Root (Re)Bound

Lately, life has been a little difficult.

But that’s to be expected. Work is tiring. Keeping the house in order is always an ongoing process, especially if you happen to be incredibly obsessive about how everything looks — not that I’d know. Toby keeps gaining chins at a rapid rate, despite our best efforts.

Oh, Jabba the Pup!

And self-imposed deadlines are creeping up (oh, haaay book-that-should-be-finished-but-isn’t).

Oh, [First World] life.

But every now and then, we get a little kick in the gut that reminds us to check in with ourselves. Make sure everything’s in order. That we’re doing just fine and not slowly retreating from the world and curling into a nice, tight ball of nerves.

Because when that happens, you need a little something called a Mental Health Day.

Now, I was no stranger to taking these at my last job. But given that my depleted work ethic has since rebounded, it’s hard for me to take some me time to decompress. Still, we all have days that start off like this:

Some days, it's hard to get out of bed.

(Yes, that mess Toby’s comforting, who’s sprawled across the bed, is yours truly).

So, for whatever reason, I often fill my mental health days with plant-related tasks.

Whether it’s staving-off an aphid infestation or re-potting plants, there’s something incredibly cathartic about giving a little boost to the quietly alive things making our apartment look that much better. Even if the process is messy. (Like one of my favorite bloggers describes.)

Oh, life can be messy.

And for very obvious reasons, the whole process reminds me of growing up — my roots, and how and where I’ve come into my own.

As a very late bloomer, I didn’t really find my niche, nor my voice, until a lot later in life. And I didn’t really give myself many chances to thrive. Which is probably why I’d always gravitate toward the bedraggled looking plants in the nurseries. Sort of like how, back in college, I’d always “rescue” the beta fish that looked sickly or generally gross. I’d map my own history onto these struggling pieces of existence and hoped to see something in me reignite or take shape. But alas, usually these attempts ended with a toilet flush or a wilted mess.

Now, though, I’m pretty damn sure where I’m going and how to keep myself rooted — even when we keep on the move. And from that has come a new sense of self — of better understanding my own capabilities and my strengths, and how best to use those skills to nurture new life, new opportunities.

And an unexpected byproduct of all of this maturation has been an understanding of how to deal with the future — the unknowns, the certainties, the scary stuff none of us likes to think about. The warts and tears and politics of getting older, and watching our parents start that bizarrely alien, yet natural process of slowing down. And dealing with the outbursts and bruised feelings and hard decisions children have to make when they start assuming the roles of parents and parents start pedaling backward into childhood.

In many ways, we’re all seedlings trying to conquer a massive pot of soil — make it our own, dominate it.

Little by little we grow.

But before we know it, we hit the outer edge.

The outer rim.

And we have to break up our root-bound selves, replenish, and start growing again.

Surviving Fabulously

Sooner or later, it was bound to happen.

I’d just popped in my contacts when it felt like a car crashed into a line of overloaded washing machines over and over and over again. Which is when I ran into the bedroom, grabbed Toby, and stood in our bedroom doorway. Toby farted. The ground kept shaking.

It only lasted five or so seconds, but it was a bizarrely disconcerting feeling to know that the very foundation on which we’ve built our lives was dancing a tectonic jig.

Then, last Thursday, as we watched crazy American Horror Story alien encounters and Jessica Lange’s futile attempts to defeat Satan, the ground rumbled again.

At first, I thought it was the aliens, then Jessica Lange. So only after ruling out aliens and starlets did I make the leap that it was, in fact, another earthquake.

One thing I’ve learned about California is this: if you’re ever in doubt that you experienced an earthquake, just open your windows and listen for the nearly immediate sound of news helicopters thrumming through the skies searching for a story.

So to put my mind at ease, and make use of some of the random crap we’ve hoarded away, I spent the better part of an afternoon assembling our earthquake kits. So, without further ado, here’re some of my recommendations for surviving fabulously (that is, if we’re still alive to take advantage of all of these preparatory measures).

(1) Water. Don’t feel like devoting a shelf of valuable storage space to water jugs? Use those extra decanters you have floating around — fill’em up.

Water water everywhere.

(2) Picnic items. Because every day is a picnic when you don’t have a kitchen anymore. And when else are you going to use that TWA silverware your grandmother apparently stole many moons ago?

Picnic prep!

(3) Knife, scissors, and blunt instruments. These are especially useful if the earthquake coincides with a zombie apocalypse.

(4) Can and wine opener. Because.

(5) Candles. Preferably nicely scented ones. Like ours: cinnamon bun, apple pie, key lime, and ylang ylang. Because there’s nothing that quite reminds you of home like ylang ylang.

Candles of all smells.

(6) Compasses and a map. Not that I’m the best at orienting. But if we’re talking a scenario like The Road, a compass can’t hurt. If nothing else, you can throw it at a crazed cannibal. And get an updated map. Not this cool one I found in a Deco pencil box.

Map it out.

(7) Toiletry bag. Because what else are you going to do with all of those swiped motel soaps and shampoos? And if you forget toilet paper, you’re a dumbass.

(8) Safety pins and Ziploc bags. Those pins kept your JNCO’s up in high school. They may do the same again.

(9) Batteries and cordless iPhone charger. (I bet you thought that charger was a vibrator. Which may also be necessary.)

Charge it!

(10) Record book. For all of the writers out there.

Record it all, y'all.

And don’t forget the puparoos. Even though I stocked Toby’s kit, he also made his own list.

Toby is prepared, y'all.

(1) All stuffd aminals. My Squirrel. Squirrel funny.

(2) Fud.

(3) Tweatz.

(4) Probiotic, so I dont haz explosive poo.

All joking aside (since I always turn to humor when I’m anxious, which is most of the time), the Big One is bound to happen sooner or later. And we may as well be as prepared as we can be.

And face it fabulously.

Sedentary Socialites or Again, Why Do We Have Two Bars In Our House?

The older we get, the harder we fall.

Wait, no.

The younger we are, the higher our bullshit threshold.

Almost.

The older we get, the harder it is to meet people and actually want to meet people and feel like you have the time to be social and host dinner parties and rationalize why you have two bars in your house.

There we go.

***

I like to think of myself as a social person. I’m southern, which means I can talk to anyone about anything for at least six minutes, and possibly longer — especially if we’re standing in a long checkout line at the grocery store. I quickly become completely fascinated by other people and their lives and what they do (unless they flay the skin off of things and wear their creep show creations as masks). Throw all of that innate interest into a blender with an anthropological background and, wabam, socialite central. Which is why I figured that we might as well outfit our apartment with two bars.

The semi-mobile bar. The formal bar.

But these days I’m starting to put a little more stock in that saying I always heard about how hard it is to make friends as you get older. I mean, I guess I figured my drive to constantly connect with people would remain, well, constant. But I’ve just sort of slowed down. I mean, I know that that’s to be expected following a big move and new jobs and moving again and adopting a dog and doing every possible thing we’re warned against doing together together. Still, the past few months I’ve found myself super drained, and have felt like I’ve aged approximately 500 years.

So, is this the new normal? Is this what happens when I pack up one decade’s worth of experiences to drag behind me as I tip into the next? Or am I really 529 years old and am just now realizing it — like that dead teenager in American Horror Story?

Or maybe this is just evidence that I’m expecting way too much to happen in a relatively short amount of time. Being the insane control freak that I am, it’s typical that I want everything to be exactly the way it should be at exactly the right time, regardless of how much energy has to be front-loaded in the process. But I’m learning that it takes me a hell of a lot more time to bounce back from stuff than it used to. And that that’s okay.

Because we’re still working to make things happen, to cultivate friendships — and acknowledging that the good stuff takes time. Time that’s well worth it.

So I won’t completely re-purpose the bars quite yet. I’ll just keep dusting them off. Until the timing is just right.

Developing Design

It may speak to my superficiality or materiality or some other -ality, but whenever I find myself completely overwhelmed by whatever I’m doing — like, say, trying to turn various stories from my life into a memoir — I like to take more than a minute to lose myself in everything around me.

Whether I’m in our apartment or a coffee shop or out walking around, I enjoy dissecting the designs that’re writ tangible all around us. What they say about us, our lives, our interests.

How they’re charged with the political.

Fun with political pins!

The unexpectedly beautiful.

Oh, light. You bring out the best in things.

The humorously macabre.

Disturbingly delightful.

The whimsical.

Apartment, etc 149

How everything we’ve built this past year has been layered with texture and life.

And while I know I’m no design guru, it’s funny to hear how certain things we’ve done in our apartment resonate with others. How adding a bit of this or that brings the whole room together — makes it actually feel like a home.

I’ve written plenty about how much I love design. But our latest digs are definitely the most mature and fun to date. And while its size might not compare to our massive Raleigh apartment, it’s still full of vitality.

When we first moved in, between staving off panic attacks and hauling things up the stairs, I had no idea how we were going to make this space work — what with its odd layout, the awesome but huge windows taking up valuable wall space, the tiny kitchen, and the dearth of storage. But after we culled a bit more and got creative with the space, things started coming together.

And I started embracing certain design faux pas I’d worked to avoid in the past.

(1) Don’t orient everything along the wall. When facing a lot less space, sometimes you have to orient most everything along the walls. But by floating a few pieces in the middle, and experimenting with different heights and textures — wood and metal and glass — things still work.

Walls can be useful.

(2) Don’t overload the walls with art. HA! That’s hilarious. After perusing photos of past apartments, I realized how awful — and overwhelmed — the walls looked: I’d tacked every possible thing to the walls with no real plan in mind. But you know what? When you’re unpacking boxes in a confined space and just want things up and off the floor, you have to get creative. So we pulled just about every piece of art out, made our cases for displaying some and boxing up others, and just started hammering. At first, I thought it’d look horribly overdone. But now, I like it — it’s a lot, but not too much.

Ah, art.

(3) De-clutter every surface. Now, I generally loathe clutter. But if done in a contained way, it can work. Especially in a small apartment where things that you need have to be within reach. It’s all about cherry-picking what’s most useful and making it accessible.

Lots of stuff. But it's contained. And works.

Above all else, though, you have to have fun. And that’s what we did. It took a while to find it beneath cardboard boxes and insane amounts of packing paper. But we’ve struck a happy medium between cluttered and ordered, fun and funky.

You gotta have fun, y'all.

A place that pretty much sums us up.

Fadbulous

Author’s Note: I’m slightly tipsy after a bad day at work.

Do you ever just marvel at our media and wonder where it all went wrong? I certainly do. Which is probably why I stopped paying close attention to the news sometime last year. And definitely why I’ve taken a profound disliking to former news outlets I thought were somewhat worth their weight in editorials. Like, say, an outlet that rides their huffy bike all the damn time.

Maybe I’m just drunk and angry after a long, tiring day where it felt like all I was doing was barely keeping my head above water while smiling and smiling and smiling like everything was perfectly fine.

Or perhaps I’m tired of venturing into social media land only to be bombarded with “Which 1980′s news anchor are you?!” or “Which spirit animal best symbolizes your essence?!” — each one of those goddamned annoying online quiz things that I couldn’t care less about. It just makes me want to start a counter offensive, with quizzes like, “Which diuretic are you?!” or “Which manner of death does your life most closely represent?!”

Of course I’m blathering on about this stuff in the wake of our recent attempt at going gluten-free. But as I sit and type this, I’m surrounded by the leavings of three boxes of Girl Scout Cookies; so, yes, that horse is out to pasture.

I guess my hitch is the whole fadness of it all. Why do we do this shit? It’s not like it’s fun to stare daggers into a neighboring diner’s head as your mouth waters at the sight of their triple cheese-stuffed omelet while you poke at your under ripe fruit bowl speckled with bee pollen.

Are we becoming a coven of masochists — bending our bodies and minds and last bits of sanity to bizarre extremes to prove something to ourselves? Or are we just caught in a net of fads, while we search for something we find personally meaningful?

Author’s Second Note: It’s a week later and I still haven’t posted this. Whoops.

Clearly, I just needed news that was, in fact, news (which I’ve yet to find). And a cookie. Which I’ve since had. And you know what? It helps. And you know what else? That doesn’t mean that I’m a complete failure at maintaining some sort of eating regiment, or that I don’t eat healthy.

I’ve blathered on about food and eating disorders and every other damn thing related to food a bazillion times before, so this is nothing new. I guess what going gluten-free for a few weeks has taught me is this: Be healthy (especially if you discover that you have a legitimate reason to cut things out of your diet). But don’t be someone you’re not. I’m never going to go without a lot of the things that I love to eat (and y’all, I’ve been trying — but gluten-free baked goods are, well, a bit sad). Still, though, I’ve gleaned some tips about new, good things to reinsert into my diet, and those things I could really do without.

Oh, guac. How I love thee.

Like every activity, eating isn’t immune from being manipulated by the latest trend or coolest fad. So you just have to know when it’s time to say goodbye to those old staples and try something new.

Unless it’s the edible equivalent to acid wash skinny jeans. Then run. And run fast.

On Passing Time

Rain drizzles outside — and with it comes slight pandemonium. But all of that just fades behind a cotton curtain, veiling the iron-framed windows looking out onto Santa Monica Boulevard from the former hardware shop.

Conversations hum around us like flies over jam, and the lights dim just enough to create an air of intrigue as wine is generously poured into deep, clear glasses — creating the illusion of darkness pouring into darkness.

And there, in front of me, is the man I’m going to marry in a few months — shoving his hair here and there in a frustrating attempt to gain control, and resting a day’s work on the leather booth back. We both sip our melon cocktails, and I watch the cucumber sliver knock gently against my tumbler’s side.

“You know, just think of where we were a year ago.” My own voice almost startles me, even among the low din of the surrounding chatter.

“I know. It’s been a journey.”

Literally. A year ago, I was busying myself with arranging a cupcake tower for Andy, mere hours after I decided to quit my job. On his birthday. (Even in retrospect, the selfishness of it all still sort of stings.)

But before my mind steeps in that emotionally tumultuous memory, our waiter tempts us with delicious treats, and I consider his face momentarily, thinking of how much he resembles Callum Bloom from Dead Like Me.

Soon enough, small plates — with entree names that’re head-smashingly annoying — pass under our noses and I savor the complex, mouth-watering tastes, all the while thinking back to my post-employment budgeting attempts for scrimping and scraping every bit of money we had just to get out here. How I’d methodically taken stock of what we had in our cupboards before cobbling together random dinners of grits and pasta and lentils, and slowly downsizing the deer-and-a-half in our freezer.

Satisfyingly full, we walk out and are immediately bombarded by a line of art-goers impatiently waiting outside a neighboring storefront. But we dart past, across the road, and into the misty darkness — toward the base of the Hollywood Hills, speckled with lighted clusters; up the block to the low-slung mid-century building with the courtyard in the city we never thought we’d live in; to be greeted by a little furry blob we never knew would be ours.

Where we unwind. With cake, of course.

Cake always helps.

We may just be beginning this new chapter — after a protracted prologue — but the pages ahead aren’t so much blank as they are dotted with aspirations and benchmarks, bubbling to the pages’ surfaces like developed invisible ink.

And while things will always be exhausting and mind-bending to various degrees, we’re still in the game — playing on: two chess pieces unwilling to be checked, together reaching our own version of victory on a constantly unsteady, shifting plane.

And that’s enough for me.

Curbside Pickup

Is it lame that I watch The Julie & Julia Project for inspiration?  You know, whenever I’m feeling like a completely spent wannabe writer.  Which is pretty often.

Which is probably why I know exactly what types of Fiestaware are featured in particular food shots, and where the slight cinematic editing hiccups fall in the storyline — the ones only crazy repetitious watchers catch — and why I’m always craving booze the minute Powell starts cooking and writing her way to, uh, writerdom.

But where movie respites fall short, fresh air takes over.  Which is why I thought it’d be fun to go on a walk through some neighborhoods we hadn’t visited before.  Mostly because I needed a little time away from Toby.  Because he’s been practicing his selective hearing, and has been sort of a dick lately, and just odd.  (Is that awful to say?  I’m the worst pet parent ever!)  Like when we were at the dog park today and this Pharaoh Hound dematerialized out of the ether (sidenote: these creatures look like the Landstriders of the dog world, and I’m pretty certain they have the power to look inside you and implode your mind).  And we assumed Toby would freeze and run away like he always does.  But then he just goes right up behind it and licks the Pharoh’s junk and we were horrified and I was like, “Hey, you can’t lick another dog’s penis.  Even if he’s royalty.”

So, yes, we needed some air.  Especially since it got knocked out of us both by an overly rambunctious, head-butting lab puppy, whose owner Andy politely called for.

“WHOSE FUCKING DOG IS THIS?!”

So after we dusted what was probably dried dog shit off our pants, we set out on our little jaunt.  But we didn’t even get to the end of our block before Andy spotted something sitting atop a broken-down particleboardpieceofcrap bookshelf on the curb.

Bowled over...

I just don’t get people.  I mean, if you can’t use something, thrift it away.  Or give it to someone.  I mean, some of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten are things friends have given me from their equally antique-hoardy homes.  (Or that I’ve just taken.  Kidding!  Or am I?  HA.  Made you look for that kitschy little figurine, didn’t I?)

But I also love puttering around neighborhoods that’re probably private and being all like, “Hey, I like your house. It looks expensive.”  And Instagraming, and taking things out of people’s garbage because they throw away stuff like a perfectly usable 60′s mixing bowl.

Or like one of my Best Curbside Finds EVAH.  (It deserves all caps and an “H,” mmkay?)

The Triple D: Delightful Deco Discovery!

Behold, The Triple D: Delightful Deco Discovery!  Some imbecile had chucked this cabinet on the side of the road, and I saw it sadly listing on the curb while I sat stupefied on my bus ride to campus.  I was so shocked that I’d smacked my massive forehead into the window, my mouth agape like some less fabulous Homo sapien sapien. 

I was sure that it’d be snapped up by the time I returned from teaching.  But much to my horror and delight, no one else recognized it as something desirable.  All because it was missing a shelf (which makes a great nook for books).

Crazies, all of them.

So I all but flung myself off the bus, dumped my stuff on the front porch, jumped in my sedan, and muscled that thing partly into the trunk.  And now it’s been across the country.

***

Now, I swear this post has a point.  And the point is that I have a hard time letting things go — casting them out, so to speak.  Especially when I know they’re the last material things tying me to something or someone.

A little while back, I was face-first in a Reese’s cup the size of my head.  And between the sugar rushing through my veins and the chocolate smearing across my face, a little blip of a memory stopped me cold.

I walked into our living room, opened a cabinet, rifled through a few boxes, and came upon what I’d been looking for: a paisley box.  I opened it and gingerly removed its contents, spreading them across the kitchen table.

Millie's memories.

I know what you’re thinking.  (And no, I didn’t kill someone and take their possessions.)

I’ve carted this box around for years, through multiple states, and rescued it from the garbage more times than I can count.  But why?  Because, to me, this is what a life deconstructed looks like: fragmented, tattered memories.  Time had slowly stripped away the material evidence of a life lived — Millie’s life.

Keys to what?

Except for this stuff: a prayer card; the top of a jewelry box; a picture of her mother and her dog Tin; her husband’s things, including a massive wad of work keys and Army paperwork.  And cards — one, probably from the fifties, simply signed “Mom”; and the other, scrawled with a loving message from her husband George.

Always love.

So many times I’ve thought about throwing the whole lot away.  But each time, I can’t do it. It’d be like betraying her, somehow de-legitimizing the importance of these things — pieces of her life that she’d kept boxed, and toted with her until she passed away in her nursing home room.

Instead, I just keep repackaging them in nicer boxes.  And carrying them with me.

But I know my memories of Millie aren’t limited by these things.  They’re rich with cigarette smoke and the crinkling of Reese’s cup wrappers — the chocolate-peanut butter goodness freed of its annoying packaging — falling along her pleated dress line and haphazardly worn floral cardigan before settling on the floor.

And I guess that’s what all stuff is, really: wrapping.

There’s a box full of people –

People I don’t know.

And they’re just there,

Collecting dust

In stale darkness.

Remembered by what remains –

The fragments of a life.

Of lives lived;

A life fulfilled;

A mysterious life;

A life full of sweets and cigarettes,

And uncertainty;

A life that keeps going,

Beyond the four corners of what remains.

Changing and adapting;

Influencing and engaging;

Living on through new life,

New laughs,

New love,

Big chances,

And scary first steps;

Beyond the tangible.

Through good humor and bad jokes;

Through silence,

Quiet smiles, and backward glances.

It’s still there:

Remembered and cherished –

A promise of always.

Wrapping that conceals bits and pieces of us all — revelations lying in wait.

A Mo-dest Proposal

My flip flops clap clap clap along the pavement, echoing off the mid-century apartment buildings lining our block.  Keys jingle in my pocket, and the slight wind cuts through my pajama bottoms.

Clap clap clap.  I’m almost there.

I unlock the car, throw open the glove compartment, and rifle through blindly — knowing it’s there.  But the only things I pull back are old insurance cards and Vaseline that’s bubbled out of its well-worn travel container.

Come to think of it, my lips are chapped.

I smear a bit on my lips, then shove my hand through the pile of papers until I hit the cold metallic edges.  The knife; I hadn’t lost it.  With my nubby nails, I pry open the scissor attachment.  Then turn and run to the corner, just out of the cone of light cascading down from the street lamp.  The air is heavy and potent — the roses dripping over the stained, white iron gate always in bloom.

Phantom roses.

I look left, then right.  Someone’s talking from an open window, but where?  No time to waste.

Snip. 

A single rose falls into my palm, and I gingerly place it into my pocket before melting into the surrounding darkness.

Clap clap clap.

***

The locks click over.  Silence.  He’s still in the tub where I left him.  I shuffle past the closed bathroom door.

“I’m back.”

“Okay.”

Then I set to work — grabbing Deco picture frames from off the vanities and arranging them haphazardly across piled books at the foot of the bed.  A wooden box from Haifa becomes an ad hoc ring box.

Lifting the glass dome covering an assortment of dried roses from our first date, I pull one out and nestle it into the box.  Then pull out the fresh rose — the stemmy juices wetting the inside of the jacket pocket.  I nudge it next to its dried counterpart.

Proposal props.

I change, and throw on a sequined bow tie.

Rehearse the lines a few times over – our past, our future, all the while looking at the two symbolic roses.

And wait on bended knee, with Toby snoring on the other side of the room.

***

Weeks and months before, we’d been talking intensively about getting engaged — the who, what, when, where of it all.

Earlier in the day, we’d been texting back and forth about eloping, because we’d found just thinking about all of the logistical planning — flowers and flights and hotels and venues and this and that and Toby’s tux — just plain exhausting.

But we knew that if we did elope, both of our mothers would find us, no matter where we fled.  Sort of like the girl from The Ring.  Except New York and Alabama versions.

*Shudders*

So we figured chatting about things over wine and cheese and 30 Rock would help calm our nerves, let us focus on what’s really important.

You know, like wine, and cheese, and 30 Rock.

The good stuff.

A couple of episodes and a half bottle in, and I quickly start to realize the proposal plans I’ve already made — to be implemented a few weeks from now — need to be bumped up a bit.  Like to tonight.  Everything just feels right.

Except for the fact that I have none of the props I’d intended to have.  Little things, like flowers and music and nice clothes.

And a ring.

But then I exhale, and take heart in the fact that one of the constants in all of our plans has been choosing our own rings together.  Usually underscored by Andy with something to the effect of, “Don’t you dare get a ring without my approval!”

(Kidding!  [Not really.])

So I start putting into motion a bastardized version of my plan — recommending he decompress with a good book and a good soak in the tub.  Which he does.  Which is my cue to run.

***

With my knee pressing into the floor, irrational thoughts race through my head.

What if he never comes out of the bathroom?

What if he turns right instead of left and doesn’t see me?

What if I can’t get back up and I’m stuck in this uncomfortable position for the rest of my life?

But then I hear the tub empty and the medicine cabinet open and close.  And then, the door opens.

He turns and stares down at me.

And smiles nervously.

“What’re you doing?”

“Put your book down.”

The Commitment smacks on the floor.

“Give me your hand.”

And then I actually remember everything I’ve rehearsed.

And he says the magic word.

We hug.  I cry.  Toby farts somewhere in the corner.

***

Two days later, I watch as Andy peruses cases of engagement rings, and smile — partly because he has no idea he’s standing right next to Christopher Plummer.  The light is dim, but outside along Rodeo it’s piercingly bright — giving the space a bizarre glow around the edges.

The sales associate reemerges, carrying in one hand a tiny black bag — the creases hardened, the silvered lettering shimmering from the alien light filtering in, like the scales of a fish swimming through a clear, dark pond.

In the other hand, he reveals a black box and pops it open — presenting its silver ring for inspection, like a plate of grapes for some Grecian king.  And then, it’s my turn to look.  Another black bag and box later, and we’re heading out with our spoils.

Engagement ring fun!

***

A purplish glow from our “bordello lamp” envelopes the living room, and Toby snores at Andy’s feet.  The ring on my finger feels heavy, like a new appendage my body is accepting.

An hour or so later,  I jump.  I don’t feel it.  But it’s there; like it’s always been a part of me.

Shifting Skins

The kippot-sporting teen lopes across the street in front of me, slightly hunching into a quintessentially post-pubescent slump-walk gait — a newly tall creature still trying to conform to its smaller self of summers past.  His physicality now a bizarre competition of what was and what his bones have cracked him into being.  He clutches his tall Starbucks container like a small bird, and I can only surmise that the caffeine-rich container belies its cocoa contents.

Regardless, it appears more like his prop than fuel — like a youthful cane supporting him as he continues his short trek across the faded crosswalk, which holds the sputtering cars at bay like some sort of force field.

Sunlight beams down through the fog, illuminating the quartz flecks embedded in the pavement, making it appear as though the crosswalk is lighting in sync with the teen’s stride.  Tom Hanks in Big pops into my mind, and I smile a little as I think how all of us wish for and savor those moments of being a kid, while retaining the experiential arsenal of an adult — a most cherished liminal state.

The teen reaches the other side of the road like some punchline of a joke, and I glance into the rear view mirror, and catch the line of drivers behind me — like a visual echo, each face tracking and morphing the further back I scan.  And I think of the particular tiers of anxiety and stress they’re steeling themselves for as the teen adjusts his backpack, likely mentally rehearsing the litany of textbooks he’s supposed to have for the day, before turning to the line of cars momentarily, then cutting around the corner into the school yard.

His moment of acknowledging those metallic beasts hovering around him makes me remember how I would stare out to the lines of cars speeding past the school each morning, thinking how lucky they were not to be heading to Precalculus.  How the drivers were probably much happier than I.

And I’m sure more than one of them would look at the school with a hint of nostalgia, thinking to themselves how lucky those damn kids were to be so carefree and unburdened by the real world.

But unbeknownst to us, we’re all the same — impostors in unfamiliar, shifting skins.

Under Locks and Key Lime Pie

Curls are rolling down my bib-like salon cape, spiraling into a pile that I expect to animate at any moment, don glasses and a hat, and mutter in a high-pitched, incoherent voice before moving ghost-like out the front door and spilling onto the sidewalks of Beverly Hills.

“So, that’s what your ears look like. They’re so little!”

Andy is genuinely amazed.

“Wait. You’ve never seen my ears?”

What a bizarrely jarring revelation. Having been together this long, I’d have thought he’d have a pretty good understanding of my physical self by now. But, lo!

“And your head is a nice shape.”

“Seriously? You’ve seen my head before!”

It’s starting to sound like we’re running lines from a gay sequel to At First Sight. Rain starts drizzling outside, and I stare ahead into the mirror at my ears — naked and exposed from ye olde ringlets of years past, ready to absorb the direct California sun.

The context, the do, my reflection — all coalescing into something new that takes me by surprise.

Jesus. I do have tiny ears.

***

A year ago, Andy and I were pulling everything out of cabinets in our Raleigh apartment after returning from our gay, man-infested destiny – the only things fueling us being the residual Starbucks lattes in the car, and the adrenaline from making this life-changing decision somewhere in the Midwest.  Weeks later, our walls had been stripped bare and furniture piled up and for sale.

We were committed.

We were pumped.

We were ready for anything.

Then, we hit a wall.

Worried a lot.

Hit another wall.

Patched and repaired our sinking ship of a plan.

And held fast to our convictions that, somehow, things would work out.

And this morning — the first day of 2014 — as I woke up at 2:00 AM to the sound and immediate, face-scrunching smell of Toby’s explosive diarrhea, I was reminded that, yes, things actually have worked out.

Even if it’s taken buckets of blood, sweat, and tears. Some Clorox wipes. And room deodorizer.

***

About a month ago, Andy and I sat down to a nice dinner at a restaurant a block away from our apartment. It became a moment etched into my mind — a time to reflect and remember where we were now and how we got here.

And then I devoured a piece of key lime pie.

Now, here’s the thing: I actually don’t like key lime pie. Or I thought I didn’t. But I gave it a go. Because, hey, why not? And it worked out. It was delicious. I was fortified and satisfied.

Much like I am with our new life out here, in a place that’s become much less alien than that first time we set foot here.

And with a new year ahead of us — a blank slate ready to be filled — I’m ready to make the best of it. There’re so many things I want to accomplish, and it already seems like time is flying past. But with a little imagination, a lot of gumption, and plenty of tenacity, I’ll fill that empty frame with something great.

A New Year -- an empty frame.

(Which is why I keep an actual empty frame above the computer — to remind me of the possibilities.)

Because plenty of fantastic fantasies — fairy tales and story lines — have been translated to reality.

Real life fairy tales.

So why shouldn’t mine ours?