we’ll never last forever

“I knew this would happen someday,” I said quietly.

The break room was completely silent, nobody in there but me.

I looked down at the floor; at the spilled drips of chocolate oat milk, the tiny white pieces of glass, and my dear friend, Pumpkin Spice Mug. I was too sad to cry. I just stared at it.

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In a meeting that took place about an hour later, I told a coworker (a good friend) about the incident. “I’m spiraling downward now,” I admitted to her. “That mug was a real friend of mine.”

***

Braziel let us out of class early the other night, right after he’d finished going over the syllabus and secured five volunteers (myself included) to share character sketches the following week. I’ve taken four of his classes now, and he’s never done that before — let us out even a minute before class was scheduled to end.

Happily, I took the stairs down to the first floor and texted my friend Rodger: “We can get Indian in 15 mins instead of @ 8, if you want?” He said yeah. I turned left onto the sidewalk then and kept walking, straight… my car was about three blocks away.

Just ahead of me, I suddenly noticed this guy on the ground — one of his legs kicking and jerking and shaking. My stomach dropped a whole flight of stairs.

I took off running, throwing my book bag onto the ground and dropping down beside the man. Three girls were kneeling around him already and one of them looked up at me.

“I think he had a seizure,” she said, hair pulled back in a ponytail.

I nodded. I’d already known what it was.

Because when I saw his leg jerking around like that, I remembered waking up in my old bedroom once, about a decade ago… a different room than the one I’m in now, but it was blue like this one is.

I sat up in bed quickly then, feeling something was off, and intuitively looked towards the door; in my doorway, Bobby. His eyes were rolling back and his throat was making this terrible droning sound, and I watched as he fell straight backwards, right into the arms of my mother. It was horrible, and I was always furious that it had to be like this for him… he’d already spent years battling and beating the cancer, so why the FUCK did he have to deal with these goddamn seizures too? Hadn’t he racked up enough suffering points to just skate by for a while?

Back on the sidewalk, this one girl kept asking the guy questions: who he was, where he worked, whether or not he was a student here. I wanted to tell her “don’t bother — it can take five, ten, thirty minutes for them to come back.” But I kept quiet.

We rolled the man onto his left side, as a paramedic had instructed the third girl to do through the phone. Blood had been pooling beside his mouth, where he was first lying on the sidewalk, and we didn’t want him to choke on anything. The man was overweight, and it took four of us to turn him.

Once we’d re-positioned him, the girl kept asking questions while the man moaned. I rested my hand on his back, applying a gentle pressure. “You’re okay. It’s alright,” I whispered. Soon, we could hear the sirens. “Just another minute now.”

I asked the paramedic to tell the guy (once he’d fully come to) to start wearing a helmet. With grand mal seizures like those, you just can’t predict when you’re going to fall or how. My brother wore a helmet during his last couple of years. I remember it being yellow. After playing video games in his big, comfy chair one afternoon and eating mom’s homemade macaroni and cheese, he ended up choking on his own vomit. What a way to go. What a fucking way to go. And a guy I dated back in February laughed at me saying I always eat with a small cup of “choke water” nearby.

We say he didn’t know what was happening to him, and that this is good, and we believe that.

***

I’ll never forget it because I’ve already lost so much that mattered more, but losing my beloved mug today reminded me: Be kind. Be here. Appreciate everything for every single second, because you’ve no idea how soon it’ll all be gone. 

That mug was my friend, you guys. One of my BEST friends. I’m not kidding! We went EVERYWHERE together: on lunch breaks, first dates; weekend outings, adventures outside the state… I drank fun coffee (and other beverages) with that mug on some of the best and worst days of my life.

Charlie took my dear mug to this one cafe recently and started ordering a latte for me, this certain flavor he remembered me liking. He told me later that the barista had looked down at the mug and then, recognizing it, said: “No — she’s actually been getting white chocolate raspberry lattes recently.” Another barista at a different cafe told me that she’d found me on IG via a dozen tagged photos of the mug. People loved seeing it — and I loved it.

That mug and I were like avatar. It was my first extremely very special mug; I’ll always love and miss it.

And after it shattered today and I stared after it and then I gently cleaned it up, I sat down at my desk and imagined looking for a mug that’s somehow indestructible… but I realized then that, even if it couldn’t break, I could still lose it. My boyfriend said he was sorry I was sad and told me we’d find one together this weekend, that he’d happily buy it for me… but it’s so very hard to replace what you used to love so much.

So take care of people, and take care of yourself. Be very gentle (with yourself and others) and enjoy every sip, every adventure, every moment. We’re all so fragile, and we definitely won’t last forever.

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

letting horses go

“You’re putting me in a real position here, James.”

“What?” he said, confused. “You can take that.”

I kept my eyes on the board. “Yeah, but then you’ll get me with the horse!” I’m no idiot, I thought to myself.

“That’s your horse.”

I paused. “Oh… then I’M taking it!” How wonderful, I thought.

James and I played six games of chess together this weekend, and despite his kind efforts to educate me (saying: think that through; I wouldn’t do that; why would that be a bad move?), he won all of them. Now… I’ve played the game a handful of times over the course of the last decade and – whoever I’m playing with – I generally always win AT LEAST one game. Not so this time.

It’s going to sound weird, but I kinda liked fairly losing all of those games, because I LOVE how crazy-smart this dude is! I can’t wait to get deeper inside his head — ask him lots of questions, hear all of his stories…

And while James is clearly better at playing chess and having a cool mustache and riding his bike uphill for a long time and watching sports, I’m pretty good at other things: spinning words, strumming the guitar, obsessing over rivers, finding good coffee shops… it all balances out nicely.

***

After James drove down from Chattanooga on Friday, we spent our weekend on bikes and in books. We woke up cuddling this morning and then read different books in bed together (he was in India while I was in Ireland); an hour later, we rode our bikes to a bunch of places downtown, just like we did yesterday: got coffee, walked around, people-watched… he kept asking me to try his food, gently insisted on carrying things for me, and was always bending down to kiss me. James is so sweet and dreamy that I’m afraid he’s actually a dream — like I’m going to blink twice one of these days and he’ll just be gone; nowhere forever.

He wanted to catch a football game on Saturday, so we spent a few hours downstairs at Avondale — he drank two beers and I sipped on one (featuring a fun elephant mascot) over the course of two hours. He kept his arm around me or his hand on my knee while I smiled, leaning into him and holding a pen with my left hand. I was underlining my favorite passages in a favorite book in between catching the more interesting game plays (where the guy with the ball gets to run a lot — I hate it when they all just fall into a big dumb pile right away).

I’m not a big sports fan (clearly), but when I asked James what he and millions of others like about football so much, he explained that each game is sort of like life “in miniature” — with highs and lows, plans and dreams, wins and losses… lots of emotions and excitement and things.

On one of those football TVs yesterday, I watched these words flash onto the screen: “…so-and-so player never knows when the play is over. The game is never over for them.” That’s interesting, I thought, appreciating the layers and implications of the phrase.

Anyways, during the game, after every single play, they replay the play like three times and talk about it, so I had lots of time to read… and after months of stringing myself along, I finished the book there at the bar last night. It was hard to close it so I left it lying open for a while, flipping backwards to re-read some of my favorite lines.

“This feels like saying goodbye to an old friend,” I told James sadly.

I gleaned a lot of wisdom from William Least Heat-Moon, and I’m glad my professor accidentally marked his book as required last semester (he told us on the first night of class that we wouldn’t need it, but I decided to read it anyways). Of Heat-Moon’s many best lines, this one is my absolute fav: “The journey began when I started wondering.” 

Isn’t that nice? And isn’t that how it happens! We wonder about things, right — imagine them happening, poke at the possibility of them happening, ask ourselves what them happening would do to us — and then decide to either pursue them or leave them ghosting about, hanging there in the air. That’s exactly how it goes. (Sidebar: I’m getting a ghost-and-plant-friend tattoo after class on Tues! Woohoo! Story for another time.)

Well I’ve done a whole lot of wondering over the years (especially these last three), and this wondering led to wandering which introduced all kinds of crazy experiences and revelations (some of those: the onset of my now-resolved identity crisis; first and second trips to Denver; trip to Ecuador; trip to Seattle; trip to Portland; trip to the OBGYN (pronounced “ahb-gin”); trip to the therapist; trip to Nashville; Waffle House meeting w/the OG stalker; the legit scary stalker incident; my exp with dating apps).

And while I’m not at the end of it yet (I’ll never be able to say I am), as far as where I’m at right now is concerned: I’ve never felt more at home with myself and in this world. The world still stinks, mind you (people are TERRIBLE to each other and animals), but I’m doing the best I can to be nice and to do good (as well as surrounding myself with the best company).

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***

“Noooooooooo!” I cried out during our fifth game of chess.

“What?” he said.

“I didn’t wanna lose the horse.”

“You’ve gotta lose pieces to win.”

Whew — read that again. Like you, I’ve already lost several pieces of myself, and some days, I still walk around carrying a half-broken heart inside my chest. But I’m very clear-headed most days, and the clarity makes hard things, sad things, difficult things that can break a person’s heart easier to handle… sometimes, I’m even able to appreciate them.

Related: When you lose a person, or a pet, or a sports game, you focus on the perceived failure, right? The absence, the booing, the letdown. Like, okay… James was disappointed that this particular team lost on Saturday because a sports blogger guy had promised to cut off his pinky finger if that team won a whole bunch of games. Insane, right? Unlike James, I’m GLAD they lost.

Anyways, instead of focusing on the bummer factor (losing a game or a person or whatever), try remembering the highlights and lessons from the game, or the color and contour and beauty of that soul you loved — what’d you love about it so much? What thrilled you, made you laugh, made you happy? How have you changed because of it, becoming stronger, better — more enlightened somehow?

Because if you think of it in terms like these, you’re never just losing a part of yourself when someone goes missing or a game ends; you’re gaining something, too — and I don’t mean material-somethings. I’m talking about wisdom, clarity, independence, courage, empathy, self-knowledge, confidence, resilience… the things that really matter. So basically, more than losing something, you’re just trading this for that — it’s like an exchange.

Just don’t weigh everything out, like a stickler… let it be what it is, and appreciate what you’ve got and who you are and what you’re still able to do with the time you’ve got left.

Fun activity: Think of the people and things that have hurt you most, and then try swiveling them around in your mind a little so you can view them a bit differently (as helpful instead of villainous). Ask yourself: How have these people and things — their existence, words, talents, time spent with me, absence now — helped make me better in some way? In what way? And how am I helping other people become better versions of themselves?

For instance, I ran into two of my exes earlier: Space Boy and Foster. Everything negative and annoying aside, I learned things (about the world and myself) from both of them. Foster asked how I was doing today while Space Boy complimented my outfit (an over-sized red sweater + muddy Vans) and hair (super oily). Very kind of both of them.

I’ve let the bad feelings go, because they only ever made me feel bad. If I’d seen Captain Kangaroo today, I probably would have been awkwardly nice to him, even… asking: “How do you do?” or maybe “Any Glass Animals records lying around the record shop these days, you stupid dumb-dumb idiot-man?” Ha… I’m just kidding. Mostly kidding. Kidding just a little bit and sort of serious; he’s a tall idiot man.

But back in real life, I admittedly held a heavy paper bag up to my head while quickly passing by the other ex — the Christopher one. Hoping it was inconspicuous enough — I’ve worn sunglasses in the store’s bakery before to achieve this same invisibility. Didn’t want to see him OR be seen by him, you see, and yes; I was at the grocery store when I ran into all three guys.

Fun fact: I’ve only for-real dated six people during this lifetime, and FOUR of them, the majority of them, work at Whole Foods. That’s insane, isn’t it? Weird and insane. Why not Sprouts, or 7-Eleven, or Target or Chipotle or Home Depot? Home Depot sells those plants I love — those death-row aisle plants!

Well anyways, the good news is that with both CK and James, I’ve finally broken the habit of shopping for boys at Whole Foods. Only looking for guac and rittos there now… ha!

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me looking exactly how i feel: the happy, adventuring ghost girl! please remember me this way

I’ll never be completely done with this damn blog,

Aun Aqui

FOR REAL THOUGH (aka PS): I don’t plan on writing all about my and James’ relationship on here because, in retrospect, I think that was a kinda inconsiderate thing to do w/the other guys. And since my life mostly revolves around work and coffee and music and books and school and pups and my closest friends and James (and it’s just too tempting for me to want to talk about him on here), the only real updates I intend on posting to this blog are going to be school-related (ie short stories and vignettes I write). Possibly some life stuff, but not like the usual stuff. I’m trying to become, not less transparent, but more judicious with writing now that I’ve mostly got my shit together, so if you want details on the real deal, let’s get coffee together. Honestly, if you’d like to know my three main reasons for stepping away from the blog, they’re that A. I’d rather channel time and energy into writing books and graphic novels right now; B. I want to let things develop organically (relationship-wise); and C. the blog’s become a sort of backpack — it’s got too much shit in it now for me to continue carrying it around all the time (so I’m leaving it in the car for a while). 🙂 Take care, dearly loved friends of mine! You’ll hear from me again, of course.

I love both of you, all of you, forever

“Mom. Are you kidding me right now?” I shook my head from side to side, staring at the picture and feeling incredulous. “You’re covering the wrong face!” I continued, laughing at the sheer insanity of it.

“Am I?” she asked, walking over to the refrigerator with a spatula in her hand. A vegetarian casserole, handmade by Grammy, was about to come out of the oven.

My dad was already standing there beside me, coffee mug in hand. He stuck his right hand out quickly and fixed it, moving the magnet over.

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REALLY, mom?! Covering up your own daughter’s face so you can stare at her ex’s? Ha

After this, my dad helped me settle into my bedroom for the weekend by taking down old pictures of Christopher and I together and stacking them upside down on the computer stand (why they’re still hanging on the walls, I DON’T KNOW). Feeling a mixture of sadness and amusement, I laughed while he did it: flipping one, two, three, four pictures over…

I drove into the actual boondocks of Tennessee to visit with family this weekend.

We spent time talking around tables, taking pictures beside rivers, and driving through the countryside, passing by railroad tracks and deer and dogs and chickens and lots of broken things — bikes and swings and crushed cans and the like. I noticed a cat walking ahead of a farmer in this one yard, and the cat was walking with the gait of a dog — very interesting. And when we drove past another yard with a single chicken pecking around in it, I commented on it.

“Yeah, they have chickens,” Sierra said. “Sometimes, they get smashed. I’ll be driving down the road and see–”

“MOM!”

We also cruised right past Helenwood’s radio station, which is sandwiched between two country homes, and a little way’s past this radio station, there was a home with a dog fast asleep on the ramp leading up to the front door.

“Hope he’s asleep and not dead,” I murmured, worried.

“Oh, he’s asleep,” Sierra said. “That’s his spot.” Sierra knows the story behind every animal in town. I laughed in the dining room later on that day as she and Grammy relayed their closest friends’ most recent adventures: Nelly and Tank and Blackjack and Jazz and Pandy. There are others also: straight-up strays as well as dogs of neighbors who just do a real shit job taking care of them.

On Saturday, I pulled out my new audio recorder for the first time, and while everyone was sitting around the dining room table, I asked them to share their most embarrassing memories with me. We heard some good ones, and I don’t need the audio recorder to remember them: first periods happening at school and soiling the backsides of skirts; a certain grandfather reading the back-of-book summary as his essay because the book itself had been too boring to read (the teacher called him out on it in front of the whole class); and I talked about accidentally going to school with a hole in the back of my dress, as a child.

A little boy had pointed it out to me at the beginning of class and I was absolutely furious with him for noticing. I was so indignant over the whole thing, in fact, that I refused to acknowledge it as a fact and, instead, walked around holding a chair to my rear end all day. Walked home still in the dress and without the chair. Not sure if you’d call that extreme resilience or stubbornness or what.

The fam and I visited a cafe in Kentucky on Sunday — one I’d found on Google that looked cool. When we pulled up to the place, it turned out to be inside of a gas station. The group seemed kinda bummed, but I thought it was pretty novel: I’d never visited a gas station coffee shop before! They had amaretto on their flavor menu (a rare favorite) and made a really fantastic latte with it.

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We slipped into a booth in Subway’s seating area (also within the gas station) and I pulled out the audio recorder again. Twenty minutes passed and the digital film kept rolling as we discussed childhood memories, my new boyfriend (I promise I’m getting there — hang on!), and what JB stands for (JB = an old nickname Grampy gave Grammy, and after something like 40 years of mystery, he finally revealed its meaning!)… and then somebody brought up Christopher.

As they talked about him, laughing as they recalled certain things he’d said and done, my face flushed. My dad picked up on it and told the group to change the subject.

“Well I remember when he came to our church for the first time,” Grammy continued, eyes twinkling — again, I don’t need the audio recorder to remember any of this. “I think we saw him before you did, Rosebud, and when you went up there to do special music, I was watching him and saw him staring at you the whole time!”

I was getting up from the table before she’d even finished. “I’m going to walk away with my coffee now,” I said, bolting to the gas station’s restroom (a cafe, Subway, and restroom — gas stations are pretty versatile, really!). I cried for a minute and then washed my hands of it.

***

So, as you could probably already tell, it was a hard trip, Christopher-wise. Like my girl friend reminded me recently, I spent a full five years falling in love with the guy, and I’ve only got three years of unloving him under my belt now. It takes time to get over things. I’m doing what I can; I dropped the name, gave the ring away, and steadily keep him out of sight so he’ll stay the heck out of my mind…

But I can’t get it out of my head — this idea that no one will ever love him as much as I do; this absurd notion that he still misses me, in his own way.

I can’t help but remember certain things: how he mentioned blowing too much money on a vending machine while he was in Japan, trying to snag this stuffed rabbit for me; how he stopped me in the grocery store the DAY after I’d published a blog post about going on a date for the first time in a long time to tell me about how he managed a bakery now and how he was going on tour with his band soon, etc. etc… saying these things like he was trying to say something else…

And how he looked me straight in the eye a year ago while I was passing through his bakery and told me that he wasn’t happy. “This is the world YOU put us in, Rose,” he said. Those spirited green eyes — I’ll never forget them. There was so much I wanted to say to him then, but I didn’t want to be a bad person, so I didn’t say it.

I say I hate him now because I still love him. Duh, you’re saying. Yeah, I know.

But my cousin said something brilliant yesterday while we were driving to a bookstore together, and it made a lot of sense to me. It was something like: “Once you start loving someone, you can’t stop.” Simple, right? But I agree with it… and I’m going to add onto it a little: Once you start loving someone, you can’t stop, and once you’ve loved someone and it’s over, you can’t un-love them. But still loving them doesn’t mean you still want them. And that’s the key thing it’s taken me this long to realize.

I was driving my dad back to his truck stop yesterday afternoon… we were about to say goodbye again. During the ride, we talked on and off with comfortable silences passing between us, but before we reached his exit, dad said something important: “If things get serious with you and James and Chris ends up wanting you back someday, just remember: Pet Cemetery.”

I laughed and smiled at the car in front of me. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he said. “They never come back the same, Rose. He’d come back bitter and vengeful. Sleep around, cheat on you.” He paused. “Pet Cemetery, man.”

I thought about it. “Dad — we’ve given each other some good advice over the years. So I think I’m going to take this.”

Now… would Chris do those things: be mean to me, become a cheater? No; I do NOT believe that at all. Christopher’s always had a beautiful soul — he’s honestly goodhearted. But I believe that Padre was super right about one thing: He wouldn’t come back the same.

I always imagine him as being the same person today that he was three years ago because it’s hard to separate who he is in my mind from who he actually is right now — I replay these old memories of him and picture the same person as being alive today. But he’s not. And the girl playing in his memories isn’t here anymore, either.

And here’s the thing of it: I wouldn’t want to revert back to who I was before, no way, and I wouldn’t unwish any changes on him, either. We’re better people now — much more ourselves. And the real truth of it is that we’re better not together. I know this; I just needed to realize (yesterday!) that you can love someone with all of your heart and soul, be ready to give up the damn ghost and die for them, without actually wanting to be with them.

So there it is; I’m not falling out of love with Christopher or any of the others ever (see exhibits a, b, and c), but that’s okay, because you can’t fall out of love. Meaning: IF it was really love, then it’s not going away, ever. Period.

So leave the old love lying there, darling — leave it right where it is. Let it be what it is, and don’t fool yourself pretending you could ever let it go.

***

While leaving the boondocks for Knoxville yesterday morning, I pulled onto the side of the road and got out of the car, crossing the street to touch the water that was running down the side of a mountain. It was cool and clear. Back in the car, I kept sticking my hand out the window to feel the cold air and then placing my cold hand on my cheek. “This is what’s real,” I whispered to myself, more than once.

I remembered something my grandfather had said when we visited that river in Somerset: “I thought I remembered it flowing in the opposite direction.”

I thought about that some more. Water doesn’t exactly change direction, I guess, but when you watch it like I watched the Cumberland River, you can see that the water goes through this whole process: flowing, crashing, dripping, creeping… just like Bruce Lee described it. And sometimes, when it crashes, it flips over on itself a little, sort of seeming to reverse. But whatever it does, whatever part of the process it’s in, it’s always moving, and it’s generally either circling around or moving steadily forward.

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Well I’m going to keep going with the flow, the creep, the drip, and the crash, because I’m committed to staying with the whole process now… I’ll be here until it ends, ready for but not rushing whatever comes next.

***

I haven’t really told you much about James yet, have I? He’s a special guy. It’s hard to describe him, but I’ll try.

When his picture popped up on my app (just ten days ago!), he looked like a real dork: quirky, unpretentious, strange. I was intrigued by him.

And usually, I make quick decisions (ten, maybe twenty seconds), but I hesitated with James. I looked at him for a while… re-reading his bio and revisiting the pictures of him with an otter and him in a chicken suit. So odd. I almost swiped left on the guy but decided that he and I had to AT LEAST be friends, so I swiped right and discovered he’d already swiped right on me.

“You seem like a total weirdo and I definitely think we should be friends,” I said.

He responded right away and then called me thirty minutes later. The second I heard his voice, I knew it was him. Do you understand what I’m saying? He asked if he could see me on Christmas, as he would be driving through Birmingham on his way home to Chattanooga, and I said yes. I’m so glad he asked, and I’m so glad I said yes.

We texted for days and then met at the park on the 25th, around 4:15 PM. I was talking with a park ranger when I turned around and saw him walking toward me, smiling — again, the soul recognition was unmistakable. I’d heard it in his voice already and then I was seeing it in his eyes — like: You! THERE you are. He told me later that he’d seen, heard, and felt the same thing; he called it kismet: destiny.

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We walked together and then – having vetted him for craziness – I told him he could stay the night at my place (with the rock solid promise of absolutely no funny business). He agreed. He’s told me since then that he’ll wait however long — that he just wants to see me (just me) and take care of me and read to me. Read to me?! Yes, I’m in love.

We got Indian food at the best place in Birmingham that night (one of the only places open on Christmas) before heading to the house. He sat across from me at first and I watched, curiously, as he fidgeted awkwardly for about a minute. Eventually, he got up, walked around the table, and sat down next to me. He said he wanted to hold my hand (and he did — the whole time we were there!). We spoke now and then, over the course of the meal, but mostly sat in a comfortable silence together; unlike usual, I didn’t feel like I needed to fill the space with a million billion questions. I was just content to share space with the guy. It felt so nice to be there with him.

Out in the parking lot, we paused by my car and he asked: “Should I kiss you now? Should I try to?” I laughed and said yes; he kissed me and then pushed me up against the car and kissed me some more until we could see a car’s light beams flashing from under our eyelids. We both laughed and he followed me home.

Cuddling in bed that night, he asked if I’d marry him someday. Sure, I said.

Later on in the night, I woke up with his arms still around me. So you’re my girlfriend now? he said. Sure, I said.

He left around four in the morning and I told him I’d see him on Friday night, on my way to visit my parents in Tennessee.

***

And I saw him on Friday (heading up) as well as yesterday (coming down).

We had dinner at a weird cafe and cuddled in bed last night… grabbed coffee, packed a fun picnic, and hiked up in Cloudland Canyon Forest together this morning and afternoon. Every single second was wonderful.

“I miss you already,” he said, about twenty minutes after I’d hit the road.

“Same. Crazy about you, James.”

“It won’t be long. Tell me when you’re home.”

He’ll be driving down to Birmingham to see me this weekend, and he’s mentioned that he’ll only be signing a lease up in Chattanooga that runs through May.

= James eating a banana in front of a waterfall. My perfect weirdo. 💙

***

James is wonderful. He wears his heart on his sleeve, has kind river eyes, and says exactly what’s on his mind (I’ve received texts ranging from “I weigh 177 pounds”, “I want to sell my ps3”, and “I’d marry you wherever” to “I’ve got lots of red blood cells” — okay; the last thing, he said in-person; still!). He likes to read and ride his bike and travel, and he’s a lot like me, but different — like: He likes watching sports, and he’s kind of, sort of a christian. I know.

When I first got on the app seven weeks ago, I had a firm policy of swiping left on anyone a. religious or b. super into sports. But I learned these things about James after talking with him and meeting him — after I’d already fallen in love with the guy.

“So I’ll just read and write and play the guitar while you watch sports,” I told him, and this was a fine way of resolving the matter. But I also told him that I’m a convicted agnostic and directly asked him if I was some kind of project for him, because I needed to know that I wasn’t. He said no. And while he’s religious, he’s a mild and obscure kind of religious: good-hearted, for sure, but vague about the details… so I think I can live with that and the football.

So yeah! I’m falling in love with someone new again. I’ll never stop loving the old ones less, or love the new ones less because of the old ones, because you can’t destroy or repurpose or write over old love; it’s born within you, its beneficiary is permanent, and the scope of that love of yours is limitless. It never dies. It’s always there. And your special love for that other person, for all of those special other persons, can change them, yes, but it definitely changes you. Beautiful and heartbreaking, isn’t it?

I started this blog nearly nine years ago when Christopher and I first got together. Crazy, huh? It’s helped me process through a lot, and I’ve got the feeling (I’ve had it for a while now) that its purpose is coming to a soft and quiet end.

So — while you might see an occasional post from me, please know that I’m going to spend the majority of this year focusing on growing and improving other areas of my life — things like school, stories, music, friendships, and my new relationship with James.

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Still here wishing you ALL a magical, happy, and healthy year…

Love always,

Aun Aqui

yep… these are hairy legs you don’t GET to touch, you dummy

She squirmed her way across the carpet, climbed up into my lap, and then turned to face the television in front of us, quietly watching animal friends dance and sing about emotions and colors and shapes until mom and dad put on Daft Punk; then, she started bopping her head and tapping her foot. Wow, I thought to myself. One-year-old and the kid already has kickass taste in music. I’m not surprised. 

Mom and dad are old friends of mine — I played music with the dude back when Chris and I were together but knew the girl first. She and I baked something together at her place once, the first time we met — I remember being so nervous around her back then (because she was so cool and I was so clueless), but over the past eight years, we’ve become really good friends. She’s the girl who introduced me to liqueurs, shared music I’d never heard of before, and talked to me about all kinds of girl stuff. We were born on the same day a few years apart from each other: both Virgos. She’s confident, ambitious, quiet, remarkably intelligent, and – again – impossibly cool… I’ve always admired her.

Still sitting on my lap, my friends’ kid would turn her head to look at me every now and then — twinkling eyes, brown hair — and I felt so special that she liked me enough to hang out with me. Mom and dad mentioned, in-between laughing at the scene of us, that she wasn’t usually this outgoing with strangers.

“I think she knows that I’ve been really excited to meet her,” I said, smiling down at the girl.

While her parents prepared dinner, kiddo and I took turns following each other around the house; we moved magnetic alphabet letters around on the fridge, played with a shape puzzle of sorts on the living room carpet (I pretended to find it difficult), and snacked on garbanzo beans on the kitchen floor. I’d never passed so much time with a baby before — and I was actually having fun! “She’s like a puppy!” I told the parents, ecstatic over my new friend. The dad said that if I ended up following them out to Colorado (which is my 2-5 year plan), I could babysit her anytime.

“I’d love that,” I said. “I believe we’re going to be best friends,” I told the kid (and while she probably couldn’t understand my words, I think she felt the message). I imagined watching her grow up, wondering if she’ll like to ice skate or play softball or draw pictures or something. Unlike me, she’ll be able to do whatever she wants, growing up: wear pants or skirts; draw make-up on her face or write song lyrics on her arms; listen to classical music or metal; date boys or girls. Or all of these things.

She’ll be able to express herself freely with parents who accept her unconditionally. “She kinda makes me want one of my own someday,” I admitted to my friends. I wanted to give someone the same kind of unconditional love and support I knew they’d be giving her; it’s a beautiful thing. Or I can just hang out with their kid sometimes and continue keeping German Shepherds at home, I thought to myself. TBD.

We all sprawled out in the living room together, eating matching bowls of kale-sweet-potato-cranberry-and-garbanzo-bean salads and talking about work and Colorado and Mac Miller and The Office and things. I asked if either of them had heard from Chris recently; no.

“It scares me that I still miss him so much,” I admitted. I’m not embarrassed to admit these things; it is what it is.

“How long were you together again?” my girlfriend asked.

“5 years.”

“Then don’t be surprised. You fell in love with him for 5 years, and it’ll probably take twice as long for you to feel differently about him.” That was really reassuring. I’d never thought of it like that before. And honestly, three years out of the relationship, it already has gotten easier… I don’t think about him every day anymore, and even on days when I do, I don’t feel totally heartbroken without him. It’s changing as I continue to change.

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I shared my most recent dating experiences and prospects with these friends, confessing that I was exhausted from such a quick succession of hopeful encounters. Because every time you talk to somebody, every time you guys meet up, you can’t help but wonder: Is this the one? FINALLY? Should I memorize every sensory detail of this monumental meeting for the benefit our possible, future children? Am I actually about to be done with this weird-relationship-interview-bullshit?

When it was time to leave, I hugged everyone goodbye, feeling exceptionally warm as I stepped back out into the cold; spending time with old friends who really know me (and an already cool, beautiful, and smart-as-heck baby) had been very soul-nourishing.

***

And because this girlfriend had encouraged me to not wait on guys to pursue me (and to, instead, BE the pursuer), I reached out to Levi again – that farmer-forester dude – to see if he’d like to get dinner this week. He said yes! Woohoooooooo!

We planned on meeting each other (for the first time EVER) on Wednesday night. I told him I was available from 6-8 (I had an open mic gig scheduled right after 8) and asked him to just name the place and I’d be there.

He waited until 7:45 to cancel. Uh, RUDE! SUPER rude. What the heck?

Then he texted me again the next day: I’m feeling so much better today; so sorry about last night; I’m free tomorrow night and would LOVE to get dinner with you.

I sat on the text for a while but ended up deciding to give him another chance. He was, after all, the guy sending pictures and videos of rivers, cows, and sunrises to me… very worth seeing. Very worth a second chance.

So we were going to meet last night – Friday night – at 6. He was simply to choose the place.

Well the idiot texted me at 3 in the afternoon and said he’d forgotten about some Christmas thing with his friends; dang. 

Dang indeed, I thought to myself.

And here, I paused, remembering something my best friend Charlie had told me once: You treat people how to treat you.

If meeting me is so bleh that you’re going to cancel our SECOND attempt at a first date, then fuck it, I decided, and I felt good about this “fuck it” sentiment, because a few months ago, my senses of self-worth and esteem were both allllllllll the way down here, where I would have been all mousy and cool, sure, whatever! about it; now, they’re a lot healthier, so I know when I’m being treated like chopped liver and I also know I don’t have to settle for that shit.

“No worries,” I texted back. “Every time we cancel, it bums me out, so I’m going to go ahead and pass on your next invite… but it’s been great getting to know you, and I hope you enjoy your evening, Levi. Take care.”

And then he sent me a whole bunch of paragraphs about how interesting I was and how he hopes I’ll reconsider accepting his next invite once he gets his bearings in order, blah blah blah… and I was faced with another hard decision: respond affirmatively to this soft, indefinite, future invite or just let it go?

I let it go, backing out of the thread without any kind of reply. Because I’m sick of feeling unimportant — like something you shelf and unshelf, notice and ignore, love passionately and then don’t love at all. I’m better than that. Everyone is. Just takes a while to realize it sometimes.

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handwritten list of restaurant suggestions I’d sent to the jerk… okay, he’s not a jerk; he’s just flaky as fuck. jerk.

***

Levi isn’t the first dating app guy I ended up NOT meeting.

There was this random one who messaged me and asked me to write a poem about how I imagined our first date going (we hadn’t scheduled one yet — we hadn’t yet spoken at ALL, in fact). I found this “pick up line request” (is that what it was?) intriguing and figured he was expecting something sexy, so I delivered this instead (and asked him to please rap it out loud as he read it):

Driving
Interstate
Say I
Might be late
Say he
On his way
Say he
Save a place
Table
There’s no wait
Ritto
Roll it straight
No phone
Face to face
Let’s walk
Out this place
Moon shining
Tell me something
Childhood
Where you grew up and
Moon shining
Tell me something
Your dreams
Are they coming
TRUE
*mic drop*
**confetti**
Woohooooooooo

He was, I believe, so intimidated by this well-written rap I’d composed in less than three minutes that he couldn’t bring himself to respond. Oh well. I think I may actually start rapping for real-real (not for play-play) as this all-original rap poem caught me off guard with how cool it ended up being. Think I’m accidentally catching onto something here.

Anyways, there was this other guy, a chef, who’d seemed quirky and fun. But his opening message to me was complete and utter bullshit:

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I will not EVEN reinvent the wheel here, but if you want to know my very strong feelings on body hair and how girls + women should NEVER feel pressured to “fix” what is NOT actually wrong with them, be my guest.

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looooooooove my hairy legs — why the heck wouldn’t I?! they’re fuzzy, like socks, and keep me warm… ALSO LIKE SOCKS

And then there was a creeper who wouldn’t quit stacking messages throughout the day; he’d made me uncomfortable with his insistency, so I’d quietly unmatched us — the next day, he’d found me on Facebook and sent a rant via private message: “Not going to ghost me, huh? What is this — some weird FEMINIST thing? I think…”

Fuckin hell, I breathed, blocking the weirdo immediately. I wasn’t trying to ghost him, but the dude had freaked me out. Clingy, right out the gate. When I told my friend that his clinginess had scared me off, she laughed hysterically. Oh hush, I’d said, getting the message — ha ha ha.

So those are the most remarkable dates that didn’t happen; most conversations just taper off naturally without either of us ever planning to meet up at all.

After getting back on Bumble Fri (yesterday), I have four dates lined up for this weekend. I went on one of them this morning (a too-handsome welder-writer dude named Erick; friend vibes only bc he’s a little too macho and emotionally slash sensually intense for me) and have three others scheduled: Adam, the spiritual-guitarist-data-entry-dude; Sam, the sweet-drummer-dude; and Zee, the fun-cute-and-quirky-physician dude. I’m getting drinks with Zee tonight: “Zee, you’re the next contestant on this weird fucking dating show… wooooooooo!”

I’ve grown less excited when Bumble says “BOOM! It’s a match” and less woohoo-like when the guy asks me out for dinner or drinks and way less merry when he casually mentions “so glad I can get off of Bumble (implied: now that I’ve met you)” because I’ve learned how untrustworthy people are. I’ve got my guard up now. Didn’t used to be this way, and I wouldn’t say I’m jaded, exactly; just a lot more cautious and realistic than before. Less naive and less likely to be used by some stupid donkey man (aka jackass).

I’m reading a few new books now and one of them is Dune (an old SciFi wonder). A character said something last night that I emailed to myself, because I didn’t want to forget it: “Hope clouds observation.” Hm.

When you observe, objectively, how someone looks at you (or doesn’t), talks to you (or doesn’t), spends time with you (or doesn’t), it’s pretty clear to see how they really feel about you. Generally-speaking, anyways — assuming the person is acting naturally and not trying to muster or hide their true feelings.

And I’m sure you’ve heard it before: “Don’t make someone else a priority when you’re just an option.” It sounds shitty, but it’s true! I’ve transparently offered my heart to so many people who didn’t want it at all, and while these rejections have – naturally – made me feel bad about myself, they shouldn’t have. Why?

I’ve gone on THIRTEEN DATES since getting on these apps, you guys (soon to be sixteen). There was chemistry with a few of the guys, yeah, but not all of them — certainly not the majority of them. However, every single guy was honestly mostly great. Each of them had an interesting mind, background, perspective… unique interests and talents and quirks… the only thing was that I just didn’t click with them and they just didn’t click with me. And that’s okay! None of us are terrible, boring, unlikable people — we’re just not the best fit for one another. Chemistry is real; it’s there or it isn’t.

So when it doesn’t work out again and again and again, don’t feel bad, like it’s you (you stink, you’re lame, you’re not fun at all — no, it’s not that). Just keep being yourself, you hairy-legged, rapper gal. Be your weirdo self, and someone will eventually recognize the precise weirdness they’ve been looking for in you. Isn’t that exciting?! Stick around for it. And burritos. And Indian food. For food, in general, as well as lattes and shepherds and concerts and rivers…

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT UPDATE BEFORE SIGNING OFF: I drafted this post around 2. After that, I randomly started chatting with this guy on Bumble; he lives in Chattanooga but was passing through to visit fam out in Mississippi. Basically, the chances of us “meeting” were SUPER slim (proximity-wise, both of us happened to be in the right place at the right time when we checked the app).

Anyways, he was wearing a duck costume in his profile picture (“chicken,” he corrected me later) and this. guy. is. quirky. and. cute. as. HECK. He kept making me laugh, via text, as I ate Indian food at a table outside, and when I offered for him to call me while I went walking downtown, guess what? He DID. He’s the first dating app guy to take me up on the offer to call… and you know what else? The second I heard his voice, I felt nauseous. In a great kind of way. Do you understand what I’m saying? Probably not; re-reading that, it sounds really weird…

Basically, I notice two things about a person before anything else: Their voice, and their hands. I haven’t seen his hands yet, but his voice — I knew right when I heard it that I could listen to that voice forever. And that’s terrifying. Because it’s scary to want something to work out when you’ve no idea whether or not it will (and when you scarcely know what “it” is!).

Well anyways, we talked for 45 minutes and they felt like 5. He’s also passing through Birmingham to visit me on Christmas day. Holy cow. I love cows. (And ducks and chickens and rabbits and shepherds…)

His name is James, by the way.

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

he’s with a pretty blonde now — cool!

“I just texted him to prepare my chakras for cleansing.” I was proudly telling this to my friend earlier this afternoon, and while I wasn’t yet 100% sure what cleansing a chakra meant, texting him had seemed like the right move. Wrong wrong WRONG.

Last night, after watching an episode of Airbender where Ang moves through the spiritually draining but restorative process of cleansing his chakras, I had been inspired to do the same. I’d even picked up three chakra books from the library during my lunch break, intent on doing yoga and figuring this chakra business out right after work.

My friend was surprised I’d finally mustered the guts to text him; it had been a full month since I’d last spoken with Captain Kangaroo. Quick recap: He’s the guy who (when I’d said that, for me, intimacy = exclusivity) said he wanted to date me exclusively, slept with me, and then told me – a mere week later – that he was afraid he’d “given me the wrong impression” as he wasn’t actually ready to be exclusive yet. Although, curiously enough, he’d implicitly said he was ready to be exclusive approximately ten minutes before sleeping with me. Yes… him.

Well this afternoon, I texted him to say that I was sorry things hadn’t worked out but that, regardless of whether or not he had intended to use slash hurt me, I forgave him and wished him well and would even be happy to be friends — listen to records, play tennis, you know; real friend stuff. And I felt good about it, this making amends. I sent him a song by Queen, too — the one I had considered sending via text two weeks before (and then deleted).

My friend, who I was sharing all of this with, is a social media guru; without me asking, she quickly typed his name into IG right as I was speaking and pulled up the most recent picture he’d shared. “Oh wow — look at this,” she said, turning her phone towards me.

My heart literally sank. I felt cold and nauseous at once and my skin was tingling and I was crying before I even thought of crying.

“I have to teach class in five minutes,” I croaked, fanning myself. I’ve always thought it looked stupid when people fan themselves in television shows and movies — so dramatic… but I get it now. You’re distracting yourself from your massively mega grief with physical movement and cooling your burning wet face at the same time. Brilliant. I love multitasking.

So I took some deep yoga breaths, opened the door to the classroom, smiled, and nobody knew.

***

It’s not even that I’d hoped we might get back together at this point; it was reliving what had happened — mostly, how disposable he’d made me feel.

I’ll never forget that Instagram picture; in it, he’d cleaned up and was wearing a suit… smiling so big… about as big as I smiled at my students today. And he’d inserted a whole string of hearts into the caption. Wow. And the girl — she was gorgeous; tall, blonde, perfect make-up. My friend clicked on the girl’s name or picture or something and it pulled up a private profile — her bio said something about “it” being “her purse.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” I whispered, “but I can’t compete with that. Ever. And I wouldn’t want to,” I said softly. “He’s found what he wanted.”

I’m short, skinny, dorky-looking, weird, and clueless as heck about everything in the WORLD due to my cult-ish upbringing, and every guy I ever meet says I’m so sweet and I’m so funny and I’m so different, but I’m not the end-girl they want on their arm in an Instagram picture. I’m the girl they’ll while some time away with, sure, until they find their forever gal.

“I just feel dumb,” I told my friend later, when I was able to cry. “I gave him everything and it still wasn’t enough.” I cringed, remembering. God. I felt uninteresting and unpretty and worthless.

“You didn’t give him everything,” she said firmly. “You gave him two weeks. And he gave you a lesson.”

That he did.

I texted him another awkward goodbye; I had to! “I don’t want him to think I saw that post and was trying to get him back,” I explained to my friend, feeling ridiculous on top of unwanted. And I actually don’t want him back now, I decided. I just want to cleanse my fucking chakras.

The truth hurts, yeah, but it’s so, so liberating. I will always prefer clarity over illusions.

***

Walking with Zach yesterday, I felt at ease. We asked each other silly questions: favorite color, what’s your shoe size, ever broken anything…

As we talked, I was reminded of some of my favorite childhood memories: sliding down hills in South Carolina on these cardboard boxes my family had pulled out of dumpsters (there was a plaza neighboring these hills); rollerblading around the Catholic School with my mom at night because the pavement was great — smooth, gray. “I can’t believe she actually did that with me,” I laughed, smiling over at him.

Zach and I talked about how there are generally two types of people: those who restore your energy and those who drain it. How it’s important to pay attention to how people affect you and how they make you feel about yourself.

Christopher and Foster and Captain Kangaroo all made me feel like I wasn’t pretty or cool enough to be worth their time, attention, loyalty; I don’t think they meant to make me feel this way, but this is how I felt around them. Maybe it’s an inexplicable chemistry thing, or a fucking jackass thing, or a combination of both.

Steven made me feel like something secondhand — like: He couldn’t have the girl he really wanted, so he played with me instead. And then told me I was the back-up plan right after getting what he wanted.

These boys made me feel like a ghost. Like they couldn’t, or didn’t want, to see me at all; like they’d rather hold my okay body and kiss my alright mouth with their eyes closed so they could imagine I was the girl with big boobs, the girl with the great hair and make-up, the better, beautiful girl from last summer.

And I’m sick of being a back-up plan, stepping stone, substitute, door knob. I remember a boy calling me that once, way before I’d ever slept with anyone, because I was the weird schoolgirl who wore long skirts with skate shoes and he just wanted to make me feel bad: “You’re like a DOOR KNOB… everyone gets a turn.”

I remember feeling guilty, dirty, when he’d say that, although I’d scarcely known what he meant by it.

Well guess what? The next guy who gets to turn this doorknob (that doesn’t even make sense) is going to have to wait at the fucking door for five million years. And if we both aren’t dead by the time those five million years are up, well then maybe. Possibly maybe.

What I’m trying to say: I feel like shit this evening, but I’m going to watch anime and warm up some ravioli and pet a happy pair of fat shepherds and be alright. I’m going to trust myself (not dudes) and protect myself (better, more!) and enjoy life outside of love: words, dogs, hikes, lattes, music. I’m going to cautiously continue getting to know these other guys I’m talking with — these new friends I’m making: Matt, Zach, Levi…

And you know, while I like to talk like I’m all independent and cool now and finally fine on my own, you’ll still catch me standing by the window sometimes — often… waiting, watching.

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Still here processing through a. feeling disappointed in myself for making dumb decisions and b. wondering why I’m never ever quite good enough,

Aun Aqui

bad boys, bad boys… what ya gonna do?

Last Sunday

We met at Red Cat early in the afternoon and played two games of chess together. When I beat him at the first game, I could tell he was pretty bummed about it.

“We can do this again,” I said, “but I’m warning you — it may end up making you feel even badder.”

“Alright girl,” he said, shaking his head and resetting the board — luckily, he won that round. And I don’t throw games, so he won it fair and square.

Anyways, leaving Red Cat, Matt drove us away from downtown and all around Hoover; we visited the mall, a bookstore, and Guitar Center. Not how I usually spend any of my off days (I don’t like malls AT ALL; they smell like bad perfume and there are too many people and things EVERYWHERE), but he’d invited me to go Christmas shopping with him and I’d said yes. I enjoyed walking around with him, anyways — noticing what he noticed and laughing at this and that.

Well after all of the holiday shopping, he drove us back downtown for dinner at Rojo — my idea. 

The parking right outside of Rojo usually stinks, so we parked at the park down the street — also my idea.

Inside of Rojo, we both enjoyed the meal (two plates of burritos, woohoo!) and then left the restaurant; he was going to take me back to my car and then follow me to my place to A. meet the shepherds and B. hook his bass up to some music recording software he’d been wanting to show me.

As we were winding our way back through the park, the front of Matt’s car entered our line of sight, and right when it did, I started laughing very loudly at his terrible parking job — it looked as if he’d been really drunk when parking the thing.

But then, after a few more steps, we could see all of his car. Or what was left of it, rather.

Hole-eee-shit, I thought, my laughter tapering off. Matt had stopped walking, too, and was just standing there; staring, open-mouthed, at the scene.

Some clown-ass had barreled into the back of his car, ripping the fender or bender or whatever you call it off entirely. They hadn’t left a note or anything. This was what you’d call a hit and run (although I think it would be more accurate to call it a hit and drive away since you DRIVE away from the scene — you do not run from it).

Regardless, the next hour really sucked for Matt; he phoned his insurance company as well as the police and then a big ole wrecker truck arrived to tow his car away. I felt terrible for him, fundamentally, but I felt super-EXTRA awful that he’d parked where I’d suggested he park. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t the meanie who’d hit someone’s car and then left without making it right. But sweet Matt was cool, calm, and collected throughout the whole ordeal.

Something I’ll never forget: I stood there with him, in a cold, light rain, while he spoke with his insurance agent. It was dark already and a little windy out, and as he explained everything to the person, I watched leaves scatter through streetlight, shuffled my feet around, and snuck glances over at Matt every now and then. I wanted to pick the fender-bender-thing up and move it out of the street, but it seemed corpse-like to me, and I know you’re supposed to leave things the way they are for a while before disturbing them. It felt like a crime scene and I guess it was, actually.

Anyways, I could tell when the conversation had ended because Matt said “bye” (duh) — but then, when I noticed him hanging on the line, I glanced up at him again, curious; he rolled his eyes at me. “Taking a survey,” he explained. I wanted to hug him then. Like: Dude… this entirely sucks, but you’re kind enough to stay on the line and take a 2-minute survey? REALLY? He colored a bit more of my heart then.

I walked back through the park to get a latte from the cafe beside Rojo (because it was already past my bedtime) and then I drove Matt back home to Tuscaloosa. I got to meet his apartment friends — two cats and an incredibly sweethearted shep mix — and then I drove myself back home.

And oh yeah — the police car! Hello!

When Matt told the cops we’d left my car at Railroad Park, they kindly offered to drive us there. I was SO excited about getting into the police car that I didn’t even try to hide it (although I did resist singing/humming “bad boys bad boys, whatcha gonna doooooooo” — I wanted very badly to apply this song to our current situation).

When we arrived at Railroad Park, Matt exited the vehicle quickly, gently sliding his bass case off of my lap (we’d both been holding it). I tried to leave the vehicle, too, but could not figure out how to unbuckle myself. I struggled for about twenty, thirty seconds before squeaking out: “How do I leave the car? How do I REMOVE this buckle?”

The cop eyed me in her rear-view mirror. “Do you see the red button?” she asked gently.

“A red button?” I muttered, and then I found it. It was just like unbuckling any old seat belt. Duh.

I grabbed my pumpkin spice mug then (which, thankfully, hadn’t been injured when Matt’s car was destroyed) and exited the vehicle, thanking both cops (again) for their extreme kindness.

***

Sometime After Sunday

Remember when I mentioned hitting it off with an OK Cupid match before realizing the dude was a christian? Okay. So I canceled that dinner date with him as well as the lunch date I’d accidentally suggested having afterwards, explaining that I was feeling a bit overwhelmed right now and had a lot going on slash on my mind. He was super sweet about it, all no problemo, and I was all but I’ll hold onto your info so we can get coffee together sometime.

Okay. Well here’s what happened next.

Earlier this week, I got home from work on an evening when I knew that Charlie and Jordan (my two roommates) would both be closing. Jordan just brought a pup home in late November – a sweet pit bull mix named NuNu – and when he’s at work, she stays in a kennel in the garage. I didn’t want her to have to wait forever to go to the bathroom, so I shot Jordan a text: “Hey! Just got home; going to let tiny girl out of her cage for a bit.” This way, he won’t have to worry about her being uncomfortable, I thought to myself.

I set my phone down, hugged on my big fat shepherds for a minute, and then walked toward the garage, opening the door and calling “NuNuuuuuuuuu” out into the darkness. When I flipped the light switch on, I saw something very odd: her kennel door was already open, and the tiny girl was nowhere to be seen.

Uhhhhh…

“NuNu?” I tried hopefully. Nothing; no stirring, no sounds. “Where’s NuNu, you guys?” I asked both shepherds. They looked back at me first and then turned their eyes to the kennel, the floor, the walls; Tycho started padding about and sniffing around. They’re so freakin smart.

I walked back into the kitchen, trying not to panic. “Sooooooo her cage is open and she’s nowhere to be found — guess you took her w/you somewhere, so please disregard my first message, haha!” I texted. And I’m just going to have to assume that this is what happened, I told myself.

But Jordan messaged me right back: “Well I neither sleepwalk nor know enough about all of this to answer.”

I paused, rereading the message a few times. What?

“WHAT?” I texted. “Are you saying I need to go on a pup hunt?” I immediately imagined the pup wandering the house alone, biting on a cord somewhere, and electrocuting herself to death. Oh shit hell, I breathed out (and this is one of my favorite curse expressions; I think I made it up). I was beginning to panic now and I think the shepherds (who’d followed me back into the kitchen) could feel it.

“I don’t even know your dog,” Jordan replied, which only made everything more bizarre.

“WHAT KIND OF DRUG ARE YOU ON,” I cried out in the kitchen, shaking my head in disbelief. “My dog? This is YOUR pup, dude…”

Then, because all of this was just way too absurd, I scrolled up to the top of our conversation, to see where things had first gotten weird. The last message from Jordan (received on a different day) caught my attention. Then, my heart started racing in a different kind of way as another sort of panic settled in.

“Wait — noooooooo!” I’d texted the wrong Jordan; not ROOMIE Jordan (who is listed in my phone as Scorpio Jordan and who, btw, HAD taken the pup w/him to the grocery store), but CHRISTIAN JORDAN WHO I’D JUST CANCELED TWO DATES WITH.

Man oh man.

You can probably guess what happened from there; I apologized and clarified that the tiny girl I was letting out of a cage (CREEPY!) was actually a puppy and that I was worried my roommate’s dog had gotten out and died, blah blah blah. He seemed extremely amused over everything and then asked me an unrelated question, and another, and mentioned that he’d listened to that album I’d recommended…

So we accidentally started talking again, and at this point, I felt like I was supposed to meet the guy. So we scheduled it: Date attempt number three!

We met at a noodle house two evenings later and I knew, right away, that he wasn’t my type, but I was still glad that we’d finally met because I believe this dude and I can be good friends. Turns out that he identifies as an existentialist-agnostic-christian (wow! he’s as confusing as I am!) and he’s had some really GREAT book recommendations.

Something curious: During dinner, more than once, I heard him whisper: fucking trains. 

“What was that?” I said, too intrigued to pretend I hadn’t heard it.

“The trains in my head… they derail sometimes.” I really loved that. Fucking trains! This might be my second favorite curse expression.

Eventually, we revisited the awkward conversation that had finally brought us here, facing each other in a red booth with steaming noodle bowls on the table and metal music playing near the walls.

“Yeah — I was just playing an online game with my friends when you texted and I was like, what the fuck is this girl talking about?” We laughed and laughed and laughed.

And while we were talking about religion (because I always bring it up), he asked, very nonchalantly, why I didn’t have a religion anymore. I summarized my experience with it and then told him something that I don’t think I’ve told you guys yet. It’s a kinda recent revelation.

“What’s funny is I don’t worry about my salvation anymore,” I said. “At all. But as a christian, I ALWAYS worried; every day, I was concerned that something I might do or say would ‘keep me out of heaven’… because growing up, that was how my family talked about it; always worrying, and always nitpicking and preoccupied over panty hose and the minute the sun set and rose and whether or not a package of noodles had MSG in it…” I shook my head. “Essentially, it’s like they were constantly checking themselves in the mirror and never, ever happy with what they saw. Never.” I paused.

“While there isn’t enough proof anywhere for me to base my life on anything, I think the heart of every religion out there is just saying: be kind. Be nice, and don’t be a jerk. And I do that, naturally. It’s what I strive for. So if there are any powerful god entities out there, and I definitely wouldn’t rule the possibility of that out, I’m not worried about them, because I’m already doing what matters. I’m being kind — trying to be, anyways, and trying to be more kind always. And I’m not doing it so I can get something — salvation, eternal life, whatever. So I don’t worry about what’s happening next anymore. I’m not afraid to die, or to live… although living is pretty painful.” I smiled, because everything I’d just said was completely and entirely true.

***

Wednesday Night

I was at the house with a friend earlier this week and we were watching anime together. At first, I was over here on the couch and he was over there on the couch and there were, at various times, either one or two or three dogs sharing the couch with us. Well this friend got up to get some juice once and then, when he came back, he sat closer to where I was. I noticed this, of course, because I notice everything, but I didn’t think very much of it.

Then, as the episodes rolled by and the pups adjusted and readjusted themselves on the couch, I noticed that my friend’s arm was suddenly touching mine. When did that happen? I wondered, but I didn’t mind at all. I’ve had a bit of a crush on this friend for a few months now and love cuddling anyways — this was sort of like cuddling, so I said nothing.

Well eventually, his arm was around me and then his hand was resting on my knee and then his hand was beginning to slide up my shirt. Danger, danger! I had to say something.

“Sooooooooo,” I began, awkwardly talking over one of the show’s characters. “What’s goin’ on?”

“Huh?” he said, and then it was difficult for him to speak.

I admitted that I’d kinda, sorta liked him for a while and he said that he wasn’t fit to be in a relationship with anyone right now. THEN WHY THE HECK WERE YOU TRYING TO CUDDLE WITH ME, I wanted to scream, but I was just like cool dude, no problemo. We went back to watching the show then and now, I’m still wondering: Was it just that I was there, or do you actually like me?

Either way, I’m proud of myself for demonstrating that I’ve learned to NOT get intimate with a guy under the assumption that he’ll then love me and stick around forever. Yeah frickin RIGHT.

But after having lunch with Zach today, I don’t really care anymore. And that’s what I’m going to talk about next.

***

Today

So this afternoon, I went on a second date with Zach. It was all very simple — we met at a cafe where he ordered a grilled cheese with tomato soup (it was actually chili) while I had a half stack. We stepped into a library afterwards, discovered the SciFi book I was looking for was at a different location, and Zach immediately offered to drive us there so I could get it. Very sweet.

We snagged the book, threw it in his backseat, and then walked around in the rain together, taking turns deciding, at intersections, whether we wanted to veer left or right or continue straight. At first, we paused to make and announce our decisions; then, we just started following the other person’s lead.

And somehow, over the course of eating and walking and driving and talking, I saw something special in Zach. It was the combination of his voice, eyes, and smile, I think — and not just the way his smile looked, but the way he smiled. Does that make sense? He’s got this innate goodness that you can feel, and he’s also fun and he’s also awkward and quirky and really, really smart.

I was thinking about visiting Tuscaloosa tomorrow (to see Matt again), but a girl friend has asked me to go do weekend yoga with her twice now. I made my decision re: tomorrow while spending time with Zach today.

“Hey — I’m going to be staying local tomorrow and doing yoga with a girlfriend in the afternoon; would you want to join us?”

“I’d rather embarrass myself later than tomorrow, but I’d like to see you right after yoga.”

So we’re making plans for tomorrow afternoon now, and I’m trying to stay super cool. Because you know how not-cool it gets when I don’t play it cool.

One of my favorite things about Zach: His terrible jokes. Last weekend, I’d casually mentioned that one of my “hobbies” is initiating joke making competitions with friends at random times. He said he could come up with a few original jokes over the course of the week (before our second date rolled around) and then today, he brought it back up, saying he had some ready. I was surprised, and happy, that he had remembered.

The worst one: “What does a vegetarian employee at Shoe Locker eat?”

“…what?”

He smiled, waiting for me to guess.

“…what?” I repeated, laughing.

“Toe-fu,” he said. Haha.

Later, I created a joke that he claimed was just as bad: “What did the beach magician make for lunch?” I asked (just as we were passing a Jimmy John’s).

“A sandwich,” he said.

“Dang it,” I said. “If we hadn’t of been passing a sandwich shop right now…” I sighed.

Something very terrible happened just as Zach was taking me back to my car; we were paused at an intersection when he asked: “Did they just HIT that man?”

“What?” I asked quickly, looking around. Sure enough, a man was lying down in the street and his friend was standing there beside his body, looking stunned.

“Will you wait here for a second?” I asked, grabbing my phone and then struggling to unlock the door (I am SO bad at doing that). I quickly walked over to the man; he’d made it to the sidewalk and then fallen down.

“Are you okay?” I asked. “Did that car just hit you?”

He was crying and moaning; yes, the car had hit him, and he believed his arm to be broken.

I looked at both of the men, considering the clothes they were wearing. “Do either of you have a phone?” No. “Do you want me to call 911?” Yes.

I stayed with Jason (the man who’d been hit) until the police and ambulance had arrived. I provided officers and paramedics with all of the information I’d slowly drawn out of the guy: His name was Jason, he did not have a phone, his right arm and elbow felt broken, and his left leg had also been hit during the incident. And no, I had no idea what the car looked like.

But one of the police officers took down Zach’s name and number, as he’d actually witnessed the car hitting the man. I’m glad I didn’t see it. I could not (and still can’t) believe the indecency of the hitter… to just drive off after deeply hurting another human being. Wow. But people do this on a smaller scale all the time, when you think about it. It’s interesting to think about it.

Before we left the scene, I noticed a paramedic take out a pair of scissors. “We’ll have to cut through the jacket,” he said, waiting for permission.

“Cut through everything,” Jason said; his voice sounded so sad, so desperate.

Watching them slowly cut through a denim jacket and two thick sweatshirts, I took a twenty out of my wallet and walked over to one of the police officers.

“Hey — will you make sure this makes it into his pocket? So he can buy a new jacket later?” I made sure Jason had it tucked into his jeans before I walked away.

Zach brushed his hand against my arm once we were back in his car, saying I was a great first responder and would probably make a great paramedic, too.

“I feel things too deeply,” I said, shaking my head. “Got too much empathy… it would break my heart.”

He dropped me off ten feet from my car, like I’d asked him to; I didn’t want him to catch even a glimpse of how chaotically messy it was.

When I got home, I spent twenty minutes cleaning the car out (the majority of the mess: books and clothes). He’s the first guy I’ve actually cleaned my car out for… ha.

***

Since finals are over with and I’ve got three FULL weeks to read, write, and hike, I’ve just started on a new book that I picked up (secondhand) in Denver: Are you somebody? The foreword already has me on the brink of tears, it’s so good! I’m sharing a few lines the author’s friend wrote about her (the book is a memoir of sorts) because a lot of what he said resonates with me personally. I can already tell the late woman he’s describing carried a lot of sorrow with her hope, and I get that completely.

“…when we consider the life of this woman who wore on her sleeve, not only her heart, but her mind and soul and whatever else she could offer… ”

“…in her person and in her work there was an urgency – no time to waste – as if she knew…”

“…she loved love and in pursuit of it suffered; my aim in life was something to do with loving and being loved, she said…”

“…she lived intensely, and that, perhaps, is what frightened the men in her life, that and her sparkling intelligence…”

“…she was whistling in the dark, keeping at bay the demons of self-doubt…”

“…wherever she went she collected degrees – and men…”

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Still here (not exactly sparkling with intelligence but definitely unintentionally collecting men… I JUST WANT ONE GUY WHO WILL NOT PULL A HIT AND RUN — FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE!),

Aun Aqui

maybe I should stay like this.

“Do you ever wish you’d just like… break your leg or something?”

My barista pressed a button that set something to whirring and then raised her eyebrows at me. I waited for five seconds while she said nothing.

“Or maybe that’s weird…” I continued slowly.

“No!” she said finally, her voice really high up there. “No… I’ve thought that before. Kinda.”

“It’s just… it’s not that I don’t love my job and enjoy my classes and ALL of that; I do! You just get tired sometimes, you know?” She nodded, agreeing with all of this. When my drink was ready, she placed it onto the bar.

“I hope the rest of your day goes well and that it ends with you in one piece… or not?” she smiled.

I smiled back at her, taking the mug with my left hand. I didn’t know what I really wanted to have happen, either.

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And on my way out of this cafe, which is actually inside of a library, I walked along glass walls and then out through glass doors. Just outside of these doors are 6 potted poinsettia plants: candy red, just beautiful. I’ve been noticing them for the last week.

I love plants AND weird, awkward things, so – just for fun – I asked myself: “What would that police guard and team of desk librarians do if they saw me pick up a poinsettia plant right now, like it was nothing, and then continue walking away with it?”

I didn’t do this (of course — that would be STEALING; see here for my feelings on stealing), but for kicks, I kept imagining doing it and then imagining how strangely it could all play out — what kind of chaos or lack of chaos would ensue. I wanted to star in and film the whole thing. (Sidebar: I’m auditioning for Matilda in February… isn’t that cool?!)

Anyways, thoughts like these made me chuckle as I neared the car, and when I passed by a young couple who’d obviously seen and heard me chuckling to myself, I thought to myself that they probably thought I was crazy, and this made me laugh until I cried.

***

“So you spent a lot of time on boats, then,” I said, summarizing things. This was inside of a different cafe, the evening before the imagined poinsettia incident.

“Only a year,” he clarified.

Even sitting in a chair he looked tall; this six-foot-whatever ex-army-or-navy dude I’d met on Bumble. I had been gently declining his invites to meet up over the past couple of days, but when he’d been sorta insistent about seeing me this evening, I thought that maybe the universe was nudging me toward the one. Ha. He’d wanted to order a brewski when we first got there but they weren’t serving alcohol for some reason, so he’d settled on an iced cold brew. I was extremely happy with my white chocolate peppermint latte.

“Then I started flying planes,” he said.

“Interesting. What kinds of planes?” He told me about them. I like learning about various modes of transportation.

“Was it very scary — falling asleep on a ship with a million billion weapons and then flying around everywhere?”

He shook his head no. “The only scary thing was when my instructor asked me to intentionally spin the plane out. I had to do this because he needed to see that I’d know how to correct it.” I loved this. I will always remember this about him.

Algae (not his real name) was VERY interesting, no doubt; tall, wealthy, brilliant… hunk-like, I guess… he was, by most girls’ standards, a real catch. But there was no chemistry between us.

He was in Alabama for another week and then heading back up to DC, where he’d be working about a mile from the pentagon. At some point during our conversation, he’d talked about maybe flying down to Brazil without any kind of excitement — like it was as ehhh as maybe walking into Publix for some Eggos. Meanwhile, I had looked forward to visiting Ecuador for 10 stinkin’ months; dreaming of it, planning for it, talking about it incessantly… and I’d have it no other way, really. I’m glad it was such a big deal for me. I always want it to be like that.

I’d made my decision in less than an hour, so I told him I needed to go grab food for my roommates from the grocery store next door (and I did; I don’t lie). We left the cafe then and when I gave him a side hug goodbye, I noticed his eyes drop to waist-level just before I turned away. Dummy.

I bought 5 frozen burritos and drove home.

***

“Do you really think there’s only one one?” a friend asked recently.

I thought about it, but only for a second. “Nope,” I texted back.

I used to think there WAS only one one, back in the day, but now – older and wiser and way less naive – I believe (like my friend) that there are lots of people we’re compatible with and that different folks will compliment us slash change us (because change is inevitable) in different ways. Statistically-speaking, out of 11 in-person dates, I’ve already found three guys I’m very compatible with: Corey, Matt, and the stupid Captain. Do I still miss the captain? Yes, somewhat… and I cannot STAND it, because he obviously isn’t thinking about me AT ALL. The grand idiot. If he was a STUPID latte, he’d be a size GRANDE. Unless that’s not actually the largest size.

Anyways, the same friend who asked this question also sent me a podcast about love and dating apps. (She sent three podcasts, in fact, and threatened to unfriend me the very next day if I hadn’t listened to at least one of them… #HIGH #MAINTENANCE.)

So I listened to half of one to appease her, and what I heard during those ten minutes is still sticking with me. It was something about how there are different facets to love, or to a successful relationship: there’s chemistry, yeah (and that’s what we all get the most excited about), but then there’s also behavior… and not just “beginning of the relationship” behavior, but trends. Behavior trends. How the person is, and usually is; how they react to this and that, and how we feel about their temperament and these reactions. It takes time to observe these things.

And then there’s a third thing that I’m just going to throw in there (because it makes sense to me): lifestyle. Lifestyle and behavior are two different things, I think.

Basically, the podcast people and I were discovering that chemistry, alone, isn’t enough for a relationship to stay cohesive. Neither is having a similar lifestyle if the chemistry isn’t there. And it ALSO won’t work if your lifestyles vibe and the chemistry is there but the person’s behavior is, in some way, irreconcilably off from what you’re okay or comfortable with. (While a little bit of adjusting and compromising is normal, there’s definitely a point…)

Try picturing a successful relationship as a triple threat; you’ve heard of that, right? A person who can sing, dance, AND act? Well here’s my version of a triple threat: a latte. It’s coffee, creamer (aka 2-3 three pumps of flavor), and whipped cream. And a healthy, balanced relationship will have these three components in harmony with one other.

When I think about lifestyle (the thing I added), I think similarities (as in interests/hobbies). Like:

  • “We’re both vegetarians!”
  • “We both like to hike!”
  • “We’re both into chillwave music!”
  • “We both can’t stand Donald Trump!”
  • “We BOTH think kangaroos are frickin cute, you stupid idiot man!”

But in addition to sharing some hobbies and interests and a great disdain for presidential assclowns, the lifestyle component has another VERY important aspect to it, and I’ll demonstrate this with an example:

One guy I was talking to (on OK Cupid) was really funny and exceptional, so we made plans to get dinner together. Then, BEFORE our dinner date rolled around, he let it slip, via text, that he’s a christian.

Mannnnnnnnnn, I exhaled. This was an immediate deal breaker for me.

I canceled dinner and then accidentally scheduled lunch with him (I know! what the heck!). So now, I’m trying to figure out how to cancel that, too, and just straight up tell him that we cannot date.

Do you think that’s insane? Discriminatory? Really unreasonable? Because I don’t. Here’s why: Values. They’ve been on my mind all week. Values are the things that deeply resonate with you; the things you believe in so strongly that you live and, almost without realizing it, judge by them.

Anyways, I spent a few minutes asking myself what my values were on Friday. It was surprisingly easy for me to define them:

  1. Kindness
  2. Honesty
  3. Creativity
  4. Appreciation
  5. Love

The next question I asked myself was, do I want to be with someone whose values mirror my own EXACTLY? Or someone who holds different values that I could benefit from, and vice versa?

Because here’s the thing: You’ll probably end up spending more time with your person than with anyone else. The things they know, you’ll know; the way they think and believe and view the world will, inevitably, influence your own thoughts and beliefs (to an extent).

So you need to ask yourself: Are they going to exert a good influence on me? Challenge me to grow, to become better? Are their unique values going to add to my own collection, or is their influence going to be toxic? Could it be dangerous? Are they going to bring me down, in other words?

Another big question: Am I going to weigh them down?

Whew. I don’t want to ever weigh anybody down, which is why I’m constantly writing — I do this to connect with others, yes, but mostly, to maintain my own sense of clarity and stability. You and your person should support each other, for sure, but not depend on one other. Doing the latter is extremely unhealthy.

You’ve gotta fix yourself — nobody else can. They can help DISTRACT you from yourself, but then you’re just letting shit fester forever. My strongest piece of advice today? TAKE A DEEP, HARD LOOK AT THE THINGS YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE… because I promise: You’ll feel better as slash after you figure it all out.

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this is me in the middle of figuring everything out

I know I’ve gone for those savior-and-saved relationships before because I wanted to feel needed; it made me feel safe. But now, I just want to be wanted — as in: My presence and company enhance another person’s existence; they aren’t the focal points of their existence. This is a pretty big shift, yeah, and while it makes me feel really vulnerable right now, I think that, in the end, it’ll be a lot better for my self-esteem if I know I’m with someone who wants me instead of needs me.

But going back to our example (Christian guy): If I were to date a Christian, having been a Christian myself, I know how it would go: They’d be all worried over my “salvation” and hoping I’d “come around” while I’d be annoyed that they were bugging me about my “salvation” and “expecting me to change.” So forget about it. Forget ALL about it, man.

And I’m not JUST avoiding Christians, either; anybody who’s devoutly religious and into any creed has my respect, for sure, but they’re also NOT on my dating list. Why? There’s a severe contrast in values there. We both may feel the same about not lying, not cheating, and not stealing, and you’d think that’d be enough… but they’ve got a god that their life revolves around, and I do not. Religion is a value, and it’s a very strong one. This is how I feel about it, anyways.

Friends have even suggested (mostly because of how “moral” and “prude-like” I am) that I just date a christian who’s not “super into it”, but I’d respect this person even less for half-assedly adhering to something that, if it really DOES resonate with their soul as being true, should have all of their devotion.

So my dating pool = atheists and agnostics only. And I’m shooting for ones who have their own weird, made-up morals, like me.

Now, I’ve got my list of 5 values; yours may be different entirely or, more likely, there could be a shared space between us. I think having a shared space (like on a Venn diagram) and not a mirror image of values is key. Why? Because then, there’s a strong sense of familiarity while still allowing room for both people to stretch, see things differently, and grow because of each other.

My dad, for instance; I can tell you that one of his consistent, deeply-embedded values is having nice things. I wanted to try the violin out when I was 15, right, and specifically asked for a piece-of-shit starter instrument (because I, reasonable and thrifty as ever, didn’t know how things would go yet), but he insisted on getting something name-brand and fancy anyways. He’s always into the newest phone, greatest TV, latest whatever. Nothing wrong with that at all… he just appreciates having and using nice things.

Well I went on a date with a physicist yesterday afternoon and then called my dad later on in the evening to tell him about it. Right in the middle of me beginning to talk about another guy I was getting to know (a forester-farmer who sends me videos of creeks and cows and pictures of sunrises), my dad said: “The physicist.”

“…yeah,” I said, pausing to switch gears. “I like him, dad! We’re getting lunch together next Saturday.” And I do like the physicist; despite his smartness and stability (warning signs of boringness, haha), Zach (not his real name) has got a fun, quirky side. He keeps interesting lists on his phone, for instance (like: dumb horror movie plot ideas, original puns and insults, and media suggestions with friends’ names attached to them so he can gauge the quality of their future recommendations), and we both spent fifteen minutes happily thumbing through and describing gumball charms in an antique shop yesterday afternoon, pretending we were on one of those weird QVC sales channels. Again — he’s fun. I’m definitely going to keep seeing him.

“Forget the farmer guy… this physicist could take CARE of you,” my dad continued. “You could live in a MANSION.”

“Padre… I don’t WANT a mansion,” I laughed. “And you KNOW this. I don’t like things. I want a small old home on some land, for the shepherds, and I want to travel. That’s it. As long as the little house is warm, and the food is good, and there’s a river or a creek nearby, I’m happy.”

“Are you high?” my dad asked later.

“WHAT? No, dad! Jeez… it isn’t legal here yet. I’m only high when I’m in a state where it’s legal to be high.” I paused. “But I’m looking at socks at Target while talking with you, so it’s basically LIKE I’m high.”

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= me trying to pick one pair of socks @ Target… chaotic

***

One day last week, I went to pick up Indian food on my lunch break. When I arrived, the veggie samosas weren’t quite ready yet, but I told the server I was happy to wait. As I danced on the balls of my feet, Charlie and I’s favorite waitress walked by; with dark hair and dark eyes and the VERY best accent, she’s a completely magical character, just full of mystery and intrigue.

Whenever she speaks, I try to memorize every word she says. I remember her asking us, back around new year’s, whether we wished to go backwards or forwards in time. We both answered and then when I asked her which she would do, she just said “2012” and walked away. I wanted to know so much more.

“So… how are things?” she asked me.

“Goooooooood,” I sang out, smiling. I raised my eyebrows at her. “I’ve actually been dating a bunch of guys recently, trying to find the one.” I know there’s more than one ONE, but I still like to say the one.

Her jaw dropped and she reached her hand across the counter, taking mine in it. She fell silent for a minute, and it surprised me a little.

“It’s hard,” she said finally, awkwardly patting my gloved hand. “I am single. I want them to take me to dinner, to movie… this is not what they want.” She paused. “American, Indian, Spanish… they all the same. They all cheat.”

I felt heartbroken for both of us.

When the samosas were ready, someone else brought them. I said thank you to the person, took them, and then looked over at my friend again; she gave me a beautiful, hopeful, knowing smile. I wished, then, not to go backwards and change things, but to move bravely and cautiously forward. I also wished us both happiness someday.

***

On Friday night, I didn’t want any dates. I wanted to stay home and drink wine and do schoolwork, but I was out of wine, so I just drank water and did schoolwork. Charlie had invited me to come with him to a karaoke party at someone’s house, but that someone was an old jackass I’d dated, so I said no thanks.

My other roommate, Jordan, stayed at home to watch anime, and when I asked him, after about an hour of Spanish, if he wanted to watch Airbender with me later, he said yes. So we drove to Publix together for chips and yogurt and ice cream and then sat down on the couch with a fat Shepherd between us, uninterruptedly blazing through six episodes of the show. It was wonderful. I ate way more ice cream than he did and kept getting the names of the characters wrong; we laughed a lot.

I woke up with the same fat Shepherd in bed with me upstairs and another one sprawled out on the floor. The familiar old house was quiet and warm. Looking to the window, I could see bamboo stretching across the side yard, curving the light with shadows.

Maybe I should just stay like this for a while, I thought to myself.

***

I’m wrapping this post up at my favorite cafe and then hanging out with Matt again — remember him? The smart and snarky guy who manages a bike shop? Well he’s going to show me some music production software that he uses and then we’re going Christmas shopping together (his idea!) and getting dinner @ Rojo. It’s our third date and I haven’t scared the guy off yet! Go me! 

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I’ve deleted both dating apps from my phone. I’m going to continue talking with the guys I’ve already met, to see if we can be friends or get married to each other someday, but if everything just fizzles out, I’ll be okay with it. I think I’d rather just see what happens than make things happen, moving forward. I like planning adventures, orchestrating music, and writing stories — not relationships.

Love should surprise you, I think… like Alabama snow, and like the surprise plates mom would make for me and Bobby, back when we were kids. I don’t want to see it coming. I don’t want to know when it’s on the way, how long it will take to get here, or what it’s supposed to look like. When I see it, and when I feel it, I’ll just know.

And in the meantime, everything’s alright already. Like: I got to see red and green traffic lights in a puddle last night and then watch a yellow leaf fall to someone’s driveway this morning. Perfect. And when I had my window rolled down on Thursday evening, driving to my first author reading ever where I actually read something, I could hear two people laughing as they crossed the street. Their laughter was so soul-stirringly beautiful.

Do you notice things like these? I’m beginning to believe that happiness can be very easy to find when you aren’t grasping after it — when you just let it come to you.

If you’d like a song suggestion, here’s my numero uno right now. Thanks, Cate!

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swiping left on dating apps for the next little while… happy rest-of-December, folks!

Still here,

Aun Aqui

I really think…

He apologized in advance for being late, saying he’d buy my coffee and anything else I wanted to make up for it.

“No worries! Always got a book on me,” I texted. “Just drive safely.”

Twenty minutes passed and then I think I saw him before he saw me; I looked up from underlining something in my book when I noticed a cute guy kneeling down just outside the cafe, petting a lady’s pup. I smiled, hoping it was him.

And it was, because when he walked in, he looked right at me; we hugged and then he ordered a boring regular latte (with a lemon poppy seed muffin on the side) while I got an Irish creme + caramel one. We sat across from each other and talked about all kinds of things: careers, religion, states of mind, adventures, psychology, old wars, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, California… he’s remarkably intelligent, very well-spoken, talented (another musician, duh: sax and bass), well-educated, and snarky. Snarky as all get out. Beard, eyes, hands, voice… definitely my type.

Something of interest: He grew up doing that boy scout stuff. When it came time for him to graduate, he gave a grand ole presentation and then answered a series of questions. The final question from the panel (a required one): Do you believe in god?

“I already did not,” he said.

“And you told them this?” I asked.

“I’m getting there,” he said. Spunky… love it.

Turns out, he did tell them the truth. And when he answered the question, their faces changed and they looked uncomfortably at one other. They told him they’d need a few minutes to discuss things, and when he walked out into the lobby and told his friend’s mom about the hold up (this cool Catholic lady), she started freaking out about it, on his side entirely.

When they called him back in, they confessed that this was very unusual and that, in order to pass him, they were going to have to ask one last question: Do you believe in the possibility of a god?

Holy shit, I thought. What a question. And he was able to honestly answer yes to this [he followed up with a disclaimer that he’s now 99% atheistic while I remain open-mindedly agnostic… I def feel something(s) out there].

“So yeah… I’m an eagle scout,” he said finally, lifting his voice and eyebrows and rolling his eyes a little. Whew. Let me just tell you: I love it when people are pessimistic, sarcastic, acidic. To me, it’s a breath of fresh air — like: You’re REAL. You’re a real person. You aren’t trying to be cute or impressive at all… I’m actually seeing you right now, exactly as you are; no pretensions, no masks. I respect it. It’s an extremely attractive quality in a person — this kind of transparency.

Anyways, we’d been talking for more than 2 hours when I started giving him cues: sticking my book into my backpack, slipping my jacket on, pushing my cup aside. He picked up on it. It’s not that I didn’t want to keep talking with him — I just want to play things differently this time: stay cool, NOT latch on, NOT spend too much time together, and NOT scare him off.

We moseyed outside and I showed him my bike. He manages a bike shop down in Tuscaloosa and was gently critical of my ride, insisting I needed an upgrade.

“Nope,” I said. “I like THIS bike. You could stick a brand new Dodge-Charger-whatever in front of me and some beat-up 80’s Volvo and I would always go for the Volvo.” I paused. “And this is how I am with bikes also.”

He actually got on the bike and rode it around the parking lot, circling around like fifteen times as he fine-tuned the bike’s tensions and explaining what all was wrong with the bike as he rode. I laughed, watching him.

After making all of these circles, he still wasn’t satisfied and led me over to his car. “I’ve got tools in the back,” he called out, hands still gripping the handlebars. He murmured something about wanting to make sure I was safe. Aww.

Standing next to the car, I offered to help but he said he had it, so I just watched as he activated the quick release, took a tire off, spun it around (it had actually been situated on the bike backwards!), and did something to a cable or a spinner or whatever. I noticed a black thingy fall onto the ground at one point and told him the pouncy thing had gone off somewhere (this was me finally getting to be helpful!).

The pouncy thing? he repeated.

Yeah — you know. The springing thing.

You mean the spring?

Yes.

Where did it go?

It went that way, I said.

Annnnnnnnnd here it is, he said — it had somehow ended up going in the exact opposite direction of what I’d thought I’d seen (and indicated). Ha! Sounds about right.

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my beautiful bike + cool blue scarf + neato Vans

He eventually hugged me goodbye and then talked to me some more; hugged me goodbye again and then talked to me some more again; and then he apologized for hugging me so many times as he went to hug me AGAIN. I laughed; he smelled and felt really nice. This last hug occurred when I was already wearing my backpack, riding gloves, and dorky stickered helmet.

“Annnnnnnd you’re hugging me while I’m wearing this dorky helmet,” I narrated aloud, his chin resting on top of it. There are generally few thoughts I keep to myself, but I’m learning.

“Adorable,” he disagreed, pulling back and smiling.

We both agreed that we want to A. see each other again and B. TAKE IT REALLY SLOW. I spelled out, quite openly, that I’m intense and have skipped stages and phases with other people before and that it was not pleasant. He invited me to travel with him to a city in Georgia sometime (he’s got friends there) and to visit him down in Tuscaloosa sometime sooner, saying they had some alright food joints.

“I’ve heard you guys have a good taco place,” I agreed, nodding. “I REALLY like burritos.”

“I saw that,” he said, indicating he’d read all the way down my profile. He also randomly mentioned being done with Bumble. While I happily took note of this, I’m not going to hold the thought too closely. Remember what happened the last time a guy said that?

Anyways, I took off on my bike then, feeling really happy to have unexpectedly met someone so special. And I say unexpectedly because, to be honest, I went into this date with super low expectations; the guy was REALLY cute and half a year younger than me, so I’d already developed the notion that he’d be superficial, immature, and arrogant. I was very wrong.

Looking forward to seeing what happens with him if I can keep from being a total weirdo. Or I guess I can be the inescapable weirdo I am while getting to know this guy and other guys and just try to let go a little more than I have in the past… relax, and be okay with NOT planning and controlling and fast-tracking everything because, as I just saw today, the best things sometimes happen randomly. Unexpectedly. Awkwardly and perfectly.

And hang on — before this ends, you won’t GUESS who walked into the coffee shop while Matt and I were there! But go ahead; guess, and then scroll down down down.

 

 

 

IT WAS CAPTAIN FRICKIN KANGAROO! Holy FUCK! 

Now, because I haven’t said which cafe this was, I can tell you that CK does work at the place next door sometimes, but because I’m no longer in his world and have no clue what his work schedule looks like, I didn’t think much of visiting this cafe. (I had actually expected that Matt and I would meet up @ Red Cat, but when we were making plans together, he’d specifically said that he wanted to visit any cafe OTHER THAN Red Cat as he’d already been there before.)

Anyways, Matt was in the middle of detailing a road trip to California and the beginning of an old relationship when I saw this tall figure in a blue shirt walking by and then in. I swear, I just knew who it was before I even saw a face; I could just feel it.

So I looked away quickly, feeling as awkward and indiscreet as if I was back in Dr. Hagler’s old English classroom, loudly sharpening a pencil and breaking the room’s still quiet. But I tried to focus on what Matt was saying and what the cup of water in my hand felt like and I told myself maybe he didn’t even notice me here in the very fucking front of the cafe. Maybe.

But then, I felt myself relaxing right after he left, realizing: You know what? It doesn’t matter whether he saw you or not. You’re spending time with someone who’s interested in spending time with you right now. Forget that other guy. You’re okay. You’re right now, remember?

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an elderly cup of hibiscus-rose tea @ Satellite aka Saturn

Sidebar: Corey (the wonderful boy from Boulder) just texted me: “Heading to NJ, laid over in Chicago. Thinking about you.” Sigh. With that guy, if we’d just lived closer to one another, I really think… 

Anyways, I replied that I’d be flying into Phoenix this March and then road-tripping through western CO. I feel like I’m getting closer to finding the right city, you guys… I can’t let it go.

“Can I meet you in Phoenix?” he asked.

!

Who knows, you guys. This guy, that guy… I’m learning to get comfortable with uncertainty. To go with the flow. It’s scary, because I like stability and commitment and printed road maps that don’t change a whole, whole lot…

But it’s also exciting, because along with these detours, I’m making so many friends and falling in love with so many different souls — each of them is precious, special… and one of them just might end up being my ACTUAL boyfriend someday. Maybe.

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until then, I’ve got the BEST girlfriend in the UNIVERSE ❤

Still here,

Aun Aqui

 

it was foggy and colorful, so I cried

“I’m going to ask you to vote on something,” I warned Charlie. He hates when I do this, but I was too tired to make a sensible choice on my own this morning.

“So here’s what we’ve got: the fluffy poodle sweater, the prisoner sweater, or the I’m-just-a-poor-boy-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah sweater.” I paused, looking over at him after having held each of the three candidates up against me. “Which one should I wear?”

He pointed to the rusty red sweater, outlined in 70s fringe; one of my very best thrift store finds. “Fluffy poodle,” he said.

***

So I dressed presentably (dingy grey skate jeans, a fluffy poodle sweater, an old pair of Vans and this blue velvet scarf from CO) for my Saturday morning date and then drove downtown, ordering an Irish creme pumpkin spice latte and then sitting down with it and a book. I generally arrive early to everything everywhere so I always come prepared.

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latte @ Red Cat

The first time I heard the cafe’s front door open, I looked up and it was him. He nodded at me and smiled. I smiled back, setting my book down onto the table and getting up to hug him. He smelled like some kind of cologne I don’t know. Gauged ears, stubbly beard, rectangle glasses, Converse: adorable.

We’ll call this one Jake.

***

Jake and I took our coffees outside, walking to the park across the street in a light rain. We were both wearing jackets.

I asked lots of questions, so I learned a lot about him; he’s worked 15 different jobs (from optical and plumbing gigs to security and financial ones), plays the heck out of the electric guitar (I seem to have a policy of only dating musicians), and has a seven-year-old kid he’s unable to see right now.

“She just disappeared with him three years ago — called me once, a year and a half ago, and let me have a brief phone conversation with him.” He’s pursuing legal aid through his work now. I felt for him. He seemed like a genuinely nice and – despite the 15 jobs – relatively stable guy.

Jake talked about growing up with parents who were more like friends (heard), showed me some of the tattoos he’s given himself (DAMN), and shared his hope of getting a pilot’s license someday. He pulled on his vape as he explained the business of denture-making (one of the 15 jobs) and then painfully described sticking safety pins through his forearm as a schoolboy and then connecting his forearm to his side with these same pins, just to freak people out. Freaky indeed, I thought to myself. He was a very interesting fellow.

Three of my favorite things:

  1. He has an uncle named Popcorn. After they both got trashed at a bar one evening, Jake was driving them home and struggling to do so, seeing double. “Try keeping just one eye open,” drunk Popcorn suggested, and this had proved helpful. Now, I don’t plan on driving drunk EVER, but I will certainly remember this.
  2. When Jake worked in welding (another one of the 15), he got burned — literally. Here’s what he explained to me: When liquid metal gets on you (say your hand) and it hurts like HELL, your natural inclination is to wipe the metal off RIGHT AWAY using your other hand — but doing this would be TERRIBLE. Why? If you do, it’ll just burn in two spots instead of one (this is starting to sound like a life metaphor, isn’t it?). Instead, use a rag or a bucket of water or SOMETHING external to cool/ clean/ salvage the area. Then, enjoy that beautifully badass-lookin’ scar.
  3. With roots tracing back to Germany, Ireland, and California, Jake still has a purely southern accent. Super cute.

There are generally two things I notice about a person first, and before anything visual, it’s the voice. After the voice, it’s the hands. Jake’s voice was cute, and his hands were very beautiful.

Despite the cute voice and lovely hands and how interesting, talented, and adorable he was, I believe we’ll be just friends. I intuitively know he’s not the one. I mean, I still seem to think that DUMB one is the one (although I’m not talking to him and he’s not talking to me and he’s basically gone forever — and in case you’re wondering, YES; I do feel very mature and sensible with the way I’m handling “this”).

But hey, bright side: Maybe one of tomorrow’s dates will be the stupid one. We shall see!

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red rose tea @ Urban Standard — I used to only take tea when I was sick, but it’s growing on me!

When I left cafe numero dos, I headed to my friend’s new apartment in Trussville. She showed me around the place and then thrusted a dying plant into my hands, asking me to take it home and help bring it back. 

We left to visit a cafe together (my third one today! I’m really on a roll), ordering matching bourbon caramel lattes and splitting a cinnamon roll between us. She caught me up on her small bit of non-drama and then I shared all of my shit with her.

“Here’s the thing. Your craziness aside,” she began, blue eyes filled with humor and love, “any guy who spent any amount of time with you would see how special and amazing you are… so if this kangaroo character isn’t reaching out to you at all and isn’t trying to spend more time with you, then how can you POSSIBLY see him as being the one? As being worth your time and attention at all when he doesn’t seem to get or care about you?”

Holy shit, I thought, feeling bad about my unrequited feelings and myself (as in: Why WOULD I hold onto the idea of someone who didn’t care about me enough to even check-in post-break-up? Is my sense of self-worth really THAT low?).

“Well my goodness,” I exclaimed at the quarter cinnamon roll left on the plate. “Forget HIM!”

“There you go!” she said, sounding pleased.

“Although I will say,” I continued quietly, “objectively speaking? I DO come across as being a little crazy. If I were in his shoes, I’d probably run for this hills FROM me, you know?”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I know. But the thing is, you aren’t ACTUALLY crazy. It just really seems like it. You’re very… intense,” she smiled, shaking her head. “And dating apps are just so not you,” she added, sharing a statistic from a podcast she’d listened to recently; apparently (and she told me to NOT quote her on this), using them, you have a 33% chance of meeting someone you’re compatible with.

“So basically, if you date 33 people, there’s a chance that things might work out with one of them,” she said.

Something clicked in my brain then. She’d asked, earlier, when I was going to quit “manically dating people” until I’d “found the one.”

“Oh my gosh. Maybe that’s it! I’ll just go on 22 more dates and then, if I haven’t found this one we’re speaking of come date 33, I’ll stop for a while. OR get off of dating apps altogether forever and go back to organically waiting for somebody to just fall down in front of me… show up, swoop in… whatever.”

We both agreed that I, obviously, still wasn’t feeling whole on my own, and I’m still not sure how to remedy this. She suggested god again; while the idea of there being a powerful friend slash force slash intelligence out there makes me feel all warm and hopeful, it still doesn’t check out for me. I remain agnostic as ever (unbelieving but open to the idea of there being higher entities while not pretending to know who they are and how they are and what they are slash want slash demand). I asked her about the creek before leaving.

“What creek?” she said.

“Google maps says you have one near your apartment,” I said.

“Oh — there’s something down there, yeah, but it’s not really a creek.” I let it go, hugging her goodbye and then driving down the interstate with tears in my eyes. I was coming into a foggy Birmingham now, red and green and orange and yellow, and there was this mist over everything that looked like ghosts; it overwhelmed me. I decided to visit a cafe for a fourth time instead of going home. I just wasn’t ready yet.

Creeks and rivers have brought me such comfort recently — does that make any sense at all? What strange things bring you peace, comfort, joy? For me, if I were to pick just five things, it would be these:

  1. Water (creeks, rivers, falls)
  2. Lattes (fun ones, with mixed flavors and lots of whipped cream)
  3. German Shepherds (especially dark, fat, broody ones — aka Tycho)
  4. Plants
  5. Colors and blankets and scarves (see how I snuck seven in there instead of five? ha!)

Still here,

Aun Aqui

did you see me?

I was explaining that, with this plan, they could afford bananas, beans, rice… maybe even some mac and cheese.

“It’s okay,” the girl’s friend said. “You can put butter and parmesan in the macaroni and it makes it a lot better. I do that when I baby sit.” They both went with the thrifty plan.

During today’s reality fair, I was manning the groceries station — asking high school kids holding worksheets what their fictitious situations were (married or single? any kids? how much disposable income?) and then lightly advising them.

As they traveled the room making decisions re: housing, transportation, clothing, and etc., they fell anxious at times and grew giddy at others (depending on a few things: circumstance, chance, and repercussions of the choices they’d made).

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this was on the wall, just outside of the library

Anyways, at the groceries station, food options ranged from the thrifty plan (basic necessities from Walmart or Piggly Wiggly) to the liberal plan (frequent meals out and tasty treasures from places like Sprouts and Whole Foods).

“And you’ve gotta keep in mind,” I kept telling the kids, “that although the figure for the thrifty plan is ATTRACTIVE, you probably love food like I do and want to be happy with your choices — right? Try to balance economy with diversity and health, and keep in mind, too, that it’s not just YOU that you need to consider; if you’re married or have kids, your family members are going to have preferences, and they may not be as disciplined and committed to the thrifty plan as you are.”

I was pleasantly surprised that about half of the kids admitted they’d need a moderate to liberal budget for food. Realistic. There was this one kid who’d opted for a super expensive car and could only afford the thrifty meal plan for himself and his daughter.

“You could always revisit the transportation station — make a different decision that frees up some cash?”

“No, that’s alright. She’ll be fine.”

Well then. 

The insurance station was right beside mine and tended to get traffic-y, so I stepped over a few times to break it down: home, car, and health insurance were required while dental was optional.

“Worksheet says you’ve got a kid,” I said to one guy who was deliberating. “Say she gets a toothache; you wanna take her to the dentist to have it taken care of or just pry the tooth out at home?”

“I’ll pry it out.”

“Alrighty then. We’ll skip dental.”

When I worked an event like this in Chelsea last month, I’d been given the childcare station. I remember one kid walking up, sighing at the figures on his chart, and asking: “Can I just smother the child?”

“Nope,” I responded promptly, eyeing the little jokester-slash-possible-sociopath carefully.

Another kid in a tracksuit and afro (who’d just finished visiting each station) had strutted across the gym afterwards, singing: “LOOK good, FEEL good, GOT ten dollars…” I loved his spirit so much that I may tattoo his words on someday. Because he got it right, damn it. Damn right.

One of the last girls I helped today frowned as she calculated things. “I think I’m going to be broke,” she said.

“That’s okay,” I said. “As long as you’re happy.”

I really enjoy working with these kids. They’re funny, nervous, excited, weird, and they’re all going to change sooooooooo much over the next several years. I’m glad they’re mentally bracing themselves for this world of finance they’re about to fall into, but I also can’t help but wonder how we’re preparing them for the confusion and heartache and loneliness and uncertainty that all lie ahead.

**

I thought I had four dates scheduled for this week slash weekend when I realized, early this morning, that I’d forgotten about the fifth.

I met a guy for fancy grilled cheeses on Wednesday night. He was a sweetheart who was nervous about making eye contact, and I was extremely excited to learn all about his time working on boats (as you may recall, I have a small dream of boarding a carrier ship someday and sailing to Europe upon it). Along with a few Kid Cudi song suggestions, this Wednesday guy was able to give me lots of helpful info re: boats, like licensing requirements, how to generally conduct yourself on a boat, and what kinds of things one might experience while at sea.

“My first week, we came up on an abandoned boat. Found the guy it belonged to and my captain charged him a finder’s fee — we all got an extra three hundred bucks that week,” he smiled. He also shared stories about catching a shark (on accident) and putting out a rope fire (quite deliberately). Again, a real sweetheart, but he wasn’t the fish for me (haha — catch the nautical reference?).

I met another guy for Indian food last night. What was interesting: I immediately felt at ease around him — this random bartender from New Jersey who’s now joining the police force. Super handsome and confident; deep, gravelly voice. He talked about working out daily and driving over salt flats in Arizona once at one hundred and twenty, and I thought to myself that this was much too fast. He was well-spoken and strong, but my masala was spicier than we were (is that lame? I’m really trying for fun references here).

I’m going to a storytelling event solo tonight before embarking on those three other dates this weekend (I’ve got double duty on Sunday — oops), and I’m going to try very hard to NOT think about CK this evening. I’d invited him to go to this event with me before weirdly and sadly and rashly breaking up with him, but he’d said he couldn’t go, anyways, because of some farewell shows his friends would be playing.

I was talking to a respected guy friend about CK earlier. He agreed that this dude had pushed things along quickly, just as I had, but disagreed with my opinion that he should have agreed to date just me so early on in the relationship. He talked a lot about balance; about compromising my needs and sense of comfortability with someone else’s. And the guy I’d gotten Indian food with the night before was a Libra who’d also talked about the importance of balance. Weird.

Anyways, after our conversation, I was driving downtown when this song by Queen came on: Under Pressure. It sounded like a song he’d like.

So I pulled up our old thread and was just about to send the song along with a text that read I’m sorry and I miss you and can we please keep listening to records and being dorky and getting to know each other? when I imagined him happily on a date with someone else — someone pretty and cool and not crazy clingy and DEFINITELY not stupid-emotional. I deleted the text and continued on my way.

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rose tea before live stories

***

In last night’s creative writing class, we workshopped seven stories. Something is staying on my mind, with one of them.

It was Jackie’s story about a single mom who, discovering she’s pregnant (again), is considering an abortion while driving to her daughter’s ballet thing. She gets there late with a bear in her arms — the show’s already ended. The kid seems happy enough anyways and asks if she can have chicken nuggets for dinner.

A classmate who felt the daughter’s reaction wasn’t realistic suggested tweaking the ending a little.

“At this age, the child needs to notice and wonder about these things. I’d suggest putting the narrator in a hard place where she has to decide between making the kid happy and being honest with them by having the little girl ask the mother: Did you see me? Could you see me up there?”

When she said this, I felt like crying. It’s hard to explain. But maybe you can feel it too?


Still here,
Aun Aqui