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Together, We Remember and Fight

Andy watches Gwyneth Paltrow drive by in a Land Rover; I scratch my head and try to figure out how far off Christopher Street Two Boots actually is, and how long it’ll take us to order pizza once we finally get there.

Clearly, my stomach isn’t affected by star power. (Especially since Gwyneth probably hasn’t eaten a carb since Hush. Bless her heart.)

***

Soon enough, we’re powering through massive sauce-slathered slices and watching as hipster after hipster pours in for their daily carb fix. And as we look out at passersby puttering along sidewalks, I imagine how much this street has seen, especially with our next stop just a few blocks away.

Two Boots pizza...mmmm...

We finish up, and join the hive buzzing outside. As we remark at a particular mo’s great cowl neck sweater, the air chills and the remaining sunlight filters behind 1 World Trade Center.

A fading view

We turn a corner, dodge some taxis, then walk up to Stonewall Inn. Surprisingly unimposing, Stonewall’s façade is bathed in light, its slightly tattered rainbow flags fluttering in the breeze.   

It still has the BamPow! effect it did when I first saw it earlier this year. And I almost recite exactly what I did back then: So, this is where it happened.
 
***
 
 
To most people, this building isn’t anything special—just another bar with poster ads featuring scantily-clad, ripped models. The same can be said for Christopher Street Park across the way, minus the poster models (on most days, I mean).
 
Stonewall Inn

After the requisite pictures, we venture inside. And that’s when I feel the “something else” about this place. No, it’s not the booze. It’s the ambience, the tacit understanding that these boards, these walls, are hallowed ground to many LGBT Americans.

We sidle up to the same bar where generations of LGBTs and prominent civil rights figureheads initiated romantic conversations or decided to take a stand.

With two cosmos in tow, we leave the tab open and seat ourselves in a dimly lit corner.

Stonewall cosmo, of course

A trio of men carouse at the bar, and two women on a date navigate the awkwardness of ice-breaking conversations. The older bartender surveys the bar with a measured, seasoned eye, and strikes up conversations with a few nervous single guys sitting at the opposite end of the bar.

There’s no pretense. No expectations. Just unencumbered joy.

And I imagine this to be the atmosphere in 1969 when the police attempted to quash this haven and imprison those who railed against them. But thanks to those brave figures, Andy and I, along with all the others, are able to enjoy a drink or two, and absorb the history through osmosis.

***

Framed photographs along the wall depict various scenes before and after the Stonewall riots—the tension and catharsis are palpable.

“I wonder where these people are now,” Andy muses. “Especially that one.”

He points to a young guy seated on the steps of the neighboring business front. With his gaze fixed on something far away—perhaps processing the moment—he pushes his blonde hair behind one ear. Above him, two women share a celebratory kiss, and three men wrap their arms around one another, each smiling directly into the camera. In the foreground, a brunette with glasses smiles wryly, his eyes betraying a mischievous air.

Remembering Stonewall

Looking from the photograph to the present scenes unfolding before us, I think how little has changed. But how everything did.

How one event can propel others forward, out of societal shackles, into action. How ardently and passionately our forbearers have fought for our rights, and how far we still must go. How indescribable it is to have Andy by my side, in a place like this.

Knowing that, in a different time, we could’ve been sitting there, reflecting on our respective days, when the door crashed open and batons started flying. Knowing that there’re still heinous crimes committed against people just for dallying in front of such an establishment.

Knowing that we have the ability to craft a better future for a gay couple who, years into the future, will sit exactly where we are and ruminate about the people who’ve been seated at this table.

And, with hope, will thank us, too.

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Timing

Time is such a crazy little critter.

Everyone who’s ever had to get up at the ass crack of dawn for work, to celebrate an anniversary, to declare someone dead gets it.

And while I’ve always thought of myself as being pretty good about time—real life time and gay time (gays, you know what I’m talking about)—it’s shocking how quickly it can get away from me, slip between my mental frames.

Then slap me across the face two weeks after my last blog post. (Yes, I know I’m a slack blogger.)

***

It’s jarring how suddenly time can collapse yet encompass innumerable life experiences; it boggles the mind how chocked-full those collapsed lapses can be.

This thought was sandwiched between a few others as Andy, his sister Lindsey, and I commuted back from a whirlwind Thanksgiving trip to their hometown of Pleasantville, and a jaunt to New York City.

Sure, the bracketing thoughts may have been a little catty given the expected stress-fueled spats that bubble out when three adults are packed into a Prius, along with all necessary accoutrements (and by “necessary” I mean two gays over-packing and attempting to convince Lindsey that there will probably be enough oxygen left in the backseat for her to breathe); are exhausted by idiotic drivers (driver of the Honda Odyssey, who couldn’t quite grasp the concept of cruise control, I remember you); and are forced to use rest area porta potties due to the “mass volume” of users (while blinding our minds’ eyes against the disturbing mental images associated with using “porta potty” and “mass volume” together.)   

So, despite the fact that Andy and I were fuming over something that now escapes me, I still couldn’t believe where I was and how fortunate I was to be there.

***

A year prior, I’d been quietly ruminating about why it was that I had so many wonderful friends and family surrounding me, but felt I was missing out on something great.

Six months later, when I was stressed, exhausted, smelly, and, quite literally, a hot mess, I met him. The him him I’d be thinking about and telling myself I hadn’t been searching for over the past few years.

But there he was.

Just like that.

Him

He’d just dropped into my life.

And I cringed about how the trite yet apropos “when you least expect it” cliché happened to be.

***

Nearly six more months later, Andy and I have blown through the honeymoon period, navigated the consolidation of two households, argued here and there and made up, met the parents, and settled into a life together that’s only gotten more development, more grounded, and more rooted every single day.

Even still, it’s hard for me to imagine how delightfully quickly my life has changed.

Sure, time is still a beast, and there’re plenty of friends and family with whom we’d both like to spend more time. But we’re still balancing the personal with the professional, and trying not to let our extreme commutes and stressful jobs get the best of us.

And acknowledging that it’s okay to take time for ourselves, to grow our relationship more and more without guilt.

And knowing that our friends and family understand this, and love that we’re happy.

Because for so long, time was an enemy—reminding us of what we didn’t have. Now, though, it’s cherished, crystallized in moments along a path to an unknown future.

And while time isn’t infinite, and we never know what’ll happen next, we do know that we’ll each have a hand to hold along the way.

Copilots

That we’re in it together.

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T is for…

Every year around this time, everyone starts cramming in gym sessions in the hopes that those extra crunches and lunges will somehow offset the caloric intake of Thanksgiving dinner.

They think about the long commutes to their destinations, what dishes to prepare, and try to figure out how in the hell they’re going to distract their crazy grandmother long enough to snatch away her hoarded painkillers and substitute them with multivitamins.

***

But rarely do we stop and consider that (1) Thanksgiving is a celebration of the upheaval of Native American life-ways, courtesy of colonists and their smallpox blankets; and (2) Clichéd attempts to be “good people” shouldn’t be reserved for the holidays.

You shouldn’t wait to donate to a food pantry. You shouldn’t carelessly throw your money into a shiny red bucket and feel the weight of your good deed lift off your shoulders (because you just funded bigots). And you shouldn’t forget that plenty of people don’t have homes or friends or any support to lean on during these socially-reinforced, absurdly ritualized holidays.

Now, I’m the first to admit my guilt for doing all of these things. (And that I’m a Scrooge.) But after realizing that The Salvation Army is severely anti-LGBT, I began ignoring their ringing bells.

And when I’ve celebrated difficult times in my life with friends by my side, especially when I’d isolated myself to such a degree that I didn’t return home for the holidays, I realized how important each of them is for keeping me going 24/7—even if I don’t touch base with them for weeks or months. 

Just knowing they’re there means the world.

Knowing there’re people out there who’ll do the right thing has a profoundly comforting effect. And it’s even more comforting to know that that effect is like a stone cast into a pond—the subsequent waves ripple through your life, informing your decisions.

***

Had I not had parents who were determined to show my sister and I how life isn’t fair, that it isn’t balanced, it would’ve taken me much longer to learn how to pay it forward.

Until I saw unexpected joy flash across the faces of kids who didn’t think they’d get anything for Christmas; until I understood the value of sitting and talking to a blind woman, and letting her dog feel the grass outside instead of the scattered, waste-stained newspapers it used; until I watched a curmudgeonly nursing home resident abandoned by her family crack a smile at a pack of Reese’s and a carton of Marlboro Lights—I didn’t truly comprehend the enormous responsibility we each have to extend a hand and do something good.

***

This time last year, I was prepping a turkey for the first Transgiving at the LGBT Center of Raleigh. Over that year, the Center had become a home base for me, and had been the primary reason I’d moved to Raleigh. Getting involved—giving back in some small way—brought together a family of good people. Up to that point, I’d never known anyone who identified as trans, and I quickly realized how uninformed I’d let myself become.

While I’d been obsessed with gay male subculture and understanding everything I’d let myself believe it to be to about—butch, fem, top, bottom, vers, bear, twink…—I’d let myself forget the very thing that united LGBT individuals during the Stonewall Riots, that bonded them in a way: community.

So often we jabber about the LGBT community, like it’s a cohesive whole. But let’s face it: the “T” in LGBT is always tossed to the back. The “T” is never at the front. Because being “T” isn’t as seemingly trendy or cool or understood as being “L” or “G” or “B.”

***

But this time of year, there’s a reason why TDOR begins with a “T.” Today, on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we—the TBLGs, the allies—remember every trans or gender non-conforming person who’s been killed this year for being themselves.

For trying to live their lives to the fullest. For giving themselves a shot. For trying to educate others. For simply trying to be.

For searching for companionship and support in a sometimes cold, unforgiving world.

Every year, TDOR reminds us just how callous and hateful people can be, and how easily ignorance and fear can destroy us.

Can blind us.

Can lull us into complacency.

Can keep us from giving back.

TDOR 2011, We remember
But we also have reminders of just how wonderful we humans can be to one another.

***

So, last year, after the first Transgiving ended with smiles, laughter, and joyful tears, we surveyed the mountains of food and did what made sense. With our cars loaded down, we distributed as many plates as we could to those who didn’t have a home to go to, who didn’t have a friend to chat with or a shoulder to lean on.

And as we emerged empty-handed from one dark park, I realized that it didn’t matter that we were trans, gay, lesbian, bi, queer, straight.

What mattered was that we were human.

That we tried to share that humanity.

Even a little bit.

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Bonded, James Bonded

Okay, so I already wrote this post once. Then accidentally deleted it in a flurry of excitement surrounding the latest episode of The Walking Dead.

Worse yet, the episode sucked. 

The Post Lost Forever was much better, mostly because it was infused with the enthusiasm borne out of a day off work. So forgive this iteration’s jagged edges.

But first, let’s start off with the good news: Daniel Craig isn’t a bigot. Or at least I don’t think so. The bad news? Plenty of his fans definitely are. Well, at least some bubbas.

***

This past Saturday, I wasn’t focused on the movies or James Bond, and I certainly wasn’t contemplating the politics of cinema. With my parents leaving town, and Andy receiving the Parental Seal of Approval with flying colors, we figured a little downtime was in order. And seeing as how movies provide much needed escapist fodder in our post-work day routine, we thought something splashed across the big-screen was appropriate.

Double-plus bonus: it was late. That meant the crotchety seniors were well into bed, and the hormone-high tweens had been picked up in minivans hours ago, taking their overinflated senses of misunderstood selves with them, along with their manic texting, LOLs, and like-cluttered drivel. The theatre closest to our place was a magnet for drunken undergraduates, so we’d be free of them, too.

After driving to the far-flung theatre and paying an exorbitant amount for Sour Jacks and Mike and Ikes, we settled into the unexpectedly crowded theatre.

But I really didn’t think about anything other than the movie, and sharing it with Andy.

And Sour Jacks. Always Sour Jacks.

***

By the time Skyfall started, I’d eaten almost all of our candy, and knew I’d have to sit through a painfully long introduction full of Bond poses, shooting, blood splatter, scantily-clad women, and random explosions.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Before I knew it, Bond had gotten blasted right off the train (Spoiler alert! Or was I supposed to write that before I gave it away? Oh well.), and I halfway expected the 28 Days Later actress responsible for his big fall to be attacked by rage-fueled sacks of flesh as she sat contemplating her unfortunate gunnery.

Meanwhile, Judi Dench made some caustic remarks, because she’s friggin Judi Dench and can do that. And Bond fed a sex-slave’s bodyguard to a komodo dragon, had shower sex, and ventured onto a deserted island resort city—which, coincidentally, Andy had told me about the day before.

A bad dye job later, we were vis-à-vis with Silva. Everyone in the theatre seemed to like his eccentricities.

But the minute it became clear his hands were getting pretty homey with Bond’s inner thighs (a.k.a., the Holy Lands), the audience erupted with expletives, gasps, and slightly muffled epithets.

That’s the moment when Andy and I were ripped off the island and brought crashing back into the overstuffed movie seats—to reality. In such an unexpected way that I thought I was dreaming. But when I shot a glance to Andy, I could tell it wasn’t a dream.

More of a nightmare than anything.

It’s not that I’m afraid of the dark. Just what lurks under its convenient veil. And, in that moment, I thought of the rash of very public shootings and violence earlier this year, and how easily nighttime and a generalized mob mentality can become quick bedfellows.

That’s where I hate to be: the edge—on it, wondering when I’m going to be reminded of my slight difference, and by whom. And I hate the feelings of helplessness associated with that liminal position. Knowing that, if I say anything—go right over the precipice—I’ll be putting more than myself in jeopardy.

So we took it.

In darkness.

In silent solidarity—bonded.

And sat as our movie experience was derailed, unbeknownst to those surrounding us.

***

And then we watched as a victim of the sex trade—having been bound and tortured—was shot in the head.

The response: nothing.

Not even a gasp.

Clearly, the majority of our lovely audience preferred rape, imprisonment, and misogyny over the slightest hints of homoeroticism. (Which reminded me why Romney/Ryan won NC. But I digress.)

And while I’m sure the loudest objecting bubbas pitched tents with every rub of Silva’s hands, I couldn’t help but become more embittered about the double standard LGBTs still face—how any sign of affection is perceived as an explicit display; how every exchange is suspect; how everything we do is thrown before voyeurs, who are afforded the ability to pass legislated judgment on our lives. Who take our lives in their hands and play with them.

Or end them.

Do I care about straight people showing affection? No. Would I have been equally as distressed to see the Bond-Silva exchange transpire with two opposite-sex actors? Yes. The principal elements are Bond’s captivity, and Silva’s insinuations of Bond’s imminent death.

Is there a sexual overtone to the whole scene? Sure. When isn’t there with captivity, regardless of the players’ biological sex?

***

So, as the rest of the movie blurred by, and Skyfall fell into a fiery heap, I focused on the little things.

Like how Bond joked about Silva’s hands, and didn’t care about the villain’s sexual wiring.

Like how he focused on life and living over everything else.

Like how we all get shaken and stirred.

But it’s what’s left that counts.

Shaken, but delicious.

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Like I Wasn’t Going To Blog About Last Night

As I stress ate my grilled cheese sandwich and pile of fries, and watched the polling results with Andy and his sister Lindsey, I felt a numbness blanketing my mind.

And it wasn’t my first drink.

Election Fuel

It was the weight of the evening, the suddenness with which the past year seemed to come crashing to the fore of my mind, pushing everything else out of the way and demanding my attention.

But I had plenty of company.

Instead of the usually deafening conversational buzz, our favorite haunt was filled with quiet murmurs between patrons, each of whom sat rapt, their eyes glued to the small television hanging over the bar. But when a key state went blue, cheers erupted and drink orders soared.

The energy only increased at the LGBT Center of Raleigh, and plenty of us began to feel confident that the country was going to continue in the right direction, not be lulled into some comatose state by a pathological, self-aggrandizing liar and his misogynistic henchman.  

But the night was wearing on, and my second drink began tapping my stress-filled mind on its shoulder, asking it why it wasn’t in bed.

Still, the three of us refused to go to bed without knowing which way the swing states swung. So we left, side-stepped an opossum trudging down the sidewalk, and settled in at Lindsey’s.

Before I knew it, Rachel Maddow was silencing a commentator to announce Ohio’s polling results. I was suddenly wide awake. I squeezed Andy’s hand.

And nearly crushed it when Ohio went to Obama.

Cathartic Exhale

That’s when I started to exhale–the first time in months. 

***

There were so many “what ifs” on both sides of the coin regarding the election’s outcome. If he didn’t win, what would we do, where would we go? If he does win, will the next four years see the country move toward a fair, more equal future for us all?

And there, onscreen, I had the first bits of proof—the groundswell of support for LGBT equality in three (maybe four) states; the strong fights against bigoted, state-authored legislation; the election of Tammy Baldwin to the Senate.

My exhausted ADD-wired mind could barely process it all.

But I did know that certain mental lists—“What to pack,” “What to sell,” “Where to move,” “What to do”—were now in a shred queue.

***

Still, with so much going right in the election, there were low points paving the way, and even after the polls closed. With the election sliding in Obama’s favor, others more gracious than I are asking that there be a restoration of respect—specifically, a hand extended back to the Romney/Ryan supporters.

Knowing that a hand most definitely wouldn’t have been extended had the election gone the other way, I couldn’t disagree more.

My position on Romney/Ryan supporters hasn’t changed; those people who voted for two men who wanted to make my life, my family’s life, my friends’ lives, and the United States worse can continue to stay away from me.

Despite the stress, this election forced people to be accountable, to show their true colors—reveal themselves for the closeted homophobes, racists, and bigots they have always been, but have been too cowardly to show without a white man of their ilk leading the charge.

It taught me that more LGBT individuals than I care to imagine must be grappling with internalized homophobia. Because I simply cannot fathom any other reason why any LGBT person would have been content watching their rights, their children’s rights, their basic human dignities torn apart by this would-be Republican juggernaut. And I refuse to think the economy or foreign policy or any other issue can possibly trump your life and livelihood, much less those of the people you love.

I learned that, while I love where I live, I can always return when more sensible folks are at the helm. When there’s no question if the state government I support financially and socially will respect me as an equal. When I don’t have to spend my free time fighting, fighting, fighting instead of living, living, living.

***

If nothing else, this election has opened a lot of eyes.

It’s shaken many people awake.

It’s shown the naysayers that we will not back down.

It’s shown that reason, truth, and respect count for something.  

Bright Future

And if I’m going to count on anything these days, it’s that holy trinity. 

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When Your Only Recourse To Bullying Is A Big F-You.

There have been a few moments in my life when I’ve realized my only recourse is to throw my hands in the air after washing them clean of toxic residue left by particular experiences.

I did after crying about the sting of unrequited love.

I did after deciding to leave graduate school.

And at 6:41 this morning, I did it again.

***

After two and a half years dealing with a constant barrage of hostile exchanges and unprofessional behavior in my office, I passed the threshold separating “Be the better person” from “Here’s what I really think of you.”

Once the tremors in my hands subsided, and the keyboard stopped smoking from my rapid typing, I exhaled for the first time in what seemed like 15 minutes. Onscreen was the end product of unmeasurable amounts of stress, anxiety, and anger.

It was the albatross loosened from around my neck.

***

I’ve had so many mentors in my life, each of whom has taught me the benefits of being the bigger person. Of following all professional channels to reddress workplace issues. Of taking the high road. Of invoking that voice of reason even when fear-mongers scream through bullhorns.

But it turns out today is not the day to do any of these things. Or be any of these people.

Today is when I face the fact that this horrible place has changed me. Has made me bitter. Has changed a part of who I am for the worse. Has made me realize I need to start healing, and stop tearing off the proverbial scabs and repeatedly licking my wounds.

Today is the day I send a response to the person who has made my time in this office absolutely unbearable.

[Name]:

Thank you for your email. It brings a few issues to the floor, each of which I’d like to address in detail. 

(1) If the — files are of such central importance, then I think they should be kept in your office, not mine, and in something a bit more appropriate than a rusted filing cabinet. Additionally, — has been mitigated for years, and while there is limited interest in it, I have yet to see anyone use these files since I’ve worked here; they take up space that is needed by the buildings team to process active projects. — has not been under the —‘s managerial purview in years. 

(2) There seems to be a double standard with regard to individuals moving office furniture at their leisure. Did you not switch offices without any prior approval? Did you ask everyone in the office if they would mind? The move you made was calculated and the implication clear-you wanted the “power” office in the facility. The cabinet I moved has been empty since — left, and its space is needed presently. As you mentioned in your email, there are plenty of other filing cabinets floating around —; we can always get one of those once a — is hired.

(3) You are not my — mentor, my supervisor, or my boss. You have no right to “track” my leave time on the hard copy calendar in the common area (which, by the way, is an OPSEC violation), and I do not want any of my PII on the —, on a phone list, on anything that is freely accessible by others inside or outside the office. Additionally, if you ever think I am faking an illness to avoid work or am doing so out of anger (e.g., after — left), please feel free to ask me rather than attempt to undermine my professional character. (By the way, I did in fact have pneumonia that settled in my lungs as bronchitis right after — left; I also just had strep throat, an acute sinus infection, two severe ear infections-one of which left me with slight hearing loss-and pink eye in both eyes a few weeks ago.)

(4) If we want to talk about curation, we should address the multiple projects —, —, and I uncovered in the back vault that have been inappropriately curated for the past eight years. Entire projects have been accessioned incorrectly; if I’m not mistaken, this is why you go to — prior to their final storage in this facility and/or at —‘s storage facility. None of the individual artifacts for the projects can be relocated should they need to be, and each of the catalogs is a mess. Additionally, the “database” you keep for the — component of the program is a Word document, not a database; nothing in it can be queried for data usage/calls. There is no real temperature regulation in the back curation area, especially since the door to the common area is kept open at all times. Also, it is a basic best practice not to eat in a curation space; it attracts bugs and drinks can easily be spilled, damaging documents or equipment. A milvan/conex does nothing to preserve the —; these objects are corroding, rotting, and molding in these archivally unstable storage containers. The — Disaster Plan was last updated in May 2002 (when I graduated high school). Each of these issues seems to be a more pressing one than berating me about the location of the — files.

Your email is symptomatic of the targeted harassment you’ve shown toward me since the hostile interaction you initiated earlier this year when no one else was in the office (re: my tasking). Quite frankly, I am tired of your scare tactics, your immature demeanor and attitude in the office, and your unprofessionalism. You have repeatedly shown systematic aggressive communication with attributed intent (e.g., intentionally leaving me out of buildings-related email traffic-e.g., the cupola thread-regardless of if I respond to the thread or am the POC); repetitious manipulation of work (e.g., your attempts to take the — webpage management from me; micromanaging buildings projects/inserting yourself into them when you are not the SME); nonverbal aggression (e.g., your refusal to communicate with me directly or acknowledge my presence; your distribution of Suicide Prevention Awareness cards to everyone in the office-even those not present-and intentionally skipping me; antagonizing me about furniture rearrangement that facilitates my productivity in my office); and social ostracism (e.g., asking everyone else in the office if they’d like to eat in the back and intentionally skipping me).

Former staffers and others outside this office share my concerns and thoughts on these issues, so I am not alone in this assessment; I am merely the only one left who has the courage to stand up to workplace bullies like you. Others who have “pushed back” against you and your behavior have met similarly unprofessional ripostes and treatment. I have to deal with harassment, bigotry, and generalized discrimination every single day of my life, so I know what it looks, sounds, and feels like. Everything that you do to undermine my abilities and professionalism in this office, and every way that you act toward me, falls within one of those categories. Your callous behavior is reprehensible, and I am tired of taking the brunt of it.

If you take issue with anything that I do in this office, I ask that you be professional and address it with me directly rather than revert to passive-aggressive emails after I leave the office. The fact that you cannot speak to me, or acknowledge my presence in the office on a daily basis, speaks to your unprofessional, disrespectful behavior that has long pervaded the office.

Respectfully,

Matt

***

Today is the day that my mind is clear.

My conscience clean.

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Nostalgic Trek[kie]

I nudge the Klingon Bird of Prey an inch or so closer to the USS Enterprise to make room for the mint condition Star Trek puzzle—still in the plastic!—and wonder if my DragonBall Z VHS tapes and action figures will fit on the same table.

It’s then, as I step back to survey the tableau, that I realize why I hadn’t lost my virginity in high school.

Sighing, I cross out the puzzle’s ten dollar price and scribble in five.

Then take stock of my parents’ liquor cabinet.

***

It’s an oddly disconcerting feeling to pull out boxes from your parents’ attic and closets, haul them onto the front lawn, and know they’re not coming back inside. It’s not a holiday, and these aren’t temporary decorations. They’re “Everything must go!”

Especially that unfortunate Easter basket cornucopia overflowing near Laura’s New Kids on the Block beach towel.

Having been empty nesters for several years, our parents decided to downsize and retire to their hobbitesque, off-grid, semi-subterranean house in the Alabama woods. It’d always been a dream of theirs, as long as Laura and I could remember. But I’d always assumed it was a distant dream, never to be writ into the landscape, only in their minds.

But now, it was real. And it was time to clean out our childhood home, box up its interior décor and ship it out to The Shire or the front porch to sell.

Once I start packing a trunk with the essentials, I loiter among the remaining books, cars, and furniture stacked hoarder-style on the porch. I step over the rope tied between the columns, the sign Dad has taped to it reading, “If you can read this, you’re in range!”

Various stages of our childhoods and their associated recollections drip off table edges and pool in massive fifty-cent piles.

Trolls with homemade haircuts. Stacks of anime books. A crumpled My So Called Life poster. And then I trip over a pile of plastic marine mammals I’d begged my parents to order.

From a science magazine.

They’d been some of my favorites.

And had made cameos in the play session that ended my childhood. 

***

It’d been a hot day in the Serengeti, and plenty of creatures were hauling their dehydrated hides to the last watering hole for miles. Unbeknownst to them, though, G.I. Joes were camped along its banks. And they hadn’t eaten in days.

Tired, weak animals + famished G.I. Joes = massive carnage. Just as Ace and Chuckles attempt to ambush a dithering polar bear, the ground trembles.

An earthquake? How delightfully unintended! Especially since it’s not my doing.

But whose? Cobra looks pretty suspicious, eyeing a partially submerged seal from his dandelion perch. But it’s not Cobra.

It’s Le Sabre. My neighbor’s blue, airship-sized car.

I freeze, hoping that, like a T-Rex, Mr. Still won’t notice me as his car crawls down the gravel alley between our houses.

But he does.

And waves.

I stare. Mortified.

And that’s how my childhood ends: with a wave of a gregarious, geriatric neighbor.

He drives on, and I look back down at the mud hole and see a bunch of toys. Toys for which I’m now too old.

I’ve been spotted. Playing. Like a kid.

Sure, my parents have seen me splash around in the same mud hole on countless occasions, but they’re under parental obligation to let it go. Now, I’m exposed.

And that just won’t do.

I stoop, gather everything, and clean it off before walking back inside.

I quietly close my bedroom door and begin parsing my collections. Every last toy is packed into spare containers with little fanfare. In one box, Micro Machines and Matchbox Cars. Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys in another. All plastic animals in an old laundry basket. Pound Puppies, a Cabbage Patch kid, a generic Teddy Ruxpin, and a Care Bear stuffed into garbage bags.

With almost frightening speed and tact, I strip any semblance of a kid’s room from my walls, leaving an empty shell with former toys’ dusty outlines.

Mom passes by. Then walks back, looking perplexed.

“What’re you up to?”

“Just packing.”

I toss my Pog collection into a plastic bag, and shove it into a box.

She hesitates momentarily, then walks on.

***

Memories like these resurface as I run my hands along the mounds of stuff.

Laura’s creepy dolls remind me of the haunted houses we’d construct for one another, playing the lead character in our self-directed horror movies.

A broken Easter bunny candy dish summons the day Mom screeched, “You break everything I love!” after Dad propped his feet on the living room coffee table and broke off the bunny’s ears.

And then there’s the column Laura and I had given Mom for Mother’s Day, which we broke that morning while she and Dad prepped for a celebratory lunch at Golden Corral. The reddish wood glue we’d glopped onto the broken pieces seeped out of the cracks, and the column chunks thuded to the floor just as Mom came into the room to tell us it was time to go. She looked from us, to the column, then shook her head.

After that, even I couldn’t finish my imitation seafood salad.

I notice an object I’d previously dubbed “Santa Javelin” in the “maybe” pile. During the initial sort, Dad offered to chuck it out the back door like an Olympic disc-thrower.

“How far do you think I can launch this thing? To there?” he’d pointed, past the mud hole, toward our backyard pet cemetery.

Sensing her beloved decoration’s imminent demise, Mom ran from the living room, grabbed it, and reaffirmed, “It’s dual-purpose, though!”

Then proceeded to flip the pencil-shaped figure front-to-back, showing the Christmas Santa painted on one side, a Halloween witch on the other.

I failed to see the significance.

“But it’s fugly.”

“What’s ‘fugly‘?”

“Nevermind.”

***

Every little thing teems with memories, and we watch strangers cart each one off to new lives, to make new memories.

***

By the time I’ve filled the trunk with childhood relics, I’ve passed through multiple life stages–remembered the conflicts, the tears, the joys, the changes. And as I drive my trunk-o-childhood back to North Carolina, I reflect on how “home” destabilizes and reforms throughout life.

How it’s contorted by experience and embodied by the people we love.

So as I shift the trunk into the guest bedroom, I peruse its contents one more time, removing the Matchbox cars I’d so loved. The same ones I’d wheeled along my cheek as a tired toddler, my eyes growing heavier and heavier with every roll. The ones I’d returned to time and time again to escape into a world of fantasy.

Vrrroom!

I empty them onto the dining room table, carefully select the choicest ones, and pile them inside a massive vase, up to the rim.

But before I top the pile with one of my favorites, I thumb the green Mustang across the tabletop, listening to its metallic wheels squeak, filling the room with a nostalgic echo.

And I quietly hum.

Vrrrrooom!