…they “discriminated” against you? Are YOU fucking KIDDING ME?

Today’s been wonderful. Charlie and I got up early, settled into Redcat (a cafe downtown), ordered coffees and grits and then set to work wrapping up a few sketches for my upcoming novel, Jinx the Rabbit.

The coffees were ready first; I grabbed mine off of the counter, thanked the barista, walked away, and set it down onto my table. I then set a mental timer to take my first sip in about 20 minutes, when I knew it would have sufficiently cooled down.

The grits were ready about five minutes later; a cafe employee brought them over to Charlie and I’s table, and we thanked her. I’d ordered mine with gouda, and he’d gotten his with cheddar. I thoroughly mixed the contents of my bowl together and then let it sit for a few minutes also, returning my attention to my work (designing the novel’s cover) and giving the food ample time to cool down.

When I finally took my first bite, I really tried to NOT make a face, but I realized that Charlie was already watching me, studying my reaction carefully.

 

“Soooooooo… how is it?” he asked, lips curling up into a smile.

 

Ahhhhhh… he must have already tried his, I mused.

 

“Really good! Just a little bit salty,” I admitted.

 

“I KNOW! I’m so disappointed!” he exclaimed. “But, if I was homeless, this would taste delicious.”

 

“Exactly! And salt’s an important part of your diet, so we’re all set for the day!” I laughed. We both finished our grits, enjoying them and giving Redcat a free pass because hey, their grits are USUALLY the bomb.

 

We left Redcat a few sketches and hours later and then completed some miscellaneous shopping (Charlie dropped me off at Bargain Hunt for a bit, where I scored a queen-sized BUNNY RABBIT SHEET SET while he perused boring wares at Lowes, leaving with two wooden boards for the pups’ outdoor shelter that he’s — quite impressively — building himself).

 

We prefer shopping at Whole Foods, but it was a ten minute drive away, so today, we stepped into Sprouts instead and purchased a few items there: a $2 bag of clementines, a package of paneer, a bottle of tikka masala sauce and some healthy “soda alternatives” (among other things).

 

We arrived home just an hour ago, and I immediately settled myself down at the Dr. Pepper table, reopening my laptop to perform further work on the novel (I’d love to know just how many HUNDREDS of hours I’ve already devoted to it!). Charlie pulled his own laptop out while I began munching on salsa verde chips with guac, and then he started laughing heartily.

 

I want in on the fun! I thought to myself.

 

“What you laughing at, boy?”

 

“Oh my goodness… there’s this girl who visits Whole Foods for dinner EVERY SINGLE DAY and she’s on Facebook, claiming the store discriminated against her on the 4th of July.”

 

Super intrigued (and not yet ready to discredit the claim), I asked Charlie for more information.

 

“Well,” he continued, still chuckling, “she always visits the brasserie, where her and her boyfriend get dinner every night–”

“Must be LOADED,” I interjected. Whole Foods isn’t THE cheapest place to shop — and especially DINE — at.

 

“And all of the staff there know her — know that she always comes in — so, on the 4th of July, they actually sent her a text, saying ‘hey, we’ll be closing early today’–”

 

“Are you serious?! That is so sweet!” I interjected (again).

 

His eyebrows shot up. “Yeah —– I KNOW! Here’s what’s REALLY great, though. She KNEW they were closing early, she came in late ANYWAYS, and when they refused to serve her, she claimed that they were discriminating against her.”

 

At this juncture, my intrigue turned to anger. “Are… you… KIDDING me? Charlie. They REVERSE-discriminated against her! She got a special TEXT informing her of the store’s early closure!” I saw him scrolling through news feeds on his laptop. “Wait — is there a picture of her?”

 

“Oh yeah.”

 

“Oh my gosh, let me see it!”

 

So he turned his laptop around (so that it faced me), and when I saw the gal, I almost choked on my guacamole.

 

“Holy… fucking… shit.”

 

“What? Do you know her?” Charlie asked quickly.

 

“Uh, no… I’m just shocked, because I’m looking at some white girl. Some rich and inconsiderate, self-involved white girl who got A SPECIAL TEXT MESSAGE from Whole Foods and who is claiming that she is being discriminated against.” I paused. “Is this real life?” It was so mind-boggling that I no longer knew how to feel.

 

Annnnnnnnd the whole thing made me SO furious that I had to push my chips away and write this blog post.

 

I’m not going to cite the rich bitch’s name on here (because she’s already accusing Whole Foods of slander, smh), but if you want to find out who the dummy is and get some kicks out of watching her videoed testimony regarding the horrible treatment she received (GAG), you can find that shit on Facebook.

 

In case RB ever stumbles upon this blog… sweetheart, this is what discrimination looks like:

 

What discrimination is not: Getting a special text message alert from a fancy fucking grocery store when nobody one else got one. That is — again — reverse-discrimination. And what those sweet-hearted employees did could be accurately categorized as being courteous; going above and beyond; impressively catering to your rich, white ass.

ALSO: LEARN TO MAKE A F*CKING SANDWICH YOURSELF, you “marathon-running” queen of white privilege.

 

Before publishing this greatest rant of all personal rants, two sidebars:

Sidebar #1: Can white people BE discriminated against? Of course we can! But THIS b?! *drops mic*

Second sidebar: Do I hate this stranger? Despite the strong language, no, I do not. I honestly don’t hate ANYONE in this life, even the jerks who have hurt me. But I DO hate seeing and hearing the word “discrimination” — which is a VERY SERIOUS word — get tossed around by somebody who is so damn fortunate to have not experienced it.

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

Why can’t I be pretty enough for chocolate milk?

My first official job (in THIS life) was working as a bagger at Publix. By the time I was hired on, my dad had already been with the company for 20+ years and was working there as a bakery manager.

“It’s a wonderful company, Rose. You can work your way up the ranks. Just make sure that YOU ALWAYS ARRIVE TO WORK ON TIME. I can’t STAND it when my people show up late.”

Accordingly, I viewed my employment with Publix as a great honor and took my job as a bagger there very seriously, placing items in plastic yellow bags thoughtfully and strategically — double bagging this, keeping that solo, grouping the cold things so that they all huddled closely together, and protecting the softer and more delicate items by pairing them only with each other.

I worked up within the company rather quickly, rising from bagger to cashier and then to stocker all within a year’s time. My first raise was a seventy-five-center, my manager and co-workers all raved about how “oddly positive” I always was, and I was very proud of the quality work that I performed there.

The only thing I really hated about the place was Kendall.

 

***

 

Kendall was a cashier when I was still at the infancy of my career — serving the company as a lowly bagger. She had long, dark, wavy hair, gorgeous green eyes, a button nose, the cuuuuuuuuutest smile, and a downright enviable and PERFECT petite form. I couldn’t STAND the girl.

 

While she and other co-workers would take lunch together in the break room, I’d exit the store solo and walk a quarter mile north of Publix, ending my short trek at the door of a gas station. Inside, I’d always purchase the same thing: a vanilla-flavored Slim Fast, and the Indian man who rung me up (and who had quickly identified my pattern) would wag his finger at me. “This NO GOOD for you,” he’d exclaim, waving to my body, indicating my emaciated form. I often worried that, one of those days, he would just outright refuse to sell the item to me.

“Oh… I just like the way it tastes!” I’d assure him, laughing lightheartedly. A slim fast? You think THIS thing is my only meal during the working portion of my day? As if! 

 

 

How Kendall could eat normal food — actual meals — and still maintain her fantastic weight had me absolutely stumped.

 

And while her effortless and innate beauty versus my pleasant and ever-present companion BDD was a LARGE contributing factor to my supreme dislike of Kendall, there was something even worse about her.

 

She was confident. Charmingly brave, smoothly self-assured, and totally fearless. I was, of course, the opposite of all of these things.

 

After years of religious seclusion and lonely homeschooling, I felt socially inept, intellectually STUPID, and personality-less. I placed NO confidence in myself and possessed ZERO belief that I embodied any special interestingness or held any unique value as a person.

Meanwhile, it felt and looked like nothing and no one in the world could bring Kendall down and, equally, that nothing and no one in the world was good enough for her. She was like royalty. She was unreachable, high up on that velvety throne of hers where she administered her noble, queenly reign.

 

And then one day, all of the frustration and jealousy and insecurity in my mind all climaxed.

 

I was bagging away that Sunday afternoon, cheerfully slipping items into bags and politely offering my assistance in carrying bags or pushing carts to people’s cars. I’d already had to deny tips from two very generous customers. “If you insist on tipping me, I will HAVE to forward your tips to the customer service desk, where they will benefit a chosen charity of ours,” I warned them. These customers – like most – were frustrated with me for not cooperating with them.

“Well… what if I just… drop a five on the ground?” one of them asked innocently, tossing the bill onto the concrete and then waiting for me to pick it up.

“Then it will also — still — go to charity,” I assured them, smiling. My integrity could not be compromised.

 

Back in the store, I continued packing groceries for different cashiers, as the need arose; I’d jump from Suzanne to Carson to Peter to Erica… whoever appeared to be busiest… but then, on one dreadful occasion, the demand for a bagger developed at Kendall’s register.

 

Taking a deep breath, I steeled myself for the encounter and approached her register, assuming my position by the bag stand.

 

She turned to look at me. “Oh — hi, Rose!” she smiled. She looked so freaking nice today. 

 

Ha, you mean EVERY day, another voice chuckled.

 

“Hi, Kendall,” I greeted her.

 

I helped bag a few of her customers’ items, and then a remarkably tall and handsome guy started shuffling through the line.

 

Like most cashiers, Kendall always made small talk with her customers by inquiring about their days, complimenting their clothing, or posing a neutral question about one of their food purchases — and with this gentleman, she scanned his half gallon of chocolate milk, held it up in the air curiously, and asked: “Is this chocolate milk good?”

 

Duh, I thought to myself. He’s buying it, isn’t he?

 

“Oh… it’s the BEST,” he raved. Looking at her (and likely noticing just how lovely she was), he asked: “Where can I find a cup?”

 

Kendall cocked an eyebrow at him. “Excuse me?”

 

He smiled confidently. “I know — hang on a second!”

 

And then, with another customer standing there in line and waiting behind him (“Jerk,” I thought to myself), Kendall and I watched as he jogged toward the customer service desk, obtained a single plastic cup, returned to the register, OPENED THE HALF GALLON OF CHOCOLATE MILK RIGHT THERE ON THE GLEAMING METAL LANDING in a heroic display of chivalry, and poured Kendall a tall glass.

 

Laughing her signature, glittery, endearing laugh, she raised the glass elegantly to her lips, took a dainty sip, and widened her eyes dramatically. “It is DELICIOUS!”

 

“NO SHIT,” I wanted to scream (but, at that point in my life, I would have done so using more christian-like verbiage, such as: “UH, OBVIOUSLY!”). “It’s CHOCOLATE MILK,” I continued to myself, silently. “Have you EVER encountered non-delicious chocolate milk in your whole entire LIFE? No, you haven’t, because unless it’s out of date, it’s ALWAYS great. Every brand, every time. You’re so silly and ridiculous to be putting on this surprised front.”

 

And I remember standing there, watching him watch her, and watching her drink the chocolate milk, and thinking: “Why can’t I be pretty enough for chocolate milk?”

 

***

 

This story came to mind last night as I was relaying some humorous work news to Charlie while we prepared dinner together (a member had sent a love-note-bearing fruit basket to a co-worker of mine who’s been in a committed relationship with someone for years). As we laughed over the incident, Kendall’s beauty queen face floated into my vision, and I sighed at the memory (which was impeccably preserved in a heavy outer coating of anxiety and a decadently depressing center).

 

When I finished telling my story, Charlie dropped his spoon (up until this moment, he’d been enjoying some organic chocolate ice cream). Without a word, he pushed himself away from the table, grabbed a silver mixing bowl, hooked up the electronic mixer, and began pouring and folding heavy whipping cream into the mass of chocolate ice cream.

 

He finished this spontaneous activity within about three minutes and then he returned to the table, finally speaking.

“You are MORE than pretty enough for a glass of chocolate milk, but since we don’t have it, here’s a weird, chocolate whipped cream dessert instead.”

 

***

 

At work, I’ve been researching leadership qualities, leadership essentials, leadership characteristics, and etc. for a project I’ll be working on during the latter half of this year. One leadership quality that has continued to resurface, in article after article, is humility. 

 

Humility: the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people (Merriam-Webster); having a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank, etc. (Dictionary.com); remaining teachable; knowing that you do not have all the answers (Urban Dictionary).

 

At the age of 16, I wanted to be prettier and more confident than Kendall; I wanted to be a better skateboarder than Jeremy; I wanted to be a more popular musician than the christian rock band Leeland was; and I wanted to be at least AS smart as my atheist friend on the school bus (Sam) was.

 

But I was not, and never became, any of those things. My whole life, I’ve been entirely plain-looking; my greatest feat EVER on the skateboard was successfully staying ON the board while it was in motion and landing a 180 pop-shove it on the grass in the front yard; the only real fans of my original music have been my grandmother and a few significant others; and I was a kid who scored As on her report cards and graduated community college with a 3.95, but who still feels like the biggest liar and masquerading cheater in the world, thanks to inescapable and hard-coded self-esteem issues.

 

There are things I either can’t do or don’t yet know how to do (like fly a plane, code a website, build a house from the ground up and dance really well); there are things I can somewhat successfully do (like operate a motorcycle, pull up a website, paint a house someone else made from scratch, and dance really poorly); and then there are things that I feel I do quite well (like write and eat burritos).

 

But someone else — more accurately, LOTS of someone elses — is/are ALWAYS going to be, or do, better.

 

When I first started playing guitar, for instance, I can remember graduating from practicing scales out of a book to pulling up YouTube videos on the web and seeing, in the “Recommended” column, vids that linked to 4-year-old prodigies who just picked up or sat down at an instrument (like a guitar or a piano) and shredded the rest of us to bits.

 

“WHY EVEN BOTHER TRYING?” I mourned, realizing, in that second, that I could never achieve, in my whole entire LIFE of playing, even 1/8th the greatness of young Beethoven here, putting all of us inferiors to shame right there on the screen.

 

But then, my second thought was: Well, I enjoy doing this, so I’m going to keep playing anyways.

 

And that concept rings true for everything else I’ve chosen to persist at; I’m not the best guitarist, writer, cook or dancer, but I still derive joy from doing the things that I love, and I always have the option of competing against myself. I can challenge my vocal range, tweak my old and rusty rhythmic patterns, improve upon my favorite recipes and venture a new move or two on the dance floor. I can find confidence in the fact that I’m not the best out there, but I’m being the best at it that I can possibly be, and I’m having fun with what I’m doing.

 

We’re all climbing mountains here. Some of us start out at the bottom, the luckiest of us begin at or near the top, and the vast majority of us materialize somewhere in the middle; climb as high as you can, and enjoy your own view. Quit wondering what someone else’s view looks like, ’cause pretty soon, all of the lights are going to turn off, and your sole recollection will either be remembering the top of someone else’s head, the bottom of their worn boots, or the gorgeous landscape, mountains, and sky that were (or could have been) yours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Pizza Slices,

I’d like to share a pretty moving quote that I heard earlier this week:

“You are a prisoner. Do you know what your cage is, darling? Other people’s eyes. Why do you care what they think? They’re keeping you in this cage!”

Granted — immediately following the delivery of these soul-stirring lines, Edina (the speaker) tricked her daughter, Saffy, into flashing the city of Paris (AND had her hidden PR person snap a cruel shot of the event), BUT STILL; when drunk and drugged Edina spoke these words, I felt like crying because of how deeply they resonated with me. I liked what she said SO MUCH, in fact, that I created a meme this morning using the quote itself and an old pic of me from 2010. I’ve always disliked pictures of myself which is why, in this shot, I’m not facing the camera.

 

 

SO, in conclusion:

  1. WHO the fuck CARES whether or not other people think you’re pretty, competent, confident or capable? You already know the truth of all of this, so go on, then; be your own damn self and try to become a better version of yourself daily. If you feel like something’s missing, something’s weak, or there’s just something about you that you don’t like, DO something. Do something about it, and then get back to enjoying your life. You’ll only be hanging around this planet for so long! There’s no good reason to be despondent and miserable when YOU possess the power to change yourself, your outlook, and your circumstances.
  2. The strength, proficiency, or excellence of somebody else — friend, foe, or stranger — in no way detracts from your own unique talents, skills, and virtue. Imagine it like this: You’re a star among a million zillion other stars; shine your very brightest, celebrate your magical, inexplicable existence, and – instead of envying them of their shine – appreciate and enjoy the radically different and radiant glows emanating from your fellow stars!
  3. Regardless of how your friends, foes, and family may compliment or criticize you, you alone know if you’re really growing, actually backtracking, or simply sitting or standing there, stagnant. Inquire within; be honest, gentle, and forgiving with yourself, and then lovingly challenge yourself to stretch and grow. Make a deliberate effort to compete with yourself only, for no reasons other than to improve your own happiness, boost your self-confidence, and increase your opportunities in and enjoyment of this life. As for me, me and my four other personalities are having a BLAST challenging one another to become better, and some of us are even placing bets to spice things up a little.

 

Still here (and proud of both her genuine plainness AND her marvelous mediocrity), 

Aun Aqui

My 70-year-old soulmate… have you seen him hobbling around?

I decided to downtown (as a verb) again this AM, but I dropped by Whole Foods first (on my way to Railroad Park) to spend Charlie’s break with him.

Inside the store, I purchased a Dr. Better-flavored Kombucha drink and then made an immediate beeline for the bathroom (I pee approximately 27 times daily — that’s, on average, 1+ times/hour). On my way there, I passed by lots of families and couples and singles eating and drinking in the “cafe” portion of the store, and just before entering the bathroom, I neared a table where two gentlemen were sitting together; my eyes were drawn to the one on the left, who was wearing a long-sleeved, lavender-colored shirt (in the summer! sign numero uno that we were soulmates), long, bland pants, and dorky laced shoes, and had shoulder-length, blondish-gray, kempt hair. He looked up and smiled over at me. He had his head perched cutely on top of one of his hands — I think it was his left hand. I pegged him as being somewhere between 65-70.

I smiled back at him and then entered the restroom, thinking (not just because of his long-sleeved shirt): “I feel so connected to that man!”

 

It’s hard to convey exactly what I mean by that and just how profound our meeting was, but I’ll try to explain myself by saying that he felt familiar, and looking at him was like looking at myself… at another stage of life, and in another life. And if it wasn’t me looking at myself, then it was me looking at someone who I’d known and loved deeply sometime long before now.

 

I felt sure that we could grab coffees together and never run out of things to talk about, and that his company would be calming and enlightening… almost as soothing and restorative as my treasured alone time.

 

Nevertheless, I simply parted ways with my soulmate, used the restroom, and then reported outdoors, where Charlie would be joining me on the patio at 10:30. I played with my phone for a few minutes and then zipped it up inside of my purse, deciding to enjoy the scenery around me instead of wasting unnecessary time in cyberspace; there were blue skies, white clouds, cars racing by, and people walking, or power-walking, about. I lost myself in recollections of my trip to Denver, marveling that, in a single day, I took a plane, a train, AND a bus… and then, later on during that magical adventure week, I had tried Uber out for the very first time! It was the neatest experience…

 

I was in a daze, thinking about all of this, when the two gentlemen passed by my table. My soulmate turned his head to face me, bowed slightly, and said: “Hello!” That voice — there was something distinctly special about that voice.

 

“Hi!” I smiled back at him, surprised.

 

“How are you?” he asked. His friend continued moving forward, and he seemed hesitant to follow.

 

“Good, thank you — you?” Good?! I thought to myself. How boring! You may never get a chance to speak with this man again! 

 

“Good,” he replied, still smiling.

 

And then he stepped back in line with his similarly-aged friend and they continued walking slowly towards their cars, which were stationed on the other side of the parking lot. I watched with amusement as, for the next 15 minutes, my soulmate’s friend repeatedly tried to leave in his small, gray car while my soulmate stood near the open driver’s seat door, talking, gesturing, and looking very awkward and socially inept. It made me smile.

 

Charlie finally strolled outside, through noisy automatic doors, and plopped down beside me.

 

“HEY! You’re just in time,” I exclaimed, quickly waving my hands toward the guy on the other end of the parking lot.

 

“Look — you see that man in the lavender shirt, getting into the truck? I struck SUCH a connection with him…”

I relayed my story, and then quickly assured Charlie that he had no reason to worry; I wouldn’t be leaving him for a seventy-year-old man.

 

“I just wish that I could get his number and grab coffee with him,” I shared with Charlie, whining a little bit. “I really want to be friends with that man,” I sighed sadly. “I’m just not interested in befriending younger people… you know? They have nothing to offer me.”

 

“What would a young person like you have to offer him?” Charlie asked, reasonably.

 

I realized that my last comment had probably sounded snooty. “Nothing but a listening ear,” I admitted, “but I think he’d enjoy my companionship, and I would loooooooove to hear all about his life; what he did, who he was, who he is, what he’s learned and discovered and believes… ” I sighed again.

 

Charlie stepped away momentarily (to grab a napkin for my sticky “mellow yellow” plum AND to sweetly assist an elderly woman with obtaining a motorized shopping scooter) and, while he was gone, my soulmate drove away.

 

I had actually momentarily lost track of him (#badstalker) while absentmindedly watching another car’s entry into the parking lot, but when I turned my head to the right, Lavender was smiling at me from his rolled down car window and waving gently. I smiled and waved back at him. “Goodbye, friend,” I thought to myself sadly.

 

 

Oh, don’t worry; I can hear you all. “Jace —- this is just another Abraham-“be my friend”-stalker situation…  and this time, you might even be the stalker! Look; that’s just a creepy old dude with bad intentions… STAY AWAY FROM HIM!” Yes, yes, yes... that WOULD be the natural conclusion, wouldn’t it? But I’m telling you guys; intuitively, I could feel that this OLD OLD OLD guy (to be fair, 70 really isn’t THAT old — 94 is) WASN’T flirting with me. It was a mutual connection. I think he recognized the same thing in me that I saw instantly in him, and I don’t know if either of us could really say what it was.

 

But the same, inescapable word that KEEPS coming to mind is soulmate. I think that we were (and still are — I seriously doubt he’s passed since our meeting earlier this AM) soulmates. You probably noticed that I slipped that word in all throughout the story, and that’s because I feel like it’s accurate.

 

What IS a “soulmate”?

 

Soulmate (the basic definition): a person ideally suited to another as a close friend or romantic partner.

Soulmate (what I’m talking about — this definition brought to you by urban dictionary and some weird, new age-y website):

A person with whom you have an immediate connection the moment you meet — a connection so strong that you are drawn to them in a way you have never experienced before. A soulmate is someone who is aligned with your soul and is sent to challenge, awaken and stir different parts of you in order for your soul to transcend to a higher level of consciousness and awareness.

 

Many people hear “soulmate” and think that you can only have (1) of them and that it exclusively refers to a romantic partner; wife, husband, girlfriend, or boyfriend. I’m sure that many of us DO end up dating or marrying our soulmates — I know, for instance, that Christopher was one of my soulmates in this life — but Melissa was, too, as a best friend, and Bruster – my deceased German Shepherd – was ABSOLUTELY one of my soulmates… and I think that random strangers, with whom we have no apparent connection or history, can also register as soulmates.

 

And I’m sharing this story because I’d like to hear from you; have you ever stumbled into someone you instantly felt you knew? I’m not asking “has someone looked familiar to you,” or “were they attractive and that caused you to do a double take”, OR “was their personality so interesting or their voice so loud that you couldn’t possibly miss them in a crowd”… I’m asking if you’ve ever met a non-romantic soulmate; somebody you felt an oddly inexplicable affinity towards?

 

If you’ve had an encounter, I would genuinely LOVE to hear about it. Please share your unique experience by posting a comment below! (Or, if you’re more comfortable, you can shoot me a private message at aunaqui@gmail.com.)

 

 

Aun Aqui

The Weekend Edition: “After the break, Jace carries a purse and literally TALKS herself out of being depressed… stay tuned.”

It was last Sunday morning, and I was sitting on the loo when she called.

 

“Hey Rosebud!” Grammy’s chipper voice chirped into the phone.

 

“Heyyyyy, Gram! I’ll uh — be right back. What’s up?” I then pressed the mute button on my phone, expecting that she would catch me up on how the road trip down from Tennessee was going so far while I inconspicuously spared her from hearing a loud and recognizable toilet flush.

 

“….Rosebud? Hey girl, you still there?”

 

I pressed a number on my phone — any old number, which produced a “beep” — the universal code that says “I’m busy doing something I don’t want you to hear, but hang on, bc I AM here.”

 

“…ROSE?”

 

“Damn it,” I whispered to myself, waiting for the whirring sound to end. I’ve got one of those old-fashioned (out-of-date) loos where you have to physically hold the lever down for like 15 years in order for the flush to end “successfully.”

 

“Ohhhhh, I didn’t want to talk to her anyways,” Grammy’s voice muttered as it trailed off. The speed of the pan told me that she was passing the phone off to Sierra who was, of course, driving (Grammy’s never gotten a license).

 

Finally ready to speak into the phone (and, at this point, laughing heartily), I un-muted myself.

 

“HEY GRAM! SO… you don’t wanna talk to me, but you’re driving five hours south to see me, eh?”

 

She was so flustered that the next five minutes of our conversation solely consisted of her wonderfully contagious belly laughs and fervent promises that “oh, it’s not YOU… I’m just not a phone person — you know that!”

 

***

 

Sierra and Grammy drove down to visit with me last weekend, and we all had a wonderful time together. We spent a good deal of time in the living room, watching the puppies zip around and taking turns adoring their perfectly adorable bodies and personalities. We took the GSD pup squad to the dog park twice, which delighted Grammy and stressed Sierra out.

“I’m just so worried that other dogs are going to get into a fight with them!” she stressed.

 

Tycho (my baby German Shepherd) watched curiously as Silo flew up and down a maybe 4.5 foot-tall ramp, and after a few failed attempts of her own, she succeeded at climbing up and then charging down the ramp. I was so proud! It was as if my child had just brought home a flawless report card AND a personalized note from the teacher that read, “I’ve just never met another student like her.”

 

The Tychoist Tycho / The Most Tychoist / A++ Student
Silo Beeeeeeeeeeeeb! (he’s a little antisocial / petrified around other dogs right now… we’re working on it)

 

The Shepherds were definitely the stars of the show, but we also ate while Sierra and Grammy were here.

 

Abhorring most chains (with the mighty fine exception of Chipotle), I took them to a few locally-owned cafes and restaurants: Redcat, Rojo, Mandarin House and Devinci’s — and at each place, when the meal would arrive and I’d watch them eagerly (for reactions) from across the table, I’d ask how the meal was and receive an answer like:

 

“It’s okay!” (Sierra)

“Mmmmm… it’s not terrible.” (Grammy)

“I like the bread,” Sierra offered once, brightly.

“It’s not very flavorful without cheese.” (Grammy) “I TOLD you to order it with cheese,” I replied, exhausted.

 

The best meals (most enjoyed by them) seemed to be the home-cooked ones, where I’d collect a basketful of tasty, healthy items at Whole Foods and then prepare them back at the house. Grammy loved these, and Sierra seemed to like them, too.

 

At our last restaurant (the evening before they departed), I commented: “You know, the next time we all get together, I think you should let me cook at home more! You guys seemed to enjoy those meals the most.”

 

“Oh, but eating out is more fun!” Sierra protested.

 

“REALLY?” I wanted to laugh. “FUN? More like STRESSFUL and DISAPPOINTING!”

 

Three generations @ Redcat (where the grits were “grits”)
Three generations @ Devinci’s (where the eggplant parmesan MINUS parmesan was a bit “flavorless”… no DUH)

 

***

 

Day #2 of our trip, I took Sierra and Grammy to one of the biggest thrift stores here in the Birmingham area: America’s Thrift Store.

Before leaving the house, I leaned in, close to Charlie, and whispered: “You should just stay home.”

He raised his eyebrows at me, as if to ask why?

“You enjoy 20-30 minute visits to the thrift store… NOT 2-hour ones,” I explained.

“Oh —- yeah… I’ll stay home,” he agreed.

 

Visiting the thrift store with my 1st- and 2nd-generation pals took me back a little. I remembered Wednesday mornings and afternoons in Tampa, Florida in the early 2000s.

 

Wednesday was Salvation Army’s official “half off” day, and when its doors opened at 8 AM Eastern time, hordes of middle-aged and older women (who were already parked outside, with their spider-veined hands claiming dibs on carts) would stream hurriedly into the store… Grammy, Sierra, Bobby and myself included.

 

“Alright — it’s the blue ticket today,” Grammy would call out, indicating a flyer stationed near the front of the store. “Look for as many blue tagged items as possible!”

 

We’d all spend the next two hours ransacking the thrift store as thoroughly as if it had just been given a search warrant, and then we’d mosey on over to Olive Garden afterwards, waiting out in the car for “a few” to “many” minutes until the chain restaurant opened its doors at 11 AM. Sometimes, when we were all seated together at a booth, my brother Bobby would eat too many bread sticks, start hiccuping, and end up throwing up during the meal. I remember eyeing him suspiciously on one occasion when the hiccups started (as I was eating ravioli) and then sprinting out of the restaurant to hide in the car so I could miss the embarrassing event. Sierra and Grammy later reported that yes, he did end up vomiting, and how nice it was of me to desert them all.

 

So LAST Monday, I spent some time browsing the racks, mostly in pursuit of work blouses. I dress casually on the weekends — faded shorts, black jeans, over-sized tees and tanks and – now – cool skirts and dresses — but it’s always been difficult for me to find work-appropriate attire that I “agree” with or “enjoy.” Button-up shirts and corduroy pants are always a safe bet, but even so, it’s still hard to find button-ups that really “resonate” with me. A lot of professional attire comes off as looking somewhat “stuffy”, and I want to maintain my authenticity.

 

But I really lucked out at the thrift shop! I left with three clean and classy-looking button-up shirts (each of them featuring sleeves that were long enough to cover all of my tattoos), and then I spent the remaining time in the store wheeling Grammy around as she searched for loose-fitting shirts and long skirts, as well as shoes, hats, and undergarments.

 

As I wheeled her over to a rack of sports bras, I couldn’t help but make a face, because when it comes to secondhand clothing, outer wear is where I, personally, draw the line. “Now Grammy, there’s a Target right down the street — I can take you THERE for THIS stuff.”

 

“Oh, no thanks, Rosebud… I don’t like to pay full price for those things.”

 

“Allllllllrighty then.”

 

While we were perusing the shoes (which was slightly less upsetting), I glanced ahead (absentmindedly peering into another person’s cart) and saw an adorable Siberian Husky stuffed animal lying inside of it! It was black and white and fluffy, with a striking mask and bi-colored eyes… and it was SO realistic-looking. Seeing it caused me to remember the day when mom, Gram and I had visited a thrift store that was WAY out in the boondocks, back when I was a child, and the owner had offered me 100 stuffed animals for $1.

“God is rewarding you for double tithing,” Grammy had told me as we stuffed plush toy after plush toy into big, white trash bags and then tossed them into the backseat of mom’s yellow station wagon. I’ve never forgotten it.

 

Present day, I smiled at the memory, and then the husky inside of the cart moved. The fuck?

 

“Oh, Grammy — look! There’s a real, live pup in that cart!”

 

We called Sierra over, and all of us adored the little thing. The person pushing the Husky through the store (I didn’t know you could bring pups to the thrift store!) wasn’t actually its owner, we discovered; the owners of the Husky – who also owned a Chinese restaurant – were on vacation for several weeks and had asked this cart-pushing friend of theirs, a trusted neighbor, to watch their pup while they were gone.

 

We said goodbye to the pup and then, while moving Grammy from one aisle containing size 7.5 shoes to an adjoining one, my eyes settled upon a pretty pattern that was nearby in a plastic, white sales bin.

 

I stepped away from the wheelchair to investigate, and discovered that it was a purse. I looked up and around to make sure no one was watching me and then removed the purse from the bin, holding it and turning it over in my hands.

 

“Wow — this is gorgeous,” I thought to myself. “I should buy this and give it to someone who would like it.” I started thinking of the friends and co-workers I knew who liked such girly things, and realized that they’d all likely turn their noses up at a friend or co-worker gifting them with a secondhand purse. I sighed, disappointed. Then, I furrowed my eyebrows.

“Hang on a second… I like it, so why don’t I get it for myself?”

 

“Because it’s a DUMB PURSE, and only GIRLS carry DUMB PURSES,” an old voice rattled menacingly in the background.

 

“Ha… whatEVER. I AM a girl, thank you very much, and while some purses ARE stupid, this one isn’t. It’s absolutely beautiful, it’s $1.49 (which is criminal), and I like it very much.”

 

I returned to Grammy’s wheelchair and Sierra’s cart, holding the purse awkwardly in my left hand.

 

“Hey guys — check this out!”

 

Sierra eyed it critically. “Hmmm… it’s interesting…”

 

Grammy beamed. “OH, I love it! It’s very YOU, Rosebud!”

 

I smiled at her. “I think so, too.”

 

my gypsy bag AND cool new stripey shirt

 

***

 

Sierra and I painted the kitchen a magical lavender during the visit (I chose this color for three reasons: 1. purple is Grammy’s favorite color, 2. I had a delightful vanilla lavender latte while adventuring in Denver this spring, 3. Jinx wears a purple-fringed jacket in my upcoming novel and it’s the first clothing item she really likes) and we saw fireworks together while they were here, and then I woke up for work Wednesday morning and they were just gone. Poof. Just like that.

 

I’ll see them again, of course… we might meet up for a “half-way” afternoon outing in Chattanooga sometime in the next few months, or one of us may decide to drive up or down to the other person’s neck-of-the-woods for a 3- or 4-day trip, but it’s honestly terrible, living so far away from people you love to see and love to spend time with.

 

The rest of my week passed pleasantly enough because I kept nice and busy at work, directing my attention to this project and then that one and enjoying every second of productivity.

 

But when I woke up this morning, I felt inexplicably depressed. I showered, got dressed, loved on the pups, got in the car, drove downtown, parallel parked my car, and dismounted my bike from its rack. I began pedaling down 1st Avenue South, turning left onto 19th Street North to take one of my preferred routes, and in my head, I was whispering the words, “I’m depressed today. I don’t want to be here. I miss everyone who isn’t here — Melissa, and Christopher, and Bobby, and Bruster, who are all VERY far away, and my family, who is far away enough…”

 

And then suddenly, right before I began passing through the rainbow tunnel, I looked up and saw a train barreling down the tracks above me. It looked so grand and wonderful that it was stunning to behold.

 

I love trains. Before my divorce (it’s been almost two years now — isn’t that CRAZY?), when things we’re getting heavy inside of myself and back at the house, I would spend all of my free time either inside of a cafe, writing as I am now, or sitting cross-legged in the observatory at Railroad Park, watching the trains pass. Sometimes, if I was feeling brave and I happened to catch the very beginning of the train, I’d wave to the “driver.” Sometimes, they’d see me and wave back, and whenever they did, it made me feel so special. I felt like I was visible for just a second… like I was a part of something; as if whether or not I was here in some way mattered. Like — somebody waved back because I was here. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have waved, and they also wouldn’t have waved. Like that.

 

And this morning, watching the train pass made something click in my brain. “I… am seeing trains today,” I whispered inside of my head. “I am getting to see trains. How fortunate!”

“And I am… cruising along inside of this amazing rainbow tunnel,” I continued. “It’s so pretty!”

“I am… smiling at pedestrians,” I whispered a moment later, a bit louder.

“I am feeling the sunlight on my skin, I’m about to enjoy a delicious coffee drink and some alone time, and I am above ground today.”

 

In short: My inner dialogue, or monologue, changed, and when it did, my mood also changed… my outlook changed… my perspective and my gauge of my own self-worth and my entire freakin DAY changed, ALL as a result of my words changing. Brilliant, isn’t it? We control much more in this world than we give ourselves credit for, INCLUDING our own happiness.

 

And then, like what happens in the movies sometimes, I broke out into a big smile and pulled up at my favorite cafe, happy, happy to be here, and grateful for my own companionship. I can’t, after all, really count on anyone else’s. Only a fool would do that, and I’ve discovered, in my 25 years, that hope tends to make us all a bit foolish.

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

 

SHAMELESS PLUG: My original novel, Jinx the Rabbit, is now undergoing its THIRD REVISION! Ahhhhhhh! My Kickstarter campaign reached 100% of its goal on the 4th of July, which is positively thrilling, and it isn’t too late for you to join in on the fun! If you’d like to pledge a donation to my campaign and score some EXCLUSIVE Jinx swag (bookmarks, t-shirts, signed copies of the novel and even a personalized shout-out IN the novel), click riiiiiiiiight here. 🙂 We’ve got 14 days left! That’s 2 weeks, or a fortnight… so ya better hop to it!

Jinx the Rabbit