In Bloom

From the living room I watched as the breeze ripped through the densely vegetated slopes, rattling the tree branches and tousling their fragile new leaves.

In the distance, the Space Needle glowed torch-like and I stared on until the gusts died down and the wind-bent trees rebounded into place, cluttering the view ever so slightly. Built in the early 40s, Gay Gardens had had quite a view of the growing Seattle skyline, even before the 1962 World’s Fair raised the city’s most iconic building. And gradually, the view narrowed with the enveloping canopy, and the little rotting cottage became isolated behind a nearly impenetrable green wall of blackberry bushes and aged rhododendrons.

JoJo dozed in my lap, and I focused on the mediocre movie I’d snagged from the Renton Goodwill a few weeks prior. The wind howled again, and a thud echoed across the roof, rousing JoJo who woofed and scampered around searching for the offending noisemaker.

The next morning, as I made my rounds ripping up weeds, I noticed one of the chimney caps had gotten dislodged from the windstorm. A few weeks prior, the same thing had happened, and some wee beast had made its way into the attic, startling me and JoJo awake with what could only be described as zombie-inspired guttural cleansing. So as I clawed my way up onto the roof, I worked quickly to carefully re-center the cap, ensuring there was no available point of entry. In the process, I eyed a rogue brick that’d dislodged from the chimney stack—clearly the thud-inducing culprit from the previous night. I shoved it back into place, completing the puzzle.

With the spotty clouds opening up between intermittent rain showers, I had an unobstructed view of Elliott Bay and a faint rainbow. Just below me, pale pink buds studded the branches of a gnarled tree clinging precariously to the back slope. Glutted with promising effulgence, each one dripped and glistened in the rapidly clearing grayish mist.

I took a deep breath and slowly took stock of my little home, feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having the opportunity to play a role in reviving this oasis.

A little slice of paradise.

And in my bones I felt something familiar—the sense that Gay Gardens will be where I celebrate many life-changing moments, each of which will become a part of this Eden, adding to the narrative of this secret long-held by time.

Oh, Canada!

For approximately three minutes, I reveled in the low cost of Joanna’s first boarding experience. But then the intake technician returned from the back and said that the doctor would like to chat with me about JoJo’s stay, adding quickly that everything was fine. After retrieving the lil bean and hearing about her explosive diarrhea and vomiting that morning– and watching my bill double from her antibiotics and an injection–I scooped her up and took her home.

Following two unsuccessful attempts at hiding her antibiotic in treats, I finally smeared enough of the smelly prescribed food over the pill for her to stomach it. Seated at the kitchen table, I barely reached my tea before she jumped up and burrowed into the knitted blanket covering my lap.

As I felt her little body rise and fall under the blanket and scratched between her ears, she poked her head out, looked up lovingly, and waited until we were nose-to-nose to burp in my face. A few minutes later, I had to surrender all motion as her series of snores grew louder, an occasional fart interjected for good measure.

Outside, the cloud-cluttered sky did its best to obscure the fragments of bright blue behind them. The heater clicked on, and I let the steam from my tea writhe up under my glasses, fogging them slightly. On the last day of my vacation, I looked forward to nothing more than a quiet day at home. I hadn’t had a true vacation since my honeymoon, and I’d forgotten how cathartic it could be. Albeit just a few days in Canada, this mini-vacation was just what I’d needed.

***

As I stood about 250 feet in the air, the Capilano Suspension Bridge began swaying from the tourists herding onto it like fleets of cattle. I clutched the thick cable railings and figured that I’d plunge to my death screaming, “I KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN!”

Capilano Bridge. It's only slightly (terrifyingly) high.

Capilano Bridge. It’s only slightly (terrifyingly) high.

I’ve never been comfortable with heights, but my friends had been very persuasive in selling this particular excursion. Despite my expectation of a horrific death by falling, I took heart in knowing that, at the very least, on my way down I’d have a great view of the beautiful scenery.

Ah, the cathartic sounds of a waterfall.

Ah, the cathartic sounds of a waterfall.

After traipsing across tree house-style catwalks and chatting about the sexual promiscuity of middle-schoolers, we scampered along a few more cantilevered walkways. Soon enough, we were in the gift shop, and I capitalized on my adrenaline rush by consuming a hearty supply of fudge.

Like the evening before, that night’s dinner was filled with laughter and conversation, and more than a few drinks. Feeling heady from all the booze, I happened to look over at a nearby table where a bromance was unfolding with every pint they knocked back. The more vocal one put his arm around his girlfriend’s shoulders, but didn’t break his gaze from watching his single friend’s Adam’s apple rock up and down with every gulp. After they returned from one of their multiple bathroom visits together, I happened to catch the eye of the single guy. The “family” resemblance was instant—as it often is—and his gaze quickly ricocheted off of me to settle on my friend seated beside me. Had this happened a decade ago, I’d have quietly cried into my cocktail. Instead, I chuckled to myself and tipped my glass ever so slightly in his direction before whispering to my friend that he had an admirer.

Self-acceptance isn’t an easy thing—but with the past year’s revelations, I’ve found that having a sense of humor is vitally important in propelling me forward. I don’t know what’ll unfold in the coming years, or where I’ll be or with whom—if anyone—but no matter what, I intend to keep on laughing.

***

On the ride back home, I melted into a playlist of Radiohead and David Bowie and Brandi Carlile, and absorbed the passing landscapes—letting the welcomed sun warm my arms and face.

About an hour outside of Seattle, the sky darkened and hail began raining down. I slowed and watched a few cars pull off under bridge overpasses. Instead of joining them, I putted along and kept myself focused on the brightening road ahead. Before long, sun enveloped the car and Seattle’s skyline came into view.

Sitting at traffic lights, I rolled around sea glass collected from Stanley Park’s shorelines, feeling the worn surfaces abrading my palms; tossed and turned through tumultuous currents, their jagged edges had softened into something timeless.

I felt revived—like I had the necessary confidence and fortitude to push ahead. Like the beginning of a love story, not every vacation needs to be a lengthy sonnet. Sometimes, a haiku will capture it all.

Coming Attractions

As the seemingly ceaseless rain halts and the clouds part just enough to reveal the thinnest rays of sunlight, I scurry outside and collect water-smoothed glass and metal bits that’ve eroded from the back terrace—the perennial midden of memories slowly being covered by a blanket of germinating grass and tiny white flowers.

With the heavy lifting of landscape remodeling complete, I’ve started to enjoy the simple task of tending the green spaces I’ve reclaimed from the bramble by slowly purifying the trash-glutted soil around Gay Gardens. Anything I find that’s in decent enough shape is recycled back into the landscape’s architecture or as part of my tiny vegetable garden.

I cobbled together the wee veggie garden enclosure out of cast-off building materials, and other bits I uncovered around the yard.

I cobbled together the wee veggie garden enclosure out of cast-off building materials, and other bits I uncovered around the yard.

During my latest pass over the grounds, I notice pavers protruding from the terrace bank. After a little dusting off, I track their path into the dense foliage below the house, and wonder where the path once led, and who strode down it.

Above me, a moss-covered tree that’d been completely obscured by English ivy has buds peppered along its branches—all on the cusp of blooming. Insects buzz impatiently around the unopened flowers, nudging them with their thrumming bodies before abandoning their attempts and retreating into the woods.

No longer covered with vines, the tree is blooming again. And grass is slowly springing to life where thick, sprawling blackberry bushes had rooted. I think the $10 vintage bird bath from an estate sale fits perfectly.

No longer covered with ivy, the tree is blooming again. Along the hill, grass and flowers are slowly springing to life where thick, sprawling blackberry bushes and invasive Japanese knotweed had rooted. I think the $10 vintage bird bath from an estate sale fits in perfectly.

Once I deposit handfuls of shredded plastic, shattered bottles, and unidentifiable, rotted building materials into my garbage can, I make a quick detour through the garden and pluck slugs off of my juvenile broccoli florets and toss them downhill.

As I tiptoe along the stepping stones leading around the house, water gurgles up from the over-saturated ground beneath them, spraying mini geysers onto the muddy, soaked grass. My circuit ends at the front door just as clouds clutter the sky and rain begins pouring down. From beneath my front overhang, I watch rivulets cascade down the warped clapboard, silently pooling and bubbling out from beneath the paint like lanced cysts.

I survey the yard and cleared beds and smile, thinking back to the tangled jungle it was before.

A view to the front terraces--all of which are now free of choking ivy, and sun can actually get through.

A view to the front terraces. Now freed from a canopy of ivy and vines, the plants can actually get sunlight.

As if to remind me of my body’s inability to deal with the onslaught of wind, rain, and perpetual dampness, my temples begin throbbing and my ears start ringing. Lately, I’ve come to realize that my body isn’t the one I once knew: I’ve started flirting with chronic pain, and it seems with every year, my joints and muscles conspire to contort my body into the frail figure I’ve always worried was in my future.

I straighten my back and wander back inside to deduct the latest grocery bill, and watch the balance dip into the double digits. I staple a wad of papers from my mechanic—an unexpectedly immense bill from my car’s broken axle—and tuck it into my accordion file folder. The past year has been pretty lean by necessity, and with the cost of living in Seattle creeping higher every year, I worry about how long I’ll be able to hold onto Gay Gardens. Until I’m pushed out, I’ll continue to make ends meet to keep this place all my own.

In the meantime, to entertain myself with cheap thrills, I’ve been ghosting through estate sales during their final hours to cherry-pick chipped pots, neglected lawn equipment, or unwanted garden gnomes. There’s a certain satisfaction with finding some long-forgotten piece of someone’s personal history—perhaps a gag gift, or a beloved treasure—and re-homing it to my little rotting oasis.

Mr. Pipps, the wee gnome, and the concrete planter were both partially buried in an overgrown garden (at an estate sale). When I expressed an interest, they just told me to dig it out and take it. So I did, flowers and all.

At an estate sale, I found Mr. Pipps, the wee gnome, and the concrete planter both partially buried in an overgrown garden. When I expressed an interest in them, the organizers just told me to dig it all out and take it. So I did, flowers and all.

Following a recent estate sale haul totaling $11, I settle in with JoJo for the evening, and treat myself to Arrival.

As a kid, I never favored sitting through the seemingly endless sequence of previews leading up to the featured presentation; I resented their temporary blockade of cinematic pleasure. But now, the previews are one of my favorite parts of movie-watching.

While JoJo dozes on my lap and I crack open a chocolate bar, I let myself melt into the film—let it reach inside me, and revel in how it resuscitates my heart and mind, and reminds me of the strength and courage it takes to brave each new day with hope, sincerity, and unabashed awe.

Lately, the sheer exhaustion of existing—of listening to the grinding and groaning of my car, pushing through the rigors of work, resisting and marching and railing against authoritarianism, and deducting the constant bills—has felt especially debilitating. But I know the only way to get through is to push onward—through the rust and jams and daily machinations.

And in the meantime, I’ll continue to surrender my mind to immersive daydreams—my own collection of coming attractions—that help fuel my creativity, and propel me toward my goals. But amid those fantastic mental wanderings, I’ve often been reminded that this—the fringe, the in-between of barely making ends meet, the rusty gears, and worn parts—is a wondrous privilege: a most luxurious life, a featured presentation all its own.

Instead, I Smiled

The carpet contoured to my face, and I felt safe. When I closed my eyes, I flirted with sleep, and could feel the weighted liquor coursing through me, lulling me into pliable submission.

I couldn’t see the television, but registered the talking heads crowing about the latest dresses and stars studding the red carpet as the Oscars got underway. Behind me, my friends continued to carouse and sip their drinks.

Until that night, I hadn’t felt like I was part of a group, much less a welcomed addition to any social clique. With them, I started to experience something that’d been lacking for most of my life: a sense of community. Alongside these guys, I felt like I could handle being gay.

***

Grant, the host, was my first crush, and I dared to think that I loved him. He had a biting wit and sarcastic sense of humor. And unlike me, he was confident. I’d fashioned an orbit around him throughout my senior year of college; but like a distant star, I always hovered on his periphery and he never pulled me in. Still, I admired him for all the qualities I failed to see in myself.

Someone refilled his cup with cheap vodka on the coffee table nearby, and the loudest of my friends brayed about giving massages, and asked if anyone wanted one. Drunkenly, I raised my hand from the floor. I was a freshly fledged gay, and I craved being seen, and I longed to be desired—and while I wasn’t sporting a six-pack or chiseled jaw, I’d worked off enough of my baby fat to pass as cute.

Due in part to a few botched make out moments courtesy of the Myspace meat market, I’d never been remotely intimate with another gay man. The simple act of being touched seemed foreign and exotic; and I wanted nothing more. And while I wasn’t attracted to my ad hoc masseur, the mere fact that a gay man was touching me felt thrilling.

Soon enough, my shirt proved to be an impediment, and I removed it at his prompting. The spindly carpet fibers burrowed into my torso, and I continued to melt into them, and tried to enjoy the moment. A few minutes after I’d balled up my shirt, the only couple there whispered conspiratorially to one another. I hadn’t paid much attention to them, but I noticed a distinct change in the room’s atmosphere. The television boomed louder, and I wondered where Grant had gone; I hadn’t heard him speak since my back massage started. I even thought that he might’ve been jealous, and I felt some semblance of flirtatious power over him.

After a little while, the massage stopped, and my friend got a drink and started chatting with Grant in the kitchen. I continued to lay there and let random thoughts dance through my head as I closed my eyes. That’s when I felt someone’s hand caressing my side; I was incredibly ticklish and I flinched a bit, chuckling as I did. It was one of Grant’s other friends—a member of the couple—and he’d framed himself closely over me, with his other hand pressed into the carpet near my head. I began to feel claustrophobic, and started to say something when he shoved his hand down the front of my jeans, grunting as he did, his breath curling inside my ear and melding with the lowered voices of the others.

“I want to know what you got,” he’d croaked, his liquored breath burning against my cheek.

My thoughts raced as I realized my dazed attempts to stop him were actually emboldening him. He pushed and prodded, his nails scratching into me as he strained against my freed, flailing hand toward my groin. He pushed his body closer, and muttered to his boyfriend.

“He’s trying to fucking cockblock me.”

When he reached my penis, I went numb. It was momentary and jarring, and he’d done it: his violation was complete. Whether he’d satisfied his curiosity, or I’d managed to catch him off guard, I was able to push his hand off my shaft; my skin crawled as his fingers raked through my pubic hair. He got up and melted into the background with Grant and the masseur. Frozen with terror, I stayed on the floor, watching the impression from his hand slowly disappear as the carpet rebounded.

Minutes later, Grant gathered me up, and put me to bed in his back room. The next morning, everyone except Grant was gone. He wished me a good morning, and asked how I’d slept. I stared at him expectantly, but I could tell a veil of complicity was pulled tautly over his mouth. I felt a scream pounding at the back of my teeth, begging to be freed. But instead, I smiled.

******

It took me 12 years to put a name to what’d happened to me. I never told anyone about it–not my family, closest friends, or my ex-husband.

I hadn’t really expected acknowledging it to be quite so freeing; and in many ways, the catharsis I felt when I actually told my therapist was so painfully potent, that I wondered how the weight of it had contorted and morphed over the years to become so bearable.

There’s nothing normal about sexual assault, and no part of it should be normalized. In these tumultuous times, so much hate and violence is being threaded into our daily lives that it’s easy to let it transform into something else–something that can be shouldered. But it shouldn’t be. It’s toxic and debilitating, and it only serves to empower the perpetrators.

And as hard as it is sometimes to speak out, the uncompromising truth is our most damaging weapon–even in times when fearmongers try to make truth as malleable as clay, when we have a sexual predator at this country’s helm.

The truth does indeed set one free. And I intend to speak mine boldly, loudly, and fully–to break through the hypocrites’ tired reframes of alternative facts.

To thread more understanding, compassion, and empathy into our beleaguered national narrative. And remind others who are scared and vulnerable that they are not alone.

Yes, We Can

It’s hard to describe the conflicting emotions I felt today.

Albeit a day filled with immense hope and indescribable optimism, there was an undercurrent of something else – of mourning. And as I marched down Seattle’s glutted streets with over 130,000 other peaceful protesters – staring up at rooftops to see firefighters, window-washers, and apartment residents waving on and screaming in solidarity – I recognized that this is a strange new nation. We are fractured. And no matter how hard anyone tries to pick up the pieces and painstakingly rejoin them, they will never fit back together again.

This farce of an election has cracked something inside us all, and we have a duty to acknowledge it, name it, and rail against that which threatens the safety and security of this great nation, and the world. We owe it to ourselves and the citizens around the world who raised their voices in solidarity with us today.

My hope is that this mantle of justice is taken up and shouldered by us all, and that we don’t chalk up today as some kumbaya moment. This “moment” must keep going far beyond today – in rhetoric and action; in everyday practice, we must always push forward. We must remember our humanity, and the power we wield when we band together.

I haven’t felt this good in a long time.

Today, I’m thankful for my fellow marchers across the nation and globe, especially my awe-inspiring mother and sister who trekked to DC; they’re the two strongest women and role models I’ve ever known.

For the knitter at the bus stop who gifted me a beautiful pink scarf.

For the new friend who pulled up at the glutted bus stop and gave three of us a ride.

For the friends I bumped into and texted with throughout the march.

For every single child I saw filled with hope, and screaming at the top of their lungs for change.

For the seniors walking arm-in-arm, holding signs aloft reading, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit.”

For signs calling out all the -isms, and the importance of understanding and recognizing intersectionality.

For the blind marcher wearing a sandwich board reading, “I will not follow along blindly.”

For the great-grandmother who confided to me, “I like all the pink. But I don’t know about the pussy hats yet.”

For the eagle that flew overhead just as the sun beamed down.

Yes, we have much work to do to fix this country. But after days like today, I’m more certain than ever that, yes, we can.

When the Clock Strikes 13

Freshly painted foamcore protest signs dry on the weathered kitchen table.

By now, I’d hoped some fragments of the innumerable magical thoughts bounding around in my head would’ve come to fruition – that I’d awaken fully rested for the first time since November, letting the knowledge that it was all a horrific nightmare fade into mental ether.

Even still, in the quiet of the night, I hope for some sort of salvation. But I know the fight back from this is up to us. Only when the people find their voices will we actually effect change. I hope that that fire grows in intensity through tomorrow and boils over in cities across the country on Saturday. I don’t hope for violence, but I do hope for discomfort – in the ways that mass organizing and large-scale protests can bring things to a crashing halt. Because only when our comfortable routines are interrupted do we actually take notice. Which is exactly what brought us to this point. We had a great past 8 years, but many of us got complacent; and that’s when the monsters crept in.

So tomorrow, I’ll most likely be in the street – alongside countless others – protesting this dawning horror.

But I’ll also be recommitting my efforts to elevating the voices of the people who are often left behind; to channeling and reflecting compassion and empathy, and leveraging my privileges for others; and speaking out and standing against oppressive rhetoric and actions.

And when I get on my bus to go home, I’ll quietly commit to living my life as fully and authentically as possible – because that is the greatest form of resistance.

Tomorrow, when the clock strikes 13, the nation will not cease to be. But a dark veil will be cast over it. And it is up to us to lift it, bit by bit, to let the light back in.

Bordering on Normal

Closing the front door behind me, I readjusted my crocheted shawl, and stowed the dog-walking bag. Joanna pricked up her ears, and fixated her marble-like eyes on the darkened sunporch.

Usually, that type of thing wouldn’t bother me. But whether it was the crushing weight of the holidays, the fact that George Michael had just died, or my sister reminding me hours earlier that Seattle was the serial killer capital of the country, I took more notice.

I took a step forward, and a man began speaking in an even-keeled, matter-of-fact way – exactly how I’d imagined my murderer to sound.

“It’s…”

…TIME TO DIE?

…YOUR LAST MOMENT?

…COLD IN HERE?

In one-and-a-half seconds of contemplating what he was saying, I realized two things: the sickly jade plant I grabbed was a lousy excuse for a weapon; and two, I was going to die in stained sweat pants and a moth-eaten shawl.

“…seven o’ clock.”

For a moment, I just stood still. Like the stupid friend in every horror movie, Joanna ran determinedly toward the darkened room to investigate the voice. A second later, she skittered back, sat on the rug, and stared up at me – which was when the weight of the potted plant started to register. I lowered it back onto its pedestal, and a bloated leaf broke off and fell to the floor.

Apparently, it was seven o’ clock, and the computer repair technician – in addition to downloading a Dance Dance Revolution anime video onto my desktop – configured my newly rebuilt laptop to recite the time every hour.

As my heart rate reassumed a normal rhythm, and I talked myself out of posting “YOU SHOULD WARN SINGLE PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN THE WOODS THAT THEIR REBUILT COMPUTER MIGHT TALK TO THEM” on Yelp, I pulled the shawl tighter, lit my lavender diffuser, and settled into the sofa with a mug of hot cocoa. This was it: my first Christmas as a divorcee.

The weight of it was unexpectedly heavy.

***

The day before, I’d been sitting at the Canadian border considering witty replies to the standard question: “What was your business in Canada?”

“Those dildos weren’t exactly going to deliver themselves, am I right?”

“I heard the bacon was great.”

“I was in search of some mounties.”

“Did you not see the outcome of the US election?”

After answering truthfully, however, I realized I should’ve gone with one of my alternatives. The border patrol officer’s face drew back in on itself, adding two additional chins to his third.

“Wait, so you’re telling me you came across this morning, and just went for a walk in the park, and are going back?”

I nodded.

“That’s just not normal.”

Partly stunned, I chuckled.

He screwed up his face even more, and straightened his back.

“Pop the trunk.”

“You’ll have to buy me dinner first.”

“What?”

“Certainly!”

I could tell he was eager to file away some story he could use over Christmas dinner to impress his in-laws – regale them with how he’d stopped the largest shipment of cocaine in US history.

Judging by how forcefully he slammed the trunk, my stained reusable grocery bags must’ve been a severe letdown. Without so much as a grunt, he handed back my passport and license, and dismissed me with a wave.

That evening, while eating Trader Joe’s tortellini and reading OverheardLA’s Instagram, I assured JoJo that her breath bordered on a public health hazard. She responded by timing the movements of my lips just enough to lick the roof of my mouth.

Gargling at the kitchen sink, I noticed one of my planters had blown off the back steps. I slipped on my battered Toms and stepped out into the rapidly chilling air, righting the planter and taking a walk around the house.

Remnant raindrops dripped off of my makeshift garden fence, and thrushes crashed around in the shattered Japanese knotweed rotting at the base of the terrace. Biting wind blew through a tree I’d freed from thick, choking ivy – rattling its aged, mossy branches against one another. Around the corner of the house, my rusted glider set caught the breeze and creaked awake. Beyond it, up the hill, a large holly bush’s bright red berries glistened with moisture, and a pair of robins battled over the highly sought after territory, catapulting twigs in all directions.

With my circuit nearly complete, I stopped at a tall foxglove I’d carefully extracted from a precarious niche along a neighbor’s drainage ditch. Its developed roots had cascaded down in a wispy, matted mess, and I’d worked quickly to dig a deep enough hole, and arrange it so that it was braced on two sides from the wind. Fully transplanted, it’d listed to one side, propping itself on a dying heliotrope. I’d repacked the soil around its base, and had broken off sickly, limply-hanging yellowed leaves to rebalance it – and to give the new growth beneath them room to breathe. I ran my hand along the righted, towering stalk as I turned the corner to ascend the porch stairs, and nudged one of its last pale, pink blooms.

Inside, JoJo twirled on the kitchen’s scatter rug and expected a treat for supervising my round-the-house orbit from her various window perches. I put my hands on my hips and demanded to know what should be done. She twirled again, play-growled, and ran out of the room. I kicked off my muck-caked shoes, and slipped on my flannel-patterned house slippers – necessities in the drafty, poorly-heated cottage.

For a moment, I let my eyes dart from newly-painted door frames to found objects, from brightly-colored Fiesta and stripped hardware on the built-ins to patched holes and reglazed window panes. Albeit an ice box, the cottage seemed more alive than ever.

I gave a deep, cleansing sigh – and ran toward the squeaking dog toy, into the heart of our home.

Momentous

I heave the rolled shag carpet over my shoulder and down the staircase, up the walkway and through the door. Unfurled, its frayed gold and orange polyester tendrils catch the fading light, and the floor is ablaze. Joanna spins around on the ruffled border, stuffing her nose deep within it – inhaling past lives. She stares up at me; I raise an eyebrow, and nod approvingly… 

I turn up the music and exhale deeply, fully, completely – until, like an exhausted balloon, I’m empty. With a sopping roller, I coat the last bare swatch, and the aged wallboard soaks it in like a dried sponge. Stepping back, I survey the room through paint-speckled glasses… 

Amid the workday hubbub, an email chimes into my inbox. The subject line is an expected string of numbers and letters; but still, I hesitate. When I reach the final period, I’m divorced. 

Wispy lavender plumes scent the air. The defunct heater rattles awake, doing its best to compete with the permeating chill. In the distance, across a cleared expanse, the Space Needle burns brightly, torch-like – yielding an unexpected view. On my lap, under a hand-woven blanket, Joanna chases something in her dreams…

Clawing at the freezing soil, I carve out one last spot. The air is bitterly, bitingly cold, and the temperature is plummeting rapidly. My hands are numb, and my energy is draining. Fracturing the root ball, I pack the seedling into its newly sown bed. With dirt ground beneath my nails, I give a frigid exultation – a weighted breath – into darkness…

And in this moment, I am enough.

Getting Bent

Halfway into the crawl space, my flashlight flickered horror movie style, the telltale sign of imminent, consuming darkness. I’d be alone, beneath Gay Gardens, surrounded by cast-off insulation tubes filled with mummified rat remains – their long, serpentine tails hardened, their taut, paper-thin skin stretched over hollow shells.

Above me, through the floorboards, Joanna pitter-pattered anxiously; Lassie’s antithesis, she’d likely curl into a ball and lick herself had I called out for rescue. It was just me and the corpses and the fading light.

My glasses fogged from my labored breathing, and I could feel blood dribbling across my mouth. Ever the wet blanket, my immune system was having none of this. If I wasn’t opting to turn around and crawl out willingly, my body would force me to – a nosebleed would tip the scales.

Tumbling out of the unhinged, rotted access door, I unfastened my jacket hood, tossed my dirt-caked gloves to the frost-covered ground, and pulled off my bloody face mask. I gulped down the cool air, and held my glasses away from me, watching their lenses slowly clear. Around me, piles of old wood, moldy cardboard, and rusted pipe fragments lay in piles.

A replacement mask and a new flashlight battery later, I hauled out more piles of junk, along with the insulation tubes and their desiccated passengers. The most random task on my weekend to-do list was done, and I even walked away with a few unexpected prizes: a hand-painted flower pot and a 1950s milk glass mixing bowl.

As I folded the tubing into my tiny garbage can and topped it with the bag of dead rats, I could almost feel the house breathe a sigh of relief; or, maybe that was me.

***

Cleaning has always been a way for me to center – to unplug and dust away mental cobwebs – and Gay Gardens has certainly afforded plenty of opportunities to do just that. It’s been a labor of love, and an anchor as life continues to change and unfold.

And while I don’t know what the future holds for me or this little cottage, I’m thankful every morning that, for now, I’m its caretaker. Plenty of people have asked why I’m putting so much effort into a place that’s not even mine, and that’ll most likely be bulldozed at some point down the line. My response is simple: “Why not?” I, too, sometimes question the amount of blood, sweat, and tears I keep putting into this place, but then I acknowledge the importance I’ve always put on creating a home wherever I land. The process has always been a source of strength, and right now I need this place as much as it needs me.

I often need the quiet and the calm to melt into myself, to plan out my next steps. Lately, I’ve needed more time away from the hubbub, and the growing national horror. I’ve cycled the energies I’d usually expend scrolling through Facebook feeds to other hobbies that interest me more – things that actually elicit in me a drive to start that next new chapter.

While I still have a long ways to go, I’ll enjoy each moment along the way to my next great endeavor – whether I’m scaling a mountain, crossing a border, or bending into a crawl space.

When the Ink Dries

Other than a cone of lamplight over my shoulder, the remainder of the sunporch sits in darkness. Occasionally, I hear Joanna pitter-pattering here and there, rediscovering another partially deformed toy plush to pull apart before jumping up on my leg and smacking my sweater with her paw. It’s nearly 9:00, and it’s closing in on her bedtime. She’s anxious to get to dreamland, but I have another page on the application to complete.

With surgical precision, I carefully spell out my name with the ballpoint pen – making certain I’m not bleeding over into a neighboring field, or smearing the ink with my hand. I angle the 2×2″ photo just inside the designated box, and accidentally staple right through the paper and into my index finger.

FUCCCCCK!

Joanna scampers to her bed, poking her head behind a finless Dory doll. Nursing my blighted finger, I finish the stapling exercise, infill a few more fields, and write the check with all the add-ons to get the critical part of my “just in case” plan returned before the white nationalist fascist takes our country’s helm.

I’d imagined reapplying for my passport would be much more enjoyable – with visions of scenic countrysides to explore dancing through my head. But instead, I’m siphoning the necessary funds from my “maybe I can actually save this at the end of the month” account, rationalizing the expenditure as vitally necessary.

While I’m not a catastrophist, I am paying close attention to the growing warning signs that the coming sadistic “administration” plans to act as judge, jury, and executioner – without any care or concern for the Constitution, much less the Bill of Rights, or human morality. I fully intend to fight and defend what I know to be good and true in this country, but I’m also incredibly terrified of what could come to pass, as well as the violence incited along the way.

Every single day when I leave for work, I envision a time in the near future when the final straw becomes dangerously heavy – when I’ll have to race back, scoop up Joanna, vital documents, maybe a keepsake or two, and just go, leaving my mended home and garden to the coming ravages.

I hope beyond hope that sensible, smart, dedicated, compassionate people will unite and push back against this scourge and his minions. And I fully intend to play a part in it – even if the story’s epilogue ends with me and JoJo in my Toyota, speeding north.

***

Rain cascades down in sheets, and a few shingles fly off the dilapidated roof. Boards above in the attic pop from the dry air and sudden moisture co-mingling, and heated air pipes through the vents – resembling the sounds of the open sea.

I sit and watch the moonlit branches dancing in the wind, and listen to the creaking of the makeshift garden fence just outside the windows. I rub my socked foot along the painted floor, recognizing how important this place is to me, and how much I want to grow here.

As I tuck all the documents into the large envelope and seal it tightly, another hearty gust blasts the windows, making the panes shudder.

I stare past the envelope on the tabletop and into JoJo’s marble-like eyes, and quietly murmur.

“We’re in this thing together. And while the storm may rage and weather us, with hope, we’ll still be standing when the sun rises.”