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.

A Legacy

A shattered Guy Fawkes mask leers out from the murky puddle; bits of paper and food wrappers bob up and down, congealing with saturated, shredded cardboard into a slimy slurry that laps at the curb. Ahead of us, a crow hops across the street, its beak protectively clutching a shimmering condom wrapper.

Toby dances and shakes in the perennial mist that blankets Seattle’s November skies, and angles for a dried patch beneath an overhang. Across the street a vacant thrift store looms quietly – the antithesis of its former thrumming self, alive and full of hipsters squealing about some vintage jorts or acid-wash jeans. But now the door fronts are laced with graffiti, and tarp housing is rigged in one of its deep entryways.

Like crumbs, makeshift signs dot the sidewalks every morning – some quoting scripture, others soliciting drugs; but most are tragically direct: “Help.”

We’re a pretty fucked up species. We see the problems plaguing us and just increase our speed, damn the torpedoes, and charge ahead – as if pure obliviousness will actually do something proactive. We choose not to act appropriately, not to help.

Every single day, I do just that. To an extent, we all do. For me, it’s become an unfortunate side-effect of living in big cities. Throw in horrible world events, and I close myself off more, assume the worst in people – only letting random moments remind me that, at a base level, plenty of people are good.

***

It’s getting close to quitting time at work, and I glance at Facebook and notice something about Paris. So, in typical techdrone fashion, I simply Google “Paris” – nothing more, just a word, and boom; there it is: world news at my fingertips. My head feels heavy, and I turn to look outside. Cars pack the bridge near my office, and the wind-tousled trees bend this way and that. Still, I have a few hours to go. I feel trapped.

On my way home, I stop to grab some groceries and movies for the weekend. We need an escape from the week, and, as guilty as I feel for thinking it, an escape from the burgeoning Paris headlines. As I pull into the lot, I notice a man I’ve seen before. He stands by holding a familiar sign, with his faithful shepherd laying on a towel a few feet away.

I come to find out his name is David, and his dog’s name is Legacy. “Legacy” is actually an acronym, most of which I forget immediately; but I do remember “love,” “goodness,” and “caring” are sprinkled in. The duo lives in a battered Ford Expedition, visible halfway down the block. Cars pass by, and I can feel people staring. But I just keep talking to David. Legacy rouses momentarily, eyes me suspiciously, and then takes a keen interest in the bag of kibble sticking out of the grocery tote.

David and I continue our chat, and we discuss white privilege, social responsibility, and animal welfare. We just talk about life. And laugh.

“People think I’m out here begging and lazy and homeless by choice. But I work, and do what I can to keep gas in that.” He points to the Expedition. “And, you know, keep Legacy here safe.”

Completely disinterested, Legacy sets to licking his privates.

“People say ‘Home is where the heart is’ and my and Legacy’s hearts are tied together, so we can never be ‘homeless’.”

We start wrapping up our conversation. David nudges the bags behind a dying shrub, and I turn to go. But he interjects one last thing.

“You know, there’re three types of people I encounter. The ones who ignore me. The ones who stare right through me. And the ones who sort of get it and actually do something decent.”

He leans and extends his hand. I extend mine. And there, in a random parking lot, we two strangers become less estranged.

I don’t lose it until I get back to the car. Raw emotion floods out, and I lean my head against the headrest. The neon Target light blazes through the mist, drawing in hoards like a bug lamp. I snuffle some more, not really knowing why or for whom I’m crying. Maybe for David. Maybe for humanity in general.

We have a long way to go as a species – to recognize that we’re all pieces in a massive puzzle, that we all fit together. That every person, every being is valuable – that together, we accomplish amazing things.

All we have to do is remember that we can – bit by bit, hand in hand.

Into the Void We Go

I already know my response as I, head bent and focused on Toby’s trot trot trot along the sidewalk, keep the man in the corner of my eyes, passing him in the quintessential straight-walk-no-nonsense trajectory specific to Busy City Person – enshrouded in an impenetrable, soundproof shell.

And then Toby dead-stops, causing me to trip slightly and over in front of the man.

He chuckles a bit, matching Toby’s inquisitive gaze and following it to the pet food store a few feet away.

“He knows what he wants, huh?”

“That he does,” I smile, then scoop up Toby as politely as possible while conveying my no-time-to-chat-mustrun internal dialogue.

“Quick question?”

No. NO. NO.

“Do you think you can take something beautiful with you while helping a veteran?”

Per usual, my steely “city” persona is about as thin and easily cracked as an eggshell. I acquiesce.

“Sure?”

Clutched in his hand, stowed beneath his cracked, black leather jacket, are two conical, yarn-wrapped floral bouquets, not-so-freshly picked and browning around the edges – some stalks wilted in on one another.

“You’re welcome to take one. Anything you may like to donate will help.”

Now, it’s Toby who’s pulling in the opposite direction, while I stand rapt in attention – examining each, identifying flaws, and, ultimately, deciding on the closest.

“Alright. I’ll take this one.”

He releases it like a fledgling bird out into the world for the first time. I reach into my wallet and take out what I have and extend it to him, thank him, and turn, letting Toby pull me down the block.

A few streets later, Andy comes into view, and I present the bouquet. We talk about our days, sidestep sidewalk muck and the occasional condom or needle cap, and buzz ourselves into our building. I close the windows, shutting out the commotion; the shower clicks on as the stove heats up.

I sink into the quiet of the moment, watching the bouquet bob slightly in its tiny vase until the saturated yarn pulls it down. Paper-thin pink and white blooms droop over the rim and silently meld together into a fragile, translucent mask.

***

Our Seattle chapter has been an interesting one. There have been more stumbling blocks than smooth walkways, more choppy waters than calm ponds. And countless metaphors for describing how difficult certain times have been.

We’re planners, and we have plans. And we hope we can bind them together in such a way that they don’t wilt or fall in on themselves – that even if they blend together into something else unexpected, we’ll be able to find the beauty in it and celebrate regardless.

Seattle has served as a protracted back-to-basics course for me. I’ve re-learned to wake up, do my best, be less judgmental, not beat myself up, and be kind. The adages about age revealing certain life-truths are a dime a dozen, and they’re easily referenced in times of severe want. But as I’ve experienced here, age and time and perspective and experience can converge for what seems like a brutally intense length of time, but which is absurdly short in the permutations of the universe’s clock. And from within that temporal crucible, I’ve looked out and glimpsed a future that I believe can be brought to fruition. But to get there, I have to leave cynicism and pessimism with their beloved bedfellows, fear and negativity.

I have to actually try, fall flat, try and fail some more, and then stop trying so hard. I just have to keep moving forward, propelling myself with beauty, sincerity, and conviction – reintroducing myself to the world.

***

Later the same night, I imagine the man from the sidewalk somewhere else – standing near a busy, loud corner or riding on a crowded bus with dim overhead lighting.

But then I consider him walking out onto his patio – ivy dripping down from an overhead pergola; a spool of yarn atop a potting table collecting dew – his windows open to let in the laughter rising up from the mass of humanity an arm’s length away.

And I smile.

Cock of the Walk

A man and his Chow Chow scoot along the sidewalk past me and Toby, and turn the corner ahead of a man looking completely lost, lingering at the crosswalk’s end; his attire screams tourist.

“Excuse me,” he calls, sunlight glinting off his sunglasses.

I stop long enough to smile, arching my eyebrows in a quintessential question mark face as I do. His camera clacks against his belt, and I wait for the expected “best nearby brunch place” request.

Images of French toast dance through my mind.

“Where’re the best cruising spots around here?”

Cruis’n USA’s arcade theme music reverberates in my mind as I stammer for an answer. Thankfully, Toby wriggles out of his collar and I turn quickly to re-lasso him, gathering my composure and feeling the man’s eyes burn into my ass from behind his lenses.

“Um, well, uh. Probably The Cuff?” It’s up a block and over. But I don’t think they’re open this early.”

He looks expectantly. Clearly, my one recommendation is tragically paltry.

“And, uh, Purr is down there. And R Place is down around the corner. R, not O-U-R. JUST R.”

Sweet Jesus, let him be satisfied.

He considers these options. Toby pulls impatiently.

“So if I wanted to suck a cock, where would I go?”

Like a middle schooler, I giggle a little. His brazenness is commendable. But I just can’t wrap my mind around the question with any hint of seriousness.

“I’d try The Cuff.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

“Yup.”

He walks up the street. Toby and I keep going, taking a more scenic route back to avoid crossing paths again.

By the next block, I’m fully awake and begin passing restaurants that’re rousing ever so slightly. Sandwich boards advertising drag bingo clack together as weary hosts set them up on the sidewalk, the faintest echoes of rap and country issuing from the open kitchen doors before the hipsterfied elevator music takes acoustic hold for brunch.

I absorb these moments, file them away – the embarrassing with the mundane. And I project forward – anticipating the day when life is quieter, when the sheen of city life has faded a bit, and I find myself pulling weeds from our raised vegetable beds, mopping sweat from my brow as Toby investigates something enticingly smelly near the back fence before running to the porch to wriggle into a weathered chair where Andy sits reading.

Until then, I’ll keep sidestepping garbage, hopscotching over condoms, remembering that home is just around the corner.

***

Last week, I shuffled into my 31st year with a migraine. I pushed through the workday, thought about all the things I’ve wanted to get done by this day – considered the book manuscript collecting dust in our closet, the blank sketchbook pages, the unopened camera tripod – and returned home to the most beautiful flowers I’d ever received, and watched the remake of Cinderella.

Over the past few weeks, there’ve been ample opportunities to let those tabled interests backslide into a dark, forgotten place. And I’ve entertained such notions – it’d be so much easier to let them go and start over with something else.

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But recreating myself isn’t really an option – I’ve done that several times over the past few years: chased a sense of self and self-confidence that’ve always been there, that’ve stowed away in the back of my mind throughout the course of our westward trek. So I’m just left asking myself the same question over and over.

Why is it so hard for me to look at the lumpy clay of my life and know that this pile is the only medium through which I can mold a future?

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I guess the older I get, the harder it is to acknowledge all the things I want to be and do without balancing them with the reality that very few may actually come to fruition – regardless of energies and efforts I expend. But I guess it’s a good thing that my passions haven’t gone quietly into the night, melted into a comforting, emotionless routine. It helps remind me that they’re worth the fight – worth stripping away the lenses of apathy and malaise each day layers over them.

Achieving something easily rarely feels exhilarating or satisfying.

At the very least, hard, exhausting work and fewer pity parties will make me feel as though what I’m doing matters, that I’m working toward something larger than myself.

And while I don’t know what this 31st year holds, or what I’ll make of it, I can smile knowing, at the very least, how this sentence will end.