Ducks and Hands and Playing Pool

This heathen’s spending another Sunday morning at the cafe where coffee is doing its thing: gently nudging me awake with a warm hug and some sweet hand-holding.

I’m sitting in my chair at Red Cat — hearing the French family from last week speaking beautifully to one other, the four of them seated at the round table in front of me; watching the elegant woman in the brown leather chair to my right, with her suede brown boots and yellow-and-gray polka dot scarf, reading a novel on her iPad; and passively listening to the customers around the wall’s corner placing their orders, the baristas behind the bar calling out those orders, and the magical coffee machine whirring in the background for all of us.

I’m remembering sitting on a park bench a few days ago; leaning forward with my elbows resting on my knees and my hands clasped underneath my chin, observing the pond water swishing and swirling around in front of me. I counted three ducks swimming that day — finally, three — and when I did, I cried with relief.

After a few moments, I heard a little girl’s voice calling out from behind me, so I turned around with red eyes and she asked: “What are you looking at?” Two, three times… she kept on asking. I could hear her question clearly, but I was wearing headphones, so I just smiled as her parents – each of them grasping one of her tiny hands – ushered her quickly forward. She cried out in protest.

 

“I’m watching the universe coming alive and dying over and over again,” I answered myself. “But to her, I would have said: The water! The ducks! It’s all very beautiful, isn’t it?” 

 

***

 

A few weeks prior, I had spent my Saturday afternoon chatting with a remarkable guy at the same park (yes — the guy was Audio; sigh), and on the way back to my car, I had passed by two ducks waddling through the grass.

“Hey, guys — where’s your friend?” I wondered after them, as for years now, there’s always been the trio — three inseparable duck friends who I always spot wandering around the park together. I began to feel worry creeping in, so I ducked into my car and headed home, deliberately (and literally) leaving the matter behind me.

But last week, another weekend rolled around and I was studying Spanish at the park (at a table near the pond) when those two ducks came into view. Again, just two of them.

A police officer (one of the guards who routinely strolls the park) walked past me, and when he did, I almost flagged him down to ask about the third one: Do you know where s/he went? Any idea what happened? I’m really starting to worry… 

 

But I decided that he probably didn’t know or care, and that I probably didn’t want to know, anyways, so I reeled my grief in and then held it there as I continued to practice verb conjugations. Incidentally, I’m now reading, writing, and speaking in three tenses.

 

***

 

But like I said — the third duck finally returned to view a few days ago. It was a happy ending (for now).

I watched a bluegrass band (another trio) from Montgomery perform at an art festival yesterday; they sang about wearing purple flip flops, visiting different states, and worshiping the dirt. It’s funny — bluegrass isn’t one of my preferred genres (not even in the slightest slightest), but there’s just something about live music and the sense of community latent in it that makes any flavor of sound appealing.

I also spoke with different artists yesterday: a bearded guy had his painter girlfriend take a picture of his German Shepherd tattoo and mine; a skinny girl from Portland sold me a clay necklace she’d made — a creek side leaf from Oregon etched into its surface — and wished me safe travels there next month; and a tall and lanky guy named Jim handed me a delicate pair of mixed molten earrings. “These are the tiniest ones I’ve ever made,” he said, laughing. I put them on this morning.

A girl wearing lots of jewelry complimented my tattoos in the grocery store yesterday afternoon and I felt like running away from her. Instead, I complimented her jewelry and then said goodbye immediately afterwards.

I drank a white russian to loosen up at a bar before performing last week — sang three songs while feeling like a ghost; perfectly invisible, and wonderfully untethered. I didn’t even know that I was breathing. The crowd, composed of many other musicians, cheered enthusiastically. I played inside of the saloon, but noticed Audio walk outside right as I began to play; he complimented my sound later on and then played a mostly silent game of pool with me. One of our only exchanges:

“Hitting that triangle of balls is called breaking the cue, right?” I asked. The phrase, while unfamiliar, just intuitively sounded right — like I’d somehow picked up some cool pool lingo in passing.

“No,” he shook his head, smiling. But he never did say what it was called.

 

I just can’t figure him out.

 

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And then I passed by a special man this morning. He was sitting on a bench at the park; somewhat near the trio, and fidgeting with his shoes. When I saw him, I felt my blood turning pulpy and flowing thicker, ambling through my veins like the train clattering across the tracks, to my right.

 

“HI!” he greeted me loudly, offering a brilliant smile.

 

“Hi!” I replied, smiling back at him.

 

“How are you?” he asked quickly.

 

“I’m good — you?”

 

“You look nice!” he answered happily.

 

I laughed. “And so do you! Enjoy your day!”

 

And then I walked away quickly, trapping grief in my throat.

 

I thought of my brother Bobby again moments later when I passed by a bright red Doctor Pepper truck. I asked the maintenance man to take a picture of me in front of the truck, and then I deleted it. He’s been gone for nearly five years now. I often wish that I could talk with him… his presence was always so stabilizing. It’s like you knew exactly who you were when you sat down with him; you could clearly see and feel your darkest parts and your best parts. Everything just became so weirdly apparent and tangible. And you knew exactly who he was, too, because it never occurred to him that he could or should hide…

Meanwhile, I believe that we all waste inane amounts of time building walls and fashioning masks and then burn up even more of our energy and hours choosing when to hide behind either (or both). Bobby lived so much more authentically. He was always 1000% transparent. He’d only smile if he was happy or humored — that classic, toothy grin was never affected. Alternatively, he’d yell – really loudly – if you hurt his feelings or angered him. And then, my favorite, he’d simply pass the phone off to somebody else (anybody else) in the room mid-sentence if he was done with a conversation, cutting your question or story short with a monotoned and slowly drawn: “Alright — bye, sister babe…”

 

And when he’d give you one of those awkward and shaky arm-crushing side hugs, you knew that he loved you so, so much. He was so open. So goddamn trustworthy.

And when you remember a soul so radiant and flawless and true, you miss having somebody so real around, because you re-realize (it dawned on you before; we just easily forget the things we hate knowing) how fucking fake the rest of us are with each other — pretending to like who and what we don’t, and then absurdly concealing how strongly we actually feel about someone or something with light shrugs and small smiles and powerful words that we keep to ourselves.

 

***

 

A Month Ago

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“Is it weird that I’ve made friends with this hole in my hand?” I asked Charlie.

 

“No.”

 

“Good. Because I just feel such an affinity for it — like, I feel so whole with a hole in my hand,” I sighed. “I hope it never, ever heals.”

 

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But is has. The blood dried up within a day and then the soft flesh knitted itself back together in a few more. And as per usual, I keep on wishin’ that somebody would wanna HOLD my hand, dang it!  🙂

I used to get so secretly excited when I’d return home from visiting my old best friend in Connecticut, because I knew that – having been gone for two weeks – my mom was going to hug me when she saw me in the airport. It was one of maybe two or three hugs I’d get from her all year, and I looked forward to it with that nervous dread you feel when something is awkwardly unfamiliar but happily-anticipated. And for the record,  I’m not upset about it — the lack of hugs in my young life; we just weren’t a touchy-feely family, growing up.

But when friends in middle school started hugging me and grabbing my hands with theirs, they seemed to slice right through the first layer of me — creating weak trickles of blood and revealing soft skin. And those same hugs that cut zig zags into me became the very hugs that healed me, and then, I began to crave them. Like burritos.

And in the world of hugging and hand-holding, I’ve discovered that there are simply no arms and no hands quite like those of a companion. What I miss most about being in a relationship is 1. the physical warmth and 2. the emotional intimacy. But you can just disregard the 1 and 2, because it’s a genuine 50-50.

I used to watch my Holland Lop rabbits snuggle up beside each other, their overlapping fluffiness turning them into this one gigantic puff of rabbit (with two heads); while they had all the space in the world to occupy, Panda absolutely insisted on existing right at Hiro’s side, sleeping or awake. And nowadays, I watch my German Shepherds interact similarly; Tycho will walk across the room to go sit on my other German Shepherd Silo’s back — and it’s a total nonevent; she does it so she can just sit there, in very close proximity to him, and look around the room — and then in the evenings, I often catch her falling asleep with her paw resting on his. And I get it. I totally get it. Sidebar: Why was it always Panda and Tycho – the gals – reaching out for affection? Why were Hiro and Silo such emotionally-clueless IDIOTS?  🙂

 

And now that the hole in my hand has healed, I’m just waiting for somebody to want to hold it.

Somebody other than the three guys who’ve flirted with me in the past week — it’s nice to know that I’m not actually invisible, I guess, but jeez; A. too old, B. too young, and C. too BOLD. Why can’t Audio just get it together?!

 

 

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pink-mugged lattes keeping my left (and sometimes, right) hand warm

 

 

 

Aun Aqui

ready to go

A friend and I grabbed lunch downtown today; she ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with a side of pasta salad and I asked for a house salad with some fried tofu.

 

We were meeting up with an old coworker of ours — a spirited and adventurous gal who made a bold career move after spending nearly two decades in the same office — and after catching up on each other’s adventures, we all said goodbye.

 

My friend and I walked to her car quickly, needing to report back to corporate by 2 PM for a shared meeting. I remember the sun warming my skin and the wind shaking the trees.

 

“How was the grilled cheese?” I asked her.

 

“SO good!”

 

“Nice… I’ll have to try one next time.”

 

“You’re navigating, right?” she asked, closing the door.

 

“Yep! I know my downtown,” I boasted, warming both of my hands with a to-go latte. I could feel her grinning.

 

We turned left here and then I directed her to go right there. She inched forward, trying to see around a truck, while I thanked the universe for the flavor caramel.

 

“Can’t really seeeeeeeeeeeeeeee… don’t know if we’re gonna make ittttttttt,” she sang out, continuing to edge forward.

 

“Eh, it’s alright… I’m ready to go,” I replied, taking another (final?) sip.

 

She completed the turn (without incident) and then laughed sadly. “Wow, Jace…”

 

“Yeah. I really am, though!” I laughed, much more lightheartedly. Because being ready to die basically exempts you from the fear of dying, you know? So go ME! 

 

***

 

Ohhhhhhhhhh depression; we’ve been riding a tandem bike for years now, haven’t we? Always dissecting you — peeling back layer after layer via meditation and writing and music and free therapy sessions with my friend from the car ride, but you just NEVER go away — not all of the way, anyways. You’re adhesive, like a sticker, and thick as a shadow.

 

You’re like this endless ride — with exhilarating highs and soul-crushing lows and then some deceptively even patches here and there that make me feel like the world and this existence are finally going to level out on me… and the very worst part is that I never know when the great descent is going to start back up again, OR when it’s going to let up, because there’s not an exact pattern or science to this thing (high –> low –> normal); it’s all scattered and stupidly unpredictable, as well as viscerally corrosive.

 

But this I know: One of the biggest (and most loyal) contributors to my depression — dating back to a few years ago now — is my deep and sustained sense of loneliness. So here goes psychoanalyzing that:

 

Why are you lonely? Because I don’t have a companion.

But you have friends, right? Yeah, but not a companion. It’s way different.

What is a companion? A life partner — that ultimate, sole somebody who’s 100% got your back. They’re your greatest confidant — basically, an extension of yourself; somebody you can invest in, count on, fall backwards into, and adventure through life with. They are a nearly-perfect complement; a sweet comfort; a warm home.

Why can’t you be your own best confidant — your own warm home? Ohhhhhh shut up. You’re obviously CLUELESS.

 

 

So that’s how that goes. But what do you do when you’re companion-less? Really? I’m actually asking you, reader. I think that many of us end up settling (at least short-term) for lesser companions… and by lesser companions, I don’t mean less valuable or talented or lovely humans than ourselves, because those don’t exist; I mean, not-really-the-right-fit-for-us humans…

 

I believe that we become so lonely that the first hint of a spark renders us branded to an individual who just doesn’t really mesh with who we are. You know what I mean?

 

The guy I dated back in February was like that — really sweet, really smart, and well-mannered (now I’m thinking about German Shepherds)… but there was no real spark there. No soul kindling. No profound shift in my alignment when I saw him or spoke with him or held his hand.

 

And then, when I met a guy who did ignite a spark/nudge at my soul/rattle my alignment a little (more than a month later), I told him – via text (DUMB) – that I liked-him-liked-him after performing a Backstreet Boys song and drinking one-too-many hard ciders at a gig (aka ONE hard cider) and was then left wondering whether or not he felt the same way (as it stands, I still don’t know, so I’m assuming no). Bummer, right? Really puts a dent in one’s self-worth; like: Why am I not interesting or pretty or cool enough for you? What am I fundamentally MISSING that makes me so “other” from everyone else… so bleh and ehhhhh and take-it-or-leave-it-but-better-just-leave-it?  

 

So back to my (revised) original question: If you refuse to settle, what should you do when you’re companion-less and don’t wanna be?

 

My car friend recommends god, and while I’m warming up to the idea of some kinda entity (or entities) being out there because of amazing shit like love and music and rabbits and the wind, I’m not ready to subscribe to a god.

Several friends suggest antidepressants. I (personally) refuse to alter my biological makeup, fucked up as it is. I want to be authentically me, even if that means super authentically depressed.

And then OTHER friends of mine cope w/their loneliness with drugs, alcohol, and meaningless hookups… but I just can’t. The recent tour a friend gave me of Tinder (how it works, and how to market yourself) brooooooke my heart — I can’t possibly be a part of that. So I’ll just continue cuddling my stuffed rabbit, Governess, and popping melatonin-infused chocolate candies on restless nights.

 

So what, then? What the frickin’ WHAT? What other options are there? Because as of right now, I imagine the rest of my life playing out like this:

  • Fighting for the humane treatment of animals (and mending a broken heart every time I pass a dead rabbit in the road)
  • Campaigning for social justice (while staving off contempt slash hatred for racist and sexist assholes)
  • Learning Spanish (so I can get even more worked up over how much I can’t stand racists)
  • Drinking lattes in cafes (alone… people-watching old and new couples and the young people with such promise)
  • Writing inspiringly sad but redemptive books and entirely sad songs (about old loves, lost loves, and never-gonna-be loves)
  • Going on solo adventures to other states and countries (and wishing I had someone to share that wonderful meal or magical view with)
  • Lessening the suffering of and empowering the people around me (while doing my very cherry best to maintain my own sense of sanity and to hold together this hopeful, breaking heart)

 

And it just sounds exhausting. Doesn’t it? This earth world is so harsh and heartless… and so bleak! Without a solid shoulder to lean on, or a bonded soul to rely on, it’s just a real fucking lot to bear.

 

 

one of my fav buildings in downtown bham —     i feel like this old house

 

 

So… your thoughts?

 

Aun Aqui

Me and Audio

OH MY BLOG — I FREAKIN’ MISS YOU!

We’ll be back in sync w/each other soon, but in the meantime, I’m sharing my final short story of the semester below…

and in case you’re wondering, it’s 71% truth and 29% fiction.

 

 

Me and Audio

By Jace Yarbrough

 

 

I met Audio at a Thursday night bike meet.

It was cool outside of the bike repair shop. I was sitting up on a raised concrete slab that jutted out of and ran parallel with the back of the building, resting my bony back against a whitewashed brick wall.

Holding a pen in my left hand, I had a book about loneliness spread open in front of me, the front and back cover of it resting against my thighs. As I read through the book, I marked the lines that I really liked — the ones that resonated with me so deeply that I felt like crying and rereading them over and over again until we both fell asleep together. Me and the lines.

And I was looking up every few minutes, realizing that other bikers had joined the growing crowd whenever things would become noticeably rowdier, and one of the times I looked up was when I first saw him: A skinny guy rolling into the alley from the left, wearing a bandanna on his head and a scarf around his neck and sticking his arms out at his sides so that they ran parallel with the ground. He was cute. Very silly, and very cute. Seeing him and watching him made me smile.

As the wheels of his bike slowed, I noticed him allowing his eyes to roam the crowd – taking in all of the other bikers smoking and drinking and staring at or showcasing their phones. His eyes found me, eventually, as I’d hoped they would, and when they did, I felt an inky wave of nausea pass through me. It was terrifying and electrifying – being seen by someone you want to have see you.

“Ahhhh… a fellow reader. What’s the book about?”

Startled, I tracked the unfamiliar voice with my eyes. I quickly discovered an older guy standing just to the right of where I was sitting. He was leaning his hip against the outer rim of the concrete wall, staring down at the book in my lap and then looking up at me.

“Oh – it’s about loneliness… basically, how to be happy with one’s solitude.” I smiled over at him apologetically, like I wish I could tell you it was a nicer kind of book.

The old guy nodded his head slowly. “And are you lonely?”

Wow. Bold. And way too fucking old. “I am… depressed. From being lonely. But I’ve learned to manage it well.”

He nodded. “I also struggle with that.”

Silence.

It was hard to gauge his intent, but I chose to believe it was harmless. I closed the book and gripped it with both hands, reassured by the weight of it. “And how do you manage yours?”

He looked at me with surprise, as if I was the one who had first crossed the line.

But then suddenly, the route leader was screaming into a megaphone, reciting the usual: no texting while riding; keep in the right lane; scream “pothole” if you see one and make sure all of the newbies feel welcome.

“I’ll catch up with you on the break,” I said to the guy, scooting across and off of the concrete and then hopping onto my bike. I strapped my heavily-stickered helmet on and then spun and tugged at the rings on my right hand while I searched the crowd for Cute Guy.

I couldn’t find him, but soon, we were all cruising the streets of downtown Birmingham together — our discordant music blaring, our bikes’ sporadic lights touching hands and cars and concrete, and the lead singer of Glass Animals crooning into my ears only as the sun rolled backwards with us.

***

Mid-ride, Cute Guy rolled up beside me and looked directly over at me. The stuff of dreams.

“Hi.”

Did he just say “hi” to ME?!

“Hi!” I echoed him, grinning. And then I felt panicky… like I was balancing on the brink of something. “How has your week been so far?” I ventured.

He squinted. “Challenging.” He nodded to himself, seeming satisfied with his answer. “And you?”

“Same – emotionally challenging, but… it’s going well.”

We chatted on and off, here and there, but he tended to disappear – leaving me to weave through the crowd… he seemed to be catching up with friends and introducing himself to strangers.

So confident, so open — so compelling. I wanted him to ride with me all night.

After five or six miles, we stopped at a park – tonight’s secret destination. It always changes. Sometimes, it’s an abandoned warehouse, a ball park, or an old parking deck. But it’s always cool. And this half-way break is when people lay their bikes down and wander around for a bit… drinking and talking and flirting and playing. Kids come on the rides, and ninety-year-olds do, too. People cuss and throw frisbees and munch on protein bars as they holler at each other, laughing loudly because they’re having a great time. I usually find a quiet spot to people-watch from, because when you’re as lonely as I am, the reality of striking up a conversation is more terrifying than the idea of watching a train barrel towards you.

But this park had a swing set — unresistable. So instead of cozying up next to a tree trunk, I plopped down onto one of two swings and began kicking my legs into the air, giggling to myself as I rose higher and higher. I was wearing purple corduroy pants and a reddish sweater that read carpe diem. My outfit looked so bright and happy… I hoped it looked right on me.

Nadia, the only girl who works in the repair shop, plopped down onto the other swing. Most girls make me nervous, but she doesn’t. She has wild, brunette hair, wears cool skirts with a fanny pack, and has one of the best laughs I’ve ever heard. We started talking about kombucha and she explained how she brews it at home. I enjoyed listening to her.

I really didn’t need another heart attack, but Cute Guy ran over to where we were and then leaned against the pole closest to me. “I was hoping I’d get to swing with a beautiful girl tonight, and here are TWO!”

Nadia and I both laughed; it was obviously a lame line, but he was so incredibly genuine. And I couldn’t believe my luck! Not only had he noticed me, but he had also thought that I was beautiful…

Seeming unaware of his profound affect on me, he strolled off toward a little girl named Emme. I watched him as he helped her go up and down the playground’s slide. Absolutely precious.

Let it go, J — he’s too perfect, I warned myself. He’s either gay, already dating somebody a thousand times cooler than you, or a monk who would never, ever date anyone, including – especially – you. I sighed, letting up on my swinging and hovering a little closer to the ground.

After about twenty minutes, someone shouted that we were rolling again. On our way back to our bikes, Cute Guy passed by me and smiled. I couldn’t fathom what was happening; was he really noticing me as much as it seemed? Or was my overly-active imagination just being cruel with me? I wanted to grab his hand, or give him a hug, or ask him if he liked getting coffee on the weekends – OR do all three of those things… but in reality, outside of the pretentiously brave confines of my mind, I didn’t do any of them. I just lowered my head and gently took my bike back from a tree.

You’re going to get hurt again if you keep on like in this, I chided myself. Nobody normal falls in love this quickly… and never with you.

***

Another six miles and we were back where we started. Some people go home right away (usually, this includes me) while others – the cool kids – stick around in the alley outside of the shop to smoke and drink and hang out.

And tonight, I was awkwardly but bravely standing in the back doorway of the shop, passively waiting for something to happen… like a fall, followed by a catch or a crash. Something.

Out there in the dark, I noticed yellow streetlight touching the brick and the concrete and some of my pale skin, and it made me feel like I was in some sort of cigarette dream.

And then, something did happen: The nosy old guy from earlier spotted me. Sigh. He walked over to where I was and then stood beside me, placing himself right underneath the yellow light. He looked older in it, but also, wiser.

“So – back to what we were talking about earlier… how do you manage yours?” I asked quickly, gently assuming control of the conversation.

He adjusted his glasses and inhaled deeply through his nostrils.

“I think of it like this; when you know it’s going to be cold out, you wear a coat, right?” He paused, so I nodded. “Well my depression is cyclical; I can feel it coming from a ways off, and when it starts, I know it’s going to last a while. A real downward spiral. And while I could just ride the whole thing out — the onset of it, the downward spiral, and then the slow uptick – when I feel it coming, I go ahead and put a coat on so that I’m better prepared for it. Because you dress for the weather, physically, and you should do the same thing – spiritually, emotionally – for your depression.”

“That makes total sense. And what’s your coat?” I probed. “Like, for me, I know what to do to sort of insulate myself against it; get out of the house, be around people, drink lattes, write stories, make music… what do you do?”

He never really answered me. Not directly, anyways, which is the way I wanted him to. But he did mention something interesting: guided imagery.

“Imagine you’re in a tank,” he said. “A sort of fish tank. It’s like a mile wide and several miles deep, and you’re on this endless spiral staircase inside of it, always walking down, down, down. And occasionally, a door appears, and when it does, you have the option of getting out — of leaving.”

He stopped speaking, and I understood why.

“Wow. That’s so wonderful,” I whispered. “I was imagining you saying that, the further down you go, the more upward climbing you’ll have to do later on to ever get out, because I imagined a single door at the very top. How depressing!” I laughed. “But I love that, with the way you explained it, you can pretty much leave anytime you choose… I mean, you know — at intervals; whenever that opportunity presents itself again. If you take it.”

“Right. Exactly.” He smiled, and I was glad, then, that he was nosy.

Cute Guy had wandered outside while we were chatting; he’d looked over at me and then sat down onto the metal landing outside the door, a canned beer in his hand. My heart had started racing then, in quick pursuit of that wave of nausea, and I begged myself to muster the guts to sit down next to him. It doesn’t have to be a big deal! I said. You could ask him what he’s drinking, what his plans are for the weekend, or whether or not he likes to read…

But my nosy friend continued talking – moving onto the less-interesting subject of personality tests – and by the time I’d been able to politely excuse myself from his company, a group of people were already huddled around my guy – one of them, a lovely girl with pink and purple hair. I heard her refer to him as Audio. His name was so great. And she was so pretty.

I turned around to leave, feeling sad and frustrated with myself for being so small, so quiet, and so plainly dirty-blonde…

But then I turned around again, marched out the back door, and tapped Cute Guy on the shoulder. He turned around slightly to face me, looking surprised – possibly in the same way that I’d looked surprised earlier when Nosy and I had first met. I stuttered slightly, but eventually managed to say: “I just wanted to say goodnight.”

He smiled at me warmly. “Goodnight, Jane.”

And then I left… smiling and wondering how he’d known my name. The soft thud of my skate shoes reverberated off of brick and concrete, and when I rounded the corner and stepped up onto the ghostly yellow sidewalk, a gust of wind swirled my honey-blonde hair into wild tangles. Beautiful, I remembered, grinning.

The scent of his beer faded as the sound of their laughs grew distant, and the small but distinct sound of me muffled in volume also as I drew the yellow city into me like a lover…

And then I realized that if I just rearranged his words a little bit, stripped of their tone and context, I could make the nauseatingly magical evening even better:

 

Goodnight, beautiful.

 

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Audio was inspired by a real-life biker dude… I even wrote a song about him!

 

***

 

Talk soon…

Aun Aqui