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Fall

For days, I’ve watched this dead leaf hang from a mossy branch – suspended by a spider’s silken thread. The brittle carcass dances in the strong breezes, and I’m constantly left wondering when it’ll flutter along – when the thread will wrap in on itself just enough to sever the strong mooring it once had.

***

Fluorescent, sugary sprinkles captured the creeping morning light, sparkling on the black formica countertops like diamonds. I brushed them into a small pile, along with dog hair that’d fluttered up from the canine melee unfolding at my feet. Toby and Joanna wrestled briefly, posturing and provoking one another after gorging on breakfast, before tearing into the next room with a plume of dust motes in their wake.

I rummaged around in the refrigerator for the chilled cupcake box I stuffed in there the previous night, flipped the top, and selected the lone survivor – its icing hardened, the formerly moist, cakey body stiff and disturbingly crusty. When I bought the cupcakes, I was the teeniest bit buzzed, which ended up being a good thing since the cake blobs were apparently made of gold, and cost more than their weight in it. But I felt it’d be in poor taste – or worse, tacky – to show up to my second board meeting with nothing but a smile and a sweaty brow. As the evening had worn on, our business-centric conversations strayed into movie reviews while we nibbled on homemade bánh mì sliders and watermelon salad, watching the sun fracture behind the Space Needle and disappear completely beyond the mountains. Cloaked in darkness, the rooftop suddenly became a confessional; deep secrets and exhaustion-fueled confessions rumbled out. I’d pulled my knees up to my chest, appearing ball-like in my chair, and silently absorbed the commentary, realizing that I wasn’t the only one feeling a certain brand of loneliness that came with the setting sun.

With the battered cupcake dispatched, I walked out my front door without the slightest idea of where I was going. But I was fully aware that I was inappropriately dressed for the rapidly cooling evening – with its crisp breeze and intermittent raindrops. Still, I had to get out of the house. Even though it’s been my haven, my own genie bottle, it can also become intolerably claustrophobic – suffocating even. I felt like screaming down the street, spewing out all of the internal mess roiling through my mind into the uncompromising wind, feeling the burden lighten and disappear into the ether.

Tiny brick fragments from a recently demolished house crunched underfoot as I heaved up the sidewalk. Near the top of the hill, I quickened pace and crossed the street to avoid a youngster freshly weened from training wheels weaving wildly down the pavement. From the other side of the street, I glanced back as she pedaled past a rusty, pink bicycle leaning precariously against a cracked retaining wall adorned with faded chalkboard families; she smiled widely, even though no one was watching except me, the ill-dressed stranger.

I pushed into the wind, turning my head against the gusts. One yard over, a black cat lounged on a sun-dappled porch pier, and a young boy watched intently as a man replaced a window on a sprawling rambler; as if sensing the boy’s gaze, the man looked up and waved, calling something to the boy, who then laughed and disappeared into an interior room. But the man kept watching, the way a father watches their child: his gaze fixed, a smile creeping across his face – love disguised in the most mundane moments.

Without warning, my face flushed and heart raced as Rihanna’s “Umbrella” pounded through my earbuds.

…When the war has took its part
When the world has dealt its cards…

I had the strongest urge to sprint until I collapsed. But instead, I rolled my ankle off an uneven curb and stopped myself just short of falling into an old bottle garden. Hunched over, I breathed laboriously, calming my nerves and watching as the smudged, cracked glass cast a faded rainbow across the sidewalk, reminding me that there’s plenty of color in the world.

***

I’ve spent the morning doing absolutely nothing except staring out the window at the damned leaf. The sun is rising higher now, and the birds have woken fully, their songs drifting in and out of the thick bramble beyond the flower beds.

Suddenly, I decide I have to go. I grab my camera in preparation, and scroll through; the memory card is full, and I foolishly peruse the backlog, immediately regretting it.

I flick a series of switches, hesitate over the trashcan icon, and then press it until a message prompt flashes, reading “No images.”

I exhale, emptying my insides through the open windows. The sky’s blue hues seem deeper than they were moments ago, the air a little less oppressive.

I turn to go, but something catches my eye.

Beyond the open window, the silken noose somersaults in the breeze; the old leaf is gone.

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Ebb & Flow

Seattle’s hallmark fall mist filters down through brittle leaves to parched soil. From a single, mossy branch at the top of my plum tree, five purple orbs dangle enticingly – the last vestiges of the growing season.

Deterred by the empty fridge, my growling stomach convinces me that coffee and plums will work just fine for a Saturday morning breakfast.

But then, emerging from the shaded side of a rhododendron, an obese squirrel lazily lopes toward my bounty, sniffing at the decimated plum skins and pits he and his brethren have littered around the yard as he nears the tree’s gnarled trunk.

Animal instinct kicks in, and my disheveled fro grows menacingly – my own hackles. The dogs scatter as I run out the back door, dragging a paint-spattered utility ladder in my wake. The ensuing ruckus from the ladder clanging down the squeaky mud porch stairs startles my nemesis, freezing him midway up the trunk, his marble-like eyes fixated on the insane person running toward him, hissing madly.

He flees. I win. Breakfast is secured.

Back inside, I slice my spoils and drizzle them with honey. Coffee steams in my mug, and Joanna sits nearby, pulling at the stitching of my childhood Care Bear turned dog toy.

On the faded, leather-topped drum table above her, a shock of pink from an African violet’s flower catches my attention. Sometime in the night, its tiny buds sprang to life – blooming quietly, elegantly, fully; the cupped blooms fill with morning light – nature’s entreating communion chalices.

***

After my second cup of coffee, I decide to check in with the rest of the world and open my email. Just a week ago, I’d refresh my inbox every five minutes – hoping for relief in the form of a subject line reading, “Job Offer.” Now that that particularly exhausting, yet satisfyingly cleared hurdle is behind me, I’ve purposefully unplugged – looking skyward, reading, working outside, painting, and relegating my phone to my mental dustbin until I need it.

A property management company rep has responded to my email about altering the lease with a sterile: “We’ll need to ensure that your income alone can cover rent. Please send your most recent pay stub.” Although the response isn’t entirely unexpected, I’m suddenly awash with anxiety – my eyes darting around to freshly painted walls, out the windows to cleared planting beds and newly rooted shrubs.

All this could be taken away with one email, one turn of phrase.

I delete “Thanks a fucking lot!” and reply appropriately, infusing my message with the requisite saccharine subservience most tenants convey to avoid falling out of grace with their landlords. I know this is a business to them, and they couldn’t care less about all of the time, effort, and expense Andy and I both dumped into this heap; that there’s still some persistent electrical problem; that every morning I clear away cobwebs, courtesy of my arachnid roommates; that I’m constantly fighting against some natural element to reclaim this house of paste and popsicle sticks. (#FirstWorldproblems)

But as unintentionally hurtful as the message was, the subtext is nothing new. Just like everyone else, I have to carve out my own niche of existence and defend it.

To live means to fight. It’ll never be an easy ride, and that’s okay.

Living in this cute, rotting house, I’m constantly reminded of the transitory nature of material things. Years from now, will someone be sitting on this sun porch, scribbling away in a notebook or chatting over coffee with friends? Or will these walls and weathered floors be splintered into the earth and overtaken by ivy, or gone entirely and replaced with a McMansion block devoid of personality? I wonder where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing. If I’ll drive by one day to remember my new beginning in this little house.

Part of me accepting the inevitability of change is acknowledging that I’m constantly in motion, colliding with possibilities, obliterating obstacles while creating life, energy, and fulfilling moments in which I feel complete – as though I’ve curled up in my most threadbare, comfy clothes on my weathered sofa with a mug of hot cocoa in hand, watching a storm roll in through the open windows.

Letting the wind blast my face, the cool air filling my lungs – my mind marveling at life’s ebb and flow.

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Doh-si-DOE-si-Dough

After I throw an assortment of event envelopes, overstuffed folders, wire racks, and a styrofoam head into the backseat, I motion to my guest, letting her know the passenger seat is clear.

She opens the door cautiously, her Louboutin stilettos hovering over the floor mat for about five seconds, quivering as if she’s about to step onto a sheet of ice. My car reeks of cardboard, but her heavy perfume still manages to overpower it. I imagine the fragrance name being something like “Wealth Drops” – squeezed from the eyes of locally-sourced poor people for your pleasure.

Before I get in, I do a quick stretch-deodorant check; thankfully, my Old Spice is still holding up.

“Alrighty, off to lunch!” I chirp over-enthusiastically. Given that my colleague and I just got tasked with interviewing this prospective candidate for our boss over lunch, I muster everything I can to keep from entertaining my first thought, which is to bash my head into the steering wheel.

Her expensively manicured hands buckle the seatbelt over her Chanel blazer; she sits painfully upright, so much so that I quickly check to ensure I didn’t knock the headrest at a right angle. But when I look, I’m blinded by the diamond-encrusted Prada glasses, tipped down to her nose as she surveys the immediate area.

“So, this cafe isn’t walkable, then?” she curtly coughs.

“Nope. And you don’t really want to walk around this area. Even if you’re just running to Subway.”

I opt to leave out describing the pedestrian walkways around our building as “stabby.” After all, I’m trying to keep it classy.

Maneuvering through traffic, I try to keep the already awkward conversation moving while avoiding adding vehicular manslaughter to our lunch menu.

“So, what specifically about the position struck you – drew you in?”

I don’t really pay attention to her response, letting the canned question fall into an abyss-like chasm in my mind the minute it falls from my mouth. By the time she finishes, and I follow up with the expected, “Well, that’s great!” we pull into the parking lot.

While she and my coworker get out and grab a spot in line, I circle and search for a parking place. But after I park, I rummage through the pile of crap I threw onto the backseat to ensure the manila folder with my recently printed resumes and talking points for in-process interviews weren’t bent or mangled. Interviewing possible bosses while searching for a different job myself always makes for an interesting experience – and affords me the ability to hone my question-and-answer delivery.

***

Over lunch, the candidate picks at her spinach salad, coating the top with salt and selectively eating only the bacon from atop the leafy mound. The chunks of feta sprinkled among the bacon clash with the large pearls perfectly overlaying her blouse.

Rattling off a few more canned questions, I listen dutifully to her rehearsed answers and nod at the appropriate times, interjecting an occasional “Mhmm” or “Ah, I see.” Whether it’s because I’m full, or the day has gotten to me, I start to drift off. It seems I can’t escape the exhaustion that comes with interviewing – from either side of the table.

In my daze, I recall my most recent in-person interview, and fantasize about the possibility of leaving, of starting anew in a position where the “DOE” salary in the job announcement translates into something meaningful – either something close to what I’m currently making, or even a little more. Like most cities, Seattle’s liberal culture and attractive amenities come at an absurdly high cost of living – something that doesn’t exactly mesh with a nonprofit salary. What’s more crushingly painful is the fact that I’ve never made as much as I’m currently making, and am terrified that I’m trapped – that I’ll never escape, and be forced to spend my professional years in a gray cube.

The clang of our interviewee’s fork falling onto the floor snaps me back to the dull present. I mutter an, “Oh, I see…” in response to her latest name-dropping line, and glance at my phone.

“OH, we should probably get going!” I boom excitedly. I’m so ready for this misery to be over.

When we return, I rattle off an email to the hiring committee with my feedback, none of which is positive – the title of the email reading: No Hire.

After I hit Send, I hope that a prospective employer isn’t doing exactly the same thing to me.

***

Nearly a month later, I’m wrapping up the phone conversation with my soon-to-be new boss.

I hang up, and scream so loudly that Joanna freezes in place, and even sinks a little into the floor.

It’s happened.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll submit my notice. All the work-related nightmares of wrapping up one job and starting another will surely follow, but for now, I plan to cherish the excitement that comes from changing directions – to charting a new, needed path.

This year hasn’t been easy, but hopefully this is a turning point.

***

The HR lead facilitating my exit interview has hung her head no fewer than three times and moaned lowly, “ARE YOU SERIOUS?”

I nod, assuring her that every anecdote I’ve relayed, every painfully problematic Office Space-like bit of commentary is absolutely true.

She scribbles down everything down on her pre-printed questionnaire. With every statement, I feel a little lighter. When we finish, I return to my cubicle, exhale, and start pulling out pushpins, amassing papers into a large recycling pile.

I’d hoped this job would be the one; alas, it’s been everything but.

***

Today is my first day at my new job. Like a Kindergartner, I’m terrified, exhilarated, and sleep-deprived.

When I step out the door, I begin writing another chapter.

I hope it’s worth a read.

I hope I make a difference.

I hope I feel proud again.

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The Life Boat, the Clerk, and the Wardrobe

The uneven clip clop my saddle shoes make on the polished terrazzo floor reminds me of my lapsed chiropractor visits, the muscles around my spine slowly twisting themselves into hardened knots, strengthening my increasingly frequent tension headaches and off-setting my gait.

I advance in the security line, straighten my back, and grate my teeth into a smile while being wanded by a thoroughly exasperated guard. As he tracks up my arms and alongside my head, I expect him to ask if I have anything stowed “up there,” pointing to my hair accusingly like the Atlanta TSA agent I recently had the pleasure of meeting during a “random” security check. Instead, he tells me to take my bag and go.

Consumed with Pokemon capture, the information desk attendant acts completely annoyed as I trip through my directional inquiry and stutter “filing for divorce,” my mouth contorting around each loaded syllable.

“Sixth floor,” he grumbles, readjusting himself and screwing up his face at whatever invisible creature is hovering inside the courthouse foyer.

Exiting the elevator, I sidle up to the intake clerk’s counter, stumble through my introduction yet again, and present my manila folder plumped with signed paperwork – most of which is still dog-eared and covered with Post Its.

“You don’t need this form. Or this one. Nope, not this one.”

I collate the wasted trees as quickly as he pushes them aside, muttering something about “Just wanting to make sure I have everything…”

“But you do need to go get that form over there.”

He motions to a bar glutted with stacks of paper. Like Indiana Jones selecting the holy grail, my hand hovers over the form I surmise is correct.

NO, one more to the right,” he calls from behind the counter.

I pull out the over-copied form, the Arial font approximating that of a dot matrix printer readout. He highlights a few sections, recites what I’ll need, and asks if I have copies of the other forms.

“Yes, but I left them in my car.”

He looks displeased, but allays my fears of having to start this all over on another day.

“It’s fine. You don’t really need’em. Just be sure to write down your case number.”

The litigious vocabulary of this entire process throws me off at every turn. It seems so unnecessarily terrifying. He confirms that I have all of the correct paperwork, and asks me to fill out the form I just fetched. When I step away, I dart back and forth, trying to find a private space to scribble in the appropriate information. Clearly looking like a confused rabbit, I draw the clerk’s attention again.

“You know, you can just go wherever.”

Once I sequester myself inside a reading nook near the copier station, everything starts hitting me in waves. I start sweating, feel nauseous. I want to burst into hysterical sobs. I can’t believe this is all happening.

This is when it, quite literally, becomes official.

I fill in all of the personal information, reread the short form roughly 300 times, and paperclip it to the bulky wad affixed to my manila folder.

Crossing back in front of the clerk, I park myself behind two men at the Filing counter.

“So, let me get this straight. He’s got to file, er, serve this summons form to her. And the complaint? What does he do with that, and how does all that work with getting the property?”

Smiling kindly, the clerk gently nudges one of the ubiquitous signs forward, which reads: “Clerks cannot provide legal advice.”

“Oh, well. Okay, here. I see it here on the form.”

The younger man’s eyes glaze over as the older man’s continued recitation of each form’s title fills the enclosed area with a constant, reverberating din.

I stare hard at the floor, clutching the paperwork tightly across my chest – like a pilot has advised me of an imminent, turbulent water landing and to use my seat cushion as a flotation device. At the next window over, a lawyer makes small talk with another clerk who methodically stamps forms inside each dossier he places atop the counter; his pile is a mass of gray, cardboard-like files – like those that overflow in every Law & Order office set.

The two men stuff the last of their forms into a satchel and leave. The clerk scribbles a few things down on the other forms they left, tosses them into a massive pile, and motions to me.

“Next. You can step up here.”

“Yes, hi. I, uh, need to, uh, file these.”

Like the intake clerk, she assesses everything, recites the astronomically high filing fee, and starts rapping away at her computer. A moment passes, and a coworker comes behind her and asks for paperclips. I stare down at the box of clips in front of me, just out of her view, but don’t have the energy to say anything. They disappear for what seems like three hours, and I think about all the absurd time we waste in life rummaging around looking for useless shit.

She reappears with two large booklets, and typed up sheets.

“My goodness, these aren’t as high quality as they used to be,” she says, waving the booklets at me, the bolded titles of which read “How To Ask For A Divorce.” I almost interject with, “I think we’re beyond that” but, again, the energy just isn’t there.

She glances over the two packets, and then grabs a large date-time stamp with rotating numbers and letters, methodically aligning the ink-caked numerals with a long numeric string she’s reading on her computer screen.

And then she begins.

Stamp.

Stamp.

Stamp.

I watch her dissect my freshly stamped stack of papers – tossing a form here, there, and into a box.

And just like that, our marriage begins its 90-day dissolution.

“Now, you get this, and you give this to the other party. Since you’re filing with no children, you can opt for a ‘Simple Divorce’ if you want, or you can initiate the process to have a court date set for the final ruling.”

“IWANTTHESIMPLEWAYPLEASE,” I blurt loudly, drawing the attention of a woman going through the same process with a neighboring clerk.

“Well, that office is on the third floor, and they just closed for lunch.”

I roll my eyes and laugh and say something like “Of course it is” and thank her for her help.

“And now, you both have to attend this class.”

“Wait, what? I have to attend a class?”

As she quickly touches on the logistics of this absurdly archaic practice – the “Are You Sure You Want To Go Through This?” and its legal repercussions spiel – I feel the last remnant of energy drain from me completely, pooling down my legs and onto the terrazzo.

***

Before I know it, I’m peeing out my frustration in a deserted courthouse bathroom while clutching the packets beneath my arm. I pass back by the Pokemon Whisperer and then join the droves walking through downtown.

I bustle past lunch-goers and the cafe where, 30 minutes before, I was having a final in-person job interview – and hoping that the conversation would translate to the employment life boat I desperately need. I pause momentarily, envisioning myself standing awkwardly, waiting for my interviewer to arrive – my reflection a constant reminder that this interview outfit is now my official divorce outfit.

A few minutes later, I’m buying a cheap shirt at Target so I don’t have to pay the astronomically high “public parking” fee in their garage. Surveying the sale and clearance racks, I reflect on the mundane act of buying clothes – adding to a wardrobe that’s now only mine. It’s a weird, awkward moment.

After navigating the labyrinthine parking garage, I’m so tired I can’t even cry until I get back to work and have to force myself not to cry.

The wall everyone’s been surprised I haven’t hit is suddenly smashing my nose into my face.

I can’t breathe.

***

It’s nearing 9PM, and the table lamp’s light illuminates the bushes outside, reminding me just how exposed the back of the house is with all its glorious windows. Each time I look out, I expect to see Michael Myers quietly standing just at the edge of the yard, the knife in his hand shimmering in the moonlight.

Joanna woofs lowly at a small winged creature attacking the window, determined to diffuse the cursed ball of light blazing afire in the darkness.

My eyes are heavy, and my body aches. I look down at my blank journal page, pen in-hand. But I have nothing witty to write, no metaphors to deconstruct.

Some days, just staying upright is my biggest success.