I found god; dude was sipping on a frappuccino.

 

I have a surprising bit of news to share, but before I deliver it, 4 quick things.

 

  1. Jeopardy Contestant: What is… exhausted?
    I was out of commission for about a week last week, thanks to a throat-throbbing and head-pounding illness that pops in on me once each winter. On day 4, I was downstairs in the kitchen by myself, brewing tea. While the water boiled and the kettle worked its way up to a high-pitched whine, I prepared a mug by rinsing it out, picked a tea bag out of a multi-pack containing 4 different flavors, and sliced a lemon-yellow lemon open. I then set the tea bag down into the bottom of the mug, squeezed fresh lemon juice on top of it, and reached for a squeezable bottle of pure, unfiltered honey. I squeezed and I squeezed and then I realized, as I watched a devastatingly tiny trickle of honey drizzle out from the nozzle, that squeezing this bottle of honey was the most tiring thing I’d done all day. It felt like the 10th mile on a Thursday night bike ride. After days of doing nothing but holing up in the house and battling illness, I was that exhausted. So I paused, setting the container down onto the counter and taking twenty seconds of stillness to power back up, and then I picked the container back up from off of the counter and continued draining honey from the bottle, the kettle now screaming at me in the background.
    jeopardy

  2. “This painful reminder brought to you by multi-factor authentication.”
    It happened pretty recently, but I can’t remember what I was logging into, exactly; whether I was checking on my finances, printing off updated insurance cards, or paying on a utility bill.. but while in the process of logging into whatever, I was subjected to a sort of identity verification process. “Correct password! Now, let’s move onto something a little more personal. What was the name of your childhood best friend?”

    I sighed and typed in the answer I always have, and as I did so, it suddenly hit me: the answer is never going to change. This is the answer I’ve always typed in and always will. 

    I guess I’d never thought about how I’ll be thinking about Melissa so far off into the future — but when I’m 47, logging into my online banking, or 63, logging into BWBB, or 81 and signing into the OSEC (Outer Space Enthusiasts Club), I’ll still be thinking of her. Remembering her. Who was my childhood best friend? Melissa, of course. It will always be her. I can’t rewrite history. And while I don’t miss her the same way I used to, I still feel her vacancy. Poignantly.

    1916405_1269599813958_1692661_n
    2009, right before the allegorical shit hit the allegorical fan.
  3. Just focus on something else. 
    When I was sick last week, my best friend, Charlie, was very attuned to my needs. “Need a cough drop?” “Want some more tea?” “Can I warm up some soup for you?” “Need another blanket?” He checked on me daily and, one morning, he asked for a status update: “So how’s the throat doing today?”
    “Ehhhhhhhh, it’s still sore and sandpaper-y, but it’s MUCH better than yesterday,” I answered, sniffling but smiling a little.
    “Well how does your left hand feel right now?”
    I paused. “Ummm.. it’s fine.”
    “Okay, good,” he responded quietly. “Then try to think about how your left hand isn’t hurting and it might help your throat hurt less.”
    I laughed at his ridiculous optimism, but I tried it out and I’m surprised to report that it did help. Just a little. And I figure that that’s a trick you can use in other situations, too; bummed out over something? Validate that feeling of pain, anger, or disappointment, but don’t spend too much time dwelling on it; give yourself a break by refocusing your attention elsewhere and by re-channeling your energy into something more positive, productive, and uplifting.

    Was going to feature this cutesy picture:

    focus-cute-version

    But decided that this one was way cooler:

    focus

  4. But isn’t that how it has to end?
    Two weeks ago, I was getting dressed in my bedroom. My backpack already held all of my ‘necessary weekend items’ (laptop, phone charger, library book and wallet) and I was slipping on my Vans, bending over awkwardly while doing so, when – with my head lowered and turned to the side – a red bookcase came into view, and within that red bookcase, one book title in particular stood out to me: She’s Not There. It was the tale of a transgendered woman’s journey — transitioning with a wife and children and, as a college professor, within the public eye. As I finished tugging on one of my shoes, I asked myself: “What was the happy ending on that one?” And then I stopped.

    I stood up and shook my head, realizing, for the first freaking time, that that’s what I always expect — in every movie, book, and life, even; that the ending will always be happy. Yours, mine, and ours. The truth is that it should be — endings should always be happy and peaceful, and they should only come to gather us up and whisk us away when we feel as though we’ve accomplished and experienced and produced enough — but that’s not promised to us. That’s an ideal. The end of every day, week, month and year should be happy, because who doesn’t love ending, even temporarily, on a good note, but it’s really just a roll of the dice… your dog might get hit by a car, your partner might cheat on you, you could get fired, accidentally step in something gross, or choke to death on your burrito while you’re eating dinner at home, by yourself. Hope for the best, certainly, but don’t count on it.

crappilyeverafter

 

Now, with these 4 stories in mind, this morning, I went to church.

 

grand-church
fancy-looking church

 

OMG, that sounds weird, doesn’t it? Jace walked into a church and… sounds like the opening line of a joke. It’s actually been three and a half years since I last stepped foot into a church, and after considering the idea for a few months and then discussing it with two friends yesterday afternoon, I decided to give it a shot today. One of these friends even said she’d go with me.

 

I woke up early this morning, took care of the dogs, showered, and then camped out in the music room, setting a 2-hour alarm on my phone so that I’d remember to leave the house in time. I wrote a new song, tabbed out the chords and lyrics, and had just begun recording the chorus vocals in Logic when the timer went off.

 

Shit — time to go to church, I realized, trying to taste the phrase on my tongue as I carefully placed my guitar into its case.

 

I hopped in the car, typed in “unitarian universalist church birmingham AL” on Google and arrived alive within twenty minutes. I felt an odd sense of anxiety bubbling up in me as I parked and then exited my car, habitually tilting my head down to ensure that the interior light bulb had switched off.

 

“They’re going to greet me,” I predicted. “And they’re going to smile and awkwardly touch my shoulders or hug me and.. gosh, am I going to have to pray at some point during the service?” What I’d done online, prior to showing up, was nowhere near research, but I knew this much: Unitarians didn’t discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community and they also didn’t promote a certain deity. Theirs wasn’t even a christian platform. They were a supportive bunch of progressives, of thinkers, of open-minded and kind-hearted individuals who were all on separate journeys, searching for and finding faiths that suited them, and their common bond was, from what I gathered, singular: a desire for truth.

 

“Doesn’t sound bad,” I’d thought, appreciating the refreshing ambiguity of the sect.

 

I entered through the front door and glanced down at my phone; my friend had texted that she’d just pulled up. She saw me first and ran over to hug me; we headed into the ‘sanctuary’ together, snagging seats near the back (but not the very back; moms, dads, and kids had already claimed dibs on those).

 

I opened up the bulletin — gosh, it had been such a long time since I’d held a bulletin in my hands, and back when I did, my name almost always appeared inside of it; me, offering prayer; me, performing special music; and, on special occasions, me, delivering the sermon.

 

I quickly realized, while perusing the bulletin, that this was going to be a Christmas special. My friend seemed to realize this within the same moment and groaned.

 

“If I had known…” she apologized, turning to me and looking distressed.

 

“Oh, don’t worry about it!” I reassured her. It was, at least, a soft reintroduction into the world of religion for me; live music, free smiles, and colorful, iced Christmas cookies.

 

Kids dominated the service, performing skits and singing songs and dancing awkwardly, without confidence or conviction, to the relaxed pacing set by the conga drum and studio piano. I did appreciate that the never-ending play featured scenes of Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t at a church, exactly… a church, yeah, but not the kind I’d grown up in and grown to disbelieve in.

 

The service ended, and I congratulated myself on making it through without having any weird freak out moments. My friend apologized, again, and I reassured her that there was nothing to be sorry about; I was re-acclimating to the religious world and, if nothing else, it was nice — getting to hear somebody decent play the piano and getting to sit next to a beautiful woman.

 

“I’ll come again in January,” I told her. “The holidays will be over by then, so hopefully I can catch an actual ‘message.'”

 

We grabbed lunch together at Rojo afterwards. Before placing my order (and this isn’t important to know, but it’s interesting), a young woman (seemingly my age) brushed past me and smiled at me, knowingly. “Hey girl,” she sang out. “Hey!” I smiled back at her.

 

Odd, I thought to myself. I don’t recognize her, but she seems really sweet.

 

Later on, at the end of the meal, I noticed my friend had two cinnamon rolls left on her plate. “Let me go snag a to-go box for you,” I said, stepping off of my stool and heading toward the front counter. A guy was placing an order there and he seemed to be taking a while, so I looked around, hoping to flag down another employee who could simply hand a box to me.

 

The same girl showed up beside me; I smiled at her: “Hey! Can you please help me find a to-go box?”

 

She nodded eagerly, handed me one, and then leaned in to hug me. I was, once again, extremely surprised, but hugged her back.

 

“It’s nice to see you,” I offered, awkwardly.

 

“You too! Your hair looks so GOOD today,” she exclaimed, eyeing me. “I’m so jealous. I love the angles of your face.”

 

I laughed at her; looking at her — dark brown eyes, long brown hair (she was Hispanic) — I wanted to say, “You are drop dead GORGEOUS,” but I couldn’t get the words to come out, so I just said: “Well you look very beautiful.”

 

I touched her elbow and wished her a great weekend and then returned to my friend, to-go box in hand.

 

“Do you know that girl?” I whispered, nodding behind me. “The one who gave me this box?”

 

“Hmmm.. no,” she shook her head from side to side.

 

“Well she just hugged me and I feel like she knows me, or like she thinks she knows me.. I don’t know. Anyways.”

 

We left shortly thereafter and, as I drove away, I thought to myself: Maybe I should have given that adorable girl my number. But I decided against it. Wanna know why?

 

Because despite the fact that I always seem to be searching, I don’t want to be in a relationship right now. I think I know, as of today, what I’m relentlessly searching for, and it’s actually two things, neither of which are a significant other. We’ll call these two things A and B.

 

A. Remember me going on and on about cafe girl? About how I discovered how similar we were and how that just added to the ‘heartbreak’ of her being taken? (From what I’ve gathered, we’re both short-haired vegetarians and left-handed musicians.) Well, I realized, a few weeks after meeting her, that what I liked about her was what I like about myself: my hair, my left handedness, and my love for animals and music. When I was able to translate her ‘cool features’ into my own, it was very eye-opening. Maybe we long to love and adore others because we’re afraid to love and adore ourselves. And maybe that’s what we really want in this life; to just be okay with who we are. To be okay with being in a room, in a city, in the world by ourselves. I don’t need a partner to have a purpose, and I don’t need a partner to love me when I can love myself. These are just thoughts.

B. Remember when I spent the evening crying in a hotel room in Dothan earlier this month? Oh, that’s right.. you weren’t there. Well here’s what happened.

I was reading this book called One Of Us; the gist: an evil dude develops this dream-transferring technology that enables the rich to pawn their scary or boring dreams off on lowlifes who need $$$. Eventually, one of these lowlifes (who has a remarkable dream-intake capacity) begins accepting memories from others (this is more lucrative, and dangerous, work) and, by the end of the novel, he’s finally identified a mysterious figure who’s always reappeared in his life at pivotal moments as being god. The final scene takes place at a table outside of a cafe where our main character is already seated; god walks up to him, sits down, and asks our guy to buy him a frappuccino. He does so, and when he did, I had to lay the book down and cry my eyes out.

 

Why is this affecting me? I asked myself, feeling absurd. And then I realized what it was: I was jealous. This fictional character was getting to sit down and drink coffee with god… and he was acting so casual about it, like it was nothing. I’d gladly chop off a leg for an opportunity to sit down and chat with the deity of the universe, but we all know that no one in 2016 will get the chance. Because… well I don’t know; that’s just the way it is, sweetheart. Instead of in-person encounters, we get faith and the written word and blah blah blah. #IJS

 

So I was sad, and then I was angry. If there is a deity out there, or a whole host of deities, and none of them are willing to condescend to meet with me, then why the hell should I give a shit about them? 

 

And so on and so on.

 

I wouldn’t say that I’m on a faith search, or even a spiritual journey, but I am interested. I am casually looking. For girls and deities. 🙂 I don’t plan on subscribing to a particular faith or religious creed, because I don’t foresee that there will be enough ‘proof’ for me anywhere. But I think that I’ve figured it out; I’m not really longing for a romantic partner. I’m longing for a spiritual companion; somebody who knows me, somebody who’s got the answers. I don’t want a god to worship or fawn over, and I don’t want to be bossed around or micromanaged. I just want a very best friend, one I can be sure won’t leave or take advantage of me or break my heart again. I’m tired, and I’m hurt, and I’m nostalgic for the relationships that I’ve had in the past — ones where I trusted people implicitly, and invested in people fully… people whose existence and love sustained and grounded me — and I’m wanting to find healing, and companionship, in something better. I, like many others, want that kind of happy ending. Mine honestly doesn’t have to include a partner or kids or a PhD. But I’d really like to meet god. And that feels about as likely as me jumping, with nothing but conviction and my eyes closed, defying gravity, and shooting up into outer space. Aka, dream on, kid.

 

So, in December of 2016, my half-assed search for god began with me sitting among a smiling audience of truth-seekers as a line of small and awkward children wiggled their bodies in front of us — adorably out of time with the music and without any sense of intrinsic rhythm — and it will continue with me visiting a Unitarian Church and a Kingdom Hall in January. Know of any cool spiritual places in the ham? Shoot me a recommendation. I’m open to anything and, for the moment, committed to nothing. Commitment — now that’s a topic for another time.

 

I’ve referenced this meme before, but it’s worth revisiting:

unbecoming

 

On my drive over to Saturn this afternoon, I pictured myself as a chalkboard, born into this world with a bunch of shit already written and drawn onto me… other people’s beliefs, preferences, and ideals. It feels like I had to scrub all of that stuff off in order to give myself a chance to really construct and define myself. I had to wash everything away and then slowly decided to reincorporate some of the stuff I’d erased back into my life.. stuff that I realized I actually did like or identify with or believe in… and then other things that I added were entirely new, and uniquely me. It’s a fun and interesting mix. And religion is one of the things I had to scrub off. I was raised in a religious cult of davidians, the most legalistic, impractical, heartless and exclusive bunch of folks I’ve ever spent time with, and I will never, ever return to such radicalism. But I’m, intrinsically, a spiritual being, and it’s impossible for me to believe that brown eyes, three-note chords, planets, avocados, German Shepherds, laughter and kisses and 9 x 9 = 81 weren’t intelligently created, beautifully designed, or magically orchestrated.

 

20161217_120227
Sculpture of R. Hugh Daniel (in downtown bham)

 

“I like that sculpture,” my friend Ryder said yesterday as we were both walking past it.

 

“Huh — it’s interesting!” I commented. “It sort of looks like the person is falling apart.. disintegrating.”

 

“Or perhaps they’re coming together,” Ryder offered quietly.

 

 

Slowly piecing myself back together —

 

Still here

Aun Aqui

Turtles and Spaceships

I was at an aquarium; standing in front of a wall of glass, and curiously peeking in on the interesting lives of the sea critters who existed on the opposite side.

 

This made sense, because Charlie and I had watched a “live stream” of aquarium footage a few weeks before; about twenty minutes into it, though, I had noticed that things began repeating. It was a very subtle looping transition (no glitches), but I still noticed it.

 

“Charlie,” I called out from my spot on the couch, “those two scuba divers just entered the shot from the bottom left.. again. In the exact same way they did earlier.”

 

“Huh!”

 

I took another sip of peach-flavored sangria from my mug, eyeing the screen critically. I had just purchased this TV for the living room the week before (I hadn’t owned one in a year), and I already mistrusted the thing. Then, another repetition occurred.

 

“HA! I knew it,” I celebrated. “That weird-looking blow fish just waddled across the screen AT THE SAME TIME that the shark appeared ominously in the background. Remember that happening TWENTY MINUTES AGO?”

 

“Uh huh!”

 

So we turned the live stream off.

 

And here I was now, actually standing in front of a very similar looking display. The thick glass likely separated me from at least a hundred different types of fish — from shrimp and sharks to seahorses and sea dragons — but all I can remember really honing in on was this tiny, sad-looking turtle, wading slowly near the bottom of the glass.

 

“We have to get him out of there,” I told Charlie, determined to set him free.

 

And then things happened quickly. With no one else around (and that should have been my first red flag; when is there NOT a crowd at the aquarium?), I bent down and located a strange mechanism underneath the display; a lever that, when you turned it, sealed off the main water ‘rig’ but allowed certain things to pass through. There was a slide to the motion, too; you could open the ‘window’ to a size as small as an inch or make it wide enough to accommodate a small sea turtle. And I made it exactly that big.

 

It felt like achieving success at a claw machine. Remember those?

claw-machine

 

The sea turtle popped out, I scooped him up, and the next thing I knew, we were all driving home together — with Charlie driving and me in the passenger’s seat, gently holding the turtle.

 

I blinked. I was standing outside of my house now, staring down at a kiddie pool. I had filled it up with water, apparently (although I didn’t recall doing so) and tossed the sea turtle inside of it, eagerly looking for signs that this made him happy — that he was having fun, swimming around in the water. I watched him lift his head up, off of the surface of the water, and I worried that maybe he couldn’t breathe underwater; that maybe, at the aquarium, they’d installed some sort of air pump that had made it possible. He safely made it over to the side of the kiddie pool and then then stayed there, clinging to the plastic wall; I picked him up and noticed, with surprise, that he had gotten heavier.

 

Then, in a flash, the sea turtle had grown to be twelve times its size and was hugging me. There’s no other way of describing it; he had wrapped his cute little sea turtle arms around me and was embracing me. He squeezed me a little too tightly once, and I sighed in a way that asked him to relax his grip. A twenty-something year old was skateboarding through the neighborhood; he had gone up and down my driveway a few times, without asking, nodding vaguely in my direction as he did so, but now, he was skateboarding on TWO skateboards, one moving underneath each of his feet. I couldn’t believe it. If you’ve seen my driveway, you would understand how reckless he was being.

 

Meanwhile, the turtle was still hugging me. I thought about calling for Charlie — asking him to come outside and take a look at this! Snap a picture! It was completely adorable. But then I started worrying again.

 

The sea turtle has gotten so much bigger, I thought to myself. Just in one day! He was tiny this morning, and now he’s massive. How big is he going to get? Where will I keep him? How will I take care of him? CAN he breathe underwater? He’s going to need a bigger pool..

 

Just as I was thinking these things to myself, a group of people began cutting across my yard, seemingly coming from my neighbor’s house. One of them, a young girl named Sarah, I recognized as someone who had attended the same church I did years ago (back when I went to church). She took in the sight of the sea turtle and looked openly worried.

 

She shared that it was a certain breed of turtle – a rare one, apparently – and that it would grow to be absolutely enormous; just as I had worried the case might be. 

 

“What should I do?” I asked her, and even as the words were leaving my mouth, I quietly wondered why I was asking someone so much younger than me, someone who had just stumbled onto the situation, for advice.

 

“Call for a ranger and have them come and pick him up,” she suggested.

 

She walked away with the others, and I thought to myself — a ranger? That sounds like a park thing. Not an aquarium thing. 

 

I paused.

 

And technically, I STOLE this turtle from the aquarium. It occurred to me, for the very first time, that I had done something wrong.

 

When I call them and ask them to pick up the turtle, they’re going to ask how I got it. I can’t just say it showed up on my doorstep, or that I bought it from someone off of Craigslist — the first answer wouldn’t make sense; the second claim, I couldn’t substantiate with documentation; and thirdly, I just couldn’t lie like that!

 

Maybe if I tell them that I wanted to give him a better life, they won’t consider it robbery, I hoped. I didn’t mean to steal him. I just wanted him to be happy. He seemed so lonely and confined in there.

 

So I called the aquarium, I confessed that I had the sea turtle they were probably missing, and then I waited, thinking maybe I’ll go to jail, or maybe they’ll just charge me a five million dollar fine. I sighed.

 

While I waited, I looked down at the turtle; he was still hugging me, but he had pulled back in his embrace just a little bit, enough that I could see his face. I realized, without feeling surprised, that he was now taller than me. And I noticed that he was wearing rings on his turtle hands (paws?). He pulled one of them off – his favorite – and handed it to me; speaking for the first time, he smiled and asked (in a kind and elderly voice that strangely resembled my grandfather’s): “So this means that you were my girlfriend?”

 

I feel like I might have ridden back to the aquarium with turt (what I named him — how original) in an underwater spaceship (if that makes sense). I don’t remember anything else.

 

And this is what happens when I’m sick; I dream dreams that are slightly more interesting and bizarre than usual. I can’t really grasp the “deep meaning” behind this one, but if I had to try to boil it all down into a practical and water-soluble lesson..

 

  • Don’t lie, and don’t steal. While good intentions can mean a lot, they can’t justify bad actions.

 

Still here (with a throat that feels like it’s made of sandpaper and an army of lemons standing ‘at the ready’ on the kitchen counter),

Aun Aqui

The Conclusion: “We definitely aren’t friends, and you still might be a serial killer.”

If you missed part one, you’re missing half of the story. If you’ve already read it, continue reading (below) for the conclusion of the story: “I can’t be friends with you, because you might kill me.”

 

I kept my word.

I deliberated at first, of course; I could hardly fall asleep the night before our scheduled meeting at Saturn. I laid in bed, my eyes fixated on the ceiling, and spent a good hour imagining a few scenarios where the cops got there in time and a much larger number of scenarios where they didn’t.

 

But I woke up at 6 and thought to myself: If I don’t go, I’m going to hate myself, because he honestly might just be a lonely guy who wants – or desperately needs – a friend.

 

Even with this intention set, I still had my safety to consider, so I formulated a plan. This is what it looked like.

the-plan

 

And the plan – in illustrated form – doesn’t really explain much, so let me: Abraham (the maybe serial killer) said that he’d be meeting me at 12, right? Well, my common sense told me that I shouldn’t plan on walking into Saturn around precisely 11:55, because he could be lurking around outside of the building, waiting to kidnap me. No — I should get there early, I thought to myself; much earlier than how early he would get there if he ALSO planned on getting there early. So I got there two hours early, laptop and library book in tow.

 

But you’re likely wondering, why does the plan end at 2? What special thing happens then? Excellent question. Charlie, my roommate/bestie combo, was scheduled to get off of work at 1:30 that day, and I asked him to please come join me at the cafe and then watch me bike ride back to the park, following Abraham and I’s visit. Brilliant plan, right? Abraham gets there and I’m already in the building; I go to leave and Charlie’s with me. The 4-hour plan; 100% safe and secure.. totally impenetrable.

 

So I walked into Saturn at 10:00, exactly as planned. Plopped down onto my favorite couch, plugged in my laptop, and then checked my phone; I had a few missed messages, one of them from a friend who was asking what my plans were for the day. I responded that I had just settled in at Saturn; they had just grabbed a coffee at Starbucks but wanted to come join me.

Perfect, I celebrated inwardly. I might even have someone here to protect me DURING Abraham and I’s visit!

 

My friend arrived fifteen minutes later and we had a nice time together, sitting and chatting over coffees (hers, warm; mine, iced). She ordered a pastry that was too sticky (I could tell by the way that she was examining her fingers), so I got up to grab napkins for her. She left around 11:40 and I thought to myself, with a heavy and icy surge of anxiety, 20 more minutes. 20 more minutes until I find out whether I am to live or die.

 

I busied myself with reading and, the next time I looked at the clock, it was 11:59. I couldn’t believe how quickly the morning had passed.

 

12:00 struck; I stared at the door. He wasn’t there.

 

The clock ticked onward to 12:01 and I relaxed in my seat a little, considering – perhaps for the first time – the idea that he might not show up at all. Now, at the thought of this, my nerves finally started to relax, but just as they did, I heard the glass door creak open again and couldn’t help but turn my head to look in its direction, cringing and tensing up and holding my breath.

 

My eyes widened, and I let all of my breath escape in a single, self-eclipsing laugh: RYDER?!!!

 

Ryder moved slowly from the door to the front counter; lowering his eyes to look at me, winking once, and tapping his nose twice, conspiratorially. Of course Ryder had come.

 

If you missed the story about Ryder — well, it’s one of my absolute favorites to tell, and I share the story with every single new hire class. In a nutshell: I had an anonymous “blog stalker” for three years; we met up at a Waffle House one Sunday morning and well.. now, he’s one of my very best friends.

 

And he showed up — bucket hat, beard and all — to save the day.

 

I glanced down at my phone to text Charlie the great news: “Guess who the hell just walked in the door? My hero. Ryder.”

 

20161203_114106
L-R: Ryder, Jace

 

Once Ryder finished ordering his latte + single shot of espresso, I watched him turn around and begin scanning the room (clearly for a good location to “spy” from). I waved my hands, caught his attention, and motioned for him to come join me. He seemed surprised.

 

“Hey,” I said, “this guy’s just lucky that I showed up. He’ll have to be fine with getting to know me AND one of my friends.”

 

He seemed satisfied with this and began settling down onto the couch beside mine. I shook my head at him, still surprised. “I just can’t believe that you actually came!” I exclaimed. “I was secretly hoping, yesterday, that you might read the post and decide to swing by. I knew that, if ANYONE was going to be here, it would be you.”

He smiled. “If anybody’s ever going to kidnap you, you know who it’s going to be.”

 

We had a great time chatting and catching up and, before we both knew it, it was 12:30.

 

“I guess he really isn’t coming,” I announced. I was relieved, mostly, but in another sense, I was very disappointed; NOT because I had wanted to see him, but because I had hoped to have my serial killer fantasies destroyed with knowledge that this Abraham guy was actually a normal and nice human being. Now, I still didn’t know.

 

I returned to conversing with Ryder and my phone rang. I glanced down at it, saw it was an unknown number, and swiped my finger to the right (ignoring the call). Twenty seconds later, my phone rang again.

 

I looked up at Ryder, puzzled and apologizing. “I’m sorry — I don’t know who this is, but they’ve called twice..”

And my first thought, of course, was wondering has so-and-so been in a car accident? Are they using their last breath to whisper my phone number into the ear of a stranger who is bending over them on the side of the road?

 

“Hello?” I ventured, hesitantly, into the receiver.

 

There was a pause.

 

“Hah-low?”

 

It was Abraham’s voice; distinct, unmistakable.

 

“Oh — hi, Abraham! Are you here at Saturn?”

 

Another pause. I couldn’t make out everything that he said, but I thought I’d heard that he couldn’t find the place, so I repeated this back to him, for confirmation.

 

“So you couldn’t find the place?”

 

“….yah.”

 

“I’m sorry that I missed seeing you! I’m actually here with my friend, Ryder,” I continued, looking over at Ryder, “so I’m going to stay here with him, but I hope that you have a wonderful week!”

 

There was a long pause; I was ending the conversation abruptly and Abraham and I both knew it.

 

“….oh-kay,” he stammered.

 

“Take care, Abraham!” Click.

 

And then I blocked the phone number.

 

When I looked over at Ryder again, he was squinting his eyes at me.

 

“So that was Abraham,” he stated, factually.

 

“Yes.”

 

“On the phone,” he elaborated.

 

“…yes.”

 

“But I thought that he didn’t HAVE a phone?”

 

I sighed. “He doesn’t — or didn’t — but there’s one thing that I didn’t include in the blog, because it was a little weird and I just didn’t know how to relay it. But,” I continued, leaning in a little closer, “AFTER I asked Abraham for his phone number — you remember that part, right?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Right; well, he said that he was ‘without phone,’ and at that point, I didn’t know what to do, but before I could suggest something else, he asked me for MY phone number.” I paused. “And I said to him, ‘But Abraham, you don’t have a phone,’ and he didn’t remark on that. He just asked for my phone number again.” I shook my head, like what do you do?

 

“I didn’t WANT to give it to him, but I was on the spot. I did notice, however, that he clearly didn’t have anything to write the number down on; he asked me if I had a pen — I guess he was going to just write it on his hand — and while I have about five thousand things in my backpack, I wasn’t POSITIVE that I had a pen in there, so I was able to honestly answer that I didn’t think I had a pen.” I stopped and looked over at Ryder.

 

“And I thought it – the interaction – would end there. I hoped it would. But then he said, ‘Say your number out loud and I will memorize it.’ This, to me, seemed a little pathetic, and super weird, but again.. how do you say no? So I said it out loud for him, twice, and then he nodded and walked away.”

 

Ryder was quiet.

 

“I cannot believe that he actually memorized my number,” I murmured, shaking my head.

 

“So whose phone did he call you from?” Ryder asked.

 

“Good question,” I answered. “Maybe he DOES have a phone. Or maybe he borrowed a friend’s phone or a co-worker’s phone.. who knows. But, whatever the case, I’ve blocked the number, and I feel good about doing that; I didn’t know him, but I still showed up today and he didn’t. I was willing to give him a chance, and I did. I tried to do the right thing, the kind thing, and now, I feel peace about parting ways with the guy.”

 

Ryder and I spent another three hours there at the cafe, talking in-between comfortable spaces of quiet; Charlie joined us at 2 (as planned) and we both caught him up to speed on the situation. With my two friends sitting there, one on either side of me, I gave my verdict of the situation:

 

“This was a good learning experience,” I began. “A stranger said they wanted to be friends with me and asked for my phone number, and I didn’t know how to say no to either request. But now, I do: you just say no. It’s okay to tell somebody, you seem like a nice person, but I’m not ready to form new friendships right now — or, frankly, I’m not comfortable giving you my phone number; I don’t know you!” I shook my head as I said it out loud; it’s so simple to understand and say these things now — why did I feel so cornered yesterday?

 

“So, in summary,” I continued,I don’t think that it’s unkind to establish boundaries and enforce them. I want to be there for people, but I also don’t want to put my safety at risk.”

 

Ryder and Charlie both seemed relieved to hear this.

And it would have been nice if it could have ended there. But I still had more to learn.

 

****

 

That evening, I was brushing my teeth with my left hand and hooking my phone up to its charger with my right hand when the phone started ringing; an unknown number. It seemed strange, but I let it go to voicemail, basically unbothered. I walked away, finished brushing my teeth, and – when I returned to my room and to my phone – I saw that I had a total of three missed calls. Whoever it was had just called me three times in a two-minute time span. My heart dropped.

 

“Oh god. Charlie..”

 

Charlie appeared in my doorway.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“He’s calling again.”

 

“Who is?”

 

“ABRAHAM,” I exclaimed, irritated because I was frightened. “If he calls again, will you please answer?”

 

“Sure.”

 

And sure enough, fifteen minutes later, he did. 

 

“When I answer the phone, what do you want me to say?” Charlie had asked me, ahead of time.

 

I thought on it. I’m big on honesty, so I didn’t want to ask Charlie to lie by saying that it was his phone and his phone number.

 

“Just.. just say, ‘This is Charlie,’ and see what he infers from that and says from there. If he asks for me, just repeat yourself — ‘This is Charlie; who is THIS?’ — something like that.”

 

When he called, Charlie did as I’d asked. I could hear Abraham’s raised voice on the other end of the line; I was startled to hear that he sounded angry. He hung up on Charlie after asking Charlie where he was (and after Charlie had answered ‘Birmingham’).

 

Charlie handed my phone back to me and neither of us said anything. A few minutes later, Charlie asked if I was okay.

 

“No,” I answered simply. “I’m not. I’m scared.”

 

So I blocked the second phone number he’d called me from.

 

***

 

I fell asleep and woke up and went to work. It’s easy to forget about scary things when you’re busy and it’s bright outside. But evening crept along and, as it did, my productivity tapered off and darkness fell. Abraham’s silhouette and the sound of his voice played in my mind again. Maybe, after hearing a guy answer the phone last night, he won’t call back again — maybe he’ll think that Charlie’s my boyfriend, or think that he wasn’t recalling the number he’d memorized correctly.

It was comforting to think this.

 

But at 9:00, I received another phone call from another unknown number. I was too afraid to answer it, but I called out for Charlie right after the ringing stopped.

 

“Will you please call this number back,” I asked him, holding my phone out, “and see if it’s him?”

 

He paused. “I can..

 

I was offended by his hesitation. “If you don’t want to, you don’t have to–”

 

“No,” he waved his arms emphatically, “it’s not that I don’t want to help and that I don’t want to protect you — of course I do.. I just think that, if you called him back, it would be more.. effective.

 

I was still bothered by what I considered his lack of caring, but someone needed to do SOMETHING, so I did as Charlie had suggested; without thinking about what I was going to say or crafting some kind of carefully-written script for my nervous self to follow, I dialed the number and waited for him to answer.

 

“Hellllll-oooooohhh?”

 

I was surprised. A jubilant-sounding country boy had answered the phone, and background noise suggested that he was at some kind of party.

 

“Ummmm — hi. I just missed a call from this number?”

 

“Ohhhhhhhhh yeah! I was letting some guy make a call — let me see if I can find the dude..” a pause. “THERE HE IS! Hey man; your sister called you back..”

 

And when I heard him say that, something happened inside of me. I couldn’t yet process exactly what it was, but in a second – in a literal flash – my fear had burned down into something else, and I’ll openly admit that it was anger.

 

Abraham’s voice appeared on the other end of the line: “Ha-low?”

 

“Yeah; I’ve been receiving missed CALLS?” I said, raising the end of the sentence into a question. It had come out with a little bit of attitude, on accident, but I didn’t bother apologizing.

 

Abraham breathed into the phone for about three seconds and then he was gone; country boy was back on the line.

 

“Heyyyy — sorry about that.. looks like he called a wrong number!” His pleasant pitch and tone seemed to celebrate this fact; like he also could have been saying, “Look at that Golden Retriever fitting THREE tennis balls in its mouth!”

 

“That’s okay,” I responded.

 

And this time, I didn’t block the number.

 

 

Charlie stayed in the room with me, sitting beside me without saying anything and waiting for some kind of feedback.

 

It took a few minutes for me to process it, but when I did, I got it; I 100% got it.

 

“I’m not afraid of him anymore, Charlie,” I announced calmly.

 

“Oh?”

 

“No, I’m not,” I reiterated. “Cause here’s the thing; I felt bad for him. I was willing to take a chance and be his friend. He didn’t show up, called me LATE AT NIGHT from THREE different phone numbers, and I tolerated all of this.. I waited, in fear, for him to call or approach me again, and wondered what I’d say, what I’d do. But then he had the audacity to lie to a stranger and tell them that I was his sister.” I paused, regaining composure.
“How dare that man call me his SISTER. I had ONE brother, and he died three years ago.” I shook my head in disbelief. “Let him call again. Let him approach me at the park. I’ve gotta tell you..” I shook my head. “It’s amazing; how anger can just completely take your fear away.”

 

Abraham hit a sore spot with me, and it’s exactly what I needed him to do in order for me to be able to turn my fear into something else — something more useful. Unfortunately, I have yet to hear from or see Abraham, but if and when I ever do, you better believe that I have a speech prepared for the guy.

 

The lesson in all of this?

  • Don’t give someone your phone number unless you actually want them to have it; it’s okay to say, “I’m not comfortable giving you that information right now. Or ever.
  • Don’t agree to meet up with strangers unless you’re – again – comfortable doing so. You can say, “I have a lot going on right now — but I really appreciate the offer.”
  • Don’t look to others to protect you. Yes; it was wonderful and reassuring, having Ryder and Charlie’s support through this whole ordeal.. but in the very end, I had to make the phone call, and I had to take control of my fear (which brings me to my last point):
  • Don’t let yourself be afraid of people. We see, in movies and on television, and read, online and in print, how awful humans can be — about the terrible things they can and will do to us. But you shouldn’t live in fear of what might happen to you. Instead, you should feel confident and competent and capable of defending yourself — verbally and, if it ever comes to it, physically. Strike the balance between being brave and being cautious; meet new people, go on adventures! But be smart about it. For instance, I’m heading to Colorado this spring — taking a solo trip in the names of healing, discovery, and adventure — and while it’s very exciting to think about it, it’s also a little intimidating. To feel more prepared for my journey, I’m following a friend’s advice by taking a self-defense class. I’m also going to invest in a bottle of pepper spray, although there’s a much greater chance that, in a confrontation, I’d accidentally aim the bottle in my own direction instead of the evildoer’s.

 

I went to a bike meet recently where a fellow rider introduced himself to me. His name, I learned, was Frank; he was wearing red pants, a helmet, and donning a tiny little mustache. We rode along together and talked music for a few minutes and then, before pedaling away, he strangely offered:

“You know, you look like the kind of person who’s ready for whatever life throws at you.”

 

I smiled at him as I fell behind him and others in the group, traveling along at my own leisurely pace. “Thank you for the compliment.. I really appreciate you saying that.”

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui