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When the Ink Dries

Other than a cone of lamplight over my shoulder, the remainder of the sunporch sits in darkness. Occasionally, I hear Joanna pitter-pattering here and there, rediscovering another partially deformed toy plush to pull apart before jumping up on my leg and smacking my sweater with her paw. It’s nearly 9:00, and it’s closing in on her bedtime. She’s anxious to get to dreamland, but I have another page on the application to complete.

With surgical precision, I carefully spell out my name with the ballpoint pen – making certain I’m not bleeding over into a neighboring field, or smearing the ink with my hand. I angle the 2×2″ photo just inside the designated box, and accidentally staple right through the paper and into my index finger.

FUCCCCCK!

Joanna scampers to her bed, poking her head behind a finless Dory doll. Nursing my blighted finger, I finish the stapling exercise, infill a few more fields, and write the check with all the add-ons to get the critical part of my “just in case” plan returned before the white nationalist fascist takes our country’s helm.

I’d imagined reapplying for my passport would be much more enjoyable – with visions of scenic countrysides to explore dancing through my head. But instead, I’m siphoning the necessary funds from my “maybe I can actually save this at the end of the month” account, rationalizing the expenditure as vitally necessary.

While I’m not a catastrophist, I am paying close attention to the growing warning signs that the coming sadistic “administration” plans to act as judge, jury, and executioner – without any care or concern for the Constitution, much less the Bill of Rights, or human morality. I fully intend to fight and defend what I know to be good and true in this country, but I’m also incredibly terrified of what could come to pass, as well as the violence incited along the way.

Every single day when I leave for work, I envision a time in the near future when the final straw becomes dangerously heavy – when I’ll have to race back, scoop up Joanna, vital documents, maybe a keepsake or two, and just go, leaving my mended home and garden to the coming ravages.

I hope beyond hope that sensible, smart, dedicated, compassionate people will unite and push back against this scourge and his minions. And I fully intend to play a part in it – even if the story’s epilogue ends with me and JoJo in my Toyota, speeding north.

***

Rain cascades down in sheets, and a few shingles fly off the dilapidated roof. Boards above in the attic pop from the dry air and sudden moisture co-mingling, and heated air pipes through the vents – resembling the sounds of the open sea.

I sit and watch the moonlit branches dancing in the wind, and listen to the creaking of the makeshift garden fence just outside the windows. I rub my socked foot along the painted floor, recognizing how important this place is to me, and how much I want to grow here.

As I tuck all the documents into the large envelope and seal it tightly, another hearty gust blasts the windows, making the panes shudder.

I stare past the envelope on the tabletop and into JoJo’s marble-like eyes, and quietly murmur.

“We’re in this thing together. And while the storm may rage and weather us, with hope, we’ll still be standing when the sun rises.”

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Forward-effacing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

I catch my breath, and try to breathe.

In and out.

In and out.

In

and

out.

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

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

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

Things will be getting worse before they get better.

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

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“We’ll Get Through This” Isn’t Enough

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fight as long as possible.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And Darkness Comes

Like you, I’m numb.

I don’t have the words to articulate the deep sadness I feel in every inch of my bones. Personally, this year has been rife with mourning, and this election’s outcome has broken a part of me.

At 1AM, I woke up from a nightmare in which my house was being ripped apart along with people I love. But I couldn’t exhale, knowing it was a dream. I rolled into my pillow and screamed and screamed and screamed.

I can’t fathom what’s to come, but only know that we can’t cower in the face of such vile, contemptible evil. We have to lift one another up, even when it’s dauntingly hard and we’re racked with grief, and his minions dance with glee.

So much is legitimized by this power-hungry hobgoblin – and I worry for us all, but especially for people of color, women, fellow LGBTQ-identified people, people with disabilities, and our environment.

People throw their hands up in these moments and claim some deity’s divine plan. I can’t, and not just because I don’t believe in any of that. If you for one second think His or Hers or Their plan is for some racist, misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ, Islamophobic sexual predator to become Commander-in-Chief of the United States, you really need to get your head checked. Clinton was beyond the most qualified candidate. And my skin crawls when I think about the Obamas leaving the White House to these creatures.

So many people’s lives will be impacted by this horror, and I’m fucking terrified.

Children will grow up with that rotting sack of human garbage in this country’s highest position of power, and aspire to sit there; it’s going to change people. Education will continue to suffer, and normalize this behavior.

America has officially become a toxic wasteland.

My bank account balance is in the double digits, and savings nonexistent. I want to sell everything, grab the dogs, and run into the night toward Canada. But I don’t have a valid passport and, really, nowhere is safe with this lunatic in power. The claustrophobia of being trapped is suffocating.

I don’t know if I can pick up the pieces of what’s been broken inside of me. But I’m going to try.

And I’ll be right here for each and every one of you, ready to mend as much as I can – as we step into the darkness together.

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Moored

The closing credits of A Little Chaos roll through the rain-streaked windows, the lamplight fuzzed by condensation forming inside the sunporch’s drafty windows.

Plumes of steam from the steel mill quietly explode into the night sky, drifting uphill with the wind and spreading around this sagging house.

I tilt my head back and exhale, my breath hanging momentarily before disappearing into the woods behind me. The makeshift door to the garden hangs open, and light from inside the house casts just enough of a glow to guide my impulsive, late-night garden cleaning.

I shove my hands into shadowy corners of the planting beds, lifting giant, drenched leaves off purplish kale starts. My lone celery plant’s neon green stalks glisten in the refracted light. Rain drizzles down the back of my hoodie, and soil grinds under my nails.

And I laugh into the darkness. 

This is what it feels like to be alive.

A train blasts its horn far downslope, fracturing the drip drip dripping from the rain spouts above. But the momentary break reminds me of why I came out here in the first place.

I feel around in the dark crevices of the wood pallet wall for the pot of chopsticks – the perfect mini stakes for training seedlings to grow upward. I snag a splintered one, its old Made in China sticker flaking away. I scrape off the rest, letting its gold flecks mix with the dirt beneath my nails.

After one last glance at the darkened garden, I amble uphill to the cottage’s bright red back door, and scuff the bottoms of my slip-ons across the doormat. Beneath the porch light, a tiny stream of rainwater drips down the weathered clapboard, breaking at the edges and pooling on the saturated wooden stoop. Ballerina-like, I sweep a large terra cotta strawberry planter over to the corner, situating it just beneath the cascading drops.

Everything in its place. 

The pot’s dried soil quickly saturates, and I will the bell pepper seeds just below the surface to germinate.

When I toss my shoes onto a rusted midcentury serving platter just inside the door – my own makeshift shoe tray – the clatter jars me unexpectedly. Water-logged leaves and twigs pepper the platter’s paint-flaked surface, and coat my shoes – barely distinguishable as the crisp, preppy pair I’d bought for my wedding. Now soggy messes, their sides fold in, giving the appearance that they’re imploding. I stoop and gather the leafy leavings, which is when I realize the scene depicted on the platter is a wedding ceremony.

Oh, Universe. You cheeky asshole.

Dusting off my hands, I switch off the light and head over to the drooping yucca plant – the weight of its opening leaves causing the stalk to bend in on itself and kink. I bury the chopstick alongside its base and gently tie it up with some stray string.

A little support

Over the past two weeks, I’ve felt more like myself than I have in a long time. I want to do everything at once, be everywhere. But I have to remember that, sometimes, I start growing so quickly, in every direction, that I lose my balance and nearly collapse in on myself.

And while I’ll keep striving to rebuild my life with purpose, I’ll be mindful to do so slowly, intentionally – reminding myself that a little mooring every now and then may just be what I need to flourish.