

“Well,” I began, “I really would like to tag along, but I honestly need to brace myself for these kinds of things. I have pretty bad social anxiety, so–”

 

“MY DAUGHTER has social anxiety, TOO,” DeeDee interrupted, “and she’s come out on these rides.. I can’t tell you how much it’s helped her; in school, and out of school.”

 

I felt like the universe was standing about an inch in front of me, waving both hands and screaming: GO!

 

“Okay. Fine,” I announced, defeated. “I will go.”

 

Yay! they all said.

 

I ran out to the car, grabbed my backpack and water bottle, and then returned to the store. Another guy was now standing by the front counter, fully outfitted in riding gear (tight-fitting knee-length shorts and an orange t-shirt).

 

“Hey; this your first time?” he asked, looking cool and comfortable.

 

“Yeah!” I responded. “I was just dropping by to pick up my bike and they convinced me into going.” I smiled. “How about you?”

 

“Yeah? That’s cool! It’s my first time, too,” he smiled. He had kind eyes and a goofy smile; a modest beard and medium-length hair that he’d pulled back into a ponytail. “I ride a lot, but I’m always on my own. I’m Chris, by the way,” he extended his hand.

Of course your name’s Chris. Are you fucking kidding me?

“I’m Jace,” I replied, incredulous.

 

After about ten more minutes, I could tell the vibes in the room were changing. People were getting antsy. “You think it’s time to go?” I asked Chris, noticing people moving to the back.

“I guess so,” he responded.

And where exactly are we going, I wondered for the first time.

“Hey,” I approached Gina, the older-looking woman. “Are we exiting slash embarking through the front or back?”

 

“The back.”

 

I rolled my bike to the back of the warehouse and then paused.

 

What the heck.

 

I expected this to be an intimate group of riders; 5, 6.. maybe 10 of us. But there were dozens and dozens of people standing outside of the warehouse, and there were just as many bikes. People were drinking, and laughing, and music was blaring. I watched as a tater tot food truck pulled up and people started cheering.

 

“Well,” Chris said. “I wasn’t expecting this.

 

“Me neither,” I admitted, feeling intimidated and, at the same time, thrilled. “This is going to be my first time riding a bike in.. gosh. Seven years.”

 

He smiled. “I belonged to a running club once,” he said, “but now, we’re in a bike club. How cool is that?

 

I smiled. I liked Chris. And I had a sneaking suspicion that he was gay.

 

After fifteen minutes of standing around and acclimating to this new group setting, a young hipster boy grabbed a megaphone and then everyone fell silent.
“Alright you guys.. remember; ride to the right, and no weaving — because of the size of our group, we’ll likely have three-to-four people sharing the same lane space. Call out any hazards you see so word can pass along to those behind you, and no snapchatting while we’re in motion. You’ll have a chance to take pictures when we break. Most importantly, have fun.”

 

The crowd erupted into cheers and the music started playing again; it sounded even louder now. I watched as the crowd began traveling to the left – biking down an alleyway – and I took a deep breath.

 

“You ready?!” Chris inquired, beaming.
“Yeah!! Let’s do it!”

 

And we took off. Just like that. With the sun going down to our right, the music luring us forward, and the collective energy of roughly a hundred and ten people surrounding us all like invisible smoke, we took off, and it was amazing.

 

I biked ten miles that night. Ten.

 

We paused after an hour of nonstop biking; our ‘surprise destination’ of the evening was an abandoned parking deck on Carraway Boulevard. As I pedaled up to it, I saw blue lights flashing. Uh oh.

 

A cop car was parked directly in front of the entrance to the deck, and the officer was outside of his car now with a flashlight, peering up and yelling: “Alright.. come out now; all of you, come down!”

 

I used my handle brakes (#superior) to slow down and then asked the person closest to me: “What on earth is going on?”

 

They turned to look at me. “Ehh.. they won’t let us up. Say the place is condemned.” They shook their head, looking aggravated. “We used to come here all of the time.”

 

“Bummer,” I sympathized. I so wish I’d been closer to the front of the group so I could have snuck up there before the cop had arrived. I heard a scream coming from the top of the parking deck, so I tilted my head back and gazed upward; I could make out a moving helmet and heard what sounded like victory cries.

 

“Haha.. good for them; glad they made it all the way to the top!”

 

Then, I watched and listened as the parade of cyclists descended the parking deck. In the dark, it was a really gorgeous sight; their bike lights danced, bouncing on and off of the concrete, and the music (playing from speakers jammed into backpacks) wove in and out of my hearing. As each biker exited the parking deck, rolling past the cop, they couldn’t help but forget to conceal mischievous smiles.

 

“Was it cool?” I asked one middle-aged woman.

“Oh my god; it was amazing.”

 

Once everyone had exited, our leader – another bearded hipster – yelled that we were to continue onward. We stopped twenty minutes later at the BJCC and spent about fifteen minutes mingling around a pretty, purple-lit fountain.

 

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It felt good to stretch. I set my bike onto its kickstand and then, feeling wobbly, plopped myself down onto the concrete floor.

 

“Jaaaaaaace!”

 

I looked up; it was Chris.

 

“How are you enjoying it so far?” he asked.

 

“I’m loving it,” I answered. “You?” He said that he felt the same.

 

“I looked back, behind me, at one point,” I shared as he knelt down beside me, “because I noticed that things had gotten really quiet, and it was then that I realized that I was literally in the very back of the line. I was *the* LAST one.”

 

He laughed.

 

Another dude walked over. Pop quiz: Do you think he had a beard? 

Answer: YES. Shockingly, he did. And a cool mustache that turned upward at either side.

 

“Want a beer?” he asked Chris.

“Dude, yes!”

 

He brought Chris the beer and when Chris popped it open, he offered me a sip.

“No, thank you,” I smiled. “I have a super low tolerance that would make it a struggle for me to stay on this thing.”

 

Then, the break ended, and we all began heading back together. I had been noticing, during the ride, one girl in particular; she was wearing black jeans, a black-and-white plaid shirt, and had a shaved head. She wore rectangular glasses and had a cool backpack. I thought she was the cutest little geek ever.

 

I’m not going to ask her out, of course, I told myself, but this would be good practice. You know.. trying to talk to her.

 

I’d chickened out on starting a conversation at least five times during the first hour of the ride (I’d had at least that many opportunities), but on the way back, I noticed her pull up next to me. She caught my eye and smiled. I smiled back and then said nothing. Then, very bravely, I offered (as a sort of question slash statement): “Hey; I wanted to ask what your name is?”

 

Oh. my. god. Did you REALLY just phrase it like that? So matter-of-factly?

 

I felt her look back over at me, but I kept my eyes on the road, humiliated.

 

“It’s Hannah,” she said.

 

“Okay; cool!” Annnnnnd I’m done.

 

“What’s your name?” she asked.

 

“It’s Jace.”

 

“Cool!”

 

And then, we started talking about sci-fi books. I can’t remember how it came up, but I remember saying: “Yeah — I heard you talking to someone behind me earlier about some book that sounded cool.. I wasn’t eavesdropping,” I added quickly, “but I mean, in a way I was, but it’s because of the close proximity we’re biking in — ANYWAYS,” I stopped myself because it was getting way too deep. “You had mentioned a book you read recently and the title sounded intriguing.” That’s all.

 

“The Sixth Extinction!” she exclaimed. “Yes; it’s fantastic. There have been five massive extinctions in our history, relating to people and animals, and we’re in the process of causing the sixth one.”

 

Awww.. I wonder if she’s a vegetarian? 

 

“Oh — so is this a work of nonfiction?”

 

I felt her look at me, so I turned to look at her, too. She had a grave look on her face.

“Oh.. yes. It sure is nonfiction.”

 

Adorable, I thought to myself. What an adorable little conspiracy theorist.

 

And then, we were already back at the warehouse; the tater tot food truck was set-up, ready to whip up orders of kimchi tater tots, nutella tater tots, and barbecue tater tots for about one hundred and ten happy and hungry cyclists.

 

I felt Hannah still riding along beside me, but didn’t know what else to say, or if it was necessary to say goodbye, so I just veered to the left and pedaled away.

 

Good job, Jace. That wasn’t totally terrible.

 

After coming to a stop, I intended to walk my bike over to the car and leave, but Chris spotted me and flagged me down.

 

“Jace.. park it! Go park that bike!”

 

I slid my bike into a metal bike rack and then walked over to the tater tot truck, where Chris was ordering. After receiving his order, he turned to me. “Want some?”

 

“Awwww, no thanks!” I smiled.

 

“You sureeeeee you don’t want to try it?”

 

“No — I’ve got hummus waiting for me at the house. Garlic-flavored AND red pepper-flavored.”

 

He seemed satisfied.

 

Soon, I drifted off and stumbled into Gina, the woman who had first asked me to join the group on their ride.

 

She smiled at me. “Great job, Jace. If you were able to finish this time, you’ll be able to do it again. Every time.”

 

“I’m so glad I came.”

 

We continued talking, and somehow, we ended up discussing her religion, career, and marriage.

 

“He was gay,” she announced suddenly, “and I realized he was after fifteen years.”

 

“Wow,” I whispered.

 

“He never came out, but I knew that he was.” She drew quiet.

 

I couldn’t help but ask. “But — if he didn’t come out — how did you know?

 

She looked at me. “I was a virgin until college,” she began, “and then, I wasn’t. I was with twenty-odd guys, and I knew that men liked touching me; they liked my breasts. My husband never touched me.” She continued speaking on the matter. Moments later, she said: “There were times when I’d ask him to put his hand on my forehead, or ask him to rub my calves, after we’d gone on a hike or a bike ride together..”

 

“Would he at least do that?” I asked, feeling upset on her behalf.

 

“Oh, yes. He would. But that’s all.”

 

I shook my head.

 

“And right before he died,” she continued, looking far away at something I couldn’t see, “he asked to see me. And I thought to myself — this is it; he’s finally going to come out to me. I walked into the hospital room, and sat down, and we talked.. and at one point, I came out and asked him: ‘What was it that ended our marriage?’ and he replied, ‘Hmmm, I don’t know.'” She shook her head.

 

About this time, a young guy walked over and complimented the third-party candidate button she was wearing; they started talking politics and I became bored, so I patted her on the shoulder and walked away.

 

“I’m heading out,” I announced to Chris (as a courtesy), “but it was so nice meeting you!”

 

“Oh, you’re leaving? Hey — how about we go biking on Sunday?” he suggested. “My friend Lindsey wants to start riding, so we could all go together.”

 

“Sure!” I responded. We exchanged numbers and then I left.

 

And that’s the cool part I didn’t tell you about; I got a bike while I was on vacation. I even made some new friends. And, on my first bike ride in seven years, I biked ten miles through the city of Birmingham.. without a helmet, without planning or forethought, and without a care in the world.

 

When I shared the news with my friend (who’s an avid biker), she was very pleased.

“If I’d known that A. there were going to be A HUNDRED people there instead of ten and B. we were going on a TEN-MILE trek, I totally wouldn’t have done it,” I admitted.

 

“But that’s the thing,” she said. “Because you didn’t know what the ‘limitations’ were, you had no limits.”

 

“Hmm. I like the way that sounds.”

 

“And,” she continued, “here’s a nice allegory. You know how, when you’re biking downhill, you’re able to go really fast and pick up momentum, and how that momentum can help you get up the next hill?”

 

I nodded.

 

“Well, when you’re having a good day, or a series of good days — a happy stretch — you need to capitalize on that. Really enjoy and really live on those good days so they can help give you a boost as you move into the darker periods of your cycle.”

 

“That makes perfect sense,” I said. “I love it.”

 

“One last thing,” she said. “You know how I go bike riding on trails, right? Well, I usually start out on this one particular side, but a few weeks back, I ended up entering the trail from the side I usually exit from, and when I did, I saw this sign posted before the trail.” She paused and showed it to me; it read: ADVANCED RIDERS PROCEED. ALL OTHERS PLEASE USE BYPASS ROAD.

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“And if I’d seen that sign before riding the trails, I would have thought — oh; no way. I can’t do this. I’ll have to ride elsewhere. But because I didn’t know how advanced it supposedly was, I wasn’t afraid, and I’ve been up and down that trail a billion times.

 

Good food for thought, huh?

 

So — quick recap: Like my friend suggested, I’m really enjoying the good days. When I wake up in that frame of mind, I try to be aware of how good they are, and then I use their happy momentum to coast through the darker days. Like clouds, they always pass, and like hills, it’s smooth sailing once you’ve made it up them.

 

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Still here,

Aun Aqui

 

PS: Here’s my I’m a hardass who’s in a bike club promo pic.

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Her Beginning, My Past: “Single and happy about it.”

Have you ever temporarily lost your sense of sanity? I’m asking because I feel like I have. The “temporary loss” is stretching and extending uncomfortably into the long-term, and I want to know that someone else has experienced something like this before and emerged from it — peace and sanity fully restored. Striking a balance and bouncing from one high point to the next used to be so easy and feel so natural.. it was like a default setting. But things look and feel very different now; I walk underneath long lines of shadows that are seldom interrupted by the tiniest, splotchiest patches of sunlight.

And I’ve speculated, for the past eleven months, that this “break” in sanity resulted from me losing touch with myself somewhere along the way.. but while driving to Golden Temple this morning, I realized that I’m in the process of developing a similar but different theory: I think that I lost my sanity because I brushed hands with myself too closely, entering into a cageless proximity with my soul that television and phone screens, billboards and restaurants, 900-page textbooks and looping 9-5’s usually protect us from; like I tapped into myself too deeply, and on accident, without being properly outfitted or braced, mentally or emotionally – and that that contact LITERALLY shocked me out of my own body.

 

Every single time I sit down to write, I promise myself — this is it; this is the last sad, whiny post you’ll draft. After processing through this new shit, you’re going to finally be okay. Then, you can really focus on your art; you can delve into creating within a new music genre and dabble in some fiction writing. But I can’t seem to pull myself out of this ditch; while ceaselessly trying to dig myself out of it, I’m continuously running into old relics, being presented with new puzzles, and tripping over thick, stubborn roots, and with all of this mayhem, I wind up wading around.. seemingly squandering time as I sift and work through things.. and when I DO pause to glance up and gauge my progress, the entrance – or exit – seems further away than ever. So I continue digging deeper.

 

Last night’s experience really threw me for a loop.

 

It was one of my old best friend’s birthdays (you’re likely wondering whose, so – for the sake of context – not Chris’s, and not Melissa’s; someone else’s, who I’ll leave unnamed). We ran into each other while I was at work last month, and when we did, she asked: “Soooooo.. my birthday is in a few weeks.. you wanna come over?”

 

“Sure,” I answered distractedly, beginning to walk away so that I could tend to a new hire, “but only if you send me a VERY fancy and formal invite. Then, I’ll consider it.”

 

And a week later, she did, via text message. I laughed my way through the invite.

 

I cordially and happily accepted, but when I woke up yesterday morning, feeling depressed, fat, ugly, and antisocial, I groaned; today’s the day, isn’t it?

 

I sat up in bed without getting up and stared out the window, running through my list of usual excuses. None of them really suited the occasion.. as in, none of them were legitimate enough to excuse missing out on a good friend’s 25th birthday. I temporarily tabled the idea of bailing from the party, pretending I’d find a decent way to do so later on in the morning, and proceeded with the day. Around 2:00 that afternoon, I got a text from her.

 

“What time are you heading over tonight, love?”

 

Well fuck. Now I definitely can’t cancel. I SHOULD have just done it earlier:

  • got my period yesterday, too miserable to be around people today 😦
  • the puppy and I are still bonding — gotta be here
  • I have to do five loads of laundry.. #adultingsry

 

But after deliberating for 15 sorry minutes, I decided to be decent.

 

“If you were anyone else,” I messaged her, “I SWEAR I would cancel.. but because I love you DEARLY, I’ll see you at seven and I’ll try to stay until 8ish.”

 

And I did as I said I would.

 

I turned on my GPS and drove out to her new place in Alabaster; she and her long-time boyfriend, who I like, had just moved in the previous evening. She spotted me in the parking lot; she was wearing a tie-dye t-shirt with light blue denim jeans and a pair of old, black and white Vans. I was wearing loose gray joggers, a sleeveless black shirt and, over it, my favorite blue sweater (which boasts solid black elbow patches). We hugged in the parking lot and then took the stairs together.

 

“Oh boy.. THAT’S embarrassing,” she apologized, pausing half-way up the staircase and reaching down toward one of its steps. I watched her snatch up a colorful, medium-sized rug.

 

“Ha! You must have dropped that while moving in last night, huh?” I guessed.

 

“Yeah. It smells like cat pee.”

 

“Uhhhhh gross. You should toss it; you bring that thing in the house and the cat will think it’s okay to pee on it, wherever it is.”

 

“True.”

 

She dropped the rug onto the concrete landing just outside of her front door and let us both in. The place was a wreck, like most places are when you’ve just moved into them the night before, and she apologized immediately.

 

“Dude! Don’t worry about it,” I reassured her immediately, coolly concealing my positively outraged OCD. I looked over at her; carrying a shopping bag (containing special birthday outfit clothes) in one hand and her purse in the other. When we’d been climbing the stairs, I’d discovered that a large group of people were coming over to celebrate the two big events of the week — her birthday, and the new place — and that her boyfriend had to unexpectedly work late. “He was supposed to be bringing pizzas,” she shared, sounding stressed. “Do you think people will be expecting food and drinks and stuff?”

 

I tried to be optimistic. “I mean, it’s late; they should have already eaten dinner.. they should honestly be in bed by the time this party is starting, so they’ll likely just be looking for beverages.. water, juice..”

 

“Yeah.” She looked unconvinced.

 

Now,  standing awkwardly in the living room and surveying tall, lop-sided piles of things, I gave instructions.

 

“Look; YOU go get dressed and do your hair and I’ll clear the area out a little.”

 

“Jace. I love you.”

 

“I know.”

 

Within seconds, I heard sounds coming from the bathroom — a shower turning on, clothes hitting the floor, doorknobs turning, and incoherent grumbling. Meanwhile, I stacked boxes of trash on top of each other, stuffed cups into a cupboard in the kitchen, threw bags of cat and dog food into a utility closet and snatched a random, black sock up from off of the living room floor and tossed it into the bedroom. Soon, things made sense.

 

Wearing a towel on her head, my friend stepped back into the living room. “Oh my god. It looks like a completely different place.” I ushered a final box into the bedroom and noticed, while doing so, that the closet led directly into the bathroom. “Oh wow,” I remarked, “GREAT set up! Bedroom to closet to bathroom. So convenient. That’s how Chris and I’s apartment was.”

 

I paused; why did I bring that up? Suddenly, I felt small and sad. I tried to shake it off.

 

“Oh yeah.. I love it,” her voice trailed along in the background. “Will you come in here with me while I finish getting dressed?”

 

“Sure.”

 

I followed her into the bathroom and leaned up against a wall, making chit chat. I had been looking onward, at her, absentmindedly, but when I noticed her beginning to take her shirt off, I looked away. I could feel her pause. “Is this making you uncomfortable?” she asked.

 

“Huh? Oh no! I’m just, trying not to look.”

 

She laughed. “We have the same stuff; I don’t care.” Still; I tried to keep my eyes averted, listening to her and then talking back at her with my eyes super glued to the Mary Kay makeup bag hanging from a hook on the door.

 

“Rose,” she began at one point, and then caught herself slip. “Gahhhhhhh.. JACE. I’m sorry –”

 

“Nooooo, you’re totally fine!” I reassured her. “My identity crisis is over now. You can call me either.”

 

This felt like an in. “You know.. I was going to ask,” she drew the words out slowly as she yanked a necklace from its cardboard setting and began clasping it around her neck. “I know that, when you first came out, it was as bisexual, and that, from there, we moved from bisexual to gay, and THEN you transitioned to transgendered, and then..” she paused, waiting for direction. “Are we back at bisexual?”

 

“No,” I shook my head, still leaning against the wall and tipping my head back so I could stare up at the ceiling. “Just gay.”

I paused. “Well, possibly bisexual.. but I think just gay. Who knows. Stay tuned.” She laughed.

 

We heard the front door open and close.

 

“Anna?” my friend’s voice called out. “Is that you?” More quietly, to me, she whispered: “I hope that’s her.”

 

“Yeahhhhhh,” Anna’s voice answered. “I’m here now.”

 

My friend opened the bathroom door and greeted this other friend. “Wanna come in here while I get ready?” she offered.

How many people is she trying to fit into this bathroom? I wondered.

 

“No.. I’m going to pet the kitty for a little bit,” I heard Anna’s deep (yet effeminate) voice respond.

 

“K,” my friend smiled and closed the door. “Alright,” she turned to me seriously. “Now, I need to do my makeup.”

 

“Oooooooh, exciting!” I exclaimed, disconnecting from the wall and stepping closer to the sink. “Then I’m going to observe the whole process,” I warned her.

 

“Please do,” she answered, reaching for a bag that I guess you’d call a makeup bag. 

 

“FIRST,” she announced dramatically, “you apply THIS stuff.” She held up a round, compact little container.

 

“Is it powder?” I guessed, leaning my elbows down onto the counter and peering over at it.

 

“No,” she made a face while she opened it, “it’s cream.

 

“Cream?” I repeated, puzzled. “Huh. Never heard of cream in the makeup world.”

 

“Well I don’t think that’s what it’s ACTUALLY called,” she explained. “I think most people call it foundation.

 

“YES! I’ve heard of that. I know foundation.”

 

“Right,” she continued, “but I call it cream.”

 

Just before she began applying it, I asked: “Are you wearing any makeup right now?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“Well you look beautiful without it.”

 

“Thankssssss,” she answered lazily. “But I look better with it.”

 

I raised my eyebrows at her. “Fair enough.”

I stared ahead, into the mirror, and watched her reflection apply the cream. “This is going to cover up allllllll of those blemishes and alllllll of that acne,” she advertised in a sensuous tone. I laughed. I felt like I was watching an actress prep herself for the camera. After applying the cream to every inch of face-space, she paused, eyeing the mirror critically, and then seemed satisfied.

 

“Now; you see how that cream made me look pale as FUCK?”

 

I nodded “yes.”

 

“Yeah. Well we’re going to fix that with something called bronzer.

 

On went the bronzer; cheeks, chin, forehead..

 

“Are you going to put it on your nose, too?” I wondered out loud.

 

“Oh.. honey.” She stepped back from the mirror and turned to face me. “You don’t even KNOW. Look at this nose right now; you see it?” She pointed straight at her nose and locked eyes with me. “Now behold the transformation.”

 

She returned to her post, facing the mirror, and I watched as the bronzer transformed her nose.

 

“I can see the difference,” I admitted. Hearing this seemed to please her.

 

Then, we applied eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara. During the mascara process, my friend’s phone rang.
“Oh.. this is boyfriend,” she cooed delicately, setting her magic wand down. “Pause,” she stated, and then placed the phone beside her ear.

 

“Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!”

 

I smiled while I listened along, and I was excited for her when I heard his voice state that he was on his way home. The call ended, and my friend whipped her head around at me. “Annnnnd PLAY.”

I laughed again. “You’re one of a kind, you know,” I told her. “One of a single kind.

“And you’ve missed me. Haven’t you?”

“You bet.”

 

The transformation was complete after a generous swipe of chap stick followed by a thick coat of dark red lipstick. As she moved the stick back and forth, from left to right and left again, I noticed the lipstick smudge a little on the corner of her lips; she saw it, too, and wiped at it with her finger.

 

“Won’t it be difficult for you to eat if you’re wearing lipstick?” I asked.

 

“Yeah.. but that’s why you do THIS.” With that, she disappeared into the other part of the bathroom, returning with a small wad of toilet paper. I grimaced as she parted her lips, slipped the thin layer of toilet paper between them, and then pressed down. When she pulled the toilet paper away from her lips, it was caked in red. “Vwahla!”

 

“Yeah, but it’s still going to come off when you’re eating,” Anna’s voice interrupted. I turned to look at the blonde girl who’d just entered the bathroom, wearing a pair of dark, blue denim jeans, a flowy, taupe-colored blouse and wide-rimmed eye glasses. We’d met once before.

 

“Well that was very interesting,” I concluded, and then summarized, out loud, everything I’d witnessed.

 

“Ahhh, but she didn’t do eyebrows,” Anna interjected when I’d finished.

“Didn’t need to,” my friend said.

“What would you do to eyebrows?” I asked.

 

Her friend looked at me. “You think these are real? Girl, I draw these on every day.”

 

I took a step closer; surely, they must be real.. they LOOKED real..

 

“I mean, I have eyebrows,” the girl clarified, “they just stop here–” she pointed, “and I have to draw them out further.”

That made more sense.

 

We all moseyed into the living room where I sat down onto a recliner and finally indulged in reading the text message I’d been ignoring all day; one from Christopher. Reading it was disappointing. Nothing indicated that he missed talking with me or hanging out; his words relayed that he’s built his own world now, he’s living his own life, and that I can’t “control the degree of involvement” that I have in it (I was, of course, irritated at the implication). If chit chat is what he’s comfortable with, he continued, and it’s not enough for me, then that’s my problem.. not his.

 

Disclaimer: I’m not trying to paint a picture where he’s a mean or insensitive guy, because he isn’t. He put it all very nicely, and everything he said was reasonable. It just hurt. It’s not what I wanted to hear, or read (“I miss you; let’s grab a burrito or play music together sometime!”), so of course it hurt.

 

My heart sank. We hadn’t spoken in weeks, and I’d unfriended him on Facebook a week prior to receiving this message. I did so because I didn’t want a sneak-peek into his world anymore.. the cursory view that hundreds of others got; highlights here and there, and occasional showcases of the big, mention-worthy things. I wanted to know what he’d had for breakfast that morning.. hear what new, favorite song he’s been playing on repeat all week long.. and see what Marvel-themed t-shirt he bought at Target last weekend. Shit I don’t have a right to know anymore; shit I shouldn’t care to know about, see, or hear anymore.

 

I sighed, typed out a mega-abbreviated thank you and goodbye message to Chris, and then sank further back into the recliner. The girls had drifted outside, onto the patio.. one of them smoking a cigarette, the other grasping a vape. I turned to look at the gentleman on the couch next to me; when had he gotten here?

 

He must have been thinking the same thing.

 

“Hey; I’ve seen you play music!” he said suddenly, knitting his eyebrows together in thought. “What’s your name?”

 

Surprised, I responded: “It’s Jace — where have you seen me play at?”

 

“The Coal Yard.”

 

“Ahhh, yes.” That makes sense. “I was scheduled to play there a couple of times last week, but a family emergency, concerning the owner, has caused the venue to close until further notice.”

 

We continued talking for about five minutes; I learned that he was Anna’s boyfriend and that he’d gone to what he referred to as a redneck school, but that he was actually a very cultured fellow. “I’m well traveled,” he explained. “I was born in Sweden, moved to Alabama, and since moving here, I’ve been all across the United States.. and I’ve done so via driving,” he detailed further, like this bit of info intensified things. “I like to think of myself as being open minded; I’ll consider ideas and beliefs outside of the ones I’ve always had and held, and I’m very accepting of people.” He seemed like a very nice guy.

 

Two other dudes stepped in to the living room, and that was my out. I shook hands with both of them, introduced myself, and then made a beeline for the outdoor patio, deciding that – if I was truly intending to leave at 8 – I’d need to get some more time in with my friend before dipping.

 

“We were wondering what you were doing in there,” my friend laughed as I closed the sliding glass door behind me.

 

“Ahhh.. yeah; I was just getting to know one of the guys in there. Dude’s from Sweden!”

 

I collapsed into a chair and turned to gaze at the two girls. “It seems like we do this annually,” I mentioned suddenly, nodding my head up and down. “Sit out here.. you two smoking, me hanging out.” I pretended to hold a cigarette between two fingers on my right hand and blew an invisible cloud of smoke out of my mouth sideways. My friend laughed, saying I looked cool, which is what I was going for.

 

And my friend’s friend nodded. “Yep — something just popped up on my Timehop three days ago that made me think of this. We were all out on a patio together this time last year.”

 

I smiled at the recollection. How different things were then. I’d lost my wedding ring that night. My friend and I had looked everywhere for it; inside and outside of the old apartment, inside and outside of my car.. part of me wanted to find it, desperately, while the other part – equally as strong – wished to never find it.

 

It was like she was reading my mind. “So how are you and Chris?” my friend asked in as casual a tone as possible.

 

I shook my head without saying anything.

 

“You guys talked recently?”

 

“Nah,” I dismissed the question. “We don’t talk anymore.”

 

Her friend piped up. “You don’t talk to who anymore? That guy you were married to?”

“Yeah. I miss him too much. It’s just easier to forget about him if I don’t think about or talk to him.”

 

They nodded. No one said anything. I felt oddly uncomfortable.

 

“Good for you,” my friend murmured affirmatively. “You’ve gotta do what’s best for you.”

 

Which is, in this situation, what hurts the least, I clarified to myself only. Like: Would you rather die by overdosing or getting shot in the head? 

Overdosing, I voted.

Agreed. 

 

I looked down at my phone; it was 8:27 PM, and I needed to leave.

 

“It’s past my bedtime,” I explained apologetically. I bent over to hug my friend, resting my chin on top of her head as she hugged me back from her seat. “Happy happy 25th birthday,” I whispered. I smiled at her, and she smiled back. I waved a general goodbye to everyone else, walked outside, descended the stairs, and strode across the parking lot. It was dark. I stepped into my car, shut the door, locked the door, and then cried and cried and cried.

 

People keep directly asking or hinting at the question, so I’ll just come right out and tell you.. I don’t want to be married to Christopher anymore. I don’t wish we were still married. I don’t want to be married to him or ANYONE. I’m single, and I’m clear-headed because of it. Full of drama, apparently, and plagued with depression, yes, but still.. I’m becoming increasingly clear-headed, and that’s very important to me. But there are two things that I miss about Chris and I.. the married version of us:

  • Who we were. Best friends. I knew him — who he was on a soul level and, less importantly, everything about him, in the factual sense — and he got me, too. I could liken it to knowing the general outline of a house as well as every nook and cranny inside of it; knowing it so well that, when lightning strikes and the power goes out, you can navigate, easily and expertly and fearlessly, in the dark. Don’t even need a candle. It was like that. He was not a stranger to me. He was familiar, the most familiar soul and kindred spirit I’ve ever known, and that was a comfort. Now, I exist on a foreign plane and in a separate universe from the guy. I’m sure most people would say, duh.. that’s the best you can hope for with an ex situation.. but the best is not enough for me. It never will be, so to me, he’s dead. That’s how I’m going to live my life, moving forward; my Christopher died, and Rose died with him. I’m what’s left.
  • What we had. Marriage wasn’t always fun, but mostly, it was. However shitty my days were, I knew I’d always have a partner waiting for me when I got home — someone to talk to me and hold me; someone I could listen to and comfort, too. It was a very symbiotic relationship; it created a permanent bond, and left a lasting impression, like a tattoo. Ink fades, yeah, but the general shape, the outline, never goes away. Similarly, I’ll inevitably lose touch with his soul as he changes, evolves, and grows over time, but I’ll always remember the dumb, factual shit, like his favorite brand of hot sauce, his #1 Steely Dan song, and the way he talked, gestured, smiled, laughed, and cried.

 

Single, I feel lonely.

I keep asking myself why I need someone else so badly — or why I think I do. I don’t know yet. I don’t know if it’s the emphasis that society places on coupling.. that it’s some kind of measure of success.. or if it’s just that I crave companionship, but I’m 99.9% sure that it’s the latter. And then I ask myself, why can’t I be enough? Why can’t I be my own companion right now, or even forever? Does my “ultimate” end goal HAVE to be finding “my person”? 

 

As I was driving home last night, wiping away tears and listening to melodramatic music, I felt my phone vibrate. I’ve been making a concerted effort to not text and drive, but I couldn’t help but glance down at my phone and catch the first line of my friend’s boyfriend’s text message.

 

“You HAVE to come back!!” it read. “I’m proposing tonight, and she would want–” that’s where it cut off. And my waterworks started all over again.

 

There’s no way in hell I can go back, I told myself firmly. You’re a sad, sad person right now, and this is going to be one of the happiest nights of her life. Don’t ruin it.

 

“I won’t be able to make it back out there,” I apologized, feeling heavy, “but HUGE congrats. Have a memorable evening, and give that beautiful girl a big hug for me.”

 

I parked my car, walked into the house, and my best friend, Charlie, was standing at the top of the stairs. “How are you?” we asked each other. We were both bummed out; him for his reasons, me for mine. So we ate organic gelato and gluten-free cheese puffs and watched Doctor Who on a laptop like the hipster fucks that we are.

 

And today, wearing black jeans, a grey tank top, the same prized blue sweater and my first beanie of the season, I drove to the Golden Temple downtown.

 

You all remember cafe girl, don’t you?

The one I left a 2-paged letter for a little more than a month ago? A few of you have asked if I ever heard back from the gal. The answer is yes.

 

She texted me about two weeks after I’d left the letter, introducing herself. Her texts arrived between 9 PM and 1 AM, when I was fast asleep, so I received them in the morning. I was shocked to receive them, and I relayed this to her.

 

“I never expected to hear from you!” I admitted. In response to her inquiry (what my plans were for the weekend), I responded that I’d planned on swinging by Saturn and that she could join me, or that I’d be happy to meet her elsewhere. I then threw out about seven different options, ranging from grabbing smoothies together to walking at Railroad Park. I heard back from her about seven hours later.

 

“Word. Well I’ll catch up with you over coffee sometime.”

 

I froze. Re-read the message. ‘Word’? Seriously? In response to my carefully crafted THREE paragraphs, you respond with ‘word’? 

 

I was so disappointed in my new best friend that I didn’t text her back. For two weeks.

 

Then, randomly one afternoon, I felt guilty about it. So you leave the girl a 2-paged letter, text her three paragraphs, and then just disappear? How weird must that seem to her? It might have even hurt her feelings. Maybe she needs a friend, like you do.

 

So I shot her a (briefer) text: Sorry it took me forever.. if you ARE looking for a new friend, I’d love to grab coffee with you sometime.

 

There; I’ll just leave it at that, I decided, feeling happy with my effort to make reparations.

 

“Can’t do coffee today,” she responded, “have a band practice.. we’re playing at Saturn this Friday!”

 

.

 

YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. I shook my head in disbelief. Beautiful AND artistic? 

 

She told me the name of her band, and Facebook confirmed the veracity of her claim; her band was, indeed, playing at Saturn. My most favoritest venue in the world. I considered, for a half-second, heading over to Saturn that Friday night and checking the band out, but decided not to; it seemed too creepy and stalker-ish. We hadn’t even met for that coffee yet or properly introduced ourselves; I’d left her an anonymous letter and she’d texted me at one in the morning.

 

But I felt like her band news merited a response, so I sent what I intended to be the last text: “Nice! Well have a blast, dude, and take care.” I nodded to myself, complimenting the refreshing succinctness of my message and then sending it.

 

“Will do,” she responded within a minute. “Come say hey at the Golden Temple sometime! I still don’t know what you look like.”

 

I was puzzled; did she want to be friends or NOT?

 

“Don’t be shy,” (+ smiley emoticon) a second message from her read.

 

“I am very shy by nature,” I responded, “which is why I left you the letter. I don’t drop into GT often, but I’ll make it a point to do so this Saturday if you’re scheduled to work.. just let me know. I’ll be the 5 ‘ 4″ short-haired girl ordering either a peanut butter smoothie or a burrito.”

 

And then, I heard nothing. Which caused me to conclude that one of two things were true:

 

  1. She now knows that Jace isn’t a boy (as the name might imply) and isn’t interested in befriending/dating a non-boy. Which I wasn’t looking to date, anyways.
  2. She’s bad at responding to text messages. Many people are.

 

Returning to today, I hadn’t planned on or hoped to see her, so when I was waiting in line an hour ago, preparing to order my smoothie, and she appeared in the prep area, I was very surprised.

 

Just act cool, super nonchalant, and use a code name when you order! I instructed myself. “Like.. tell them you’re Cosmo, or Deaqualine, or Jay.. yeah, do Jay. That makes the most sense.”

 

OKAY. (Trying not to freak out.)

 

A different cafe girl took my order; in place of ordering a suspect peanut butter smoothie (which is what Two Paged Letter Jace said she would have ordered), I requested a fruit smoothie containing raspberries, blueberries, and pineapple chunks with almond milk.

 

“And what’s your name?” the girl asked.

 

See; I KNEW they’d ask! 

 

Without hesitating (and silently bragging on myself for being so prepared), I answered: “Jay.”

 

“Okay. Just a few minutes, Jay!”

 

I hurried to my seat, set my laptop down onto the dingy brown table, and then they were calling for Jay.

 

I approached the counter quietly, unintentionally swerving a little in my effort to walk normally and feeling like a girl in a lineup of possible criminals. Are they going to know it’s me? 

I made it there and looked up; my cafe girl had just pushed the purple drink across the counter. She made eye contact with me and then, obviously satisfied that the customer who had ordered a purple smoothie knew it was ready and was claiming it, turned away; I grabbed the drink, two napkins, and turned away also. Mission accomplished: secret identity preserved; true identity unknown.

 

Did I want to get caught? Be forced into introducing myself? Sort of. Of course I did. I would like to make a new friend. And observing her reaction would have been, at the very least, interesting. But I’m just not comfortable, outside of work, interacting with people right now, and I don’t think I’m in a healthy place where I can be a good friend to someone else. I can barely keep up with current social obligations and have to tie my own hands to prevent myself from texting cancellations and dipping out on people I already know. I have to remind myself daily that making a new friend, moving to another state, or wearing a different style or color jacket isn’t going to fix me. Change feels good, and it offers somewhat of a placebo effect, but it has no power to actually fix or heal anything.

 

And I’d like to promise that this will be the last sad post you’ll get from me.. but I think we both know better by now.

 

So, recap:

An old best friend is now living in a snuggly new apartment with her fiance. That’s a beautiful new beginning for them.

And I used to have a best friend like that, and an apartment like theirs. I have neither now. But I need to stop considering the lack a loss and appreciate that being married to someone I could honestly call my best friend was one of the most interesting, and wonderful, and perspective-lending experiences I’ve ever had. I can’t have him back as the best friend I adored and loved, but I can revisit him – and us – in my memory, every once in a while. Someday, when it hurts less, I will; I’ll think of him, and us, and Melissa, and us, and Bobby, and us. Someday. And in the meantime, I’ll appreciate the subtle impressions and the massive impact each of them has left and made on me.. changing me, inspiring me, and challenging me to be stronger, and smarter, and kinder, and wiser, and to continue along The Jace Journey beyond this strange new landmark: living single and being happy about it.

 

I don’t need a clean slate. I don’t need a fresh start. I don’t need another relationship. I don’t need a god, or a big move, or one more gosh darn stool from the thrift store. I just need to figure out what the point of living life is and why I’m so averse to living it alone. 

 

bham-in-oct-040
Me trying to do (2) things: 1. be happy 2. not fall

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

 

PS: I left without leaving a letter this time.

 

Curamin: “Stop Pain NOW!”

As of 5:27 PM Friday, I’ve been on vacation.. my first “big” vacation of the year. I strategically scheduled it for the first ten days of October because the cool layers and earthy scents inherent in the month make it the most invigorating, inspiring, and magical time of the year. For me, anyways. It’s like you can feel the shift, the tilt, and the change. It’s comforting. Change always is; change offers this sense of renewal.. this inexplicable boost in morale and power. Last week, an old friend e-mailed that my last blog post had resonated with her:

I understand that whole conflicted feeling, like something needs to be changed or freshened and you just can’t figure out WHAT. When I was younger, I used to rearrange my bedroom about once every three months because it felt like a major change (ditto!). Or I’d cut my hair off or dye it a crazy color. It’s like a new you, without actually being all that new. Only temporarily fulfilling though, at least for me. You’ll have to let me know if you find something that sticks, in that regard.

You keep me posted, too.

 

And in reference to this vacation business, I’ve been polled by many: “Ten days off! Wow! What are your plans, Jace? Traveling? Performing? Going on an adventure?”

 

I responded to each inquiry in the exact same way: “It’s going to be pretty low-key, actually. I do have a gig scheduled mid-week, but other than that, I’ll be sleeping in, reading books, writing at the cafe, walking around downtown and hanging out with the pups.”

 

I observed that most people met this response with some disappointment on my behalf. “Really? That’s it? So.. you’re not going to have fun?”

 

I’ve had ‘fun’ vacations; embarked on road trips, visited theme parks, taken long drives down to the beach.. those busy “types” of vacations are interesting, and I enjoy them in extreme moderation. In general, my idea of a good time is to be in a state of unhurried relaxation and self-guided exploration and productivity. Throw in some coffee, plenty of personal space, and a carefully concocted mixture of music and quiet and I’m set.

 

With that being said, my vacation has been pleasant so far, and even – at times – busy. I’ve stayed occupied. On Friday evening, my best friend and I attended an underground/techno dance party at Saturn. The last time I danced – which was last month – was the first time I had ever danced, and to make it through the evening, I’d visited the bar twice for some assistance.

“I’m hoping the alcohol will make it easier for me to dance,” I explained to the barista on visit number two. He raised his eyebrows as he slid the short glass of whiskey-and-sprite across the counter.

“Hey.. whatever it takes,” he replied.

 

But this time, last Friday night, I was able to groove sans alcohol. I even made up some cool new moves; I named one “The Slam Dunk” and another “Peace and Guns.” Ask me to teach them to you sometime.

 

Then, on Saturday, Charlie and I checked out a new (to us) coffee joint, perused a thrift shop, and installed aluminum window screens in his bedroom and mine. The windows in the house have been left open since Saturday afternoon, and it. feels. heavenly.

 

Yesterday — Sunday — I changed out my guitar strings (in preparation for Wednesday night’s gig at The California Pizza Kitchen). It’s embarrassing to admit, but this was my first time re-stringing the guitar in two years, so after installation and some fine tuning, I couldn’t get over how crisp and full the chords sounded. It costed five bucks and Charlie (my assistant) sustained two minor hand injuries during the process, but it was so rewarding.

 

And today, I woke up early for the first time in three days to chauffuer Charlie to his doctor’s appointment.

 

After arriving, we entered the Magic City Wellness Center together and then parted ways; I plopped down onto a black faux leather couch while Charlie signed in at the front desk. It was my first time visiting the place, so I took a minute to glance around the room. There was a flat-screen TV on the wall, a Keurig stationed in the corner, six water bottles lined up next to it, an assortment of books on a shelf underneath the Keurig and, in conjunction with the books, a laminated printout that read: “Please enjoy reading a LGBTQ book while you wait, and feel free to take it home with you until your next visit!”

 

That’s really nice, I thought to myself.

 

I turned my gaze to the right; there were a few books stacked onto a table that intercepted two chairs, and a placard stood behind the books, advertising some kind of new pill: “Prevent HIV. Take this pill daily.” A small group of 5 happy-looking and well-dressed men were smiling and laughing in the background of the advertisement.

 

Satisfied with my surroundings, I eased into the back of the couch. I slipped my hand down into my backpack to go fishing around for my own book; a sci-fi novel I’d borrowed from the library. After a few seconds of rummaging, I felt it, hooked onto it by curving my fingers, and then spent the next twenty minutes reading through the first chapter and a half. I had to stop half-way through the second chapter because I’d decided, after giving it a fair chance, that the book just wasn’t worth any more of my time. The writing style was too simplistic, and the author threw in more curse words than necessary (seemingly, just for the hell of it), rather than inserting them strategically. It wasn’t tasteful.

 

So I tossed the book back into my backpack and then looked up right as the side door was opening; Charlie was finished.

 

“How did it go?” I whispered.

 

“They had to stick me four times,” he replied, making a sad face. I noticed cotton stuffing spilling out from both sides of khaki-colored medical bandaging on his right arm.

 

I stepped into the bathroom on the way out. I noticed, as I was washing my hands, a delicate tweed basket resting on top of a high table in the room. Curious, I craned my head to the left and peered down into it; tiny, bright purple packets looked back up at me. “Super lubricated!” one of them read.

 

“Oh dear.” I left the bathroom quickly, and Charlie and I slipped back into the car, en route to Red Cat Coffee House.

 

And now, here I am, plopped down onto another couch, a different couch; this one’s brown leather and a bit more aged than the last one, so it has some give to it. If I close my eyes, it’s easier to hear everything: the whiz and drip of the coffee maker droning on in the background; the lid to the dusty trash can opening and closing now and then; chairs scraping against the concrete at intervals and a constant, rolling hum of pitches, octaves, syllables and consonants filling all of the empty spaces in the room. I caught a lady’s eye a few seconds ago, and when I did, she tilted her head at me, nodding up and down in approval. “I REALLY like your haircut,” she announced.

 

“Hey, thanks!” I smiled at her.

 

“I really do. It compliments you.”

 

“I appreciate that,” I responded, nodding back at her. “My hair went allllll the way down my back two years ago, and I HATED it.”

 

“Reaaaaaally?” She marveled, squinting her eyes and obviously struggling to picture it.

 

“Yep. First time I took it this short, the hair stylist left it all thick and poofy. I eventually went to a barber and they fixed it.”

 

“Well I love it,” she reiterated.

 

“Thank you; that means a lot.”

 

And now, eyes open, I’m logged into WordPress, flipping through new tracks on Spotify’s Discover Weekly setlist and mining for some new listening material, and I’m asking myself, what do I have to say?

I’ll answer that question with a story, and then a statement.

 

Charlie and I dropped into Organic Harvest Saturday morning for two things: a pint of organic half-and-half (to sweeten coffee brewed at home) and two jars of pasta sauce.

 

After meandering up and down the aisles, eyeing the snack-laden shelves, and dropping a few unnecessary items into our handheld basket (raspberry licorice, coconut water, and sweet vinegar chips), we checked out. The store was holding a semi-annual “fair,” sampling wine, beer, cheese, and etc., but I was fasting until dinner-time, so I skipped out on all of that. As we exited the store, though, we noticed a “samples” booth set-up out front.

 

“Hey!” a smiling employee called out and welcomed us over. “Please feel free to take any samples you’d like!”

 

I sifted through the offerings and hand-picked several supplement samples, adding them to my shopping bag (choosing things like a women’s daily multivitamin, a kid’s animal-shaped vitamin C pack, and some gelatin-free, mood-boosting capsules).

 

Charlie snagged some supplements, too, and as we were driving home, sharing our selections, I noticed that the free, reusable bag the cashier had deposited our groceries into at checkout was advertising one of the supplements I’d seen available at the booth.

 

Somewhat interested, I asked Charlie: “Hey — what does the bag say?” Charlie, who was sitting in the passenger’s seat, lifted the bag up off of the car floor. “It sayyyyys.. ‘Curamin: Stop Pain NOW!'”

 

I nodded, smiling a little. I knew I’d seen it at the table. “Wish it could make MY pain go away,” I joked.

 

I felt Charlie look over at me. “Are you in pain?” he asked, sounding worried.

 

“Oh, nooooo!” I assured him, quickly. “I was kidding. I’m not in any kind of physical pain.. I was talking about EMOTIONAL pain. As in, I wish that supplement could take away my emotional pain. Of course, it can’t,” I added.

 

Charlie’s gaze was unmoved. “Talk about it.”

 

I lifted my eyebrows at the road ahead. I hadn’t planned on starting some kind of deep discussion. But okay.

 

“Well.. I just mean that it’s a lot easier to market treatments for physical pain. Emotional, mental, and spiritual pain are in their own categories. It’s a lot more difficult to work through and ‘treat’ that shit.” I paused for a while. Charlie said nothing.

 

“I think what hurts me the most in this life,” I continued, interrupting the silence, “is the transience of relationships, and of love. I’ve fallen in love with so many people.. romantically and platonically. And I still love those people, every single one of them. So many of those people claimed to love me back, unconditionally.. but they didn’t. I know they didn’t. I didn’t know it when they told me.. I naively believed them.. but it’s apparent now. I’ve yet to find ONE person who could actually love unconditionally.” I felt tears coming, and I hate getting emotional around people, so I took a second to steady my breathing. “Even if they couldn’t continue loving me in the same way they had or as strongly as they used to, they still could have loved me. You know? Love changes form, sometimes, and weakens or picks up in intensity, but it’s not supposed to just stop.”

Charlie murmured agreement.

“Look,” I inserted seriously, “I love you, Charlie. Whoever’s loved you before me or loves you after me, I can’t speak for them, but when I love somebody, it’s forever. So you’ll always have someone in your corner — a friend who loves you unconditionally, whether you end up wildly famous or rotting in a prison cell. So you’re safe. Just, know that.”

“I love you unconditionally, too,” Charlie answered.

We’ll see about that,
I thought to myself.

 

Then, much later on in the day, I turned my lamp off, left the window open, and fell fast asleep. I woke up this morning recalling a dream involving Christopher. In it, he’d stopped by a cafe to say hi — to spend like two minutes catching up with me — and I wasn’t having it. I opened the door to the cafe, invited him in, and then pulled him aside.

 

“We were supposed to have mornings and evenings together,” I reminded him, shaking my head in disbelief, “so what the hell is this?”

I can’t remember his response.

 

Driving to Charlie’s doctor’s appointment this morning, I related the dream. “I was so mad at him,” I admitted.

“Were you mad at him in the dream, or are you mad at him in real life?”

We were parked at a light. I waited for it to turn green before responding. “Both. But ‘upset’ would be a better word for it. I’m mostly sad with him, but there’s a part of me that’s angry, too. Anger is an emotion that I struggle to.. accept in myself.. but that’s just me being honest.” I adjusted in my seat. “Anyways. He expects me be okay with maintaining this superficial friendship, where he checks in every couple of weeks or months and, when he does, we barely brush the surface with each other. I’d rather watch our relationship die than hook it up to some kind of artificial life support and let it slowly degrade into something stupidly meaningless. With someone else, sure, that type of superficial relationship might be sustainable.. even respectable. But with him, it’s just an insult.” I took the exit ramp and continued onward to the doctor’s office, where they take blood, give advice, deliver news and prescribe medicines.. shit like Curamin.

I’d just rather remember how close and happy we were, I thought to myself only. It all hurts, but that would hurt less than accepting what we are now.

 

 

So, that’s the story, and here’s my statement.

 

Physical pain is unpleasant. I experienced a simple mishap on my skateboard two months ago and it resulted in an achy, throbbing right hand for three weeks. THREE WEEKS! No broken bones, and no pulled tendons (that I’m aware of.. I don’t go to doctors), but it was still very unpleasant. But the good news is threefold: the body heals, most physical ailments don’t last forever, and there’s medicine out there to help make the healing process a slightly smoother one. Except for that time when I took pain pills after having all four wisdom teeth removed and ended up vomiting because of the strength of the pills. I remember leaning over the sink and crying — trying to vomit as carefully and delicately as possible so that the four corners of my sensitive gums wouldn’t burst and I wouldn’t bleed to death.

 

But emotional pain, spiritual wounds, and constricting, pulsating heartache are, again, in their own unique categories. They’re sensitive, unpredictable, and mysterious demons to deal with. It took me six years to really let go of the best friend that dipped on me, and three years after his death, I’m still unable to process Bobby’s passing. Next month will make a year since Chris and I’s formal divorce, and the pain of our separation is more searing and pronounced now than it was on the day we signed that blasted paperwork. Isn’t that strange? A pain that strengthens, expands, multiplies and compounds with the progression of time..

 

Other than chocolate fudge brownie ice cream and sweet vinegar chips, there’s no real medicine you can take for heartache — no supplement that’ll soften its razorblade edges — and despite how much you wish they could, no one can shoulder your burden with you or assume it for you. You can, however, solicit and accept support. Because I feel pain, I genuinely empathize with anyone suffering in some form or another, and I wish you peace, confidence, and happiness on your journey, friend. I’m still slipping and swerving along my own. There are good days and bad days, of course; on the good days, I try to be acutely aware of how good things are, and on the bad days, I strive to be gentle with myself, like I would be gentle with a friend who’s down. I get out of the house, grab a coffee, find some kind of creative outlet, hug my pets, and read a nice book.

 

“We were supposed to have mornings and evenings together.. so what the hell is this?”

Disappointing. Sad. A bummer. But you’ve got to remember two things:

1. People enhance life.. they don’t make it. You’re perfectly fine, competent, happy and whole on your own. Got that?

2. Don’t be afraid to love the people you meet and travel with in this world; just beware of making someone your world.

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui