Why I want you to stay the same but you won’t

Two Saturday evenings ago, I was sitting inside of Avon theater with my right leg crossed over my left and a neat flyer in my hands, one that listed the names of seven story tellers (with their corresponding social media handles). My boyfriend, Charlie, was seated to my right, and one of my good friends, Kaity, was situated on my left with her husband, Tim, beside her.

 

Charlie leaned over and around me and asked Kaity, “Did you know that Jace is my most favoritest person on the planet?”

Kaity’s laugh glittered like tinsel. “NO! I had no idea.” Then she turned to face me. “I LOVE your outfit, Jace!”

I smiled, looking down at what I was wearing; a blue, corduroy skirt and a cropped, multicolored top. “Thank you! I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing stuff like this to work, of course, but I have fun experimenting with skirts and dresses on the weekends.”

“You just can’t care about what other people think,” Kaity advised. “Wear what you like!”

I considered her words; she was right. I just wished that I had the guts to actually do it.

So many mornings, I find myself brushing through my closet and pulling slacks off of hangers when what I’d actually like to do is wear one of my newly purchased, bohemian dresses… but then I imagine how people at work would receive this change in Jace’s established, signature style.

“Oh wow — Jace is wearing a dress?” (surprise/criticism/disapproval)

“Oh wow! Jace is wearing a dress!” (surprise/compliments/approval)

 

Either way, M-F, I always end up leaving the dress there on its hanger. I don’t want the attention, negative OR positive, and the anxiety that naturally comes along with it. Someday, I might muster up the courage to wear a dress to work. But in addition to the dress, I’ll need to wear leggings or hose, because our good ole’ American culture mandates that citizens must go batshit crazy whenever women, who are clearly letting themselves go, forego shaving their body hair for comfort and authenticity.

 

L-R: Charlie and me (wearing “the outfit”)

***

My wardrobe has changed drastically over the years. I could spin it to say that my clothing taste has evolved, but it’s probably appeared as more of a back and forth movement to onlookers — progression and, seemingly, regression. Try to picture the change in fashion as layers peeling off over time, and layers A and C match in the same way that B and D do, except that the pairs are entirely different from each other.

I was forced to wear skirts and dresses for years AND I disrespected females (including myself) in general until emerging on the other side of my identity crisis last year, so it makes perfect sense that, pre-this year, I’d denounce such frivolous apparel as being horrible and discard all of it, supplying boys’ shorts and over-sized t-shirts in its place.

But after working through all of that, I am now able to appreciate the cuteness and surprising coolness of skirts and dresses. They allow you to move freely, sit and lie down comfortably, and to feel the wind on your ankles, knees, shoulders, and back. They also, admittedly, look fun. SOME of them.

But when you know that people view you a certain way and expect you to present yourself in that way, it’s painful to implement change, even when your soul strongly desires it. People’s expectations, spoken or unspoken, make me feel like I’m trapped in a cage sometimes, and it’s so, so unpleasant to feel that way.

It’s not that I’m ashamed of myself or these would-be changes — it’s that I’m fearful of whether or not people will still accept and like me. They will, likely, continue to accept me, but they might like me less, which STILL sucks. I may seem unstable, or threatening in some weird kind of way, or they might even believe that I’ve lost touch with who I am (or was) and that the old me they knew and loved is gone, or in the very process of leaving.

So. Much. Drama. The truth of the matter is, we’re always changing. We’ll never be the same person we were, because we can’t grow while staying the same.

Imagine, as a one or two year old, sticking your feet into some comfortably-fitting size three shoes, but then growing up in the confines of those same shoes; you’ll end up painfully misshapen, having artificially stunted your growth. You must give yourself license, freedom, and room to grow.

 

It’s also arguably true that people will react to our changes more positively than we imagine they would, and that we needlessly make ourselves suffer by erecting and then living underneath gloomy ceilings constructed of pure fiction.

 

As we plunge headfirst into life, with our minds and hearts, our religious and political beliefs will likely waver and change; clothing and music taste will fluctuate; our palettes for foods and beverages will broaden over time, and what we’re looking for in a friend or a partner will ALSO change as we slowly identify (through love and heartbreak) what we really want and need in a companion.

Heck… ten years ago, I wouldn’t touch an avocado, couldn’t stand the smell of Chinese food, and thoroughly hated all casseroles simply because they had “too much going on.” Now, I adore all three of those things.

A twenty-two year old told me yesterday, “Ahhhh, I don’t like avocados!” I admonished her to keep me posted. Girl’s gonna fall head-over-heels IN LOVE with them someday. MAYBE. Or maybe she won’t… maybe she’ll always dislike them. We’re all different, so we all change and evolve in different ways. We converge together sometimes and grow apart often. We surprise ourselves AND others with our “inconsistencies” and transformations.

Because we don’t really like it, do we? Change?

When a new policy or procedure is implemented at work, I like to observe the reactions and behaviors of the people around me. There are some who are always opposed to change, simply because it’s a disruption to their current, comfortable routine; there are others who celebrate change for the mere sake of mixing things up (guilty as charged), whether that change is truly beneficial or not… and then there are those who reasonably and objectively assess the change for value and then make up their mind on how they feel about it. “Yes! This is revolutionary and wonderful!” “Ehhhh… it makes little difference.”

Whichever type of person you are, work changes are relatively easy to accept. But when changes take place within you, or manifest in the people you love, it’s quite different.

***

Growing up in the conservative home that I did, my television time and options were limited; I could watch 30 minutes to 1 hour of fictitious programming a week (my specific time allotment varied and was dependent upon how “on track” aka religiously strict my mother was feeling at the time), but could spend an unlimited number of hours watching Animal Planet, Fox News, or HGTV (because the shows on these stations would either remind me of god’s creation or they were true stories and, therefore, wasting spending time watching them was moral). To recap, it was better for a 12-year-old to watch Shepard Smith reporting on gun shots, bombings, and horrific hate and rape crimes than it was for her to watch Lizzie McGuire navigate a relatable tween issue with her two best friends, Miranda and Gordo.

Clears throat. I digress.

Two of Sierra and I’s favorite shows were Extreme Home Makeover and a show (can’t remember the name of it) where incredibly obese people would undergo weight-reduction surgeries to make the quality of their lives better (or possibly even SAVE their lives).

 

What we both liked about these programs: THE INCREDIBLE TRANSFORMATIONS!

 

A team of experts could turn a total dump into an enviable mansion, and a person who was so overweight that they couldn’t even get out of their hospital bed by themselves could suddenly wear athletic gear and jog down the street without losing their breath. It was amazing — inspiring! We couldn’t get enough of these shows.

And I think that we possessed such insatiable appetites for these programs because we longed for similar, incredible, life-changing transformations in our own lives.

 

Watching the weight show seemed to fuel my already-existing eating disorder. At the depressing onset of each episode, I would gaze at the obese person (usually 500+ pounds) sitting in an over-sized chair, the stretchy skin from their strained body spilling over the sides of the furniture. A concerned family member or close friend would be there in the room with them, asking, in a sad voice, what they could get them for lunch.

“A pizza… and two hamburgers… an extra large order of fries… an apple pie (not a slice, a full pie)… and two bags of Doritos, please.”

 

The amount of food they ate astounded me, and I didn’t have a mature enough mind to understand that they had an illness — an addiction; that, just as some people are addicted to drugs, alcohol, or sex, other people are addicted to food.

And after watching the show, I would slide down into my sleeping bag on the living room floor and lie awake, imagining myself at 300, 500, or 700 pounds. “I’d rather die,” I thought to myself, honestly. “I have to make sure that never happens to me.” And at 5′ 4”, the scale read 88-96 pounds for years.

 

Fluctuations in my weight has been just one change (among many others) that I’ve had to come to terms with. In the grand scheme of things, it’s been one of the most trivial changes to deal with.

Adjusting to changes in people and either growing apart from or being pushed away by people I trusted and loved more than life itself has been more painful than the worst physical pain I’ve ever experienced. I’m sure many can relate. I’m sorry for your pain. Change is inevitable, and people will often leave us. I’ve discovered that it’s wise to go ahead and mourn the death of the person you love while you’re still holding them in your arms so that, when they do die or walk away from you, you don’t want to die yourself or go chasing senselessly after them.

 

***

Back at the Avon theater, the fifth storyteller was taking the stage… my all-time favorite: Bob Byrd.

L-R: Me (Jace) and local celebrity, Bob Byrd!

 

Bob shared with the audience (but mostly me) that his job as a quality assurance manager for xyz company is totally soul-draining, and that he recently went on a cruise to take a breather from it.

His first evening on the cruise, he sat down to dinner with a group of strangers, all of whom shared their respective lines of work (current or previous). He learned that they were all interesting and “important” people; lawyers, doctors, and the like… and he felt small, admitting his own boring job title to person after person.

But then, he made a glorious realization; the people on the cruise didn’t actually KNOW him… who he was or what he did. Therefore, here and now — this week, and if only this week — he could be anything he wanted.

So he went for it. And he had a lot of fun with it.

With one group, he proclaimed to be a zoo veterinarian; he told the false tale of delivering a baby elephant and relayed the medical scares involved with the delivery. With another group, he was an FBI agent, and life was all danger and adrenaline. He told a third group that he was an adult film star, a fourth group that he was a fortune teller (with this group, he employed an accent), and a fifth group believed him when he said that he was transgendered.

“I think you made a good decision,” an elderly man commended him on his transition.

“And why is that?” Bob asked, curious.

“Because as a man, you’re merely homely looking… as a woman, you would have been absolutely hideous.” Oh, Bob! I think you’re absolutely adorable.

 

But here’s the REALLY funny part of the story: on a snorkeling excursion, members of two separate groups were both present with Bob… some people from the group who thought he was a southern veterinarian, and a few individuals from the group who had heard their fortune teller prophesy to them with an accent. UH OH!

 

Luckily, Bob was able to speak and interact with each group privately, but it made me (and the audience) wonder… how WOULD you handle that situation?

 

I used to feel like a different person all of the time, parading about expertly and trading this mask for that one all throughout the day. My appearance, tone of voice, and personality would change depending on the group of people I was with at the time — according to what kind of role they played in my life (friend, family member, co-worker) and my degree of comfort with them. I would also take into account what I imagined they expected of me.

To an extent, despite my newfound confidence and comfort in this body, I still live this way… wearing dresses on the weekends and slacks during the week. Don’t know how long I’ll be keeping that up, but at the moment, the duality isn’t bothering me terribly.

***

I found a special rock on the ground when Charlie and I went hiking at a park late last year. I brought it home with me, washed it, tied a rope around it, and then lost it in the car. Charlie found it last month when he was driving around with me, and I’ve worn it as a necklace constantly since then.

Many people have complimented the rock, thinking, I guess, that I’d purchased it from Urban Outfitters or some online, hippie store. When I tell them that I just picked it up off of the ground and wound a thin rope around it, they seemed surprised… disappointed, even.

Well, I was getting dressed for work yesterday morning when I reached for this necklace and, gripping it too loosely, it dropped onto the floor. A piece of the rock chipped itself off and went scattering and clattering across the hard, pink tile.

“Oh nooooooo,” I whispered mournfully. Charlie, in the adjoining room, could hear me.

“What’s wrong, Jace?” he asked, rushing into the bathroom.

 

“The rock — I broke it!” I collected the rock’s parts and showed them to him; it was now composed of the big piece and the little piece.

 

“Oh baby… it was already broken,” Charlie laughed. “That rock came from a way bigger rock… it probably broke off years ago and has ‘broken’ many times since.”

 

I paused, holding this new, changed rock in my palm and trying to imagine how many transformations it had already experienced. How many more can it possibly handle? I wondered. It’s so small now! What will happen to it as it continues to fall? Will it eventually become reduced to dust? I guess we all will, I realized, sadly. But the realization also gave me a strange and comforting sense of unity.

 

“Oh… you are so resilient and lovely,” I thought at the rock, carefully and gently tying it around my neck.

 

The already-broken rock (a few weeks ago…)
The changed rock (photographed this morning)

 

Still here (and ever-changing),

Aun Aqui

***SHAMELESS PLUG: I’ve written a novel! It’s magical! I’m self-publishing it, and I need your help. 🙂 To pledge a donation to my Kickstarter campaign (which is now at 62%, woohoo!) AND score some fun goodies for doing so, click here.***

A Sad Dream, Some Happy News

While getting tattooed late yesterday afternoon, I brought my artist up to speed on recent life events; my solo trip to Denver, a recent trip to the chiropractor, and, of course, Bruster’s sudden passing. I don’t think about him much these days, to be honest — simply forgetting or ignoring unpleasant truths is how I, and a lot of other people, cope — but talking about him with Aaron yesterday afternoon brought him to the forefront of my mind last night, and our conversation definitely influenced my dreams.

***

It was dark out, and I was traveling, on foot, through a strange city… one I’ve never visited before. Silo and Tycho were there with me, and Bruster was, too, which didn’t seem unusual. As we moved (and the screen panned) from left to right, I was able to take in the gorgeous view of the sun setting on the coast. We continued nearing the water until we had reached the absolute edge of the concrete; at this point, there was a retention wall of sorts separating us, persons and pups in the city, from the water… gazing down from where I stood, it looked like we were maybe 5-6 feet above sea level.

I remember panicking at this juncture — realizing that, while Si and Ty probably wouldn’t make any sudden moves, Bruster wouldn’t HESITATE to plunge into the water. It was familiar to him, and he had wonderful associations with it. He’d swam in plenty of lakes, ponds, rivers and creeks before, but never the ocean. It was, usually, too far away from where we were, and it was ALWAYS too dangerous.

Just as I was about to call out his name and a command, his big, fat, sheppy body disappeared into the dark water, and without hesitation, I jumped right in after him. I was startled to realize that my feet couldn’t touch the ground.

Bruster seemed to realize, very quickly, that this water was different from the waters he’d experienced before. It tugged and pulled at him and swirled all around him, and he didn’t like it. He moved towards the retention wall, but neither of us were tall or strong enough to reach the top of it. There was no ladder, and — since we were unable to simply pull ourselves up — we were, literally, stuck in the water. In the ocean. And, to make our outlook even bleaker, the sun seemed to be receding from us quicker than before.

When Bruster began to sink, I grabbed onto his 95 pound body with both of my hands, wrapping my arms tightly around his chest, and then I watched in horror as we — pulled by the evening tide — began washing further and further away from the city.

Panic seized me. I knew that, if I broke away from him, I stood a chance — Charlie was standing up there, right? On that concrete ledge? It was hard to see. If he was, maybe he could magically track down a nearby rope, or a handy 10-foot pole. There was nothing we could do for Bruster, as there were no nearby access points to the city — but I believed that Charlie could at least save me.

I turned to look at Bruster. I was barely able to hold his head above the water, but for now, we were making it.

I made my decision, and then I held my baby close to me as we both disappeared into the darkness.

 

 

***

If only we could have died together that way. Me and my four-legged soulmate, drowning in deep, dark waters… never made to suffer a day without each other.

That was last night’s dream, and it was a real doozy. I was grief-stricken all morning because of it, recalling Bruster’s distinct shape and the weight of his body in my arms. He became too real to me again. For months now, he’s felt more like a fairy tale… just a dog that I dreamt I had. But now, with the sweet memory of him outlined and colored in so clearly in my mind, I’m forced to acknowledge his realness, and caused to feel a fresh anger towards his heartless murderer. It’s so devastating — having to continue living in a world where despicable human beings can get away with cruel and inhumane actions towards others with the false truths that they tell.

But here I am in the waking world — doing my best to leave happy and hopeful impressions on the ground behind me and eagerly waiting for the day when I’ll find out where the hell he went and how, post-death, we can reconnect… be together again.

 

But things aren’t all gloom and doom. I do have some good news to share.

 

I launched my “help Jace self-publish her novel!” Kickstarter campaign less than TWO HOURS AGO, and I’m absolutely thrilled about it! I haven’t mentioned the novel a whole lot on this blog (its existence has been bobbing in and out of posts on other social media platforms), but here’s a little bit of info: The novel tells the tale of a rabbit named Jinx and a fox named Caldwell who embark on a spectacular, joint adventure from the forest into the city. The story is about self-discovery, magic, love, and loss. It’s my favorite story that I’ve ever read, and I just so happened to write it.  🙂

SO, if you feel so moved, please feel free to pledge a donation to my campaign! So far, one beloved person has pledged, and the email I received (notifying me of their donation) sent happy chills all the way down my spine. Campaign proceeds will go towards satisfying an array of self-publishing costs (both listed AND unlisted), annnnnnnnnd to entice you just a little bit more, I’m offering a limited number of EXCLUSIVE REWARDS for tiered pledge amounts, so you better hop to it!

To pledge an amount, click right here.

 

Happy to be non-dreaming, aka awake…

Aun Aqui

#staywoke

Bidding on everything and singing for cute old people

At 5:20 PM yesterday, Charlie was lugging an amplifier up the external, metal staircase, and I was tagging along behind him with a guitar in my left hand and music binder in my right arm.

After settling into the 2nd story event room at Avondale Brewery — connecting cables, tuning strings, and testing sound levels — we both ordered drinks at the bar (a red wine for me and some bitter, gross stout thing for Charlie) and began perusing the wares at the event.

For the last two years, I’ve played music for Campfire Alabama’s annual fundraising event, and this year, as well as last year, the organization held a silent auction to help raise funds.

So Charlie and I moseyed down the long line of tables together, murmuring aloud our likes and — a bit more quietly — our dislikes. I considered us to be a pair of passive observers, just killing time until “go time” rolled around.

“THIS would be cool,” I exclaimed, referring to a Red Mountain Zip Line package. “Would you enjoy zip-lining with me?” I asked Charlie.

He nodded.

“Then… I’m BIDDING!” I announced excitedly, realizing that I had the capacity to do so. Auction bidders had always seemed so foreign-ly fancy to me… but now, I was doing what they were; I was one of them.

The number on my “paper” was 102, so – as the first bidder on this particular item – I wrote my number down beside the third lowest bid option — $12. “We’ll see what happens,” I giggled wildly, infatuated with this newly discovered bidding power that I possessed.

 

As we moved through the rest of the room, I felt like a VERY important lady, placing modest, but decent, bids on a few other items, like a brown, white, and yellow scarf and a case of red wine. “That would take me 6 months to finish,” I thought to myself, feeling skeptical about the decision but deciding to bid anyways, because bidding was exciting! 

 

And then, I spotted it — what I’m going to call the glory item. 

“OH MY GOD…… CHARLIE!” I whispered hoarsely. “LOOK! But don’t draw attention… it’s a gift card to Urban Standard. I must win it.”

 

The gift card, which was for $50, offered a low starting bid… something like $5. But I decided to raise the stakes from the get go.

 

“I’m bidding $25,” I whispered to no one, eyeing the gift card lovingly and elegantly crafting each of the numbers: 1, 0, 2.

 

6:00 rolled around quickly, so after one last potty break (I’m famous for peeing thirty times before: playing gigs, getting tattoos, and heading out nerve-wracking meetings at work), I climbed up onto my stool and began playing for the crowd. Every couple of songs, I would garner Charlie’s attention and remind him of his somber mission: to revisit “the Urban Standard table” and ensure that no one else had challenged my bid.

“I don’t really care about the other stuff so much,” I explained, and then I paused. “Holy shit… I bid on a lot of STUFF. What if I win everything I bid on and have to pay for ALL of it?” I calculated; I could afford it, of course, but… shit.

 

Charlie smiled with amusement.

 

Silent Auction Rule #1 (The Only Rule): Don’t bid on everything unless you’re okay with the possibility of leaving with (and paying FOR) everything.

 

Charlie reported back to me several times, but one of those times, he was wearing a very serious expression. “Someone bid $30,” he began. I took a quick inhale of breath. “But DON’T WORRY,” he continued quickly, waving his hands around. “I put you down for $35.”

I was somewhat relieved — the imminent danger was no longer — but I was still vulnerable, up until the very minute the auction closed. “Keep checking,” I commanded.

 

I won’t leave you all in suspense. I ran into a few friends at the event, chatted with a few strangers about music and – oddly enough – credit unions, and – by the end of the night – I was the lucky winner of (1) glorious item: the Urban Standard gift card.

 

“Awesomeeeeeeeee!” I cried at the checkout table. “I go there EVERY Saturday!”

 

“Awwwwwww,” the ladies at the table cooed. “You’re so nice — we’re glad you won it! Thank you for playing music for us again this year!”

 

I was tickled to be leaving with such a wonderful gift card in my back pocket, but I was equally relieved that the case of wine was in someone else’s arms, the pretty scarf was hugging another person’s neck, and that another individual or couple would be looking forward to zooming past trees.

 

Stolen from Charlie’s Facebook page. His caption: Bunita donating some entertainment for a great cause, again! The Smores n Pours silent auction asked her back for another year and she did not disappoint. I overheard that an older married couple remarked, upon hearing her sing, that they wished she could have played at their wedding, which would have taken place when she was 5 years away from being born. Great job tonight, sweet!

 

***

Today, I played another gig; this one was at Whole Foods where a group of seniors assembled themselves for their monthly outing: this month, it was barbecue and music on the front patio.

Before the event began, I wandered into Whole Foods to locate Charlie, who was going to help me lug the amplifier out of the car. I saw Christopher working in VA, so I averted my eyes and moved away as quickly as possible.

I found Charlie, and he immediately headed out to the car to grab the amp. I hand picked a few cotton candy grapes and then meandered off to the prepared foods section (where one of the coolers contains dozens of different beverages). I chose a Dr. Better-flavored Kombucha drink, turned around, and saw Christopher AGAIN — this time, piling food from the hot bar onto a paper plate. I turned around quickly and headed straight for the checkout line, feeling slightly annoyed. Two people were ahead of me, and less than a minute later, a third person took their place behind me.

 

“Welllllll… fancy meeting you here,” Chris’s loud and distinguishable voice bellowed.

I turned around. “Hi,” I offered politely. “How are you?”

“Gooooooooood,” he answered without looking at me, staring forward and stroking his beard a little. Just the way I remember him. “Soooooo what are you doing here?” he asked, indicating, with a nod of his head, that it was a strange time of day for me to be in his workplace.

“Ahhh… yeah, I left work early and used vacation time so that I could come play for the seniors today.”

He furrowed his eyebrows in confusion at first and then raised them, recognition dawning on his face. “Oh yeahhhhhh, that. Yeah, that gig wasn’t going to be enough pay for me.”

 

“Ahhhh — then I guess I was their second choice,” I inferred, laughing. “I’m not really doing it for the pay. I just… enjoy it,” I smiled. “Just played a charity event last night, actually, and it was fun.”

 

We chatted for another moment and then I broke away, bidding him a good weekend. “You too,” he tossed out casually and then redirected his attention to the girl working the register, instantly taking on a different tone. Always the social chameleon.

 

I walked away, remembering when we used to play open mics together for free — for the sheer hell of it — and I marveled at how strange it feels to want to look away from someone you used to stare at for hours.

 

***

I’d practiced through a good number of oldies in preparation for the event and had just finished setting everything up outside when the elderly crowd began shuffling themselves out onto the patio.

 

“Good morning!” I called out to each person in greeting, smiling brightly. The seniors smiled back at me, with or without teeth; some of them were wearing ball caps, a few of them were aided by walkers, and others were grasping onto the arm of another younger and stronger person.

 

They seated themselves at various tables and, as they settled in, I began playing tunes for them — old hits by The Doobie Brothers, America, Steelers Wheel and others. One man (wearing a white name tag that simply read “Ted”) sat down beside his chatty wife; throughout the meal, she was turned to face her girl friend, and he sat there either staring at his food or gazing off into the distance. I caught his eyes a few times and gave him a meaningful smile, which he returned, and I also caught him tapping his feet to the music two different times. That made me extra smile.

Another gentleman named Jerry introduced himself to me immediately upon arriving to the event.

“Hello,” he nodded at me, very proper-like; he was wearing khaki shorts, brown shoes, a brown polo shirt, and a black belt.

 

“Hi!” I smiled at him.

 

“Guess how old I am?”

 

I was taken back by the question. I didn’t want to shoot too low, but was also afraid of offending him with an honest guess. “Uhhhh… 59-61?”

 

In response, he smirked and held up seven fingers.

“SEVENTY?” I exclaimed.

 

He nodded.

 

“Guess how old my twin BROTHER is?” he continued.

 

“Ha… 70,” I grinned at him.

 

“Now guess his NAME!” Jerry pressed.

 

“You’re Jerry and he’s… Larry?” I guessed.

 

“No. Think of the cartoon,” he said.

 

I paused. “….Tom?”

 

“YEP! I used to be a WARBLER,” he volunteered loudly.

 

I cocked my head at him. “A what?”

 

He repeated the word and then demonstrated what it was, singing very gutter-ally.

 

“Ahhhhh… I see. Well then I expect you to sing along with me today, Larry,” I said to him very seriously.

 

He widened his eyes fearfully and then walked away, his tall socks rising half way up his calves.

 

At the beginning of the set, a woman – dressed in black and white and with medium length black hair – sat at the table closest to where I was stationed. “You’re going to be my sound person,” I told her. “Please tell me if I’m too loud, okay?”

 

“Oh, I will,” she assured me. I smiled.

 

Fifteen minutes into the gig, she turned to look at me and said, “You have a VERY beautiful voice!”

 

“Awwww… thank you!” I smiled at her. “Let me know if things get too loud!”

 

Twenty minutes later, she turned around to look at me and said, “You have a VERY beautiful voice!”

 

I smiled, thanking her again and wondering whether or not she remembered complimenting me a little bit ago.

 

I let my eyes scan the crowd during songs where I had the song lyrics memorized and the guitar chords on autopilot, and I saw a few cute things.

 

One of them occurred during the beginning of Ted and his wife’s meal. He was struggling to open his bottle of Milo’s tea. His wife, understanding his predicament, wrapped her hand around the base of the bottom while he tried, with both hands, to pry the cap off the top. I watched them do this for about 45 seconds before he achieved success. It made me a little sad, but the partnership of the event was redeeming.

Another cute moment involved an older gentleman with a baseball hat and a walker. As he rolled past me on his way to the bathroom, he leaned over and asked: “How many bottles of whiskey did you drink before getting those tattoos?” (He was indicating my wrists, forearms and shoulders.) We both laughed.

“None!” I replied. “I don’t think they’ll let you get one if they can tell you’ve been drinking… and I’m actually getting my next one TONIGHT!”

He shook his head good-naturedly.

Another “awwwwww!” sighting (the last one that I’ll share here) happened about fifteen minutes before I ended the set. An adorable man named Jim seemed to be “moved” by one of the songs I had just started playing, because he rose out of his seat, stepped forward, folded his hands together (in a prayer pose) and smiled right at me from the middle of the patio for the entirety of the song.

 

Near the end of the set, my sound person rose out of her chair and walked over to where I was seated. “Take this,” she instructed me. I thought I was accepting a five dollar bill, but upon closer inspection, I realized that it was a fifty.

I hesitated and made a face at her. “Oh — you don’t have to tip me! Are you SURE?” I asked her.

She gave me a radiant smile. “You have a beautiful voice.”

And with that, she walked away. I watched her sit back down, next to the person I presumed was her daughter. I was stunned.

 

A few minutes later, a tall, elegant, and spry older woman hurried over to me. She searched the ground for a moment and then raised her eyes to look at me. “Where’s the tip jar?” she asked.

 

“Oh, I didn’t put one out! I’m just enjoying this,” I explained with a smile.

 

“Take this,” she insisted, slipping a twenty into my palm. “LOVE your voice. You did a WONDERFUL job,” she winked and then disappeared.

 

I couldn’t believe it.

 

At the end of the event, just as I was finishing strumming the last chord to Kung Fu Fighting, the event coordinator approached me, smiling widely. “They REALLY enjoyed your music today!” she raved. “Can I have your contact information for future events?”

 

“Sure!” I exclaimed, writing my phone number and email address down onto a random piece of paper with the thick permanent marker she’d offered me.

 

The pay for the gig was supposed to be $50; I took what she gave me without counting it, said goodbye, and then, when I went to put it into my wallet later on, I realized that she’d actually paid me $60.

 

“Wow,” I breathed, doing the math. “What was supposed to be a $50 gig turned out to be a $130 gig. How AWESOME!” I paused. “Wonder if that would have been enough money for him,” I chuckled to myself, swinging my guitar case with my left hand as I returned to the car.

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

What’s Up, Doc: Jace Visits a Therapist

“So…” the doctor smiled at me over rectangular glasses. “What brings you in today?”

Her first unofficial question.

 

I shifted in my seat slightly — the couch I was sitting on, a yellowed leather, was comfy, but sank down too much when you sat down onto it. I was trying to sit up straight, like a professional and proper patient, but the couch was making me look as awkward as I felt.

 

“Nothing major, really — I’ve just been experiencing higher-than-usual levels of anxiety and depression recently,” I answered.

 

“Please define recently?” I watched her right hand, with its slim fingers and clipped nails, grip a pen gently.

 

“Ummmm…”

I gazed up at the ceiling; white popcorn stared back down at me, most unhelpfully.

“I guess two years. It’s been flaring up – like, REALLY flaring up – for about two years now.” I paused. “And I’m seriously fine… I mean, all of us have bad days, bad experiences… what I’m experiencing isn’t unusual. I think that, being an especially sensitive soul, I just feel it all a little too keenly. Possibly more deeply than other people do — I don’t know; does that sound pretentious?” I laughed uncomfortably.

 

She smiled warmly. “Not at all. Some people ARE more sensitive than others. So, to recap, you’re here today because you’re anxious and depressed.”

 

I bobbed my head, up and down, like a buoy. “Yes… and I’ve learned to manage it on my own. I do a really great job with it, actually. But people have been badgering me, ever since the age of 18 and ESPECIALLY lately, to visit a therapist, or a counselor, or a psychologist of some kind, and I’m just sick of hearing it.”

 

She nodded vigorously. “I imagine that would be frustrating for you.”

 

I bounced my head from the left to the right a few times. “Wellllllllll, yeah — I mean, it IS annoying. I know their concern is genuine, but it feels like they’re all babysitting me. And it has always seemed SO odd to me — the degree of faith and trust that people place in therapists.” Remembering my company, I blushed.

“NOT to say that they — and you — don’t help… it’s just, I’ve never really felt like I needed outside help to diagnose or treat my own issues. It’s not super scientific or anything… you just think about them; you know? Say an issue, or a problem, is a house. You think about the house,” I lowered my voice, “and then, you consider the foundation underneath the house… what it’s made of, and what condition it’s in; what’s happened to it, and whether or not it has (or needs) reinforcements or repairs. Once you’ve identified and grasped all of that, when you’re ready, you begin digging beneath everything until you reach the earth, and if you keep on digging, you will eventually find it, wayyyyyyy down there — the reason why you’re so insecure, or angry, or terrified, or devastated. It’s actually pretty easy to do. Now, it’s TIRING,” I emphasized, “it can be absolutely EXHAUSTING to face issues head on like that, but the relief always comes afterwards.”

 

The therapist listened intently while I spoke. “Sounds like we might need to trade places,” she teased.

 

I laughed a little.

 

“Okay,” she continued in the same quiet, controlled tone. “Well, it sounds like you ARE doing a remarkable job managing this on your own, but I am glad that you came to visit with me today. Do you mind if I ask you a few more questions?”

 

“Sure,” I nodded enthusiastically. “I’m mostly viewing this as a social experiment,” I confided in her, grinning.

 

She laughed good-naturedly. “That’s fine, Jace.”

 

And these are the “few” (aka 10) questions that she asked me. 

 

***

#1: How are you sleeping these days, Jace?

I pursed my lips for about two seconds. “Good!” I nodded quickly. “I always sleep well. I go to bed around 8:30 every night and don’t wake up until, usually, 6:30.”

 

“Wow!” she breathed. “That sounds very nice.”

 

I smiled. “It is!” Then, the smile faded. “I mean, I have been waking up during the night in recent months…” I hesitated, but decided to go ahead and tell her; she was, after all, a therapist, and probably needed to know these things. “A neighbor, who lives across the street from me, shot and killed my dog, Bruster, at the end of March.”

 

Her eyes looked sad.

 

“He got out of the house while I was at work and — anyways, to make a really long story short, the man who did it is just awful. He didn’t need to do that. There were SO many other BETTER ways of handling the situation — a big, beautiful, barking dog running loose in a neighborhood. Bruster was my baby… he never hurt anyone, and he was LITERALLY my very best friend. I loved him more than I’ve ever loved… anyone. Our connection was on an absolute soul level.” I paused.

“I’m trying so hard to not hate that man. I don’t have any extra energy to waste, and I don’t want to poison myself with those feelings. I know he’s going to have to live with the guilt resulting from that terrible decision for the rest of his life, and I’m hoping that remorse will make him a better person… more compassionate, and less violent.”

“Anyways,” I continued, ready to wrap up the subject, “because of THAT, I’ve been waking up around 1, or 2, or 4 in the morning with my heart racing, and it’s hard to fall back asleep. I’m highly alert and absolutely convinced that, if I close my eyes, he’s going to hurt one of my other dogs or even kill me. I’d rather he kill me, to be honest,” I smiled at her weakly. “It’s something I think about doing to myself often, anyways, and my dogs are my life — sweet, precious, innocent souls. They are better than we are. I want them to be happy and safe for as long as possible.”

 

I watched her pen move across the page. “Okay. You mentioned killing yourself, so I have to ask — have you thought about how you would do it?”

 

“Pills.”

 

“What kind of pills?”

 

“I don’t know — I haven’t googled that yet,” I answered her honestly, “which is a good sign.”

 

She nodded solemnly. “It is. Alright. We’ll talk about that more later. Back to our current subject: When you are sleeping, do you dream?”

 

“Oh yes — every night, I have multiple dreams.”

 

“Assuming you can recall them, are they good dreams, bad dreams…?”

 

I thought about it. “A combination of the two. I dream about Bobby occasionally — my brother who died about four years ago. I dream about Chris a lot — Chris is my ex-husband and, more importantly, ex-best friend. I also dream about my OLD best friend, Melissa — we knew and adored each other for 8 years and then she just up and ditched me. I’ve dreamt about Bruster once or twice since he passed.” I paused, calculating. “No — just once.”

 

She looked up at me, seeming lost in thought. “Lots of loved ones in your dreams,” she murmured. “Tell me about the one involving Bruster, your dog. What kind of dog was he, by the way?” she asked curiously.

 

“A German Shepherd,” I smiled. “The best dog I’ve ever known. He had an ear the stood upright AND a floppy ear, which made him look completely goofy,” I started laughing. Talking about him made me sad, so I got to the point quickly.

“Anyways, the dream… in it, I was, at first, downstairs, playing the piano in front of the great, big dining room window. I felt a presence, so I turned around, and a man was walking past the window. It was dark out. I was scared. I ran upstairs, to my room, and looked out the window to check on the dogs. Bruster, Silo (his brother) and Tycho (his sister, who he never got to meet) were all standing outside, and the man was leaning over the fence, dropping a horrible spider onto the ground. I knew what he was trying to do; indirectly kill the dogs by having a spider bite them. I started screaming, NO, because Bruster was running towards the spider. He looked back at me, and then lowered his head down to the ground; Bruster swallowed the spider, and I instantly knew, in my gut, that he was doing it on purpose.” I paused, feeling suddenly tired. “He knew that the spider was going to hurt all of them, so he chose to die to protect his brother and sister. I was so, so MAD at him,” I whispered, swallowing hard to hold back the tears.

 

“It sounds like what happened in that dream felt very real to you,” my therapist offered.

“Dreams are always real to me,” I answered.

 

***

#2. Are you happy with your diet?

“Uhhhhh… yeah. I think so. I mean, I eat pretty healthfully. I’m a strict vegetarian and somewhat of a vegan.”

 

“Interesting. What made you decide to become a vegetarian?” the therapist inquired.

 

“Well, I didn’t actually decide. My mother is extremely religious — I come from a super conservative family — so, growing up, I was not allowed to eat meat, wear pants, OR go to movie theaters, among a thousand other things.”

 

“Why are you still a vegetarian, then? I’m inferring, from your tone, that you’ve… abandoned that lifestyle and those beliefs?”

 

“You are correct, and I decided to remain vegetarian because I love animals. Like I told you earlier, my dogs are my life, and I love ALL animals; the cute and domesticated ones AS WELL AS the less cute and wild ones. When I’m driving in the country and pass by a field of cows, I can’t help but giggle and smile… seeing them out there, grazing peacefully, can turn my WHOLE day around. If I’m in a bad mood, seeing them simply zaps it. It’s wonderful. They’re such wonderful creatures. But a few seconds after seeing them, a horrible dread begins seeping into my gut, as I realize that NEARLY EVERY PERSON driving along the road with me wouldn’t hesitate to eat one of those fucking cows.”

I shook my head at the beige, carpeted floor, feeling outraged. “I fucking HATE people. I love them, but also, I hate them, and when meat eaters come back — assuming there IS another life; I happen to believe in karma AND reincarnation — I hope they come back as animals that get eaten so they’ll understand the extreme wrongness of their actions.”

The therapist’s eyes widened, but she said nothing.

 

“So — you’re a vegetarian,” she stated quietly. “Are you getting enough protein, calcium, iron…?”

 

I screwed my face up a little. “Honestly? No. It’s easy enough to do — and I don’t do TOO bad with the protein and calcium; I eat lots of leafy greens and beans, stuff like that… but I’m POSITIVE that I’m anemic. Despite all of the sleep I get, I’m often plagued with inexplicable drowsiness. My boyfriend, Charlie, tries bringing home iron supplements — liquid ones as well as capsules — but I hate taking them, so I remember to forget taking them.”

 

“Very honest of you. Try to work on that, though,” she admonished me. “Imbalances and deficiencies in the body can cause (as well as increase) mental and emotional stress.”

 

“Got it,” I shook my head affirmatively. “Other than that, I do pretty well. I’m a sugar addict, so I try to be moderate with it, and – while I’ve struggled with my eating disorder since the age of 14, I’m doing a good job of keeping it in check. When I stepped onto the scale this morning and it registered that I now weigh 127 pounds, I was totally crushed. I was so mad at myself for ‘letting myself go.’ But then, after glancing into the mirror and realizing that I didn’t look morbidly obese in this short white dress, I convinced myself to just be okay with it… with the number. I feel healthy, so…” my voice trailed off.

“NOW, that’s not to say that I’m just going to accept these extra 7 pounds,” I clarified. “I’ll be skipping some meals to get rid of them, but I know to be careful with it.”

 

The therapist nodded. “Eating disorders are layered, like cakes — to identify just two of those layers, there’s the obvious factor of being concerned with your appearance, and then there’s the more subtle controlling factor.”

 

“Yep,” I nodded knowingly. “I think mine is 75% control-related and 25% appearance-related. And I know where — specifically, who — I got my eating disorder from. I’m working on it.”

 

Picking up on the fact that I was, for the moment, through with this subject, she nodded once and flipped to the next page in her notebook. “That’s a very cute dress, by the way,” she remarked kindly.

 

“Thanks!” I replied, looking down at it. “Wouldn’t have worn this last year,” I added to myself quietly, feeling proud of the progress.

 

20170610_115605

 

***

#3. What involvement do you have with people around you?

“I mostly interact with people at work,” I answered succinctly.

 

“And where do you work?”

 

“(Insert name of local credit union). I’m the training specialist, which means that I get to orient and train all new hires, as well as existing employees who return to corporate for future classes. When I’m not in class, I spend time working with other departments on various projects — testing out new processes and trying to streamline current procedures, and I am always looking for ways to improve things. I absolutely LOVE it,” I concluded sincerely.

 

“That’s good to hear!” she responded cheerfully. “Many of the people I see do NOT enjoy their jobs. You’re one of few who do.”

 

“That’s understandable… I’ve worked jobs that I didn’t love before, and it’s a real drag. I just figure that you’re going to spend a lot of time on the clock, so you might as well pick a position or line of work that you have some passion for. I like working with people, have always wanted to teach, and love learning, so, for me, serving as the training specialist is a triple win.”

 

“That’s wonderful. And what about outside of work?” she prodded me along.

 

“I’m sorry — what do you mean?” I asked, confused.

 

“How do you interact with people outside of work?”

 

“Oh — sorry, I forgot the question! Uhhhh… I interact with people sometimes,” I answered awkwardly. “Honestly, on weeknights and weekends, I really just like being by myself. Work drains my social reserves, in a good way, and I need that quiet time post-work to regroup. I like riding my bike, whittling a few hours away inside of a cafe (either reading or writing), and cooking nice meals at the house. Also, I go to bed really early, which is when most people would like to hang out,” I smiled.

 

I watched her pen move.

 

***

#4. How often do you meet up with friends?

I looked at her. “Well — going back to what I just said, I don’t really meet up with friends often. I had a friend I was hanging out with for a while, but she got a boyfriend, and now she seems busy… I had another friend, a co-worker actually, who I used to talk to a good bit and see on occasion, but I set her up with my ex-husband, so now THAT’S awkward…”

 

My therapist’s eyebrows shot up. “That IS awkward. Do you want to talk about that?”

 

I sighed deeply. “Not really. I keep things professional at work — she’s a great person AND a great employee. But when she brings him up, it makes me sad, and I don’t know how to address it, so I just act like it’s no big deal and then cry when I get home,” I teased, anxious to relieve the tension in the air. “So, outside of work, we don’t really hang out or talk anymore… it was just a natural parting of the ways.”

 

“Alright. Any other friends?” she asked. She looked sad, and it embarrassed me.

 

“I mean, of course — I have my boyfriend, Charlie, who is my best friend, and then a guy named Reed, who is my second best friend… my manager and I are really close; she motivates and challenges me and I feel like we’re really good friends. I have a few other friends who live far away from me; we don’t see each other often, but I love them wholeheartedly, and I know they’re going to be there if and when I need them. Same with them.”

 

“Alright,” she murmured, adjusting her glasses.

 

***

#5. Is there anyone who you feel really understands you and is close to you?

“This one’s kinda tricky to answer,” I began, gazing up at the popcorn again. I had admitted to the therapist, moments ago, that sitting on the couch felt uncomfortable, so when she offered for me to lie down, I gratefully accepted. I now had my ankles crossed and my arms folded neatly across my chest.

 

“Melissa knew me really well, as a child and teenager… I felt like, more than anyone, she got me. But since we’ve lost touch — gosh, it’s been seven years — she wouldn’t know me at all anymore. She’d hardly RECOGNIZE me!” I exclaimed. “I was a conservative, long-haired, Jesus-loving bestie to her back then… now, I’m an alternative, bi-sexual agnostic. Somebody she’d be ashamed to know.”

 

The therapist nodded, waiting for me to continue.

 

“And Chris — the ex-husband — I felt like he knew me really well. We went through a LOT together; his dad died, my brother died… we started AND finished community college together… rented our first apartment, bought our first car, our first HOUSE…” my voice trailed off. “And now, that dumbass acts like we were never close at all. He regards me as indifferently as a stranger you’d sit next to in a cafe. I’ve never been so in love with and mad at somebody before.”

 

“Do you still love him?” the therapist asked openly.

 

Rather bold of her to ask, I thought to myself. I turned my head to look at her. “As a person — a friend? Of course! I don’t GET people who can date or marry somebody and then break up and say, ‘Oh, I’m so much better off without them…’ how the FUCK do you spend FIVE YEARS with someone and then just ditch them? ‘Oh, btw, since we aren’t having sex anymore, you are no longer important to me, so I’ll maybe catch ya in the next life’ — REALLY?” My pitch had risen, so I brought it back down.

“Sorry… it’s just, he broke my heart. I feel used. Small. Dispensable. I would never treat somebody the way he, or Melissa, treated me, and I can’t figure out why they did… it’s like, what’s wrong with me, you know? I’m not mean! I loved those fuckers unconditionally, and STILL DO. That’s what I hate about myself: I can’t let them go. I don’t know if I ever will be able to, and it’s torture, REAL torture, missing people who are still alive. It hurts worse than Bobby being dead and gone. I can’t talk to him, or see him, or hug him, because he isn’t here… but they are; one’s a short drive away, and the other is carrying a phone in their back pocket somewhere in Connecticut. And yet they’re completely unreachable. What assholes.”

 

The therapist sighed. “That would make me sad, too. Why do you think they don’t speak with you anymore?”

 

I shrugged. “Who knows. Melissa knows I’m a deserter of davidia, and when I broke up with her brother, she took it really personally. Chris has a bad habit of fixating on the person he’s in a romantic relationship with, so that new person has, once again, become his wholeeeeeee world.” I shook my head in annoyance. “As far as anyone else who really knows me… Charlie does. He is the most sweet-hearted person I’ve ever known; so gentle, so patient, so reassuring… it’s unusual, having someone like him in my life. I’ve had to get used to it. He’s like a breath of fresh air. And I’m just waiting for us to fall apart,” I admitted.

 

“Why are you waiting for that to happen?”

 

“Because it seems like it always does, doesn’t it? Nothing lasts, and nobody stays. And as far as all of these people knowing and understanding me (and me them)… no one really gets you, you know? Not entirely. As close as they get, it’s an imperfect realization; a slightly fuzzy connection. Melissa knew me, who I was, way back then; Chris has a five-year snapshot of who I was when I was with him; and Charlie knows me now. But nobody has seen the comprehensive, long-running film of Jace and how she’s evolved over time… what she likes and loves and hates and fears and wishes and wants…” I paused. “Well, I guess I know,” I offered with a smile. “And I think that’s what I’m realizing and re-realizing all of the time; I can love myself and know myself better than anyone else can, so I’ve gotta stop expecting other people to do what only I can do.”

 

“So,” the therapist consulted her notes, tapping her pen lightly on the edge of a page, “the person who knows and understands you best is you?”

 

“Yep,” I nodded. “Who the fuck else, you know?”

 

***

#6. Do you feel excited by stuff in your life?

“Absolutely! I like this question,” I smiled. “I get excited by the little things — caramel lattes, gusts of wind, chunky guacamole, the sound the bell on my bike makes when I ring it, a perfectly written passage in a book…” my voice trailed off. “All of that stuff is exciting and wonderful.”

 

“That’s good! It sounds like you’re able to find things that delight you daily, and that’s important.”

 

“I agree,” I nodded earnestly. “AND I have big stuff to look forward to, too; my next tattoo appointment is scheduled for this Friday, AND I have two gigs scheduled for this week… I’m playing a charity event Thursday night, and then strumming and singing a bunch of old covers for a group of seniors at Whole Foods on Friday afternoon.”

 

“Wow! It sounds like you have an exciting hobby with music.”

 

“Oh yeah. Music is… therapy. Like this — talking with you right now? Working shit out with words? Music does that for me, too. Always has. Helps me feel things, dream about things, forget about things… it’s perfect.”

 

***

#7. What choice do you have about what happens in your life?

“I feel like the choice is entirely mine,” I answered confidently. “When I was a kid, I hated being controlled and bossed around… I think that’s why I rearranged my room so often and I also think that’s partially why I developed an eating disorder. But now that I’m an adult, and I’m no longer married to someone (Chris was a bit controlling — to be fair, I was, too), I make decisions based on what I think is best. I appreciate the input and wisdom of others, of course, but their recommendations aren’t… commands. Nothing is arbitrary. I finally feel like I can trust myself. It’s a good feeling.”

 

***

#8. Who are you? Answer in one sentence.

I squinted at the therapist. “This one’s kind of weird… give me a minute to think about it.”

“Sure.”

Seventy seconds passed.

“Okay; who am I… I am a sometimes sad and often happy human being who loves words and music, animals and people, sunshine and storms, burritos and coffee shops, and all different kinds of adventures.”

 

The therapist smiled warmly. “I think that’s the longest run-on sentence answer anyone’s ever given me.”

 

“Thank you for the compliment,” I beamed at her.

 

***

#9. If you could wave a magic wand, what positive changes would you make happen in your life?

“Damn,” I whistled. “Soooooooo many! But I wish you would have said ‘the world’ instead of ‘your life’,” I remarked honestly. “It’s kinda limiting.”

 

“Okay,” she replied. “Then what positive changes would you make happen in the world and your life?”

 

“SO MANY!” I cried happily. “First of all, people would leave animals the hell alone. All of them… ‘tasty’ ones included. People would love them, protect and nurture them, and play with them… but NOBODY would HUNT, KILL, OR EAT THEM!” I fumed.

 

“Okay. Anything else?”

 

“Yes. Secondly, I’d like to implement some kind of socialist, one world government thing.”

 

The therapist eyed me quizzically.

 

“I’m NOT very well-versed in politics,” I admitted, “BUT I read a lot of Edward Bellamy’s writings in the 11th grade and he made a HUGE impact on my worldview. I think that people should contribute to society in whatever way feels most natural and rewarding slash fulfilling to them… that there shouldn’t be such a stupendous discrepancy between the pay and “standard of living” of a doctor and a janitor… and that no one should live in excess wealth OR extreme poverty. But I knowwwwwww; not everyone would put forth the same amount of effort… some people are helpless lazy asses and why should they get a free ticket? Yeah… it’s a perfect idea, but people suck, so it would never work. So nevermind. I don’t know how to fix that,” I grumbled.

 

“Alright… I’ve crossed it out. Do you have a third item?”

 

“Yeah. The third thing would definitely be people. I’d want Chris to magically give a shit about our friendship and me as a person again. We’d hang out, play music, talk, laugh… be close again. Same with Melissa; she’d call me, out of the blue, and the very next day, I’d hop onto a plane and fly out to see her. We could be – if not bestgood friends again. I’d visit the jerk in prison this very minute,” I whispered, “but she can’t condescend to give me a call? Heartless… and lastly, I’d bring Bruster back.” I took a deep breath. “I don’t know if this wand-waving business encompasses resurrecting the dead, but I’d love to have my sweet boy back again. I miss him every single day. It’s so awful — the cruel and evil things that people do.”

 

The therapist nodded. “Anything else?” she offered.

 

I turned my head to look at her, causing my right cheek to brush against the leather seat of the couch. “I mean, I could go on all day,” I warned her, smiling. “But… if I could wave a wand and anything could happen… I’d like to pry Davidianism out of my family’s minds. I think it’s a bunch of bullshit, to be entirely frank with you; Christianity, I don’t have a problem with, and same with Buddhism and Atheism and whatever-ism… but Davidianism is just ridiculous.” I rolled my eyes.

“It’s an elitist religion of nit-picking legalists who base their beliefs on a convoluted set of prophetic interpretation. I mean, hypothetically speaking, what kind of god, or creator, would bury ‘the truth’ so deeply that it takes YEARS of intense study to uncover any bit of it? The answer is none. Because that’s ludicrous. The ‘one truth,’ if it did exist, would be so simple to understand that a child, or a special person, could get it. The ‘truth’ in their brains… it’s just fucking their whole lives up. My mom, as sweet and beautiful as she is, is one of the most depressed and unhealthy people I’ve ever known, and I truly believe that one of the biggest reasons why is this oppressive religious group she belongs to. She has to worry, every single day, that making one false step on the righteous path — like imbibing APPLE CIDER VINEGAR or watching fifteen minutes of a fictitious television show — is going to exclude her from heaven and, simultaneously, expel her to a fiery, torturous, and endless hell. No wonder she’s depressed.”

 

I sucked in a big breath and then blew it out slowly. “So, in short, I want my family to be happy. Honestly happy. And to further that end, I’d uproot davidianism from their minds and then let them figure the rest of it — life — out from there. And lastly, with a million billion other things in-between, I’d want to become a full-time touring musician and a traveling writer. Talk about a dream life.”

 

The therapist looked over at me with amusement. “Do you think that would make you happy — being paid to write stories and play songs?”

 

I shook my head no. “No one, and nothing, can make me happy. It’s not an external type of deal; it’s an intrinsic thing. I have to choose to be happy every single day, and I find reasons to be. Writing stories, and posts, and novels and playing music all of the time would just make life extra cool, exciting, and fun.”

 

***

#10. Jace… to conclude today’s session, I’d like to ask: What’s the question you’re most afraid to be asked?

I looked up at her. “I… don’t know what you mean…”

She shook her head at me, smiling. “I’m not going to give this any kind of context. Just tell me what question you DO NOT want me to ask you.”

I blinked a few times. “Uh… ‘When is our next visit?'”

 

We both laughed.

 

***

As I was leaving the room, I turned to face the therapist, who was walking along directly beside me. Speaking more seriously, I asked her: “Doctor Yarbrough, truly — do you think I need to come back for another session? I mean… I’m depressed, anxious, and still working through this myriad of sadness and insecurity, but… will coming back really achieve anything?”

Doctor Yarbrough paused in the doorway, considering me, and the question, carefully.

“Honestly, Jace? For a depressed, anxiety-ridden individual, you are doing very well. You just asked and then answered 10 heavy questions, and I think that, if you keep the communication line with yourself open, with the journaling and the blogging and the songwriting, you will continue processing, and healing, and growing. Just keep at it, okay? Don’t get lost inside of a busy life; all of us are vulnerable, and many of us do. Come back and see me if you want to, whenever you want to… but I won’t be worrying about you,” she added with a wink.

“Sounds good,” I smiled back at her, and then, when I moved away from the mirror, she disappeared also.

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

What makes me forget to eat

Depression sank its teeth into me again late this afternoon. It’s like it steps out of the shadows, silently — creeps up quickly from behind me and, with its stiff and bony arm, encircles my waist without invitation or permission, sending icy chills all the way down my spine. Depression bogs me down for the rest of the day, or couple of days, with its weight and ceaseless negative chatter. I’ve never been able to figure out how to break free of it. There’s no sense in asking it to leave, because it’s a one-way conversation, where I can hear everything it says but it registers nothing I say. Some days, we carry on together for miles… at other times, for mere minutes.

It hit me up when I was standing inside of Whole Foods earlier this evening. I’d just purchased a fresh batch of rosemary sourdough bakery bread, a tub of guacamole, and a small container of pimento cheese dip. Charlie and I had enjoyed a quick dinner together, and then he’d scurried back off to work.

I wanted to bring some kind of dessert home with me — something I could munch on while reading one of two new library books — but as I was standing there by the 365 cereal and quarts of hemp milk, this heavy, familiar weight anchored me to the grocery store’s pristine and polished concrete floor. I felt tears welling up, so in addition to snagging a slice of cranberry orange cheesecake, I left the store with a bottle of sangria, barely making it to my car before the sobbing began.

After arriving home, I dried my eyes, tended to the dogs’ needs, and then my own. I showered, put on comfy pjs, and dragged my guitar from the dining room, up the stairs, into my room. I strummed through a few songs — new and old — and decided to share a brief clip of one on Instagram, thinking that admitting my grief on the internet would somehow alleviate a bit of its weight. Sometimes it works.

I left the cheesecake, untouched, in the fridge. Music helped me out tonight… maybe because music has been on my mind all day.

***

Many, many years ago, when I was maybe four years old, I was riding in the car with my parents and singing a little song to myself when my dad exclaimed (from the front seat): “ROSE! That sounds BEAUTIFUL! That girl has perfect pitch,” he added to my mother in a quieter tone.

I shut my mouth instantly. Humiliated by his compliment, I stopped singing for about a decade. 

I didn’t lose my love for singing, though… ever. In fact, when my parents began leaving me home alone (around the age of 10), I’d watch from the window as their car pulled out of the driveway, following it, with my eyes, as far down the street as possible, and then I would check — at least two or three timesevery single room and closet in the house. I had to be certain that no one had sneakingly stayed behind. After confirming that I was, indeed, entirely alone, I would sing quietly to myself. I loved it… LOVED singing. I just didn’t want anyone (dead or alive) to hear me.

To abbreviate the story slightly, eventually, my old best friend, Melissa, forced me to sing for her in Spring Hill, Florida late one afternoon as she and I were standing outside together, along the external perimeter of a gas station, waiting for my greyhound bus to arrive with its band of weirdos and carry me back to Birmingham.

Realizing that she was NOT going to relent, I begrudgingly sang a few lines of an old contemporary christian song I liked at the time, and her reaction embarrassed me about as much as my dad’s had ten years before: “Roseeeeeeeeeee! Your voice is SO PRETTY! Why on earth don’t you sing more?”

Slowly, I came out of my shell. Attending church at the time, I began humming along to the hymns everyone else in the congregation was singing, assuring myself that, among the crowd, no one would be able to make out the sound of my voice.

 

Around this time, I took up playing guitar; I’d seen two Malaysian boys playing their guitars in sabbath school one Saturday morning and decided that I absolutely HAD to have one.

 

“Okay,” my mom sighed on the way home from church. “I’ll get you a guitar, but that means no piano lessons. And you’ll have to teach yourself how to play the guitar,” she added.

 

After YEARS of wanting to play the piano, I had just recently been able to convince my parents to sign me up for lessons… I hadn’t even taken my first one yet.

 

I shook my head confidently from the backseat. “That’s totally fair! Forget piano. I want the guitar instead.”

 

Sierra shook her head grimly. “It’s going to be such a waste,” she muttered.

 

Ha… I’ll show her, I thought to myself.

 

And I did. I sure fucking did. It didn’t just take weeks, mind you — it took months of utter devotion to really learn how to play the guitar. First, you learn to identify the different parts of the instrument; the body, the head stock, the tuning pegs, the fret board… then, you learn how to play individual notes on individual strings. After familiarizing yourself with scales and struggling your way out of the buzzing-note stage (striking perfectly clear single notes for the first time is SO rewarding), you learn how to build chords, and what chord structures look like — how you can play different inversions of the chord to give it a fresh, subtly different sound and throw a capo on to transpose your music — and then, lastly, you discover how to string chords together with various rhythmic patterns.

 

After about 6 months of practice — of reading and writing in books and watching YouTube videos and developing callouses on my fingertips that were so strong I could no longer discern texture — it struck me one day that I might actually be able to play a whole song from start to finish. I tried doing so, and it was seamless. How freaking cool is that.

 

Meanwhile, my ex-best friend, Melissa, suddenly thought that she’d take up the guitar, too. She tried to play a song within her first week of owning her instrument, and I berated her for it. Don’t you dare adopt a sloppy, half-assed technique, I told her (in more christian-like words, of course). Put your time in like I did and you’ll hear the difference. You’ll actually BE ABLE to play. She didn’t really stick with it — it’s not for everyone.

 

So I was a guitar player. And when my church found out, they wanted me to play guitar.

 

Soon, playing guitar at church — which felt comfortable to me — turned into playing guitar and singing at church, and to this day, I still think that doing this was one of the greatest feats of my life. Public singing and cockroaches are my two greatest fears, and I conquered one of them through sheer strength of will.

 

I played Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” at a high school talent show once, strummed and sang songs for a Birmingham Art Collective event about a year later, and even recorded a dumb little EP down in Florida one summer. I transitioned from strictly playing covers to writing my own original songs and ended up with about 40 of them. It was a prolific time period, creativity-wise.

 

Then, I got married, and I basically forgot about music for a really long time.

 

After a few years of marriage, Chris and I decided to delve back into our mutually loved art. We started playing together; he’d come up with the chords, and I’d write lyrics and then layer melodies over the chords. We were a fantastic duo, except I’m really sensitive and he was a complete jackass in the studio.

 

After graduating community college, we formed a band called Woochega and had a BLAST playing around Birmingham; some of our favorite spots were Pale Eddie’s, Good People Brewing Co, and Bar 31, but we also did some kind of cool stuff, like play for an insurance company’s summer party and a motorcycle company’s annual meeting. We all had a really great time together.

 

But the drummer was booked, performing in our band as well as another, the bassist got a gig out in Cali, and our electric guitarist – who quickly moved to NC – was involved in multiple musical projects, so eventually, the band dissolved, and only Chris and I remained. We released a 10-track CD – titled Space and Sound – and then divorced each other a few months after.

 

Since then, I’ve played a few paid gigs solo, and many more open mics, but in the last six months, I’ve pretty much done nothing music-related. Songs and ideas for songs will float into my mind on occasion, and when they do, I sit down, work them out, and record them, but that’s been the extent of my involvement with music: intermittently recording and posting songs onto the internet so that people can “like” them without listening to them.

 

Why all this backstory?

 

I was reading an article yesterday — specifically, this one — and in it, the author posed a question that brought music back to the forefront of my mind. It was this:

 

What makes you forget to eat?

 

What a weird question, was my first thought.

Music, was the second.

 

I remember when Chris and I would settle down into the studio together — how four, six, nine hours would pass in the blink of an eye without either one of us giving a shit about breakfast, lunch, or dinner. When I started playing with Woochega, the same thing happened, only it was a little different; the anxiety I experienced from anticipating performing publicly in the evenings caused me to lose my appetite during the day, so I would go the entire day without eating and then munch on something light around 11 PM or so before going to bed that evening. I dropped 20 pounds the year we all played together.

 

So I was thinking about music yesterday, and about how – more than anything else – my love for and involvement with it can completely take my mind off of eating. Few things can do that. The only other thing I can think of, honestly, is being really, really sick.

 

Then, today, music resurfaced.

 

I was at work, and a coworker mentioned that she’d recently seen an artist named Julien Baker open for another musician.

 

“Julien reminded me of you, actually,” my coworker said. “She was very gentle and genuine… and I thought, while listening to her, ‘If Julien can open for this artist, Jace totally could!'”

 

I laughed and smiled. It was a huge compliment and, I’m happy to say, one that didn’t humiliate or even embarrass me. Progress.

 

Later on, as I was meeting with Charlie at Whole Foods, a team member (who I’ve never spoken with before) walked right up to me and said: “I’m looking for a musician…”

And although he was standing right in front of me and looking straight at me and I didn’t NEED to do this, I raised my arm and waved it enthusiastically, stunned. “Uhhhhh — me! I’d LOVE to play!”

 

“Awesome… are you available on June 16th?” he asked, whipping out his phone. “It’s an 1130-1 gig, outside on the patio.”

 

“That’s a Saturday or Sunday, right?” I asked, struggling to pinpoint the day in my mind.

 

He consulted his phone. “Nope — it’s a Friday.”

 

My heart sank. I pulled out my calendar and, although it looked like I wouldn’t have any classes scheduled at work, it was still possible that I’d have important meetings that couldn’t be easily rescheduled.

 

“Can I… get your email?” I stuttered. “I’ll check my calendar at work tomorrow and then let you know whether or not I’m available.”

 

“Sure!”

 

In one breath, I was elated that music had so rapidly and aggressively reasserted its presence in my life (#universe) — but in the next breath, I was also sad. Inexplicably sad.

 

So, when I got home, I pulled my guitar out of its case and spent some time with it. It’s taken the edge off of my gloom, but the irrational, immovable heaviness is still there. I cried my eyes out on the drive home and asked myself, why? 

You love your job, your boyfriend, your dogs, your home… you get to go to the BEST coffee shops and ride your bike EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND… so why are you so sad?

 

In consideration of this question, four people seated themselves at a conference room table.

 

Person 1: “She still misses Melissa. Obviously.”

Person 2: “Ugh — no she doesn’t! Missing Mel was so last year.”

Person 3: “Person 2 is right — it took her six years to process and heal from their separation, but she is over Melissa,” they asserted confidently.

Person 4 (awkwardly): “What about Chris?”

Person 3: “No, not anymore,” they whispered in reply. “She realized — today, actually — that she has been mourning something that she thought she lost…”

Person 2: “Yep, I agree. She thought they were best friends. That’s what she missed. But when they stopped having sex, he stopped giving a shit about her, so clearly…” her voice trailed off.

Person 1: “Okay… maybe it’s Bruster, then?”

Person 3 (nodding): “It’s possible. Still fresh, that wound.”

Person 2: “What about her brother?”

They all nodded.

Person 4: “Well… should we be worried? Is she going to do something?”

Person 3 (sighing): “There’s always a chance she might do something. But I think that, for as long as she has people she loves who love her back in her life, she’s going to stick around.”

The room fell quiet.

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui (on SoundCloud)

Thoughts on Sickness and Travel

 

On Wednesday, I woke up feeling icky; on Thursday, I got out of bed feeling even MORE icky; and by Thursday evening, I was sobbing in the shower and preparing to throw up, assailed by the worst migraine I’ve had so far this year.

I remember lying in bed that night and trying out soooooo many different sleeping positions, desperate to find the one that would alleviate the pounding pain waves slithering up and down and around my skull. I couldn’t find it. But eventually, I fell asleep anyways, exhausted from trying to avoid the pain as much as from the pain itself.

 

Three days later, I’m feeling completely whole and coherent again, and I’m proud to say that – yet again – I was able to beat another illness without resorting to conventional medicine.

 

Growing up, I remember a certain family member (who I won’t shame by sharing their name or title here) popping Excedrin in the morning — every morning.

 

“I feel like I MIGHT be getting a headache,” they’d explain, casually and expertly kicking the pill back with a glass of water.

 

And as the years rolled by and I realized that I could envision the precise movements of this person reaching for the medicine cabinet with my eyes closed, I decided something, and it was this: Unless I’m so ill that I’m like… dying… or experiencing genuinely EXCRUCIATING pain (IE broke a limb or had all four wisdom teeth pulled — the latter? it actually happened; never doing THAT again), I will not use conventional medicine. 

 

And it’s a resolution I’ve mostly kept. Through the wild and colorful procession of horrific cramps, hammering headaches, drumming migraines, sore throats and upset tummies, I’ve willfully abstained from over-the-counter and prescribed medicines, having only taken them on maybe 3 occasions in the last five years. So rather than causing my body to become dependent upon an external substance to be okay, I allow (and help) my immune system do what it was born to do: defend me.

 

Stuff I do instead of taking medicine:

  • I brew tea. And whatever flavor the tincture it is, I always drink it down with fresh squeezed lemon juice (zap that bacteria!) and a sizable dollop of raw, unfiltered honey (soothe that throat!). 
  • I abstain from dairy. As a strict vegetarian and a half-assed vegan, I try to stay away from dairy on healthy days, too, but I extra avoid it on sick days, as dairy increases mucus production (and if you’re already dealing with a raw, sore throat, that’s the LAST thing you want to have happen).
  • I eat lightly. It’s completely un-fun, but when your body is trying to fend off slash work through infections and heal itself, it needs to pay more attention to kicking the bacteria out than it does diverting its attention to your stomach and digestive organs. I remember, on Thursday night, sitting on the couch downstairs and crying, an untouched salad in my lap. “Do you want chili instead?” Charlie offered quietly. I shook my head no. “What about pizza?” he asked cheerfully. Nooooooo, I wailed. “I know — how about burritos!” he whispered confidently. I began crying even harder; even burritos didn’t sound good! So if your body says, push the damn plate away, fool, listen to it. It might be for a very good reason. The good news: When your body is wrapping up the healing process and its invisible, interior battle has grown less intense, you’ll probably find yourself feeling ravenous, but INSTEAD of reaching for the closest bag of Doritos or a foil-wrapped Crunch bar, give your body the fuel it really needs: fresh fruits and vegetables, hearty, whole grains, and items containing probiotics (like kombucha, kimchi, dairy OR non-dairy yogurts, miso soup and olives).
  • I get plenty of fresh air and sunshine, and I’ve pretty much adopted this as a permanent lifestyle; keeping doors and windows open and allowing fresh air to circulate and ventilate your home is a WONDERFUL practice. Additionally, I have about 10 plants stationed throughout the home, and while they’re certainly a cheerful presence and something pretty to whistle at (see how weird that sounded? don’t whistle at plants OR people… it’s strange and unwelcome), they also work hard keeping the air clean.
  • I rest and drink TONS of water. This one’s a challenge. Personally, I find sitting on the couch or lying in a bed at home oppressive. I’d rather be drafting something creative and thoughtful inside of a cafe, teaching or typing away at work, or even grocery shopping — whatever; doing something, ANYTHING that feels or is productive. But when you’re sick, it’s crucial that you rest. Again, as with the light eating, your body needs to focus its efforts on ridding itself of intruders and repairing the damage done… not supplying energy for your 12-mile bike ride. Lots of agua, plenty of sleep, and some light exercise are all key factors to help ride out your unfortunate bout with illness.

 

20170529_145036
Some of the plants en mi casa

 

Now that I’m all better, though, my mind is racing and my muscles are twitching. I’m ready to get back to being busy. 

I wrote and recorded a new song last night (a nice little “eff you” to a few estranged ‘migos; check it out here) and had 10 web browsers open this morning with queries ranging from “politics in Ecuador” and “how to self publish” to “healing yoga practices.” One of my web searches produced a basic image of a world map.

 

When I woke up this morning, the word “goals” was on my mind. We all work or go to school, buy groceries or dine out, and rent a place or own one… but what’s the end goal in all of this? A happy retirement billions of years from now where, on a monotonous loop, you drag your aching, breaking bones from the bedroom to the kitchen each day and binge watch The Price is Right reruns on Gameshow Network?

Ugh. That sounds absolutely dreadful. Now, some might honestly enjoy a leisurely, home-front reprieve like the one described above, but personally-speaking, aside from loving my pets, family, friends and significant other, a huge reason why I stay alive (and look forward to retiring someday) is my love of new experiences… especially the experiences I experience via travel.

 

After receiving a message from my aunt yesterday, I spoke with my dad and we’ve concocted a somewhat impromptu plan to attend a family reunion together up in Ohio next month. My idea is to fly up to the state early Friday morning, check out an open air market called West Side, pop into a coffee shop for some afternoon fuel and then visit with family members I haven’t seen in about 10 years for the remainder of the trip. Padre and I are looking forward to stopping by Cuyahoga Falls together that Saturday, and he’s also going to take me by the house he grew up in (where he once — as a teenager — lit a window on fire in the process of discarding a joint). Was that too much info for the internet, dad? 

Then, on Sunday, he’s going to drive me allllllllll the way back home.

 

I’m really looking forward to the trip, and planning it has activated my wanderlust.

 

Wanderlust (n): a strong desire to travel

 

Visiting Denver, Colorado all by myself in March was an ab-so-LUTE-lee incredible and empowering experience, one that I imagined having for years and then enjoyed planning and anticipating for months, and I want to repeat it — recreate it — over and over and over. The whole process: Intrigue > Research > Idea > Plan > Prepare > Itinerary > Travel > “Most Amazing Experience Everrrrrrr” > Repeat.

Just as reading books allows a person – during their single lifetime – to live multiple lives as all different kinds of characters, traveling affords a fresh perspective, causing infinite baptismals of your current ideas and beliefs, as well a sacred view of unfamiliar landscapes and memorable and insightful experiences with different cultures. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

If I was a zillionaire, I would do nothing BUT travel and write with my pets and special person by my side. But I’m not, so I have to weigh all options, make careful, financially selective decisions, and shrink my wishlist down to a reasonable, wearable, snugly-fitting size.

 

So here it is: Jace’s Top 5 Travel Destinations Wishlist: 

  • Ecuador (South America)
  • Italy (Europe)
  • Ireland (Europe)
  • India (Asia)
  • New Zealand (Its own weird thing)

 

See how (2) of those countries are located in Europe? Smartest move would be to visit both of them during the same trip, thereby using just one bank-breaking plane ticket along with a couple of train and bus rides.

I have reasons (that I won’t go into) for wanting to visit each of these places, and I know it’s going to take a good while to be able to do so, so I’ve decided to create goals for myself that include a realistic timeline that charts when these awesome travel dreams can come to fruition.

 

Jace’s…

(1) Year Plan

  • Copyright, self-publish, and market my novel, Jinx the Rabbit
  • Get an updated passport (the current one still reads Rose Yarbrough… ha!)
  • Travel abroad next May (for school; we’ll be living in a Spanish-speaking country for a whole MONTH)

 

(5) Year Plan

  • Graduate from UAB (as a Spanish major and Creative Writing minor w/an Alt Master’s in Teaching)
  • Find a side gig working at a Mexican restaurant or performing volunteer work at HICA
  • Take a road trip across the southwestern-ish USA (my non-negotiable stopping points: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California and Utah)
  • Backpack through Europe

 

(10) Year Plan

  • Sell the house
  • Visit India… AND New Zealand #ambitiousthirtysomethingyearold

 

(15) Year Plan

  • Move to Ecuador (or another country, because the culture and societal norms here in the US just aren’t for me)
    Good to know: If you work within the USA for 10 years and then leave, you’re still eligible for SS benefits upon retirement. Sweeeeeeeeet! The SS Trust Fund will likely become depleted by 2033, but workers taxation should still be a thing, so… #fiftydollarburritochecks

 

Have you ever sat down and created a basic “goal-oriented timeline” for yourself? For me, it was a very interesting activity. As I penned it all down, I discovered what matters most to me, assessed whether or not it was feasible, and – deciding that it all pretty much was, barring premature death or a simple change in preference – concocted a plan for my present and future selves to follow so that we can all work together to actually make this happen.

 

Still livin here in bham tho,

Aun Aqui

PS: As of right now, the idea of eventually relocating to another country seems like it will magically fix many-to-all of life’s problems, and I’m enjoying believing this. Regardless… I still think I’ll end up settling down “elsewhere”, and that I’ll do so before I’m a million years old, because who knows whether or not I’ll come back as a human on planet earth next time around? There’s so much more to see here.