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, yes and no.
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..