bham-in-september-012

“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.

 

me-and-silo

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?”

 

Nothing.

 

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.”
“Right.”

 

“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.🙂

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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.

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 Gmail.com.”

“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

20160826_172247

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.

 

“DREAM ON.”

 

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?”

 

He nodded right away. “YES; A SPECIAL TONIGHT IS THE STRAWBERRY DAQUIRI.”

 

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.”

“HUSH!”

 

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 (soundcloud.com/aunaqui) 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?

 

Yeah.

 

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

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Should I stay or should I go?

I’m currently sitting in my spot at Saturn, and I am surrounded by 18 cat people. 18.. I know, because I’ve counted.

 

I ordered my cold-brew-and-almond-milk beverage a couple of minutes ago, settled down onto my couch, and then my couch as well as the adjoining couch were quickly joined by human being after human being. I’ve watched as two tables have been pulled over into this same vicinity to accommodate the massive number of human beings all wanting to huddle together in this one area, where I happen to be.

“We’re the Magic City Kitties Club!” someone gushed in explanation.

“Oh! That’s cool,” I nodded at them, smiling and sticking in my earbuds.

“We’re sorry to kinda barge in on your space,” another one of the club members offered apologetically.

“Oh no, you’re totally fine! This makes the day more interesting,” I reassured them. Then, feeling like that wasn’t enough and that they might think I was calling them weird, I added: “I LOVE people who LOVE animals.”

 

I watched as new group members (easy to identify, as they were wearing cat shirts, leggings, and even headbands) poured into the building and then meandered over to our swelling area. As people began introducing themselves (apparently, this was their first in-person meeting), they passed around a roll of stickers that contained cat silhouettes and famous, cat-ified Birmingham landmarks, each of them with captions like “Magic City Kitties”, “Purrrrmingham” and “Pussy Patrol.”

 

One woman whipped out her phone, and that’s when I knew how the rest of the meeting was going to go. At the present moment, everyone has their phone out, and they’re sharing cat pictures and stories over steamy mugs of coffee and tiny plates carrying donuts and biscuits. Many of the members are laughing; the woman to my left has tears in her eyes. Maybe her kitty has died, I think to myself, or maybe she’s just sensitive and this group makes her really happy.

 

“Now here’s a picture of my Marley,” one member begins in a loud, commanding voice, flipping her phone around and then rotating it slowly so that anyone interested can gaze at the image of her black, brown and white beauty featured on its screen. “Now, let me tell you why I love kitties,” she continued, clearing her throat a little. “One morning last year, I discovered this stray kitty causing a ruckus outside, BEATING UP the neighbor’s POODLE!”

 

Everyone laughs.

 

“And it gets BETTER!” She holds up her hand, smiling at everyone as she struggles to mute her own laughing. She sucks in a dramatic breath. “I took Marley in as my own, but she insisted on being an indoor-outdoor cat. During the times when I’d let her outside, whenever that poodle even SAW her coming, he would FAINT.”

 

Everyone bursts out in laughter once again, but more heartily this time.

 

I turn my music up louder as the group waves phones around and takes turns petting the black kitty that one enthusiastic member brought into the cafe with him.

 

What did I want to write about today? The title of this post is: Should I stay or should I go? Who am I talking about? Where are they now, and where might they be going? Are there multiple applications for the phrase? You bet there are.

 

It started nearly six years ago.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel by re-telling the story, but in December of 2010, I drove to Tennessee and adopted Bruster — a dorky little German Shepherd puppy. He was the runt of the litter. I remember walking into the owner’s cozy cottage and being led into a living room by a guy who looked like a farmer. The living room was full of bouncy, happy puppies with perky ears and easy smiles, and Bruster was the one hiding behind a couch and whimpering to himself. I ventured over to the couch, knelt down, and tilted my head, taking in the sight of the sad, black and brown blob tucked inside the space between couch and wall.

Oh my.. I want him. I need him.

 

And I got him. I still have him.

 

He’s always had fun; we go hiking on the weekends, someone’s always throwing sticks for him in the backyard, and he sleeps in bed with me every single night. He’s had an unwaveringly excellent disposition, seeming more like a human soul stuck inside of a lush German Shepherd Dog’s body than an actual dog, but the last several months, following the divorce, have been difficult.

 

Chris has visited the house a few times (either to pick up more of his stuff or to practice music with either me or Charlie). Out of the three times he’s most recently visited the house, Bruster has puked twice immediately after he’s left. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. He’s a sensitive dog; losing one of his idols has obviously taken an emotional toll. He’s always cried and whined incessantly (from the age of 12 weeks and onward), but there’s a certain vacantness to him now. I don’t like to think about it for too long, because there’s nothing I can do about it.

 

But things took a very sharp turn three months ago when Bruster destroyed his very first door.

 

I was teaching a class at work that Tuesday. I had just dismissed my new hires for a quick break and strolled over to my desk when I pulled out my phone and saw that I had a new text message from an unknown number.

 

“Hi,” it read. “I’m Rachel, one of your neighbors. Max (next door) gave me your #. I found a German Shepherd today on Indigo Valley Road and I know you have one, so I was wondering if it’s yours.”

 

I froze. Um.. no? My dog is an indoor dog. I’m not one of those assholes who keeps their pet outside, tethered to a tree or hooked onto a stake in the ground, so..

 

“Oh wow!” I responded in real life. “I don’t think it’s mine because I put him in the house this AM, but he could have escaped (he has before) — does he have a single, floppy ear by any chance?”

 

In response, I received this.

 

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Bruster looking wasted.

 

The photo’s caption read: “Yeah, he does.”

 

I let out a huge sigh. Bruster; what the fuck and how the hell?

 

I assigned electronic training to the new hires, clocked out for a way-early lunch, rushed home, and reclaimed my puppy, profusely thanking this neighbor for her kindness.

 

“No problem!” she answered. “He got into my car right when I opened the door. Super friendly dog.”

 

Brave lady, I mused inwardly, letting a 93 pound beast into her car so willingly.

 

After depositing Bruster back into the house, I did some “how the hell?” investigating before returning to work. I checked the downstairs — no doors or windows were open — and then tip-toed upstairs. There, I verified that my bedroom window was closed, and then I noticed that the master bedroom door was ajar, and that the bottom of the door itself looked frayed and clawed.

Shit.

 

I nudged the door open further and heard outdoor sounds. It was then that I made the fascinating discovery that the door to the outside (leading onto the deck) had been forced open.

 

He had torn the weather stripping, part of the door, and had SOMEHOW forced the door open while it was still in a locked position.

It boggled my mind.

 

So I barricaded the area, reassured my anxious dog that he was okay and would continue to be okay, and returned to work. I resumed teaching class and tried to temporarily forget about the fact that two doors in the house would now need to be replaced.

 

The following week, The Destroyer of Worlds struck again. Fortunately, I discovered the disaster while I was on my scheduled lunch break.

 

I drove home from work to prepare a salad that afternoon. After prepping it, eating it, and feeding and watering Bruster, I stuck my plate into the kitchen sink and started talking to the hound.

“Do you wanna go OUTSIDE, puppy dog?!” I asked him in a “you’re just a babyyyyy” voice. Bruster got all excited and worked up over the word ‘outside,’ and I remember smiling as I led us both over to the side door. My foot knocked into something on the way, causing me to look down and pause, and when I did, I sucked in a quick breath. It was insane. Bruster had obviously spent his morning hours gnawing away on this new door, removing the long wooden pieces (that framed the door) from the wall, and he had nearly busted through the tiny pieces of window-pane-glass.

“Oh my god?” I asked him. I looked at Bruster. He held my gaze, saying nothing. “What the hell is going on with you?”

 

 

But the third time.. that was the time I’ll never forget.

I was at Saturn, typing away on my laptop and unwinding on a leisurely Saturday morning, when my other neighbor, Max, texted me.

 

“Hey!! It’s Max (from next door). Your dog’s out again. Just thought I’d let you know. I gave him some water. I think he’s just hanging out on your front porch.”

 

I stared down at my phone in disbelief. “HOW?! I put FOUR STOOLS AND A CHAIR in front of that damn door.”

 

I shot him a text that said “thanks” and then hurriedly saved my draft, stuffed my laptop into my backpack, and sped all the way home. When I pulled into the driveway, I rushed out of my car and there he was — calmly standing at the top of the driveway — looking stately and poised and staring directly at me.. just waiting on the outside of the home so that he could be a few seconds, a few steps closer to me when I’d returned home. I sighed. I walked up the driveway to meet him, unable to be upset with him because I felt bad for him, and his ears flung backward as he galloped to where I was. He whined happily.

I look at him, and I still see a puppy.

 

I tried to open the front door, to let us both back into the house, but it wouldn’t budge. I inserted my key, unlocking the top and bottom, but it still wouldn’t move.

 

Well THAT’S weird, I announced out loud to both of us, but what isn’t weird these days? I manually opened the garage, strolled into the house, and then halted. I could not believe it. The front door was destroyed. He’d pulled the long, wooden trim off of the wall, gnawed the lock fixture off, and pieces of blue wood (the color of the door) were sprinkled along the tile floor like gnarly-looking confetti.

 

I looked at Bruster, and for a minute, I couldn’t say anything. Then, I shook my head slowly, left to right, my head felt so heavy, and I said: “That’s it. That’s it, bud. It’s over.”

 

I was devastated. I was so mad at him that I didn’t speak to him for two days. I was mad because I was sad; why was he ruining it? Why was he sabotaging the chance of us living his whole life together?

 

I reached out to an old college professor (who, ironically, had been on my mind in recent weeks). She had taught my Freshman year English class, and I recalled that she had a special place in her heart for GSDs and had a reputation for rescuing and re-homing them.

 

“I have too many dogs right now,” she responded via email, “but please contact this person. They can help you find a home.”

 

I did so, and the woman I contacted was incredibly unpleasant; unresponsive to emails, and then short and snappy when she DID type out a lazy response.

 

“It’s going to take a long time to find a suitable home for him,” she shared in one of her last emails. “Go to the vet and get him on meds while you wait.”

.

I had to type, erase, re-type and erase again before I could formulate a polite “goodbye” email.

“I don’t want him on meds,” I replied simply. “Thank you for getting in touch with me, but I’ll take care of this on my own. Thanks! Take care, dipshit!”

 

Minus dipshit, that is – verbatim – what I said.

 

So I posted an ad on Craigslist. It contained something along the lines of:

Looking to re-home a precious, well-mannered German Shepherd. Needs a parent who will be able to spend the majority of their time at home with him, as he has severe separation anxiety, and he must have a fenced yard with plenty of room to roam.

 

I attached three of the cutest Bruster pics available to the ad and then tried not to vomit after I made the post go live.

 

I shared the news with my manager (one of my closest friends) the following day.

 

“Jace,” she clasped her hands together and nodded her head solemnly, “this is NOT a good idea. I can feel it. Please wait on it.”

 

She’d witnessed me go through a lot of changes and abandon a lot of things over the course of the last two years. This was just another one of them. I had mentioned selling my motorcycle to her a month before, and she protested: “You love your motorcycle! You own it outright!” I agreed with her. Then I listed the motorcycle for sale about two days after listing Bruster on Craigslist. I didn’t bother to update her on the matter.

 

And I understand the psychology behind it all; it’s going to seem like we’re veering off course, but stick with me for a minute here. I divorced Chris because I was gay, sure, but I also wanted to be alone. I fell in love with someone else, but refused to enter into a relationship with them because I still wanted to be alone. I re-homed my rabbits, sold all of my furniture, and gave away half of my clothes, all under the guise of wanting to “simplify” my life. And this was true; I wanted my rabbits to have a better living situation (them roaming freely and happily on a farm is such a lovely image; I hope that’s their reality), and I did want to live a more “minimalist” lifestyle. But I was also prepping for my departure.

 

  • Paying off every single debt and making sure the bills were paid on time.
  • Cleaning out the garage and keeping as few items as possible in the house for easy sorting and selling.
  • Placing distance between myself and those I loved most.

All of these were preparations.

 

The only thing really keeping me alive, at this point, is the fatass German Shepherd who loves and needs me so badly. And selling the bike? Well, that would be one less thing my roommate or family would have to worry about when I’m gone; liquid assets are the best ones. There would be money in the bank, and they wouldn’t have to worry about where the title is and how they’re going to sell it.

 

I was preparing my loved ones for my death.

I was preparing myself for my own death.

 

I love planning — almost to a fault. I’ll be eating dinner at the table with Charlie, talking about projects I’ll be handling at work the following day, when he’ll pipe up: “But where are you now? What day is it today, and what are you doing right now?” I’ll smile and humor him, deliberately focusing on the present moment instead of looking ahead, but it’s so hard to keep my mind from straying hours, weeks, and even years into the future. It’s where I prefer to exist.

 

And death is just another fun thing to plan for.

 

I don’t want to leave my loved ones with a messy, cluttered house or complicated and oppressive financial matters, and I certainly couldn’t justify leaving behind a broken-hearted German Shepherd. So, rather than working with him on his behavior, it seemed easier for me to just re-home him. That way, he’d be happy, in love with and being cared for by someone else, and I’d be free to – if it gets to that point – do what needs to be done. Dip out, guilt-free.

 

I saw it — my reasoning. My underlying motive. I acknowledged it, and I pulled the bike and the dog ads.

 

“I’m going to take care of you until the day you die,” I whispered to Bruster one lazy weekday morning as he laid in bed and I dressed myself for work. “Don’t worry; I’ve got you.” I kissed his velvety, floppy ear and he started crying. Happy, sad, confused, frustrated; there’s always a cry. I love it.

 

So — to answer my question: Should I stay or should I go? I’m not going yet.

And to answer Bruster’s question: Will I stay or will I go? You’re stuck with me, buddy.

 

But now there’s a third entity in the mix.

Last weekend, Charlie and I went ice skating together. We had a blast. Neither of us fell, and after both of us had admitted to each other that, thirty minutes into our two-hour session, we’d honestly had our fill, we loaded into his car and began navigating toward our next destination: The Greater Birmingham Humane Society.

 

He’d mentioned the idea of doing so earlier on in the week.
“Want to stop by the Humane Society this weekend and look at all of the pups?” It was a casual offer.

 

I looked at him very seriously. “Yes, because I’ve never been, but be warned.. there’s a very good chance we’ll end up LEAVING with one of those pups, because A. they’ll be irresistible and B. I’ve been considering getting a playmate for Bruster anyways. So..” I trailed off, playfully.

 

We pulled up, walked in, and the place smelled like an orange bucket mixture of urine and Clorox. It was very strong-smelling. Pungent. A little nauseating.

 

We approached the front counter, nearing the sometimes happy-, sometimes hostile-sounding barking, and a brunette smiled at us in greeting.

 

“Are you wanting to tour the facility today?” She asked.

 

“Yes!”

 

“Is this your first time?”

 

“Yes!”

 

“Okay! Please sign in here. If you find an animal you’d like to sit down with, let one of our staff know and we’ll set you up with a room.”

 

I signed Charlie and I both in and then we took eager, gentle steps in the direction of Kennel A. As we moved past each window, we’d laugh and “awwww” at the pups on the other side — I noticed that there were so many labs and pit bulls — and at one of the windows, I came to a stop. The first thing I saw was the back of her head — it was an orange, coppery brown — and her soft-looking ears. She was laying down, facing the other direction. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew that she was the one.

 

“Charlie, I have to see her.”

 

“Okay! Let’s keep looking first.”

 

I obligingly toured the rest of the facility in an unconcealed hurry.
“So! Any other pups you want to interview?” I prodded him gently.

 

He smiled. No.

 

We arranged to meet with Magpie (the name of the 4-year-old dog). While waiting for a room to become available, Charlie stepped over to a window near the front of the room and then knelt down, looking inside of it. I saw his gaze fixated on one pup in particular: a sickly-looking shepherd mix. It was coughing. Snot was dangling from its nostrils and it had stitches on its tummy. The papers on the outside of the window indicated that she – Buttercup – was 6 months old.

 

“Awwwww.. look at that sweet baby..” I murmured. “Do you want to interview her, too?”

 

Charlie nodded.

 

We ended up wanting to interview 3 pups total: Magpie, the 4-year-old shep mix; Buttercup, the sickly-looking, 6-month-old shep mix; Suzanne, a 12-week-old shep mix puppy. See a trend here? Shep mixes; all of them. In the financial world, cash might be king, but in the animal kingdom, shepherds are.

 

Finally, our names were called and Charlie and I were assigned to a “meeting room.”

 

“Ah, you guys get the one with the couch!” our guide celebrated, motioning us into the room. We laughed.

 

The first pup we interviewed was Buttercup. She ran over to us as soon as the volunteer released her from the leash, and right as the woman closed the door, I started crying uncontrollably, gently petting Buttercup.

 

“What’s wrong?” Charlie asked softly.

 

“I don’t know,” I squeaked between tears. “It’s just so stressful, being here and seeing all of them. I want her. I want all of them.” Tears streamed down my face and I didn’t bother brushing them away. I stroked the sweet pup’s fur and kissed her cheeks and, within 10 minutes, the volunteer had returned and escorted Buttercup back to her two other friends.

 

“Which one do you want to see next?” the woman inquired.

 

“Puppies..” I began. “Do they typically find homes pretty easily?”

 

“Oh, YES!” she exclaimed. “They’re snatched right up very quickly.”

 

“Okay.. then we don’t need to interview Suzanne,” I looked at Charlie as I spoke the words, and he nodded his approval. “It’s not that I wouldn’t love to have a puppy, but I’m sure she’ll find a home.. so let’s meet the 4-year-old named Magpie.”

 

Magpie was a doll.

 

The fat little thing waddled into the room with her ears back, looking sleepy and docile, and she plopped down onto my lap. Instantly.

 

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I began petting her, laughing in response to her immediate familiarity with me, and when I stopped petting her, she leaned her head back against my neck, motioning that I needed to continue.

 

“Oh my goodness!” I looked at Charlie and giggled.

 

He called her over to him and then he began petting her. When he stopped, she raised her paw, tapped him lightly on the shoulder, and then waited expectantly for him to continue. She was irresistible.. just as I knew one of them would be.

 

20160813_134728

Puppy (L) and Charlie (R).

 

When the volunteer returned to the room, I didn’t know what to do yet, so I requested another 10 minutes with her.

 

Cuddling and cooing continued, and then the volunteer returned too quickly.

 

“Well,” I started, “I want to take her home right now, of course, but he wants to take some time to think about it,” I gestured toward Charlie, “so we’re going to go grab lunch and think about it. We’ll call you guys within an hour.”

 

We drove downtown and stepped into a new hot dog shop that Charlie’s friend had opened recently. We ordered tofu dogs, vegetarian chili, tater tots and french fries and then stood at the counter, munching on heavy, fried foods while we deliberated on a very important life decision.

 

After finishing our meal, we left the shop to take a walk at the park across the street. We verbalized the pros, cons, knowns and unknowns, and after tallying it all up, we unanimously agreed to bring her home. We also jointly decided on a name: Machiatto Marshmallow Yattinos.. affectionately known as Maqui (mock-ee).

 

We picked her up, formally adopted her, and then drove her home together.

 

“Are you feeling nervous?” I called out to Charlie from the backseat, where I was cuddling with Maqui.

 

“No — are you?”

 

“A little,” I admitted, smiling and stroking her neck.

 

We were both wondering if Bruster was going to love or hate this decision.

 

We pulled up at the house and I stepped out of the car with Maqui (who was sporting a brand-spankin’-new orange collar).

 

“You go get Chug from the house,” I instructed Charlie, “and then meet Maqui and me down the road. We’ll take them both on a walk around the block together — let them meet on neutral ground — and then we can kind of gauge how they feel about each other.”

 

We met as planned. Maqui shied away from Bruster while Bruster was overly interested in her. I observed that he seemed to dislike the fact that I was walking her and leaning down to pet her now and then, so Charlie and I swapped dogs; I walked Bruster and he walked Maqui. This arrangement pleased Bruster.

 

Back at the house, Bruster – a natural herding dog – stayed on Maqui’s heels, following her everywhere. He made her nervous and drove her crazy — I could tell. She staged a bit of a confrontation later on in the evening where she bit the skin underneath his left eye, creating a bloody wound. I reproved her and consoled him. It was stressful. We all went to bed quickly afterwards, hoping for smoother sailing the next day.

 

IMG_20160815_073127

 

And the next day showed a little improvement; when Maqui passed Bruster in the hallway, she would just bare her teeth at him without actually lashing out in attack.

 

“Progress,” I mused. “She’s still acclimating,” I reasoned with myself.

 

A few days later, things seemed relatively peaceful. The dogs could now walk past or alongside each other with no friction or bristling on Maqui’s end, and Charlie even caught them lying side by side, feet touching, one afternoon. Bruster’s anxiety had become visibly reduced and he was able to spend his mornings and afternoons un-crated while Charlie and I were at work. Now that he had a companion, his motivation to escape had just seemed to vanish. Things were really great. Until Thursday.

 

Thursday night, Charlie and I were eating dinner. Bruster was lying on the floor, a few feet away from us, and so was Maqui. Randomly, Maqui pounced on Bruster, biting him and sending him into a nervous frenzy. He got up, whined, and started pacing, blood trickling from his right eye.

 

“MY POOR BABY!” I set my bowl of pasta onto the counter and ran over to comfort the gigantic Shepherd who was now breathing heavily and continuing to cry.

 

I used a damp paper towel to clean Bruster’s eye and ignored Maqui for a solid twenty minutes as I fumed over the incident.

 

When I walked out into the garage to fill up their water bowls, Bruster followed me, and I noticed that Bruster’s eye was beginning to swell. I started crying.

 

“Charlie,” I announced as I stormed into the kitchen, “if she does ONE MORE MEAN THING TO HIM, that’s IT. She’s going BACK to the shelter. I don’t want her to be there, but I’m NOT going to let her hurt my boy. He did NOTHING to deserve that.” I’d already had an ad listed on Craigslist that week, thinking what’s the harm? If someone is interested in her and can offer her a one-dog-only home where food aggression and attention jealousy aren’t going to be issues, they can have her. If not, we’ll see if this living-with-us thing works.

 

Charlie agreed with me; one more screw-up, and she was out like white after Labor Day.

 

Things have improved since Thursday. There have been no fights (aka, Maqui hasn’t viciously attacked Bruster again), but I’m still viewing this arrangement as a “trial run” type deal. Right now, I’m fostering Maqui, and she’s certainly better off sleeping in a warm bed with me and Bruster than on a cold, concrete floor. As it stands right now, Bruster adores Maqui while she, at best, tolerates him, but I’m hoping that changes. We’ll see.

 

received_10154374681769593

Bruster (L) slowly inching his way closer to a sleeping Maqui (R).

 

This morning, I let both dogs out so they could “do their business” while I got dressed for the day. When I opened the door to let them back in, only Bruster was standing there.

 

“Mock mock!” I called out. Waited. Nothing.

 

I stepped outside and walked into the backyard. Bruster was on my heels now, excited.. thinking it was time to throw the stick again.

 

“Maqui Girl!” I called out cheerfully, ignoring him. Still no response. I didn’t see her anywhere.

 

Oh, I haven’t mentioned this bit yet; Maqui – while overweight (per the vet) – is a tiny girl. She’s like a mini-shepherd, and as such, she’s been able to find certain areas within the yard where she can squeeze her fat body underneath or through the fencing. She’s gotten out twice, sending Charlie and I on search and rescue missions, so this would make the third time she’d broken out.

 

Here we go again, I muttered.

 

I got Bruster back into the house and then I headed out through the fucked-up front door. I worked my way through the neighborhood on foot, turning my head this way and that while I called out “MAQUIIIII! MOCK MOCK! ..mock chicken nugget, come here, girl!” at random intervals. No luck.

 

I began trudging home and pulled out my phone to text Charlie.

 

“She got out again. I’m walking around, trying to find her. When I do, I want to take her back to the shelter.”

 

Just as I was nearing my house, sighing at the sad thought and image of returning Maqui to the gloomy, smelly shelter, I heard the sounds of quick breathing and light feet pattering across the concrete coming from behind me. I turned around and there she was: Maqui Girl.

 

She zoomed right past me, looking goofy with her tongue hanging out of her mouth, and she barreled all the way up the driveway, coming to a stop when she reached my front door. Within seconds, I had joined her. When I did, I looked down at her stupid, happy face, and I shook my head.

 

“Come on, girl. Let’s go inside.”

 

I sent a follow-up text to Charlie: Ugh. Found her. I’m not going to take her back. *eye roll*

 

Will she stay or will she go? Depends on her. Stay tuned.

 

Should you stay or should you go?

Sometimes, in some situations, you choose to stay and it’s good. It’s the best decision, and it’s a well-thought-out one. Other times, in other situations, you choose to stay because it’s easier to make that choice. Really, it’s not even a choice you’re making; it’s more like the result of not acting.

 

And then sometimes, you leave, and it’s the cowardly choice, while other times, you leave, and it’s the best decision to make but the hardest fucking route to take.

 

Me choosing to die this afternoon, for instance, would be easy. Very easy. But not necessarily best.

Me choosing to stay is brave. I’m constantly challenging myself to be brave.

Me choosing to keep Maqui could be wise or foolish, depending on how her behavior continues moving forward..

 

And me choosing to end a relationship last year was the right decision, but it was the hardest I’ve ever had to make.

 

I stopped by Whole Foods this morning, on my way to Saturn, for a piece of ‘fancy fruit.’ Charlie was working on the floor and, immediately upon spotting me, produced a bright red pear out of his apron. It was hand-picked and had been requested earlier, via text message.

 

“Your fancy fruit, ma’am.”

 

I smiled, accepting the pear. We talked for a few minutes, and then I said that I needed to go.

 

“Aren’t you going to stop by and say hey to Chris?” he reminded me, gesturing in what I assumed was Chris’s direction. I didn’t look.

 

“Nah,” I responded quickly, shrugging it off and smiling as I walked away. My heart was racing and I felt like puking; I needed to leave as quickly as possible.

 

I was in the checkout line when Charlie came running after me.

 

“HEY! Chris said that he was waiting to talk with you; come back!” he smiled encouragingly.

 

I stared at him blankly. “Okay. I’ll be there in a minute.” I made my purchase and then began walking back over to the produce section. I took each forward step slowly, considering running out to my car instead and then texting Charlie from the safety of being far away.. asking him to apologize to Chris for me and to explain that I was busy. But I decided that that would be shitty. And cowardly.

 

I approached the cooler where Chris was working on the other side, cutting up and packaging watermelon.

 

“Hey!”

 

“Heyyyyy!” he called out, smiling. “What are you up to today, J? The usual?”

 

I smiled. Anyone who’s even remotely close to me knows what ‘the usual’ is: me, whittling away my hours at Saturn, sipping on a coffee drink and writing pointless nothings.

 

“Yep. The usual. What’s new with you?”

 

He slid a sample of freshly cut cantaloupe across the counter and I nibbled on it, listening quietly as he gushed about his new band; he named the upcoming cities they’d be playing in — Cincinnati, Nashville, Mobile, and New Orleans — and described the band’s overall sound.

He asked me about Maqui and about my acoustic performance at the wine tasting event last week; I answered his questions, feeling so happy that we were speaking again that it made me want to cry, and then I realized that I was on the brink of crying, so I quickly made up some excuse of “not wanting to take up too much of his time” and fled the area with a wave. I remember him looking a little confused that I was ending our conversation so abruptly, but I just didn’t have time to explain.

 

Charlie caught me on my way out; he was stocking oranges now. He smiled at me.

 

“Are you glad you came back?” he asked.

 

“Kind of,” I murmured softly. Then I smiled bravely. “I’ve gotta go. I’ll see you later today.”

 

I made it to my car before I broke down. It feels like we just separated yesterday.

 

And that’s a situation where leaving — choosing to divorce my very best friend — was the most painful decision possible. It was a choice I didn’t want to make. I could have stayed — that would have been easier, for sure. But it wouldn’t have been fair. I miss him every day, so it’s easier to just not look at him, talk to him, laugh with him, or hear about his life and to mourn his absence than it is to face the reality that he lives twenty minutes down the road and I’ll never see him or be as close to him as I used to be.

 

 

So that’s life right now. I’m accepting that

  1. I’ll be fending off subversive, suicidal thoughts for the rest of my life.
  2. I’ll be taking care of my crybaby Shepherd until he takes his last breath (walking through the shelter last week, there’s no way in hell I could ever take a bow and make my exit and then leave him in that kind of situation).
  3. I’ll be saying hello and goodbye to so many people and animals in my lifetime. Hellos are exciting and goodbyes suck.. and they’ll come in waves. Rising and receding with the tide. Overlapping each other. Overpowering me, at times. It’s an endless cycle that’s stuck on repeat until I’m gone. Loving as strongly as I have and then losing those that I’ve loved feels like a warning to never love anyone “so fully” again.. but then I think about what – or who – I could miss out on. And I remind myself: Wasn’t each person worth it? Wouldn’t you trade those memories for NOTHING? And weren’t you strong enough to continue existing after life with them? You can do it again. You should do it again.

 

 

But for now, it’s a quiet day. The majority of the cat people have exited my corner of the coffee shop. A small number of them remain in the cafe, and they’re seated at a table about ten feet away. The “kitty cat donation box” has been collected and whisked off; the member with the real-life cat left about a half hour ago after congratulating me for “surviving” being in the midst of their first public meeting. I’m about 1/3rd of the way through a coffee drink I doubt I’ll be able to finish.

 

Other than Bruster, there are honestly only two other reasons why I choose to stay alive.. because it is a choice; when you work, sleep, eat, drink, and buckle your seat belt, you are proactively choosing to live.

 

The first reason is my mother and father (and family in general). They’ve already lost their son. I’m the only child left, and I can only hope that they go before I do so that I’ll feel the pain that they won’t have to.

The second reason is.. I like having fun.

 

In the past month, three people have inquired as to why I’m such a happy person.

The first person was one of my new hires. I work for a credit union, and last Friday, I took a group of new hires to a local branch to practice processing transactions. My new hire was examining a check — deciding whether or not to place a hold, verifying the check’s security features, and ensuring that the back of the check had been endorsed properly — when she suddenly turned around and looked at me.

“I know what it is, Jace! I KNOW why you’re so happy all of the time.”

 

I laughed at her. “WHY?!” I was curious to know, too.

 

“It’s because you sleep so much.”

 

Earlier that day, the new hires had inquired on my personal life: “How do you spend your evenings, Jace?” I’d told them that my evenings usually go like this: eat dinner, watch Doctor Who, and then go to sleep at 8:30. They’d all said that that sounded boring and that I needed to ‘live’ more.

 

“Huh!” I responded to her now. “Maybe that’s it! I do average ten hours a night.”

 

A couple of nights later, Charlie (person #2) turned to me and said (jokingly): “I KNOW why you’re always so happy! Because you drink SO MUCH ORANGE JUICE.”

It’s true that I drink orange juice daily, so that is a viable potential reason.

 

And then that weekend, my barber commented on the same thing.

“Man Jace.. when you come in here, you’ve always got that good attitude. You’re all cool and shit.” He paused and I laughed.

“Why?” he asked suddenly, shaping the hairline on the back of my neck with a straight-edge razor. The closeness of the cut left a cloud of heat on my skin. “Why ARE you always soooooooo nice?”

 

I paused to think about it. “Honestly.. I think it’s because I’m always looking forward to the next thing.

 

When I was a kid, my OCD manifested in the form of repeating a certain phrase to my mother before bed every night. Really, it was more like posing the same question over and over, and that question was:

“Goodnight mom, I love you — we’re going to have fun tomorrow, right?”

She would reassure me, over and over again, that yes, we WERE going to have fun tomorrow, but I still had to ask the question 8, 12, 30 times before my frantic mind would become satisfied and I could fall asleep.

 

I think I’ll have the phrase tattooed on someday.

 

I’m sticking around for my dog, my parents, and for the sheer experience of life. Tomorrow’s going to be fun.. right? I’ll learn something new, meet somebody new, write a song, kiss my dog, grab a burrito..

I want to see what interesting thing happens next — and eventually, when I DO die, I’ll get to see what happens “next” then, too. But I’m not going to rush it. The writer in me is curious to experience everything and then to reflect on what I’ve experienced and to consider what it means; happiness, sadness, joy and tragedy, with all of their shapes and depths.. what do they all mean? Why do they come up, why do we feel them so strongly, and why do they feel the way that they do? You’re born, right? You live, you love, you hate, you believe, you discover, you share, and ultimately, you die; what was it all worth? And was it worth it? Stay tuned, I guess.

 

In the short-term, later on this evening, I’ll be attempting to distract Bruster with a tortilla chip so that I can get some of these dang medicinal drops into his poor, puppy dog eye.

Aun Aqui

MY SPOT

Get The Hell Out Of My Spot: A Short Work of “Fiction”

It was a typical weekday morning; I woke up at 6:35, put clothes on, tended to the dog, poured some orange juice into a stainless steel mug, snatched my backpack up from off of the floor and then off I went, into the world. I followed the ten minute, mildly scenic route to work; passing blurry rows of suburban homes that ended abruptly at a red light, an alterations shop falling apart further ahead on the left, and then a medium-sized shopping plaza further down on the right (it houses a sad collection of uninteresting stores and unremarkable restaurants that I never frequent). I proceeded to drive underneath the interstate, flipped my left turn signal on immediately afterwards, and then hauled my good ole’ blue car up the steep, winding road to the corporate office.

Navigating on auto-pilot, I made a right once I’d reached the top of the hill and then spun the steering wheel sharply to the left as I prepared to park in my usual spot. Have I spoken of my spot before? It’s a lovely spot. I’d call it enviable, but other than existing underneath the shade of a stately tree, it really isn’t. It’s actually located at the far-end of the parking lot and sits along a row of mostly uninhabited spots. It’s the second to last spot in the row.

So, just as I was absentmindedly steering my vehicle into my spot, I had to slam on the brakes. Why? Because some beat-up, maroon-colored sedan* (*truly fictitious description) was already parked there. In my spot.

Huh. 

That’s weird.

For a split second, I didn’t really know what to do; for two years, this had been my spot, and no one else had ever dared to park there. Ever. I mean.. like, ever. Okay, ONE time, someone did, but they very quickly made amends with me by parking their car elsewhere the next day. Anyways.

But it’s okay,  I told myself, bravely. Today, I’ll just park.. behind or beside it. No big deal. I shook off a feeling that resembled words like robbed, violated, and cheated.

I’m sure this person is just visiting corporate today, I continued reasoning with myself, or is new, or has been around here for a while but was having an off morning. Happens to the best of us. So I brushed it off, walked into work, and it was just another cheerful day at the office.

 

I clocked out of work 9 hours later, shuffled over to my spot somewhat blindly (I had my head lowered, texting somebody) and, just as I started reaching for the car handle, that nauseating color reappeared in my field of vision: maroon.

What..? 

I paused to look up. Oh.. right. That happened. Quickly (and hoping no one had witnessed the awkward almost-happening), I trudged an extra twelve steps forward to where my pouty blue car was waiting. I know, buddy; I’m feeling it, too.

 

But by the time the next morning rolled around, the incident had been entirely forgotten. I moved through my morning routine efficiently and expertly, just like I’d done the day before, except today, as my parking spot came into view, I saw that the maroon car had parked itself there. Again.

 

I felt different about it this time.

 

MY SPOT

 

The hell, bro? I murmured aloud. What in the HELL are you doing in my spot?

So I parked in the same stupid spot I’d settled for the previous morning and couldn’t help but cast a furtive glance over towards the maroon car as I passed by it.

 

I walked inside, sat down at my desk, and then slowly drew in a very deep breath.

Okay.. look. You need to get a grip. You have projects to work on and preparations to make. Helloooooooo; this is just a parking spot. It’s not like some MEAN person just walked up and stole a burrito right out of your hand.. right? Now THAT would be lamentable. But this? You can’t let a parking spot ruin your whole day. 

But what if maroon isn’t JUST a visitor? I argued. What if they’re new and now, because they’ve parked there TWO DAYS IN A ROW, THEY think it’s THEIR spot?

 

We both stopped talking. It was a dark possibility — a viable one that couldn’t be denied. My heart clenched. It hurt.

We need to act quickly, I resolved.

 

I casually strolled into my manager’s office a few moments later, after composing myself. I paused in her doorway, leaned against it, and put on an expression that I thought would look pensive. Thoughtful.

“You know how I have a spot, right?” I began the conversation.

She looked up from her computer; her expression: confused. “I’m sorry?”

“You know, a parking spot,” I explained. “You know how I have a parking spot that only I park in?”

She rolled her eyes. “Yesssssss.”

“Okay,” I moved all the way into her office now, settling down onto one of her chairs that I hate. And she knows that I don’t like her chairs; I announce it every time I see the awful chair pair. They’re heavy, rigid, and cumbersome to get into and out of. I’ve even offered to spend some of my down time shopping around thrift stores in search of a superior substitute — some sleek and space-efficient stools, perhaps — but she’s yet to take me up on the offer.

“Well,” I continued, trying to position myself comfortably, “I’m having this issue where someone else is parking there.” I paused, giving her a second to take in the full weight of this news.

She looked across her desk at me, blankly. “And?”

“And,” I continued soberly, “I am wondering how to best handle the situation.”

 

She cracked an involuntary smile. “Handle the situation?”

 

“Oh, yes!” I leaned forward, looking intent. “I have to, Felicia.. and I’ve already considered a few possibilities. Like, you know; I’ve imagined walking out into the parking lot this evening — promptly, at 5:00 — and kind of lingering around outside of my car until maroon’s owner appears so I can be like ‘Oh my god! So YOU’RE the person who’s been taking my spot!’, but you know, I’ll say it really funny-like, so that it sounds like ‘oh wow, how funny is this!'” I paused to check for a reaction.

“Maroon?” she questioned.

“Yes; that’s what I’m calling the person because their car is maroon. Anyways, ANOTHER idea,” I continued, “is this: we have two new employees who began working at corporate a few weeks ago, right? I’m thinking it could be one of them. SO, I’ve imagined this scenario where I’m in the break room, and one of them is also in the break room, and I’m filling up my canteen with water when, suddenly, I turn around, see them there, look visibly surprised and ask — raising my eye brow and looking serious in a playful way — ‘Now.. DO YOU by any chance drive a MAROON-COLORED CAR?’ and then we can see where the conversation goes from there.” I shrugged, waiting for her to say something. “Sooooooo,” I prodded gently, “what do you think?”

 

“I think you’re crazy,” she responded. “Like a dalek with a parking spot.”

 

dalek parking only

 

While I appreciated being likened to a dalek, this wasn’t the answer I was hoping for. I left her office, deciding to temporarily place my “friendly-and-spontaneous-in-person-confrontation” plans on hold.

 

I left work feeling sour over the predicament and, hours later, lying in bed, I couldn’t believe that I was still thinking about it.

 

“Charlie?” I whispered into the dark.

“Yes?”

“I can’t sleep.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m worried about it.”

“About what?”

 

“MY SPOT!” I exclaimed, irritated. Duh.

 

He turned on the light. I told him the whole story, and about how my manager didn’t think staging a confrontation was a good idea, and that I didn’t know what else to do to fix it.

 

Just as he was about to speak, I spoke up again.

WAIT! ..oh my goodness, Charlie; I know what I’ll do. I’ll just get there early.. EARLIER THAN maroon car!” This new plan was brilliant in its simplicity. “We’re ALL supposed to be there by 8, right? Well, I’ll get there at 7:40.” I paused, anxiety seizing my heart again. “But what if they’re there at 7:40?” I gazed at the wall, feeling Charlie’s worried eyes on me. “What if they KNOW that I’m trying to reclaim my spot, or they absurdly think that someone else will want their spot, and they plan on getting there at 7:30? or 7:15?” He patted me on the shoulder and turned the light out. It was a rough night.

 

When my alarm went off in the morning, I knew what I had to do: get down to business pronto. “NO LINGERING IN BED TODAY!” I told the dog. “It’s GO TIME!”

 

I sped away from the house, waving goodbye to Charlie and Bruster as they stood beside each other, calmly, and looked on from the doorway. I arrived to work at approximately 7:38 and was incredibly thrilled to find my spot unoccupied. I pulled into it, and I was overjoyed by our reunion, but the joy was short-lived.

 

“Sooooo..” I struck up a casual conversation with myself as I sat there, rocking from side-to-side in my seat and waiting for 8:00 to roll around. “When maroon gets here, they’re PROBABLY going to VERY IGNORANTLY think, ‘Oh wow, who’s that in MY SPOT today?'”

I shook my head. “Yep. Bet they will. Ugh.. the audacity.

“I KNOW. And they need to KNOW that THIS is MY SPOT. That it’s been my spot for two years, and that they need to just choose another spot. Because arriving early today and reclaiming the spot one time isn’t going to fix this; if I don’t get here at 7:40 tomorrow, you know they’re going to try to take this spot back.” I gazed out the window, feeling stressed. “How long does it take to change your taste buds?” I asked myself. “Two weeks, maybe? What about habits — how long does it take to form a new habit or change an old one.. is it three?” I sighed.I guess I’ll just arrive to work early for three weeks. Just to be safe. Get them in the habit of parking elsewhere.”

 

I talked the matter over with Charlie that evening.

 

“Could you maybe get a pole and a sign?” Charlie asked quietly. “Stake it into the ground right there in front of your spot so that everyone knows?”

don't even think

“Nooooo,” I brushed the idea off immediately. “That would be too weird. Technically, there aren’t any assigned or designated spots. We all just know which spot is ours and RESPECT other peoples’ spots,” I grumbled.

I plunged my spoon into my bowl of soup and then held it in the air and tilted it slightly, watching as tiny red droplets dripped back down into the bowl.

“I thought about buying some chalk and hand-writing ‘Jace’s Spot‘ on the concrete,” I admitted, “but I think I’d get in trouble for that.” I paused, considering whether or not I should admit to my next idea. “Honestly,” I whispered, “as I was leaving work today.. pulling out of my spot.. I paused, looked down at the blue Belk umbrella on the car floor, and imagined stepping out of the car, placing it in the middle of my spot, and then leaving it there — as some kind of deterrent — until I drove back tomorrow.” I looked up and across the table at Charlie, who said nothing. “I also considered,” I spouted off quickly, “going back into the corporate building, removing my black, swivel chair, pulling it outside, and placing it right there in the middle of the spot..” I was looking back down at my bowl of soup now.

“ANYWAYS, all of those ideas were stupid and weird and I’m not going to execute any of them.”

 

“Jace?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“I know what you need.”

 

“What?”

 

He paused dramatically. Then: “A big.. orange.. traffic.. cone.”

 

Smiling Traffic Cone Character With Halo And Wings Emoji

 

I gasped. Oh my god. It was the best idea I’d ever heard in my life.

 

“The universal sign,” Charlie continued gravely, “that says: ‘You can’t park here.‘” Charlie raised his eyebrows at me impressively and waited for my verdict.

 

I shook my head in utter disbelief of his genius. “Charlie; where can I get one?”

 

I arrived to work the next day, twenty minutes early yet again, and removed a book from my backpack (to pass the time). I felt confident; I’m going to try out this arrive-early-for-three-weeks-thing, but if it doesn’t prove effective, I’m DEFINITELY going to buy a traffic cone and stick that sucker in my trunk. Smiling at the idea of my fantastic backup plan, I was about five minutes into reading when a moving object in my side-view mirror suddenly caught my attention; maroon. That stupid freaking color was the absolute bane of my existence; an emblem of fury — the token of the disruption, disorder, and chaos in my life.

 

My heart started racing a little. Oh wow; this is going to be awkward. It felt like I was the faceless figure who’d stolen somebody’s boyfriend or girlfriend, and now that person was about to put two-and-two together, stumble over to my car in a mad rage, and punch me in the gut. I mentally and emotionally prepared myself for the worst.

On second thought, let’s just get inside the building as quickly as possible, I decided.

So I slid my book into my backpack, zipped it up, grabbed my water bottle, and exited the vehicle quietly, beginning the short walk to the corporate office. I heard a car door close behind me as soon as I started walking and heard the sound of feet shuffling across the concrete.

 

Shit; maroon is RIGHT behind me. Should I turn around — acknowledge them with a smile and a wave — or continue moving forward and feign being oblivious? 

 

I continued walking forward, trying to look and act and breathe normal. Once I’d reached the entrance to the office, I touched my right finger to the electronic entry pad and waited for the green light. Ding. I opened the door, entered half-way, and then paused, deciding to hold the door open for this mysterious maroon person. It was a brave move; I was terrified. And when I turned around to greet them, I was shocked; it was the sweet receptionist who worked the front desk.

 

“Good morning, Hayley!” I greeted her, probably failing to conceal the surprise from my voice.

 

“Morning, Jace!” she smiled sweetly, ducking into the building and then heading toward the front lobby.

 

I shook my head; every trace of anger.. gone.

 

As I walked to my desk, I thought to myself: If maroon – aka Hayley – wants to park in my spot, that is totally okay. Any other spot will work for me just as well.

 

Fun fact: The very next morning, this sweet little sentiment was put to the test. I was pulling up to the light where I turn left to get up the hill to work when I saw maroon parked at the light. Oh dear. I broke the news to myself softly as the hood of my car neared the trunk of hers. You’re going to have to watch it happen; you’re going to have to watch her take your spot. I paused for a minute; imagined it happening. And remember; like you decided yesterday, it’s really NOT a big deal. She’s a very nice person and she should be able to park wherever she wants to park. I smiled, grateful that I’d honestly been able to get over the matter.

 

I followed maroon up the steep, steep driveway; we both turned right at the end of it; I let out a gentle sigh that sounded like goodbye as I prepared to watch her vehicle turn left — coming to a soft, gentle halt in my old spot — but instead, her car veered right. I took in a quick breath; oh my god. She’s given me my spot back. 

***

That’s it. That’s my story for the week. And remember.. before you think I’m nuts.. it’s a work of “fiction.” Yeah.

 

The lesson?
I’ll condense it into the smallest ‘Jace paragraph’ ever.

 

It was easy to feel angry at a faceless person; someone without a name, voice, or personality. But once I was brought face-to-face with the person, that heavy and emotionally draining pall of anger slipped from my shoulders easily, like raindrops springing lightly from a raincoat.

 

Similarly, it’s easy to get your feathers ruffled over competing sports teams, opposing political views, or disharmonious religious beliefs; it’s very easy to feel anger, to imagine separateness, and to build walls over these matters. But anger distances you from people, separateness stifles empathy, and walls obviously create division. Strip all of those differences away and you just see people. 

It’s also remarkable that, when you’re feeling angry at a person, it usually isn’t really that PERSON you’re angry with; more often, it was the words they spoke, the actions they took, or the words or actions they failed to speak or take. For me, I wasn’t mad at maroon; I was mad at an innocent action that maroon took and the consequences trailing behind in the exhaust of that action. The simple fact that her car was in my spot meant that I couldn’t be in my spot, and I was mad that something familiar was being taken away from me; that something that made me feel ‘safe’ and like I ‘belonged’ and that I ridiculously thought of as ‘mine’ was being challenged. Maroon wasn’t trying to be mean; she was likely clueless as to my lunacy and my deep-seated feelings for the spot, which is understandable, because the spot itself has no inherent value. My anger and anxiety were wrapped up in the rolling ball of what the spot meant to me and how her actions were threatening to take that meaningful value and that sense of security away. See? Break it down to basic components and I was never mad at maroon at all. I was mad about becoming displaced because I was scared of the changes involved; the implications of those changes, the stress of those changes, and the uncertainty of those changes.

 

So here’s my unsolicited advice:

When you notice that you’re feeling angry, start a conversation with yourself. Talk it out and work through the anger. Cite your ‘obvious’ reason for being angry and then move backwards; follow the logical mind trail and discover the true cause of your anger. To illustrate, I’ll devise a totally fictitious (mean it this time) scenario that you might be familiar with.

Totally Fictitious Scenario: “The Big Pineapple Cupcakes Letdown”

I’m mad at Charlie.

Why?

Because he forgot to bring home a pineapple.

Why does that make you angry?

Because he said he was going to bring home a pineapple.

Okay; why are you so upset that he didn’t bring home a pineapple?

Because we were going to make organic, free-trade, raw, unfiltered, non-GMO, vegan, premiere-status pineapple cupcakes today and now we CAN’T.

Why are you upset that you can’t make these specialty pineapple cupcakes?

Because they’re delicious.

Oh. So you aren’t mad at Charlie; you’re mad that you are without cupcakes?

Yes. Exactly.

Bam. See how easy that was? Pinpointing the true cause, source, origin, or underlying reason of my anger? But let’s face it; generally speaking, it’s a lot less embarrassing to say you’re mad at a person than you are at an absence of cupcakes. Quick “real talk” sidebar: It’s not like it’s freaking Christmas and every grocery store in town is closed — go buy some exquisite $30 pineapple yourself and then make the damn cupcakes. Problem solved.

 

Obligatory Numbered Conclusion (because the length of this post is driving me mad):

  1. Familiar things and favorite things (like cupcakes and parking spots) are comforting and lovable, and that’s fine, but people will always be more lovable. If you’re a math person, it’s like this: people > things and objects, and to be even more specific, people > parking spots. At the end of the day, if given the choice (and the power of choice is always given), all I’ll ever do is love people.
  2. Why foster anger when it leaves you feeling ill and emotionally drained, and why be angry over silly, trivial things? Now; if someone ever walks up to you and threatens to steal your burrito, sucker punch that homewrecker. Don’t hold back. In this situation, your anger would be totally justified. But throw your figurative punches selectively; you’ve gotta really make them count.

 

Still here (and still parking in the same beautiful and flawless spot but if you park in it that’s okay too just please don’t),

Aun Aqui

movie meme

Granny Panties, Shameless Groping, and Dingy, Dirty Door Knobs

Three quick stories, and then we’ll get down to what really matters.

 

Story #1: The Girl with the Granny Panties

dragon tattoo

She isn’t QUITE as cool as the girl with the DRAGON TATTOO, but she’s close. Sort of close.

 

When I was in the 7th grade, I signed up for a computer education class. My best friend – a girl from Ecuador named Betty – sat at the computer station beside mine each day, and at the start of every class, we’d pull on matching pairs of headphones and then begin working on interactive typing exercises together.

“Do not look down at the keyboard while typing,” the stoic female computer voice would remind us, periodically. I was very studious and did my best to follow her instructions, but Betty disregarded them entirely. By the end of the semester, our varying strategies had produced very different results, as my WPM average had reached a whopping 136 while hers sat at about 52.

During one of these classes, a fellow 7th grader approached me at my computer station, leaned down, and whispered into my ear: “So.. do you wear GRANNY PANTIES with your long dresses?” Then she walked away towards her group of friends, laughing.. all of them, laughing.

I kept my eyes glued to the computer screen and tried my best to look unbothered.

 

‘Granny panties’? I questioned myself as I typed. DO I wear granny panties? My mom buys my undergarments from Walmart. Is that what she’s asking: If I wear WALMART PANTIES? ..is it bad to WEAR Walmart panties?

 

After consulting with Betty, I realized, that day, that there is an entire WORLD of underwear out there for girls to peruse and choose from: there was the underwear that I wore — garments whose tops rested just under the belly button and which reasonably clothed the entire buttocks (these are, FYI, commonly referred to as ‘granny panties’) — and then there were mysterious others. Like bikinis. And thongs. And g-strings and boy shorts. Some of these types of underpants were, I discovered, cotton-based (which I was already familiar with) while others were lacy, or silky, and some of them were even (partially or fully) see-through.

 

…but why would someone want to wear a see-through THONG? I exclaimed. What would be the POINT? It sounds horrible, weird, and GROSS. I was appalled.

 

Still, I was ashamed of my secretly worn granny panties, so the next time my mom mentioned taking a trip to Walmart, I asked to accompany her. We entered the store together and then I slipped off into the girls’ clothing section. There, I quickly and secretly leafed through dozens of plastic packets of Hanes and Fruit of the Loom underwear before settling on two packages: one contained 6 pairs of boy shorts (they looked cool), and the other, special package featured bikinis (just so that, if mean girl asked about my undergarments AGAIN, I could honestly tell her that I owned bikinis). I tucked both of the packages underneath my right arm as I set about locating my mother in the store; after spotting her long, denim skirt floating down the laundry detergent aisle, I tossed them into the bottom of her shopping cart and felt a gigantic surge of relief pass through me as I did so. Problem solved.

 

But she – mean girl – never asked again, and I never liked wearing them. Today, I just wear boxers all of the time.

 

Story #2: Get your MFing hands OFF of me.

basketball hoop

 

In the 11th grade, I transitioned from executing a few somewhat successful years of self-guided homeschooling to attending a public school in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Gym class, I quickly discovered, was a division of the sexes.

Girls walked the track or sat on the bleachers. Boys played football or basketball. I didn’t have anyone to walk with, and I didn’t want to sit by myself and be bored, so I wedged myself into the boys’ games. They were resistant, at first, and ignored me entirely, but after a few games where I consistently showed up and actively tried to participate, they began passing me the ball, and we were all amazed when I landed my first successful hoop and, quickly afterwards, touchdown.

So one day, during a game of basketball and completely out of the blue, a guy friend walked up to me and put his hands over my t-shirt, cupping both of my (very small) breasts. I was stunned. He smiled at me mischievously, dropped his hands slowly, and then ran towards the other side of the court, where the game was moving.

 

I continued standing there, speechless.

 

I felt violated. I was angry. I was scared. This had never happened to me before. I didn’t know what to say or how to say it, but I knew that I had to say something quickly.

 

Instinct took over; I tagged along, anxiously, as my body marched itself over to where he was standing. Once I was close enough to do so, I nudged his shoulder, making him look me in the eye.

“Don’t you EVER.. do THAT.. AGAIN,” I commanded, looking very serious, and then I walked away.

I felt like I’d just reproved my dog for jumping up and sneaking a slice of pizza off of the kitchen counter while my back was turned, but this was my friend, and the offense was way bigger than a stolen slice of pizza. Why had he done that to me?

He never did it again, but I could never look at him without remembering that he had done it before.

People have had far worse happen to them than an isolated incident of unwanted groping from a classmate.. many of us have fallen victim to unrequested, unsolicited, and unwanted advances. It’s never, ever pleasant, and you never, ever forget it.

 

Story #3: Oh no he didn’t..

door knob

During this same school year, I spent my weeknights skateboarding inside of a concrete warehouse with a bunch of boys. Most of them became familiar with my presence and accepted me into their clique of cool skater dudes.. but one day, a boy I hadn’t spoken with before skated past me and gave me a mean look.

“You’re a doorknob, you know that?” he asked.

Clueless, I responded: “What?”

Everyone gets a turn.” He raised his eyebrows at me pointedly and then zoomed away on his board.

I didn’t understand right away. I couldn’t figure out what he meant. But the way he’d said it – so negatively and demeaningly, like I’d done something wrong – conveyed the message.

But I haven’t even KISSED a boy before, I defended myself inwardly, let alone do OTHER stuff.

 

But who cares? That’s extra, ‘inside scoop’ knowledge for you, reader. The fact that I’d never kissed a boy before doesn’t matter, because even if I’d kissed 17 boys that year, he still should not have said that.

 

Why all of this matters.

I watched a video yesterday morning that caused a miniature emotional meltdown. I sat there in my room, sobbing, while the short video played; my fat and clumsy German Shepherd came barreling up the stairs, wailing loudly in response to my grief.

If you care to see it, this is the video.

Why would a child do those things, say those things? Why is she screaming at a doll, calling it a stupid whore and sneering that it needs to get its life together as she kicks, punches and tramples it?

“Obviously, because she’s hearing those things herself.. they’re either being said to her directly, or she’s picking up on it indirectly, hearing other people being talked to or talked about this way,” a friend answered when I shared the disturbing content with them.

 

And six-year-olds aren’t the only ones who’ve thrown the “whore” word around before. I’ve used similar words myself; I’ll admit to the fact easily, AND I’ll tell you all about it.

 

 

I told three stories at the beginning of this post. There was a “central point” to each of them.

  1. Women are judged by how they dress.
  2. Women are blamed for what happens to them because of how they dress.
  3. Women are judged when they express themselves sexually.

 

Let’s talk about #1 first: Why do we judge women by the way they dress?

woman's dress code

It might be easier to admit, first, that I’ve judged women for how they’ve dressed.

A couple of years ago, Chris and I were hooked on a Netflix show called Weeds. In it, you follow the riveting story of a suburban housewife whose husband has just died and who is now left with the responsibility of making a living to support herself and her children. Her game plan? Sell marijuana. That’s pretty much it — the overarching “plot” of the show.. so you plop down onto the couch and binge-watch as she deals with the best of them and gets into some pretty messy escapades along the way.

“I love this show,” I told Chris once, over a pint of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream,”but she is so freaking SLEAZY.”

“You mean empowered?” he challenged me, raising his eyebrows.

I rolled my eyes.

Hooookay. Really though; she is so unnecessarily sultry with the way she carries herself.. she’s overly sensual.”

“You mean she’s confident?” he corrected me once again.

It infuriated me.

“YOU JUST LIKE THAT SHE DRESSES SLEAZY AND ACTS SLEAZY,” I accused him.

He raised his eyebrows at me and paused the show. Very calmly, he turned to me and said: “No, I do not; I just don’t think that a woman should be judged for her appearance or reproved for carrying herself with confidence.”

I felt like a jackass, so I just stopped talking and continued watching sleazy Nancy Botwin weasel her way out of yet another miniature crisis, wearing daisy dukes and stupid heels. How impractical, I thought to myself. Good luck running away from the bad guys in those.

 

It’s something I struggle with to this day.

Whether it’s in real life or on a television screen, I just don’t like seeing half-naked people. I honestly don’t. Going to the beach this year was just as stressful for me as it was pleasurable, because while all I wanted to see was waves, sharks, and burritos, shirtless dudes and bikini-clad gals kept getting in my way. Call me asexual, but nudity isn’t attractive to me. Eyes, hands, and smiles.. those are attractive.. but now we’re getting really off-topic. Back to scantily clad people: Seeing so much of someone you don’t know that well seems overly intimate, inappropriate, and awkward, and this is mostly because of the society we live in. We’re clothed the second we’re born, and the porn industry has done such a fantastic job objectifying and sexualizing the human body that, unfortunately, we have to remain covered throughout our lives, even as we’re lowered into our graves. As a result, when someone is wearing an outfit that I would refer to as being revealing, I automatically – without even realizing I’m doing it – dip out of the no-judgment-zone and find myself criticizing them inwardly. Some of it is justified; some of it isn’t.

“How can they walk around in public like that?” I ask myself, awestruck. “It’s so inconsiderate! OTHER women are going to feel self-conscious, comparing THEIR decently concealed bodies with her brazenly EXPOSED body, and if these other women are out and about with a significant other, they are going to be paranoid that THEIR person is checking out THAT girl. It’s all a mess; a great, big, stupid mess. Just put on some damn clothes.. ALL of you. Forever.”

There you have it. That’s some real talk. Now, some of that is true, and some of it has resulted from conditioned thinking. I was, after all (and as you may recall), raised in a very conservative environment where even showing an elbow (or showcasing an ankle) out in public was considered provocative. But how does one tell the difference between someone being comfortable and confident and authentically and creatively expressing themselves and them dressing or acting indecently? The answer: It’s not up to you to determine the difference. Conduct yourself in a manner that’s consistent with your internal, moral compass, and accept that others are going to do the same thing. It’s as simple as that. The key thing is: Don’t malign the intentions or characters of others who have a different perspective on the matter than you do. For me, putting on a button-up shirt and a tie makes me feel good about myself; if that’s different for the next girl and wearing a short dress or a push-up bra makes her feel confident, am I entitled to judge her for that? The answer: I’m totally not. We’re all doing the best we can to make peace with ourselves and the world, so be a supporter,a promoter, and a lover of people.. not an asshole.

And check this: I’m not saying that girls or women should be able to just prance around NAKED and that no one should say a gosh darn thing about it, because NO ONE should be prancing around naked; if you see someone of ANY gender – girl, boy, or otherwise – trotting around the mall or neighborhood in their birthday suit, kindly phone your local clothing authorities, because the United States isn’t USED to that kind of living (topic for another time).. but please realize that anything other than nudity is going to be judgment-based, and that, outside of places of business and certain parks, people are allowed to dress themselves according to their own moral compass and comfort level. There are so many other things to focus on outside of a person’s appearance, so try to redirect your gaze and appreciate those things instead of getting caught up in someone’s outer gear.

 

#2: And whose fault was it? Survey says..

survey says

I grew up in a religion where tasteful women who wore long skirts and long-sleeved shirts would point at scantily-clad women and sneer that they were just asking for it.. that they were tempting men to be inappropriate with and take advantage of them, and that they shouldn’t be surprised when it happens. To be more explicit, I basically grew up believing that a woman could cause rape to happen to her. Isn’t that devastating to read? Archaic? Unbelievable? Now, as a reasonable adult who has undergone a hell of a lot of unbecoming and who has sorted through literal barrels of shit, I believe that a woman could walk around an entire city for MONTHS shirt-less AND pants-less and that she still wouldn’t DESERVE rape. She wouldn’t ever ‘deserve’ it for a single SECOND no matter WHAT.. and for anyone to even imply that she does, or that she is to be blamed for it happening to her, or that she WANTED it to happen because of how she was dressed, is lunacy. It’s despicable. I don’t care if a woman spends her whole life naked; wearing lots of clothes or no clothes at all, she does not deserve to be taken advantage of, and the responsibility for rape happening will ALWAYS lie with the offender. The predator. The depraved asshole – man or woman – who forced someone into something they were NOT asking for.

 

And finally, #3: Why do we judge women when they express their sexuality?

movie meme

I have a friend who has been married to her high school sweetheart for 13 years and who has been – during that time – with him only, and then I have another friend who dated and slept with 5 guys in one summer. Is either girl more respectable than the other? If you answered yes, you need to rethink your answer, because I have had to rethink mine.

Sexual promiscuity – which is what we’re talking about right now – is a subjective term.

Subjective (n): of, relating to, or emanating from a person’s emotions, prejudices, etc.; relating to the inherent nature of a person or thing; belong to, proceeding from, or relating to the mind of the thinking subject and not the nature of the object being considered.

In other words, sex – in and of itself – is entirely meaningless. You assign meaning and value and rules to it based on who you are and what you view it as being.

And some people take sex very seriously: “Wait until you’re married.”

While others are more lax with their approach: “Ehhh.. try to wait until the second date. If you can. Or not. Whatever.”

For some, it’s a very meaningful and emotionally-laced activity (sacred, even), while, for others, it’s valued for being more of an experience than a show of love. For some, sex is casually viewed as a ‘pastime’ (and is grouped with other pastimes, like going to a movie, baking a dessert, or painting a picture).

Pastime (n): a diversion or recreation which serves to pass the time agreeably; an activity done for pleasure rather than work; a hobby; a sport, a game.

Depending on your viewpoint, that last bit may be weird to read, but that’s reality.

And it’s a judgment call either way.. one that’s riddled with feelings and fine details, like how you grew up, what you witnessed in the world of ‘love’ as you grew up, and who or what you believe in. To some people, the nutritional content of a meal or the price tag on a new Harry Potter book is a weightier matter to consider than who their sexual partner is going to be that night. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Did you catch that? Do you disagree vehemently? Are you mortified and appalled? That’s fine; the solution is simple: Don’t sleep around. But remember: That’s YOUR choice. You can’t decide for everyone else.

Now.. is it dangerous to sleep with lots of people? It sure as heck is if you aren’t careful, and I wouldn’t exactly recommend sleeping with every Tom, Dick and Jenny that you meet.. but I also wouldn’t judge someone who wants to live that kind of lifestyle, because they’re living according to their own morals and standards — not mine — and that is respectable. Their actions aren’t hurting, affecting, or at all impacting me, so why should I have any say in how they live their life? You’re correct! I shouldn’t.

“But the more people you have sex with,” you argue, “the less meaning it will have!” I don’t disagree with that statement. As it stands right now, I’m actually one of the least ‘sexually promiscuous’ people I’ve ever known (I didn’t have a legit boyfriend until I turned 18 and, to this day, I’ve kissed two people). But that’s me and my take on the matter.. and mine is no better and no more correct than the next person’s, however liberal their approach or conservative their take is. Period. Newsflash: Morals are subjective; stick to your own, and lay off of judging people whose morals vary from yours. Remember, also, that lifestyles are fluid and malleable.. and that however much you want there to be one, there is no “one-size-fits-all.” All you can do is you, boo.

But alas; even though we’ve all finally agreed that people have the right to live according to their own morals and standards (including managing their own sexuality), still, we call them sluts. Whores. We refer to women who sleep with lots of men or women as being sleazy and loose and we make it very obvious that we don’t respect them because of their poor and morally-corrupt decision making. And guess what?  THIS is PRECISELY what the verbally and physically abusive six-year-old has already witnessed in her short lifetime. Just consider the repercussions of being exposed to that kind of negativity, judgment and name-calling at such a young age; when will she begin to think of HERSELF as a whore, and when will she lose respect for herself? When someone, at some point, decides to call her a doorknob, will she unquestioningly believe them — wearing the blame and feeling the shame — or will she have the confidence and sense of self-worth needed to cast off such an outrageously inappropriate label that she knows will never apply to her? A huge variable of whether or not that confidence and sense of self-worth will exist is her environment. What are her parents, teachers, and friends like? How do they speak to each other, to her, and about other people? And as she grows older, how will people at church, work, and the grocery store treat her and look at her? How are you going to treat her and look at her? Will it depend on how she’s dressed or how many sexual partners you know or THINK she’s had?

 

screwed either way

Yep; this pretty much sums it up. Basically, as a woman, you’re screwed either way.

 

 

We have to pause and consider the power of our words before speaking or writing them, and we would do well to be more hesitant and thoughtful before casting our judgments. Myself very much included.

 

I don’t have time to talk about how horrible cinema and magazines are, but check out the following song lyrics (from various years, genres, and artists) and explanations as to why I hate them so much.

 

I heard your dreams came true. Guess she gave you things I wouldn’t give to you.

You’ve probably seen memes that guess at what Adele could have been referring to here; I don’t need to spell it out for you. These two lines alone create an expectation for girls: ‘If I want this person to be interested in me, I need to be willing to do this.’ No ma’am. You shouldn’t do anything that you aren’t comfortable with, and you certainly shouldn’t agree to do anything that you don’t want to do.

Do I have to keep up the pace to keep you satisfied?

This could imply that a woman should possess a sex drive that matches her partner’s expectations. That’s a very bold assumption, and it’s a wrong one; no one should be made to feel that they need to muster up a more competitive sex drive that just isn’t there in order to keep their current partner loyal and in order to be accepted, liked, and loved by them.

I’ll be your daydream; I’ll wear your favorite things.

Why? Why do you have to play dress-up to make this other person happy? I call bullshit. Dressing up for a special occasion is one thing, but make it habitual and you may end up recreating yourself into a version of you that is difficult to maintain, totally unauthentic, and – worst of all – completely unhappy.

 

Long overdue, here are my ‘super major’ overarching points:

STOP:

  1. Judging girls and women for their appearance, behavior, or sexuality.
  2. Making girls and women feel subservient or accountable to men (or any romantic partner) in any kind of capacity.

START:

  1. Nurturing, affirming, respecting and protecting girls and women.. because by doing this — by acting like a supportive, cheering audience and serving as a dependable backdrop for the grand stage of their lives — they will be able to more easily nurture, affirm, respect and DEFEND themselves, and that’s the real goal. It makes sense, doesn’t it? When you’re able to stop worrying about your external appearance or the way people are interpreting you, you’re able to begin considering more productive and intriguing things.. like what you’re interested in, what you’re passionate about, what kind of career you’re gravitating towards or what new hobby you’d like to pick up.

 

Watch people adorn themselves, express themselves, and direct their own lives without submitting your judgment, because your judgment won’t just negatively impact that person you’re directing it at; others will notice, and some of these others will adopt your prejudice, your words, and your stares, and soon enough, little, baby girls will be calling other girls, and their own selves, whores, because of how narrow-minded and suckish you are. Don’t contribute to the downward spiral; be a positive, life-giving force in the lives of girls and women. I can’t tell you how, exactly, that mission will play out in your life, but you’ll figure it out.

 

Nurture, Affirm, Respect and Protect: Four verbs girls and women need RIGHT NOW.

 

One last story:

I drove downtown yesterday afternoon for my 7th tattoo. Aaron was in the back of the shop, sitting down on a stool and drawing up a sketch, when I opened the front door to Aerochild.

Hi!” he called out cutely. He’s my favorite tattoo artist in Birmingham.

Hey!” I responded, smiling and tossing my backpack onto the couch in the lobby. “I baked cookies last night,” I began immediately, unzipping my backpack, reaching my hand in and then producing a small, lightweight Ziploc-baggy as I withdrew it, “and I brought one for you.”

I walked into the back room and placed the baggy on the same table he was drawing at.

“Oh wowww.. thanks!” he exclaimed.

“No problem!” It’s not like I was wondering all morning if it’s weird to bring homemade cookies to your favorite barista or tattoo artist.  As I wandered back over to the couch, I thought of mentioning there’s no marijuana or anything crazy in there — you know, to be reassuring,in case he was wondering — but instead, I decided to say: “It’s a chocolate chip- and peanut butter-flavored cookie with coconut oil swirled in.”

 

Moments later, I was flipping over to the fifth page of Gone Girl when he called out that the sketch was ready for review. I jumped up eagerly, ran over to look at it, and my first reaction was: laughter.

 

Oh my god.. it’s perfect, Aaron. You captured Bruster exactly as he is; the dumbest-looking Shepherd on the PLANET. And Panda!! Her beauty mark; it’s right there!

 

Happy that I was so pleased with the first creative draft, he motioned for me to go ahead and trek upstairs and step into his “surgery room.” I did so, nervously hopping up onto the medical chair, adjusting my back, crossing my legs, and then setting my wallet and cell phone on my lap. He sat down on another (smaller) stool and asked for me to bring my arm closer to the edge of the chair. I did so, and as he shaved the invisible hairs off of my bicep and sanitized the area with disinfectant, he commented:

“So.. I put a cape on the rabbit, in the sketch. You noticed that, right?”

“OH MY GOSH, I DIDN’T! That’s awesome!”

“Good.. so what color do you want the outside of her cape to be?”

I paused.. this was going to be a big, last-minute decision. Princess Panda: The Bunny Rabbit; what is her most favorite color in the whole entire world?

 

“Pink,” I responded simply, feeling amused. “That’s the color she’d want.”

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And this coming from someone who hated the color pink for a solid DECADE because they thought it was too girly and stereotypical. Well.. I went and changed my mind again. Funny how often that seems to be happening these days. Pink is, actually, a very lovely color, like many other colors are.. and it doesn’t belong, exclusively, to either gender, although it’s consistently, arbitrarily assigned to one. Out of all of the colors in the spectrum, it’s Panda’s absolute favorite. Why would I choose anything else?

 

A former granny-panties-wearer with pink ink,

Aun Aqui

#girlsrule

2016-07-24 19.40.43

Stupid Sheets and Motorcycle Rides: Life Beyond Survival

Tomorrow, it will be exactly ONE YEAR since I purchased my motorcycle. It was one of the most impulsive decisions of my life.

 

Impulsive

Definition: done suddenly without planning or forethought.

Synonyms: passionate; hasty; spontaneous.

 

I was having a rough morning; my husband (at the time) was having a group of friends over for a poker night. It was a designated “guys’ night,” and I was devastated that, as a domesticated woman and wife, I wasn’t invited, so I was lamenting my pitiful fate as I hiked along the winding sidewalk of an old, abandoned golf course with my faithful German Shepherd.

 

I visited a bike lot that afternoon for some routine scooter maintenance. I walked around (inside and outside of the store) while I waited, and as I was meandering about outside, I spotted a black and chrome Suzuki that took my breath away. “Now THAT’S a bike,” I murmured to myself, trailing my hand across the motorcycle’s seat, throttle, and handlebars. It was minimalistic, effortless and badass: in other words, it was exactly what I wanted to be.

 

I drove the scooter home and made a phone call. Minutes later, my best friend Shae pulled into my driveway, picked me up, and took me back to the bike lot. There, I signed papers, spent an hour learning how to ride a manual bike, and the rest is history.

 

And that history includes this fun fact: In the past nine months, I’ve ridden my motorcycle maybe seven times. Maybe.

 

People have been asking me all summer: “Soooooo.. did you take the bike out this weekend, Jace?”

What’s a good excuse? “No.. it was really hot out.”

 

At a meeting on Thursday, a co-worker leaned over towards me, smiled, and whispered: “You bring that moped to work today?”

You always cite the weather as your reason to NOT ride — ‘It’s too hot; it’s too rainy.’ Think of something else! 

“Ahhhhh, I WANTED to ride it to work,” I began wistfully, “but I cleaned out the garage last weekend and now there are tons of boxes, roof tiles, and scrap laminate pieces blocking the entrance to the garage.” I shook my head, trying to look bummed. Yeah.. that sounds good. AND it’s true; there IS a lot of shit in the way right now.

 

He nodded knowingly and reclined back into his seat as the meeting began.

 

I gazed at the front of the room, where the projector would have been lighting up the wall, and then remembered that we were all just sitting at a table, facing each other and a telephone. This was a conference call.

And why exactly DON’T I ride the bike anymore? I asked myself, other voices fading easily into the background.

Because you’re scared.

Scared of what?

Dying, I guess.. crashing, losing your left arm.. you know. Bad stuff.

Yeah.. but the possibility of those things happening never bothered me last year.

True. You seemed to stop riding after the divorce.

 

I paused.

Hmmmm. That’s right.

Why is that?

 

I returned my attention to the conference call.

Jace?

I don’t have time for your questions right now.

***

Chris came by to play music with me last week. We ran through some Pink Floyd songs (with Chris playing lead, Charlie keeping tempo on the drums, and me strumming rhythm) and then I wandered off into the kitchen to prepare supper: vegetarian “ham” sandwiches paired with tomato basil soup.

Feeling another presence in the room, I looked up and noticed Chris standing in the doorway.

“Hey! Will you eat dinner here?”
“Nahhhh, I’m good,” he smiled.

He made some small talk; bringing up Pokemon Go, an Umphrey’s McGhee concert he’d attended recently, and his new haircut. I listened along, responding now and then to encourage him to continue talking. I missed hearing his voice.

“So how are you doing, Jace?” he asked suddenly, the pitch of his voice falling into a lower gear. “Really?

I looked up from stirring cumin and curry powders into the red soup.

“Oh — I’m doing really well!” I responded brightly, trying to sound reassuring. Convincing.

I looked over at him again and cracked a smile to really “sell” my statement. He made a face that seemed to echo his last spoken word: really.

“Yeah,” he murmured, “but I know you. You wouldn’t tell me if you weren’t doing well.”

I laughed at him. I’d been having an “off” week (an off couple of weeks, actually), for sure, but didn’t want anyone to know about it. It’s just hard to keep up a charade with someone who knows you well.

 

On Sunday, I hoped that shopping might help alleviate my depression. I’ve accepted the fact that, for me, it’s a chemical imbalance (which means that, generally speaking, there’s no rhyme or reason for my sudden dips and mood swings), so I’m doing my best to ‘make friends’ with my condition by being gentle with myself and by distracting myself long enough for the worst part of these difficult times to subside somewhat.

 

So I walked into Target for nothing in particular.

 

Did I really come here for nothing? No reason at all? I wondered aloud.

Pause.

Ahhhh, that’s right; I hate my sheets and I’m looking for new ones. Excellent; we’re on a mission!

 

I navigated towards the sheet aisle, passing – on my way – the “pillowfort” aisle: a fun collection of kids’ bedding supplies (things like sheets, comforters, throw pillows, rugs and the like). Amused, I stepped onto the aisle, walking down it leisurely and laughing a little as I imagined bringing different designs and themes home with me. There were astronauts and dinosaurs; vintage stamps and woodland creatures; Super Mario characters and punk animal posses (featuring zebras with mohawks and giraffes wearing combat boots) and so many others.

Damn. These collections are incredible. I wish they sold them in queen sizes. I quickly checked a few labels; in-store, sizes capped out at “full.” Feeling bummed and doubtful as to what kind of fun and exciting designs awaited me in the adults’ section, I shuffled off toward it.

 

And it was just as drab as I anticipated it would be.

 

20160717_134751

The place where stupid boring pointless sheets go to die.

 

I left the store without making a purchase. I was disappointed and frustrated. So — you grow up and, suddenly, fun designs just aren’t a part of the equation anymore, are they? No.. instead, you get to choose from a BLAND selection of mono-colored sheets that boast varying thread counts. Whoop-de-freaking-doo.

“Well I’M not going to be a sell-out,” I resolved, raising my head a little higher as I ducked into my Neon. “Fuck your fancy adult sheets. I’m going to shop online.”

 

I did so, and I was VERY pleased to discover that Target offered a QUEEN-SIZED “Many Moons” sheet set online. I tracked down a promo code, placed my order, and outfitted my queen-sized bed with fun sheets yesterday afternoon. Have a look! Go on — be jealous!

20160723_165801

 

And it gets sooooooo much better.

I didn’t want the bed-rebranding to stop with sheets. I’ve been sleeping underneath a bohemian-looking duvet for the last year; white-based with yellow and blue swirly patterns. It wasn’t as boring as the mono-colored cemetery of sheets I encountered on the adults’ aisle at Target, but I certainly wouldn’t refer to the pattern as being ‘fun,’ either. So I went back online and had a BALL entertaining various options.

 

“Let’s see.. I could go GALACTIC with this and pick some spacey, planetary type deal, or I could decorate with DINOSAURS. They also have MOTORCYCLES.. awwww, rabbits, foxes and dogs would be cute.. or maybe —-”

 

Maybe they’d have it. 

Oh my god, they had it.

I sought out and found a dalek-themed duvet that – like the motorcycle did last year – took my breath away. It is now the crowning glory of my queen-sized bed. Check out Governess Bunny (the lifelike rabbit) and Bruster (the German Shepherd) modeling it below.

 

 

So my bed is wearing fun sheets and is dressed in a cool duvet now; the point is?

 

The point for my ADULT readers is this: Don’t settle for boring. Kids know how to have fun, and they’re programmed to look for fun, while adults forget how to have fun, and how important it is to have fun.

 

My new hires always make fun of me after asking about my personal life.

“So Jace, what do you do in the evenings?”

“Well,” I usually divulge, “I play gigs sometimes — maybe twice a month — but other than that, I go home, make soup and salad for dinner, watch an episode of Doctor Who with my roommate, and then fall asleep around 8:30 with my German Shepherd curled up by my feet.” Isn’t that nice? Your routine is so perfect and dreamy, I compliment myself.

“And you’re HOW OLD?” they ask.

“24.”

“WHAT!! You need to live while you’re young, JACE!” they admonish, looking and sounding genuinely startled by my lack of living.

 

And they’re right. When I stood on the aisle of adult sheets, I looked right at them and saw through them to my quickly approaching elderly future: solid white sheets in the bedroom, a walker with four tennis balls stuck to the bottom of it near the front door, and a thick package of Depends hiding underneath the bathroom sink. “Nope. I’m not ready for this shit,” I decided instantly, and I left the store in a jiffy. But while I’m now highly alert to the boring sheet phenomena, I think that I settle for boring in other parts of my life.

 

A few examples:

My friend invited me to a movie showing that’s happening tomorrow night; it’s a one-time screening of an animated batman movie that revolves around the joker’s story. This person knows that I heart the joker to death.

But it starts at seven, I pointed out to myself. That will put you in bed at nine at the very EARLIEST. You’ll be miserable. Plus, movie theaters are dark and crazy people go there.. you’ll probably get shot.

Good point, I breathed out slowly.

“I’ll consider the idea,” I responded somewhat enthusiastically, “but don’t count me in just yet.”

 

Another friend invited me to her house two weeks ago. “Feel like getting drunk and painting tonight?” her text message read. I paused, imagining the course of the evening.

That would be fun, I admitted, but I already planned on having salad for dinner, and alcohol would zap the nutrients RIGHT OUT of those vegetables. 

“Can’t tonight.. maybe this weekend?” I replied, feeling lame as I doused a heaping bowl of kale and bell peppers with Italian dressing.

 

I had a friend visiting from New York last weekend. I took him to my favorite music venue ever – Saturn – on Saturday night so that he could take part in their dance party.

As I sat at a two-person table by myself, sipping on water and gripping the spine of my novel (the room was too dark for me to read comfortably; it was more of a security blanket than anything else), I looked out onto the dance floor every now and then and observed what was happening: all different kinds of people — young and old, male and female, coordinated and clueless — were dancing and having a BLAST. I tapped my foot a little, turning my head left and right to make sure that no one was watching as I did so, and secretly wished that my friend would invite me to come dance with him.

“Ohhhh COME ON, JACE!” I imagined him exclaiming, running over, grabbing my hand, and pulling me – against my will – out onto the dance floor, where I would, to everyone’s surprise, surrender to the beat and become the most incredible dancer on the planet.

But you don’t dance, I interrupted my fantasy. Remember? You’ve NEVER danced. Ever.

I knowwwww.

And even if he DID encourage you to get out there, you’d make up some lame-ass excuse and say no. You KNOW you would.

Yeah. I know.

 

So, in quick conclusion, I’ve decided to challenge myself to say yes more. To say ‘yes’ to drunken weeknight painting sessions; ‘yes’ to one-night-only movie premieres that center around my favorite characters; and possibly (but unlikely) ‘yes’ to taking on a more active role at cool dance parties. Because life is only as fun and interesting as the experiences and relationships that compose it. 

 

I had a serious conversation with a close friend yesterday.
“I feel like, at this stage of my life, I’ve figured out how to SURVIVE,” he confided, “but I don’t really know where to go from there. I don’t know what comes AFTER surviving.”

 

It was a powerful question. I posed it to myself.

I get up, get dressed, and go to work for forty hours each week. What for?

Well, it pays for my mortgage. Health expenses. Food. Gas and car insurance. $6 mochas at Saturn each Saturday and $9.14 burritos at Chipotle a few times a week. And, as a bonus, I actually, really enjoy my line of work. But work itself isn’t the baseline of what I’m living for.

 

So why do I take care to eat, sleep, and move through each day — what am I working toward? What is my hope? What am I living for? What’s my real, underlying motivation to stay alive?

 

“Honestly,” I shared, “as a loose answer, I continue living so I can see how interesting things get. So I can experience as much as possible, listen to other peoples’ stories, and tell my own. That’s really it.”

 

And sleeping on basic sheets from 8:30-6:30 every single day forever obviously isn’t going to afford much opportunity for new and interesting experiences, so it’s time to break the habit of saying no and staying in. Starting with tomorrow. There’s a one-night-only premiere of a movie about the joker.. did you know that I have THREE joker posters in my bedroom? AND a dalek-themed duvet + moon sheet set?!

******

I was supposed to meet up with a friend at Saturn this afternoon. When I woke up this morning, I picked up my phone to text her the usual disclaimer that precedes every actual hangout.

“If anything has come up and you want/need to cancel, it’s totally np! Just let me know.”

 

“I’ll see you at 2,” she responded moments later. I laughed a little.

 

She then sent a second message that detailed our ‘agenda’ for the afternoon — aka, what our conversation would be consisting of. Like me, she likes plans, bullet points, and clear direction, and as I read over her list of proposed topics, my eyes settled onto one in particular:

  • Your Motorcycle

 

I sighed. I know what this is going to be about.

“Why aren’t you riding your bike anymore?” I quizzed myself (in preparation for our meeting).

It’s too hot, the garage is cluttered.. I recited my go-to explanations, feeling bored.

But you know that isn’t why, I commented. Why don’t you just sell the damn thing? I asked myself, honestly. Sell it and put the money in savings.

Because.. I love riding.

How can you say that? You never ride anymore. Because you’re scared. You know it, AND she knows it.

I bristled at the claim. Since when have I let fear stop me from doing something?

Um, you’ve let fear keep you off of that bike for the last nine months.

 

I couldn’t deny it. So I decided to take action.

 

After making sure that Bruster was all settled into his kennel, I grabbed my motorcycle pants, armored jacket, helmet, and gloves from the laundry room.

Oooooohh.. but did you check on the weather? I inquired, worriedly. It’s probably going to rain — and it seriously ISN’T safe to ride in the rain.

True.. tell you what; I’m going to check, and if the CHANCE of rain is 20% or greater, I’ll just take the car. That sounds fair and reasonable.

I performed a quick google search on my phone and laughed at what I saw; 15%. The chance of rain capped out at 15% for the whole, entire day.

Well okay; close, but no cigar.

I tugged the armored pants on over my shorts.

WAIT, I interrupted again. There was JUST a shooting downtown THREE weeks ago. Crazy shit happens there CONSTANTLY. Do you REALLY think you should be bringing your bike down there? It will DEFINITELY get stolen. Here’s a bright idea: Go to Saturn in your car and then use the WiFi there to list your bike for sale on Craigslist.

I pause to consider the idea.

I don’t want to sell it — I own it outright — and what’s the point of having something that you’re not going to use?

I zipped up the jacket.

 

One last thing, I piped up quickly, and I’m JUST trying to help..

YEAH?

There’s still a bunch of trash blocking the entrance, and exit, to the garage.

I was quiet.

Yeah, there is.. and guess what? It’ll take about FIVE SECONDS to move it over a couple of feet.

 

Moments later, after at least three weeks of no riding, I was descending down the driveway in first gear.

 

My first stop: a gas station.

 

I pulled up beside gas pump #1 and removed my helmet as I stepped off of the bike. An older-looking man held the door open for me as I walked inside; I thanked him and then smiled at the cashier behind the counter.

“This is a little goofy, but can I please get $1 of gas on #1?” I gestured towards the motorcycle in explanation.

“Ahhhh, sorry — there’s a $2 minimum.”

I paused. “Oh — okay.. I think I might have cash..”

“JUST KIDDING!” He laughed and asked me to swipe my card when the blue lights appeared on the machine.

“So,” the old guy by the door called out, “you wearing a shirt that absorbs sweat underneath that leather jacket?”

“Nope,” I responded, returning the card to my wallet and wrapping a rubber band around the wallet to keep it closed. “I’m wearing a black outer space t-shirt underneath this jacket. I’ve been on the road for 5 MINUTES and I’m already soaked in sweat.”

“Well,” he replied, removing the cigarette from his lips, “my buddy got one of those sweat-proof shirts a few months back and he said that it is INCREDIBLE. Got it for his bike rides. Works wonders.”

“Huh!” I mused. “That sounds.. amazing. And what kind of shirt is this? What is it called?”

“It’s likely an under-armor shirt,” the male cashier volunteered. “Just look for a shirt that advertises having ‘cool technology’ and it’ll do the trick.” He smiled. “So is that a Triumph?” he queried, nodding towards the bike.

“Nope — it’s a Suzuki TU250X. Tops out around 65-70. This is going to be my first time taking it out on the interstate,” I mentioned, “sooooo we’ll see how that goes.”

He nodded. “You riding with a cracked visor?”

“…what does that mean?” I answered.

He picked up my helmet and opened the plastic covering a little. “Here,” he handed it back to me. “Ride with it like this and you’ll stay cooler.”

“Thanks!”

“No problem. I’ve ridden a few bikes myself.”

“Really?”

“Yep.. I’ve also WRECKED on a few. I was run over on one once! Was at a 4-way stop,” he began, but then he looked up and noticed my expression. “Butttttt you’re on a bike today, soooooo we’re not going to talk about that. Have a great day!” He flashed a cheesy smile (to cap off the awkwardness of the conversation) and then gave me a real one right afterwards.

“Haha.. kayyyyyy. Thanks; you guys have a great day, too!”

 

I made a second stop at Whole Foods so that I could say hey to my roommate (who was grilling peaches outside, in front of the store).

“YOU’RE ON THE BIKE TODAY?” he exclaimed, eyeing me in my gear and flipping a peach over with a spatula.

“Yep! I’m meeting Felicia for lunch and she’s been badgering me to get back on the bike for MONTHS now. She won’t be expecting it.” I smiled. We talked for a few minutes, and then I trekked back over to where I had parked my bike, preparing to resume my journey.

“Please BE SAFE,” he called out from behind me.

As I climbed back onto the bike, my heartbeat began to accelerate.

Now — you know that, in order to get to Saturn via the usual route, you’ll need to get onto the interstate. Briefly. For about three minutes. Do you really think you’ll be able to handle that?

Hellllllllllllll no.

 

I googled directions (requesting a route that didn’t involve highways) and, it would add an additional ten minutes to my trip, but there were side roads I could take. I wired earbuds up the sides of my helmet and plugged them into my ears, listening carefully as a robot voice instructed me to merge onto highway 280. Once I got the bike going, though, I discovered that the sound of the engine was completely drowning out the sound of the robot voice.

Well SHIT, I thought to myself. I’ll just have to use the interstate then.

 

Ten seconds before boarding the on-ramp, I reassured myself: You could just turn around RIGHT NOW. Make a U-turn, return the bike to its station in the garage, and hop into your car. You’d still be able to make it by 2 pm.. AND, as a MAJOR plus, you would arrive ALIVE.

 

But I can’t stand being AFRAID like this —

 

And then, it was happening. I was boarding the on-ramp with several cars in front of and behind me. I felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest; I’d never ridden my bike on the interstate before.

 

I merged with traffic and stole a quick glance at the speedometer; I saw the line hovering above the sixty mark and felt like vomiting.

60 is actually too slow for interstate traffic, I commented quietly. 70 would be more appropriate.

Dream ON and shut UP.

 

I rode along rigidly; sitting up very straight, holding each of my breaths for as long as possible, and gripping the throttle so tightly that I eventually felt the bones in my right hand aching. I tried to relax my grip but couldn’t.

I wanted to close my eyes and let someone else steer us to safety, but it was just me.. me, zooming down the interstate on a motorbike.

 

Finally, I was getting off on the US 11 exit.

Soon after, I began passing familiar buildings — buildings belonging to The Damsky Paper Company and an HVAC supplies store on my right and The Birmingham Water Works Board and a competing paper company on my left. My heart rate slowed slightly; I relaxed my grip on the throttle a little.

 

This is INCREDIBLE! I exclaimed. I’M RIDING MY MOTORCYCLE TO SATURN, AND IT LOOKS LIKE I’M STILL GOING TO BE ALIVE WHEN I GET THERE!

 

I paused at the red light before 41st street, turned right onto it, and then took in a quick breath: railroad tracks. Crap. I’d forgotten about those.

 

How do you safely ride over railroad tracks? I wondered as I neared them. Is there any kind of special maneuver you’re supposed to do?

 

Just.. do it. Confidently and quickly.

 

I sped over them in third gear; it was bumpy, but I kept a firm footing and grip on the bike and even giggled a little as I made it safely onto the other side.

 

Saturn. There it was. Just a couple of feet away now.

Another four seconds, and there it was — an empty parking spot RIGHT in front of the place. That NEVER happens.

 

See? And you were all worried about parking in the side alley.

Oh shut up. If it was up to you, we’d have sold the bike this MORNING.

 

I walked inside, slipped out of my gear, and then approached the front counter to order an iced coffee.

“WHAT KIND OF BIKE ARE YOU RIDING?” My favorite barista, Payton, asked immediately, leaning over the counter. Her eyes were bright with excitement.

Wow, I thought to myself. I’ve been coming here for nine months now, and this is my first time riding over on my motorcycle. That’s so goofy. I shook my head, laughed, answered her question, and then waited for Felicia to arrive, sitting smugly near the front of the cafe with my helmet on display beside me.

 

Sheets and motorcycles.. this post seemed a little hodge-podge and aimless, didn’t it? Here’s your takeout:

 

chinese food

 

  1. Don’t settle for a boring, predictable life.. unless that’s what you really want. It’s easy to fall into a routine, and routines are comfortable and can serve as helpful guides, but don’t hesitate to shake up the routine a little every now and then by taking chances, trying new things, and making it a point to have fun.
  2. Consider what it is that you’re really LIVING for.. because it isn’t an endless cycle of work, sleep, and burritos. Is it relationships? Is that the core of your existence — the thing that brings you the most happiness in life? Or is it your creative pursuits? Are those what seem to give your life the most meaning? Are you driven by ambition? Do goals, accomplishments, and titles give you a sense of purpose? Or is this temporal, fleeting life more of an inconvenient interlude between you and an eternal paradise? Feel free to share your thoughts on THE POINT OF LIFE in a comment below.
  3. Fear can be paralyzing. And yes, motorcycle accidents can be paralyzing too, so remember to gear up, focus, and exercise caution as you take chances, face fears, and embark on new adventures. But don’t ever forgo an adventure because you’re afraid; life is short, and it will only be as interesting and fulfilling as you allow it to be. I just went on a picnic yesterday afternoon, and my friend brought a cheese I’d never tried before: manchego. Why didn’t he just get CHEDDAR or PEPPERJACK?  I wondered. Something I’m familiar with and that I KNOW is good? “This particular block of cheese was aged for three months, and it was derived from sheep’s milk,” he explained, carefully slicing through the cheese as he narrated. Skeptical, I accepted the small cube that he offered me.. and you know what? It turns out that manchego cheese is actually fantastic (especially when it’s melted in the oven over a piece of freshly minced garlic and butter toast). To think — I’m 24, and I haven’t already experienced everything wonderful and interesting in the world yet. There’s so much left to discover.

 

2016-07-24 19.40.43

 

Still here (but I could very easily wipe out on the way home.. fingers crossed),

Aun Aqui