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.”

Forward-effacing

The long, expansive access ramp juts out from the midcentury rambler’s facade like a metallic tongue, beckoning me and the other circling vultures inside.

Nearing the front door, I hug the railing as a white-painted headboard bursts across the threshold, followed quickly by the footboard. The couple shuttling the bed frame makes their way to a battered Chevy Silverado as I scoot past the mattress and box spring leaning idly by the door.

Just inside, the hallway is plastered with signs reading “50% off!” My eyes dart to every fixture and shelf, each of which sports a peel-off orange price tag. This is the first estate sale I’ve ever been to, and I’m struck by its emotional heaviness.

I’m so used to seeing antiques and keepsakes wholly divorced from their context; but here, scattered among bedrooms and basement nooks, along patio edges and kitchen counters, everything is laid bare with trace amounts of significance. A couple stands behind a cash register in the living room, and I soon learn they’re part of an auction house group hired to sell off as much of the contents as possible, before the rest is donated to charity. They suggest I check downstairs in the basement, and I wind my way past other oglers coming in through the front door, and down a narrow carpeted staircase.

In the basement, tables upon tables are stacked with tools, drill bits, cigar tins, and every other sort of appliance part imaginable. I’m immediately overwhelmed by the smell of oil and leather, and make my way to an open patio door. Outside, three large wheelbarrows and massive metallic tubs are lined up like prize cattle. In a nearby shed, a few boxes of broken parts sit among an old push mower from the fifties; I briefly entertain the mower, but then counterbalance it with utility, and exit – flies swarming in the dank air behind me.

Back inside, I find a small dinette chair covered in oil-soaked slip covers, a handful of old stoneware pickling crocks, a lamp, a handmade rolling cart, and a hanging bamboo tea light holder – all of which I pile upstairs near the register.

On my last circuit around, I stop in the bedroom farthest from the center of the house. There, in a corner, stands a potty chair walker; the only other furnishings in the room are a partly deconstructed twin bed, and a Kmart shelf with old hat boxes piled on top. I don’t know whether or not I’m supposed to be in here. For a moment, it’s just me and the potty chair, and the bright pink shag carpeting.

I delicately remove one of the closest hat boxes, peering inside at the crumpled tissue paper forms shaped into half-spheres, having cradled spherical glass ornaments for decades; two lone ornaments wobble on the shelving unit below, residual glitter flaking off. Along the interior box rim, I can barely make out a name  – something with a “G,” maybe George.

Suddenly, one of the register operators pokes her head around the doorframe, and I shove the hat box back on top of the unit, give her a slight smile, and cast my eyes down to the shag carpeting – away from the walker in the corner as I shuffle out the door.

After paying, the auction group hands me a receipt, a bright stamp reading “Please Call Again” – ever the reminder of death and endings coming to pass. On my last trip out, I notice a mirror hanging by the door – reflecting so many memories and lives and futures as the past collides with the present, fleetingly out through the door.

With the backseat piled high, I adjust my rearview mirror and quietly assure the former resident that I’ll take care of all of their things, realizing in the same breath that everything on Earth is merely rented.

***

About 12 hours later, a liter of saline fluid drips into the IV plug at my wrist, the dancing light of early afternoon filtering between the slightly opened blinds. The room is dark and silent, and I fade in and out of shallow sleep, readjusting myself on the papery tarp cascading across the pleather examination room recliner.

Whenever a nurse or doctor comes in to check that I’m not dead, I rally both eyes to focus, and my speech to resemble something slightly more robust than a jellyfish slopping through a vat of peanut butter. Every single time I assure them I’m alright, and supplement my verbal affirmation with a thumbs up – the quintessential sign that things are not alright.

Later, in moments of hydrated lucidity, I startle myself awake reeling from the feeling of waking up in an alien place.

I catch my breath, and try to breathe.

In and out.

In and out.

In

and

out.

Life has gotten terrifyingly weird. No one really knows where they’ll be in a few days, a couple months, a year; everything I do now feels like it’s on borrowed time.

The week a KKK-underwritten demagogue was elected to the highest office in our nation, I was planning a fundraising party, and had to keep smiling. But It’s hard to be festive when you feel like your country is on the brink of collapse.

Even still, in the scary days ahead, we must rally and fight to build the brighter future we know is possible – that we’ve been fighting for all along. It’s hard to do – to push back. But, to pull out a Trekkie reference, “We will do what we’ve always done. Find hope in the impossible.”

Things will be getting worse before they get better.

And I must recognize every morning, that while I feel like I’m waking up in the middle of a dystopian novel’s prologue, I do have a voice, and can do what I can to rewrite the narrative.

“We’ll Get Through This” Isn’t Enough

If you’re like me, you woke up Thursday morning hoping the horror of Wednesday morning was just some sort of Inception-like nightmare within a nightmare.

You read through your newsfeed despite swearing off social media and/or human interaction for the next four years, and unfriended that one person you thought was pretty cool, but somehow turned into a raging insaneclownpants and voted against everything you stand for.

You were reminded that this isn’t just a nightmare; it’s a horrorscape, and everyone you care about is at risk.

***

Early Wednesday morning, a close friend called me from Raleigh. We vented, sat in silence, and vented some more.

“This is how fascism will take hold,” he said, trailing off. “And what’re we to do? They’ll control the House, Senate, and White House.”

After we hung up, I erased my blackboard’s grocery list and scrawled an escape plan: Save money; Renew passport; Research Canadian towns and pet travel laws. I wore all black and dusted off my LGBTQ activism pins; I had to get my armor on.

I ugly-cried most of Wednesday – at the bus stop, at work, in front of complete strangers. I joined other stupefied cohorts and rallied at City Hall, then protested that night.

And despite feeling exhausted, depressed, angry, lonely, and in complete shambles, I felt recharged by the energy of everyone around me; I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t curled into a ball. I wasn’t running. I was part of a crowd of strangers united by a common goal of letting our voices be heard, of refusing to be silent and complicit.

Wednesday night came, and I found myself back home, staring at my blackboard. My adrenaline pumped, and my eyes hung heavy. I took a deep breath and another piece of chalk, and added a line beneath my exit strategy:

Fight as long as possible.

***

I hope that the push against this vile dumpster fire will continue every single day – that we won’t let the spark and fervor of our rage die down.

We were on the cusp of a bright future, and we will not let it go. I still see it every morning, in every sunrise, and I have a painful longing for it. We must reach for it – our arms outstretched, fists clenched in solidarity. This is not about “being a sore loser.” This is about opposing authoritarian dominance of the most insidious kind. Being comfortable is a pastime; and if you are, you’re part of the problem. We should all feel a fire burning inside us – the drive to do something.

I am a white cisgender gay man in a liberal city; I’m afforded absurd privileges because of that, and I intend to leverage them every single moment I can – to speak and act up, and call out injustice against anyone this cadre of neo-fascists targets. I cannot and will not be silent – my friends of color, female-identified friends and family, LGBTQ family, and friends with disabilities deserve better.

It’s mind-boggling and terrifying how far this country may fall, and who may use this significant weakness to capitalize on our fragility. It’s going to be exhausting and heart-wrenching, but we must keep pushing this country in a progressive direction.

I will not flee. I will not hide. I will not change how I present myself to the world out of fear of persecution. I’ll have days when I’m tired, where I feel defeated.

But I will never be defeated. Because I will dare to be defiant.