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Moonlighting

Half moons carry with them something sinister. Beyond the kitchen window, the yard is silent, wrapped in a shawl of darkness – slats of moonlight fracturing through the mossy branches of the plum tree.

The meteor is just about to destroy Earth; Keira Knightley sniffles, staring glassy-eyed at Steve Carell.

“Somehow, I thought we could save one another.”

The living room fills with light from the screen; the world is gone. And the painfully apropos soundtrack cools my blood.

This is the stage of crushing realization – when the recent past seems like ancient history, and the lonesome present is an alternate reality.

I can feel the tremors rippling behind my eyes, the pulsating inhalations as my nostrils flare. The deluge is instant and heavy. And there’s no one to hear me. So I let my labored sobs fill the cottage, absorb into the walls, and filter through the cracked floors and drafty windows.

In this moment, I am fully alone – vis-à-vis with the weighted knowledge that my life is forever changed.

The sofa’s worn leather stretches under me as I rock back and forth. Joanna scuttles over, burrowing her head under my arms – licking at the salty delicacies pouring from my eyes. She’s confused, and so am I.

Behind every laugh, every tear, there’s a blend of uncertainty and loss, longing and fulfillment, despair and fortitude.

Sometimes, my thoughts get away from me and riddle idle conversation with unnecessary bleakness; I don’t really know how I’m feeling until I start talking, determining if the wavering in my voice will subside or snowball into a tumbling mess.

Even still, despite being physically deflated, I’ve never felt as emotionally full.

Now, I let myself feel the jagged edges of ugly, dark moments, and absorb the humbling, beautiful ones – all generating the momentum I need to get through a day, to pay a kindness forward. To put more good out into the world than bad – to place a dollar in an outstretched cup, to acknowledge someone who feels forgotten, to laugh at a bad joke, to dodge a snail sliming across the sidewalk; to lift up, not bear down.

***

Hot cocoa steams from my Pyrex mug as the cottage rattles from the thunderous percussion of massive metallic sheets clattering out of the steel mill downhill.

Car headlights stream along the bridge in the distance, the traffic more visible as the branches shed their burdensome foliage.

The dryer buzzes and I shuffle over, throwing open the door to amass the warm sheets.

Heated air pulses through the tiny laundry room and unmoors a large dandelion seed from a nearby succulent’s dried soil. I watch it dance and shiver mid-air, spiraling and somersaulting.

I cup my hands around it as it begins to fall, and push open a window. Slowly, delicately, I open my hands, but the cool air whips it from me with little fanfare, casting it above the trees.

I think about reaching after it, but resist.

I track its ascent, watching its feathery pappus blanch in the moonlight as it vanishes from view into the inky night.

To root and grow beyond anyone’s grasp.

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Authentically Vulnerable

Vulnerability isn’t something most people find comforting. It’s almost always conflated with some form of weakness – the whole, “Life is hard, so deal with it” mentality.

Not until I started therapy did I realize the importance of being vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to be authentic – my full, honest self.

What I’m still getting used to is the fallout from being authentic; sometimes, I’ll get hurt. And that’s okay, as long as I’m authentic. Bruised feelings are indeed part of life. But as long as I let the sting of a botched conversation, a misplaced phrase, an awkward moment subside – laugh it off, remind myself that it’s okay to fuck up – it won’t morph into something unbearable.

This year hasn’t been easy. Starting over is hard. Divorce is harder.

I’ve had to do a lot of thinking, and deep dives into myself. I’ve purposefully stayed away from people because I just can’t handle a lot right now. But I’m gradually opening myself back up – not because I feel guilty, but because it’s time.

Divorce has made me question a lot about myself – where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, and how I’ve become the person I am right now.

So I mapped out some of the most painful parts of my journey, mostly because I had to get them out, turn them into a collective literary punching bag that I can acknowledge – from which I can move on.

I’m a small-town Alabama kid
Nobody knows
Because I dropped my accent years ago
To conform,
To be taken seriously,
To be learned;
Forcing myself into a new, clipped
Academic vocabulary
To subvert all the things that made me
Me
In voice and expression,
Because of listening to puppets chanting
“You don’t belong here,”
“You’re not worth the time” –
That “you’ve fallen through the cracks” –
And that no one is sorry,
Except me.
Because now, every time someone says,
“You don’t sound like you’re from there,”
A part of me crumbles.

The pain takes me back to
Elementary school where I sit out of PE
To go to Speech Therapy,
Where I learn about Sally and the Seashore
And all the damn shells
That I can’t pronounce
Without making my therapist
Grimace,
And sigh –
So she makes me do it all over again
While handing me worksheets of cows with hard “C”’s
And snakes with slimy “S”’s,
Expecting that I can “just get by”
If I really try.

So I’m an impostor in my own skin,
My own mouth,
My own mind; nothing is really real.
And so I drift
Unmoored,
Believing that I’m not smart enough
That I can’t understand
That I’m lazy and inactive
And that’s why I’m not growing –
So I eat and eat and eat Boost bars
In the hopes that my height will change,
My voice will deepen;
I’ll no longer be all the names the other kids call me.

And then I walk into the house one day
And find Mom-Mau, my friend, my confidant
Unconscious,
Blood everywhere,
Handprints smeared across the wall,
A pool of blood by her head,
And the slightest moan –
Me screaming to Dad
And the ambulance sirens
And the quiet stillness of being alone with the blood,
The metallic odor crippling me
As I push our skittering dog away from the bathroom door to
Close myself in with it –
To rinse and wipe and absorb the moments of impact from the tile,
To feel her pain –
And watch, weeks later, her become a shell
Talking about people who aren’t there –
The lizards running around the floor,
Her eyes glazing, taking her somewhere else;
Watching her in the final hours reaching toward the ceiling
And smiling,
And thrashing,
And saying, “I love you” in a moment of lucidity
Before disappearing forever –
And I go home and wind her music box,
Sobbing as the music chimes
Somewhere…over the rainbow.

I’m never the same –
Knowing the truth and doing everything to deny it, and
Cutting deep when the mental maelstrom becomes too much
Or purging and binging and not eating –
And sitting down with a chilled bottle of vodka
Vials of anti-depressants,
And reaching for them both, the weight of the finality
Bearing my hands down – pushing the concoctions away, locking them in a cabinet,
As I, defeated, sigh, “Not today.”

Working out to fit into a mold that doesn’t want me,
And finally whispering the truth to myself in a dark apartment
In Tuscaloosa,
“I’m gay”
Echoing through my mind like a bullet through my brain –
And telling my family
All gathered around the long dining room table
Staring hard into the wood, hoping this self-truth will
Make itself known without me saying it,
But speaking it nonetheless
And dealing with the silence,
The tears,
The acceptance;
It ends a life, and starts a new one.

Drunk at a party in college,
I flirt with unconsciousness
When a foreign hand goes down my pants
And men mutter in the hazy background
About what I got,
The coldness and thoroughness of the search
And my dazed attempts to stop it,
Just stop,
That it’s not funny anymore
That my body doesn’t feel like my own.

Creating a chosen family,
And fighting together
For life,
Our rights,
And hope;
Meeting a man when I thought I never would,
And setting out on an amazing journey,
Taking us both away from so much of what we’ve known as
Home –
But where we’re told we’re less than – to a place
Where we say, “I do,” always and forever,
Not knowing forever’s boundaries.

And bonding and loving and building a life
And family
And arguing like all couples,
Until we can’t do it anymore
And our ride together ends –
But what a ride it’s been.

Picking up the pieces
In a different place –
A strange time in life
To be on my own again
And terrified,
And empowered,
And exhausted,
And human.

Watching each day unfold
And appreciating the little things
That make a day worth enjoying,
Worth feeling,
Worth waking up for
Tomorrow morning.

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Waking Up

Rain cascades through the canopy and pummels my freshly planted mint into the loose soil – bubbles gurgling up from underneath the clods and resuscitating the bound roots.

A lone curl bobs up and down in the wind, occasionally plastering itself across my forehead and funneling rain down the bridge of my nose. I gulp down the cool, heavy air and meander over to a cleared bed, situating myself beneath a few interwoven branches and gazing across the terrace.

When I’m cycling through a toxic welter of anxiety- and depression- inducing synaptic misfires, I stop, look at the sky, take a deep breath, and focus on something – usually Gay Gardens, my cathartic flex point.

Gay Gardens

On heavy rain days like today, the house always appears saturated and dirty, like the moldy yellow sponge my dad kept in his homemade car-washing kit in our crawlspace. Evening is creeping in, and I begin my slow, calculated circuit around the house, all the while mentally scrawling a running list of things to fix. Off the sun porch, a gutter hangs sloppily, channeling a constant stream of water into my shoddily dug French drain below – causing dirt to splash up and pepper the flaking yellow paint sloughing off the clapboard.

Inside, the residual heat and steam from my shower fog the window panes. I switch off the lights and peer out the gradually clearing windows. Moonlight illuminates the yard, and casts shadows into the garden’s recesses. As the furnace clicks on, the house seems to heave – the floorboards creaking, the rafters popping; the labored, forced air knocking the cold and damp down just enough for me to doze beneath the bed covers.

Just as I’m drifting off to sleep, louder snaps and pops from the back of the house rouse me fully awake. I listen closely for more, and then my imagination does the rest – crafting a horror movie sequence that climaxes with an ax splintering my barricaded bedroom door. Heart racing, I deftly slide my hand down to retrieve a concealed hammer I took from my last job, the name “Kate” scribbled in Sharpie along its dented head.

Flicking on light after light, I study each darkened corner and fiddle with the door locks, convincing myself that everything is fine – that my imagination just got the best of me.

I laugh into the darkness to reassure myself, sigh, and squirrel Kate into her hiding place before sliding back under the covers.

I comb back through the day, reciting off each to-do, like sheep leaping over a fence.

Paint floor.

Seal baseboards.

Clear weeds.

And then, I’m waking up the next morning.

Over the past few weeks, each morning has been successively refreshing. With mental cloud banks clearing, I’m steeling my nerves for what I know is going to be an uphill battle.

It’s been over a year since I submitted my manuscript for publication, and received my first crushing “Thanks but no thanks” response. Since then, the manuscript has migrated from my underwear drawer to a top closet shelf – always relegated to the darkest of alcoves.

Like my personal life, I’d deemed the tome complete. Now, it’s time to start again.

***

Sun rays pierce the foggy haze, and the floor vibrates – the slumbering house rattles awake.

And I sit here, feet firmly pressed against the cold floor, willing the warmth to pulse through my legs, propelling me forward – awake.

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Growing Season

Her bouncy hair bobs up and down as she bulldozes over to the cash register.

“CHARLENE,” she booms to her counterpart three feet away, “I’M GOIN’ ON BREAK AFTER I RING THIS GENTLEMAN UP.”

Without looking up, Charlene nods – an apparent pavlovian response to her colleague’s generously full voice.

Ears ringing, I turn back to my cardboard tray sitting atop the counter as the nursery cashier rounds the high wood island and takes her position behind the cash register. She clears her throat, as if preparing to conduct an orchestral suite. Instead, she curls her arm around the entire tray and begins scanning my veggie starts, interjecting commentary regarding the growth rates of each teeny sprout. Shoving the bulk of the starts aside, she eyes two wispy asparagus plants closely – even suspiciously.

“Well, you do know that these won’t be ready for years, right?”

Fuccccck. My face flushes.

“Oh, OF COURSE. Just figured I’d get them in the ground now!”

A card swipe later, I fasten everything into the back of the car while casting intense shade at my two albatrosses and muttering, “I may just eat you out of spite.”

***

Back home, I set my full trays down inside the piecemeal garden enclosure I spent the previous afternoon methodically crafting together – using chunks of concrete as ad hoc sledgehammers, driving corroded metal stakes and rebar into the ground for structural support; wood pallets from my neighbors’ garbage for windscreens and walls; scrap fencing and old, severed wire strands for holding things together; wood paneling from a deconstructed closet for a makeshift door; and cast-off, roadside planters for additional storage.

Adding the clearance veggie starts to the mix, I halfheartedly chuckle and call up to Joanna peering out the window.

“Well, our scavenged garden isn’t going to win any beauty pageants, is it?”

JoJo sniffs the air, then disappears inside as I begin to gut bags of soil, emptying their contents into the raised bed.

Hours later, and ankle-deep in dark, rich soil, I step back and admire the hodgepodge before me: planters overflowing with half-wilted mint, parsley, basil, green onions, and shiso, and the rotting raised bed filled with rainbow chard, beets, broccoli, purple cauliflower, and kale. Mopping my brow and taking in the scene, I realize I haven’t tended a garden since I was 8 years old.

The garden

I have no clue what I’m doing. The only thing I do know is that this is more of a necessity than a hobby. I really need this to succeed.  

***

A few hours later, as the sun begins setting, I’m toting my last full watering can to my parched starts when my super hot neighbor waves from his side yard, and ventures over. Like a deer in the headlights, I stare entranced, my vocabulary quickly descending into unintelligible gibberish.

He starts chatting about the garden, and I try to play it cool, but then I notice his fly is wide open.

There is a god! 

Quickly noticing his wardrobe malfunction, he adjusts himself and zips up without the slightest bit of embarrassment. Without thinking, I sigh loudly, dejectedly – catapulting our awkwardly stilted conversation into mortifyingly tragic territory.

But as he turns to go, he calls back.

“You know, this place looks really good. You should be proud.”

My response can only be described as 40% dolphin squeak, 60% hyena shriek. I watch him walk back to his place, and then swivel around to my ramshackle garden – and then at my little rotting house.

It is something, isn’t it?

I pull open the newly secured garden door, and wander inside my little corral, nudging planters here and there, and dousing everything with water.

Tiny beads dangle at the ends of the fragile shoots, the wilted leaves. I take a deep breath, smile at this haphazard life, and whisper to myself.

Confidence. Patience. Courage.