As of 5:27 PM Friday, I’ve been on vacation.. my first “big” vacation of the year. I strategically scheduled it for the first ten days of October because the cool layers and earthy scents inherent in the month make it the most invigorating, inspiring, and magical time of the year. For me, anyways. It’s like you can feel the shift, the tilt, and the change. It’s comforting. Change always is; change offers this sense of renewal.. this inexplicable boost in morale and power. Last week, an old friend e-mailed that my last blog post had resonated with her:
I understand that whole conflicted feeling, like something needs to be changed or freshened and you just can’t figure out WHAT. When I was younger, I used to rearrange my bedroom about once every three months because it felt like a major change (ditto!). Or I’d cut my hair off or dye it a crazy color. It’s like a new you, without actually being all that new. Only temporarily fulfilling though, at least for me. You’ll have to let me know if you find something that sticks, in that regard.
You keep me posted, too.
And in reference to this vacation business, I’ve been polled by many: “Ten days off! Wow! What are your plans, Jace? Traveling? Performing? Going on an adventure?”
I responded to each inquiry in the exact same way: “It’s going to be pretty low-key, actually. I do have a gig scheduled mid-week, but other than that, I’ll be sleeping in, reading books, writing at the cafe, walking around downtown and hanging out with the pups.”
I observed that most people met this response with some disappointment on my behalf. “Really? That’s it? So.. you’re not going to have fun?”
I’ve had ‘fun’ vacations; embarked on road trips, visited theme parks, taken long drives down to the beach.. those busy “types” of vacations are interesting, and I enjoy them in extreme moderation. In general, my idea of a good time is to be in a state of unhurried relaxation and self-guided exploration and productivity. Throw in some coffee, plenty of personal space, and a carefully concocted mixture of music and quiet and I’m set.
With that being said, my vacation has been pleasant so far, and even – at times – busy. I’ve stayed occupied. On Friday evening, my best friend and I attended an underground/techno dance party at Saturn. The last time I danced – which was last month – was the first time I had ever danced, and to make it through the evening, I’d visited the bar twice for some assistance.
“I’m hoping the alcohol will make it easier for me to dance,” I explained to the barista on visit number two. He raised his eyebrows as he slid the short glass of whiskey-and-sprite across the counter.
“Hey.. whatever it takes,” he replied.
But this time, last Friday night, I was able to groove sans alcohol. I even made up some cool new moves; I named one “The Slam Dunk” and another “Peace and Guns.” Ask me to teach them to you sometime.
Then, on Saturday, Charlie and I checked out a new (to us) coffee joint, perused a thrift shop, and installed aluminum window screens in his bedroom and mine. The windows in the house have been left open since Saturday afternoon, and it. feels. heavenly.
Yesterday — Sunday — I changed out my guitar strings (in preparation for Wednesday night’s gig at The California Pizza Kitchen). It’s embarrassing to admit, but this was my first time re-stringing the guitar in two years, so after installation and some fine tuning, I couldn’t get over how crisp and full the chords sounded. It costed five bucks and Charlie (my assistant) sustained two minor hand injuries during the process, but it was so rewarding.
And today, I woke up early for the first time in three days to chauffuer Charlie to his doctor’s appointment.
After arriving, we entered the Magic City Wellness Center together and then parted ways; I plopped down onto a black faux leather couch while Charlie signed in at the front desk. It was my first time visiting the place, so I took a minute to glance around the room. There was a flat-screen TV on the wall, a Keurig stationed in the corner, six water bottles lined up next to it, an assortment of books on a shelf underneath the Keurig and, in conjunction with the books, a laminated printout that read: “Please enjoy reading a LGBTQ book while you wait, and feel free to take it home with you until your next visit!”
That’s really nice, I thought to myself.
I turned my gaze to the right; there were a few books stacked onto a table that intercepted two chairs, and a placard stood behind the books, advertising some kind of new pill: “Prevent HIV. Take this pill daily.” A small group of 5 happy-looking and well-dressed men were smiling and laughing in the background of the advertisement.
Satisfied with my surroundings, I eased into the back of the couch. I slipped my hand down into my backpack to go fishing around for my own book; a sci-fi novel I’d borrowed from the library. After a few seconds of rummaging, I felt it, hooked onto it by curving my fingers, and then spent the next twenty minutes reading through the first chapter and a half. I had to stop half-way through the second chapter because I’d decided, after giving it a fair chance, that the book just wasn’t worth any more of my time. The writing style was too simplistic, and the author threw in more curse words than necessary (seemingly, just for the hell of it), rather than inserting them strategically. It wasn’t tasteful.
So I tossed the book back into my backpack and then looked up right as the side door was opening; Charlie was finished.
“How did it go?” I whispered.
“They had to stick me four times,” he replied, making a sad face. I noticed cotton stuffing spilling out from both sides of khaki-colored medical bandaging on his right arm.
I stepped into the bathroom on the way out. I noticed, as I was washing my hands, a delicate tweed basket resting on top of a high table in the room. Curious, I craned my head to the left and peered down into it; tiny, bright purple packets looked back up at me. “Super lubricated!” one of them read.
“Oh dear.” I left the bathroom quickly, and Charlie and I slipped back into the car, en route to Red Cat Coffee House.
And now, here I am, plopped down onto another couch, a different couch; this one’s brown leather and a bit more aged than the last one, so it has some give to it. If I close my eyes, it’s easier to hear everything: the whiz and drip of the coffee maker droning on in the background; the lid to the dusty trash can opening and closing now and then; chairs scraping against the concrete at intervals and a constant, rolling hum of pitches, octaves, syllables and consonants filling all of the empty spaces in the room. I caught a lady’s eye a few seconds ago, and when I did, she tilted her head at me, nodding up and down in approval. “I REALLY like your haircut,” she announced.
“Hey, thanks!” I smiled at her.
“I really do. It compliments you.”
“I appreciate that,” I responded, nodding back at her. “My hair went allllll the way down my back two years ago, and I HATED it.”
“Reaaaaaally?” She marveled, squinting her eyes and obviously struggling to picture it.
“Yep. First time I took it this short, the hair stylist left it all thick and poofy. I eventually went to a barber and they fixed it.”
“Well I love it,” she reiterated.
“Thank you; that means a lot.”
And now, eyes open, I’m logged into WordPress, flipping through new tracks on Spotify’s Discover Weekly setlist and mining for some new listening material, and I’m asking myself, what do I have to say?
I’ll answer that question with a story, and then a statement.
Charlie and I dropped into Organic Harvest Saturday morning for two things: a pint of organic half-and-half (to sweeten coffee brewed at home) and two jars of pasta sauce.
After meandering up and down the aisles, eyeing the snack-laden shelves, and dropping a few unnecessary items into our handheld basket (raspberry licorice, coconut water, and sweet vinegar chips), we checked out. The store was holding a semi-annual “fair,” sampling wine, beer, cheese, and etc., but I was fasting until dinner-time, so I skipped out on all of that. As we exited the store, though, we noticed a “samples” booth set-up out front.
“Hey!” a smiling employee called out and welcomed us over. “Please feel free to take any samples you’d like!”
I sifted through the offerings and hand-picked several supplement samples, adding them to my shopping bag (choosing things like a women’s daily multivitamin, a kid’s animal-shaped vitamin C pack, and some gelatin-free, mood-boosting capsules).
Charlie snagged some supplements, too, and as we were driving home, sharing our selections, I noticed that the free, reusable bag the cashier had deposited our groceries into at checkout was advertising one of the supplements I’d seen available at the booth.
Somewhat interested, I asked Charlie: “Hey — what does the bag say?” Charlie, who was sitting in the passenger’s seat, lifted the bag up off of the car floor. “It sayyyyys.. ‘Curamin: Stop Pain NOW!'”
I nodded, smiling a little. I knew I’d seen it at the table. “Wish it could make MY pain go away,” I joked.
I felt Charlie look over at me. “Are you in pain?” he asked, sounding worried.
“Oh, nooooo!” I assured him, quickly. “I was kidding. I’m not in any kind of physical pain.. I was talking about EMOTIONAL pain. As in, I wish that supplement could take away my emotional pain. Of course, it can’t,” I added.
Charlie’s gaze was unmoved. “Talk about it.”
I lifted my eyebrows at the road ahead. I hadn’t planned on starting some kind of deep discussion. But okay.
“Well.. I just mean that it’s a lot easier to market treatments for physical pain. Emotional, mental, and spiritual pain are in their own categories. It’s a lot more difficult to work through and ‘treat’ that shit.” I paused for a while. Charlie said nothing.
“I think what hurts me the most in this life,” I continued, interrupting the silence, “is the transience of relationships, and of love. I’ve fallen in love with so many people.. romantically and platonically. And I still love those people, every single one of them. So many of those people claimed to love me back, unconditionally.. but they didn’t. I know they didn’t. I didn’t know it when they told me.. I naively believed them.. but it’s apparent now. I’ve yet to find ONE person who could actually love unconditionally.” I felt tears coming, and I hate getting emotional around people, so I took a second to steady my breathing. “Even if they couldn’t continue loving me in the same way they had or as strongly as they used to, they still could have loved me. You know? Love changes form, sometimes, and weakens or picks up in intensity, but it’s not supposed to just stop.”
Charlie murmured agreement.
“Look,” I inserted seriously, “I love you, Charlie. Whoever’s loved you before me or loves you after me, I can’t speak for them, but when I love somebody, it’s forever. So you’ll always have someone in your corner — a friend who loves you unconditionally, whether you end up wildly famous or rotting in a prison cell. So you’re safe. Just, know that.”
“I love you unconditionally, too,” Charlie answered.
We’ll see about that, I thought to myself.
Then, much later on in the day, I turned my lamp off, left the window open, and fell fast asleep. I woke up this morning recalling a dream involving Christopher. In it, he’d stopped by a cafe to say hi — to spend like two minutes catching up with me — and I wasn’t having it. I opened the door to the cafe, invited him in, and then pulled him aside.
“We were supposed to have mornings and evenings together,” I reminded him, shaking my head in disbelief, “so what the hell is this?”
I can’t remember his response.
Driving to Charlie’s doctor’s appointment this morning, I related the dream. “I was so mad at him,” I admitted.
“Were you mad at him in the dream, or are you mad at him in real life?”
We were parked at a light. I waited for it to turn green before responding. “Both. But ‘upset’ would be a better word for it. I’m mostly sad with him, but there’s a part of me that’s angry, too. Anger is an emotion that I struggle to.. accept in myself.. but that’s just me being honest.” I adjusted in my seat. “Anyways. He expects me be okay with maintaining this superficial friendship, where he checks in every couple of weeks or months and, when he does, we barely brush the surface with each other. I’d rather watch our relationship die than hook it up to some kind of artificial life support and let it slowly degrade into something stupidly meaningless. With someone else, sure, that type of superficial relationship might be sustainable.. even respectable. But with him, it’s just an insult.” I took the exit ramp and continued onward to the doctor’s office, where they take blood, give advice, deliver news and prescribe medicines.. shit like Curamin.
I’d just rather remember how close and happy we were, I thought to myself only. It all hurts, but that would hurt less than accepting what we are now.
So, that’s the story, and here’s my statement.
Physical pain is unpleasant. I experienced a simple mishap on my skateboard two months ago and it resulted in an achy, throbbing right hand for three weeks. THREE WEEKS! No broken bones, and no pulled tendons (that I’m aware of.. I don’t go to doctors), but it was still very unpleasant. But the good news is threefold: the body heals, most physical ailments don’t last forever, and there’s medicine out there to help make the healing process a slightly smoother one. Except for that time when I took pain pills after having all four wisdom teeth removed and ended up vomiting because of the strength of the pills. I remember leaning over the sink and crying — trying to vomit as carefully and delicately as possible so that the four corners of my sensitive gums wouldn’t burst and I wouldn’t bleed to death.
But emotional pain, spiritual wounds, and constricting, pulsating heartache are, again, in their own unique categories. They’re sensitive, unpredictable, and mysterious demons to deal with. It took me six years to really let go of the best friend that dipped on me, and three years after his death, I’m still unable to process Bobby’s passing. Next month will make a year since Chris and I’s formal divorce, and the pain of our separation is more searing and pronounced now than it was on the day we signed that blasted paperwork. Isn’t that strange? A pain that strengthens, expands, multiplies and compounds with the progression of time..
Other than chocolate fudge brownie ice cream and sweet vinegar chips, there’s no real medicine you can take for heartache — no supplement that’ll soften its razorblade edges — and despite how much you wish they could, no one can shoulder your burden with you or assume it for you. You can, however, solicit and accept support. Because I feel pain, I genuinely empathize with anyone suffering in some form or another, and I wish you peace, confidence, and happiness on your journey, friend. I’m still slipping and swerving along my own. There are good days and bad days, of course; on the good days, I try to be acutely aware of how good things are, and on the bad days, I strive to be gentle with myself, like I would be gentle with a friend who’s down. I get out of the house, grab a coffee, find some kind of creative outlet, hug my pets, and read a nice book.
“We were supposed to have mornings and evenings together.. so what the hell is this?”
Disappointing. Sad. A bummer. But you’ve got to remember two things:
1. People enhance life.. they don’t make it. You’re perfectly fine, competent, happy and whole on your own. Got that?
2. Don’t be afraid to love the people you meet and travel with in this world; just beware of making someone your world.