I broke myself in Portland

She was sprinting through the house, wearing grey sweatpants and a towel on her head.  It was our last day together.

 

“I always think that the bus is waiting for me,” she said, grabbing her makeup bag and cell phone in one swift movement, “but it’s actually me who’s waiting for the bus.”

 

“That’s really insightful,” I called out from the couch, my right foot propped up on a three-tiered cake of pillow. “On so many levels…”

 

She laughed, and then I heard the bathroom door slam shut.

 

***

 

I spent last weekend in Portland, Oregon. It was a solo trip taken for the sheer hell of it; I wanted to try the coffee, and the vegan food, and take in all of the views — from tall trees, soul-soothing waterfalls, and soft old clothes to some of the most notoriously peculiar human beings on the planet.

 

But I had to tweak my plans early on in the trip.

On day two, I was riding the #20 in the direction of Mt. Tabor Park. As we neared the next stop, I readjusted my backpack, tugged on the yellow rope running along the interior of the bus, and went to stand up. Nothing weird — just, you know; rising up onto my feet, like usual.

But when I did so, I felt something like a ball explode inside of my foot — it was insanely jarring, took me completely by surprise, and every single step I took afterwards was more excruciating than I can properly describe. 

Sidebar History Lesson: The previous week, I was training new hires up in northern Alabama and spent my evenings walking several miles in unsupportive sandals, which I could tell – afterwards – stressed my feet out… and I suspect that THIS is what primed me for the explosion. 

And regardless of what was supposed to happen next, what I did was grit my teeth, hobble through the park, and then limp up and down the city’s bustling streets for the next two and a half days, chasing food and coffee and books and scarves.

 

 

 

 

Hover over pics above for deets. 

 

***

 

My favorite memories of Portland: 

One afternoon, a young man (20s) and his dad boarded the bus together and seated themselves near the front. I’d been engrossed in scenes beyond the window, so I heard the young man before I actually saw him.

Why? He was making the most interesting noises: deep grunts, sharp exhalations, gleeful laughs and high-pitched siren sounds. His dad, I noticed, communicated with him by clicking his thumb and pointer finger together, slapping him on the knee, and making intricate movements with his wrists. It didn’t look like formal sign language, but I definitely understood that this was their language.

The young man made one noise, in particular, that I found so beautiful it almost moved me to tears… it was a lovely trill, sort of like a bird’s. He did it once, twice, maybe four times; every now and then, it would magically reappear, and I wanted to hear it nonstop forever.

After about ten minutes, I noticed the father gathering their things together. I wish he’d trill one more time before leaving, I thought to myself; I’d appreciated hearing it before, but I wanted to really record the sound in my mind before he disappeared from me forever.

And then as the door opened and he began descending the stairs, there it was — that sweet, rolling trill, tumbling backwards through the air. I closed my eyes then. I can still hear it now.

*

Early one morning, it was finally on the cusp of being overcast (it didn’t rain AT ALL while I was there — what the heck!) and I was on the bus again. We were passing through the city, bumping over downtown Portland’s uneven roads.

To my right, I suddenly saw a narrow and dark patch between two buildings — and there in that shadowy space was a man, sitting between this wall and that one; he was wearing a blanket and quietly staring down at the flame on a lighter. It was strikingly beautiful.

*

At the bus stop (YES, I practically lived on or near the bus!) on Monday, I sat waiting beside a man who looked like a rock star — wearing a leather vest, leather pants, a jet-black faux hawk and silver hoops in his ears. A girl approached us, and then there were three of us waiting for the bus — possibly four, but the other lady was standing pretty far off in the distance, staring down at the asphalt and cursing at it, so she might have just been hanging out.

I heard the rock star fidgeting to my left, but didn’t look over at him.

“Need a lighter?” the girl asked suddenly.

He laughed. “Yeah.”

“Hey, I’ve been there before — it’s hard to light a joint from a cigarette.” I heard the click of it, and then a sizzle.

I was staring after a plastic bag blowing down the street, feeling puzzled; if he was able to light the cigarette, why can’t he light the joint? I wondered. Maybe he lost the lighter, or it stopped working, I reasoned afterwards.

Seconds later, I could smell it. Delicious.

“You know… I appreciate you not judging me, you know?” the guy said to the girl.

“Hey — I’d smoke it if I could,” she said.

Me too, I thought. But it isn’t legal back in bama… YET.

“It’s just… a lot of people judge me for it, you know?” he continued, and I heard him make a snorting sound. I couldn’t stop my head from turning a little and saw him batting at his nose.

“And it’s just like… some people need to be sober, and some people need to NOT be sober,” he concluded.

The girl murmured her assent.

The bus came and she and I got on it… I sat in the back, by the window again, and watched Rock Star fade away. Turned out he wasn’t waiting for the bus.

*

On Sunday, I purchased a scarf from a secondhand shop and then hobbled to the park across the street. Plopping down and leaning my back against a tree, I watched as — on a great, big court — several games of basketball occurred simultaneously.

There were four groups of older men — predominantly black, with one goofy-looking group of white boys — and two batches of young kids. Didn’t spot a single girl on the court, which was disappointing. I suddenly remembered getting hit in the face with a football during 7th grade PE. That dickhead — I couldn’t remember his name, but knew he was Ryan’s twin brother, and though he’d claimed it was an accident, I’d been standing just seven feet in front of him, counting as fast as I could: one mississippi, two mississippi, three mississippi, four… 

I noticed that one of the kid groups (composed of four members: a skinny kid, another skinny kid who was dressed really well, a toddler, and a chubby kid) had an all-star on their team: the chubby kid! He kept landing shot after shot, from all sorts of distances, and I loved watching him dribble, because you could tell that he felt good about it (and himself).

This one time, though, the skinny-and-not-dressed-well kid went to steal the ball and fell in the process; chubby kid kept on going with the ball, landed the shot, and then reared back around, approaching the kid who was still on the ground.

My heart to started to ache a little as it anticipated hurt feelings, but then, it soared; I watched as chubby kid walked over to skinny kid, held his hand out, and helped him back up onto his feet. Then, he slapped him on the back encouragingly, like nice try. It was freaking awesome, because the kid was like seven.

*

A strung-out, emaciated guy walked onto the bus late one afternoon and started chatting with the girl across from him; she was middle-aged, dressed well, and seemed kind. He rattled on about having just lost $3000 in poker (apparently trying to be impressive), and she told him that she’d stopped playing ten years ago… that it had nearly ruined her life. He bristled a little at the unsolicited advice and got off at the next stop, and then the guy beside her chimed in, saying that poker was like a drug.

“It really is,” she agreed. “I was a stripper for a while and used to blow the money on the game.”

“Oh… that makes sense; so that’s why you’re into such alternative stuff,” the guy said, nodding after the already-gone emaciated guy (who – seemingly affecting a feminine accent and wearing a women’s shirt – had appeared to be in the process of possibly transforming).

“Excuse me?” she said, narrowing her eyes as she considered the guy.

Good for you, lady, I thought at her, happy she’d stuck up for herself and the other guy. You fuckin’ jackass, I thought at the jackass.

 

A few things I learned in Portland:

How to use public transit. We’re sorta, kinda getting there in bham, but spots like Denver and Portland have got it goin’ ON in the public transit department.

It took me a few days (and several missed stops slash incorrect bus boardings) to get the hang of it, but MAN did I feel proud of myself once I figured out how to route myself from this spot to that one via buses, streetcars, and even trains.

I didn’t have to Uber — not even ONCE (although, at times, the public transit system was really freaking confusing and I was TEMPTED to Uber — persistence is key!), and with a 2.5 hour pass costing $2.50 and a full day public transit pass costing just $5, I spent a total of $17.50 on transportation the whole time I was there.

*

You can bring your own coffee mug to coffee shops! I watched hipster after hipster do it, and realizing that doing this was possible resolved a true dilemma of mine:

Coffee shop mugs are so homey, and I just love sipping coffee from them, but it takes me FOREVER to finish a latte, so I usually opt for paper to-go cups (which come with lids). However…

At the thrift store last month, I found this neato porcelain coffee mug and swore I’d start making coffee at home with it (because I liked it so much). I tried doing so, and my coffee didn’t compare to Red Cat’s, but GUESS WHAT? I can now bring this reusable coffee mug (which comes WITH a lid) to the coffee shop WITH me and vwahla: My latte will preserve its favorable temperature for a bit longer AND I’ll be helping the environment out. Double win.

Happily back home in bham, I brought my coffee mug w/me to Red Cat this AM, and look at how splendidly things went! (And there was a surprising third benefit, too: The barista gave me a $1 discount for bringing my own mug!)

 

IMG_1530
my current usual: a white chocolate caramel latte ❤

 

*

Socializing doesn’t have to be difficult (or weird). My AirBnB host (the girl with the towel on her head) was a super sociable person who invited me out for drinks twice — the first time, I politely declined, but the second time, I agreed… and it was fun! Easy, even!

She and I met up with two of her friends (a guy and his bro, who was visiting from Turkey) and we went to two different bars (I ordered a drink at one of them). At the first place, we watched a local emo band perform on an outdoor stage — the 2015 Oregonian Pinot Noir had me swaying in the audience beside three new friends — and when we made it over to the second joint (a smoky jazz bar), I could feel it — understand it, and I’m talking about jazz — for the first time in my life:

I was the piano solo, and he was the saxophone solo… the notes were our words. The bass was the feelings we felt inside of ourselves — grief, passion, fury; the heart skipping a beat, or beating too fast… the drums were the movements between and against us — embracing and repelling — and the singer’s sometimes smooth, sometimes shouting vocals were the eyes that we gave each other.

 

Duh! NOW I get it, I thought to myself.

 
My AirBnB host broke up with a guy three years ago but finds herself still obsessed with him — always catching herself looking for him in the bar, on the bus, and at the grocery store…

“And you can’t really do anything about it,” she said, elbowing me with a sweaty and hoppy IPA in her hand. She’d just commented on how sexy the guy with the saxophone was; his name was Taylor. He was hanging back in a dim corner of the room now, waiting for his next solo. “You just have to focus on something else.”

I nodded. I get that more than you’d possibly believe, I wanted to tell her… thinking about Spanish and caramel lattes and college and gigs and travel and novels and work and bike rides.

 

She held the IPA out for me to taste it. I took a single sip, wrinkled my nose, and gave it back to her, smiling anyways.

 

IMG-1552
me @ Red Cat this am, feeling positive-neutral while mulling over the topic of scarcity (see related NPR podcast here). There are different types of scarcity: lack of money, food, time, affection… these deficiencies do crazy shit to our brains, and I realize now that I’ve been OBSESSING over wanting a relationship because I feel fundamentally lacking without a companion…

 

But like AirBnB said: If you’re helplessly obsessed, focus on other things. So I’ll keep on doing that.

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

 

PS: Oh yeah — the whole broke myself in Portland drama bit: Turns out that the bus mishap was me spraining my ankle! I paid a rare visit to the doctor when I returned to bham and am now wearing a fashionable medical boot for the next 13 days. Woohoooooooooooooo!

 

IMG-1558
I freakin love this boot. I even uploaded a vid of me walking in it to IG and referred to the scene as my “boot fashion show.”

 

I know this is a little extra for a PS, but I had to ask FOUR different medical personnel if I could please view images of my foot x-ray before it finally happened. And FYI, my foot looks REALLY cool in b&w.

“Guess I’ve got bones down there after all!” I laughed to the nurse (who’d begrudgingly escorted me to the viewing room).

“Yep…”

“Do people ask to see their x-rays often?” I asked as she led me toward the exit, curious.

“Not really.”

“Ahhhh…”

 

Well — I felt very fortunate to have been able to see mine, and I would have asked for a 4×6 print to-go, but… #vibes #sociallyperceptive #igetit #butitsMYfootxray.

 

 

 

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NO

Awwwww shit. 

 

“Hey girly!”

 

I was hanging out at a cafe, writing and wearing headphones, when this guy walked in — a regular who’s hit on me a few times in the last couple of weeks. He’s nice enough but came on a little too strong the last time we spoke, and when he greeted me and then sat down beside me last Sunday morning, I was already feeling beyond exhausted from finals, a forty-hour work week, and a weekend music gig.

 

He’s going to stay here and talk TO me for the next hour and A HALF if I don’t nip this in the bud RIGHT NOW, I warned myself.

I know, but what can I do?! 

Just… SAY something, I offered weakly.

Gee, THANKS, I grumbled inwardly.

 

So I smiled as I removed one of my earbuds. “Hey dude — look, I’d really love to chat with you, but my emotional and social reserves are right here,” I explained, lowering my left hand towards the cafe’s concrete floor and squinting over at him.

 

His eyebrows shot up. “Oh — well…” 

 

And then he picked up his things, seated himself at a table nearby, finished his coffee and meal very quickly and left.

 

I got the pretty distinct impression that he had been offended by my lack of niceness, but you know what? Go me.

 

***

Four Days Later

 

“So what’s the best part of your week been?”

 

I glanced over to my left. Audio (the boy who knows I like him but refuses to directly address the matter) had just pulled up alongside me (again) during a Thursday night bike ride. We were now rolling through an intersection together.

 

“The BEST part?” I repeated. “Wellllllllll…” I hesitated. “LOTS of nice things have happened this week!” I exclaimed finally, feeling frazzled.

 

“You can include the weekend,” he added encouragingly.

 

“Hmmmmm…” I thought about it some more. “You know, I feel like something really great happened on Tuesday — I just can’t recall what it was… but I DID stick up for myself on Sunday,” I said, telling the tale and expressing how proud of myself I was.

 

“You know what?” he laughed. “It’s funny you’d say that, because I stuck up for myself this week, too,” and then he related a work incident that he’d handled bravely and professionally. I noticed him really holding my gaze while he spoke, and I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him — like REALLY, dude?! What the heckin’ HECK? 

Instead, I smiled over at him and his stupidly gorgeous gray eyeballs.

 

Soon after, we were rolling into the alley behind Redemptive Cycles and everybody was stepping off of their bikes, grabbing a beer or a water bottle and then finding a group of people to hang out with. I leaned my bike up against the chain link fence and, when I turned around, Audio had reappeared.

 

“So like I was saying earlier…” he continued, looking and being adorable. I love-hated watching and listening to him.

 

“Let’s go mingle,” he suggested eventually, nodding towards the others.

 

“Alrighty,” I sang out, leaving my bike to walk beside him, “but I don’t usually do this — just walk up to people and start chit chatting…” but then I spotted a guy I knew there in the crowd and ran over to him.

 

“Heya!” I greeted him. “I’ve been tasked to mingle, which is terrifying, so I decided to come over here and hang out with you,” I explained openly, hopping up onto the metal landing behind the back door.

 

“Ahhhhh — you know me, so I’m safe?” he laughed.

 

“YEP!” I grinned.

 

He leaned his back into the railing, crossing his feet and arms in front of him.  “Who here isn’t safe, Jace?”

 

His question surprised me. I looked around us. “I mean — nobody isn’t safe… all of these people seem safe…”

 

“But if you had to pick, who seems unsafe? In other words, who would you NOT feel comfortable walking up to and starting a conversation with?”

 

My eyes and ears traveled the crowd again, taking in shapes and colors and faces and voices. I saw Audio’s outline to my right and my heart lurched. He isn’t safe at all, I admitted to myself, because I like him too much, and too openly.

 

“Again — I really don’t find anyone here to be unsafe…” I hesitated. “I mean, maybe that girl over there.” I nodded toward her, a curly-haired brunette. “She isn’t DANGEROUS or anything, but I try to smile at her whenever I see her and she’s always kinda bristly… I’m afraid that she doesn’t like me.”

 

“Ahhhh… that’s Valerie,” my friend said, nodding. “She’s an introvert, like you.”

 

I nodded understandingly.

 

“Let’s go talk to her,” he clapped, grinning.

 

“NO WAY, Jose!” I protested, but he had already grabbed my hand and tugged me down from the landing and, suddenly, we were approaching Valerie and her group of friends. I felt queasy.

 

“Hello, all!” my friend greeted the group. Five pairs of eyes immediately settled on the two of us. “Valerie,” he continued, gesturing toward me, “this is Jace.”

“Hi,” I offered quietly, desperately hoping she didn’t think I was hitting on her, because while I totally wasn’t, I imagined that it might seem like I was (strolling over, uninvited, with a well-meaning wingman).

She nodded at me and then continued speaking to the group; they were discussing internet speeds and competitor pricing (AT&T versus Charter). I bounced on the balls of my feet while I listened along and smiled over at my friend every now and then — sincerely grateful for his interest in making me feel less like an outsider. 

 

***

 

After ten minutes of hanging around, I decided I’d had my fill for the evening.

“I’m heading home,” I told my friend. “I have to pee, and the back door’s locked.”

He laughed loudly. “Oh dear — well I’m sure we can find somewhere for you to go and use the restroom,” he protested.

 

“Nah, that’s okay — I’m also tired.” I smiled, bid him goodnight, and began walking back toward my bike.

 

“Jace — are you leaving?”

 

Audio.

 

“Yep!”

 

He hopped down from the metal landing (he’d taken my spot when I’d left) and ran over to hug me goodbye. I hugged him back, noticing him holding me a little closer than he had the previous week, and then I let him go, suspecting that a hug from me would never mean as much to him as a hug from him meant to me. How sad!

 

And then I hoisted my bike up onto the rack on my car and drove home, feeling proud of myself for being somewhat okay with that.
“There is no future that we’re supposed to have; there is the future that we create for ourselves every damn day.” –somebody

 

Aka, Audio and I aren’t destined to be together. Don’t be silly, reader! I just think that I might like for us to be together… might, because I don’t even know the guy! There’s just this magical something about him — this essence… 

 

***

 

I’m reading a fantastic book this week: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. Here are some of the best things I’ve learned so far:

  • Be selective about the fucks you give. For example, caring deeply when the cashier is unfriendly, the guy in traffic’s being a dick, and your German Shepherd has eaten another pair of your fancy and expensive mountaineer socks could be indicative that you are lacking real meaning in your life. In other words, if you’re choosing to expend your energy and burn your emotions on trivial, petty shit (trivial and petty in the grand scheme of things), you must have nothing better to focus your attention on. And if that’s true, you might wanna take a closer look at your lifestyle, dreams, and values…
  • Stop trying to avoid suffering. We’re wired to do this: pursue pleasure and avoid pain — ignore all of the stuff that hurts and breaks out hearts and chase after pleasure highs instead (food, alcohol, cinema, parties, etc.). But the truth is that suffering is an essential part of this life process — and that while suffering isn’t pleasant, it’s actually good for us, because it’s instrumental in helping us grow! The slightly good news: You can often choose what you’re going to suffer for (and thereby choose to make it something worthwhile; for example: Instead of fretting over the fact that a coworker or could-be friend doesn’t like you and suffering from that sense of rejection, you could choose to nicely not give a fuck about that and – instead – suffer through tedious hours of practicing Spanish verb conjugations so that you can connect with a whole other group of people). I’d like to share this, too: The best moments of my life so far haven’t been those big ole highlights: graduating with a 2-year degree, performing on stage in front of 800 people, or getting married. My best and most defining moments were the ones that happened long before or after these “big” milestone events: spending four years’ worth of evenings and weekends attending classes and studying to get that puny degree; dedicating my free time, as a teenager, to earning callouses on my left hand as I learned the notes and scales and proper chord structure for the guitar; and collecting slash reassembling all of my broken pieces after an earth-shattering divorce and realizing – when I was neck-deep in that excruciatingly painful process – that I was WAY more resilient and brave and powerful than I’d EVER given myself credit for. 
  • Quit trying to be right all of the time. I know people like this; they do or say something that is plainly wrong but absolutely refuse to admit it. Annoying, right? But here’s the thing: WE ALL DO THAT! We ARE those annoying people! At least sometimes… and if your focus is always on being slash appearing to be right, you’re precluding the chance of learning something new about yourself and the world (plus, if you’re an “always righter”, you prob won’t come off as being very real or likable to others).A few tips:1. When you discover that you ARE wrong about something, realize that you go from being wrong about it to LESS wrong about it — not necessarily right. We’re all on an infinite journey of approaching truth and rightness, but I (personally) don’t believe that any of us ever actually make it all the way there.

    2. Don’t be afraid to be real with yourself. If you’re avoiding a person, confront yourself about it. Why am I avoiding them? Do they make me nervous? Make me feel bad about myself? Make me feel inferior? If so, why? And if so, why? If you’re avoiding a career or lifestyle change that’s always on your mind, why are you hanging back? Does the idea of taking action make you feel scared? Are you afraid to find out whether or not you can actually do the thing and would prefer to simply sit back and imagine that you could if you really tried? 

  • People may be to blame for your unhappiness, but they are NOT responsible. This one hit hard, because I’ve been through some shit, and I have (at least in part) blamed others for my deep, dark sadness… but you know what? All of us have been through shit AND put others through shit. People break our hearts and murder our pets and go and die on us, and in ways, we do the same mean shit to them. But here’s the thing: Though we like to believe that our suffering is special and that we are poor victimized targets of the world, we are not. And we are not helpless.The truth is, neither our talents nor our suffering are unique or special… our sadness isn’t something to be worn like a crown. So shake it off, and let it go — and if you aren’t sure how to do that, figure out how. One part of that “how” is asking yourself real questions and then being completely honest when you answer yourself.If someone has injured you in some way, shame on them, but don’t expect them to make it better. You are ultimately responsible for your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health, so figure out how to heal and take care of yourself. Placing the blame and burden on somebody else and waiting for them to come through on making amends is just foolish… and why hand off your control over something so vital — inner peace?

     

  • Reconsider your goals and values. In a nutshell, good goals are process-oriented, and good values are non-comparative… BAD goals and BAD values are just the opposite.Like:Instead of “lose twenty pounds”, try “treat my body well” — the latter is more of an ongoing and comprehensive/balanced kinda goal (that includes LOTS of things other than weight, like getting ample sleep + sunshine, eating a varied diet, and exercising).

    Instead of “make every person I meet like me” or “make people like me more than they like xyz person” (which is impossible and is NOT something you can directly control), adopt values like “express myself honestly” or “improve my social life” (by relating with others authentically and unswervingly practicing friendliness and compassion, even in the face of evil-troll-bitch-from-hell characters).

 

 

The next chapter in the book (which I’ve yet to read) is titled “The Importance of Saying No”. I’m especially looking forward to it, because saying no to cafe dude on Sunday was a monumental but terrifying step for me — a person who loves to make people feel happy and good about themselves at almost any expense to herself.

 

How about you?

  • Are you able to nicely say no when necessary to protect your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being?
  • Are you fully conscious of how you’re spending your life energy, and are you happy with where it’s being channeled?
  • Are you deliberate about doling out your fucks or are they just spilling out everywhere?
  • Are you setting sustainable and good goals for yourself as well as measuring yourself and your personal success with metrics that are solid, honest, and worthy? Suggestion: Craft and adhere to your OWN values, because most of society’s generic ones (IE be the most attractive person; be the most wealthy person; be the most popular person) are fucking stupid. 

 

After careful thought, my three big goals in life are to:

  1. Empower + lessen the suffering of others (animals + humans, in that order)
  2. Create art that is honest and meaningful (stories and songs)
  3. Appreciate and savor beautiful experiences — like sipping on lattes, petting German Shepherds, going on adventures, and walking hand-in-hand with another human being. Could be Audio, but probably not. I wish Aziz Ansari was single and not quite so famous…

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

 

PS (a few hours later from a brewery I biked over to): Pic below = my fav page so far. Accurately describes why my 5-year relationship worked so well (he was the fire starter and I always loved putting them out).

C6519B87-14A5-42FF-B0DD-46144C6B948D2E4C0E73-7EFD-4E0E-8DBA-732A5B485865

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.

 

IMG-1147

 

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

IMG-0772

“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.”

 

IMG-0786

 

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

Before the Break: 10 Things I Like About You

  1. How honestly and openly you love (and whether it’s requited or not, you never love less, stop loving altogether, or wish the person anything other than the best).
  2. How you create songs and write stories as a means of discovering yourself, exploring the world, healing old wounds and conveying a high level sense of “togetherness.”
  3. How you don’t eat animals because you love them and you get that loving them means leaving them the hell alone (unless you’re petting them or feeding them or otherwise strengthening and enhancing their existence).
  4. How you pause to study puddles and stare at trains (and seem to notice and enjoy the magic welling up everywhere, from the earthy scent of your home-cooked perfume to the sorta peculiar texture of a stone you found).
  5. How you believe in yourself enough to try things you’re scared of (like learning a new language and dating and performing on stage — over and over and over; it just never gets easier).
  6. How you lovingly maintain your “let’s-stay-sane-with-some-self-therapy” routine (coffee and grits coupled w/reading and writing) while mixing things up every now and then (by going on solo adventures or hanging out with a friend).
  7. How you view your job as a meaningful way of bettering lives (not just a paycheck).
  8. How – beyond dreaming of traveling – you actively make plans to travel; Ecuador and Canada in the same year?! You’re nuts. I love it.
  9. How you heart burritos so much that you had the word “burrito” tattooed onto you… the point is, you don’t take yourself too seriously — and that’s wonderful.
  10. How you intuitively know when to hang back; when to let go, process through shit, restock on social reserves, and let yourself grow. You’re good on your own, you know — learned how to be as a kid and now you’re strengthening that skill as an adult, becoming more independent and adventurous with every single year that passes. And it’s liberating, isn’t it? You don’t like being alone, but you’ve found strength in it. You’ve confronted your very own worst-case-scenario and can now live happily through it every damn day. Well done.

And if I can add an unofficial number eleven… I’m probably most proud of your compassion for others, commitment to continual self-improvement, and genuine authenticity. Your transparency is – sometimes – terrifying to witness, but for you, you know that a life without secrets and with a heart resting right on your sleeve is the one that brings you the most peace. I respect that you have the guts to live it.

Basically, you’re doing great. Keep pushing, keep trying and failing, keep writing and singing and loving forever, until it’s done. Hope you enjoy this morning’s latte.

***

I’m taking a spring break from the blog, friends… feeling some distinct vibes that it’s time to write another book. I’d love to tell you the name of it, but I know myself; if I spill any cool details, I’ll lose my momentum, so we’ll all just have to wait…

But before I go, two quick things:

  1. Why don’t you make a list, too? Scribble (or type) out ten or more things you really admire about yourself, because pep talks don’t have to come from other people, and when you remember your strengths, you feel better about managing your weaknesses
  2. (Please) maybe consider keeping some easy-to-hand-off fruits and crackers in your purse, backpack, or car — why? There’s a very good chance that, before they even have a chance to go bad, you’ll spot a person who needs them (and with stuff like oranges, apples, and bananas, you can literally just roll your window down and pass them over). Also, if you’ve got an old shoebox lying around, keep it in the car, too, along with an old pair of gloves (so that if you happen to come across an injured-but-still-alive animal, you can safely transport them to a nearby clinic). 

That’s all she wrote! I’ll catch you guys in the summer. Please stay healthy and happy annnnnnnnnd remember: Every word we say and action we take brings us into greater harmony with ourselves or sets us more at odds with our true selves. Trust your intuition.

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featuring yours truly, here’s a nice little “drama pose” to punctuate our temporary farewell… 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

forget the forest — i’m betting on love.

“I’m going to the forest tomorrow,” I said.

She squinted at me. “What does that mean?”

“The forest,” I repeated, shrugging at her. “You know… trees and rivers — rocks and leaves…”

“Ohhh… so you’re going into THE WOODS then,” she clarified, shaking her head. “The forest sounds so weird! Why would you call it that?”

“Because it’s dramatic,” I explained. “I’m not simply going into the woods tomorrow… I’m visiting the forest. It’s a big deal.”

She smirked at me, rolling those clear blue eyes. “Whatever, crazy.”

***

But the more I imagined it, even the forest didn’t seem grand enough.

“You like to travel around the state, right?” I asked a friend.

“Yeah, kind of… why?”

“Well I want to go on a little adventure tomorrow — a road trip of some kind. I was considering the forest, but I’m open to other ideas. Have any suggestions?”

She and another friend named off some places: Nashville, Atlanta, Greenville, Charleston, New Orleans…

“Sweet — I’ll look into all of that… thanks, guys!” And I did look into all of it, but nothing really stuck out to me.

So I sat there with a racing heart and wheels that couldn’t find traction spinning around in my head; where to go, what to do… 

 

I jotted down some other very original ideas:

  • Jump out of a plane (no; A. sounds basic and B. you could get paralyzed)
  • Go zip lining @ Red Mountain (no; the wire could break and you could – again – get paralyzed — remember: you’d rather die)
  • Go ice skating (not cool enough — ha, you’re funny!)
  • Go to the forest (we already decided against this)
  • Buy a loop pedal AND a reverse reverb pedal and then create something that’ll resonate with your soul (not your worst idea)
  • Buy a ticket to Portland (too expensive)
  • Buy a ticket to San Fran (too expensive)
  • Buy a ticket to Missoula (too expensive)
  • Buy a ticket to Denver (too expensive)
  • Buy a ticket to Chile (WAY too expensive)

Eventually, feeling mentally and emotionally drained, I set the pen down to flex my left hand.

What am I even DOING? I asked myself. What is it that I am manically running toward or away from? 

I thought on it intermittently, in-between tasks, and then it hit me (like a big, fat duh): You want to do something so massively cool that you’ll enjoy it as much as (or more than) being with him. And nothing is cutting it.

Ahhhhhh, I exhaled, truly relieved that I’d uncovered the motive behind the madness.

But… FUCK, I thought right afterwards. If flying out to em-effing Chile wouldn’t exceed – or even equal – talking with him over a local cup of coffee, then what the heck am I going to do with my life?! #drama

Annnnnnnd nothing; I was actually out of ideas.

Go to a cafe like usual, I guess, I suggested gently.

Yeah… guess so, I sighed.

***

Believe it or not, he texted me late yesterday afternoon, mere minutes after I’d realized all of this (we hadn’t really spoken since the breakup). In his text, he said lots of nice things: I miss you, I had such a nice time with you, when my phone vibrates and it isn’t you it makes me sad, I think that breaking up was a mistake, why did we throw something special away over hypotheticals and theoreticals…

And when I saw his text come in, I felt like vomiting (in a nervously good kind of way) and couldn’t bear reading it. I continued dutifully arranging Spanish words in this column and English words in that column, but the sudden knowledge of him thinking about me again got me so mixed up that I started forgetting which language was which, and then Spanish was everywhere and English was, too.

I miss you too, I said (finally). If you’d like to talk or meet up sometime this weekend, we can. 

Yes, I’d like to do that. Tomorrow?

Sure! When/where?

(Nothing…)

If you’ve changed your mind and sending that text was all that you needed, that’s fine, I reassured him…

(Still nothing…)

So I fell asleep, worried and wondering, and woke up to my answer an hour before the sun rose:

Yeah — I changed my mind, he said.

Un-fucking-believable, I thought to myself. Then why even text me in the first place?!

So I got dressed, grabbed my backpack (already stocked with my typical “weekend fun” supplies: a laptop, Spanish textbook, some gum, and a pair of frayed headphones), drove over to where he works, and very nicely confronted him about it.

“Look — I was caught up in planning all sorts of weird stuff yesterday; driving here, going there, doing this wild thing or that not-so-wild one… all because I wanted to do something I’d enjoy as much as spending time with you. Turns out that nothing felt right. And RIGHT after I realized this, you texted me, and it seemed like you were on the exact same wavelength I was… but then, hours later, you chickened out.” I shook my head at him. “I don’t want to drop these feelings for you prematurely, but if they’re one-sided or going nowhere, I will… so look,” I continued, quietly. “We officially canceled for today, but if you end up deciding that you would like to go play frisbee with me somewhere, I’m still free. But if you continue to feel like you don’t want to, that’s totally fine, too.”

I want you, he said. I want to make this work.

I think you’re overthinking it, I said.

Maybe I am.

Then maybe I’ll see you later. 

***

For someone who likes to loosely (aka not that loosely) plan her life years into the future and who openly lays every damn card on the table when it comes to matters of the heart, it’s terrifying to NOT know how to proceed with this: take a scary chance on love, or hide behind flimsy walls that (mistakenly? yes, no?) make you feel safer?

It’s a gamble, for sure. But it’s like, I could maybe win this round (if I give it a real, honest go), or I could for sure lose and miss out because of not trying at all…

IMG_0316
= me imagining a future where guac doesn’t cost an extra 1.95 @ Chipotle

Still here (bravely flippin’ cards and blindly throwin’ chips — and I’m not talking about the safe and yummy tortilla ones that you eat w/guac),

Aun Aqui

six perfect dates and then… goodbye

Date 1: Monday, February 19th. Sigh.

***

Date 2: A chilly Wednesday evening.

We were both lying on our backs, looking up at the stars. He was talking about meteorites and asteroids and the vague differences between them.

“But honestly,” he interrupted himself, “I really just like talking about black holes.”

 I laughed into the deep navy blue. “Yeah? My German Shepherd IS a black hole. She’s depressed all of the time,” I explained, smiling up at a star, or a planet. He can tell you the difference between them, but I’m not sure yet. “Tell me about them.”

 So he did, and he also mentioned that I could use him as a pillow, if I wanted, since neither of us had brought one.

“Yeah?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said.

So I did, and when he wrapped his arm around my shoulder and pulled me closer to him, I could have just DIED from contentment.

***

Date 3: Sunday, Feb 25th 2018. 

 I got in his car and he drove us to a coffee shop downtown. I ordered the usual and he ordered what I now understand to be his usual: a hot chocolate with soy milk as its base.

We took our drinks with us on the road while he showed me his childhood home, situated in a woodsy area just outside of Birmingham. The home still had its 1928 swing, its perfectly antique windows, and the same old mailbox; I asked him if he’d like to buy it back someday, and he answered, quickly, that he definitely would. I wondered if we’d live there together someday and then slapped myself on the wrist for thinking too far ahead again.

 We continued on to Ruffner Park, hiked a solid mile in (to the rock quarry), and then climbed up, up, up until we decided on a good resting point.

“I keep thinking about the other day,” he said suddenly, shaking his head as we sat on a shared rock together. “I should have kissed you.”

“Well don’t feel bad about it!” I laughed reassuringly, beginning to feel all nervous and throw up-y (you know what I mean? Like, you like someone SO MUCH that you just feel like VOMITING all of the time?). 

 

“I’d like to kiss you now,” he continued.

“I’d like to kiss you, too,” I said.

“Yeah?” he said.

“Yeah!” I said, laughing.

And then he held my hair back and smooched me on the lips.

 

Afterwards, there was tofu and noodles and cilantro swimming around in two matching owl bowls at the old, red diner table back at the house, but neither of us could eat much of it.

Instead, we walked upstairs, cuddled in bed, whispered to each other with nobody else around and kissed each other like a thousand times, the dogs barking outside and the rain tapping softly at my window.

***

Date 4 = Chipotle picnic at the park and some kissin’ in his car. Pretty perfecto.  ❤

***

On date 5, we rode our bikes for several miles, launching from the Innovation Depot and then landing at a park near Seasick Records (where I stepped inside to pee). We leaned our bikes against a tree and explored the surrounding neighborhood on foot together — passing by quaint, old houses I knew he’d like to see.

Back at the park, as it was growing dark out, we people-watched, his arm draped along the back of the bench and resting on my shoulder. I tucked his right hand under my chin and watched as a little girl (several yards away from us) suddenly spiked a football into the ground. Her tiny frame, messy ponytail, and wiry little arms told me she was seven, maybe eight.

I studied her as she marched across the lawn. When she passed a boy near her age, she offered: “I’m going to kick it off.” He nodded agreeably. I smiled.

“SHE’S going to be just fine,” I laughed, and felt like crying.

 

Back at my house, our bikes relaxed and so did we — having a picnic on my bedroom floor and playing a word game that he love-hated: he was an ice cream cone, and I was “starting a fire.”

Before he left, he handed me a necklace he’d found in his car after our fourth date — a tiny, black pendant of mine featuring a shimmery green fox.

***

Date 6: Goodbye

We had a great time together last night… a homemade dinner with his best friend (and her fiance) and then cuddling back at my place.

But when it was getting late and we both knew that he almost had to go, we parked ourselves at the doctor pepper table for a little while and sipped on mugs of orange juice. We talked about his socks and the ocean’s sharks and my outsider syndrome and then I asked him the thing that I hadn’t really wanted to ask, because I knew that he wouldn’t lie to me.

And he didn’t; yes, he did have romantic feelings for his best-friend-since-childhood (who he lives with), but they were never going there. She was happily engaged and, even in some hypothetical future where she wasn’t, it still probably wouldn’t happen. Probably. Probably. I hated the word. And his honest face — his hopeful eyes — and his busy hands were just too easy for me to read.

My heart broke; you’re smart, and sweet, and goodhearted, and creative, and outdoorsy, and we have SUCH chemistry… but I can’t keep on (FOOLISHLY) liking you more and more with the very-real possibility of you someday leaving me for this longstanding “big” love. 

 

Deeply understanding the dilemma of forever loving someone who doesn’t love you back, I took his hand, kissed him gently, and then hugged him “goodbye.”

 

“Don’t worry — you aren’t going to be alone,” I reassured him. “It took me two weeks to fall in love with you — the next girl, maybe two days? Who knows!” I smiled into his neck. We were both crying. “There are so, so many wonderful, remarkable souls out there… please stay open to them. Because one day, you’re going to brush against someone and it’ll just click. Just like that, they’ll make you forget all about her — rather, about imagining her in that light.” I just wish it could have been me, I thought to myself.

 

After we promised to stay friends, he left. I cried downstairs and then upstairs, texting my best friend Shelby first and then calling my other best friend Charlie.

 

When Charlie got home from his closing shift, he sat with me on my bed for a while… we took turns talking and being quiet and listened to one of Daniel Johnston’s best songs together. He brought me a cup of water, tucked me in, and promised we’d have dinner together the following evening.

 

“Salad and pizz?” I asked hopefully.

“Yep. Salad and pizz. And I bet you don’t regret falling in love with him,” Charlie offered, just before heading back downstairs.

I didn’t even have to think about it. “No,” I sighed, burrowing deeper underneath a comforter that looked like Indian food and still smelled like him. “I don’t. He was really special. And I’m glad I got to know a new soul.”

 

IMG_0269

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

 

PS, I couldn’t handle listening to it last night, but Daniel Johnston’s very best song is actually this one

the brown-eyed, spinning space boy

“Nice shirt!”

 

I jumped a little; he’d spotted me studying on the couch as I’d been waiting for him to arrive. I hadn’t heard him enter the cafe.

 

“Oh — haha, yeah! NASA… hi!”

 

We side hugged and then it was quiet for a minute. After pointing out the brick walls, concrete floors, and exposed pipes to him, we walked over to the front counter to place our orders; a hot chocolate with soymilk for him, and a white chocolate peppermint latte for me.

 

We returned to the couch and talked for a long while, holding our drinks close and showing our socks off to each other (his featuring dinosaurs and mine picturing bunny rabbits), and then he suggested going for a walk.

 

“Do you like spending time outside?” I asked hopefully.

 

“Yes!”

 

“Me TOO!” I exclaimed. I felt like a child in summer.

 

So we drove to the park, walked through its wind and sunshine, and then sat in the shade together, a solid block of concrete cooling our elbows and thighs. We talked for another hour, at least — about caves and circuit boards and future games of frisbee — and then he suggested doing lunch.

 

So we rode over to a cafe downtown where I know the staff; we shared a meal and then wandered around. I bought an empty, amber-colored bottle for mixing essential oils and a box of incense; (not)incidentally, his favorite scent.

 

He complimented my hands at the park and my eyes on the amber bottle aisle, and I felt my cheeks flush both times.

 

So this WAS a date! Ha… I KNEW it! 

 

And this afternoon, he texted me, saying that he’d had a great time and would like to go out again, if I was interested.

 

Another great suggestion! I celebrated to myself, dancing in the driver’s seat. I tucked my phone into my leather jacket and skipped into Whole Foods to say hi to my best friend before responding.

 

***

 

“Hey — will you please tell Charlie that I said bye? I want to try to beat the traffic,” I explained.

 

“Sure thing,” Charlie’s coworker said. We’d been able to chat for a few minutes, but then Charlie had disappeared into the back, checking for product.

 

I grabbed a root beer-flavored kombucha and an alkaline water on the other side of the store and then headed toward the checkout line, but I was intercepted on my way.

 

“Heyyyyy, Jace.” Christopher.

 

“Helloooooo,” I sang out awkwardly.

 

“So look,” he began, stopping in front of me. “I read the blog… I can tell that you hate me and I hate that you do…” and from there, we stepped over toward a case of frozen foods so that several dozen customers could make their way past us.

 

“I hate you and I love you, Chris… you know this,” I said, smiling weakly. “I will always love-hate you.”

 

We talked about the breakup; about whose idea it was to do that, and whose idea it was to set him up with someone else… about the amazing duo that we were back then and how that was the thing of it; we belonged in the past.

 

“And I regretted both of those decisions long after making them — right after emerging, alive, from my identity crisis,” I admitted. “But it was too late then. And I’m not an indecent person — I wasn’t going to try to interrupt or disrupt your new relationship.” I paused. “I doubt you’ll ever read the story I wrote,” I continued, “but in the end, Jinx dreams of you coming back for her… after you’d already died. And last year, it was a matter of me facing the fact that sometimes, dreams come true, and other times, they don’t. They just remain dreams.”

 

We continued talking; 10, 15, 20 minutes…

 

“I’m a manager now,” he said, pointing over at his bakery. “And I’ve started playing music in this alt-rock band. I mean, I toured last year…” he shook his head. “I’m doing really well.”

 

“I know you are!” I encouraged him. I didn’t understand why he was saying all of this to me.

 

“Look, Chris — I went on a date yesterday, and he asked me to go out with him again today. And I think I’m going to say yes,” I smiled. “I wouldn’t go back on a second you and I spent together — and I’m so genuinely sorry for shaking your world up with mine two and a half years ago and then not being there for you during and afterwards — but the truth of it is that we’re morally and fundamentally unaligned.” I shrugged. “I’m glad you’re with someone who cares about you and shares your lifestyle and standards, and I’m very glad that you’re happy. I’m so proud of you — of everything you’ve accomplished, and of the person you’re becoming. And if you ever need anything — like a kidney,” I laughed, “or if you ever just want to grab a coffee or whatever, I’ll always be around. I will always love you.” I reached over and hugged him and then smiled my “goodbye.”

 

And there it was: peace. Finally. And for the record… Christopher is a wonderful person; charismatic, brilliant, talented and beautiful. Despite the love-hate that you’ve read on this blog over and over and over and over and over and over and over and OVER again… 🙂 he’s a great guy. And I am beyond lucky to have spent so many years by his side. I wouldn’t call him an ex-husband now so much as a wonderful, old friend.

***

Back at the house this afternoon, feeling as weightless as a soul on the moon, I texted him back. “Roger that on date numero dos, space boy!”

 

And then I wrote a song and ate a salad and couldn’t imagine sleeping at all, wondering how soon I’d see him again… that brown-eyed, spinning space boy.

 

IMG_0065
me and my “furever” loves… GET IT?!

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

kindness, badasses, and jackasses

When I was a kid, my family decided to pitch their tent in a quiet little town just a few miles north of Georgia’s southern border… and up there in North Augusta, South Carolina, I quickly befriended two neighborhood kids, who were siblings: Jacob and Rachel.

 

We got along nicely and went on all kinds of small-scale adventures together… picking our way through the twig-and-tadpole woods that encircled our little suburb, skipping to the gas station down the street (where they sold the COOLEST alien lollipops), and sneaking behind the subdivision to explore this creepy, overgrown field that both frightened and intrigued us. It was here in this field that older kids in the neighborhood had stashed a gross-looking mattress, sticking it right underneath a lush and looming tree… I’m not sure what the older kids used it for, but Jacob, Rachel and I would take turns climbing the tree and then courageously jumping off it, laughing hysterically as we bounced onto and off of the soiled mattress. We felt like real badasses back then.

 

But in addition to acting like badasses, Jacob and Rachel were also kind of jackasses.

 

A young cousin visited them once, riding into town with her parents, and while I can’t remember the girl’s name, I can vividly recall her scent. It was genuinely horrific. I don’t know if it was biological in nature or if her parents simply weren’t badgering her to bathe yet, but she gave off a distinctly rancid odor, and Jacob and Rachel were just cruel about it.

 

“We aren’t going to hang out with her,” Rachel informed me as we were standing by the mailbox together. I turned to look over at my two friends’ front door, quickly spotting their petite and shy cousin peeking at us from behind it.

 

I felt terrible. Ostracizing the smelly little girl didn’t feel like the right thing to do — and the idea of blatantly ignoring her while we had our usual fun physically made me feel bad.

 

And while I don’t know how I phrased it (because I was like six), I do remember telling my friends off, preparing a picnic out in my front yard, and then inviting the smelly cousin over to dine with me. Jacob and Rachel were openly disgusted, and I think they felt a little betrayed (because they weren’t allowed to join us), but Smelly and I had a delightful time together, anyways. Looking back on it, I think that we had vegetarian deli-“meat” sandwiches (and that I possibly accidentally ate a bug while I was chewing on mine), but I can definitely remember biting into a sweet, red apple and feeling really, really good about it.

 

***

 

As an adult, I was once again warmed by the innate reward of kindness yesterday morning.

 

I was leaving Urban Standard after a few hours of studying when I noticed a homeless guy tucked into the dark inlet of an abandoned storefront. Our eyes met briefly, and a thought occurred to me just before I passed him.

 

“Hey — do you like chocolate?”

 

“Yeah,” he said.

 

“K… then hang on a sec.” Sliding my backpack off of my left shoulder, I knelt down, knees touching the concrete, to investigate its contents… and after a few awkward seconds, I found it: the plastic-wrapped, heart-shaped box my sweet HR department had gifted each employee with a few days before.

 

“I’m particularly excited about the orange creme flavor!” I’d thanked them via email, but I hadn’t actually opened the box yet, preferring to save it so that I could ‘look forward’ to it.

 

“Heeeeeere we go — happy LATE Valentine’s Day!” I laughed, handing it over to the guy.

 

He accepted the box gently, chuckling back at me. He had a very beautiful smile.

 

And it was just so nice to share the chocolate with someone. I enjoyed sharing it more than I would have enjoyed eating it! The good feeling that followed reminded me of a late-summer afternoon — enjoying a crisp apple alongside a smelly little girl; the vibrant green grass tickling our ankles, and the bright orange sunshine warming our faces…

 

***

 

On days when I’m feeling down, the easiest way to reframe my world view is to get outside of my own head, as it can sometimes steel itself into a sort of prison.

We inhabit these bodies and live in these minds — with their fiction and reality — constantly, rarely pausing to imagine the thoughts, longings, plights and ailments of others… but when you take just a minute to do so — to remember that the pain or anger or loneliness you’re experiencing right now is being felt by many — you don’t feel quite as alone, or misunderstood, or enraged. You suddenly feel this sense of community and this compulsion to practice compassion and you realize – or re-realize – that we’re all just doing the best we can to be happy… to become better and stronger people than we were yesterday, to be kinder to others than they have been to us, and to strike notes that sound increasingly more in-tune with our truest selves. Being kind to and gentle with others is, perhaps, the very best way of showing kindness to yourself.

 

And here’s a parting thought (which is not an original one — I ran across it pretty recently in an article or book that I can’t remember the name of):

 

Every word we speak, action we take, and decision we make brings us into greater harmony with our true selves or places us more at odds with ourselves.

 

And that makes sense, doesn’t it? Kindness is intuitive, really… your gut will quickly tell you – in any given situation – whether you’re being kind or unkind. Going back in time just a little, imagining myself walking past the homeless man with the box of chocolates still in my backpack feels BAD. It would have clearly been the wrong decision. And conversely-speaking, I knew, the very second I saw him, what the right decision was.

You can’t “save” everyone, of course, but when you’ve got an extra box of chocolates lying around, why not share the love? Your gut instinct, or intuition, is an excellent, inherent, and trustworthy guide for good decision-making…

 

For instance: Earlier today, when a cute boy asked me to grab coffee with him tomorrow morning, my intuition immediately answered yes. Yes, yes, yes. 

 

hola! did i just agree to a DATE? who knows! am i freaking out a little? nahhhhh…

 

Still here (and with kind regards),

Aun Aqui