It’s hard to make friends out of other people, isn’t it? Growing up, you sort of do it without thinking about it, and as a child, most of my friendships happened incidentally; I was enrolled in a public school, given an assigned seat in each class, and naturally struck up conversation with the person directly in front of, behind, or beside me; sometimes, we clicked, and sometimes, we didn’t. But sometimes, we did.
Many of my other friendships were formed at church; not while sitting along the church pew during the main service, because talking in the sanctuary is disrespectful (eye roll), but while sticking around for potluck lunches, ambling into and out of early morning worship classes, and embarking on youth trips. I went caving, hiking, and backpacking with my old church youth group, and being a part of these events and participating in these activities helped boost my self confidence in social situations, at least a little bit. Come to think of it, church was where I met my best friend of eight years — Melissa — and my husband of five years, Christopher. Interesting to reflect on.
But outside of school and church congregations, work is the next best place to find and make friends — and after all three of these resources have been exhausted, well.. good luck.
I was enjoying my usual Saturday routine this morning when a stranger interrupted it. Wanna know more about it? Ohhhhhhhkay. I hate typing out lengthy, overly-detailed, and mundane blog entries, but..
I parked my car at Railroad Park this morning and then secured my bike to a pole so that I could wander off and read for a bit. The temperature was low and the wind was blowing, making things feel chilly; I grabbed a comforter out of the car, walked over to a sunny and secluded area, and then sprawled out on the ground with the eighth Harry Potter book (which a co-worker AND FRIEND graciously allowed me to borrow). I picked up where I had left off in the book and finished the novel within about 90 minutes. Rolling over and checking the time, I realized that I needed to continue on with my journey; that I still had antique shop and cafe visits left on the agenda.
I dropped the comforter, and the book, off at the car and then unchained my bike from the pole. On my way to the bike pole, I had smiled at everyone I’d seen, including a young gentleman who had been looking glum, sitting by himself on a bench. When I hopped onto my bike and began turning it around, I was startled to see the glum-looking fellow standing directly behind me, smiling shyly.
“Do you go to school at UAB?” he asked, out of nowhere.
He’s either going to ask me out or ask me for money, I prophesied, my mind racing.
“…no,” I answered, slowly and carefully. “I can’t afford attending UAB right now, but I’m saving up for it — maybe someday!” I threw in hopefully. “Do you attend UAB?”
He shook his head no. “I plan to,” he added, his answer basically mirroring mine.
“Ahhh.. okay.” I nodded, looking at him, feeling helpless, and begging the universe to nudge this guy into concluding the conversation.
“What is your name?” he asked (instead).
“Jace. And yours?”
He gave it, but I couldn’t understand him the first time he said it (he spoke with a heavy accent); he repeated his answer, and then I understood him. “Abraham.. great name!” I complimented.
“I would like to be your friend,” he stated, very openly. It completely took me off guard.
I nodded. “Awww, yeah! So you said you plan on attending UAB; did you just move here recently?”
He shared that he’d moved to Birmingham eight months ago, for school and work. I asked him where he had moved from; Chicago. I asked him where he worked now; the Coca Cola factory. I asked him if he’d found a circle of friends to hang with, locally.
“Trying to,” he answered simply, shrugging, smiling and looking down at the ground. He was precious. And I still didn’t know if he wanted to date or rob or kill me or actually just wanted to be my friend.
Because the last few times I’ve written letters to girls and claimed that I wanted to be friends with them, I also, not-so-entirely-secretly, hoped to someday date them. One of them, anyways.
There was an awkward silence simmering between us, Abraham and I. “Well we should hang out sometime,” I decided suddenly, out loud, and then wanted to punch myself in the throat.
“When?” he asked.
Damn it. “How about I get your phone number,” I suggested, reaching into my pocket and already feeling relieved by this solution. I’ll have his number and he won’t have mine and I’ll never ever text him.
“I am.. without phone right now..” yeah; he is totally going to rob me.
“Okay,” I began, slowly nodding up and down and reaching for another solution. “Well have you heard of Saturn?”
He didn’t understand me the first time I said it, so I repeated my question and explained that it was a coffee shop. He responded that he had heard of the place and that he was vaguely familiar with where it was located.
“Then how about we meet at Saturn sometime?” I offered.
I hoped that he would nod in a general “sounds good” kind of way, like I’ll just magically show up there and you’ll be there too and we’ll hang out then, but he asked – again: “When?”
I didn’t want to set a date that was too far off into the future, but I also didn’t want to drop my plans for Saturday (like they were hot — ever heard that one?), so I said: “I have a religious thing with a friend tomorrow,” (which was true), “but how about we shoot for 12?”
He nodded, looking happy.
“Now.. I will TRY to make it,” I assured him, “but if I don’t, you’ll still enjoy the place, anyways. It’s REALLY cool.”
We parted ways quickly after establishing the where and when and then I pedaled away at as discrete a fast pace as possible.
And immediately following our exchange, I spent 30 minutes interrogating myself: What are you really going to do, Jace? Do you actually plan on meeting up with this total stranger at your very favorite coffee shop? AND WHY in Hiro’s name DID YOU HAVE TO MENTION YOUR VERY FAVORITE ONE? You could have named some place you’d be okay with never visiting again so that, if you DO meet up with this guy and he turns out to be a creep-o, you won’t be afraid to go back.
I tried to reason with myself: The safe and responsible thing would be to NOT go. You don’t know this human being at all and you don’t owe him anything. You even warned him that you might not show up, so he should be expecting that you won’t.
But then I pictured this sad-looking guy sitting at a table by himself tomorrow afternoon; turning his head to look at the door every time he hears it open and, every time I don’t walk through it, feeling like a total loser; rejected, unimportant, and inconsequential. And I couldn’t bear doing that to someone — making anyone feel that way. I’d hate to feel that way, and I have before. How could you willingly subject somebody to something that you’ve experienced before and that you know is unpleasant?
Well if you’re going to go, AT LEAST bring somebody with you, I pleaded.
And this sounded like a good idea. A wise idea. I’ve yet to solicit anyone’s help, but if you happen to be reading this and you’re a local pal.. how about we grab coffees together at Saturn tomorrow? Say 12ish? I’ve actually got a new friend I’d love to introduce you to.. 🙂
In all seriousness, I do plan on going, simply because I know – personally – how difficult it is to make friends with new people and to sustain old friendships, and if you’re feeling really down and out, having one single friend who cares could be the difference between you staying here or leaving here. <That’s personal testimony, right there.
And I’ve tried to “make friends” over the course of the past year.
I knew, back in November ’15, that I needed a large and present support system to help me get through one of the strangest chapters of my existence, so I made it a point to reach out to people and to get out of the house, attending various social and work events and playing open mics and popping up ‘here and there’ when I wanted nothing more than to be curled up at home, sad and alone. Not only did some of my old friends show up — co-workers, old church pals, and school friends — but I was also able to forge and develop new friendships with artists, with members of the LGBTQ community, and with people who can’t really be classified. But three recent attempts at forming new friendships failed.
The first attempt failed because the person (who I hung out with on two separate occasions) seemed to enjoy – to an excessive degree – speaking on the topic of sex; I won’t go into detail (because ew), but our conversations made me very uncomfortable. It was honestly unfortunate that this person and I couldn’t become closer friends, because he was — other than being sex-obsessed — brilliant and creative and interesting. But I’ve realized that you shouldn’t compromise what you’re looking for in a friend (or partner) and that it’s okay to draw boundaries and to be selective about who you choose to associate with; try asking yourself: does this person bring me more joy than not? Do they cause me any discomfort or harm? Do they challenge and influence me to be a better person, or are they a discouraging and weighted presence in my life?
The second attempt at forging a new friendship failed because I gave my number to a person who asked for it, told them that I’d like to hang out “sometime in the future” (they wanted to teach me how to play chess, which sounded fun) and that I preferred texting to calling, and then they called me – twice – the following day. I texted that I was at work and that, afterwards, I was heading to a bike meet, and then they called me again. I knew, right off the bat, that this would be a friendship that I would not be able to sustain, and that that was okay. Our conversations naturally fizzled out as he wouldn’t text me back and I refused to call him.
And the third attempt basically crash-landed before it had lifted itself all of the way off of the ground. I asked the person if they wanted to get coffee together and, after us having a mature and candid conversation together regarding the nature of our date (I wanted us to keep things friendly; their intention was more so to see if we’d be good dating material), we decided to postpone the meet-up and it just never ended up happening at all.
I’ve thought of creating a “Platonic Pals Friends Club” for Birmingham locals, but I know that it would just go to shit anyways, because one “friend” would decide to date another “friend” and then it would just become a pseudo-named dating/hook-up club that wasn’t platonic at all. And that just isn’t what I’m going for.
So I’m going to give Abraham a chance tomorrow, because maybe flagging down and announcing to a complete stranger that you want to befriend them isn’t actuallyso incredibly weird. I’ll keep you all posted on what happens — if I can, anyways; if I don’t show up at work on Monday, well.. it’s been really interesting and I’ve enjoyed every single minute of this life. Even the saddest and loneliest and darkest ones. I mean that.
Still here (for today, anyways),
Before you go, I’d like to pose a friendship challenge: What’s your most interesting friendship story? How it began, or why it ended? If you don’t mind sharing, I’d love to read about it — just post a comment below.
Yesterday was wonderful. I took a personal day off of work and stayed at home in my pajamas, painting the living room walls gray and spending quality time with the insanely hyperactive German Shepherd duo.
I finished painting mid-afternoon. After sorting brushes, removing tape from baseboards, and rolling up and discarding the paint-splotched tarp, I turned to look at Charlie. “Sooooooo.. what now?”
He looked back at me, a nearly empty paint bucket in his left hand. “Didn’t you want to go to Target? You said we needed stuff from there.”
I shrugged. “Yeah — we do. But I mean, it could wait a day.”
So we stayed home. I cooked a big pot of spaghetti (throwing chopped onion, minced garlic, and sliced red bell pepper into a creamy vodka sauce) and then sat beside Charlie on the new, black, faux leather couch in the living room — the first piece of furniture that’s been down there in 12 months. We lit a fire and used organic chocolate and vegan marshmallows to make smores. I fell asleep on the couch and didn’t wake up again until 3:50 in the morning.
And when I woke up this morning, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the fact that, yesterday, I stayed home for an entire day. I didn’t run off to Saturn, or Redcat, or Golden Temple, or Urban Standard or Railroad Park or any of my usual escapes, because for once, I didn’t feel like I needed to run away.
For the past year, following the divorce (which took place on November 24th of last year), I haven’t felt at home in our old house. I spent the first 5 months (December-April) trying to sell the place, but with no luck. I finally resigned to stay in it last May, to the gently concealed disappointment of my favorite realtor, but I promised to re-list with her at some point in the future when I felt ready to pack up and go.
And although, with my resignation, I was consoled by the facts that it’s close to where I work and has a backyard for the dogs, I was still unhappy and unready to call it my home. And I think it could tell. Even after the winter had passed, it still felt cold and sterile; I walked through the kitchen and paced up and down the hallway day after day, but the space remained gloomy and unwelcoming. I felt like a visitor, a guest, who had been hanging around for too long — an unmeaning bother that was irritating the very structure of the home, from its looming, vaulted ceilings all the way down to its worn wooden planks and rusty, bent nails.
But a few months ago, I began reclaiming the house, room by room. Yesterday, I reclaimed the living room, but it all started, rather sadly, with my room.
When Chris and I inhabited the home together, we shared a bedroom (the master bedroom). We painted the walls two nicely contrasting shades of green (grape leaf green and grass patch green), hung a gigantic tree painting onto the wall, and placed a dark brown, minimalist-looking bed into the middle of the room, right against the back left wall. It was all very simple and very zen.
But what was once a warm and comfy resting place became a tangible, soul-crushing reminder of who my life used to revolve around. So the room is empty now, with the exception of a mirror, a handful of his old hair scrunchies in a drawer, an unloved stuffed animal on a rack in the closet and a simple brown box on the floor, near an air vent. The box contains my old wedding dress, a tiara, and a pair of cake-stained white gloves; evidence of our fairy tale wedding.
Our colors were brown and pink; his mom picked out the flowers (because, although my name was Rose, I didn’t have a favorite flower), and the date we chose was so sudden that – on my side – only my mother and father had been able to make it, driving up from Florida to view the ceremony and then meeting us and his parents at Olive Garden for dinner that evening.
So I leave the box, and the stuffed animal, and the tiny collection of hair scrunchies alone, and I never pause to look into the mirror.
Two firemen walked into my house this morning for a complimentary fire alarm inspection. They installed an alarm in the garage (because there’s supposed to be one there and one wasn’t), and two more in my room and my roommate’s bedroom.
When the three of us (me and the two firemen) walked into my room, I apologized for the unmade bed and the pair of Vans lying on the floor. Bart (the short guy) dismissed me kindly. As I watched them install the new alarm above my bedroom door and asked them about how many houses they thought they’d be visiting today, I felt a tiny surge of pride — one that I’ve felt more than once in the past few months. They’re installing a fire alarm in my room, I thought to myself. My room. Because I have my very own room now. And it’s beautiful — with a simple bed, and a writing desk, and a guitar, and a rocketship trashcan, and two small red bookcases, and about a thousand random paintings and posters clouding the sky blue walls.
And it’s really not remarkable — most people have their own room, don’t they? Growing up, I always had my own room — a place I could retreat to; a space I could decorate with Disney star posters and rearrange at will. Over the course of my young life, my mom let me paint two/four of my bedrooms; when I was 10, living in Port Richey, Florida, I painted my room soft pink and stenciled white butterflies onto it (can you believe it? I did that — I can’t rewrite the story and I wouldn’t necessarily want to), and when I was 18, living in Weeki Wachee, Florida, I painted my bedroom three colors: black on two opposing walls, and then pink and green on the other two. I hand-wrote lyrics from original songs onto the walls and painted on other scenes and objects. I left home less than a year after painting those walls and my poor mother was left with the task of going over the black, pink, and green with coat after coat of boring white paint as she prepared to sell the house.
But once Chris and I married, the concept of having my own room flew right out the window. The change wasn’t even intentional; it just happened and I didn’t realize it. We lived in a one bedroom apartment together in Hoover, Alabama, where it made sense that we’d share a bed, and then, after moving into a three-bedroom house three years later, our arrangement just naturally stayed the same; we continued sharing a room, and the two other rooms were designated to be “studio” and “guest” rooms.
But when we divorced last year, I spent the last month that Chris was at home in the guest room. He offered to stay there, but I told him not to; it was my fault we were getting divorced, and I didn’t want him to have to relocate. Besides, I thought, he’ll be leaving soon; I’d rather be alone in this room right now, slowly adjusting while knowing that he’s down the hall in another room, so that I won’t feel his real departure as keenly.
So I fell asleep in a strange blue room with a bed, a dumb side table made out of tweed, and my phone charger. I eventually moved my guitar into the room along with a few knick knacks that Chris or my family had purchased for me; things like an owl paperweight, a fox figurine, and a bunny “piggy bank.” These new additions helped make the room feel a bit more familiar, but it was still sad, sleeping alone at night. I arrived home late from music gigs or meditation meetings, clutched my stuffed bunny (Governess) tighter than ever before, and cried until I could at least sleep from exhaustion.
“Are there any other rooms?” Buddy (the tall and skinny one) asked me this morning, interrupting my silent recollections.
“Ummmmm — yes! Yes, there is a third bedroom,” I began to answer him, “but no one’s living in there right now.”
“Let’s take a look at it anyways.”
I led us both down the hallway, opened the door for him and then apologized. “Sorry it smells so musty! Haven’t been in here in a long time.”
He craned his neck to look up at the vaulted ceiling, and then poked his head around the corner. “Is this a bathroom?” he asked, sounding surprised.
I didn’t think it was that unusual — a bathroom being connected to a master bedroom. “Yeah — there’s a bathroom and a walk-in closet over that way.”
“Nice,” I heard him murmur under his breath.
“I’m considering taking in a second roommate, but I’m not willing to give up my privacy yet,” I explained, filling the silence.
“Yeah,” he nodded, seeming distracted. “I think this room’ll be alright for now.”
The firemen left (after I promised the tall one that I would contact an electrician to have two hardwired alarms updated). I watched them go and then I rolled my bike down the driveway and mounted it onto the car. I’d already played with and fed the pups, so I was totally ready to go. Then, my neighbor walked over.
“Hey, Matt!” I called out, smiling as he approached me.
We spent about ten minutes catching up; he nodded toward the bike and I explained my general ‘weekend routine’ of existing downtown. He shared information about a recent home improvement project and talked about his family’s farm over in Cullman.
“Ooooh — a farm?” I echoed him. “Is it a fruit and vegetable farm or an animal farm?”
WHY did you ask that, Jace? You could have just believed that it was a fruit and veggie farm. If he answers ‘Animal! We raise chickens and pigs without naming them and then eat them on holidays and weekends,’ you’re going to hate your neighbor.
I held my breath and tried to remain extremely aware and in control of my face as he responded.
“Oh, they grow APPLES, PEARS.. mint, watermelon..” he made a sweeping hand movement that indicated that the farm had it all.
“That’s wonderful!” I encouraged him to go on.
“And we’ve got cows…”
He continued but I tuned him out. The cows are pets; they name them and feed them and pet them and let them roam around wherever they want.
Then he was talking about apples again, so I tuned in.
“My dad likes to plant your typical, red apples, but I wanted a few dwarf apple trees,” he began, “so I ordered the seeds, planted the them, and when the trees grew tall and started producing fruit a few years later, we discovered that they weren’t giving off dwarf apples.” He paused. “They were producing crab apples.”
He said this with a look and tone of disappointment, so I said: “Ohhhhhh.” The “oh” sounded like “bummer.”
What is a crab apple? I asked myself. Is it a gross apple, or is it more like a decorative pear — something that looks like an apple but isn’t actually edible?
Google it later and pay attention to him, I reprimanded.
“BUT, we were able to fix it, because my dad is WAY into this stuff,” his eyes were brighter now, more animated and twinkling with mischief. “What we did was take some bark from one of dad’s red apple trees. Then, we cut a hole into one of the ‘dwarf apple‘ trees,” he rolled his eyes, “opened it up like a book,” he gestured, “and stuck the bark in! We closed it, sealed it up, held it fast with rope, and boom. It started producing nice red apples.”
I was puzzled. I remembered reading something about this in a biology book, back when I was homeschooled.. something about propagation and plant transplants.. but it was hard to believe that it really worked.
“It was really that simple a process?” I asked, expecting him to confess no, we actually had to start over with new apple trees — I just made all of that up.
“Yep,” he nodded, visibly pleased by my reaction. “The thing is,” and this is the part I wanted to share with you all, “when you mix genetics like that — the red apple tree genetics with the crab apple tree genetics — the stronger coding overtakes the weaker coding. The strong genetics literally overpower the weak ones and determine what kind of fruit you get.”
I thought this was fascinating — in a good and a bad way.
I wrote lots of poems when I was a kid, and one of these poems conveyed something to the effect of, if you’re on a table and someone else is on the ground, it’s a whole lot easier for them to pull you down than for you to lift them up. This makes sense, right? You picture it and it makes sense.
And my point, then, was that good influences don’t always overpower bad ones. They just can’t. Whichever one is stronger — more developed and colorful and loud and deeply rooted — will overpower the other.
With this in mind, it’s important to remember that “good” isn’t always stronger than “bad.” It’s always better, yes, but better doesn’t mean stronger. For example, when I’m experiencing two emotions at the same time — perhaps fear and excitement — whether or not I choose to act or cower will depend on which emotion is stronger. Am I more afraid, or am I too excited to let fear stand in the way?
And when presented with the choice of staying in a compromised marriage, where my two battling emotions were love and fear, love was stronger than fear. I loved my partner too deeply to let my fear of being alone keep him from a more fulfilling life.
But isn’t this post supposed to be about time travel?
Yes. Stick with me for like, four more minutes. I’m getting to that right now.
After the firemen left my house and my neighbor returned to his house, I continued on my already merry way. En route to the park, I stepped into Whole Foods (to say “hi” to Charlie and to purchase some fruit), and as I pulled away – with my yellow pear, red grapes, and two pieces of dark chocolate ginger in a brown paper bag beside me – I saw him, out of the corner of my eye, for about three quarters of a second. Christopher.
I was turning right to exit the parking lot while he was moving in the opposite direction.. entering the parking lot and driving past me. He saw me first — he leaned out of his car window and gave a peace sign — and it caught my attention. I raised my hand automatically to say “hello,” but it was too late. He’d already passed, so I don’t think he saw it. And I was sort of glad that he didn’t.
If I would have known who was throwing me a peace sign, I wouldn’t have waved hello, anyways, I thought to myself, grumpily.
Yes, you would have. You miss him.
I do not miss Christopher.
You miss talking to him and seeing him and playing music with him.
Yeah — so?
So you miss him. Quit being a brat.
I continued on to the park, feeling my heart like a heavy weight in my chest. After taking three minutes to parallel park correctly (and dealing with the added pressure of a commoner looking on as I struggled to work my janky blue car in-between two BMWs), I tossed my laptop and camera into my backpack, hopped onto my bike and pedaled to Golden Temple.
When I walked in to the health foods store, nothing was unusual; I leisurely ambled down a few aisles, looking at beverages, cookies, spices and consignment clothes. I grabbed a cold, concord-grape-and-acai apple cider vinegar drink out of a cooler (not for its taste; for its health benefits) and then approached the front counter. A guy rang me up and said: “Don’t forget your free lunch!”
I looked around, a little bewildered. “I’m sorry?”
“Don’t you know?” he lowered his head, like he was telling a secret. “It’s our 43rd birthday and we’re throwing a party! There’s free coffee and chocolate there,” he pointed, and then I saw it — a table was set-up right in front of the register. How had I missed it? “And from 11-1, we’re serving free lunch in the cafe.” He smiled, obviously happy to be the bearer of good news.
“I’m so glad you told me.. I picked the right day to stop by!”
“Enter your name into the drawing and swing by the back for cake later,” he called out as I walked away.
As I settled into my second favorite booth (my first favorite was taken), I experienced about 15 seconds of panic and exhilaration combined.
I thought this birthday party thing happened like a month ago. I paused, staring at the vase of flowers on my table. I could swear that I saw it on Facebook.. that Charlie and I were going to go together that weekend but figured it would be too crowded.
I looked around me, trying to stay calm.
Oh my god. I think I’ve.. somehow.. accidentally time-traveled. I took a deep breath and then read the green sign that was taped to the napkin dispenser: “Please help by taking your dishes to the bus tub at the rear of the cafe. Thank you.”
I laughed. No.. I haven’t time-traveled. That’s probably not possible.
But then I started thinking: What if it were possible? What if, like in Doctor Who, you could step into a magical blue box and go anywhere — anywhere in the past or future? However distant or near? Where would you go, and why?
I spent a few minutes considering my own response. If I could travel through time, where would I go? And would I go there to experience something new, to relive something old, or to make a different choice that would completely alter my original timeline?
Return to age 18 and not get a cross tattooed onto my wrist?You aren’t a christian anymore, I’ve reminded myself recently. Is that tattoo still an accurate portrayal of you? Heck yes it is. Tattoos aren’t so much living reminders of who you are as they are landmarks of who you’ve been — what you were like, what you loved, and what mattered to you the most.
Return to age 22 and make a different career choice? Nope. Switching credit unions was the best career choice I’ve made thus far.
Return to age 23 and proceed with obtaining my bachelor’s degree, rather than taking two years off and making no academic progress? This one was hard. Part of me says yes, but the stronger part of me answers no. No, because I needed that ‘off time.’ With it, I was able to experience playing in band, make great strides in my music and writing, and take inventory of myself like I’d never bothered doing before.
Return to age 24 and not get divorced? I paused here the longest.
What about jumping forward? Would I like to visit 2026, or 2056? See what’s going on in my life and the world 10 or 40 years from now? See A. whether or not I’ll still be here, and — if I am — B. who I’m with and C. whether or not I’m happy? The definitive answer to this one was no. For me, the mystery of life is its intrigue. I’ve never read the last page of a book and then worked backwards; do that, and you’ve thrown a strange shadow over everything.
Would I do anything different with Bobby or Melissa?
And that’s when I answered yes to both and then changed my mind.. answering, instead, yesandno.
With Melissa, my first inclination was to say ‘yes’ — I WOULD do something differently. I would call her the day after David and I split up and say, you and I were best friends first; take as much time as you need to be there for your brother, but don’t forget about me. We’ve been best friends for 8 years, Mel — don’t disappear, like an asshole, for the next 6 1/2.
But I changed my mind and said ‘no.’ Why? Since Melissa and I parted ways, this has been my timeline:
Religious fanatic > Married religious fanatic > Married and slightly religious person > Married and not religious in a rock band with tattoos and piercings > Married and bisexual > Married and transgendered > Divorced and transgendered > Divorced and gay > Divorced and bisexual? (and still agnostic)
And if she had hung around — being the strong presence in my life that she always was — it would have interfered with my exploration and growth. It’s cliche to say, but with our shared religious background and strong emotional ties, I really wouldn’t be who I am right now, and even the idea of that feels like a loss. I’m incredibly imperfect, but as unstable as I appear to be on the surface (as I allow all of this inward chaos to manifest openly), I’ve made such progress with unearthing my identity, and I have never felt more sure of myself. I don’t trust people’s perception of me more than I trust myself, and I never thought I’d be able to honestly say that.
But with Bobby, the answer was and is yes. He is the one person I’d travel back in time for, and it wouldn’t be one special day in-particular that I’d want to revisit.. it would be a series of days, months, and years. I’d want to revise an untotaled sum of small decisions; reallocate a countless number of spare moments. But I wouldn’t have just given him my spare time; I would have made sacrifices to create time for him.
But if it wasn’t possible to time travel through the years and I did have to choose just one day, I know exactly which one it would be. It’s the first one that came to my mind, and it makes sense.
Before I left Florida for the third time in my life (and before moving to Alabama for the second time to marry Chris), I took Bobby to Pizza Hut on one of my off days from waitressing. We drove in the car together (it was a twenty minute ride) and then parked and walked into the place. It was very ordinary. Bobby ordered a pizza and I sat across from him in the dimly lit restaurant, watching him eat and counting each piece. One, two, three..
“Hey Bob; wanna take the rest of the pizza home for later?” I asked hopefully as he started on his fourth slice.
“Okay sister babe,” he responded slowly, and I can’t remember if he finished the piece or set it back down into the box, but that moment makes me want to cry. I wish I would have stayed in the damn restaurant with him while he finished the fourth and fifth and sixth fucking slices of pizza, but I didn’t, and it wasn’t because of how long it would take or because I thought he was eating too many slices in one sitting.. it was because I didn’t want him to start vomiting in public.
Growing up, going out to eat with Bob was always a stressful matter, because whether it was Olive Garden, Golden Corral, CiCi’s or some other pizza joint, Bobby would always — 3/4 times, so almost always — throw up.
We were never sure as to why; whether it had to do with his throat, or digestive tract, or the host of medicines he was on (thanks to the killer brain cancer and epilepsy combo). But there came a point, during the meal, where you could just feel it coming; he would start hiccuping, and continue eating, and then — within minutes — bam. Vomit, all over the plate and the table and his pants and the floor. Once, when I’d “felt” it coming at a CiCi’s, I ran outside of the restaurant and shut myself in the car, not wanting to be there when it happened and leaving mom and gram to deal with the mess and embarrassment.
And that afternoon at Pizza Hut, I gave into fear. It was, in that moment, stronger than love. I was afraid of Bobby vomiting on the pizza, and on the table, and the vomit seeping over the sides onto the booth and the floor, and I was afraid of him and myself and any workers present being embarrassed by the ordeal.. so, to avoid the incident, I cut his happy time short. Bobby was always his happiest when he was eating pizza somewhere or filling his Big Gulp cup up with Dr. Pepper at a gas station, and because I was afraid, I made the wrong decision. If we’re being completely honest here, Bob wouldn’t have given a single shit if he’d vomited all over the entire restaurant; he wouldn’t have even thought twice about it. And the workers would have been grossed out, for sure, but not embarrassed. I was the only one who would have been embarrassed in that situation; I would have been embarrassed of my brother.
So, if I could time travel, I would go back to that day. I would watch him finish eating the entire pizza and then watch him vomit in the restaurant, and then I would apologize to the workers and quietly ask for paper towels and disinfectant and I would clean up Bob’s mess and dab at his clothes and joke with him about the pizza just being too good, I guess, and I would be proud and glad that he was alive enough to eat pizza and vomit everywhere. And if I could, I would spend every single day, for the next year three years until he died, doing small things and big things for him, whether from over the phone or in-person.. things that would make him laugh and smile and feel better about himself because his goofy, weird sister thought he was so wonderful, so cool.
So you wouldn’t go back in time to the day that he died? I had to ask.
No. I wouldn’t because I couldn’t handle the implications of doing that. In real life, Bobby died within a moment’s time, and in that final moment, he was mercifully unconscious; if I undid that death and he continued living for another year or 5 or 15 and ended up being unhappy and more sickly than before and dying slowly in a hospital bed.. that would be my fault. I couldn’t stand the chance of, by unnaturally prolonging his life, hurting him, so if I returned to the day he died, I would have to just fall to the ground with him and hold him while he died. And who the fucking hell could do that? No one. No sane person. So if I traveled back to then and, on that day, I was there at home with dad, mom and Bob and not in another state, 10 hours away, I just wouldn’t be around that afternoon. I would hug him that morning, kiss him on the forehead, play Mario with him for a bit and then want to go drive off of a cliff somewhere.
Still here though, because I can’t figure out how to time travel..
I don’t know why my mother liked bowl cuts so much. But she did. And although she was the one who became fixated on them, it wasn’t her hair that ended up cropped into the shape of an unsightly and probably lop-sided-looking bowl; it was her daughter’s.
“But I don’t WANT to cut my hair,” I protested as I rode along with her in our family’s dingy, yellow station wagon. We were on our way to Great Clips (or some other chain hair-cutting place that was priced similarly).
“Don’t worry; it’ll look nice,” Sierra promised. “I can’t wait to see it,” she added with excitement.
We’d had a conversation before leaving the house that morning — or, more aptly speaking, we had negotiated with each other prior to leaving.
“When your hair is long like that and you don’t do anything with it, it just looks straight and boring,” Sierra pointed out. That’s how it began.
“So?” I responded. I cared more about securing the thimble-shaped playing piece in my next game of online monopoly than I did about the loveliness or interestingness of my hairdo.
“Sooooooo,” she continued, “you should do something interesting to it. Like, here — look at this,” and here, she picked up a magazine, flipping open to an ear-marked page (#premeditated) that showcased a celebrity with her young child. “Isn’t this an adorable cut? It’s a bowl cut,” she murmured, informationally.
Sierra sighed. “I tell you what,” she began, her voice taking on a conspiratorial tone that told me I’d like at least part of what she was going to say, “if you get your hair cut like this,” and she again referred to the glossy example in the magazine, “then I will let you rent a movie from Blockbuster.”
Ooooh; rent a movie? Watching TV (minus Animal Planet and Fox News) was taboo, so I was already ready to say yes, but the wiser being within me hesitated. Don’t give in so easily; you better milk this for all that it’s worth, she warned.
“Can I wear pants for a week instead?” I counter-offered.
“No.” And it was a firmno.
I had negotiated with mother earlier in the year, and the negotiations had resulted in her allowing me to wear pants to school for a week. I spaced out the days thoughtfully, selecting a Tuesday here, when the class was going on a field trip.. a Friday there, on my friend, Melissa’s, birthday, and etc. But that time, her ‘win’ in the bargain was getting me to agree to have blood work done; the stakes had been higher, so the reward had been, too.
With “no” still booming in my mind, I decided to venture one last gain. “How about I get to rent a movie AND you buy me a pint of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream?”
She pretended to consider the idea. I knew it was pretending because she hesitated, and with all of the magazines my mother loved leafing through, I knew she couldn’t stand the idea of not seeing me in this bowl cut.
“Fine,” she consented. “It’s a deal.”
And I was thrilled in a depressed kind of way: yay, a secular movie and ice cream for two hours; boo, a horrible, awful haircut for X number of months. But the shortsighted 10-year-old in me had agreed to the deal, so here we both were, pulling up at Great Clips.
The stylist noticed that I had lice after beginning the cut and whispered the news to my mother. I couldn’t tell if her surprise was put-on or genuine, but the stylist agreed to finish the cut and urged my mother to pick up some RID on the way home.
After she’d completed her grim work, the stylist (who smelled exactly like fake flowers and too much hairspray) spun me around in my chair and disinterestedly watched for my reaction. I said nothing and stifled tears; I looked ridiculous.
I made it to the car before I broke down. “I hate it I hate it I HATE IT,” I wailed, staring out of the passenger’s side window and refusing to let my mother look at me.
“Oh, but it looks ADORABLE, ROSE!” she cooed. “I can’t wait for Gram to see it!”
And she kept up her part of the deal; we swung by a Blockbuster, or a Movie Gallery, before heading home. I rented Max Keebler’s Big Move, mom bought me a pint of my favorite ice cream, and I promised her that I wouldn’t cry in front of dad that night so that he wouldn’t know that I hated the haircut my mother tricked me into getting.
Back then, I was ten and I was gullible. Fast forward about 13 years and my mom can’t pay me to keep my hair on.
Chris and I are visiting my family in Tennessee and we’ve stumbled into a mall with a hair salon.
“I’m ready to do it,” I announce to everyone, smiling nervously. “I’m going to chop it all off.”
Reactions vary; my grandfather shakes his head solemnly, my aunt smiles supportively. Grammy seems distracted, looking on elsewhere, and Sierra is openly devastated.
“Ohhhh, but your hair is so BEAUTIFUL,” she cries, eyeing my long locks. My hair was so long, at this point, that it reached the small of my back; it will definitely be enough to donate, I decided.
Without going into way too much detail, I did the damn thing; I chopped it all off, and the result was, like my old bowl cut, ridiculous. The stylist left too much thickness in my hair, causing it all to well up in a muppet-esque, golden brown poof. I won’t even share a picture of it on here because it’s just plain embarrassing.
And it took about six months of visiting various salons to get it ‘fixed.’ The place that was finally able to do the trick was a barber’s shop over in downtown Birmingham: Newman’s Classic Cuts.
I’ve been visiting Newman’s once every six weeks for the last year, and I’ve never been disappointed; the atmosphere is cool and the conversation is fun.. I drop a $20 and then walk out, rubbing my left hand up and down the back of my head and neck and relishing the scratchy sensation of having hardly any hair there at all. And today, it’s been about two months since I last had my hair cut (aka, it’s been way too long).
Last week, I scheduled an appointment for today, but I cancelled the appointment yesterday morning, and I honestly don’t know when I’ll be heading back. And yes, I am about to explain why, but first.. a quick side story.
I’ve been getting tattoos since the week I turned 18.
My first tattoo is actually a pretty funny story (for another time). Over the course of 5 years (from ages 18-23), it’s interesting to note that I only obtained 3 tattoos while, over the course of the last tumultuous and heart-wrenching year, I’ve added on 5 more. So that makes 8 total (see how good I am at math?), and last Saturday evening, I drove over to Aerochild and met up with Aaron for numero ocho.
I wondered, waking up that morning, whether or not I should “prepare” for our appointment. I’d emailed Aaron two months ahead of time, detailing the nature of this new tattoo and attaching pictures of what I’d like for it to resemble. “The placement for this one will be above my left ankle,” I specified, and as we all know, the area above your ankle grows hair. Obv. And most women shave their underarms and legs and ankles daily or weekly or somewhere in-between, while I haven’t shaved in exactly three years.
So I sat on my bed that morning, playing out two entirely different scenarios.
Scenario 1: I roll up at Aerochild and both of my legs have been shaved. Aaron begins tattooing and knows nothing of my alternative ways.
Scenario 2: I roll up at Aerochild and neither of my legs are shaved. Aaron either:
is appalled and leaves the room to vomit,
is surprised but visibly tries to maintain his composure, or
is totally cool with unshaven legs on a female.
I decided to roll the dice with the excitingly unpredictable nature of Scenario #2. And what do you think happened?
Aaron and I had things to chat about, and we did; I shared my ups and downs with depression, adventures with my new German Shepherd pup, and my love-hate relationship with being a single human being. His side of the conversation opened up by mention of his new shop.
“I SAW YOUR POST ABOUT THAT!” I exclaimed. “I’m so freaking excited for you, Aaron. When’s the date?”
He talked all about opening up his very own tattoo parlor + comic book shop combo; the paperwork involved, the stress, the joy.. I was enjoying listening, reclining in the smooth, black operating chair while he sat on a low-to-the-ground stool. While he spoke, he readjusted my left leg, grabbed a razor, and – without missing a beat – shaved away the hair that would be within the tattooing area. I watched him closely, checking for a reaction of some kind; I saw nothing. Then, he reached for a bottle of sanitizer, smeared it over my skin, and began toying with a needle, so I had to look away — the process was starting (and the only way I can keep on getting tattoos is to not watch how they happen). The hairy leg, and the shaving of the hairy leg, was an event so unremarkable that it’s weird that I’m even commenting on it. But I’m pointing it out because it was a hard decision to make; showing up as me.
After three years of small-scale societal rebellion, I’m proud to say that I’m 100% comfortable walking the streets in shorts and tank tops, “all natural.” But it’s quite different when you know that somebody is going to be within a foot of your hairy leg and will actually be touching it and shaving it for you (for those who don’t know, whenever and wherever you get a tattoo, the affected area is always shaved by your artist; this was just a weird area for me). But I decided that shaving my leg ahead of time would have been a betrayal of what I believe in, and that’s being your honest self. It would have been just as dumb of me to apologize to Aaron when he went to shave my leg: “I’m so sorry,” I could have explained. “I haven’t shaved in three years!” But apologizing would have been disrespectful to women, and admitting that it’s unusual for a woman to have body hair would have only reinforced society’s senseless beauty standards. Why are we ashamed of our body hair? Why do we have to shave ours when men aren’t expected to shave theirs? And why the hell are we secretly embarrassed in the winter time when our leggings and pants conceal the furry legs hiding within them? WHAT is there to be ashamed of?
The more we normalize body hair on women, the more at liberty women will feel to be themselves. I’d like to pause for another poll (if you’ll indulge me).
Alrighty. With that slightly related story in mind..
I cancelled my appointment at the barber shop because I realized, yesterday morning, that while I initially cut all of my hair off two years ago for me, I’ve been keeping my hair short for everyone else.
And I’ve been wearing board shorts and jeans and shunning pink for everyone else.
Is it not making sense yet?
Beyond the age of 10, when I became an adolescent (a young woman), I was subjected to a whole host of expectations (related to my religion, schooling, social circle and gender), but a few of the most prominent ones were these:
Look like a girl (shave your legs and underarms, wear long skirts, and keep the hair on top of your head long and distinctly feminine)
Love like a girl (meaning, love boys.. specifically speaking, nice, good, davidian boys, and don’t kiss them until you’re married!)
So it’s understandable that, when I dropped out of religion about three years ago, I naturally hated skirts, and long hair, and the color pink. I had to compensate. And it was liberating — dressing in black and blue, in boyish clothes — and openly mutilating slash decorating my body (aka getting as many tattoos as I wanted). I even pause to wonder, now, if being gay is another subconscious attempt at rebellion, at balancing the scale. I share this because:
I dropped into Redemptive Cycles earlier this morning because my front tire had leaked so much air that I thought it was broken. A guy I’ve gone on a few rides with (incidentally; we’re in the same biking group) was manning the shop and smiled when he saw me. After I explained my situation, he nodded and began rolling my bike to the bike. “Wanna learn?” he called over his shoulder. I did, of course, so I followed him.
He mounted my bike onto a metal lever and walked me through the whole process; releasing the front brake, dropping the tire, removing the rim and inner tubing, checking for tiny holes, reassembling everything, and using a contraption to help determine whether or not the direction of the wheel was “true.”
I enjoyed learning. He would do something and then undo it so I could try to mimic him. I noticed his foot touch mine at one point, so I stepped back, and when I looked at him while he wasn’t looking (noticing his golden brown hair, slight smirk, and — were they green or blue eyes?), I reproved myself.
You don’t like boys. Remember?
I don’t think I do, I agreed. But..
I paid and I left and I then parked my car at Railroad Park. I hopped onto my bike and rode over to Golden Temple, and as I waited for the final light to turn green, there she was, sitting outside and eating out of a big, round bowl; cafe girl.
I thought about biking elsewhere before crossing the street, but decided that doing so would be cowardly and dramatic.
I didn’t come here to see her this time, just like I didn’t come here to see her last time, and she still doesn’t even know that I’m the girl who wrote her the letter.
So I crossed the street, biked right past her, and then stepped off of my bike. As I dropped my backpack onto the ground, I could hear a voice over the sound of my music; I turned to my left and, yes; cafe girl had turned herself around and was looking at me, speaking.
What do I do what do I do omg what do I do?!
REMOVE YOUR HEADPHONES, you IDIOT.
I removed an earbud. “I’m sorry?”
“Nice bike,” she repeated the compliment, nodding her head toward the bike in my arms.
“Oh, thanks!” I responded.
“I’m borrowing that one,” she gestured again, and I saw that my bike was now leaning up against hers on the bike rack. Sigh; our bikes were sharing the same bike rack and they were touching.
Snap out of it, psycho.
“Oh — nice!” I answered quickly. “Yeah, I had been wanting a bike for a few months there and tried perusing a few shops in Mountain Brook, but they were all super pricey; then, I found this super cool bike on Craigslist and.. it was perfect. $40.” I was going to continue but realized that ‘nice bike’ really didn’t require all of this extra, so I just nodded and stopped speaking.
My hand shook a little as I locked my bike to the rack and then I heard the store’s entrance swing open. There was commotion.
“FUCK YOU, MAN!”
“Thank you for cooperating.”
“And this is why you can’t come back.”
I turned to look; an employee was ushering an unruly gentleman out of the store. I froze while the gentleman stormed past me, still screaming “fuck” and “you” and “you gay fucks.”
Cafe girl turned to look at me, whispering something about him seeming a little upset.
“Yeah — he’s not a happy camper today,” I mused.
“He’s usually in a nice mood,” she remarked quietly.
“Oh — so he comes here often?”
I slipped on my backpack and walked away without saying any kind of goodbye. I thought about moving a few steps closer to her and admitting the truth; hey — I’m that girl who wrote you the 2-paged letter, by the way.. Jace? Remember me?
But I thought better of it. We’d had a nice interaction and I’d already decided, weeks ago, to not pursue getting to know the gal.
So instead, I settled down inside of the cafe, selecting a table near the window and plopping my chromebook, library book, and a small glass of water down onto it. After about 45 minutes, I decided to order something. I turned around (to see if there was a line at the front register) and cafe girl was standing directly behind it; she saw me and smiled. I turned around quickly. Why, universe? Why is she all of the sudden paying attention to me? Next week, I’m going to Redcat instead.
I waited 5 minutes, hoping this would allow enough time for her to meander off and another employee to take her place, but when I got up and turned around, there she was. With my wallet already in my hand, it was too late to retreat.
I placed my order, trying to sound as generic and uninteresting and business-y as possible.
“Yes; I’ll take the Golden Temple Half Stack with sauteed spinach, please.”
“Ahh! That’s what I was having outside today,” she shared. Of course it was.
I watched her grab a sticky note and begin notating my order. She’s about to ask what my name is, I thought drearily. Then I noticed that she was writing with her left hand.
OF COURSE SHE’S LEFT HANDED, JACE. You’re BOTH girls, you’re BOTH left handed, you’re BOTH musicians (even though she doesn’t know that about you), AND you both have short hair. But the problem is, YOU think she’s cute, but you have no idea what she thinks. Only that she’s wearing a ring on what would APPEAR to be a wedding ring finger and who knows whether she’s engaged or married or just wearing it to ward off weirdos like you?
I said nothing.
She, surprisingly, didn’t ask for my name.
When I handed her my Discover card, she paused to read it. “Jace. Are you the Jace who wrote me a letter?”
“Yes,” I answered, nodding, my lips tight.
“Wow! Well it’s nice to finally see you,” she smiled brightly.
“It’s nice to meet you too,” I smiled back at her, taking my card. I began writing a tip onto the receipt.
“You’re a South Paw!” she observed, surprised.
“Yes — I noticed you were left-handed, too,” I answered sadly and then walked away.
And that was it.
So now that she knows, she knows, and I don’t have to worry about her knowing. And since I still don’t know what that ring means, I’m going to assume that the gal is happily married to a boy or girl and not talk to her ever again.
“Do you really enjoy just sitting in cafes.. writing and drinking coffee?” my mother asked me, yesterday evening.
“I do. I love it.”
“Isn’t it lonely?”
“No.. there are people everywhere; laughing, talking, reading, eating.. writing on THEIR laptops. They’re having fun, on their own or with each other, and I’m not a part of it. It’s wonderful,” I laughed.
Last Sunday, my family and I met up in Chattanooga, Tennessee for an afternoon together. We visited an aquarium, a Mellow Mushroom pizza joint, and a health foods store. My mother texted me the following morning.
“I never thought I’d say this,” she began, “but I wish you’d cut your hair! It’s getting too long on the top and the sides are all short.”
I smiled after I read it. You want me to cut it, you want me to let it grow, and then you want me to cut it again.
A few days ago, I casually mentioned the idea of letting my hair grow out to my best friend, Charlie. “What would you think of that?” I asked, and then tried to look casual.
“I think that it looks great either way,” he answered.
I rolled my eyes. “Charlie…”
“Jace, what you do with your hair is not up to me,” he smiled. “Do what makes you happy!”
“I KNOW THAT,” I breathed, impatient, “and I’m going to — I just want to know what your opinion is.”
“My opinion,” he responded, very kindly, “is that you will look good with long hair or no hair.”
I felt like strangling him.
“OKAY. Let’s pretend,” I began, “that I am blind and cannot see. I want to look my very best, and I need you to help me.” I shrugged, waiting. “Then what?”
“Oh em gee, Charlie; WHAT would you ADVISE your best friend who is blind and who doesn’t know whether they should keep their hair long or short to do?”
“I would tell them that they would look beauti-”
“Ohhhh just hush.”
So I texted another close friend.
“I’ve been considering letting my hair grow back out,” I mentioned, “but I went ahead and scheduled a barber shop appointment for Friday anyways.”
They responded with: “I’m surprised you even considered the idea! Is that what you were trying to do? Surprise me? Because you did.”
They gave no indication of whether or not they thought growing it out would be ‘good’ or ‘nice’ or ‘oh, cool,’ and I was frustrated by the lack of information.. frustrated, not with her, and not with Charlie, but with myself. I was already considering texting my cube mate next and asking her what she thought of the idea, but I paused before doing so.
WHY are you asking everyone about this, Jace?
I just want to know what they think.
No you don’t. You’ve never cared about looking pretty; you’ve always preferred to look cool. So what is it that you’re really after? What do you want to know?
I want to know if they’ll think I’m crazy. If they’ll think it’s weird that I fought so hard to look and be masculine and that now, I’m doing this. If they’ll look at this as me backtracking, or being untrue to myself. If they’ll be uncomfortable. If they’ll write me off as crazy.
Thank you for being honest.
And the word ‘crazy’ kept popping up in my answer because of a conversation I had recently. An old friend confessed to me, this week, that a mutually known person was afraid I’d gone batshit crazy.
“In a sense, I have,” I admitted, “and I’m completely aware of it. I want to die just about every single day I wake up, and I have to talk myself out of it, over and over again.” I shrugged (as in ‘and? does THAT make a person crazy?’).
She shook her head. “No — not just suicidal, Jace, and not just ‘crazy.’ Like, he thinks you’re crazy in the sense that you need to be committed. That you need treatment.”
I finished the conversation without being abrupt and without letting on that I’d been offended, but because of who thought this about me, I was deeply offended. I know that I’ve been unbalanced and unstable and weird for the past year and a half (and that I’ve been very open about it), but I’ve never viewed myself as being so off that I needed to be committed. And it hurts to know that he does.
I’m not crazy-crazy, I reassured myself.
I’m not? I asked, sadly doubtful.
All of this to say: I’m growing my damn hair out to be as long as I want it to be, for as long as I want it to be. It may drive me nuts two weeks from now, and I may run over to Newman’s and chop it off then, or I may grow it out to a full 12 inches so that I can make another donation. Either way —
Why do I want to grow my hair out? There are a few simple reasons, and then there’s one big one.
It’s cold; why remove a free and easy layer of insulation when the weather is just beginning to turn?
Foregoing haircuts will save money. You do the math; nevermind, let me do the math. I get my hair cut once every six weeks, right? Well there are 52 weeks in the year, and 52/6 = almost 9. 9 x $20 (price/haircut) = $180. Do you know how many burritos you could buy with $180? Yeah. Exactly.
The big one: I want to prove to myself that I’m not afraid to look like a girl. Yes — the short hair look is my favorite look, and I think it looks really cool (and if you know me, you know that ‘cool’ is what I strive for). But for right now, I don’t need to look cool.I need to feel comfortable and confident and I need to reclaim my sanity. I may still not know, with absolute certainty, what the hell I believe in, and I may not be able to pin down exactly what my elusive sexual orientation is, but I know that I’ve been spending way too much time wondering what you’re thinking, and not enough time considering what I want and who I want to be.
Still here, my eyes burning holes through the looking glass..