Enough. Enough. Enough.

Everyone at work today remarked about how well I looked – how much more rested and less stressed I appeared. I replied with comments about the curative power of Alabama’s micaceous red clay, gave a fake smile or two, and inwardly rolled my eyes.

The past several days have been exhausting in every way imaginable – in many ways for positive reasons, with one notable exception.

The staggering toll of the Orlando hate crime seeps into the fore of my mind every other moment. The faces of the dead slowly begin to emerge; we learn about their lives, loves, passions, dreams – all cut short by the hands of a disgusting waste of human flesh. His selfied face becomes the one plastered across the subconscious of so many television viewers – not those of his victims. And it makes me ill.

So many of my LGBTQ friends are having a hard time with this one, which is a horrible thing to write – “this one,” as if the other tragic mass shootings are any less horrific. But the fact of the matter is this was a hate crime – a deliberate, calculated attack on the lives of LGBTQ people.

It is different for us.

***

A tiny bar tucked away in the far reaches of Tuscaloosa’s downtown, Michael’s was more than a bar; it was a haven for fledgling LGBTs, each like me – unsure, cautious, exhilarated, terrified. But despite those initial feelings of unease, I felt safe when I passed through the doors; these were my people.

It was one of the first places I felt comfortable in my own skin, and the first place I got groped by a crush and felt alive in a way I’d never felt before. I laughed and screeched along to horrible karaoke and stuffed dollar bills into a drag show performer’s nylons for charity; I started to transform into someone I felt could actually make a life and be happy.

And then my friends and I stepped back outside, into the cool of the deeply late evening.

“FAGS!”

“COCKSUCKERS!”

“ASS-LICKERS!”

A bottle shattered in the gutter.

My mind stopped working; my self-esteem plummeted, and I reverted to my antisocial cocoon – all while humming to myself, “Get back to the car. Just get back to the car.”

The small group of fraternity brothers hovered on the side of the street opposite the bar door; they raised their fists, spat, gave us the finger, and made sudden, aggressive moves toward us.

Just get back to the car, back to the goddamned car…

I was sobering up fast. But then, the unexpected happened.

“OKAY! YOU WANNA ROLL, MOTHERFUCKERS? C’MON, I’LL DRIVE MY FIST SO FAR UP YOUR ASSES…”

Our self-described matriarch began crowing back, which is when I realized a few things.

 We’re not punching bags.

We can fight back.

We’re in much better shape than them.

We can be scary too.

We’re family.

We took up a cacophonous chorus, each of us stitching together our entire repertoire of obscenities, and watched the band of misfits melt back into their beer-soaked truck, disappearing entirely.

For the first time, I felt I had a voice.

I felt alive.

I felt I could make a difference.

I felt right.

***

A decade later, I know there will always be broken glass to dodge. But I do know something for certain: I am right.

And so were all the victims.

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34

Stanley Almodovar III, 23

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36

Luis S. Vielma, 22

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20

Kimberly Morris, 37

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50

Amanda Alvear, 25
Martin Benitez Torres, 33

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31

Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19

Cory James Connell, 21

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37

Luis Daniel Conde, 39

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32

Frank Hernandez, 27

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25

Akyra Monet Murray, 18

Paul Terrell Henry, 41

Antonio Davon Brown, 29

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25

Jean C. Nieves Rodriguez, 27

May they rest in power, their memories kept alive in the fight for justice, compassion, and understanding.

For our humanity.

Pulse

I don’t realize how hard I’m clenching the waded paper towel until I turn from the television to look out the window and lose my balance, my hold loosening as I re-center.

My parents’ dogs have just been bathed, and are rolling around in the sun-bleached grass. I try and lose myself in their simple revelry, but know I can’t. My mind is swirling with the news anchors’ voices, the phrases “domestic terrorism,” “deadliest mass shooting in nation’s history,” “lone wolf,” and, occasionally, “LGBT community.”

I can’t breathe, and start sweating; my chest tightens and face burns. I grab my camera and walk out, up the gravel drive past the dogs – the youngest’s plaintive cries to tag along drifting away as I quicken pace.

Every step on the gravel sounds like a series of crashing cymbals; everything is amplified. I snap a photo of newly bloomed flowers, and try to map on a heartening metaphor, but fall short. A turkey feather catches my eye, and I dissect it through the lens; it’s nothing special, and completely uninteresting – but I have to focus on something, anything other than the rapid-fire thoughts pounding inside my skull.

I wonder how frequently the lives of those lost will be glossed over, their identities stripped and tamed and drained of color to be palatable enough for mass media consumption; how frequently “hate crime” will be disjointed from the narrative of this horrible attack; that “domestic terrorist” will become the coward’s moniker, divorced wholly from his anti-LGBTQ bias and motivation; that the fuel to his sickening fire was never spurred by our own politicians’ hate speech and rhetoric, but rather from “over there,” from “The Enemy,” “Them.”

I worry about our future, and mourn those whose futures were ripped from them – taken in an instant that should’ve been filled with joy and laughter, part of a series of rhythmic vibrations to club music, to living. Each of them should’ve been leaving exhausted and hung-over and sore from dancing, not having their lives become part of a protracted national narrative about hate and guns.

But then I watch the lines to blood banks grow longer, and hear calls to action ring out from more than LGBTQ groups. Where ignorance inspires hateful action, hope springs like seedlings from the earth, ready to grow. We must be constant gardeners.

***

A few feet away, our childhood seesaw hangs broken and rotted, a testament to the passage of time. Behind me, the wind gusts forcefully, nearly blowing me from the molding deer stand’s ladder-like steps.

But instead of bracing against it, I turn and face it. Eyes brimming with tears, I look to the horizon, to the infinite space before me, and murmur, “Keep dancing. Keep living. That’s how we’ll prevail.”

The Hard Stuff

Spiders cower in hole-pocked wall crevices. Bags overflow onto cluttered tabletops, computer cords dangling out like disemboweled hunt kills over long-neglected CD cases with 90s-era pop band icons plastered across their yellowed covers. Boxes packed and repacked line every available space – constant reminders of blocks to begin building new lives.

Birds chirp in the rising sun, and wind gusts through overgrown flowerbeds and hedges, creating the illusion of a giant, larval caterpillar undulating across the yard. Beside me, the tendrils of a newly sprouted plant shiver slightly, reminding me of all the cottage’s cracks and gaps I’ve yet to discover – known only by the cool morning air, the nests of freshly hatched brown spiders. It’s a little after 7:00, and the fragments of morning light refract in the jadeite mug I’m holding, offering very little in the way of welcoming warmth.

Staring out at the unkempt blackberry bushes and sprawling decades-old English ivy, I reflect on how much work there’s still to do to reclaim this little piece of existence from the bramble. The pink-tinged sky brightens a bit, and I tip back my mug, sighing heavily as I peer out into the jungle of weeds.

And then the clouds swallow up the light for a moment, and there’s just me – puffed hair and six-o-clock shadow reflected in the dirty window panes.

Still so much to do.

Somewhere in this mess is where I must begin again – suss out the cherished from the painful. All of it’s part of a new recipe, and I don’t know what I’ll make of it.

***

Not that long ago, I wrote that life is a string of unscripted, unknown experiences, from which we can either choose to grow or wilt. Lately, this phrase haunts my shallow sleep and momentary daydreams; it frightens me. It empowers me. And, at times, it crushes me.

Life has changed, and I must change with it.

Andy and I are separating. Albeit amicable, it’s still the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make.

I gulp a mouthful of cooled coffee, closing my eyes and letting my thoughts thread this new reality together as my body adapts to the daily machinations of fledgling routines.

Joanna stretches out in a patch of sun and stares up dreamily with a bloated breakfast belly. And I’m overcome.

I’m a ball of exposed nerves; daily minutiae can thrust me into a mental brier patch. But rather than fleeing from the welter of conflicting feelings, I have to embrace it all head-on – grapple with the hardship, ambiguity, terror, exhilaration, anxiety – and fashion a different future from it.

I must once again become my own knight in shining armor. And remind myself that I don’t need to be rescued – that I am enough.

The Change

I guess we all get to that point. You know, when you stop relying on other people to fix your problems, asking why something is done a particular way, or being a “yes” person. Some might call this hitting your bullshit threshold; others, your thirties. And still others may assert that you have, in fact, become an adult.

I’d like to think I’ve been this way for a while. I mean, sure, the whole cross-country, starting-over thing required a particular adult-like commitment; but mostly necessary naivety fueled by a flight response. But even while we were in California, I still felt more like an adult impostor than a bona fide adult.

But then, relatively recently, I woke up, thought about my day, and adulted. I listed out all of the insane to-do items in my head while making coffee and feeding the dogs. And then I acknowledged the enormity of the tasks at hand, reminded myself that only about two of the innumerable things I should get done actually will get done, and then snapped out of it because the dogs had to poo.

And then I did it all again the next day, and the next, and the next. I just sort of stopped looking to others as the “people I want to be like when I grow up,” and stopped mentally interviewing everyone I passed on the street with the question, “And how exactly do you make adulthood look so effortless?” I just gave in to the internal metamorphosis that’d apparently been in-process the whole time and went with it.

***

The dream I’m having jars me awake. As I regain my bearings in the real world, hints of light begin to redefine the bedroom furniture, conjuring them out of darkness.

Joanna stirs in Toby’s crate, which she annexed last night as hers – at least while he slept, comfortably swathed in a warmed towel on the living room sofa. The unmistakable ba-du-dah from her jumping onto the trunk at the foot of the bed is my 1.5 second warning of impending tongue-to-ear-and-face licks.

I lift up the covers in a feeble attempt to redirect her attention, hoping the sheets’ encasing warmth will cajole her into a few more moments of slumber. Shockingly, she accepts this olive branch and settles for fifteen minutes, during which time I slowly pull myself out of shallow sleep to embrace the inevitability of morning. Somehow their atypical sleeping arrangement last night afforded me an hour more of sleep – an unexpected treat made all the more enjoyable by having the day off.

The luxury of time off is something I once took for granted – draining my stores once a few hours accrued and days were replenished. But now as the singular driver of a nonprofit development department, I’m finding it nearly impossible to take time off – for obvious reasons. Departmental restructuring and strategic planning and diversifying funding streams seep into my dreams more frequently now, compounding generalized exhaustion and providing more mental fodder for the next day’s sprint. It’s not as though I dislike what I do; it’s more like I’m frustrated by wanting to do so much – realize the latent potential I see, but am too thinly spread to bring to fruition. This is yet another lesson I – a self-proclaimed control freak and perfectionist – am learning to make peace with: trying to do all the things and help everyone is a collective exercise in madness which will ultimately lead to burnout.

***

Leaning against the counter while overseeing the pups’ sloppy eating, I give half-hearted thought to going in. But instead of stealthily sneaking out with my car keys, I will myself to pick up a book and settle onto the sofa, at which point my mobility is completely curtailed by breakfast-bloated chihuahuas. Toby stares up at me, pitter pats in a circle on my stomach, and settles in for a much needed nap; Joanna, however, not so subtly maneuvers for a better position – traversing the tops of the sofa cushions whilst keeping an eye on her slumbering brother beast. Her leg brushes his side as she skirts along, and he growls lowly, threatening action unconvincingly. Albeit commendable, her tenacity works to my detriment given her insistence on using my hoodie pull-string as a pacifier. constricting its billowy comfort around my head as she lulls herself to sleep.

With my neck contorted and legs and book pinned, I acquiesce and give in to the nothingness of the moment – something I both detest and begrudgingly welcome. Because I know in about twelve hours I’ll be soundly asleep, my mind wandering to a backlogged to-do list.

Until then, though, I’ll continue to embrace this newfound acceptance and ownership of adulthood – and the self-confidence and commitment it takes to exercise and wield it every single day.

Because there will always be something to do, something to sideline expectations, something disastrous, and something enthralling – and it’s up to me to accept all of these inevitabilities, the entire package, and glean benefits from each and every moment.

That’s real growth.

#adulting

The GPS navigator’s monotoned, mechanized voice orders me to Make a legal U-turn as soon as possible – although her annoyed tone belies programmed nonchalance.

I wind up a side road, through some lush greenery, and take a few sharp turns further away from the main road into an agricultural area – which is when I wonder if this churchy high school possibly worships He Who Walks Behind the Rows.

Soon enough, my view clears and I pull onto a large campus dotted with Tudor-like buildings and auditoriums. I spot the orange cones that the school’s college adviser mentioned in her email, and notice another nonprofiter scratching his head at cone-blocked spaces. I get out and move one cone, and suggest he do the same.

Per usual with these types of things, no one’s waiting for us – as we’d been assured they would be – and so I plaster on my best I-have-no-fucking-clue-where-I’m-going smile and bid the other clueless presenters to follow me – the Pied Piper of Shoreline.

***

A few days before, during one of the craziest weeks in recent memory, I’m nursing a baby migraine – cooing to it softly to chill the fuck out. Being a department of one has been taking its toll on my sleep-deprived mind, with my nightmarescapes being constructed of donor asks and website code and lost checks and droning voices nagging, “I need that now, NOW, NOWWWW!” Bags hang heavily beneath bloodshot eyes, and my stubble has grown coarse enough to grate Parmesan. I reach for the large mug relegated to one semi-clear spot on my desk, gulp down its contents, and begrudgingly remember that I’ve been weaning myself off coffee; this tea just isn’t cutting it. Still, I chock the tea up to making a concerted effort to mitigate potential stressors in more proactive, healthier ways. I shift back to the Power Point I’m creating for a Community Impact Day later in the week. Since part of the whole de-stressing tack also translates to me not taking things so seriously, I insert a few Kristen Wiig gifs, a frame from Dodgeball, and a few old high school photos as anchor points for my chat about nonprofit world – how I came into it, pointers I have for those interested in becoming part of it, and WHY TO RUN AWAY FROM IT AT ALL COSTS JUST RUN YOU FOOLS!

Kidding. I play through the animated slides, laugh a little, and think aloud to my empty building wing, “I’m so goddamned hilarious.”

***

The two elderly receptionists direct me, as well as the gradually growing group of nonprofit folks trailing behind, to the library. We gather in a large, clearly well-funded reading room and start chatting. A doppelganger for Lost‘s Hurley sidles up next to me, quickly tying back his dreadlocks into a tight bun.

“So do you, like, live here too?” he asks a sheepish student nearby. The student nods side to side, then looks back down at his phone.

“The students should each have an organization name on their paper sign,” an adviser chirps from behind him, “and then they’ll take you to your assigned room.”

My student guide, clearly engaged in judging who’s most recent Instagram is the best representation of a well-balanced breakfast, looks slightly perturbed when I pipe in, “I think I’m with you.”

I ask all the typical questions as we’re walking up the stairs to the room – where we interrupt a trio studying To Kill A Mockingbird. I stifle my urge to scream, “WHAT’S UP MAH BOOS? Get it? Boos? As in Boo Radley?”

Instead, I watch as my student guide proceeds to text her teacher, asking where she is.

“You know, when I was your age I didn’t even know anyone who had a cell phone…”

I stop myself. I’m not going to be that guy. Although I already am. Students start filing in, and I mentally assign them to a clique: jock, a/v, drama, drama, heygurlhaiiii, a/v, punks, punks, PUNKS, hayyyy.

The presentation goes well enough, with minimal eye closures and snores. I ask for questions, and almost all of them are about my years as an archaeologist, with one about the time I got stuck in a shelter dog run with a blind poodle.

The bell rings, and the next group is ushered in. They, too, seem mildly intrigued by my chatter, but most exchange knowing looks, smiling as they do.

This guy is so weird.

He thinks he’s the ‘cool presenter’ type.

What’s going on with his hair? 

PUNKS, all of them. Not really. But as I stood up there rattling off life experiences, and how I parlayed a volunteer position into a growing career in nonprofit land, I couldn’t help but feel like I was aging before their eyes.

Eyes that first opened in the year 2000.

They had no idea that most of the world was all Y2K crazed in the months before they were born. Their first years were filled with Dubya’s countenance in the White House. They’ll be asking “older people” where they were on 9/11 and “How did it make you feel?” – the same way I asked various people similarly-lined questions about JFK’s assassination, the Civil Rights Movement, and hippies.

Another ear-splitting bell rings, and I part ways with the teacher – the only other person in the room who got my Blossom reference – melting into the melee of kids in the hall. Everyone’s on their phones. A little gay shuffles past with his friend, and they both smile knowingly; I smile with my eyes and keep going, terrified I’ll smile too much or accidentally lick my lips or set off a perv alarm.

***

Back in the Subaru, the mechanical voice drones on, directing me to turn left three feet ahead. Instead, I cancel the route calculation as she, once again, begins to advise me to Make a legal U-turn.

I retreat momentarily to the horrors of high school; fun, foundational years in college; brutal self-reflective moments in grad school; bulldozing through the recession with a shovel in-hand and an empty bank account; coming into my own and finding friends, building a loving network of chosen family; moving off and starting over with my co-pilot; and melting into California, and soaking in Seattle.

I don’t mind getting a little lost. That’s sort of what my twenties were all about. Eventually, I found my way – and now in this relatively new decade, my been-there-done-that attitude acts as my guide, helping me shift from place to place – leveraging life experience and humor in equal parts to pave the way forward.

Wherever it may lead.

To Grow or Wilt

It’s around 6:00. It must be. Joanna’s signature high-pitched whine punctuates the dark bedroom as she rustles up through her crate blankets to greet another day.

Before my mind even registers the ungodly hour, my body, zombie-like, starts shaking off the night’s shallow slumber as I propel one leg off the bed followed by the duvet-snagged other – and then stoop down to the small blue crate nestled against an Eastlake vanity.

Predictably, Joanna feigns sleepiness in a halfhearted attempt to cajole me to scoop her up so that she, the exhausted one, can be rubbed and doted upon for approximately two minutes before she’s harnessed to visit her favorite garbage-dotted bushes along the sidewalk.

The front door’s loud thwack and my jingling keys do little to rouse Toby who, judging from snores and grunts, is still covered in his towel fort atop the living room’s sagging Victorian hexagonal chair.

Outside, typical characters are performing their morning scenes – the jogger clop clop clopping along the pavement; the flyer stapler bash bash bashing one more concert announcement into an already thickly layered telephone pole; the neighborhood druggies hack hack hacking up partial lungs while lighting up in alcoves where the faint morning light still hasn’t penetrated. Mini trash tornados circle and die in the street, and the sky threatens a morning shower. Joanna sniffs castoff food wrappers and smashed jalapenos outlining where the late-night hot dog vendor set up to entice drunken revelers to convalesce with compressed, meaty bliss.

Back inside, filtered light warms the apartment ever so slightly, and the dogs settle down with their post-breakfast treats while I indulge in a few cups of hot cocoa – my recent, somewhat successful attempt at limiting my coffee intake. The expected chocolatey skim forms on top, which once stirred vigorously, settles into the thickened mixture swirling around in the jadeite mug. I sip and gulp, and then rub my favorite geranium’s rough leaves – letting their peppery fragrance kick me in the nostrils.

It’s one of those mornings framed for reflection.

We’ve packed a lot into the last three years: we moved across the country; I started a new career; we moved out of our first CA perch, our tiny Koreatown studio, for our WeHo digs; we adopted Toby, then Pearl; Andy got another job; we got marriedPearl passed away; Andy got a promotion; we moved to Seattle; I finished my manuscript, and got a new job; we adopted Joanna; Joanna broke her leg; we decided to stay strong and lean in.

And now, in a few months, we’ll be moving again – but this time, only a stone’s throw to a larger place where we can let ourselves root in Seattle’s ever damp soil and save up for a house. We’re re-learning to focus on the good bits that sustain us – whether it’s overfilling our apartment with greenery, or enjoying the fact that Toby and Joanna have finally bonded.

A greenery-filled house is a happier house

They've bonded!

And acknowledging that life is a string of unscripted, unknown experiences, from which we can either choose to grow or wilt.

Chill the F*ck Out

You can’t breathe these days without offending someone. Even if you’re not gobbling down a garlic-onion bagel slathered with three-day-old, clove-laden lox.

Our tech-centric lives have transformed us into sponges, absorbing absolutely everything that spills out of the television screen, off the sidewalks, through conversation – even from eavesdropping. There’s very little that we don’t soak in on a daily basis, about which we subsequently have a complete, utter meltdown that’d rival a one-month-old screaming about diaper rash. For instance, I’m sure anyone with kids probably just blew a gasket because I clearly don’t have kids, so how dare I even joke about such things. But there’s a fairly reasonable way of counteracting this overwhelming, omnipresent rage.

Take a hearty, deep gulp of chill-the-f*ck-out cocoa topped with a dollop of perspective.

Whether you’re getting ready to hit “Enter” on yet another reply to a thread from your high school chum who recently posted some racist, homophobic, classist, transphobic, misogynistic crap on Facebook, or your gaping maw is about to tell that hipster that their skinny jeans are too tight, just don’t – it’s not worth it.

I say this as a pretty high-strung person who, for most of the last decade, defaulted to anger and angst rather than letting the gross, trashy parts of life stay in the can where they belong. That junk can’t bother you if you leave it be. So don’t revert to being some silly dumpster-diving raccoon reaching for a deliciously old morsel to quench your momentary appetite for drama.

I don’t know about y’all, but my spongey self is saturated. Rather than continuing to bloat from all the stuff pouring into my consciousness, I’m starting to French-press the bejesus out of my life – letting only the good, strong, sustaining bits stay in; everything else can pass through my mental sieve and get poured into the garbage disposal.

This slurry of negativity has been swirling around in my mind long enough, completely inundating the things that I felt proud were parts of me. My artistic side has been eclipsed, my writerly bent completely blocked; but instead of doing something proactive about any of it, I’ve just channeled more negativity – attributing my gradual loss of grip on those things to the inevitability of aging.

I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet, though. I’m not 100. I have plenty of life left to resuscitate the right things – choose to clutter my mind with beauty and inspiration, not depressive minutiae, the flotsam and jetsam from my workdays.

Because life is a lot more enjoyable when you chill the f*ck out, and let the good in. Or so I’ve found.

Dear Slighted Millennials

Dear Slighted Millennials,

Hi. I guess I could be considered one of you.

*Fist bump*

I couldn’t help but notice yet another one of your adjective-laden op-eds flooding my Facebook feed – although I guess it’s better than one of those BuzzFeed articles about the Top [insert numeric] Ways to [Enrich, Worsen, Waste…] Your Life. I applaud your political activism and how you thread it through your appropriately angsty social commentary – especially the parts about thanking your forebearers for the sociopolitical inroads they paved to your slightly less stressful life’s doorstep, right before you kindly tell them to fuck the fuck off.

I understand your rage at everything. For most of my twenties, I lived out of several motels whilst working my way through the Great Recession as a shovel bum, returning home to my mold-covered basement apartment long enough to tabulate another tragically paltry paycheck, pay for the rest of my Master’s degree, and buy canned soup. I did all that and then completely changed careers because there was nothing I wanted to do less than what I was doing, even if I had a Master’s in it.

The world often seems to be in shambles. And it doesn’t help that the lunchbox you carried around in 1987 is suddenly in a vintage shop window and you’re left alone bracing against the cold wind, staring into a puddle, wondering where your life went.

So when a presidential candidate full of amazing ideas and outlooks and ideologies starts inching into the limelight, espousing all of these life-changing notions that’ll transform America’s tattered, sweat-stained polyester-blend fabric into locally-sourced, free-range cotton as soft as a hamster’s belly, your awe is well placed.

*High five*

But I have to wonder how this politician is any different from the rest. I mean, sure, he’s supposedly the antithesis of everything we associate with a run-of-the-mill politician: a certain slimy, easily corruptible, fickle so-and-so. Who knows, maybe he’s none of those things. Or all of them deep down. All I know is that he seems like a nice enough guy trying to change America for the better. And I agree with 98.9% of what he’s all about. I, too, think our country needs a political face-lift.

*In sync booty shake*

IN SYNC. Not NSYNC. Jesus. Fucking Millennials.

Where was I?

OH, right.

All that to say I’m bunkin’ with The Hillz. For now.

(Oh, c’mon, you #feelthebern. I can come up with something equally as bizarre, sans sounding like I have indigestion or a problem down there.)

I could start defending myself to everyone on the street, each individual user of The Internets, spout off statistics about the feasibility of his plan on this or hers on that to the old high school friend I scrounged up on Facebook even though I’m sure they’re a racist, misogynistic, homophobic asshole. Because that seems to be what we’re supposed to do these days – bait and bite hard, unfriend, friend again, vow to leave the country and unfriend everyone.

I’d rather just laugh, really. And suggest that instead of all this silly infighting, we agree on one thing: Whether you #feelthebern or believe #thehillzhaveayes, let’s all circle up on November 8th, sing Kumbaya, and vow to never vote for a Republican. They cray, y’all.

Kisses,

A Disaffected, Slightly Amused Gen Yer/Millennial/Whatever I Am

Leaning In

Life is weird. If being an autonomous agent in this world teaches you anything, it’s that. You can plan and scheme and outline your entire future – or even just your morning – and everything can change without pomp or circumstance, without some clouds parting or an internal voice telling you “This is your moment.”

Things change. People change. We get older and more tired. But something that few of us leave behind fully is a taste for life, for the sweet, sometimes unexpected bits sprinkled into our daily existence like toppings over ice cream. And right as you’re squaring your jaw, drawing a hard line, you break into that bizarre, alien sweetness – an experience that, again, throws you off balance just enough to make you pivot and change course.

This past year has been full of heartache and changes. We’ve said gut-wrenching goodbyes, moved from a desert to FernGully, had plenty of hiccups, and started all over again.

As freeing as moving here and there can be, I’ve found myself waiting for that inevitable push elsewhere, using a bad day or passerby’s glare to fuel some choking ember into an inferno – raging and demanding change, being that ostensible evidence that I belong somewhere else.

Not long after we rooted in Seattle, we both started having misgivings. Perhaps we succumbed to Seattle’s permeating dampness, its seemingly impenetrable gray skies; or maybe we just needed something in the world around us to reflect our internal dialogue. So, yet again, we vowed that perpetual motion was the only way out of this overwhelming, emotionally draining welter. And where better to funnel our efforts than toward the place where we first met, where we first made a home together – on the other side of the country.

Returning to a place you consider home almost seems a given these days. Or maybe it’s just a product of getting older, realigning priorities – all of those revelatory moments you witness onscreen and never imagine actually taking hold in your own consciousness, made audible by your two lips and shaky vocal chords. And for a while, we began to pave our road back to Raleigh, imagine house-hunting around our old haunts, remembering all of the goodness we shared with family – genetic and chosen. But, as I’ve said, life happens.

***

A few minutes into my 90-day review, I know everything is about to change. My director is leaving the organization, and I know with the utmost certainty that it’s only a matter of weeks before the other member of our dwindling department raises anchor and sets sail too. I swallow. I smile. I say all the things a professional would – interjecting humor where necessary, blunting cynicism with sarcasm.

And so the shift begins. A week after she leaves, my other teammate departs, as I’d suspected he would. So, it’s down to me.

This is it. There’s no point investing my time or energy here. 

But the departmental chaos reveals a chance to propel up the ladder a few rungs faster than I’d imagined. Coupled with a few other wrenches that’ve been thrown our way, we have a lot to consider, more than a few decisions to make.

***

It’s easy to run away; it’s harder to stay, absorb, learn, grow as much as you can, and have confidence that, no matter what, you’re doing something because you want to – not because you have to, or because it’s what’s expected at this point in life.

So, we’re leaning in. We’re staying in Seattle – for now.

We’re acknowledging that where we are today is incredibly different from where we were in May, when we first set foot in the Pacific Northwest. And that’s a good thing. And we owe it to ourselves to keep making it as good as possible, to let the ink dry on this latest map we’ve scribbled down before wetting the quill again and drafting a new one.

For me, the scariest character in all of our conversations has been that familiar specter – the great and powerful Unknown, which gobbles up fear and optimism, dreams and nightmares. And we never know if what we entrust to it will ever manifest down the line in some guise – vindicating or damning us.

But at some point we have to look beyond the paths we see ahead of us and take stock of what encompasses them – limitless beauty and opportunity and, yes, that terrifying, ghoulish Unknown bathing in a soup of ambiguity.

Left, right, back, or none of the above?

You can yoke yourself to the trite saying “There’s a time and place for everything and everyone” – that when you hit some arbitrary number of years on this earth, you must fall in line.

Or, you can acknowledge that there’re lots of places, and time enough to do some exploring.

Helter Shelter

While stamping down the sopping, saturated potty pad into the small, overflowing garbage can, I wield a tomato red bottle of pet cleanup spray – the label boasting an ability to remove pet pheromones to better prevent repeat accidents. I coat the X-pen’s lined floor and, for safe measure, the edge of a nearby blanket. Then channel The Karate Kid.

Wax on. Wax off. Wax on…

A minute later, there’s a new pad down, and the general area around Joanna’s temporary lair smells less like fermented urine and more like fermented urine overlaid with disinfectant.

Three minutes later, a steaming turd archipelago dots the pristine pad and freshly cleaned blanket.

Opposite her deposit, Joanna stares up at us through the pen’s mesh sides – her marble-like eyes darting from the offending nuggets to us, her five-o-clock shadowed saviors.

Andy puts on another pot of coffee, and I retrace my steps back to the cleaning supplies, my eyes heavy and knuckles dragging ever so slightly.

***

Adopting a puppy isn’t something you can do on a whim and expect it to just work out. Which is why, being the planners we are, Andy and I discussed every possible scenario, every sacrifice and associated cost, and asked ourselves a billion questions before taking the plunge.

Is this the right time?

Is there ever a right time?

WiIl Toby resent us?

Can we handle a puppy?

Can Toby handle a puppy?

Do we have enough time to devote to a puppy?

Is our apartment big enough?

Will it be harder to outrun zombies with two dogs instead of one?

Each round of cross-examinations ended the same way: we could handle it – and, after all, we’d planned for just about everything.

But life often has a way of dropping trou and taking a nice hearty dump on even the best laid plans.

***

Walking into the shelter, we have a very short list of dogs we want to meet – and one is Joanna. The narrow corridor is flanked by kennel runs, and very few dogs are out enjoying the unseasonably arctic winds. Midway down, we spy Joanna’s picture and, like kids in a candy store, press our noses against the plexiglass and ooh and awe at the lithe, tan Chihuahua mix curled in a bony ball on her bed. A few moments later, while rubbing her belly and having one-on-one time with her, we know she’s ours. But we still want Toby to meet her, and we’ve intentionally left him out of this preliminary screening so that we can get a sense for her personality sans furry counterpart. So we go to put her on hold, with the familiar mixture of exhilaration and anxiety flushing our cheeks.

“Oh, actually, we can’t hold puppies. And we don’t require them to have an intro with other dogs in the house.”

While I bite my tongue about this seemingly big ass hole in their adoption process, Andy gives me the WE CANNOT LOSE THIS DOG look – mostly because three people kept hovering outside Joanna’s kennel while we engaged with her, all of whom seemed extremely interested.

It's Joanna time!

But what about Toby? We fret for a few minutes before coming to the realization that Toby will disapprove of any new addition that isn’t a glazed ham or personal pan pizza.

And after the adoption contract is signed and stowed in the car along with Joanna, and we get home, Toby doesn’t disappoint.

Sibling rivalryLike any big brother, he’s skeptical, but completely intrigued. Until Joanna makes a beeline for the overflowing toy basket, her playful growls most likely translating in dogese to something along the lines of “I’m gonna play with your toys now! BU-BYE!” And he’s all, “OH, GURL. NO.”

We observe the typical dominance dances with baited breath, and are relieved to see that, as we’d hoped, Joanna is ingratiatingly submissive. We mop our brows, and keep reassuring both of them and, quite honestly, ourselves.

This is our family now. We’ve got this.

We look at each other over the pups and smile.

And then, like a leaky faucet, Joanna spritzes the floor, and doesn’t stop for the rest of the afternoon.

***

It’s pretty common knowledge that a new puppy translates to sleep deprivation. And we spend the next day pounding back coffee while making trips to the curb every 20 minutes. Little by little, we make potty training headway. We begin feeling invincible.

And then Joanna breaks her leg.

It’s one of those disturbingly slow-motion moments – watching as she launches herself off Andy’s lap, despite his buffering attempts, and her long-limbed body’s kersplat-thwack on the floor. And then, the yowls.

Oh, the yowls.

Ten minutes later, we’re sitting in our vet’s office cradling our shocked little monster, listening to the vet’s recitation of Joanna’s injuries and feeling like the worst pet parents in the entire universe. With a tractor-adorned cast as a souvenir, Joanna heads home with us and some heavy-duty painkillers.

Puppy painkillers - yay!

After another sleepless night, we’re sitting in another vet room listening to a speech about bone plates and surgery. Joanna’s broken ulna and radius have to be mended immediately, so we hand our little baby over for the night, head to the nearest big box pet store for all of the necessary recuperation accoutrements – including a massive X-pen corral since her cast makes crating even more uncomfortable – and reflect on the joys of puppy parenthood.

***

The next day, I leave work midday, snag Andy, and collect our broken baby. We get stuck in pre-Thanksgiving traffic hell; I wear my stress like a well-tailored sport coat, and curse the congestion – my knuckles gripping the steering wheel tighter and tighter with every inch forward we take.

But then I look over to the passenger seat where Andy holds our precious, dazed, drugged cargo, cooing things in her ear and rubbing her neck.

And I remember – We’ve got this.