Touched by an…other human being

I braved a social event last Tuesday night. I’d been scrolling through my news feed the week prior when my eyes registered something intriguing: DISCO’s Letter Writing Club.

Oooooooh.. a writing club? If there was ever a club for me.. I instantly signaled my attendance: Going.


I’d heard of The Desert Island Supply Company before, in passing, and thought that it might be a record shop, a cafe, or something along those lines, but when I tugged on the store’s swinging glass door last Tuesday night, I was surprised to discover that I was mostly totally wrong.


What it (DISCO) actually is:

The Desert Island Supply Co. is a nonprofit creative writing program for students in Birmingham, Ala. We offer free after-school workshops plus in-school programs in area schools. Our space in Woodlawn also serves as a hub for creative community projects and events


The first thing I noticed, walking into DISCO, was that the front ‘office’ was super dressed down. The entire room was quiet, peaceful, and it housed lots and lots of shelves that supported and advertised the various items that were for sale, like plain, brown journals, sensible pencil sets, and dreamy little bottles of “Imagination Spray.” I didn’t see anyone hanging around in the area, so I quietly followed the curve of the room and, in doing so, stumbled into another room — a really big, really colorful, and cheerfully decorated one.


Three young (seemingly in their 20s) people were seated at a large wooden table; one of them (the only one who was not wearing headphones) heard something, turned around, and saw me standing there.


“Hiiiiiii!” the girl called out to me, smiling; she had long, brown hair and wore spectacles.


“Hi!” I responded. “Is this by any chance the letter writing club?”


“Yeah!” she welcomed me over with a nod. I settled in at the far right end of the table, plopping myself down onto a sturdy chair that made embarrassingly loud noises as it scraped across the concrete and then letting my backpack slide itself down from my shoulder and land, with a single thud, onto the floor beside me.


“We’re all just kinda doing our own thing.. it’s real nonchalant..” her voice trailed off as she continued doodling.


Sweet, I thought to myself, relieved. This a nice, soft introduction into the world of socializing outside of work.


So I settled my gaze onto the journalistic spread lying on the table; there were differently sized- and colored-papers and various styles of envelopes to choose from, as well as a single, see-through jar containing pencils and sharpies, all situated near the middle of the table. I leaned across the table and carefully withdrew a pencil, selected an old-looking piece of linen paper, and chose a sky-blue envelope. I ventured, at this juncture, to glance over at the two other people in the room; a guy with fluffy, dark hair (also wearing eyeglasses) scribbling on his own sheet of paper and a slim blonde hunched over in front of a laptop. They both seemed deeply engrossed in their own activities. I felt comfortable.


So I readjusted in my seat, lowered my head to the table, took the sharp-tipped pencil up with my left hand and began writing: “Dear future Jace..”


Sooooo,” the girl who’d welcomed me over began, turning her head to look at the blonde. “What’s your favorite thing that’s happened so far today?”


Shit, I sulked. This sounds like a group icebreaker question. I knew that I would soon be asked to answer this same question, so I attempted to formulate – ahead of time – a good response.


I can talk about work, I considered briefly, and then thought better of it. Nah. That’s boring. These are, likely, full-time college kids. Talking about work will make me sound old. I paused. Wait — I’m 25 now; IS that old? I shook my head.. no; probably not. How about the dogs? People universally LOVE animals. I could talk about waking up and hugging the pups? No.. that’s not interesting enough. If that’s the most mention worthy part of my day, they’ll think I’m realllllllly lame.

Another pause. You could talk about how much you enjoyed your Chipotle burrito this afternoon?

Fatass, I reproved silently.


While struggling to craft my own cool response, I was partially listening along as the blonde responded to the group leader’s question. She had been answering that, for lunch, she’d tried out a new restaurant downtown (it was delicious, we should all go), and now she was sharing a humorous class happening. Is she in high school or college? I wondered. Am I too old to be here? I asked myself again.

Probably. You’d be better suited for an old fogies’ bingo club. 

“And the girl’s poem was about chocolate milk,” the blonde gushed, incredulous. “Like, talking about how much she loved it and how it was made and just.. whatever. It was soooooo weird.”


I laughed, quietly but supportively.


“What about you, Ben?” the leader smiled, shifting her attention to the only guy in the room.


“Breakfast,” he responded simply.


See? I challenged myself, feeling vindicated. It WOULDN’T be dumb to talk about Chipotle.


“I char-grilled some tofu this morning,” he elaborated. “Threw in some veggies. It was amazing.” He smiled down at the table, apparently enjoying the recollection. “I just whipped it all up, stuck it on a plate, brought it outside, and sat out on my lawn, eating and watching the morning traffic go by.”


Tofu was remarkably uncommon common ground, so I ventured to strike up a sidebar conversation with the guy. We talked, briefly, about Chipotle, and Mandarin House, and how to properly soak up the icky, acidic juice that packaged tofu is always sealed with.


“And how about you, Jace? What was your favorite part?”


Sigh. It was finally my turn. I still didn’t know what to say.


“Well,” I began, deciding to just picture the dawn of my day and then re-watch the time lapse, “I enjoyed waking up with the bedroom window open. My room was chilly and it smelled like leaves. That was nice,” I smiled, really remembering it. “And then I was happy to report back to work for the first time in ten days. I spent the AM catching up on random projects and answering slash filing away 105 emails,” I’d been disappointed that it was only 105, “and then I was able to meet up with my new hires, which was good,” I continued, “because I’m always super nervous to say ‘hey’ to them for the first time.. afraid that they’re not going to like me.”


“Awwwwwww!” she sympathized.


“Yeah, but I met with them, they were all super cool, and we made some good progress through the first part of the training manual.” I smiled and nodded the end, deciding that I’d shared enough.


Three others joined us. One of them, a gentleman with perfectly tan skin, warm brown eyes, and a name I struggled to pronounce, sat down right next to me. We talked here and there throughout the letter writing hour, and then, when it was time to leave, he walked with me as I returned to the front of the store. He spent a couple of minutes pointing out some of his favorite “for sale” items, and then he repeated what I’d heard about fifteen minutes before, before collecting my items; an art show would be taking place at DISCO this Saturday.


“I heard about that!” I nodded. “I’m actually heading to ARC Stories that same evening,” I explained, “but I will try to swing by afterwards, if the first event ends in time.”


He replied that he’d been to ARC Stories before — a long time ago.. back when the storytelling events were so small scale that storytellers (and those who liked listening to stories) all simply met up at Urban Standard, talking and mingling over evening coffee and pastries. It sounded delightful.


“I’m going to try to make it out to ARC Stories this Saturday, too!” he said suddenly. “Want to meet up here before the event?”


“Sure!” I replied, excited to make a new friend. I appreciated his friendliness and confidence.. they compensated for what I lacked and effectually bridged the gap.


Fast forward a few days: I enjoyed the art exhibit and the storytelling event. In addition to my newest friend, three other friends also attended ARC Stories: my best friend, Charlie, along with my close friend, Reed, and his wife. The four of us went for a late Mediterranean dinner together afterwards: Makarios.


After sliding into a booth and placing our orders (which included grape leaves, garlic rice, a vegetables-with-hummus tray and a barbecue-doused baked potato), we all whiled the time away, chatting with each other. Charlie got up to use the restroom at one point and, when he did, Reed quickly leaned in toward me.


“So, while he’s in the bathroom,” he smiled kindly, “how are things with you and Charlie?”


“They’re good!” I whispered. “He’s doing really well. So am I. We’re both happy, being best friends. It was a difficult slash awkward adjustment at first, but I know we’re the most compatible this way. And I feel clear headed, which is wonderful.”


He nodded and leaned back again, visibly relieved and satisfied.


Charlie returned, we all stayed for another hour, and then I took a look at the clock: 12:30?! I should have been asleep FOUR HOURS ago, I thought to myself, amazed.


So we migrated to the parking lot. While Reed and Charlie continued with a conversation pertaining to Dungeons and Dragons, Reed’s wife and I began discussing a topic that seems to follow me everywhere, like a stray dog, or a shadow: religion.


“I grew up in a conservative sect, too,” she shared. “Totally broke away from it for a while. But I’ve enjoyed.. forgiving Christianity. Accepting certain parts of it back into my life.”


I could understand this.


“Same. Not that I’ve re-accepted ANY of it,” I clarified quickly, “but, I am far less averted to the religion than I used to be. I went from defining it as the center of my world — where everything else truly revolved around it — to absolutely abhorring the religion and disrespecting all of its adherents.. which was super ignorant and totally unfair,” I admitted. “But now, I’ve been able to bounce back and forth between those two extremes and finally settle into a sort of happy-medium; I’m certainly not interested in or committed to the religion, but I can respect those who are equally as much as I respect followers of other religions.”


She nodded, acknowledging that this sounded reasonable, and she smiled at me. I liked Reed’s wife. This was my first time meeting her in-person, and whether it’s tofu or religious dogma, it’s really nice to find common ground with people.


The following morning, my newest friend (from the letter writing club) messaged me over Facebook. He said that he’d enjoyed the storytelling event and that he wanted to share an article with me, as well as solicit my feedback on it. The article was about the plight of being single, and you can read it here, if you’d like.


“Enjoyed the article,” I responded a few hours later. “I like that it touched (haha — get it?) on the importance of platonic touch. Here are my fav parts,” I continued, and then I quoted them (see below).


The thing is, I will never be whole. I will never be some sparkling example of human equanimity. I will never be someone who doesn’t occasionally wake up in the middle of the night to cry. I can’t un-become the person my suffering has made me.

My partnered friends think because they were well put together they attracted a partner, but I think having a partner makes it easier for them to be well put together.

People condescendingly deride people who are ‘afraid to be alone,’ but in our society, some of our needs are only allowed to be met by a romantic partner, and I’m not talking about sex. Casual sex is totally fine in my social circles. I’m talking about affectionate touch. And, it is completely reasonable to be afraid of not getting that.


I put my phone down after sending my response, but with words from the article still bouncing around in my head, I continued thinking on the subject as I moved through my day. Not the part about being single or not being single — the part about being touched.


Growing up, I didn’t really get to experience a whole lot of “platonic touch.”


My family members – those in my immediate family, anyways – aren’t the touchy/feely types. Some people are, some people aren’t. They aren’t. So we didn’t grow up holding hands, or hugging each other goodnight, or kissing one other on the cheek. None of that. Ever. We just didn’t. And when I reached middle school and friends began hugging me in the hallway or grabbing my hands from across the lunch table, it totally weirded me out. Being touched made me so uncomfortable. I felt like the awkward recipient of a gift I didn’t know how to hold properly. But soon, those feelings of discomfort turned into intense cravings. I longed for my friends to hug me and hold me, because suddenly, it felt wonderful to be the recipient of platonic affection, and I knew it was something I couldn’t get at home. It’s not that, if I had walked up to my mother and asked her to hug me, she wouldn’t have; she would have laughed at me, and then hugged me, and then asked: “Are you okay?!” It’s that we’d already ‘established’ the parameters of our relationship. The things we did and didn’t do. And these parameters were firmly set in place — their distance, an arm’s length between us.


I used to enjoy visiting my best friend, Melissa, in the winters and summers. Particularly because I’d hop on a plane, spend a few hours alone, and then spend the next two weeks cuddling with my very best friend. We held hands when we ice skated, nestled our heads together while we slept in the same bed at night, and tugged on each other’s arms constantly, pulling the other person into the next room, or store, or along for the next adventure. And even though leaving her to return home was sad, I was strangely happy during the plane ride home.. partially happy, and partially anxious, because I knew that my mother was probably going to hug me. I’d been gone for two weeks straight, which was unusual; of course she was going to hug me. I might get three or four hugs from her all year long, and I knew that this would definitely be one of them. I wanted the hug, but I was also scared of the hug; how long would she hug me? How tightly? How long and tightly should I hug her back? When would it happen again?


While I wouldn’t describe myself as being an overly affectionate person (probably because that sounds weak and needy and I wear a leather jacket), I’ve realized, over the course of the past year, that – among many other things – I am a creature that craves touch. And with this realization came the related realization that chasing after affection has caused me to jump from romantic relationship to romantic relationship for the last decade without ever breaking my strideI’ve never not been with somebody.. until two weeks ago.


And in conducting some casual online research, I learned that this isn’t uncommon. Strong and unsatisfied cravings for touch and affection plague many people, and I read too many sad stories where girls and boys admitted, anonymously on blogs and forums, that they were staying in unhappy and unhealthy relationships because they couldn’t stand the thought of losing the person who hugged and held them. While investigating the subject, I also learned about the impact that physical touch has on the development of children as well as the hazards posed to adults who aren’t recipients of it. The benefits of physical touch, it turns out, are incredibly expansive, influencing – among many things – the resilience of somebody’s immune system, their tendency for violence, and, most interestingly to me, their emotional well being. The end of this article pointed out something that I’d never considered before, and when I did take a pause to imagine the scenario, it made me feel so very sad; some people go to the doctor’s office, sit down, and wait for their name to be called.. not for treatment or diagnosis, but because they long to be touched.


And we all know that we live in an increasingly techy and stand-offish world, where heart emojis have stolen real-life kisses away from people and thumbs up emoticons have replaced a solid, hearty and tangible pat on the back, so what can a person – especially a healthy, single, and childless person – do that will nurture their need for touch?


First, here are some things I’ve discovered that ‘help.’

  1. Having a dog (or two). Your puppy, kitten or garden snake might squirm a little when you hold it, but even a few seconds of squeezing an animal can help cheer you up.
  2. Is your real-life pet just TOO squirmy? Try sleeping with a stuffed animal. I’ve slept with a stuffed rabbit – named Governess – for the last six years, and I don’t consider the behavior childlike in a negative sort of way. I think it’s healthy. I’ve found that it’s helpful.
  3. Don’t be afraid to hug on your friends. Obviously, you want to be aware of people’s personal boundaries and respect their space bubbles, but if you have a friend or a couple of friends who you know are comfortable with being touched, flat out ask them for a hug when you’re feeling down. Platonic touch is a thing. Keyword: platonic. I’ve read, once again, sad accounts of people who have stayed in relationships that weren’t healthy for no reason other than their need for affection. Don’t let that happen to you, and if it is happening, stop it from happening. You’re in control. Don’t wait for someone else to make a tough or healthy decision for you. Remember: You’re in control.


Secondly, here are some suggestions from the interwebs:

  1. Book a massage! Not only will you have your need for touch satisfied, but you’ll relax a few muscles in the process. Double win.
  2. Go dancing. I’ve only been dancing twice now but have already discovered that there are people who are totally cool with walking up to a complete stranger and dancing with them. Now.. I’m not one of those people — I subtly dance away from those people — but if you’re cool with it.. shoot.
  3. Go to church. Even if you aren’t looking for Buddha or Jesus. If you’re checking for hugs, attend some kind of religious assembly and I bet you’ll hit the jackpot.


In summary, I’d like to share three particularly memorable moments that involved touching and that deeply touched me. Oddly enough, they all revolve around doorways. I realized this on accident.


Recollection #1: Goodbye, Panda.

Panda was a blue-eyed Siberian Husky with a fluffy, black-and-white coat, and in a household comprised of 5 dogs total, she was my mother’s absolute favorite. Why? Because she was sickly; the dog suffered from epilepsy, and for this reason, Sierra adored her.

Panda, whose mental strength continued to wane with each consecutive seizure, ate an extraordinarily large hickory nut while stalking through the backyard one afternoon and, as a result, was rushed to the vet. She quickly ended up in surgery (to have the blockage removed) and had to be kept overnight. Sierra was a nail-biting and food-shunning basket case.

Well I was sitting in my room the morning following the surgery — staring at my desktop computer and teaching myself a new song on the guitar — when I sensed and heard someone looming in the doorway. I looked up and saw Sierra just standing there, looking vacant and lost. I locked eyes with her and, instantly, things felt very strange.


“She’s dead,” she gasped, her voice uncharacteristically hoarse. “Panda’s dead.


She spoke the words and then I watched as my mother ran away. I zoned out for what felt like a century (and was, likely, a single minute), struggling to comprehend the finality of the news.

Without affectation, I slowly lowered the guitar to the floor and exited my bedroom. I could hear sobs coming from the living room, and I followed the sound of them. I saw my mother leaning against a couch, her head bowed, her body shuddering, and I walked up to her and I hugged her. I’d never initiated a hug with my mother before.. not in my whole entire life, but on a level that superseded all awkwardness and completely disregarded established and approved custom, I knew that this tiny and trembling little woman, who had never known that she needed to be hugged, needed to be held. I can’t remember for how long I held her as her body convulsed with tears, but I remember spending the rest of the afternoon digging alongside her, through foot after fucking foot of dry, red clay, so that we could bury Panda at home. In-between hours of effort, I walked inside, visited the kitchen, and then returned outside with a blue mug full of water. I remember setting the cup down onto a porch step so that I could resume my work, digging, and then I forgot all about the cup, leaving it sitting there on the porch step, collecting rain water and then drying up over and over and over again, for months.


Recollection #2: When there were no words to say.

Last November, I had to leave work early to go file for Chris and I’s divorce. It might have been a Tuesday.. how funny, for it to be something so ridiculously commonplace; just another weekday.


I clocked out at 2:00, or 3:00, and – after grabbing my backpack – walked over to my manager’s doorway. So many years later — another doorway — and this time, I’m standing in it.


She heard me and looked up from her computer. We made eye contact but didn’t say anything. I could hardly stand to breathe, the air felt so oppressive. Without a word, she rose from her chair, walked over to me, and put her arms around me. I started to cry. I felt like I was going to a funeral that day, and like that hug was my friend telling me that she was so, so sorry for my loss.


Recollection #3: I wondered if he would.

This was in the evening.. earlier this year, and late in the spring. Chris had dropped by the house for the first time in several weeks; it might have been to pick up an amplifier, or it could have been the night I cooked a veggie stir-fry and he swung by to collect some. I just remember him being there, in the house, for a while, and then picking up his keys and slowly waltzing over to the front door. Waltzing.. a goofy kind of waltzing; that’s how he walked sometimes.. sashaying this way and that with his head tilted back just a little. Looking casual. Exuding confidence. I remember opening the door for him, watching him step out onto the front porch, take two more steps towards his car, and feeling devastated; of course he’s not going to hug me goodbye.


But then, unexpectedly, he turned around, moved two steps closer to me, and extended his hand. I took it, and he held my hand for about ten seconds. I’m closing my eyes now; wishing I could remember his face, and our words, but I can’t.. but I will never, ever, ever forget him holding my hand.


That’s it.

Whether it’s a hug or an embrace, a handshake or a high-five, physical touch can communicate so much, and can say the things we want to know the most, that words just aren’t able to convey. To me, physical touch says:

  • I see you.
  • I understand you.
  • I care about you.
  • I love you.
  • I support you.
  • Don’t be afraid.
  • You can do this.
  • You’re not alone.


That’s all I’ve got. From one sad and lonely soul to another: If you ever need a hug or a hand to hold, you know you can always count on me.


Still here, figuring all of this shit out..

Aun Aqui




I want to ride my bicycle; I want to ride my bike.

The big vacation is over now, but there’s one cool part that I intentionally neglected to mention in my previous post. Rather than just state it – the news – outright, I’m going to tell you a moderately sizable story that reveals it.

For starters, I’ve been kind of wanting a bike for a while now. This has nothing to do with the story. This has everything to do with the story.

And on day numero tres of vaca, I headed downtown and stepped into Redemptive Cycles, this super cool, local bike shop that sells bikes and fixes them up. What I really love about the place: they donate bikes to people who are unable to purchase them and who, in return, help out in the shop for a certain (and brief) length of time. So you can understand that this is a company I would feel good about purchasing from.


But as I perused their selection and tried out a few different bikes, I had the feeling that I hadn’t found the one yet. I thanked the floor guy for his help and explained that I wanted to take some time to pause and reflect before making what was, to me, a big purchase. I then Googled “bikes birmingham al” and found two other local bike shops, both of them located in Mountain Brook and, conveniently, within the same little shopping strip. I drove straight to them.


A sign hung in the window of the first bike shop, advertising the mono-colored cruisers stationed out in front of the place: “Price just lowered! Was $2000, now $1500!”


“Why am I even here?” I murmured out loud, to Charlie.


Still, one foot already in the door, I went ahead and stepped all of the way in and threw a polite glance around the room. The attendant, taking in the sight of me (board shorts, band T, and dusty old Vans), clearly knew that he wasn’t about to make a sale, but he was still nice about it.


“Hiya! Anything I can help you with?”


“Just browsing today,” I answered quickly (to confirm his suspicion), “but, in particular, I was wanting to take a look at some cruisers.”


“Okay!” he responded, nodding his head up and down. “We have a few of those in stock and they’re all parked outside. They’ve actually just been marked down.”


Ha.. saw those. “Marked down” my a–


“Cool!” I responded just as enthusiastically. “I’m going to go take a look. Thanks for your help!”


And on we went to the next place.


I liked the next one a little more — Bob’s Bikes. An assistant named Hardwick (SUCH a cool name) rolled two intriguing bikes outside, into the alley behind the shop, so that I could try them out. The first bike was a total no-go; the second, cool but pricey. I told him the same thing I’d told Redemptive; I’m going to take some time to reflect.


“You’ll be dreaming about this bike tonight,” he warned, good-naturedly.


I laughed at him. “Maybe.”


I settled in at home late that afternoon and let out a sigh. Growing up with impulsive parents, instant gratification is a default expectation that I constantly have to keep in check. You don’t make the quick, pricey, and halfway-thought-out decision, I reminded myself. That’s the one you regret. I’ve seen this, so I know this. And spacing out the time between the onset of a desire and the gratification of that desire can seem like a bummer, but I swear, doing so is SO worth the while. 


And I wasn’t totally inactive during this “reflective” period. I proactively continued my search for dream bike.


I pulled up Craigslist from the comfort of my spaced-out bedroom and had a blast sifting through postings from locals. A few antique bikes caught my eye, but none of them fascinated me. I chose to inquire on a single posting that day; one advertising a women’s turquoise cruiser that was fully outfitted with saddlebags, a bell, and a chainguard. It looked nice. A little frilly, but nice. And cute. It also hardly looked used.


The chick was asking $150 for the bike. I emailed her, asking (for kicks) if she’d take $120 and, if so, if we could meet the following morning; I was anxious to ride my new bike.


She answered two hours later: yes and yes.


I was ecstatic.


But when I went to bed that night, I could hardly fall asleep — not from excitement and joyful anticipation, but because of heavy doubt and pending disappointment.


Why am I settling? I asked myself. I know this isn’t the bike for me.

But how do you ‘know’ that? I challenged.


Because; after testing out bikes in-person today, I discovered three things that I want that are absolutely nonnegotiable:

  1. I like “straight” handlebars.. not the weird ones that curve inward, towards you. Know what I mean? Like, okay.. I like this:
    NOT this:
    curve-handlebarsAnd turquiose had those weird handlebars.
  2. I’m comfortable with hand brakes; NOT pedal brakes. As a kid, I really enjoyed being able to pedal backwards anytime I wanted, while in motion. Pedal brakes wouldn’t allow for this nonsense. I had also learned to grip the handlebar levers anytime I wanted to brake. It’s not that I couldn’t relearn how to do something; it’s that I, objectively, after researching, preferred the old way (the research I conducted indicated that hand brakes really are superior because you can better control the degree of braking, whereas, with pedal brakes, you have two basic options/settings: A. you’re going and you’re not stopping B. YOU’RE STOPPING STOP RIGHT NOW).
    Strike 2: Turquiose employed pedal brakes.
  3. I wanted a bike that looked cool. Not some fancy, frilly turquoise bike.
    Annnnnnnd you’re out, Turquiose, on the account of being too fancy, too frilly, and too freaking cute.

So, lying there in bed, I was upset with myself for being so hasty, and I was mad at the bike for being so disagreeable. But it wasn’t the bike’s fault; it’s a perfectly nice and functional bike. We’re just not well-suited for each other.


When I woke up, bike drama was the first thing on my mind.


I really hate to disappoint this lady, I thought to myself, but I can’t justify purchasing something I’m not going to use.


I texted her, notifying her of my order cancellation and apologizing profusely, and she replied quickly, saying it was totally no problem. That was a relief.


And then, I resumed my search, more calculating, nitpicky and discriminating with my browsing approach than ever before.


And with my well-defined standards and carefully crafted ideals in mind, I found it. A bike that perfectly matched all of my criteria.


I emailed the guy right away, cautiously hopeful that I’d hear back from him same-day. Ten minutes after sending my email, I walked downstairs and met Charlie in the living room.


“I want to email him AGAIN,” I complained, “just to point out that I emailed him TEN MINUTES ago and that he’s YET to respond.”

Charlie raised his eyebrows.

“OR,” I retracted, “my approach could be more like — hey, I emailed you recently; just wanted to make sure you got it.” I shrugged, like that wouldn’t be weird or pushy.. it would be reasonable and perfectly normal.


But I decided to wait it out, and I’m glad that I did; he responded just twenty minutes later!


In my email, I had asked:

  1. Love this retro bike; does the seat lower to 32 inches?
  2. I see you’re asking $45; would you take $40?
  3. If you answer ‘yes’ to 1 and 2, could we meet up sometime today?


In his email, he responded with:

  1. Yes
  2. Yes
  3. Yes


“Yesssssssss!!” I celebrated. “I’m getting my bike today!


The dude texted his address to me and explained that I was to give my name at the gate and state that I was visiting (fiction here) a certain William Whitaker.


“Oooh, fancy,” I thought.


Charlie and I drove out to his house together (because a good Craigslist rule-of-thumb is to NOT go visiting strangers’ homes solo) and it turned out to be a mansion. No joke. I didn’t snap any pictures of the inside or the outside, of course (because THAT would have been tacky), but pulling up and then walking in was a little intimidating. Mostly, though, it was interesting. What fascinated me was the fact that he seemed to be living in this enormous house (I’m estimating 10-15 bedrooms, 5+ baths) all alone.


He welcomed us inside through tall, wooden double doors and then we stepped into the ‘reception’ area. I looked at him; he was wearing khaki-colored trousers, brown leather ‘old-man’ shoes, and a tasteful, long-sleeved shirt.


“Are you interested in purchasing other items?” he asked immediately, foregoing niceties. I watched him push his eyeglasses further up his nose.


“Possibly,” I answered, not sure I was going to actually purchase anything (#commitmentissues) but curious to see what he had to offer.


And because of saying yes, I got a partial tour of the house.


He escorted Charlie and I into the kitchen first.

“These are for sale,” he narrated as we passed by items that lined the countertops, covered stand-alone cutting blocks, and cluttered a floating island; appliances that were unopened but pictured on boxes: toasters, blenders, microwaves..


We continued into a formal dining area.


“These are all silver,” he commented, gesturing towards endless rows of spoons, knives, forks and napkin holders. There were trays and trays of them.


Why the hell did dude guy purchase so many of each eating utensil in the first place? Did he host lots of parties? Like collecting them? Was it a strange compulsion?


Continuing onward, we journeyed into a living room, of sorts, that featured furniture I’d never dare to sit upon.


“These are crystal,” he announced, sounding bored and indicating the pitchers and serving bowls that were neatly arranged on glass tables.


Is crystal expensive? I wondered to myself, careful to not touch anything.


He ushered us downstairs, and here, I thought we’d descend into a basement. Finished, of course. But instead, we entered what looked like a hotel corridor, with plush green carpeting covering the floor, a neutral beige color painted onto the walls, and doors located at what felt like fixed intervals. How mysterious! I thought to myself, intrigued. He opened one of the doors and, inside of the room, there were various, random items for sale; miniature stools, picture frames, antiquish side tables..


“Do either of you golf?” he asked, sounding vaguely interested in hearing us answer.


“Nope. I skateboard. But my dad golfs,” I volunteered, “and that black-and-brown carrying bag looks cool.”

He grunted in a way that sounded like: “huh; nice to know.”


After completing the tour, he asked: “Well.. do you want to see the bike?”


“Yes, please.” He was so old and senile that he honestly might have forgotten that THAT was why I’d come in the first place.


He led us into a garage where my bike sat proudly, on its kick stand, in the middle. The garage was – it’s weird to stay – astonishingly beautiful; with smooth, gray concrete floors and stark white brick walls. It looked more like a cool, industrial bedroom than it did a garage.


“And you can have your pick of any painting in this room for just $20,” he pitched in a monotone voice. A true salesman. I smiled to myself.


“Hmmmm.. let’s see here.” I browsed the pictures hopefully, wanting to find something cool that I could justifiably buy from this sweet and lonely old man. But everything was super lame.


“I don’t think any of these will go with my home’s current decor,” I explained all fancy-like, which decor is actually totally inconsistent with itself and entirely random and chaotic, I reproved myself inwardly.


I paid him for the bike and thanked him for his time.


He stuck out his hand. “Jace, tell your friends and your family.”

I smiled up at him and shook his hand. “Will do, William!” None of my friends are well-off or in need of napkin holders, and my family lives in Nowheresville, Tennessee, but I’ll certainly tell them about you.


I steered my bike down the long driveway and Charlie hoisted it into the car; my bike!


I returned to Redemptive same-day (if I couldn’t support the business by buying a bike from them, I could at least pay them for some maintenance). I rolled my beautiful and janky little cycle into the building and the same floor guy as last time greeted me.


“I found the one!” I announced happily.


We took my bike into the back and he secured it onto a raised, metal “arm” that left it suspended in the air. He then tested the brake levers and the tires; inspected the gear shifter and the tubes; critiqued the coppery, rusty chain.



Mi bicicleta❤


“Alriiiiiight,” he murmured, looking up at me. “So your bike is old,” he began, “and it’ll need a couple of things; a new chain, and a replacement brake lever,” and here, he pointed out that the right brake lever was actually partially severed. I hadn’t noticed. “I’d also recommend a general tune-up.”


“Absolutely,” I agreed. “Do the tires seem okay to you?”

He investigated them. “They’ll do,” he responded. “Honestly, I’d recommend, at some point, changing out the tubing, but right now, it would just be cost prohibitive to invest that kind of money into..” he didn’t know how to say it. “Into this bike,” he finally concluded. I could tell he felt awkward, and that made me feel bad.


So I smiled. I appreciated his gentle honesty. I know my bike isn’t some fancy, retro-looking-but-actually-newly-manufactured hipster bike, but I adore it.


“Understood. Let’s go ahead and do everything you suggested,” I said, “and then, if I experience any problems with the tubing (or whatever), I’ll be sure to bring it back to you guys for more work.”


He drew up a ticket at the front, recording my contact information as well as the work order itself.


“Sooooo — can we maybe buy some time from you?” he asked hopefully. I thought this meant: “We won’t be able to get your bike back to you today, buttttt we can have it ready tomorrow!”


So I said: “Sure!”

“Awesome,” he breathed, obviously relieved. “Then we’ll try to have it ready by next Thursday.”

My heart sank. Next Thursday? But today is Wednesday, and my vaca ends next Tuesday!


“No problem; thank you so much for your help!” I smiled at him. At least I HAVE a bike, and I’ll get to enjoy it next weekend. 

True, I conceded.

When we left the shop, Charlie, acutely aware of my disappointment, apologized for the wait. “It’s okay,” I said. “Honestly, I was super bummed when I first realized how long it was going to take, but hey — I have so much reading and writing to do anyways!”


We met up with a mutual friend at Urban Standard (a local cafe) that afternoon. After visiting for a bit, I powered on my laptop so I could spend some time – you guessed it! – writing.

“Wow,” our friend commented, gazing over at it. “You’re such a target with that thing.”


I laughed. “Yeah; it’s a piece of shit.” And after twenty minutes of struggling to load my internet browser, I realized that my old 90s Dell laptop had finally gone caput.


“Well,” I whispered to myself, “looks like it’s time to purchase a new laptop.” And I was sort of REALLY excited about it. I’m not a big tech or car person, so I tend to use these things until they’re just irreparably worn out and MUST be replaced.


I stopped by Target on the way home, but their selection of computers was too limited, so I continued on to Best Buy. At Best Buy, I fell in love with the MacBook Air. Duh; who wouldn’t? The Macbook Air is like the Ellen Page of the laptop world. But I did not, correspondingly, fall in love with its price tag: $899.

That’s like $900, I considered, letting out a sigh.

And it’s not that I can’t afford it, I told myself. It’s that I don’t need a really nice laptop. Come on; be honest — what do I ACTUALLY do on the weekends? Go to the cafe. Get on WordPress. Write. Pull up Spotify. Listen to music. Use Google Drive to occasionally revisit the novel. So why spend $900 on something incredible when I’ll only utilize like 20% of its cool features?


So I windowshopped a few of the cheaper laptops on display. They were okay, but the specs were mediocre and the ratings were disappointing. They were also much bulkier than I care for.


Right at that moment, Charlie spotted a collection of chromebooks. I’d never heard of a chromebook before, but apparently, it’s a Google-based, stripped-down version of a laptop. And it’s extremely economical.

I. fell. in. love.


I spent twenty minutes jumping from chromebook to chromebook, practicing clicking and typing and navigating and comparing prices and ratings. Ultimately, the Lenovo Ideapad 100S won me over; it was the most intuitive and comfortable one for me to use. I 100% wanted to buy it, so I flagged down a guy on the sales floor and told him that I was ready to commit.


“Cool,” he said, fishing for a set of keys in his pocket. “What’ll you be using the chromebook for?”


“Writing at the cafe,” I answered dreamily, picturing how wonderful it was going to be to walk into Saturn with my brand new laptop the follow morning.


He stuck the key into the cabinet that was situated underneath the display (I hadn’t even noticed it there!) and, after tugging the cabinet door open, he paused. My heart sank.


I was peering over his shoulder; to the left, there were boxes of Samsung chromebooks; to the right, boxes of chromebooks by another brand. And in the middle, where my Lenovo Ideapad 100S should be, there was nothing.


“Hmmmmmmm,” he breathed warningly. “Looks like we might be out, but let me check the back.”


Oh my goodness, PLEASE be in the back, I implored.


It wasn’t.


“But we should have some more in by Monday,” he assured me.


Fantastic. So I’ll be able to bring it home on end-of-vaca eve. 


“Okay, no problem!” I answered, concealing my devastation (#firstworldproblems). “Thanks for your help!”


Then, for just a little bit, I was a pouty little brat, and Charlie very kindly put up with me.


“First, it was the bike,” I reminded him, “and I was totally okay with that, but dude.. biking and writing were the two big but simple things I was looking forward to doing while we were on vacation, and now, I can’t do either.”


“You can use my laptop,” Charlie offered in consolation.


“No,” I grumbled, inconsolable. “It’s just not the same.”


Soon, I decided to stop being a brat and to enjoy the day. We went hiking at Red Mountain and I enjoyed collecting rocks along the way. We ordered a veggies-and-tofu laden pizza from Mellow Mushroom and then picked it up and brought it home. We watched Doctor Who, played with the pups, painted a rocketship-shaped bird feeder that Charlie had purchased at Michael’s, composed and recorded a chillwave song in the little studio nook downstairs.. in summary, we were somehow able to have fun.


On Tuesday, in celebration of my first day back at work, my chromebook appeared on my front doorstep. I was so happy.


And on Thursday, Redemptive called, announcing that my bike was ready.


I rushed home from work that afternoon — changed clothes and hugged/watered the dogs — and then hurried over to Redemptive Cycles. I got there 15 minutes before closing.


“I’m here to pick up my bike,” I announced excitedly to the same floor guy I’d encountered two times before.
“Awesome!” he smiled.


While I waited for him to retrieve it, an older-looking woman strolled over to where I was standing. “You going riding with us tonight?” she inquired.


I was taken back. “Oh — no! I’m just picking a bike up. But that sounds cool,” I continued. “Do you guys ride often?”


She nodded. “Every Thursday. You should really come.”


We continued talking. I discovered that her name was Gina. Then, a tech girl named Erica appeared from the back, using both of her hands to manuever my bike to the front. Reunited and it feeeeeels sooooo gooooooood!


When she spoke, the voice sounded familiar. “I think I spoke with you on the phone earlier today,” I mentioned. “I’m Jace.”


“YEAH!” her face lit up with recognition. “I do remember speaking with you! It’s funny; I thought about mentioning to you that we’re all going bike riding tonight..”


“Ha! Really? Yeah — Gina,” I motioned toward her, “was just telling me about that. I’ll try to make it out next Thursday.”


But it’s doubtful because I have crippling social anxiety and will likely think of some excuse.


Just as I was about to checkout with my bike and a new bike lock, a broad-shouldered dude appeared from the back, walking over to say ‘hey’ to Gina and Erica. Erica was sitting on a stool now, taking sips of beer from a can that she had slipped into a cutely crocheted coozie.


“Hey,” this new guy addressed me. “I’m DeeDee.”


“Hey DeeDee! I’m Jace.”


“You really should come riding with us tonight,” he urged with a strange sense of conviction.


I was just floored at this point. I’d planned on picking the bike up, testing it out en route to Urban Standard, and then returning home at a decent hour to eat kale chips and hummus in bed with a nice work of fiction. And now three people were encouraging me to do something different — something fun and interesting and kind of dangerous that I hadn’t properly planned or prepared myself for. I didn’t even have my helmet in the car.


“Well,” I began, “I really would like to tag along, but I honestly need to brace myself for these kinds of things. I have pretty bad social anxiety, so–”


“MY DAUGHTER has social anxiety, TOO,” DeeDee interrupted, “and she’s come out on these rides.. I can’t tell you how much it’s helped her; in school, and out of school.”


I felt like the universe was standing about an inch in front of me, waving both hands and screaming: GO!


“Okay. Fine,” I announced, defeated. “I will go.”


Yay! they all said.


I ran out to the car, grabbed my backpack and water bottle, and then returned to the store. Another guy was now standing by the front counter, fully outfitted in riding gear (tight-fitting knee-length shorts and an orange t-shirt).


“Hey; this your first time?” he asked, looking cool and comfortable.


“Yeah!” I responded. “I was just dropping by to pick up my bike and they convinced me into going.” I smiled. “How about you?”


“Yeah? That’s cool! It’s my first time, too,” he smiled. He had kind eyes and a goofy smile; a modest beard and medium-length hair that he’d pulled back into a ponytail. “I ride a lot, but I’m always on my own. I’m Chris, by the way,” he extended his hand.

Of course your name’s Chris. Are you fucking kidding me?

“I’m Jace,” I replied, incredulous.


After about ten more minutes, I could tell the vibes in the room were changing. People were getting antsy. “You think it’s time to go?” I asked Chris, noticing people moving to the back.

“I guess so,” he responded.

And where exactly are we going, I wondered for the first time.

“Hey,” I approached Gina, the older-looking woman. “Are we exiting slash embarking through the front or back?”


“The back.”


I rolled my bike to the back of the warehouse and then paused.


What the heck.


I expected this to be an intimate group of riders; 5, 6.. maybe 10 of us. But there were dozens and dozens of people standing outside of the warehouse, and there were just as many bikes. People were drinking, and laughing, and music was blaring. I watched as a tater tot food truck pulled up and people started cheering.


“Well,” Chris said. “I wasn’t expecting this.


“Me neither,” I admitted, feeling intimidated and, at the same time, thrilled. “This is going to be my first time riding a bike in.. gosh. Seven years.”


He smiled. “I belonged to a running club once,” he said, “but now, we’re in a bike club. How cool is that?


I smiled. I liked Chris. And I had a sneaking suspicion that he was gay.


After fifteen minutes of standing around and acclimating to this new group setting, a young hipster boy grabbed a megaphone and then everyone fell silent.
“Alright you guys.. remember; ride to the right, and no weaving — because of the size of our group, we’ll likely have three-to-four people sharing the same lane space. Call out any hazards you see so word can pass along to those behind you, and no snapchatting while we’re in motion. You’ll have a chance to take pictures when we break. Most importantly, have fun.”


The crowd erupted into cheers and the music started playing again; it sounded even louder now. I watched as the crowd began traveling to the left – biking down an alleyway – and I took a deep breath.


“You ready?!” Chris inquired, beaming.
“Yeah!! Let’s do it!”


And we took off. Just like that. With the sun going down to our right, the music luring us forward, and the collective energy of roughly a hundred and ten people surrounding us all like invisible smoke, we took off, and it was amazing.


I biked ten miles that night. Ten.


We paused after an hour of nonstop biking; our ‘surprise destination’ of the evening was an abandoned parking deck on Carraway Boulevard. As I pedaled up to it, I saw blue lights flashing. Uh oh.


A cop car was parked directly in front of the entrance to the deck, and the officer was outside of his car now with a flashlight, peering up and yelling: “Alright.. come out now; all of you, come down!”


I used my handle brakes (#superior) to slow down and then asked the person closest to me: “What on earth is going on?”


They turned to look at me. “Ehh.. they won’t let us up. Say the place is condemned.” They shook their head, looking aggravated. “We used to come here all of the time.”


“Bummer,” I sympathized. I so wish I’d been closer to the front of the group so I could have snuck up there before the cop had arrived. I heard a scream coming from the top of the parking deck, so I tilted my head back and gazed upward; I could make out a moving helmet and heard what sounded like victory cries.


“Haha.. good for them; glad they made it all the way to the top!”


Then, I watched and listened as the parade of cyclists descended the parking deck. In the dark, it was a really gorgeous sight; their bike lights danced, bouncing on and off of the concrete, and the music (playing from speakers jammed into backpacks) wove in and out of my hearing. As each biker exited the parking deck, rolling past the cop, they couldn’t help but forget to conceal mischievous smiles.


“Was it cool?” I asked one middle-aged woman.

“Oh my god; it was amazing.”


Once everyone had exited, our leader – another bearded hipster – yelled that we were to continue onward. We stopped twenty minutes later at the BJCC and spent about fifteen minutes mingling around a pretty, purple-lit fountain.




It felt good to stretch. I set my bike onto its kickstand and then, feeling wobbly, plopped myself down onto the concrete floor.




I looked up; it was Chris.


“How are you enjoying it so far?” he asked.


“I’m loving it,” I answered. “You?” He said that he felt the same.


“I looked back, behind me, at one point,” I shared as he knelt down beside me, “because I noticed that things had gotten really quiet, and it was then that I realized that I was literally in the very back of the line. I was *the* LAST one.”


He laughed.


Another dude walked over. Pop quiz: Do you think he had a beard? 

Answer: YES. Shockingly, he did. And a cool mustache that turned upward at either side.


“Want a beer?” he asked Chris.

“Dude, yes!”


He brought Chris the beer and when Chris popped it open, he offered me a sip.

“No, thank you,” I smiled. “I have a super low tolerance that would make it a struggle for me to stay on this thing.”


Then, the break ended, and we all began heading back together. I had been noticing, during the ride, one girl in particular; she was wearing black jeans, a black-and-white plaid shirt, and had a shaved head. She wore rectangular glasses and had a cool backpack. I thought she was the cutest little geek ever.


I’m not going to ask her out, of course, I told myself, but this would be good practice. You know.. trying to talk to her.


I’d chickened out on starting a conversation at least five times during the first hour of the ride (I’d had at least that many opportunities), but on the way back, I noticed her pull up next to me. She caught my eye and smiled. I smiled back and then said nothing. Then, very bravely, I offered (as a sort of question slash statement): “Hey; I wanted to ask what your name is?”


Oh. my. god. Did you REALLY just phrase it like that? So matter-of-factly?


I felt her look back over at me, but I kept my eyes on the road, humiliated.


“It’s Hannah,” she said.


“Okay; cool!” Annnnnnd I’m done.


“What’s your name?” she asked.


“It’s Jace.”




And then, we started talking about sci-fi books. I can’t remember how it came up, but I remember saying: “Yeah — I heard you talking to someone behind me earlier about some book that sounded cool.. I wasn’t eavesdropping,” I added quickly, “but I mean, in a way I was, but it’s because of the close proximity we’re biking in — ANYWAYS,” I stopped myself because it was getting way too deep. “You had mentioned a book you read recently and the title sounded intriguing.” That’s all.


“The Sixth Extinction!” she exclaimed. “Yes; it’s fantastic. There have been five massive extinctions in our history, relating to people and animals, and we’re in the process of causing the sixth one.”


Awww.. I wonder if she’s a vegetarian? 


“Oh — so is this a work of nonfiction?”


I felt her look at me, so I turned to look at her, too. She had a grave look on her face.

“Oh.. yes. It sure is nonfiction.”


Adorable, I thought to myself. What an adorable little conspiracy theorist.


And then, we were already back at the warehouse; the tater tot food truck was set-up, ready to whip up orders of kimchi tater tots, nutella tater tots, and barbecue tater tots for about one hundred and ten happy and hungry cyclists.


I felt Hannah still riding along beside me, but didn’t know what else to say, or if it was necessary to say goodbye, so I just veered to the left and pedaled away.


Good job, Jace. That wasn’t totally terrible.


After coming to a stop, I intended to walk my bike over to the car and leave, but Chris spotted me and flagged me down.


“Jace.. park it! Go park that bike!”


I slid my bike into a metal bike rack and then walked over to the tater tot truck, where Chris was ordering. After receiving his order, he turned to me. “Want some?”


“Awwww, no thanks!” I smiled.


“You sureeeeee you don’t want to try it?”


“No — I’ve got hummus waiting for me at the house. Garlic-flavored AND red pepper-flavored.”


He seemed satisfied.


Soon, I drifted off and stumbled into Gina, the woman who had first asked me to join the group on their ride.


She smiled at me. “Great job, Jace. If you were able to finish this time, you’ll be able to do it again. Every time.”


“I’m so glad I came.”


We continued talking, and somehow, we ended up discussing her religion, career, and marriage.


“He was gay,” she announced suddenly, “and I realized he was after fifteen years.”


“Wow,” I whispered.


“He never came out, but I knew that he was.” She drew quiet.


I couldn’t help but ask. “But — if he didn’t come out — how did you know?


She looked at me. “I was a virgin until college,” she began, “and then, I wasn’t. I was with twenty-odd guys, and I knew that men liked touching me; they liked my breasts. My husband never touched me.” She continued speaking on the matter. Moments later, she said: “There were times when I’d ask him to put his hand on my forehead, or ask him to rub my calves, after we’d gone on a hike or a bike ride together..”


“Would he at least do that?” I asked, feeling upset on her behalf.


“Oh, yes. He would. But that’s all.”


I shook my head.


“And right before he died,” she continued, looking far away at something I couldn’t see, “he asked to see me. And I thought to myself — this is it; he’s finally going to come out to me. I walked into the hospital room, and sat down, and we talked.. and at one point, I came out and asked him: ‘What was it that ended our marriage?’ and he replied, ‘Hmmm, I don’t know.'” She shook her head.


About this time, a young guy walked over and complimented the third-party candidate button she was wearing; they started talking politics and I became bored, so I patted her on the shoulder and walked away.


“I’m heading out,” I announced to Chris (as a courtesy), “but it was so nice meeting you!”


“Oh, you’re leaving? Hey — how about we go biking on Sunday?” he suggested. “My friend Lindsey wants to start riding, so we could all go together.”


“Sure!” I responded. We exchanged numbers and then I left.


And that’s the cool part I didn’t tell you about; I got a bike while I was on vacation. I even made some new friends. And, on my first bike ride in seven years, I biked ten miles through the city of Birmingham.. without a helmet, without planning or forethought, and without a care in the world.


When I shared the news with my friend (who’s an avid biker), she was very pleased.

“If I’d known that A. there were going to be A HUNDRED people there instead of ten and B. we were going on a TEN-MILE trek, I totally wouldn’t have done it,” I admitted.


“But that’s the thing,” she said. “Because you didn’t know what the ‘limitations’ were, you had no limits.”


“Hmm. I like the way that sounds.”


“And,” she continued, “here’s a nice allegory. You know how, when you’re biking downhill, you’re able to go really fast and pick up momentum, and how that momentum can help you get up the next hill?”


I nodded.


“Well, when you’re having a good day, or a series of good days — a happy stretch — you need to capitalize on that. Really enjoy and really live on those good days so they can help give you a boost as you move into the darker periods of your cycle.”


“That makes perfect sense,” I said. “I love it.”


“One last thing,” she said. “You know how I go bike riding on trails, right? Well, I usually start out on this one particular side, but a few weeks back, I ended up entering the trail from the side I usually exit from, and when I did, I saw this sign posted before the trail.” She paused and showed it to me; it read: ADVANCED RIDERS PROCEED. ALL OTHERS PLEASE USE BYPASS ROAD.



“And if I’d seen that sign before riding the trails, I would have thought — oh; no way. I can’t do this. I’ll have to ride elsewhere. But because I didn’t know how advanced it supposedly was, I wasn’t afraid, and I’ve been up and down that trail a billion times.


Good food for thought, huh?


So — quick recap: Like my friend suggested, I’m really enjoying the good days. When I wake up in that frame of mind, I try to be aware of how good they are, and then I use their happy momentum to coast through the darker days. Like clouds, they always pass, and like hills, it’s smooth sailing once you’ve made it up them.




Still here,

Aun Aqui


PS: Here’s my I’m a hardass who’s in a bike club promo pic.








Her Beginning, My Past: “Single and happy about it.”

Have you ever temporarily lost your sense of sanity? I’m asking because I feel like I have. The “temporary loss” is stretching and extending uncomfortably into the long-term, and I want to know that someone else has experienced something like this before and emerged from it — peace and sanity fully restored. Striking a balance and bouncing from one high point to the next used to be so easy and feel so natural.. it was like a default setting. But things look and feel very different now; I walk underneath long lines of shadows that are seldom interrupted by the tiniest, splotchiest patches of sunlight.

And I’ve speculated, for the past eleven months, that this “break” in sanity resulted from me losing touch with myself somewhere along the way.. but while driving to Golden Temple this morning, I realized that I’m in the process of developing a similar but different theory: I think that I lost my sanity because I brushed hands with myself too closely, entering into a cageless proximity with my soul that television and phone screens, billboards and restaurants, 900-page textbooks and looping 9-5’s usually protect us from; like I tapped into myself too deeply, and on accident, without being properly outfitted or braced, mentally or emotionally – and that that contact LITERALLY shocked me out of my own body.


Every single time I sit down to write, I promise myself — this is it; this is the last sad, whiny post you’ll draft. After processing through this new shit, you’re going to finally be okay. Then, you can really focus on your art; you can delve into creating within a new music genre and dabble in some fiction writing. But I can’t seem to pull myself out of this ditch; while ceaselessly trying to dig myself out of it, I’m continuously running into old relics, being presented with new puzzles, and tripping over thick, stubborn roots, and with all of this mayhem, I wind up wading around.. seemingly squandering time as I sift and work through things.. and when I DO pause to glance up and gauge my progress, the entrance – or exit – seems further away than ever. So I continue digging deeper.


Last night’s experience really threw me for a loop.


It was one of my old best friend’s birthdays (you’re likely wondering whose, so – for the sake of context – not Chris’s, and not Melissa’s; someone else’s, who I’ll leave unnamed). We ran into each other while I was at work last month, and when we did, she asked: “Soooooo.. my birthday is in a few weeks.. you wanna come over?”


“Sure,” I answered distractedly, beginning to walk away so that I could tend to a new hire, “but only if you send me a VERY fancy and formal invite. Then, I’ll consider it.”


And a week later, she did, via text message. I laughed my way through the invite.


I cordially and happily accepted, but when I woke up yesterday morning, feeling depressed, fat, ugly, and antisocial, I groaned; today’s the day, isn’t it?


I sat up in bed without getting up and stared out the window, running through my list of usual excuses. None of them really suited the occasion.. as in, none of them were legitimate enough to excuse missing out on a good friend’s 25th birthday. I temporarily tabled the idea of bailing from the party, pretending I’d find a decent way to do so later on in the morning, and proceeded with the day. Around 2:00 that afternoon, I got a text from her.


“What time are you heading over tonight, love?”


Well fuck. Now I definitely can’t cancel. I SHOULD have just done it earlier:

  • got my period yesterday, too miserable to be around people today😦
  • the puppy and I are still bonding — gotta be here
  • I have to do five loads of laundry.. #adultingsry


But after deliberating for 15 sorry minutes, I decided to be decent.


“If you were anyone else,” I messaged her, “I SWEAR I would cancel.. but because I love you DEARLY, I’ll see you at seven and I’ll try to stay until 8ish.”


And I did as I said I would.


I turned on my GPS and drove out to her new place in Alabaster; she and her long-time boyfriend, who I like, had just moved in the previous evening. She spotted me in the parking lot; she was wearing a tie-dye t-shirt with light blue denim jeans and a pair of old, black and white Vans. I was wearing loose gray joggers, a sleeveless black shirt and, over it, my favorite blue sweater (which boasts solid black elbow patches). We hugged in the parking lot and then took the stairs together.


“Oh boy.. THAT’S embarrassing,” she apologized, pausing half-way up the staircase and reaching down toward one of its steps. I watched her snatch up a colorful, medium-sized rug.


“Ha! You must have dropped that while moving in last night, huh?” I guessed.


“Yeah. It smells like cat pee.”


“Uhhhhh gross. You should toss it; you bring that thing in the house and the cat will think it’s okay to pee on it, wherever it is.”




She dropped the rug onto the concrete landing just outside of her front door and let us both in. The place was a wreck, like most places are when you’ve just moved into them the night before, and she apologized immediately.


“Dude! Don’t worry about it,” I reassured her immediately, coolly concealing my positively outraged OCD. I looked over at her; carrying a shopping bag (containing special birthday outfit clothes) in one hand and her purse in the other. When we’d been climbing the stairs, I’d discovered that a large group of people were coming over to celebrate the two big events of the week — her birthday, and the new place — and that her boyfriend had to unexpectedly work late. “He was supposed to be bringing pizzas,” she shared, sounding stressed. “Do you think people will be expecting food and drinks and stuff?”


I tried to be optimistic. “I mean, it’s late; they should have already eaten dinner.. they should honestly be in bed by the time this party is starting, so they’ll likely just be looking for beverages.. water, juice..”


“Yeah.” She looked unconvinced.


Now,  standing awkwardly in the living room and surveying tall, lop-sided piles of things, I gave instructions.


“Look; YOU go get dressed and do your hair and I’ll clear the area out a little.”


“Jace. I love you.”


“I know.”


Within seconds, I heard sounds coming from the bathroom — a shower turning on, clothes hitting the floor, doorknobs turning, and incoherent grumbling. Meanwhile, I stacked boxes of trash on top of each other, stuffed cups into a cupboard in the kitchen, threw bags of cat and dog food into a utility closet and snatched a random, black sock up from off of the living room floor and tossed it into the bedroom. Soon, things made sense.


Wearing a towel on her head, my friend stepped back into the living room. “Oh my god. It looks like a completely different place.” I ushered a final box into the bedroom and noticed, while doing so, that the closet led directly into the bathroom. “Oh wow,” I remarked, “GREAT set up! Bedroom to closet to bathroom. So convenient. That’s how Chris and I’s apartment was.”


I paused; why did I bring that up? Suddenly, I felt small and sad. I tried to shake it off.


“Oh yeah.. I love it,” her voice trailed along in the background. “Will you come in here with me while I finish getting dressed?”




I followed her into the bathroom and leaned up against a wall, making chit chat. I had been looking onward, at her, absentmindedly, but when I noticed her beginning to take her shirt off, I looked away. I could feel her pause. “Is this making you uncomfortable?” she asked.


“Huh? Oh no! I’m just, trying not to look.”


She laughed. “We have the same stuff; I don’t care.” Still; I tried to keep my eyes averted, listening to her and then talking back at her with my eyes super glued to the Mary Kay makeup bag hanging from a hook on the door.


“Rose,” she began at one point, and then caught herself slip. “Gahhhhhhh.. JACE. I’m sorry –”


“Nooooo, you’re totally fine!” I reassured her. “My identity crisis is over now. You can call me either.”


This felt like an in. “You know.. I was going to ask,” she drew the words out slowly as she yanked a necklace from its cardboard setting and began clasping it around her neck. “I know that, when you first came out, it was as bisexual, and that, from there, we moved from bisexual to gay, and THEN you transitioned to transgendered, and then..” she paused, waiting for direction. “Are we back at bisexual?”


“No,” I shook my head, still leaning against the wall and tipping my head back so I could stare up at the ceiling. “Just gay.”

I paused. “Well, possibly bisexual.. but I think just gay. Who knows. Stay tuned.” She laughed.


We heard the front door open and close.


“Anna?” my friend’s voice called out. “Is that you?” More quietly, to me, she whispered: “I hope that’s her.”


“Yeahhhhhh,” Anna’s voice answered. “I’m here now.”


My friend opened the bathroom door and greeted this other friend. “Wanna come in here while I get ready?” she offered.

How many people is she trying to fit into this bathroom? I wondered.


“No.. I’m going to pet the kitty for a little bit,” I heard Anna’s deep (yet effeminate) voice respond.


“K,” my friend smiled and closed the door. “Alright,” she turned to me seriously. “Now, I need to do my makeup.”


“Oooooooh, exciting!” I exclaimed, disconnecting from the wall and stepping closer to the sink. “Then I’m going to observe the whole process,” I warned her.


“Please do,” she answered, reaching for a bag that I guess you’d call a makeup bag. 


“FIRST,” she announced dramatically, “you apply THIS stuff.” She held up a round, compact little container.


“Is it powder?” I guessed, leaning my elbows down onto the counter and peering over at it.


“No,” she made a face while she opened it, “it’s cream.


“Cream?” I repeated, puzzled. “Huh. Never heard of cream in the makeup world.”


“Well I don’t think that’s what it’s ACTUALLY called,” she explained. “I think most people call it foundation.


“YES! I’ve heard of that. I know foundation.”


“Right,” she continued, “but I call it cream.”


Just before she began applying it, I asked: “Are you wearing any makeup right now?”




“Well you look beautiful without it.”


“Thankssssss,” she answered lazily. “But I look better with it.”


I raised my eyebrows at her. “Fair enough.”

I stared ahead, into the mirror, and watched her reflection apply the cream. “This is going to cover up allllllll of those blemishes and alllllll of that acne,” she advertised in a sensuous tone. I laughed. I felt like I was watching an actress prep herself for the camera. After applying the cream to every inch of face-space, she paused, eyeing the mirror critically, and then seemed satisfied.


“Now; you see how that cream made me look pale as FUCK?”


I nodded “yes.”


“Yeah. Well we’re going to fix that with something called bronzer.


On went the bronzer; cheeks, chin, forehead..


“Are you going to put it on your nose, too?” I wondered out loud.


“Oh.. honey.” She stepped back from the mirror and turned to face me. “You don’t even KNOW. Look at this nose right now; you see it?” She pointed straight at her nose and locked eyes with me. “Now behold the transformation.”


She returned to her post, facing the mirror, and I watched as the bronzer transformed her nose.


“I can see the difference,” I admitted. Hearing this seemed to please her.


Then, we applied eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara. During the mascara process, my friend’s phone rang.
“Oh.. this is boyfriend,” she cooed delicately, setting her magic wand down. “Pause,” she stated, and then placed the phone beside her ear.




I smiled while I listened along, and I was excited for her when I heard his voice state that he was on his way home. The call ended, and my friend whipped her head around at me. “Annnnnd PLAY.”

I laughed again. “You’re one of a kind, you know,” I told her. “One of a single kind.

“And you’ve missed me. Haven’t you?”

“You bet.”


The transformation was complete after a generous swipe of chap stick followed by a thick coat of dark red lipstick. As she moved the stick back and forth, from left to right and left again, I noticed the lipstick smudge a little on the corner of her lips; she saw it, too, and wiped at it with her finger.


“Won’t it be difficult for you to eat if you’re wearing lipstick?” I asked.


“Yeah.. but that’s why you do THIS.” With that, she disappeared into the other part of the bathroom, returning with a small wad of toilet paper. I grimaced as she parted her lips, slipped the thin layer of toilet paper between them, and then pressed down. When she pulled the toilet paper away from her lips, it was caked in red. “Vwahla!”


“Yeah, but it’s still going to come off when you’re eating,” Anna’s voice interrupted. I turned to look at the blonde girl who’d just entered the bathroom, wearing a pair of dark, blue denim jeans, a flowy, taupe-colored blouse and wide-rimmed eye glasses. We’d met once before.


“Well that was very interesting,” I concluded, and then summarized, out loud, everything I’d witnessed.


“Ahhh, but she didn’t do eyebrows,” Anna interjected when I’d finished.

“Didn’t need to,” my friend said.

“What would you do to eyebrows?” I asked.


Her friend looked at me. “You think these are real? Girl, I draw these on every day.”


I took a step closer; surely, they must be real.. they LOOKED real..


“I mean, I have eyebrows,” the girl clarified, “they just stop here–” she pointed, “and I have to draw them out further.”

That made more sense.


We all moseyed into the living room where I sat down onto a recliner and finally indulged in reading the text message I’d been ignoring all day; one from Christopher. Reading it was disappointing. Nothing indicated that he missed talking with me or hanging out; his words relayed that he’s built his own world now, he’s living his own life, and that I can’t “control the degree of involvement” that I have in it (I was, of course, irritated at the implication). If chit chat is what he’s comfortable with, he continued, and it’s not enough for me, then that’s my problem.. not his.


Disclaimer: I’m not trying to paint a picture where he’s a mean or insensitive guy, because he isn’t. He put it all very nicely, and everything he said was reasonable. It just hurt. It’s not what I wanted to hear, or read (“I miss you; let’s grab a burrito or play music together sometime!”), so of course it hurt.


My heart sank. We hadn’t spoken in weeks, and I’d unfriended him on Facebook a week prior to receiving this message. I did so because I didn’t want a sneak-peek into his world anymore.. the cursory view that hundreds of others got; highlights here and there, and occasional showcases of the big, mention-worthy things. I wanted to know what he’d had for breakfast that morning.. hear what new, favorite song he’s been playing on repeat all week long.. and see what Marvel-themed t-shirt he bought at Target last weekend. Shit I don’t have a right to know anymore; shit I shouldn’t care to know about, see, or hear anymore.


I sighed, typed out a mega-abbreviated thank you and goodbye message to Chris, and then sank further back into the recliner. The girls had drifted outside, onto the patio.. one of them smoking a cigarette, the other grasping a vape. I turned to look at the gentleman on the couch next to me; when had he gotten here?


He must have been thinking the same thing.


“Hey; I’ve seen you play music!” he said suddenly, knitting his eyebrows together in thought. “What’s your name?”


Surprised, I responded: “It’s Jace — where have you seen me play at?”


“The Coal Yard.”


“Ahhh, yes.” That makes sense. “I was scheduled to play there a couple of times last week, but a family emergency, concerning the owner, has caused the venue to close until further notice.”


We continued talking for about five minutes; I learned that he was Anna’s boyfriend and that he’d gone to what he referred to as a redneck school, but that he was actually a very cultured fellow. “I’m well traveled,” he explained. “I was born in Sweden, moved to Alabama, and since moving here, I’ve been all across the United States.. and I’ve done so via driving,” he detailed further, like this bit of info intensified things. “I like to think of myself as being open minded; I’ll consider ideas and beliefs outside of the ones I’ve always had and held, and I’m very accepting of people.” He seemed like a very nice guy.


Two other dudes stepped in to the living room, and that was my out. I shook hands with both of them, introduced myself, and then made a beeline for the outdoor patio, deciding that – if I was truly intending to leave at 8 – I’d need to get some more time in with my friend before dipping.


“We were wondering what you were doing in there,” my friend laughed as I closed the sliding glass door behind me.


“Ahhh.. yeah; I was just getting to know one of the guys in there. Dude’s from Sweden!”


I collapsed into a chair and turned to gaze at the two girls. “It seems like we do this annually,” I mentioned suddenly, nodding my head up and down. “Sit out here.. you two smoking, me hanging out.” I pretended to hold a cigarette between two fingers on my right hand and blew an invisible cloud of smoke out of my mouth sideways. My friend laughed, saying I looked cool, which is what I was going for.


And my friend’s friend nodded. “Yep — something just popped up on my Timehop three days ago that made me think of this. We were all out on a patio together this time last year.”


I smiled at the recollection. How different things were then. I’d lost my wedding ring that night. My friend and I had looked everywhere for it; inside and outside of the old apartment, inside and outside of my car.. part of me wanted to find it, desperately, while the other part – equally as strong – wished to never find it.


It was like she was reading my mind. “So how are you and Chris?” my friend asked in as casual a tone as possible.


I shook my head without saying anything.


“You guys talked recently?”


“Nah,” I dismissed the question. “We don’t talk anymore.”


Her friend piped up. “You don’t talk to who anymore? That guy you were married to?”

“Yeah. I miss him too much. It’s just easier to forget about him if I don’t think about or talk to him.”


They nodded. No one said anything. I felt oddly uncomfortable.


“Good for you,” my friend murmured affirmatively. “You’ve gotta do what’s best for you.”


Which is, in this situation, what hurts the least, I clarified to myself only. Like: Would you rather die by overdosing or getting shot in the head? 

Overdosing, I voted.



I looked down at my phone; it was 8:27 PM, and I needed to leave.


“It’s past my bedtime,” I explained apologetically. I bent over to hug my friend, resting my chin on top of her head as she hugged me back from her seat. “Happy happy 25th birthday,” I whispered. I smiled at her, and she smiled back. I waved a general goodbye to everyone else, walked outside, descended the stairs, and strode across the parking lot. It was dark. I stepped into my car, shut the door, locked the door, and then cried and cried and cried.


People keep directly asking or hinting at the question, so I’ll just come right out and tell you.. I don’t want to be married to Christopher anymore. I don’t wish we were still married. I don’t want to be married to him or ANYONE. I’m single, and I’m clear-headed because of it. Full of drama, apparently, and plagued with depression, yes, but still.. I’m becoming increasingly clear-headed, and that’s very important to me. But there are two things that I miss about Chris and I.. the married version of us:

  • Who we were. Best friends. I knew him — who he was on a soul level and, less importantly, everything about him, in the factual sense — and he got me, too. I could liken it to knowing the general outline of a house as well as every nook and cranny inside of it; knowing it so well that, when lightning strikes and the power goes out, you can navigate, easily and expertly and fearlessly, in the dark. Don’t even need a candle. It was like that. He was not a stranger to me. He was familiar, the most familiar soul and kindred spirit I’ve ever known, and that was a comfort. Now, I exist on a foreign plane and in a separate universe from the guy. I’m sure most people would say, duh.. that’s the best you can hope for with an ex situation.. but the best is not enough for me. It never will be, so to me, he’s dead. That’s how I’m going to live my life, moving forward; my Christopher died, and Rose died with him. I’m what’s left.
  • What we had. Marriage wasn’t always fun, but mostly, it was. However shitty my days were, I knew I’d always have a partner waiting for me when I got home — someone to talk to me and hold me; someone I could listen to and comfort, too. It was a very symbiotic relationship; it created a permanent bond, and left a lasting impression, like a tattoo. Ink fades, yeah, but the general shape, the outline, never goes away. Similarly, I’ll inevitably lose touch with his soul as he changes, evolves, and grows over time, but I’ll always remember the dumb, factual shit, like his favorite brand of hot sauce, his #1 Steely Dan song, and the way he talked, gestured, smiled, laughed, and cried.


Single, I feel lonely.

I keep asking myself why I need someone else so badly — or why I think I do. I don’t know yet. I don’t know if it’s the emphasis that society places on coupling.. that it’s some kind of measure of success.. or if it’s just that I crave companionship, but I’m 99.9% sure that it’s the latter. And then I ask myself, why can’t I be enough? Why can’t I be my own companion right now, or even forever? Does my “ultimate” end goal HAVE to be finding “my person”? 


As I was driving home last night, wiping away tears and listening to melodramatic music, I felt my phone vibrate. I’ve been making a concerted effort to not text and drive, but I couldn’t help but glance down at my phone and catch the first line of my friend’s boyfriend’s text message.


“You HAVE to come back!!” it read. “I’m proposing tonight, and she would want–” that’s where it cut off. And my waterworks started all over again.


There’s no way in hell I can go back, I told myself firmly. You’re a sad, sad person right now, and this is going to be one of the happiest nights of her life. Don’t ruin it.


“I won’t be able to make it back out there,” I apologized, feeling heavy, “but HUGE congrats. Have a memorable evening, and give that beautiful girl a big hug for me.”


I parked my car, walked into the house, and my best friend, Charlie, was standing at the top of the stairs. “How are you?” we asked each other. We were both bummed out; him for his reasons, me for mine. So we ate organic gelato and gluten-free cheese puffs and watched Doctor Who on a laptop like the hipster fucks that we are.


And today, wearing black jeans, a grey tank top, the same prized blue sweater and my first beanie of the season, I drove to the Golden Temple downtown.


You all remember cafe girl, don’t you?

The one I left a 2-paged letter for a little more than a month ago? A few of you have asked if I ever heard back from the gal. The answer is yes.


She texted me about two weeks after I’d left the letter, introducing herself. Her texts arrived between 9 PM and 1 AM, when I was fast asleep, so I received them in the morning. I was shocked to receive them, and I relayed this to her.


“I never expected to hear from you!” I admitted. In response to her inquiry (what my plans were for the weekend), I responded that I’d planned on swinging by Saturn and that she could join me, or that I’d be happy to meet her elsewhere. I then threw out about seven different options, ranging from grabbing smoothies together to walking at Railroad Park. I heard back from her about seven hours later.


“Word. Well I’ll catch up with you over coffee sometime.”


I froze. Re-read the message. ‘Word’? Seriously? In response to my carefully crafted THREE paragraphs, you respond with ‘word’? 


I was so disappointed in my new best friend that I didn’t text her back. For two weeks.


Then, randomly one afternoon, I felt guilty about it. So you leave the girl a 2-paged letter, text her three paragraphs, and then just disappear? How weird must that seem to her? It might have even hurt her feelings. Maybe she needs a friend, like you do.


So I shot her a (briefer) text: Sorry it took me forever.. if you ARE looking for a new friend, I’d love to grab coffee with you sometime.


There; I’ll just leave it at that, I decided, feeling happy with my effort to make reparations.


“Can’t do coffee today,” she responded, “have a band practice.. we’re playing at Saturn this Friday!”




YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. I shook my head in disbelief. Beautiful AND artistic? 


She told me the name of her band, and Facebook confirmed the veracity of her claim; her band was, indeed, playing at Saturn. My most favoritest venue in the world. I considered, for a half-second, heading over to Saturn that Friday night and checking the band out, but decided not to; it seemed too creepy and stalker-ish. We hadn’t even met for that coffee yet or properly introduced ourselves; I’d left her an anonymous letter and she’d texted me at one in the morning.


But I felt like her band news merited a response, so I sent what I intended to be the last text: “Nice! Well have a blast, dude, and take care.” I nodded to myself, complimenting the refreshing succinctness of my message and then sending it.


“Will do,” she responded within a minute. “Come say hey at the Golden Temple sometime! I still don’t know what you look like.”


I was puzzled; did she want to be friends or NOT?


“Don’t be shy,” (+ smiley emoticon) a second message from her read.


“I am very shy by nature,” I responded, “which is why I left you the letter. I don’t drop into GT often, but I’ll make it a point to do so this Saturday if you’re scheduled to work.. just let me know. I’ll be the 5 ‘ 4″ short-haired girl ordering either a peanut butter smoothie or a burrito.”


And then, I heard nothing. Which caused me to conclude that one of two things were true:


  1. She now knows that Jace isn’t a boy (as the name might imply) and isn’t interested in befriending/dating a non-boy. Which I wasn’t looking to date, anyways.
  2. She’s bad at responding to text messages. Many people are.


Returning to today, I hadn’t planned on or hoped to see her, so when I was waiting in line an hour ago, preparing to order my smoothie, and she appeared in the prep area, I was very surprised.


Just act cool, super nonchalant, and use a code name when you order! I instructed myself. “Like.. tell them you’re Cosmo, or Deaqualine, or Jay.. yeah, do Jay. That makes the most sense.”


OKAY. (Trying not to freak out.)


A different cafe girl took my order; in place of ordering a suspect peanut butter smoothie (which is what Two Paged Letter Jace said she would have ordered), I requested a fruit smoothie containing raspberries, blueberries, and pineapple chunks with almond milk.


“And what’s your name?” the girl asked.


See; I KNEW they’d ask! 


Without hesitating (and silently bragging on myself for being so prepared), I answered: “Jay.”


“Okay. Just a few minutes, Jay!”


I hurried to my seat, set my laptop down onto the dingy brown table, and then they were calling for Jay.


I approached the counter quietly, unintentionally swerving a little in my effort to walk normally and feeling like a girl in a lineup of possible criminals. Are they going to know it’s me? 

I made it there and looked up; my cafe girl had just pushed the purple drink across the counter. She made eye contact with me and then, obviously satisfied that the customer who had ordered a purple smoothie knew it was ready and was claiming it, turned away; I grabbed the drink, two napkins, and turned away also. Mission accomplished: secret identity preserved; true identity unknown.


Did I want to get caught? Be forced into introducing myself? Sort of. Of course I did. I would like to make a new friend. And observing her reaction would have been, at the very least, interesting. But I’m just not comfortable, outside of work, interacting with people right now, and I don’t think I’m in a healthy place where I can be a good friend to someone else. I can barely keep up with current social obligations and have to tie my own hands to prevent myself from texting cancellations and dipping out on people I already know. I have to remind myself daily that making a new friend, moving to another state, or wearing a different style or color jacket isn’t going to fix me. Change feels good, and it offers somewhat of a placebo effect, but it has no power to actually fix or heal anything.


And I’d like to promise that this will be the last sad post you’ll get from me.. but I think we both know better by now.


So, recap:

An old best friend is now living in a snuggly new apartment with her fiance. That’s a beautiful new beginning for them.

And I used to have a best friend like that, and an apartment like theirs. I have neither now. But I need to stop considering the lack a loss and appreciate that being married to someone I could honestly call my best friend was one of the most interesting, and wonderful, and perspective-lending experiences I’ve ever had. I can’t have him back as the best friend I adored and loved, but I can revisit him – and us – in my memory, every once in a while. Someday, when it hurts less, I will; I’ll think of him, and us, and Melissa, and us, and Bobby, and us. Someday. And in the meantime, I’ll appreciate the subtle impressions and the massive impact each of them has left and made on me.. changing me, inspiring me, and challenging me to be stronger, and smarter, and kinder, and wiser, and to continue along The Jace Journey beyond this strange new landmark: living single and being happy about it.


I don’t need a clean slate. I don’t need a fresh start. I don’t need another relationship. I don’t need a god, or a big move, or one more gosh darn stool from the thrift store. I just need to figure out what the point of living life is and why I’m so averse to living it alone. 



Me trying to do (2) things: 1. be happy 2. not fall


Still here,

Aun Aqui


PS: I left without leaving a letter this time.


Curamin: “Stop Pain NOW!”

As of 5:27 PM Friday, I’ve been on vacation.. my first “big” vacation of the year. I strategically scheduled it for the first ten days of October because the cool layers and earthy scents inherent in the month make it the most invigorating, inspiring, and magical time of the year. For me, anyways. It’s like you can feel the shift, the tilt, and the change. It’s comforting. Change always is; change offers this sense of renewal.. this inexplicable boost in morale and power. Last week, an old friend e-mailed that my last blog post had resonated with her:

I understand that whole conflicted feeling, like something needs to be changed or freshened and you just can’t figure out WHAT. When I was younger, I used to rearrange my bedroom about once every three months because it felt like a major change (ditto!). Or I’d cut my hair off or dye it a crazy color. It’s like a new you, without actually being all that new. Only temporarily fulfilling though, at least for me. You’ll have to let me know if you find something that sticks, in that regard.

You keep me posted, too.


And in reference to this vacation business, I’ve been polled by many: “Ten days off! Wow! What are your plans, Jace? Traveling? Performing? Going on an adventure?”


I responded to each inquiry in the exact same way: “It’s going to be pretty low-key, actually. I do have a gig scheduled mid-week, but other than that, I’ll be sleeping in, reading books, writing at the cafe, walking around downtown and hanging out with the pups.”


I observed that most people met this response with some disappointment on my behalf. “Really? That’s it? So.. you’re not going to have fun?”


I’ve had ‘fun’ vacations; embarked on road trips, visited theme parks, taken long drives down to the beach.. those busy “types” of vacations are interesting, and I enjoy them in extreme moderation. In general, my idea of a good time is to be in a state of unhurried relaxation and self-guided exploration and productivity. Throw in some coffee, plenty of personal space, and a carefully concocted mixture of music and quiet and I’m set.


With that being said, my vacation has been pleasant so far, and even – at times – busy. I’ve stayed occupied. On Friday evening, my best friend and I attended an underground/techno dance party at Saturn. The last time I danced – which was last month – was the first time I had ever danced, and to make it through the evening, I’d visited the bar twice for some assistance.

“I’m hoping the alcohol will make it easier for me to dance,” I explained to the barista on visit number two. He raised his eyebrows as he slid the short glass of whiskey-and-sprite across the counter.

“Hey.. whatever it takes,” he replied.


But this time, last Friday night, I was able to groove sans alcohol. I even made up some cool new moves; I named one “The Slam Dunk” and another “Peace and Guns.” Ask me to teach them to you sometime.


Then, on Saturday, Charlie and I checked out a new (to us) coffee joint, perused a thrift shop, and installed aluminum window screens in his bedroom and mine. The windows in the house have been left open since Saturday afternoon, and it. feels. heavenly.


Yesterday — Sunday — I changed out my guitar strings (in preparation for Wednesday night’s gig at The California Pizza Kitchen). It’s embarrassing to admit, but this was my first time re-stringing the guitar in two years, so after installation and some fine tuning, I couldn’t get over how crisp and full the chords sounded. It costed five bucks and Charlie (my assistant) sustained two minor hand injuries during the process, but it was so rewarding.


And today, I woke up early for the first time in three days to chauffuer Charlie to his doctor’s appointment.


After arriving, we entered the Magic City Wellness Center together and then parted ways; I plopped down onto a black faux leather couch while Charlie signed in at the front desk. It was my first time visiting the place, so I took a minute to glance around the room. There was a flat-screen TV on the wall, a Keurig stationed in the corner, six water bottles lined up next to it, an assortment of books on a shelf underneath the Keurig and, in conjunction with the books, a laminated printout that read: “Please enjoy reading a LGBTQ book while you wait, and feel free to take it home with you until your next visit!”


That’s really nice, I thought to myself.


I turned my gaze to the right; there were a few books stacked onto a table that intercepted two chairs, and a placard stood behind the books, advertising some kind of new pill: “Prevent HIV. Take this pill daily.” A small group of 5 happy-looking and well-dressed men were smiling and laughing in the background of the advertisement.


Satisfied with my surroundings, I eased into the back of the couch. I slipped my hand down into my backpack to go fishing around for my own book; a sci-fi novel I’d borrowed from the library. After a few seconds of rummaging, I felt it, hooked onto it by curving my fingers, and then spent the next twenty minutes reading through the first chapter and a half. I had to stop half-way through the second chapter because I’d decided, after giving it a fair chance, that the book just wasn’t worth any more of my time. The writing style was too simplistic, and the author threw in more curse words than necessary (seemingly, just for the hell of it), rather than inserting them strategically. It wasn’t tasteful.


So I tossed the book back into my backpack and then looked up right as the side door was opening; Charlie was finished.


“How did it go?” I whispered.


“They had to stick me four times,” he replied, making a sad face. I noticed cotton stuffing spilling out from both sides of khaki-colored medical bandaging on his right arm.


I stepped into the bathroom on the way out. I noticed, as I was washing my hands, a delicate tweed basket resting on top of a high table in the room. Curious, I craned my head to the left and peered down into it; tiny, bright purple packets looked back up at me. “Super lubricated!” one of them read.


“Oh dear.” I left the bathroom quickly, and Charlie and I slipped back into the car, en route to Red Cat Coffee House.


And now, here I am, plopped down onto another couch, a different couch; this one’s brown leather and a bit more aged than the last one, so it has some give to it. If I close my eyes, it’s easier to hear everything: the whiz and drip of the coffee maker droning on in the background; the lid to the dusty trash can opening and closing now and then; chairs scraping against the concrete at intervals and a constant, rolling hum of pitches, octaves, syllables and consonants filling all of the empty spaces in the room. I caught a lady’s eye a few seconds ago, and when I did, she tilted her head at me, nodding up and down in approval. “I REALLY like your haircut,” she announced.


“Hey, thanks!” I smiled at her.


“I really do. It compliments you.”


“I appreciate that,” I responded, nodding back at her. “My hair went allllll the way down my back two years ago, and I HATED it.”


“Reaaaaaally?” She marveled, squinting her eyes and obviously struggling to picture it.


“Yep. First time I took it this short, the hair stylist left it all thick and poofy. I eventually went to a barber and they fixed it.”


“Well I love it,” she reiterated.


“Thank you; that means a lot.”


And now, eyes open, I’m logged into WordPress, flipping through new tracks on Spotify’s Discover Weekly setlist and mining for some new listening material, and I’m asking myself, what do I have to say?

I’ll answer that question with a story, and then a statement.


Charlie and I dropped into Organic Harvest Saturday morning for two things: a pint of organic half-and-half (to sweeten coffee brewed at home) and two jars of pasta sauce.


After meandering up and down the aisles, eyeing the snack-laden shelves, and dropping a few unnecessary items into our handheld basket (raspberry licorice, coconut water, and sweet vinegar chips), we checked out. The store was holding a semi-annual “fair,” sampling wine, beer, cheese, and etc., but I was fasting until dinner-time, so I skipped out on all of that. As we exited the store, though, we noticed a “samples” booth set-up out front.


“Hey!” a smiling employee called out and welcomed us over. “Please feel free to take any samples you’d like!”


I sifted through the offerings and hand-picked several supplement samples, adding them to my shopping bag (choosing things like a women’s daily multivitamin, a kid’s animal-shaped vitamin C pack, and some gelatin-free, mood-boosting capsules).


Charlie snagged some supplements, too, and as we were driving home, sharing our selections, I noticed that the free, reusable bag the cashier had deposited our groceries into at checkout was advertising one of the supplements I’d seen available at the booth.


Somewhat interested, I asked Charlie: “Hey — what does the bag say?” Charlie, who was sitting in the passenger’s seat, lifted the bag up off of the car floor. “It sayyyyys.. ‘Curamin: Stop Pain NOW!'”


I nodded, smiling a little. I knew I’d seen it at the table. “Wish it could make MY pain go away,” I joked.


I felt Charlie look over at me. “Are you in pain?” he asked, sounding worried.


“Oh, nooooo!” I assured him, quickly. “I was kidding. I’m not in any kind of physical pain.. I was talking about EMOTIONAL pain. As in, I wish that supplement could take away my emotional pain. Of course, it can’t,” I added.


Charlie’s gaze was unmoved. “Talk about it.”


I lifted my eyebrows at the road ahead. I hadn’t planned on starting some kind of deep discussion. But okay.


“Well.. I just mean that it’s a lot easier to market treatments for physical pain. Emotional, mental, and spiritual pain are in their own categories. It’s a lot more difficult to work through and ‘treat’ that shit.” I paused for a while. Charlie said nothing.


“I think what hurts me the most in this life,” I continued, interrupting the silence, “is the transience of relationships, and of love. I’ve fallen in love with so many people.. romantically and platonically. And I still love those people, every single one of them. So many of those people claimed to love me back, unconditionally.. but they didn’t. I know they didn’t. I didn’t know it when they told me.. I naively believed them.. but it’s apparent now. I’ve yet to find ONE person who could actually love unconditionally.” I felt tears coming, and I hate getting emotional around people, so I took a second to steady my breathing. “Even if they couldn’t continue loving me in the same way they had or as strongly as they used to, they still could have loved me. You know? Love changes form, sometimes, and weakens or picks up in intensity, but it’s not supposed to just stop.”

Charlie murmured agreement.

“Look,” I inserted seriously, “I love you, Charlie. Whoever’s loved you before me or loves you after me, I can’t speak for them, but when I love somebody, it’s forever. So you’ll always have someone in your corner — a friend who loves you unconditionally, whether you end up wildly famous or rotting in a prison cell. So you’re safe. Just, know that.”

“I love you unconditionally, too,” Charlie answered.

We’ll see about that,
I thought to myself.


Then, much later on in the day, I turned my lamp off, left the window open, and fell fast asleep. I woke up this morning recalling a dream involving Christopher. In it, he’d stopped by a cafe to say hi — to spend like two minutes catching up with me — and I wasn’t having it. I opened the door to the cafe, invited him in, and then pulled him aside.


“We were supposed to have mornings and evenings together,” I reminded him, shaking my head in disbelief, “so what the hell is this?”

I can’t remember his response.


Driving to Charlie’s doctor’s appointment this morning, I related the dream. “I was so mad at him,” I admitted.

“Were you mad at him in the dream, or are you mad at him in real life?”

We were parked at a light. I waited for it to turn green before responding. “Both. But ‘upset’ would be a better word for it. I’m mostly sad with him, but there’s a part of me that’s angry, too. Anger is an emotion that I struggle to.. accept in myself.. but that’s just me being honest.” I adjusted in my seat. “Anyways. He expects me be okay with maintaining this superficial friendship, where he checks in every couple of weeks or months and, when he does, we barely brush the surface with each other. I’d rather watch our relationship die than hook it up to some kind of artificial life support and let it slowly degrade into something stupidly meaningless. With someone else, sure, that type of superficial relationship might be sustainable.. even respectable. But with him, it’s just an insult.” I took the exit ramp and continued onward to the doctor’s office, where they take blood, give advice, deliver news and prescribe medicines.. shit like Curamin.

I’d just rather remember how close and happy we were, I thought to myself only. It all hurts, but that would hurt less than accepting what we are now.



So, that’s the story, and here’s my statement.


Physical pain is unpleasant. I experienced a simple mishap on my skateboard two months ago and it resulted in an achy, throbbing right hand for three weeks. THREE WEEKS! No broken bones, and no pulled tendons (that I’m aware of.. I don’t go to doctors), but it was still very unpleasant. But the good news is threefold: the body heals, most physical ailments don’t last forever, and there’s medicine out there to help make the healing process a slightly smoother one. Except for that time when I took pain pills after having all four wisdom teeth removed and ended up vomiting because of the strength of the pills. I remember leaning over the sink and crying — trying to vomit as carefully and delicately as possible so that the four corners of my sensitive gums wouldn’t burst and I wouldn’t bleed to death.


But emotional pain, spiritual wounds, and constricting, pulsating heartache are, again, in their own unique categories. They’re sensitive, unpredictable, and mysterious demons to deal with. It took me six years to really let go of the best friend that dipped on me, and three years after his death, I’m still unable to process Bobby’s passing. Next month will make a year since Chris and I’s formal divorce, and the pain of our separation is more searing and pronounced now than it was on the day we signed that blasted paperwork. Isn’t that strange? A pain that strengthens, expands, multiplies and compounds with the progression of time..


Other than chocolate fudge brownie ice cream and sweet vinegar chips, there’s no real medicine you can take for heartache — no supplement that’ll soften its razorblade edges — and despite how much you wish they could, no one can shoulder your burden with you or assume it for you. You can, however, solicit and accept support. Because I feel pain, I genuinely empathize with anyone suffering in some form or another, and I wish you peace, confidence, and happiness on your journey, friend. I’m still slipping and swerving along my own. There are good days and bad days, of course; on the good days, I try to be acutely aware of how good things are, and on the bad days, I strive to be gentle with myself, like I would be gentle with a friend who’s down. I get out of the house, grab a coffee, find some kind of creative outlet, hug my pets, and read a nice book.


“We were supposed to have mornings and evenings together.. so what the hell is this?”

Disappointing. Sad. A bummer. But you’ve got to remember two things:

1. People enhance life.. they don’t make it. You’re perfectly fine, competent, happy and whole on your own. Got that?

2. Don’t be afraid to love the people you meet and travel with in this world; just beware of making someone your world.


Still here,

Aun Aqui


“If you weren’t here, you would miss it”: Stories, Twenties, Depression Tricks and Talent Shows

I was walking laps at Railroad Park last weekend when I realized that I was bored. I want to continue walking, I reasoned, but not in an aimless circle. So I whipped out my phone, Googled Urban Standard, and used my phone’s GPS to navigate, on foot, to the coffee shop, which was just twenty minutes away. This is much better, I complimented myself on the idea as I veered away from my usual route. It’s goal-oriented exercise, AND it feels more like an adventure. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey, taking in new sights while I explored about and using my camera to snap shots along the way.. capturing images of moving trains, decrepit buildings, old signs, and etc. I made it to the coffee shop but chose to, instead of entering it, continue trekking onward. I stepped into an antiques shop on First Avenue North and moseyed around inside. I left with an old Chevy pin in my palm and, as I began heading back toward the park, I felt a vibration in my back jean pocket.

“Not feeling up to getting out of the house tonight, but have an ARC Stories ticket. You want it?”


Dude.. I was JUST thinking about purchasing a ticket this morning! I marveled inwardly at the insightful benevolence of the universe. The only reason I hadn’t purchased a ticket was because the theme of this storytelling event is sports — “Go, Fight, Win!” — and, other than skateboarding, I’m not big on those.


“If you’re certain you’re not going to use it,” I responded, “I’d love to have it!”


She emailed the ticket to me and, with fun and interesting plans for the evening taking shape, I felt a surge of happy anticipation. It’ll be good to get out of the house tonight, I decided.


I drove home to check on the dogs (oh yeah, plural — I have a puppy now; Silo!), shower, and eat supper, and then I returned to downtown Birmingham in my heroic little Neon. I’m amazed and grateful that it’s still trucking along. The check engine light lit up three days ago; for the time being, I’m gently ignoring it, waiting for a more favorable set of circumstances where I’m not as pressed for time and won’t feel super bummed to spend a sizable portion of the day having my car looked at and worked on.



My and Silo’s punk rock cover band promo photo.


When I pulled up at Avon theater that Saturday night, I felt good. On the rare occasions that I do go out in the evening, it’s usually with my best friend at my side or a friend who’s visiting from out-of-town tagging along. It felt oddly liberating to be walking down a dimly-lit street alone, surrounded by strangers; picking up on the scent of their cologne, perfume, alcohol, sweat, and fried foods, and catching isolated bits of their conversations and laughs and arguments.

I temporarily increased the brightness of my phone’s display and presented my e-ticket at the door. After scanning my phone, the attendant motioned for me to enter the building with a distracted smile and a backward toss of her head.


I ducked my head a little and made myself as small as possible as I squeezed in-between crowds of friends and family. I found a seat three rows from the front and settled onto it, hugging my knees to my chest with one hand and holding the program for the evening in my left hand. Seven people would be relating stories – personally experienced, real-life stories – that centered, in some way, around sports. As my eyes scanned over names and links to social media, I stopped at the name Bob Byrd.


“MY FAAAAVORITE!!” I exhaled,thrilled. Bob Byrd was, simply put, the best storyteller; an adorable, middle-aged, round bellied and openly gay gentleman from Tuscaloosa. He wore wide-rimmed glasses and had the most fantastic storytelling voice — his pitch, inflection, and charisma all working together to secure the listener’s attention. The first story I’d ever heard him relate, a beautifully sad one, had brought me to tears; the second and third stories had made me laugh to the point of tears. I couldn’t wait to hear him speaking on the stage again.


Ten minutes after I had settled into my seat, the host for the evening tapped the mic and the crowded, noisy room fell respectfully quiet. Storyteller after storyteller ascended the stage, and each person’s tale was interesting. But Bob’s was the best.


I cheered as he strode over to the podium, and then my attention was riveted, for the next ten minutes, on the tone of his voice, his word choices, his hand gestures, and his facial expressions. He shared an experience that had taken place during his short-lived career as a swimmer, when he’d gone on a cruise. He had paid for a snorkeling excursion, and this little side adventure hadn’t gone quite as well as he’d hoped for.

“I wear a size ten SHOE,” he explained, “and I was the LAST in line to obtain a pair of FLIPPERS. My OPTIONS were size 8, and size 12.” He tried to struggle into the pair of 8’s, he shared, but with no luck; he had to go with the 12’s.

“And so we all went off into the water together,” he continued, “and each of us had this little apparatus to hold onto. It was connected to a motor of sorts. You could press the button on the LEFT to move slowly, the button on the RIGHT to move quickly, or you could mash down BOTH buttons at the same time to go very, VERY fast.”


The group applied snorkeling masks and went from wading in the water to softly pressing the “slow” button. Bob followed suit.


“Here,” he continued, “I’ll mention that I did NOT shave my face prior to going on this cruise, because I didn’t anticipate a need to do so. I was mistaken.”


Facial hair, he went on to explain, interferes with the mask “air-locking”, so Bob discovered that, each time he stuck his head underneath the surface, ocean water would begin seeping into his mask, quickly interrupting his breathing. He’d return to the surface, remove his mask, dry his face as best he could, and then reapply it with as much pressure as possible. The suction just wasn’t there.


“Meanwhile, the rest of the group was getting ahead of me, but not by a lot,” he said. “The real kicker came when one of my flippers slipped off of my foot.”


He was, at this point, in 4-foot deep water, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. He submerged his body under the water and retrieved the flipper from the ocean floor, reapplied it to his foot, and then swam onward, trying to catch up with the group.. but every few minutes, he’d have to remove his mask, shake the water out, and reapply it, all the while holding onto this motorized apparatus.


“Then,” his voice dropped nearly an octave and he took on a grave expression, “both flippers slipped from my feet. And this time, I found myself in 30-foot deep water.”


The crowd gasped.


“I didn’t even see the POINT in the things, the flippers,” he brushed the annoying nature of them off like a mosquito, “but by THIS point, I was VERY far behind the rest of my group. I remembered what the instructor had said at the very beginning of our journey; push this button to go slow, this button to go fast, and both buttons at the same time to go VERY fast. So I did that. I pressed both buttons.” He paused, turning his head so that his gaze went in all directions of the room. “And as I took off, cutting through the water at precisely one million miles per hour, I left my swimming trunks floating behind me.”


The crowd erupted into laughter, and I laughed until I cried as Bob related the rest of the story: the flipper-owner demanding, in broken English, $20 for the missing flippers; Bob explaining that he had no cash on him; the cops being called to the scene and demanding that Bob reimburse the flipper owner, and an elderly woman stepping off of the cruise ship, hobbling over and paying the $20 on Bob’s behalf: “As long as you promise to keep yourself covered for the rest of this trip,” she demanded, eyeing his beach towel.


I left the storytelling event feeling happy. As I began walking back over to the lot where I’d parked my car, I noticed an object extending from a shadowy area within the cut of a building; a body, all curled up, lying on the ground. It looked like a young man, wearing old tennis shoes, dark denim jeans, and a hoodie, with the hood pulled over his head. I continued walking, feeling surprised and sad, and instantly remembered the $20 bill tucked into my back pocket. My mom had sent it, and two other twenties, to me for my birthday, to help pay for the new puppy. I had planned on buying a few iced coffees or Chipotle burritos with the money, but the idea of doing so didn’t sound fun or appetizing anymore.


Without thinking about it anymore, I backtracked, weaving my way through and against the tide of people flowing down the sidewalk, and then I stepped into the darkness, where the man was lying down. I bent down and whispered: “Sir? Are you awake?”


He didn’t respond.


I paused, feeling very awkward. Then, I tried again. “Sir? If you’re awake, I have something for you.. I’d like to give you a twenty.”


I waited, but he still didn’t stir. I started to worry; was he just asleep? Or conscious, but scared to talk to me? Was he okay?


“Sir — are you okay?”




I thought about touching his foot — gently nudging it a little — but I was afraid that doing so might startle him; he could be armed, honestly, I warned myself. I could just leave the twenty on the ground beside him, I considered, but it might blow away, or someone else might take it. I sighed.


People had been passing by, and I felt like I was just outside of their vision. Occasionally, a person would glance in, a little worriedly, and then continue on their way. At this juncture (where I was feeling clueless and depressed), one woman peeked her head in and said: “Oh sweetie, he’s fine. He always sleeps here.”


I looked up at her, cast a final look at the boy, and then got up to leave. She walked alongside me, and I took a good look at her. She was wearing a dingy, loose-fitting dress and had an eccentric vibe about her. She smiled at me, very genuinely, showing all of her front teeth.


“I feel bad,” I told her. “I just wanted to give him a twenty.”


“Ahhhh, he’ll be alright,” she assured me with a wink. We reached the end of the pavement. I was going to be crossing the intersection. She was going to take a right.


“He’ll be awake in a few hours,” she whispered gently, patting me on the back and then disappearing. I rushed to my car, locked the door, and cried.


I called Vernon – the home renovations guy – out to the house again, a few days after this experience.

I heard him pull up in his truck and opened the front door. “Heyyyyy, Vernon!” I sang out cheerfully.


He trekked up the steep driveway with a smile. “So why did you call me out today, Jace? What are you thinking now?”


I told him that I’d decided to knock down the wall separating the kitchen and the dining room (to give the illusion that the kitchen is more spacious than it actually is) and that, after doing so and painting the living room walls gray, I’d be ready to move forward with pulling up the laminate and tile and refinishing the concrete existing underneath.


To make a long story short, he spent nearly two hours at the house that evening, talking me out of it. All of it. Again.


We sat down, across from each other, at the Dr. Pepper Table.


“Tell me about your family,” he asked suddenly.


I settled down onto the black stool and eyed him quizzically. “I.. don’t understand the question. What about my family?”

“Just, anything. Your mom and dad; tell me about them.”

I was totally lacking in direction. What did he want to know? Where was I supposed to begin?


“Well,” I began slowly, expecting him to interrupt me right away because I was answering incorrectly, “my dad is a truck driver and my mom is a stay-at-home wife.”

“Has your dad always been a truck driver?”

“Nope; he was a Publix bakery manager for about twenty five years. He moved my mom from Florida to a rural town in Tennessee about four years ago and decided to really countrify himself. Grew his curly hair out, started wearing overalls, bought a bunch of country artists’ CDs.. the guy’s FROM Ohio, by the way.”


Vernon laughed.


“Then,” I continued, feeling more comfortable, “after managing a dollar store for about two years, he decided, out of the blue, that he wanted to be a truck driver. He got his license, starting doing it, and he loves it.” I shook my head. “He’s free-spirited, adventurous, loves to travel.. I’m really happy for him. He’s enjoying the job.”


Vernon seemed satisfied. “And your mom; she stays home?”
“Yes. She’s sickly. Weak immune system. No hobbies, no diversions, no friends. She’s pretty reclusive. She has four dogs and drives to my grandma’s house a few times a week; they chit chat, she visits with the stray dogs in the neighborhood, and they go to church and have Bible studies together.” I paused. “She’s very conservative and probably thinks I’m going to hell on multiple levels; for being gay, agnostic, listening to rock and roll..” my voice trailed off, and I smiled playfully. Vernon laughed even harder.


“Okay. Any siblings?”


“I had one. Bobby. He died four years ago; beat brain cancer but then vomited during a seizure and choked to death.” I felt myself tensing up, old anger returning.


“So,” Vernon leaned forward here, resting his elbows onto the table and looking at me more closely, “you told me earlier that you cook your dinner, go upstairs, and eat in bed with your German Shepherd.”


“And you just got another dog.. last week?”


“Yes.. a German Shepherd puppy. He’s adorrrrrrable!”


“Okay. So, to recap: you stay home, you have dogs, you’re battling depression and you’re socially anxious. Which of your parents do you feel you’re the most like?”


I looked straight back at him. “Wow. I’m turning into my mother.” We both chuckled.


“And I know you love both of your parents,” Vernon clarified quickly, “and they’re both wonderful people.. but personality-wise and lifestyle-wise, who would you want to be the most like?”


“My dad,” I said, no hesitation. “I love my mother. She’s one of the most compassionate and sensitive souls I’ve ever known. Beautiful on the inside AND outside. Talented, too.. as a kid, she used to write stories and illustrate them. She’s gifted. Great interior decorator.. has a good eye for things; lots of potential, just doesn’t use it. I want to live like my dad lives,” I repeated. “He’s confident, adventurous, carefree, and brave. He is seriously fearless; sometimes, foolishly so. He treats everyone the same, which I respect, and he’s open-minded. He also believes in himself enough to pursue what he wants.. I mean, he switched careers at the age of 60. That was gutsy. I, by comparison, have such a complex when it comes to self-worth and gauging my own abilities.”


Vernon listened to all of this quietly and then nodded. “Yeah.. you need to get out of the house, girl.” He held my gaze. “You keep calling me out here, wanting to change stuff in your house. I can see that you are itching to make changes, but it has nothing to do with this house.” He paused before continuing. “On the outside, you look like a girl who’s got her shit together; great job, a house with equity in it, cool, funky haircut, two piercing on that one ear, all that..”

I laughed at him.

“But what’s it like in here?” He was tapping his shirt now, indicating the area of skin that covered his heart.


“It’s chaos.”


I was sitting at the table again later that evening, Vernon long gone in his pickup truck, and I was looking to my left – taking in the tiny, galley-style kitchen – and then I was gazing forward, into the open, vaulted dining room. I was thinking about the changes Vernon had been talking about; the internal ones. I was remembering the stranger curled up on the concrete near Avon theater, and I asked myself: “Why are you feeling so down?”

I don’t know.

“You’ve got this house, this healthy body, this curious mind.. and Vernon’s right; you’ve got a great job and you LOVE it. You’ve got a comfy, safe place to sleep, healthy food to eat, two stupid dogs to love, a running car to get around in.. it could be so much worse, Jace. The life you live? You’re lucky. And you don’t appreciate it.”


“I DO appreciate it,” I argued, feeling defensive. “I do! But I still can’t help feeling like I’d just rather not be here.”


He was on my mind, so I called my dad the next day, wanting to catch up. We talk once a month, on average.


“I’m on a route to Virginia,” dad’s voice bellowed into the phone, sounding happy. “Maybe I’ll pass through Birmingham!”

I laughed, both of us knowing that Birmingham’s nowhere near Virginia. “Maybe so, Padre! Hit me up and we’ll grab a coffee.”


He was quiet for a minute.


“I talked to Christopher yesterday,” he mentioned. “Man I love that guy. It sounds like he’s happy.. like things are going well with that girl, and with the band.”


I swallowed. “Yeah! He’s good. I haven’t spoken with him in a few weeks; just can’t handle it right now. But I’m truly happy he’s doing well. I always want him to be happy.”


“Things are going to get better, sweetie,” Padre said suddenly, and I thought I heard his voice cracking a little. “I know it. You’re going to find the right person. The right guy.”


I rolled my eyes and smiled a little; mom and dad, still wishing their daughter wasn’t gay.

I still haven’t dated a girl, I shrugged to myself, so maybe I’m not. Maybe I’m bisexual.. or, more likely, asexual. Who knows; who cares. Finding a person and fusing their life with mine won’t make me happy, anyways, I decided. Per experience, it’s actually more likely to make me unhappy.


“I know that, sometimes, you wake up and wish that you just weren’t here,” he continued, “and I’ve been there.. but trust me: if you weren’t here, you would miss it.” He paused. “Well.. I guess that’s kinda impossible, isn’t it?”


We laughed, talked for another minute, and said goodbye.


And the ups and downs continue, as ever. I have good days and bad days, like everyone else, and I’ve discovered a few tricks that help me manage (aka stay on top of) my depression. They help me wait it out and get through the low points. Sharing these tips and tricks below in hopes that someone else will find them useful, and please feel free to share your own tips and tricks in a comment on this post.

  • Keep busy. Without regard to how you’re feeling (and this takes practice and discipline), choose to be proactive. Assign tasks to yourself, take on projects, and set goals. By doing so, you’ll boost your own morale.
  • Seek out good atmospheres. For some people, it’s being at home, but for me, it’s the exact opposite. I feel best when I’m at the cafe or the park, and I know that about myself, so when I’m feeling down, even if I don’t feel like changing into real clothes and venturing out, I make myself.
  • Don’t push everyone away. Stay in touch with people. Talk about how you’re feeling; sadness and depression aren’t signs of weakness or cowardice. Admitting and confronting them is proof of strength and courage.
  • Stay healthy. When I wake up feeling bad, my tendency is to not eat, with the goal of losing more weight and – thereby – fictitiously gaining a better sense of ‘control’ over myself and life in general. And while occasional fasting can be good for your body, denying your body of fuel on a regular basis and forgoing exercise for entire days spent in bed is unhealthy. Keep eating, and keep exercising. Your body needs food and your soul needs sunshine, fresh air, and movement.
  • Love the little things. Whether it’s playing your favorite song on repeat, scheduling enough time for you to watch your favorite Netflix show, taking yourself on a date to Chipotle or curling up with your oversized German Shepherd, enjoy your favorite parts of life. Dwell on how much you’d miss those things if you weren’t here.
  • Make plans to be here. This one is huge. I went as far as asking my manager, last week, if I could go ahead and schedule my vacation days for 2017, because when I can pull up a calendar – something tangible – and see that a class I’ll be teaching is scheduled for these dates, a road trip I’m mapping out is scheduled for that weekend, and a gig is scheduled on that evening, it enables me to concretely imagine seeing myself still being here – alive, well, and in the flesh – that far into the future, and that helps me feel more grounded. Less invisible. It’s comforting, reassuring, and inspiring. Inspiring as in: If I’m here right now and I’ll still be here then, what will I be able to accomplish in the meantime?



Last story for today: The Talent Show. 


A few months ago, I noticed a friend post about an upcoming event: Birmingham’s Got Potential. A fun talent show with proceeds benefiting Special Session at Camp McDowell. I marked that I was going with a smile, imagining watching, as a spectator, from the audience, and thinking of how Bobby would have loved going to a summer camp.


As the weeks rolled by, I continued to see posts from this same friend (who was the event coordinator), asking for more participants. “Whatever your talent is — making a bed, blowing bubbles, reciting the alphabet backwards — we want to see and hear it!”


I felt like this call to action meant that there weren’t enough participants to substantiate the event, so I went ahead and submitted my name as a potential contestant. In the description field of the electronic admission form, I put: “Run-of-the-mill singer songwriter.” Aka, only choose me if you’re desperate.


A week later, I got a response via email: “Jace Yarbrough, thank you for signing up to participate! We look forward to having you..”


I groaned out loud. What have I gotten myself into?


It’s not that I don’t enjoy performing; I perform at least twice a month; once at Saturn’s open mic, and again at an ongoing gig I have at The Coal Yard, a local restaurant/bar with a family-friendly atmosphere. But performing in a talent show downtown seemed a little intimidating and outside of my comfort zone. My first thought, after reading the email: cancel immediately. My second: don’t be a jerk. 


My slot, the email detailed, would be six minutes long. I’ll do one song, I decided. I leafed through my repertoire of originals and decided to go with Paradise — a sad number I’d written last year during the divorce. I emailed my friend (the coordinator), since he’d requested song titles in advance of the show.


“Hey! I’ll be performing an original called Paradise,” my email began, “but I wanted to give you a heads up that it has a few ‘bad’ words in it. Are curse words permissible at this event?”


He replied the day OF the show. “I’m sorry, don’t know how I missed this; we’re trying to keep things family-friendly. Anyway you can sub out the naughty words with ‘fudge,’ ‘itch,’ etc?”


I thought it over, and decided it would be easier to just do another song.


The song I’d wanted to do, from the very beginning, was one I’d only studio recorded. I’ve never performed it live, because – for some reason – I’ve just never had the guts to. And I knew that this was the right time to debut it.


I ran through the song twice on my bed yesterday afternoon, and then stuck my guitar, capo, and pick back into the case. “We’ll see how it goes!” I announced uneasily (to no one other than myself).



I arrived at Good People Brewing Company around 7 yesterday evening. It was my first time visiting the place since they’d made major renovations on it a year and a half prior. I navigated all the way to the back of the brewery, where a door led you outside; here, there was a stage and seating area and a billion zillion people already present. I set my guitar down onto the stage, located a fellow musician friend in the audience, and we sat side by side, drinking seasonal beers while performer after performer took the stage. The raspberry ale I’d ordered took the edge off of my nerves, and made my anxiety a little less crippling. A few of the talent show participants were Special Session Camp attendees; one of them, a girl named Journey, was wheeled to a spot just in front of the stage. She sang “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, an audio track playing in the background. I cried freely during her performance and then stood with the rest of the audience after the track ended, giving her a standing ovation. She better win first place, I thought to myself.


About an hour and fifteen minutes in, I looked down at my phone and referenced the list of performers my friend had emailed to me. According to this list, four other names came before mine, so when the MC called out my name and people began clapping, I couldn’t believe that it was my turn to take the stage. Mentally- and emotionally-speaking, I was grossly unprepared. My friend turned to me and smiled, clapping excitedly, and I said “shit.”


I jumped onto the stage, heart racing, the audience still clapping. After retrieving my guitar and pick from the case, I settled down onto the edge of a chair and looked out, for the first time, at the crowd of people. There were probably 150 pairs of eyes on me, and they made me feel faint.


“Wow,” I breathed into the microphone, my voice echoing. “I thought I’d have at least another 30 minutes or million years to prepare myself to get up here. So..” I paused, awkwardly. “I’m going to talk for about 25-40 seconds and then I’ll start singing. When I was a KID,” I began, fumbling with the pick in my right hand, “I was very preoccupied with the idea of having a talent. I wanted to be talented so badly. I can recall throwing a ball into the air and catching it, and asking my mom — ‘mom, was that a talent?’ I also remember running out into the front yard, performing a simple, unimpressive somersault, and then calling out behind me — ‘mom, did you see that? Was THAT a talent?'” I smiled. “She always indulged me — yeah, sure. That was a talent. Then, when I turned 14, I wanted to pick up the guitar. My mom said that she wasn’t going to pay for a guitar AND guitar lessons and that I’d have to teach myself. I told her that I could do it, and it felt so good,” I whispered, “to be able to finally develop a talent — one I didn’t realize I had.”


I cleared my throat.


“My mom lives in a rural town in Tennessee, so she isn’t here tonight, but she texted me an hour ago, asking if I was nervous. OF COURSE I’M NERVOUS, I responded. I feel like vomiting and running away. ‘Just relax and enjoy it,’ she advised, and that’s what I’m going to try to do now.”


The crowd erupted into supportive cheers.


“So this original song,” I concluded, “is called 90s Rock, and I wrote it to describe how I wish someone will view me someday.. as being cool.” Laughs.


I performed the song publicly, for the first time ever, and I really, honestly enjoyed it.


When I stood up to leave the stage, I was shocked to see the crowd standing and applauding.


I hurried to my seat, my friend gushing. The girl beside him leaned over, her eyes wide. “I own a recording studio!” she announced. “WE NEED to record that! I want to BUY that song from you!”


I laughed nervously and tuned into the panel of judges, who were commenting on my performance. “Surely,” one of them began, “this wasn’t your FIRST time performing publicly?”


The MC addressed me from the stage: “Jace — was this your first time?”


“No,” I responded, “but this was my first time performing THAT song.”


I stayed and watched the rest of the participants (including my friend, who gave an INCREDIBLE performance, singing and dancing to the song Superstitious and serenading the audience), and then I grabbed my guitar, slipped on my jacket, and tried to leave as quickly as possible. My social anxiety was flaring up major.


About six people stopped me on the way out, and they were all very complimentary, but I wanted to leave before anyone else said anything, especially the girl with the recording studio.


I made it out onto the street and took a deep breath. I felt happy.


I don’t get why you didn’t stick around, I accused myself. It’s not really being sociable if you go to events, do your thing, and then dip without talking to people.


It’s progress, I answered and then tuned out.


Still here,

Aun Aqui


PS: You can listen to the studio version of 90s Rock here, if you’d like.

PPS: In case you’re wondering, Journey DID win first place.🙂


Dreaming, Crying, and “Shopping It Out”: Still Here

Dreams. I’ve always had lots of them, and I always pay more attention to them than I likely need to.. still; here are three recent dreams that are sticking out in my mind.


Dream #1: Sleeping and Weeping

I’m feeling inexplicably sad as I walk out of and away from a building located inside of a shopping plaza. As I place one heavy foot in front of the other, stepping over an endless sea of black asphalt that’s interrupted, at intervals, by stark white lines, I look up and notice twin-sized beds lining the entire parking lot. They’re arranged in perfect, neat rows, and I navigate, intuitively, to the one I know is ‘mine.’

I slow my pace while I’m passing the bed before mine; the first thing I notice about it is the bottom end of the comforter: fuchsia. It’s a bright, pinkish-purple color with glitter throw in (for good measure). Distinctly girly. Towards the middle of the comforter, the purple disappears into a blackish-blue galactic dream, and then this galaxy theme gives way to a land-before-time-esque dinosaur pattern. There are healthy, happy dinosaurs pictured in various poses, dinosaur bones littered about, and the word “RAWR” (drawn in a fun “kid” font with bold text) appears here and there, intermittently. A three-part comforter; how unique. I glance up at the little girl who is being tucked into bed by her mother; she looks maybe eight. I consider complimenting her on the cool bedspread, but I’m too sad to speak. Instead, I crawl into my own bed – oddly enough, I can’t recall any aesthetic details about it – and pull the cover over my head until I see nothing but blackness. I weep into the dark. I feel myself blink, and then I’m still crying, but now, I’m crying in the backseat of a sedan. There are two people in the front seat; a driver and a passenger. The driver, a man with the hint of a beard, glances back at me and then turns to look at the passenger, rolling his eyes as he does so. I understand, by this, that my crying is irritating the strangers in the front seat. I don’t even know where we’re going.

“I’m sick,” I offer quietly.

“No you’re not,” they argue.

“I JUST HAD DINNER with a man I was married to for five years, and he never speaks to me anymore.. yes, I AM sick, and both of you are emotionally vacant.” Oh; so that’s why I was leaving the shopping plaza, I realize. I must have just finished having dinner with Chris.

Right after I defended myself to the assholes in the car, the conversation – and that part of the dream – ended.


Dream #2: “You Never Know..”

I’m downtown, and I’ve just caught two fraudsters who were causing trouble on the streets. They’d tricked an old woman into swiping her card (using some kind of cell phone attachment) and then fraudulent charges began popping up on her account. As I begin walking away from this now resolved situation (behind me, the cops are handcuffing the perpetrators), these background sights and sounds become increasingly muffled and fuzzy, and all of my dream props change. Suddenly, I’m looking at a collection of nice, identical houses lining the smooth-concrete road of a suburban neighborhood, and I’m walking down its long street. I glance down and notice that I’m wearing a purple dress that’s way too long, so I grab a handful of it, hoist it up, and hold it at my side to prevent myself from tripping. I happen to glance to my left and, when I do, I’m surprised to see Christopher right there, walking along beside me. He puts his arm around me and starts dancing a little — looking happy, and being affectionate with me in a platonic but loving sort of way. I look up at him, surprised; I realize, in my dream, that he isn’t usually like this toward me.

“You never know when the camera’s watching,” he whispers in explanation, maintaining a dazzling smile as he does so and tossing his head behind him. I feel like collapsing in the street and dying, I’m so sad.


Dream #3: “We could do it again.”

I’m on a road trip with my dad. Road trips with Padre have always been disastrous; we laugh about it now, but the times we (aka he) side-swiped a 16-wheeler and spun out on black ice could have been show-stoppers. Both of them.

But in my dream, we’re back on the road again, and nothing crazy has happened yet. We’ve temporarily exited the vehicle so that we can walk through a neighborhood on foot. The neighborhood, I notice, is lovely; each lawn has been manicured in its own unique way. The houses and yards haven’t been made to look cookie-cutter, like the houses in my previous dream; each home just appears to be maintained and loved. There are flowers everywhere, the greens are so vivid, and all of the houses are set on hills. In-between the trees, I can see a community event going on; children are playing croquet and adults are golfing. I can catch bits and pieces of noise.. enough to know that the people sound happy. My dad and I cross the street, returning to the place where our car is parked, and I look down; a rose – dark brown, shining, almost coppery in color; incredibly old and obviously dead, but maintaining its shape – is rising from the ground. I know, in my dream, that I want to remember this place, this rose, and this moment; I can feel how crucially important it is that I remember all of these things, so I take a piece of clean, linen paper from my journal and use it to carefully cover the rose, pressing it down until it’s level with the wet ground. After applying a gentle amount of pressure, I lift the linen paper back off of the ground and turn it around to look at it. I gasp; there’s a startlingly beautiful image etched into the middle of the page now; the shadowy silhouettes of a girl and a boy holding hands. I show it to my dad. I can’t remember what he says.

We get in the car, I’m still holding the paper in my hand, and then we’re on the road yet again, driving. As we take a winding ramp onto the interstate, I’m gazing out the window and dad is commenting on something.. saying something about hurting people.

“We’ve destroyed people before,” I state calmly, “and we could do it again.”

I’m still trying to figure out if I was uttering a threat or a warning, and I can’t tell if it was to myself or to someone else.




I obviously woke up from each dream feeling sad and puzzled. I have unresolved grief/trauma related to Chris and I’s breakup — that’s clear enough to feel and see — but some of the dreams’ content I just don’t understand. What’s the meaning behind the rose? What does it, and the state it was in, symbolize? And why did I dream, three weeks ago, that at a fictional “goodbye party” at work, I had them write “Goodbye Rose” on the cake instead of “Goodbye Jace”? What about the image of the boy and girl magically appearing on new paper? Why wasn’t my comforter as cool, vivid and memorable as the little girl’s? Who have I destroyed? Or was I the destroyed one? Was I a victim, or was I just an idiot? Am I constantly putting myself into situations and getting myself into relationships that I can’t, or they can’t, sustain, and that can only end up devastating me and the other person? Or is that a chance that all reasonable, rational, hopeful, life-living-and-life-loving people take: loving someone.. and I mean really loving somebody? Are we the stupid ones, or are we the brave ones?


In real life..

I woke up feeling terribly depressed yesterday. I threw the stick for the dog and then entered back into the house. I washed my hands at the kitchen sick and dried them with a paper towel (the cloth towel was kicking around in the dryer). I opened the fridge, looked inside, closed the fridge. I sprayed the counter-tops with an all-natural, all-purpose cleaner and then dried them with a paper towel. I leafed through a stack of mail; tossing this, shredding that. I sat down onto the red stool by the Dr. Pepper Table. I got up, feeling anxious. I walked around idly, considered painting the living room and hallways gray; I could go get the supplies right now. I thought about texting Vernon, the home renovations guy — Vernon, yes; I want those concrete floors we talked about, and let’s go ahead and knock down this wall in the kitchen, too. I entertained the idea of going to the Summit to look for  a new pair of simple, gray Vans – my other pairs, rainbow- and flamingo-themed, are too busy and loud – but remembered that the Galleria hadn’t carried any of the cool guys’ styles in my size last week, so why bother looking elsewhere. I pulled up Craigslist and looked at pictures of German Shepherd puppies; doing so made me think of my rabbits and how much I miss them. I sat back down onto the red stool. I thought of Chris, on tour with his band right now; I remembered that four doors in the house need replacing; I cursed myself for weighing too much, and then I started crying.

And crying.

And crying.



I don’t have time for therapy, I apologized to myself. I don’t even have time to go to the doctor and get this fucked up hand looked at, so we’re just going to have to figure this shit out on our own.

I held a conversation with myself, and I spoke to three invisible people in the room — Melissa, Bobby, and Chris.

To Melissa, I said: Fuck you. Until the end of TIME, fuck you, you heartless, godless coward.

To Bobby, I said: I wish you were here so much. More than any of the others. 

To Chris, I said: You just don’t care about me the way you used to.. and I have to get over that. This is taking too long. I know the problem lies with me; not you.


Having “said my peace,” I continued sobbing. I just want to check out, I cried out loud.. not so they could hear it, but so that I could. Out loud. Outside of my head. I felt desperate. Panicky. I want to leave; I want so badly to be done. I must be missing something, or someone, to feel this way.. but if it’s someone, too bad; I’m so done loving people. Look at where that’s gotten me. Insert insane laugh here, because what the hell else are you going to do when you realize that what brings you the most joy in life also hurts you the worst?


In my dream, the idea of destruction of people by people surfaces. People have destroyed me, yes; through direct effort and on accident, but I’m not a victim. I know I’ve destroyed more than I’ve had to rebuild.


So what’s the secret, then? How do you get to the point of being okay and just stay there? I’d rather live a neutral life than a wildly chaotic, volatile, decaying one. No; that’s a lie. I love the mystery, the surprises — the adrenaline and adventure of the ride. I must. Obviously, I love it, because I haven’t gotten off yet. 


So I decided, late yesterday morning, that I had to get out of the house.

I needed a reason to leave, though, because everything I do must, in some way or another, seem or feel productive. I stopped by Whole Foods for an avocado.

“You heading to Saturn?” Charlie asked as he handed a perfectly sliced, cellophane-wrapped avocado to me.

“No.. I’m going home.” Home sounded terrible, but I didn’t have the energy to go elsewhere.

Charlie looked concerned. “Do SOMETHING fun. Maybe you could drop into Talbots on your way home; they’re having a sale right now, and they sell lots of busy-looking business clothes.”

I smiled weakly, the idea didn’t sound that intriguing, but I agreed to stop by the place.

I ate my avocado in the Whole Foods parking lot and then drove to Talbots. I walked inside and took in the sight; there were bright, yellow, pink, and floral things everywhere, and there were about two dozen elderly women shuffling about the room, ooohing and ahhhing and raving over them all.

“Oh Martha.. just look at THIS color..”

“Ahhhhhh yes, I have that shirt in yellow! I really should get a pink one..”

“OOOOOOH, and these PANTS are so nice! What a STEAL! Did you see the price on this? Betty, look.. isn’t it outrageous?”


I squeezed my way over to a mostly unoccupied area in the room – the clearance rack on the back wall of the petites section – and traced my hand along the contents of the rack, separating this from that and looking for a color or pattern that seemed suitable. I found one: a blue and white, pin-striped, long-sleeved and collared button-up. This would go great with a tie, I thought to myself, AND it’ll cover all of my tattoos.

I took the shirt into the back with me, where I overheard old ladies chatting with each other from their respective dressing rooms, reporting on how disappointing and over-priced this was or how fabulous that looked. I discovered one dressing room that was seemingly available; the name “Patty” had been written across the door with a blue, dry-erase marker, and a smiley face followed the name, but it appeared that Patty wasn’t using the room anymore.

I looked to the left and right, saw no one meandering about, and then snuck into the room, closing and locking the door behind me. The shirt was a great fit; a little loose, but I like slack-fitting clothes.


As I began heading toward the checkout line, I heard an employee sing out “Vaaaaans!” from behind me.

I turned around as I continued walking, surprised. “Yes! These are Vans!”

She smiled knowingly. “Uh yeah, I know. I was the first girl in my school to wear Vans.”

I stopped walking completely and turned to face her. “Seriously?”

“Oh, honey.. YES,” she was beaming with pride now. “I wore them with my cool board shorts.. AND I was the first girl to wear a mini skirt.”

“Wow. Quite the trendsetter,” I smiled at her. “What color was your first pair of Vans — do you remember?”

“Black and white. DUH!”

She walked off and I just had to laugh to myself; this 60-something-year-old lady, in modest, soft denim jeans and a delicate and pink knitted top, had just blown my mind. How cool was she?! And the remarkable part is that she was still cool. She wore coolness as effortlessly as she’d worn those Vans. I shook my head.


Pleasantly amused, I walked the rest of the way to the checkout register and took my place in line. A single, old lady stood in front of me.

“How does that one feel?” the cashier (who was standing out in front of the register now, facing the customer) inquired sweetly, adjusting the collar on the jacket the frail old lady was trying on.

“Good!” she responded. She stuck her arms out to her sides and made a face. “Uh oh.. are my sleeves too.. big?”

The cashier pursed her lips, looking thoughtful. “Well, they’re a LITTLE long, but remember; a petite extra small will decrease the length on the entire shirt, not just the sleeves, and you want to be comfortable,” she reminded the old lady gently. “If it’s not comfortable, you aren’t going to wear it.”

“That is true..” the old woman nodded in agreement. But she looked confused and unconvinced. She began checking out and then raised a pair of soft, cotton pants high up into the air (they had some kind of jungle theme on them).

“DO THESE LOOK TOO SMALL?” she interrogated the room, sounding concerned. She held them out directly in front of her waist and then looked worriedly at the cashier.

The cashier took a deep breath. “How about I check this young lady out, since she has just one thing, and then we can take a look –”


“I just think they’re going to be TOO small,” the woman grumbled, holding them up to herself and giving them a stern, sizing stare.


I smiled and tried not to laugh. I could watch this old lady fret over her selections all day, I thought to myself.


The cashier motioned me forward. “How are you?” she asked nicely.

“I’m good, thank you,” I responded. “I just have to ask — is this button-up REALLY only $9.99?” The original price, shown on the tag, was $79.99.. way outside of my price range.

The cashier nodded, looking pleased. “It sure is. GREAT sale. Did you find anything else you wanted?”

“Not today, but thank you!”


As she checked me out, we made small talk, of course. Near the end of the transaction , she asked: “Are you a part of our club?”

Awwww.. an old ladies club. 

“Not yet,” I answered tentatively.

“Would you mind giving us your phone number?”

I usually say no to these kinds of things, but she was really sweet, and this seemed simple enough. “Sure; it’s..”


“And your name?”


I spelled it.


“Your home address?”


I gave it.


“Your email?”


Okay, this is taking a while..

“Here,” I gestured to my forearm, “this is my email — A-U-N-A-Q-U-I at”

“Huh!” she murmured as she keyed it in. “Ahhnnnn.. Uhkee?”

“Yes! You got it right; aun aqui.”

“What does it mean?”

“It means ‘still here’ in Spanish. It’s my pen name.”

“Ahhh, Spanish! It’s been a while, but I took a Spanish class once!”

“Yeah?” I encouraged her to continue, but she didn’t. “I took a Spanish class in the 7th grade,” I offered, “and then continued teaching myself the language at home when my mom decided to home school me. This phrase – aun aqui – has been one of my favorites for.. over ten years now.”

She was quiet for a minute.

“Must have some special meaning, huh? Still here?”

I looked at the tattoo on my forearm. “Yes.. it does.”


“Would you mind disclosing your birthday?” she whispered, looking around to make sure no one was listening. Ah, yes; back to the never-ending questionnaire.

“Sure; September 15th, xxxx.”


She paused; then: “That’s THIS month! Hooray! I’m going to give you our birthday discount; 10% off your item.”


I thanked her.


“I hope you’ll come back and see us again soon,” the cashier concluded warmly.

“I will,” I assured her. “Thank you again!”


So I’ve had some strange dreams and sad mornings recently, but as much as people can devastate and destroy (by death or by choice; intentionally or innocently), they can also comfort, inspire, and uplift you like nothing else possibly could. Yes; I am talking about burritos. Today, I’d like to thank my friend, Charlie, for giving a damn, the Talbots cashier, name unknown, for helping me remember my own strength, and I’d like to thank myself for caring enough about myself and others to stick around. I had the phrase “still here” tattooed onto my left arm – my dominant arm – 7 years ago as a simple, constant reminder that I could make it on my own.. that I didn’t need someone else to complete me, believe in me, or love me. I complete me, I believe in myself, and I love myself. That is, I’ve concluded, the smartest and safest way to live; depending on yourself, finding and generating strength within yourself, enjoying time spent with just yourself, and not looking to anyone else to do any of these things for you. Now; loving myself doesn’t mean that I view myself as flawless (far from) or that I’m immune to recognizing my shortcomings; it means that I love and value myself enough to – rather than dip – work on my defects, strengthen my weaknesses, move past my complexes and insecurities and push through the greatest bane of my existence: my soft, sensitive soul and the relentless heartache that it feels.


Drum roll.. I am

still here
aun aqui


Dancing, making new dental connections, and leaving anonymous, non-flirtatious, hand-written letters for cafe girls on kitchen counters..

Three years, two months, and an unknown number of days ago, I was on the phone with my dad, both of us driving home from work.


“So that new place wants to hire you, huh?” he asked.

“Yeah!” I answered him. “It’s a call center position with another credit union.”

“Nice!” I could hear the smile in his voice. “I overheard your mom talking to Gram about it on the phone this morning. I’m really proud of you, Rose.”

“Thanks, dad — hey, let me run something past you.” Then, I proceeded to explain my situation to him.


I’d been working as a teller for three years and I loved it, but I’d outgrown the small, local credit union I was working for. It was like trying to keep your feet tucked into your most favorite pair of shoes ever when you’ve clearly outgrown them; your toes have no wiggle room, your heels feel glued to the soles, and you know that if you don’t act quickly, the only way to get the damn things off will to be cut the shoes (and possibly your flesh) open.


So I did some research and applied to work at two companies I felt morally attracted to. After interviewing with the first one, I received an offer from them and immediately accepted. Awesome, right? Such an empowered woman! But when I turned my two-week notice in to my current employer, I received a reaction from my manager that I wasn’t expecting.


Holding my carefully drafted paper in her hand that Thursday morning, she looked up at me, a worried expression covering her face. “Can you.. wait another day?”

Uhhhh.. huh? I was confused. “I’m sorry — what do you mean by wait? I’m not going anywhere for two weeks,” I reassured her, thinking it was a simple misunderstanding and that she’d read the date incorrectly.

“I mean — just, wait another day. To give the notice.”

Well sure, I thought to myself. Waiting seems weird, but submitting it tomorrow will still give them a solid two weeks to find my replacement. “Okay.. sure. Yes ma’am.”


The following morning, I and another teller watched like novice undercover detectives as the human resources manager’s car turned into our credit union parking lot. We’ll refer to her, in the paragraphs that follow, as Ally.

“Oh wow,” my friend remarked. “I bet she’s here for you!”


I was nervous, but I didn’t know why. Had I done anything wrong? I took a quick inventory of my mental catalogue: nope.. you’re good.


Ally swung the door open and entered the branch. She greeted everyone sweetly and then motioned for me to join her as she began stepping over towards my manager’s office. I locked my drawer, signed out of my computer, and took a deep breath as I followed her. She gently closed the sliding glass door behind us; I turned around as she did so and saw her lips curve into a gentle, reassuring smile. I’d always liked Ally. Her smile took the edge off of my nervousness, but still; my palms were sweating profusely and everything felt strangely surreal.


Once we’d all situated ourselves, Ally began to speak.

“Rose, your manager mentioned that you were about to turn in your notice yesterday. I’m so sorry to hear that! Oddly enough, I had planned – before hearing this – on coming out to the branch today to offer you a raise. We were hoping that you’d take this offer into consideration before officially submitting your notice. We’ve somehow overlooked awarding you with merit raises over the course of the past three years, and we’re sorry for that.”


My nervousness recoiled; I was so relieved.

See? I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong!

Shut up and pay attention, DUFUS.. she’s still talking.


“Oh, wow.. thank you,” I stammered. “I really don’t know what to say. I was honestly terrified when you showed up this morning, Ally, and now, I.. I just literally don’t know what to say.”


She laughed supportively. Then we got to the good stuff; if I stayed with the credit union, I would be awarded a $3 raise, more than I could have possibly imagined being offered. I was floored.


“Please take some time to think about it,” both managers implored.



And now, stuck at a redlight that Thursday night, I shared the exciting offer with my dad.


“So technically,” I summarized, “I DO have this other job — I’ve accepted the offer and.. I’ve kind of turned in my notice.. but, I have to officially make up my mind tomorrow. With this raise in the mix, I’m not really sure, anymore, WHAT the ‘right’ decision would be.” I waited for him to say something.. anything. I was, at this point, desperate for some kind of guidance.


He fell silent for a minute. “Well.. what are the pros and cons?”


I thought about it. “Pros of staying would be that I get a raise, duh, and that I’m already great at what I do — I know about everything and how we do everything — so, there’s a sense of security there. Pros of leaving,” I continued, the dreamer in me stirring in her sleep, “would be that I get to learn something familiar but entirely new; that I can build on my current knowledge and round it out by refocusing my perspective a little. I’d still be working in the credit union world, of course, but operating in a new role, and under new policies and procedures. The pay will be about equal to what I’d be receiving with this raise considered.. but the con of leaving is that people at this new company won’t know me yet; how seriously I take my work and how committed I am. Who knows what they’ll think.” I stopped, intimidating myself by own words. I sighed, audibly, into the phone.


“You want my advice?” Padre asked. “Here it is,” he continued without waiting for a response. “Go for this other job. You’ve gotta take chances sometimes. I’ve got a good feeling about it. It’ll be an adventure. And as far as proving yourself is concerned.. we’ve all gotta do that sometimes. The nice thing is, you won’t have any difficulty proving how awesome you are.. just keep doing what you have been.”


I smiled. “Thanks, dad. I’ll let you know what I decide to do.”


The following morning, with my hands shaking and my heart drumming with doubt, I handed my manager the same carefully crafted paper I’d presented to her two days before.

“I’m sorry,” I explained, seeing the dismay on her face. “I really, really appreciate the offer.. but I have to explore this opportunity.”




And I’m happy to report that it — going out on a limb, taking a leap of faith, exploring that new opportunity, whatever — was one of the best decisions of my life. I love the company that I work for, and the employees that I work with. I’ve been able to operate in an even cooler capacity than I imagined possible when I first accepted the job offer — now serving as a training specialist — and I’ve been able to maintain good relationships with co-workers from the credit union I worked at previously.


Deciding to switch jobs was a gutsy move — inherently full of possibilities for devastation and disaster — but it was very much worth the risk.


And as far as being afraid of trying new things is concerned, that wasn’t the first time I’ve been afraid.


As a kid, I feared onions, casseroles, and roma tomatoes; I refused to have anything to do with any of them, and it always made me so mad when Grammy would ruin an entire, gigantic pot of spaghetti by tossing sauteed onions into the pasta sauce. But as I aged, I grew more open-minded to the world of food, and the library of books, and the plethora of people, and I’ve learned that – sometimes – it’s worth trying something new at a restaraunt for the sheer thrill of it. Unless that restaraunt is Chipotle, in which case I will get the tried-and-true same thing every single time forever: a sofritas bowl with brown rice, black beans, mild salsa, guac and lettuce, please.

Last week, I had another “well this is new!” experience that I’d like to share with you all.


Let me start off by saying that I don’t dance.


I don’t mean that I can’t dance.. I mean that I don’t. I won’t. I haven’t and I never will. Well; I could honestly say all of that stuff a week ago.


Charlie, my roommate and best friend, sent me an invite to Saturn’s Solid Gold Dance Party over Facebook a few weeks ago, and I laughed. “Sure, I’ll go,” I texted him after accepting the invite, “but it will be to watch YOU dance.”


“Oh come on. You’ll dance,” he responded confidently.




The night of the dance party rolled around, and when I walked in the door from work at 5:47, I was ready to GO.


“ARE YOU FREAKING READY?!” I called out, running up the stairs and changing into street clothes (knee-length shorts, a cosmic T and Vans). I grabbed my new and favorite consignment store jacket (blue and collared with zippered front pockets and cool elbow patches) from off of the counter, along with my wallet, and then we both hopped into the car.


We arrived at 7:15, about 45 minutes early. The dance party starts at 8, I thought to myself. I’m usually IN BED by 8:30.. so even if we leave just an hour after it starts, that’ll still put me in bed at 9:30 at the very earliest. I sighed at my lack-of-sleep calculations and steeled myself for the evening. This is going to be fun, I coached myself. It’s good to get out of the house. You are going to have fun.


Charlie and I grabbed a couch and a game called “What’s Up?” (where you wear a headband and stick a card on it, showing your partner “what” or “who” you are; you’re then tasked with asking closed-ended questions that enable you to guess at what or who you are).


Half-way through our game (I ended up being an astronaut and two other unremarkable things), I decided to grab a drink.

“Getting a coffee?” Charlie asked cheerfully, taking another sip of his iced mocha.

“Nope. I’m getting DRUNK.”


I went up to the bar and waited for my turn to speak with the bartender. Finally, a skinny guy wearing a band T turned to me and, above the loud, united hum of voices, television, and video game music, asked: “WHAT ARE YOU HAVING?


“Hey,” I answered, looking pensive, “I wanted to see if you can recommend something that involves coconut?”




I nodded ‘yes’ and then watched as he concoted the drink. I took a sip of it, thought ew gross, and then paid him, remarking that it was really great and thanking him.


8:00 struck and, when it did, Charlie and I gathered up ourselves and our drinks and sasheyed into the music venue portion of the building together via bright orange double doors. We were the first party goers to arrive.

Coooooooool, internal me sang out.


It was dark. There was a lazy sheet of fog hovering around the room, strobe lights pulsing weakly, and two DJs were setting up on the stage.


Here we gooooooooo, I sang to myself, trying to work up some excitement. The alcohol made my heart feel tingly.


I walked over to a table and sat down, and then got up immediately, confusing Charlie.


“I’m actually going to stand ON the dance floor,” I explained to him, quickly following up with: “NOT to dance, but so that I can see you and other people dancing better.”


“Uh huh. Sureeeeeee,” he replied, smiling mischeviously.


“You are so cute.. thinking that you’re going to get this 24 year old who has NEVER danced before to dance tonight.”


It was a great night.


Within an hour, fifty other people had poured in through the same doors we had and had streamed onto the dance floor, collecting like puddles in small groups. I liked watching; someone would motion for someone else to hold their cup for a half-second so they could bust a single, impressive move, and then they’d reclaim their beverage, beaming with unconcealed pride while everyone else laughed heartily in supportive amusement.


There was a group of guys in the middle of the dance floor who I easily recognized as being superior dancers. Let me put it this way: they owned the dance floor.


Charlie stood next to me in the dim lighting, dancing his own little weird dance and turning to dance “at” me sometimes. I would laugh and sip on my drink, shaking my head no — stop — you’re EMBARRASSING ME. At one point, his dance included a complex-looking hand movement. A member of the cool guy dance club must have noticed, because he waltzed over and tapped Charlie’s shoulder. “DUDE.. that was SWEET,” he exclaimed (totally genuinely). He lingered, talking with Charlie and raving over and over again about the “sweet hand move.” It was all lost on me; I thought Charlie looked goofy, but apparently, his dance skills were impressive. I began to feel proud and stopped reproving him for dancing “at” me.


Then a real jam came on; the four cool guys began calling out “OHHHHHHH!” and started “grooving.” I turned to Charlie: “GO DANCE WITH THEM!” I demanded.

“What? Noooooo,” he shook his head, looking embarrassed.


“Charlie, one of them REALLY liked you. He thought that stupid move you did was cool. PLEASE go dance with them.. you’ll enjoy it so much!”


He hesitated, looking skeptical.


“LOOK,” I continued, feeling aggravated, “if you just go dance with them for a minute, I’ll dance with you later. ONE SONG. One SINGLE song.”


He lit up. “Yeah? Really?”

“Yessssss,” I rolled my eyes. “GO!”


He did. They immediately welcomed him into their cool guy crew, and I stood there for a moment to watch them all dancing together. Then, looking at the bottom of my daquiri (pronounced duh-keer-ee) glass and realizing that I still felt very sane, I said to myself: “YOU’RE going to need another drink.”


I returned to the bar. A different bartender tipped his head up at me in a way that asked “And for you?”


“I have a question for you,” I began. “WHICH has MORE alcohol content in it: whiskey, or wine?” Thus, my pop quiz ended.


He thought about it for a second. “Hmmmm.. probably whiskey.” A+.


“Okay,” I nodded at this invisible, new information. I turned my head over to the high shelf on the left. “Then I’ll take some of that Jack Daniels over there.”


This is so cool, I complimented myself. You’re drinking whiskey at a bar.


“Kay. You want it straight or mixed?”


Ooh. Curveball.

“That sounds intriguing — what would you mix it with?”


He looked at me kind of dumbly. “You know.. Coke, Sprite..”


I paused. “Yeah, sure! Let’s do Sprite!” I never have soft drinks, but this is a special occasion, I justified.


He handed over the mixed drink and I began sipping on it. Come on, liquid courage; work your magic. I’ve got a stupid promise to keep.


I returned to the dance floor and encountered Charlie breathing heavily.


“I just.. dominated.. the dance floor.. but I have no way of proving that to you..”


I was speechless. At that precise moment, a big, burly man walked over to Charlie and patted him on the back. “I don’t know how you did that, man, but it was awesome,” he raved.


Charlie laughed and smiled at him as he walked away.


“ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I hate that I missed this!”


Charlie continued dancing alongside me and, within about ten minutes, I’d finished my drink. I was now at the point of feeling just a little, tiny bit light-headed.. which was exactly where I needed to be.


I felt a tug on my pinky finger and turned my head to look at Charlie. He had wrapped his hand around my pinky and was working his way up to my hand. Once he had my hand securely in his, he began pulling on it, tugging my hand toward him and causing me to stretch my arm out. As I did so, he continued pulling me forward, out onto the dance floor.


Nooooooooooooooooooo, I squeaked, but it was too late. He was guiding me into an elementary, side-stepping dance motion.


“Oh my god. It’s happening. You’re dancing.”



And I did what I’d promised; I danced with him for the space of one single song.

After a few minutes of laughing nervously and feeling goofy, Charlie looked at me and cocked his head. “So I get another song?” he asked, seeming surprised.


“No..” I answered, looking around but continuing to move because I was terrified to stop. “Isn’t this the same song?”


I hadn’t noticed a change in flow or sound.


“YEP. You’re right. It’s the same one,” he answered, smiling and winking at me.


We danced through six, ten.. maybe even eleven songs. And it was one of the FUNNEST nights I’ve EVER had.


Charlie held both of my hands and guided my movements part of the time and then broke away later on as I became more comfortable, showing me new, cheesy moves and waiting patiently as I attempted to emulate them.


Eventually, the DJ paused the music and called out “RAFFLE TICKET TIMEEEEEEE!”


They called someone’s number — they’d won something — but the person was no longer there.

“Going in 5, 4, 3, 2, oneeeeeeeeee.. okay, next number; 11562?”


“THAT’S ME!” Before I knew it, I was screaming and running towards the stage, claiming my concert tickets. The icing on the cake.


“Ready to go?” Charlie laughed as I returned to him, swaying and stumbling a little.

“Yeah — but let’s dance for like, thirty more seconds first. Just to make sure I can do it again after stopping.” Having sure knowledge that this was possible seemed very important, at the time.


He smiled. We danced and twirled for another minute and then grooved all the way over to AND THROUGH the exit doors. The same doors we’d passed through two hours before when I was just a non-dancer who had never danced ever and never would. Things change.




So.. recap: I’m working a job that I love, eating spaghetti with onions in it, AND I’m a professional dancer now. These things didn’t happen because I was, one day, magically unafraid to attempt or try them; I was very afraid to try something new, whatever that new thing was, but I did so anyways. My motivations?

  • I had the support of loved ones.
  • I wanted to challenge myself.
  • I wanted to have fun and be happy.


I have three other new things to report from this week, and I know you’ll find one of them particularly intriguing, so I’m saving it for last (of course).

#1. Maqui, the rescue pup; remember her? I returned her to the humane society this afternoon. It was a tearful parting, but because of her food aggression, attention jealousy, and indomitable will to escape, she and Bruster just weren’t going to be a good match. We gave the trial run a full two weeks, and the answer was very clear: she’s a one-dog-only-home type pup.

“Don’t worry,” the volunteer said, taking the leash from me as tears welled in my eyes. “We’re having a big adoption event next week — she’s sure to get a good home!” She smiled over at Charlie and I. “We’ll take good care of her; don’t worry.”

#2. I have a new dental assistant. My previous one (and favorite dental assistant EVER) had twins earlier this year, and while I’m incredibly happy for her and her happy, growing family, I missed her terribly this past Wednesday as I received my second annual cleaning. Why? My new person, while adorably chatty, did not ask what flavor toothpaste I wanted OR what color TOOTHBRUSH I preferred. Luckily, she happened to stick a blue one in my goody bag, but I mean.. it could have been red.

#3. The one you’ll like. But don’t get it twisted.


Late Wednesday afternoon, Charlie and I stepped into a health food store downtown called Golden Temple. As we walked up and down the aisles, taking in the sight of essential oils, leather-bound journals, patchouli incense and organic, free trade everything, we ended up stumbling into the adjoining cafe.


Charlie walked over to the cooler to investigate their beverage offerings, and I tagged along behind him. He took just a couple of seconds to look before he settled on a canned coconut water, but while he deliberated, my eyes wandered around the room, taking in the colorful menu displaying itself on a whiteboard, the tree tapestry hanging effortlessly in the background, the pots hanging loosely off of metal racks stationed in the back of the visible kitchen annnnnnd the beautiful girl with the beautiful smile and who was smiling at me, carefully preparing someone’s pita wrap, burrito, or salad.

I paused and smiled back at her.

She looked away, and I looked away.


Nothing about this was flirtatious; it was one of those situations where, from across the street, sidewalk or room, you connect with someone, and it makes an odd impression on you. I couldn’t shake it off. I thought about ordering a sandwich or a smoothie (just so I could have a chance to maybe talk with her), but I decided that I’d likely clam up and embarass myself in front of both  myself and Charlie, so I decided to leave the cafe quickly.


Tonight, I’m meeting a friend at Books, Beans, and Candles; an incense slash candle slash witchcraft books slash tea and coffee shop downtown. We’re meeting at 7; I arrived back at Golden Temple around 5.


I walked in, headed over to the cafe, annnnnd realized that it closed at 3. Bummer.


What were my intentions?


To introduce myself.. to someone new.

“Hey!” I’d begin. “Look — I AM going to order a smoothie or whatever, but first, I just wanted to mention that I was in here on Wednesday, and I caught you smiling at me for a second, and I just wanted to say that you have a very nice smile and that, if you happen to be looking for a new friend, I’d love to grab coffee with you sometime.” Pause. “Yeah, I feel like I’m in elementary school right now; asking for you to come sit at my table, or seeing if I can get permission to sit at yours.. but I hope you won’t take this as me flirting or whatever because A. I’m not looking for any kind of romantic relationship right now.. I’m already in love with someone and trying to not be in a relationship with them because I really want to be single right now.. and B. the chances of you being beautiful, single, AND gay are like negative one thousand four hundred and sixty.” Longer pause.. has she called the police yet? “So, yes, in summary, I think you seem very nice and I don’t have many friends mostly by choice because I like being alone but if you EVER want to get coffee.. we should go to Saturn.”


But again, she wasn’t here by the time I’d arrived, so none of that was able to happen.


Instead, I took a seat at a booth, a sip of my watermelon-flavored aloe water, and then tore a clean, yellow, linen sheet out of my favorite journal. The last two songs I’ve recorded ( have been one-vocal-take-only shots, and I told myself an hour ago, that’s what this note is going to be: a one-shot-only draft from the heart; accept whatever grammatical travesties ensue, and try your best to NOT sound creepy. Explain that she seemed cool and you’d like to hang out with a cool girl and maybe become best friends with her because you don’t really have many of those anymore and..


Should I leave the note with an employee? Ask them if they know of a short-haired, sweet-smiled cafe girl and then request that they please relay my note to her?


No. Don’t do that. They’ll probably think you’re a weird creeper-stalker hybrid and they’ll know that she’s engaged and honeymooning in Bermuda next month and they’ll just toss it.


So I’ll leave it on the counter then?


Yes, leave it on the counter.


Okay. And I’ll tuck the note neatly inside of the green menu I would have used to place my order this afternoon!


NO, don’t do that! They’ll just recycle all of it or, worse, throw it away.


Okay. So I’ll just stick the note on the counter.


YES, JACE. Stick the note on the counter.


…I wonder if she’ll text or email first?


Ohhhhh Jace. DON’T count on hearing from her at all. If you left me a note on a counter and I didn’t know who the hell you were, you better believe I wouldn’t reach out.


Oh yeah. Right. This is weird, isn’t it?




Doing it anyways.



One day later (according to my imagination):

Police: “Quit stalking Erin.”

Me: “…who’s Erin?”

Police: “Uh, beautiful girl, beautiful smile.. don’t play dumb..”


Trying something new every day; like dancing, expanding my dental connection horizons, and writing strange, anonymous letters to cafe girls..

Aun Aqui