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Beautiful Splinters

Outside, rain beat the last leafy hangers-on from their branches as rivulets cascaded down the clapboard, its longstanding paint bubbling out—lesions awaiting a lance. Overly-saturated potted plants brimmed with water as the unceasing rain fell down, down, down—quietly lingering in every one of the yard’s myriad depressions, slicking the pavers pocking the weed-cluttered, soggy grass.

Lamplight glowed dully, illuminating the living room, the air heavy with the smell of buttered, peppered eggs bubbling in the dented cast iron skillet. Laughter filled the house as my sister and I recounted past family foibles. And then, as we quietly watched JoJo bat around her toys, a nature-inspired metronome broke the silence.

Drip

Drop

Drip

Drop

Spanning a badly patched seam, a strand of rainwater dribbled down the sunporch wall, over a painting, and pooled onto the chipped, white floor. After wiping down the painting and shuffling it aside, I piled towels along the floor, and situated a bowl beneath the small bubble slowly expanding along the ceiling.

A few months ago, when I recognized that I couldn’t stay here, I realized why it was that I sequestered myself in this cracked, rotting shell in the first place—chose to stick with it for another year.

I needed to heal, rebuild, and transform myself. And Gay Gardens was my cocoon.

But as I watched the dripping slow, and the water pool in the shallow bowl, I recognized Gay Gardens had done her job; I chuckled quietly, and dabbed the water rings on the floor.

Over the past year and a half, this little cottage and I forged an imperfect, symbiotic relationship—and this marked the beginning of its graceful end.

***

Weeks later, my head was nearly inside the oven, my eyebrows level with the wiry heating element. JoJo puttered up and gave me intense side-eye until I retreated from my Sylvia Plath-inspired attempt at staying warm. I sighed, watching my breath cloud dissipate.

Hours before, at my behest, the handyman pounded on the hallway’s walls.

“Jesus, you’re right. This isn’t even lathe and plaster. It’s fiberboard. I’ve never seen it…at least not in a house anyone is still living in. I mean, wow. I bet you get cold.”

From beneath my hoodie and coat, I exhaled deeply in his direction, following the rapidly cooling cloud with a vacant stare until he continued with his line of questioning. Soon thereafter, he left, citing that he’d be unable to fix the heating system.

Roughly an hour before he arrived, an antique dealer perused furniture and haphazardly sorted collections of keepsakes earmarked for sale, cherry-picking pieces for his shop.

Once a curated refuge, Gay Gardens has quickly become a staging ground. The structure remains, rotting quietly, nobly. But the home I created has been reduced to piles of once cherished items, each sporting a fluorescent price tag—an intended passport to others’ waiting hands.

After he left and I drew up his list, I scanned a tabletop cluttered with planters. They’d been so vital when I moved here; I needed to plant things—watch them grow. Scouring deserted thrift store shelves, the warped cabinets of a hoarder’s house, I’d seek out chipped and worn, dust-covered planters and revive them. Filled them with soil and the hopeful starts of a new plant. I yearned to see the planters’ glazes glow in the sun, the tiny greens nested inside them slowly pushing upward, filling out their translucent tendrils, the ends dripping with nascent buds.

But now their vegetative charges would grow without me—under someone else’s dutiful gaze.

***

The night before my heating system failed, I sat on the sunporch floor, my hands shaking—hovering over the small, identically sized boxes labeled “Mementos” as JoJo dragged her bed closer to the spectacle.

Quite suddenly, I was awash with anxiety. Because I knew what was inside the boxes. They didn’t contain newborn velociraptors or pictures of Ron Pearlman dressed as Vincent from the eighties television series Beauty & the Beast. The menacing “it” they held was more biting, more terrifying: paper.

As I opened the first box, JoJo gently rested her paw on my hand. She stared intently, tears forming at the corners of her eyes as they always do. I nuzzled my head against hers and took a deep breath.

“Thanks, baby girl.”

And then I started ripping. Cards, Post-its, little musings and love letters I’d squirreled away were reduced to bits, quickly filling a garbage bag. Then two.

Hours later, I looked from the emptied boxes to my palms, cross-stitched with paper cuts—the last, necessary wounds to heal.

I have to make room for less in my life.

***

Condensation pooled along the weathered mullions, occasionally overflowing, collecting along the warped sills. The heat finally kicked on, and my sinuses flared in response. Beyond the clouded panes, a humungous neon star glowed atop the steel mill downslope, casting its white light up into the backyard.

As the wind moved through the trees, rocking them side-to-side, the diffused light fell upon the garden’s withered remains. The entrance door hung open—warped and water-bloated; the veneer cleaving from the hardy core. Soon, the walls will come down; they’ll be transformed into ad hoc displays featuring all the bits and bobs to be paraded out for the subsequent yard sales.

Between passing cloud banks, sunlight glanced across the turquoise kitchen wall, amplifying the brilliant greens and cool blues. I stood and stared—through the wall, into the not so distant future, where everything around me has been reduced to splinters that once framed a brilliant life chapter.

Photo description: A view from the living room into the hallway, which is painted bright turquoise.

We’re all fragments striving to piece together a life that, at least from the outside, appears fortified, secure; but the inside is sometimes empty, a looming vastness into which the echoes of dreams reverberate and quietly die.

And in this future ruin, I pieced myself back together—filled that emptiness with something meaningful. I didn’t cure an insidious disease or eliminate poverty. But I made this particular place better. And, in so doing, proved to myself that I could, once again, make it on my own—that though I may be fractured, my edges roughened by experience, I’ve embodied the beauty of this self-reflective process, and know that my subdued resilience helped me survive, and molded me into the person I’ve wanted to be.

And that’s something.

What lies beyond Gay Gardens is unknown—a cloudy picture at best. But within that mental frame and fog, I imagine about 400 square feet with my bed floating out from the wall, surrounded by the plants I’m able to bring along. There, JoJo putters from one sun spot to the next, stretches, yawns, and dozes off. A few other pieces of furniture are scattered around the studio apartment, their valuable surface space cluttered with greenery.

And I’ll be there, assessing my new beginning and willing goodness into it, as I frequently did as I hovered over my planters—the smell of damp potting soil filling the air, the blips of green poking out toward the rising sun.

And I will recognize that I, too, will keep bending toward the light.

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Eden, Slipping

On the darkest nights, when the wind is howling through the tousled trees and leaves are rustling off their dripping branches—and the beams in the attic are groaning, popping from the barometric pressure and moisture—I feel as though this small cottage is a battered dinghy bobbing in a raging tempest. But somehow, its warped, wooden framing and patched, plastered seams always bolster it just enough—holding it firm, silently enduring the onslaught in the dark.

And then, hours later, as morning light diffuses through the seemingly impenetrable, gray cloud banks, I watch the once forceful rain drip lazily from scuffed eaves and rusted, leaking rain spouts.

Image description: a small cottage in the middle of a cleared terrace, with a stone path leading to it.

This, our home, has delivered us, its cargo, to another day.

***

As a kid, my overblown conception of a personal Eden featured a sprawling, multi-room Gothic mansion set in an open, browned field with trees lining its overgrown edges. Never did I imagine a small, dank cottage to supplant that fantasy.

When I think about the beauty of this place—what it has endured—I’m awestruck. Somehow, amid multiple housing booms and a changing skyline, it remained tucked away, sheltered behind behemoth rhododendrons and partially veiled with ivy. Coupled with pervasive rot, its decades-long neglect should’ve doomed it to become a mouldering, collapsed heap on the low, bramble-packed terrace.

And yet it remained upright long enough for a half-broken man and his faithful sidekick to move in and make it the best home they’ve ever had. But now, our time here is inching to an end.

I continue to water my plants, weed my flower beds—knowing that, as the tides swell and slowly pull this refuge from my grasp, I’ll be left unmoored in uncertain waters, reaching for a lifesaver. And honestly, I don’t know what it’ll look like.

My internal refrain has often been, As soon as you’re priced out of this home, that’s it. Back East you go. Mostly because the painful prospect of moving again is blunted by the comforting thought of returning to a place where I first made a home. But with no savings—and no ability to save—and no job prospects way over there, settling into a joyless, cookie-cutter studio miles away from the places I enjoy is my only recourse: debilitatingly sad, but pragmatic.

Seattle is lovely. It’s liberal. It’s scenic. There’s great thrifting. And it’s only a few hours away from Justin Trudeau. But I moved here coupled, with a fiscal buffer; together, it all worked—until we didn’t. Through a combination of begging my landlord and reducing every single expense I possibly could, I managed to pull this place—and myself—together over the past year. Always, though, the specter of another year loomed menacingly, with its associated cost-of-living spikes. But for a time, I was able to occupy my thoughts with surviving, rather than thinking about my imminent displacement as I’d done every moment since I’d taken over the lease. After all, I had another year, full of potential—something would come of my attempts to change my situation.

But here I am, slipping along the downward slope of my current leasing cycle, knowing that begging will do nothing now; even the slightest rental increase will make this place unreachable. The bubble continues to expand in Seattle, and there’s no cathartic burst in sight. With an entire paycheck consumed by rent, and the other pulled apart to satiate the utility, car loan, and credit card gods, I usually have between $5 and $15 left at the end of the month—and that’s if everything else stays consistent, which it never does. Unless you’re in corporate, being single in Seattle means you scrape by—you survive; you don’t live.

Seattle is no longer the grunge scene-inspiring, gritty city of the Cobain years. It’s now a polished playground for the rich—where upwardly mobile Millennials with six-figure salaries wave goodbye to longtime tenants and homeowners—most of whom are people of color who have to watch their neighborhoods be shattered by multi-million dollar box houses with Black Lives Matter signs posted out front, or re-zoned for massive micro-studio complexes.

I was silly to think I’d be an exception—that I, a relative newcomer, and of all the people displaced by Seattle’s boom, would somehow hold steadfast in my battered rental cottage against the raging tides of gentrification.

I fantasized about Gay Gardens being the place where I’d make it as a writer—no one famous, but earning just enough to stay put, save up, and buy this little place as ravenous Microsofties and Amazonians gobbled up everything around me. And then I’d slowly will my other dreams into reality.

I wouldn’t have to think about selling off most of my things just so I could afford to be displaced. I wouldn’t have to imagine the carefully crafted outdoor spaces I’ve built out of nothing being plucked apart by yard salers—bird houses and garden baubles and outdoor furniture snapped up like carrion for crows. I wouldn’t have to eventually hand over my keys and walk up the front stairs to a laden car, looking back over my shoulder at my Eden: the future site of million-dollar mansions. And I wouldn’t have to acknowledge that this place will soon be gone—face the imminence of a backhoe plowing headlong into the living room, its bucketed arm pivoting to level the tiny bedroom where I curled up my first night alone in five years and sank into the inky darkness of the forested hollow around me.

***

JoJo and I complete our around-the-house circuit, and as we reach the front patio, she stares up with her watery eyes, pleading for more time.

“Alright, we’ll go around again.”

Leaves cascade down from the gusting wind, their brittle edges reminding me that I won’t experience another fall here—staring out from the sun porch’s wavy-glassed windows while cradling a cup of hot coffee.

I’ll be somewhere else—probably in a large apartment complex in Tukwila with paper-thin walls listening to my neighbors squabble. But, with hope, in the depressing box that awaits me, I’ll be able to save enough money to pay off my credit card—racked with car repairs and heating bills rather than fanciful vacations and pedicures—and save enough money to move back to the East coast, or someplace I can actually live.

The wind nips my back as I run my hands along the weathered wood pallet garden wall. I clutch it hard, my knuckles turning white.

I wanted to build so much more here.

Back inside, as I warm her towels in the dryer, JoJo claws her way up into my lap. Her head, heavy with sleep, thuds quietly into my chest as she blows a snot-laden sigh into my orange cardigan.

I rest my chin on her tiny head, exhale deeply, and murmur through tear-clouded eyes, “Wherever you are is home.”

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Be Proud

I was a freshman in high school when Matthew Shepard was beaten and left to die in the coldness of Laramie, Wyoming. News of his attack trickled down through my small town’s news and gossip mills—the entire twisted, tragic narrative framed as something problematic and salacious. Few discussed it openly, and those who did defaulted to the deeply flawed victim-blaming mentality: he had it coming, after all. So I policed myself even more, venturing further into my closet’s shadows.

I’d known I was different since I was eight. Without the vocabulary to really capture what I knew, I entertained the thought that I had some innate superhero ability, or some amazingly unique, mutant-like advantage. But it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I quietly admitted to myself that, in all likelihood, I was gay. Only one classmate actually came out, and he—and his family—were smeared across the front page of the local paper, and he and his boyfriend were given wide berth at the prom. From the periphery of the dance floor, I’d watched them watch each other, my eyes falling to their clasped hands. That’s what I wanted. Still, I never verbalized my truth, made it real, until I was nearly finished with college.

***

The Pulse massacre last year ripped through the LGBTQIA+ community; I was visiting my family in Alabama, and walked into the living room—eyes still bleary from sleep—to my parents glued to the screen, their faces screwed up in horror. My heart rate quickened and I started sweating and I walked out the front door. I kept going for a mile, circling through our family’s land and ending up back at an old, shattered playground my grandparents had helped my parents build. My ex-husband and I were in the middle of separating, and would, weeks after I returned, decide to divorce. But still, we talked through the sheer tragedy of this latest news, hearing our words echo back to one another over the phone, the world suddenly feeling so much smaller, even more fragile.

Months later, as the malignancies of the 2016 election revealed the extent to which this nation is still so deeply racist and misogynistic, I felt a hollowness I’d experienced all those closeted years ago. Again, the future felt so fragile—knowing the ensuing violence espoused from on high would be mapped more vehemently and pointedly onto people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ people, and women.

***

So many people have been lost over the past year, the vast majority of whom being people of color.

I made the mistake of reading an article today that advocated for dissolving National Coming Out Day. The author was a cis, white, gay man whose utter lack of history and severe cognitive dissonance made me cringe. I disagreed with every single one of his points. Now more than ever, LGBTQIA+ people must be visible; we must show that we aren’t going anywhere, that the future will only get browner, queerer, and—mother goddesses be willing—more female.

Reading his suggestions, I thought back to when I came out over 12 years ago. It was a crucial, life-saving decision; the act of bringing voice to what I’d long since known quieted the malevolent voices in my mind, and stemmed the self-harming actions and suicidal thoughts that’d skewed my perception of what my future would look like. In coming out, I wrested power back from those whose narrow worldviews kept me barricaded within my private torture chamber. My mind could only take so much trauma before it went into a numbing survival mode, blunting senses and joy—clouding my mind’s eye with a grayed shroud devoid of hope.

Being out and visible for anyone is a courageous exercise. And for me, I’m quickly reminded of how much privilege I carry as a white, cis, gay man—the relative security I’m ensured that is so far out of reach for my trans* family and friends, especially trans* women of color.

Dark, uncertain times necessitate that we band together; the more closely bound we are—the more vigilant and outspoken we are, the more protective we are of our neighbors who aren’t afforded the same privileges—the better equipped we’ll be to combat the growing chill, the biting hatred of legislative rollbacks.

This National Coming Out Day, I hope more people come out and don’t tacitly endorse heteronormative behaviors that inform dangerous, violent actions.

Each of us is endowed with a moral compass. And it’s up to us to reorient the national narrative—even by taking slow, iterative steps in times like these—to advance and promote a future in which we’re all recognized as people deserving of basic, inalienable rights.

We must be confident and authentic—and wield those sources of power compassionately.

 

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Coloring Outside the Lines

The house is dark, save a few slants of remaining moonlight abdicating to the slowly rising sun. Pothos and philodendron leaves cascade down weathered furniture fronts, and rustle from the breeze creeping through the open doors and windows.

Rhythmic dripping from a leaky outside spigot acts as an early morning metronome while I fill the water kettle and push the windows open as far as they can extend. I feed JoJo, and slip on my battered shoes to empty the brimming, spigot-filled bucket around the bases of my tomato and pepper plants.

I pluck the yellowing leaves from my bush beans and reposition the baby eggplants so that they grow in the opposite direction of neighboring plants’ rogue, unfurling tendrils. Tomatoes are reddening and strawberries are beginning to drip down from their leafy flowers.

The garden is tiny, and was thrown together in desperation, with seeds and starts sown by a beginner.

***

My efforts to reclaim this oddly-shaped spit of land from the suffocating canopy and invasive ground cover began in the yard’s lone, rotting raised bed.

[Image description: an overgrown raised bed with trash and weeds.]
[Image description: an overgrown raised bed with trash and weeds.]
The house was hot, and we’d just decided to divorce; piles of boxes, furniture, and paint cans accreted in every corner. Nothing was finished. Everything was undone—in a state of flux. We’d been coloring within the lines for four years; and then we both strayed outside, scribbling in different directions.

But then and there, as the heat nipped the back of my neck, I annexed the raised bed—ripped out all of the weeds and bagged up the dirt-caked garbage. An hour later, it was trimmed and cleaned—the soil upturned, ready to welcome new crops.

IMG_8456 (1)
[Image description: same raised bed, completely cleared.]
Weeks later, I’d raised my hodgepodge garden enclosure around it—with novel expectations that it’d soon overflow with a rich vegetative bounty. But then a tremendous deep chill moved in—settling over Seattle, making it one of the coldest and wettest winters on record. Tarps and pins held the garden in place, secured my culinary cache. I naively believed I’d be rewarded for all the hours-long tending—the snow-shoveling, the pest removal.

But when the sun regained its footing and danced across my freshly exposed starts, they all bolted, leaving me to scrape off immature leaves and tiny vegetables, and YouTube multiple videos answering questions about the potential adverse health consequences of eating broccoli flowers.

All that was left to do was rip out everything I’d spent months fretting over. And start again. In gardening, there’s little room for sentimentality.

Nearly a year later, the fourth iteration of the garden has been the most successful yet.

IMG_3226
[Image description: garden enclosure with door open, along the back side of the house.]
IMG_3198
[Image description: inside of garden enclosure. Multiple plants in containers, with some tomatoes visible.]
By now I know not to expect every plant to fruit out at the same time; there will rarely be an instance in which I’m overwhelmed with immense yields.

But each evening my little garden provides: a few beans here, two tomatoes there, and a handful of mixed greens.

IMG_3232

And that’s all I need.

***

Just beyond the garden fence, the weathered bird bath stands crookedly, the tiny, placid puddle contained within it interrupted intermittently by flocks of finches. Beyond it, in the tree branches once choked by ivy, Northern Harriers sit and eye the open yard. Engorged spiders trundle down delicate silken threads anchored to newly erupted leaves.

Sun beams down and warms my dirt-covered hands, and I smile up into the welcoming warmth.

I stoop into the scraggily garden—and listen to the frenetic chirps, feel the watchful hawks’ gazes, and remind myself that I’m just another piece in this landscape.

I tend the soil, pull out browning stalks, and run my fingertips over budding fruit—their pale green, stubbly faces soaking in the light.

Preparing to fill with color.

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White Folks: Do Something

White people, we have a problem. And it’s not a new problem that’s come with this blight of a presidency. It’s always been rippling beneath the surface of our country—many of us have just been privileged enough to ignore it.

Not anymore.

So, fellow white folks, we need to do something about white supremacy. Because—and I never thought I’d quote an ex-skinhead (see Life After Hate below)—”White people created this problem and it’s our job to fix it.”

I’m no expert—just an average cisgender gay white guy in Seattle trying to rail against white supremacy and white patriarchy (and yes, I still fuck up plenty).

Here’re some suggestions for white folks:

If you barely make ends meet like me and have no extra money to donate, try:

AND/OR

  • Taking time to march, wheel, or virtually march with POC-led organizations, Solidarity Against Hate marches, or counter-protests to various white extremist rallies.

AND/OR

  • Participating in free workgroups or meetings to educate yourself about/better understand:
    • White privilege and white fragility (If you’re white, you have privilege. Period.).
    • Equity versus equality
    • Intersectionality
    • Microaggresions
    • Power and power-sharing
    • Mass incarceration/the prison complex

AND ALWAYS

  • Shutting up and listening. Don’t take up space when people of color are talking. Listen. Learn. Repeat.
  • Calling out racist shit and being prepared to be a buffer, especially if a person of color is being harassed in public. And then calling the police.
  • Recognizing that racism lies at the heart of all of the other -isms. Center racism and race in talks about gendered violence and bias. Trans* women of color are harassed, assaulted, and murdered at a higher rate than any member of the LGBTQ+ community. Women of color are harassed, assaulted, and murdered at a higher rate than white women. Men of color are harassed, assaulted, and murdered at a higher rate than white men.
  • Voting…in LOCAL and NATIONAL elections. Help unseat career politicians who serve the (exceedingly white) one percent to the detriment and continued disenfranchisement of people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, and women.

If you have money left at the end of the month, start:

  • Doing all the things above.

AND

  • Becoming a recurring donor to POC-led organizations, and organizations working to combat hate—especially small community organizations. (Seriously, you’ll make some Development/Fundraising staffer’s day—recurring donations help small nonprofits more than you know.)

AND

  • Talking to your affluent friends about race. Don’t let your wealth or your friends’ wealth insulate you/them from these systemic problems. Get them involved in organizations you’re passionate about. And if you have oodles of money, pool some of your resources for multi-year grants for organizations like those I mentioned above, and others fighting against hate and for civil rights.

AND

  • Unpacking “gentrification,” and how it often displaces people of color and other marginalized community members. Educate yourself about how to combat gentrification. (And please stop acting like you’re some sort of pioneer. I guarantee most folks in your neighborhood already don’t like you and give you side-eye all the damn time. So you should probably start doing something worthwhile to build community and counter your gentrifying effects.)

AND…

…plenty of other things.

***

The point is this: Each and every single one of you white people can do something. Don’t give in to fear or apathy, and for the love of the mother goddesses, do not check out, thinking this will “blow over.” Silence is complicity.

Acknowledge that you’re going to say some stupid shit and embarrass yourself. But get over it, apologize, and learn some more. We don’t have time for pity parties. We only have time for action and for building momentum. Are you tired yet? You should be. You will be. Because you will always be learning. But an educated resistance is a stronger resistance.

So, white people, it’s past time for us to do something. Get up. Speak out. Educate yourself.

Be one more body of resistance against white supremacy.

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Hand in Hand

Joanna stared up at me with her marble-like eyes as I folded my emergency contact list and shoved it into my pocket. I finished a duplicate sheet and put it on my kitchen counter, with directions and arrows pointing to Joanna’s food drawer.

Along with many others, I was going to counter-protest a nazi rally in the heart of downtown Seattle—and given the tragic events in Charlottesville, I wanted to leave a trail of breadcrumbs back to my anxious dog in case I didn’t return.

Part of my preparation was recognizing that my ability to anticipate potential violence was a privilege—one that people of color never have.

***

Walking to the bus, a young white woman noticed my sign and asked if there was a protest happening today. Her breath smelled of beer, and I answered that, yes, there was.

“You know, with all this shit going on, sometimes I just have to pull back, you know?”

She semi-slurred and I nodded.

While I, too, understand the importance of self care, I also recognize that a lot of white people default to that whenever there’s a call to action where their whiteness suddenly doesn’t buffer them as much. And there’re always strings of caveats and “I would but…” statements. But I’ve grown tired of comforting fellow white people. We should all be exhausted and uncomfortable. Because we should all be leveraging the privilege we possess to fight back.

On the bus, an older woman smiled at my shirt and sign, and I watched out the windows as droves of sports fans flooded toward large arenas. I stepped off the bus, recognizing that the nazi rally was a few blocks behind me at Westlake Park; the counter-protest was set to begin in Denny Park, and wind its way through downtown streets to Westlake.

I passed brunch-goers and tourists confused by the road closures, and spotted plenty of police congregating in bicycle groups. As I walked toward Denny Park, I glanced down momentarily and snapped my head back up when I heard a man’s voice outside an Indian restaurant I was passing.

“Give’em hell. Don’t let those bastards win!”

I looked up long enough to meet his gaze and smile, even though my face had been screwed up into a grimace all morning, thinking, We’re fighting nazis again. In 2017.

As I crossed the street, an older white couple stopped me.

“Is there a protest happening?”

“Yes. I’m headed to a counter-protest to the nazi rally happening over there in Westlake.” I motioned behind my back.

He leaned in, and she kept looking around—eyes wild, darting.

“It was really unnerving. We just saw these three guys wearing all this horrible stuff and Pepe shirts. It’s just terrible.”

I nodded, and said something along the lines of, “That’s why we all have to fight back.”

They appeared slightly surprised that I didn’t feed into the echo chamber of white privilege. I gave them a wave and turned, noticing them quickening pace as they headed up the street. I doubted they would’ve stopped me if I’d been black or brown.

At the park, the group began growing larger and larger. There was, of course, one person carrying a Russian flag, doing their best to garner attention for themselves. Anarchists congregated in a fairly large group, with each member wearing black bandanas. Over megaphones, organizers underscored the importance of being respectful. Signs with various messages were raised aloft as the chants started and we began marching. Looking around at the sea of faces—black and brown, trans* and queer, people with disabilities, elderly people, pastors and union workers—I was again reminded that intersectional solidarity is crucial in this fight.

Several blocks in, after passing many streets cordoned off by bicycle police, we reached a relatively un-policed intersection, and began moving in the direction of Westlake.

Suddenly, police swooped in on their bikes and on foot, pepper spraying the closest marchers and sending everyone running. There was no apparent provocation—just a hair-trigger response to marchers moving down the road. People screamed at the white mist speckling their faces and others rushed to their aid, dousing their reddening faces with water. I couldn’t believe it was happening. And then the chants started.

“Cops and klan hand in hand!”

“Who are you protecting?!”

Slowly, we moved on. Many more blocks later, people began realizing we weren’t being allowed to reach Westlake. Two blocks away from it, we stopped at an intersection where more bicycle cops stood waiting. Folks flooded into the intersection and began sitting down in protest, at the behest of the organizers.

“Until they let us through, let’s hold the intersection!”

Chants began again as the police force grew behind their lines. Someone started spraying silly string near the police barricade; people began laughing. And then, it happened: police fired pepper spray and blast balls into the completely unarmed, peaceful crowd. People stampeded in my direction, and when I turned to run, someone slammed into me, pushing me into a barricade. Other people fell; others screamed from the spray. The air smelled of burned hair and smoke. My ears rang.

People hollered about civil rights and protection and that the police serve us. But in that moment, I recognized I was more afraid of the police than the nazis.

As people rebounded and stood back up, we filled the intersection again. About twenty minutes later, an organizer came over the loudspeaker and said that the nazis had left—and a chorus of cheers resounded down the street. Another organizer announced that we’d be backtracking to Denny Park in a show of continued solidarity. And then she added something that made my arm hair stand on-end.

“And whatever you do, stay together! We’re not going to let them pick us off one by one.”

I suddenly felt like the sickly gazelle in a National Geographic special. And what was more concerning was that I didn’t know if the predators to which she was referring were the police or the nazis. I shifted uncomfortably, and turned as an older woman—another organizer—came up to me, her brow furrowed.

“And just where is your buddy?”

“I don’t have one.”

“Well, find someone. We’re at our most vulnerable when we’re alone.”

She reversed course, motioning me back into the larger group as she did. As we wove our way back along our route, the police followed, occasionally showing force by using their bicycles as a makeshift wall and chanting something all their own as they prevented folks from going down side streets.

As we neared the park, I realized I was flanking a large, blocks-long version of the United States Constitution—which I learned had been created for the Women’s March. Someone called for help supporting it.

I stepped in, raising the heavy canvas just as someone yelled, “Don’t let it fall! Don’t let it touch the ground!”

As I literally helped support the semantic crux of American democracy and wiped sweat from my brow, I noticed my shirt and rainbow cape reeked of gunpowder from the blast balls.

Behind us, police stood in a line, batons in-hand, ready for engagement. On our sides, anarchists began castigating marchers for not facing down the nazis.

***

Dispersing from the park, I folded up my cape and shoved it into my back pocket. I stuck to main streets, and watched my back on the occasional side street. When I got to the bus stop, I reached into my back pocket for my wallet, and grazed my contacts list.

Unlike so many people of color who are murdered every single day by gun-toting racists and poorly trained police—Charleena Lyles, Desmond Phillips, Armound Brown, Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Philando Castile…— and unlike Heather Heyer and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and Ricky John Best, I was able to return home.

This is America. In 2017. We cannot afford to lose any more ground.

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Shadowlands

Fighter jets tore lowly through the sky, their thunderous ruckus reverberating off the walls—leaving the open windows’ wavy panes shuddering in their weathered mullions, and Joanna cowering in my bedroom’s darkest corner.

Minutes later, my car heaved uphill as another jet maneuvered directly overhead, splintering my thought process as white contrails crisscrossed the hazy, smoke-filled sky. A large water container rolled in the passenger side foot well, and my bag sat shotgun, bloated with all the essentials. In the rearview mirror, I caught the top of JoJo’s head peeking above her crate’s sea of towels, her buff coat shivering from the skyward clatter.

“It’s like the beginning of a siege…” I murmured into the fractured air.

I felt as though I was living Red Dawn‘s opening sequence.

But it wasn’t an invasion, just Seafair—an annual event in Seattle that should be renamed “The Day When Your Pets Think the World is Ending.”

Still, coupled with the intense heatwave across the Pacific Northwest, and the smoke from Canadian wildfires hovering over the city, the jets’ presence kept triggering my evolutionary inculcated flight response. And as I continued glancing back at JoJo, I recognized that what we had spread over the dirty carseats would be the remnants of our life should we ever actually have to flee.

***

Like a lot of folks, I’ve been thinking about the what-ifs hourly. And how can I not—what with tweets being parlayed into policy, or threats of nuclear holocaust; speeches emboldening violence by those sworn to protect; civil rights abuses committed daily against historically marginalized groups, especially people of color and trans* people; threats of censorship hurled against the fact-based free press; acquisitions of broadcast channels by propaganda juggernauts like Sinclair; climate denial being twisted into curricula; and our country’s place within a world of nations falling precipitously into a darkened, ignored void. I often feel that it’s horrifyingly rational to want to leave America to smolder in its own ruined ashes.

And while I try to combat the negativity—the ceaseless welter of chaos dripping out of the latest headlines—and exercise self-care, it’s becoming all the more difficult to see how this country will survive this blight.

I feel the constant specter of a dictator, and I wonder if the America that showed some semblance of a promising trajectory is now out of reach. If perhaps the ugly origins of this country—springing from genocide and subjugation and exploitation—are reclaiming it, circumventing the governing processes and legislators meant to prevent utter societal collapse. I wonder how united our states will remain as the ground beneath us, upholding our democracy, continues to shake, crumbling away into the shadowlands of this budding dictatorship.

But then I remember that people-powered resistance has held us together through this presidency’s horrendous, protracted infancy—has reminded me that even in the darkest of times, there is, and must always be, hope.

And hope is certainly worth the fight.

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Subtle Luxuries

The movie soundtrack blasted into the deepening night through the open windows. Dim lamplight cascaded across the Art Deco sideboard, tripping across slivers of missing veneer—chipped teeth in an otherwise full smile.

Earlier, I drew the curtains to filter the sunlight, closing out the world. I dozed off into the blanket of heat somersaulting through the cottage, JoJo nudged against me, gently rapping my hand with her scarred leg for more dutiful attention. My mind, exhausted, melded scenes together from the day, stitching an epilogue onto the afternoon.

Nearly thirty minutes later, I tumbled off of the sofa dazed, determined to attend to my growling stomach. Bowl in hand, I shuffled outside, stopping at the drip drip drip of the leaky spigot—the bucket beneath brimming from the day-long drops. I carted it along with the bowl, swung back the warped garden door, and emptied the water beneath the bush beans and snow peas, the flowering squash and struggling tomatoes.

Romaine leaves pulled off easily, and I tossed them into the bowl along with a few long beans, peas, and hearty, slightly browned mixed greens. I filled the bowl with water, letting everything soak inside while I ventured back out into the heat.

I left my bag and grabbed my keys, wallet, and phone, and started up my car—the entire metallic body caked with cherry pits and dried juice, leaves and twigs forming a mosaic across the hood. None of it rolled off as I drove the short way uphill for cupcakes.

A street fair filled the entire downtown junction, and I weaved through families gorging on sweets and sizzling kabobs, and perused the dollar books; a sign on the store’s door read, “Honor system. Deposit money in mail slot.”

With my two cupcakes boxed, I headed home, listening to the car shudder and groan down the steep hills, crunching gravel between hot rubber and cracked asphalt as I turned onto my street. I descended back down into my overgrown haven, and JoJo greeted me like it’d been ages, not twenty minutes.

I fixed my salad. I watched my movie. I ate my cupcakes. I gazed at the sunset. I stood at my kitchen sink in the dark, the dishes done in a matter of minutes.

The yard was dark. JoJo was tucked into bed.

I switched off the fans and collected her toys, depositing them back into their bins.

I walked into my room and shut the windows. A spray of browning flowers from a recent wedding sat in a deep green Floraline vase atop my dark-stained bureau—palm fronds throwing shadows up the uneven wall like pointy fingers. The air was heavy with the fragrant sogginess of floral decay.

I sat on my bed and considered the evening, filled with such quiet, full moments: my beloved, subtle luxuries—fuel for a life unburnished.

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Love Me Tending

The dead man’s garlic hung from the antler rack of the deer I killed when I was sixteen—a subtle homage to southern rites of passage adorning my laundry room. Soiled, damp roots dripped lazily from the fragrant, amorphous white bulb, the long green stalk yellowing at the top. Once dried, the roots and stalk will be trimmed off, a few cloves set aside for re-planting, and the rest stored—a humble beginning to my fall larder.

Around the time I was filing divorce paperwork last year, the man had plunked a garlic clove into the pot’s clayey, rock-filled soil; nine or so months later, he was dead, with scavengers like me rummaging through his home and expansive, overgrown yard.

Tucked within a matted mess of domestic detritus and weeds beneath the rotting, listing front deck, a brown ceramic bowl had caught my eye. Caked in dirt with an interior white glaze, the piece hadn’t been used for years, at least not as a bowl. I flipped it over and ran my fingers along the bottom inscription, the potter’s name, “Michael.” As I pushed further into the sagging cabin, I recognized nothing resembling a potter’s supplies; even still, I liked to think of it as Michael’s home.

Putting a name to a place reminds me of the life spent stewarding it. It translates to self-governed territory—a place all our own.

And there, as I peered over the hilly property extending down into a thick tree line, a distant memory replayed in my mind, something that I’d always remembered, but was never sure of why.

***

My paternal grandfather, whom my sister and I called Pop-Pop, had died and we were back in the Poconos, sorting through the home he, my grandmother—Mom-Mau—and our father had built. Having faced the hard reality that she wasn’t well enough to live alone in the mountains, Mom-Mau had reluctantly agreed to sell and move with us to Alabama. We kept only what we could fit into two cars; everything else was to be sold with the house.

Our parents had instructed us to comb through every closet and box; children of the Depression, our grandparents had squirreled away rolls of cash, many locations of which my grandmother had long forgotten. I rolled back one of the blond hallway closet doors and thumbed through a line of Pop-Pop’s clothes, most of which were nearly pristine plaid dress shirts and pants from the 70s. Never a clotheshorse, he was most comfortable in a pair of paint-spattered overalls—the knees faded and frayed from repeated wear—and a V-neck Sears tee shirt, rounded out with a pair of off-brand Velcro shoes. I reached inside each pocket, and passed on to the next; with each article I shoved behind me, a waft of Jade East writhed in my nostrils, and I could almost hear his signature cackle drifting in from the living room’s squeaky, threadbare sofa, entreating us to pull his finger.

Nearing the end of the line, I unclasped a buttoned pocket, reached inside, and pulled out a few neatly folded twenty-dollar bills. I got up and wandered into the kitchen where my mother stood reviewing cabinet contents, wrapping particular items in newspaper. I handed her the bills and she put them in a shoebox, which held a couple wads of other found money, along with loose change that was to be rolled. I surveyed the kitchen walls, and walked over to the sink, looking down through a cutout into the bar area where we used to place Yahtzee and cards. Above it hung a tiny painted skillet that read “Mary’s kitchen.” I took it down and handed it to my mother.

“Look, we can hang this up in our kitchen.”

She looked down, considered it momentarily.

“Absolutely not.”

Stunned by her forcefulness, I resolved then and there—as the laminate countertop as my witness—to save everything. From various vantage points around the house, I watched every trip my parents made to the curb with armloads of filled boxes scheduled to be picked up, and snuck out soon thereafter, pilfering little keepsakes and squirreling them into my bag along with other objects from around the house. Within thirty minutes, my small bag brimmed with tchotchkes, things only a child would take: a ceramic cowboy boot; hand-painted owl and quail lawn ornaments; tiny curios from Japan that’d filled the large front picture window; Pop-Pop’s empty cologne bottles; his Velcro shoes; his cufflink case filled with old watch faces, mismatched cufflinks, and wrapped razor blades; a Hull planter unearthed in the backyard; and a shoebox filled with ashtrays and defunct cigarette lighters. I wanted it all—feeling a growing dread that leaving one little scrap of their lives would mean we were leaving them entirely.

With a dollop of magical thinking, I assumed I could shove every piece of their material lives into a tiny knapsack turned bottomless magic hat. But soon after I shoved a tripodal, barrel-shaped magazine rack into the back of our van, I realized that we were already at capacity. I sat in the back room—my room when Laura and I visited—and stared at the dark mahogany-stained midcentury furniture with triangular knobs, the largely empty chests, and mourned the imminent loss of it all.

The clinking of glassware being boxed up in the kitchen filtered down the carpeted hallway, and I stared at the slim, portable television sitting atop a cart at the foot of the bed. Even though the television only played in black and white, I’d watch “I Love Lucy” and other such shows before going to bed, thinking how luxurious it was to have a television in the bedroom. I flipped the knob over, and jumped when something in the back panel popped, a thin plume of smoke billowing out of the display.

Moments later, parental olfactory senses kicked in, and my mother called back from the living room.

“Is something on fire back there?”

“The television just exploded.”

“Well, great. Unplug it and throw it out in the garbage.”

I watched the smoke for a minute, and then carted the television outside, tossing it into a box of miscellaneous, broken household items.

By the following morning, only a few curbside boxes remained—the rest having been tossed into the backs of laden station wagons and battered pickups.

As we backed out of the driveway for the last time, I pulled off the house sign; years later, I realized that, in a literal sign of his frugality, Pop-Pop had opted to flip the number 2s to make 7s and added a tail to a P to make an R, rather than buy the additional letter and numbers.

A literal sign of Pop Pop's frugality

Through the rain-streaked car windows, I looked at the remaining sagging boxes, and the house. I couldn’t save it all; I couldn’t save the house where we had so many memories. All of it would be entering a new chapter without us, with new authors rewriting the future.

***

The wind blew up the hill where I stood, dislodging faded chip bags that’d been snagged within the bramble below. Behind me, one of the estate sale coordinators began boxing up unsold items, and bagging up the irredeemable, battered bits. I stooped and plucked the garlic-filled planter out of the ground, rocking it side-to-side until it dislodged, worms and centipedes squirming in the damp, grassless vacancy beneath.

I looked back up at the sagging cabin, assured it’d be razed within the month. Beside it sat my small pile of items—mostly planters, along with a Fire King milk glass mug, and Michael’s bowl. Together, it’d all become written into the story of Gay Gardens—from the ending of this quaint hideaway to the beginning of mine, from being saved from the dump to helping save a dump.

It’s through the process of trying to save Gay Gardens—or at least mapping my chapter onto it—that imbues the unimposing, rotting cottage with significance. And by using items that’d once helped revive other such oases, I gain a greater appreciation for the time, work, and energy expended in making a house a home—something personal, captivating. A refuge.

Michael's bowl

In my rear-view mirror, Michael’s cabin faded from view, and I noticed before I rounded the bend that a line of caution tape was being pulled across the driveway. As I do with all estate sales, I went to Michael’s to feel the stories, to suss them out from the piles of stuff, like a psychic conjuring spirits from a crystal ball; to wonder about the people before me; to use it as an exercise in mindfulness, of recognizing that, some day, something similar will happen with the things I’ve reclaimed from the darkening corners of history, rescued from the trashcan’s precipice—and have new life breathed into them as the light of another life in the world flickers out.

Back home, I cleaned up my finds, and sought out Pop-Pop’s cufflink box. Opening the worn, leather case, I smiled at the hodgepodge of contents—recalling the ubiquity of JFK’s countenance gracing nearly every room of their home.

Pop Pop's treasures

I shuffled around the cufflinks and tie clips, and made mental notes to actually use them down the line. An unopened red box of Durex razor blades sat in one corner, and for kicks, I opened it to see if they’d actually fit my Merkur. Atop my bathroom counter, I unscrewed the razor and loaded in a blade, tightening the housing until the old blade was tightly sandwiched. With my shaving brush in hand, I coated my stubble, recalling how I’d watched Pop-Pop do the same before heading to the American Legion for drinks—always wondering what it’d be like to have a beard. As I ran the razor across my chin and up my cheeks, I quietly hummed one of the television jingles he’d always burst into—usually after returning from the Legion.

We feed our doggy Thrivo,

He’s very much alive-o,

Full of pep and vim!

If you want a peppy pup,

You better hurry up,

Buy Thrivo for him! 

***

Each of my mini adventures reminds me that we have one shot, that we’re each but one grain of sand passing through the hourglass of the cosmos. And as crushing as that realization can sometimes be, I also use it as mental fuel to drive my intent to craft a life that’s perfectly imperfect: where viney Pothos leaves silently creep across paint-chipped, weathered surfaces; where Mom-Mau’s hand-knitted blankets hold shelf space, their fibers worn, the folds hole-pocked; where geraniums offer up their peppery fragrance in the rising heat, their leaves arcing toward the light; where wavy glass panes keep the rising damp at bay for another day; where rhododendrons heave upward, through cracked, hardened earth, bursting into the world’s bright days with fluorescent green leaves.

Where the home I’ve made sits perfectly silent, tended—its cracked-framed windows opened, the sounds of me rooting in the garden drifting up into the outermost rooms, leaving the interior spaces silent, still: waiting to fill with laughter and life.

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Brushing Up

Weaving through the roundabout, my Toyota’s front end wheezed and groaned—mechanical harbingers of exorbitant maintenance bills—the volume rising as I hit a pothole, jarring the nearly life-size wooden macaw from its perch on the backseat.

Moments earlier, I’d left a yard sale where the air was heavy with the aroma of freshly laid manure.

“Sorry about the smell!” the seller’s friend shouted as I exited the car, crinkling my nose.

“No worries,” I responded.

I’d actually just spread similar smelling compost around the bases of struggling plants in my garden, willing the nutrients to trickle down and enliven their withering bodies.

As I made my way into the yard, I noticed the seller was lifting crates packed with items out of her glutted garage. After perusing the first couple of items, I spied a tag from an antique mall I frequented, lifting it to read the item description.

“Oh, and don’t pay any attention to the prices on those tags,” she called, setting down a box. “They’re just for history. They’re not the prices.”

I later learned that her mother had a booth at the antique mall, and had recently died, leaving her daughter to purge the unsold items.

Judging from what I saw, I regretted not having more cash. But since it was the end of the month and I’d be left with just a couple of bucks in my bank account after rent was drafted, I reminded myself I didn’t need anything else—that this was just for fun. Residing in an area where the cost of living is constantly climbing, and where I barely make ends meet, my fun must be measured strictly in dollars and cents.

Eying a green-tinted bean pot, I lifted it up to confirm my suspicion; it was Frankoma. I considered asking how much it was, but refrained. For a few weeks I’d mulled over the idea of starting an little online shop, re-selling cheap yard sale finds like this one. But I was wary of amassing items and having them sit while I hashed out logistics for this potential, highly unprobable venture. It reminded me too much of my fifth grade get rich quick scheme: manufacturing necklaces made from perforated shells I’d hoarded from a trip to Destin, stringing them together with mint-flavored dental floss. I’d rationalized that the mint smell would make the necklaces seem more authentic and tropical. In the end, I only sold one for five dollars to a kid named Lee, and ended up with three massive buckets of shells bleaching in a corner of my room. My gums, however, were resplendent.

I lowered the pot back down onto the throw, and moved through the other items as another picker showed up.

Immediately, I recognized the woman would be a headache-inducing nightmare for the seller. Barely entering the thick of it, she lifted up a baby doll with a melted head and demanded to know how much. I quietly continued, watching her out of the corner of my eyes. Item by item, she slowly amassed a pile, including the Frankoma piece. I nodded over to her as she picked it up, mentioning that it was a good score and throwing in a bit of history about Frankoma.

After that, she asked me about every single item she considered, prefacing each inquiry with some derivation of, “Since you seem to know a hell of a lot about this stuff…” During a lull in the questioning, the seller confided to me, “Yeah, I should probably eBay a lot of this stuff. But I just want it gone, you know? It’s an energy thing.” Her tone fading to a whisper, her eyes watering as she turned away.

I nodded and said I completely understood. Whenever I make a decision to shed something, I want it gone immediately; I quickly grow to loathe and resent the space it occupies.

A few other folks pulled up, and I wound my way back to the few things I assumed I could afford with the couple of bucks I had in my pocket—the macaw, and a thin artist’s palette. Since the macaw was on a stake, I intended to use it as a plant anchor. Three dollars later, I walked them back to my car, the sound of the bargain hunter’s booming voice drifting after me.

***

As I reached into the backseat with my free arm to shift the macaw back into place, I spied a plastic chair coming into view on my right-hand side. Closer, I noticed a paper sign reading “Fun stuff for sale” duct-taped to it, a sloppily painted red arrow pointing down a narrow alley.

I glanced down the shadowy lane as I passed, but didn’t see anything remotely resembling fun. But as I crept up to the end of the block, I circled back down the other side, determining where the alley ended and if I could see anything from a different angle. Still nothing. I circled the block again, debating whether or not to venture down the alley, before deciding to park.

As I passed the chair and followed the arrow, I told myself that I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if I came upon a naked man swirling a cracked wine glass and wearing a furry horse head with “fun stuff” painted in dripping red across his hairy, mole-covered, protruding gut.

About twenty feet down, a small driveway opened up to one side, and I noticed various items strewn across a few tables and broken fishing poles propped against a fence. I didn’t see an attendant until I was fully in the backyard.

The middle-aged man was shirtless, wearing a faded hat turned backwards. As he turned at my approach, I noticed he had plumber’s crack, and patches of thick upper arm hair.

I mumbled a greeting and quickly pored over the items, recognizing immediately that there was nothing I wanted. But he kept getting closer, making the situation all the more awkward. I felt slightly hemmed in, my southern politeness chiding, “Be respectful and give this shit another once over,” while my intuition screamed, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN AN ALLEY WITH A STRANGER? RUN!”

“Clearing things out, huh?” I said, forcing a casual tone.

“YEP YOU KNOW JUST TRYING TO MAKE ROOM FOR HER STUFF,” he boomed, motioning to a chair barely visible around the corner, presumably occupied by some unseen figure. Mother perhaps.

The way he spoke suggested an urgency to everything.

Rusted tools and tarnished silver covered one table, with a few boxes beneath housing moldy Judy Blume books, and a disturbingly old tome simply titled The Human Body—the figure on the front skinless, with exposed sinews and bulging eyeballs.

He noticed me reviewing the books, and shuffled even closer, his sagging bellybutton nearly level with my ear.

NO ONE BUYS BOOKS ANYMORE. THEY’RE ALL PLUGGED INTO THEIR PHONES AND THOSE THINGS YA KNOW?”

He made a winding motion around his ear. I nodded and said it hurt my heart that books weren’t being read as much, even though I’d just read an article about how Millennials are opting for print books over audio or e-versions. But this was all about placation.

When he turned away, I used the opportunity to put a little more distance between us, and reviewed which items could possibly be of use. I was desperate for a diamond in the rough—something that I could snag with the two dollars I had in my wallet.

“What about the extension cord?”

“AH THAT’S FIFTEEN DOLLARS.”

I tried not to laugh in his face. Judging from the taped up sections, anyone who used it would probably be electrocuted the moment the prongs touched an outlet. I inched away from it, but he moved quickly, sidling up next to me, forcing me back toward it.

“YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS DON’TCHA?”

What you tie your victims up with?

I looked on vacantly, screaming inwardly.

“IT’S A HUNDRED FOOTER!”

“Oh, wow.”

Quickly, I pivoted to an adjacent table and rummaged through a pile of dull files, and considered how many bodies the rusted saw next to them had dismembered.

A faded yellow radio on a nearby table began playing a song with incredibly explicit lyrics, and I tried to inwardly hum something uplifting.

“THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE HALLELUJAH STATION!”

He ran over to the radio and turned the song down, muttering about the obscenities before returning to the shaded corner and mumbling in the chair’s direction.

If I ran now, I’d probably at least make it out of the alley, and then I could hit my car’s panic button before he pulled me back into the alley’s dark reaches, back to Mother.

I turned and stepped on a piece of gravel, which crunched loudly and ground beneath my Birkenstocks. He redirected his attention from the radio to me, and began charging back. To deflect whatever commentary—or knife thrust—he had ready, I grabbed the closest thing and asked about the price.

What about this brush?

Its wire teeth were bent, misshapen, and rusty, and its plastic body scuffed and cracked. It was garbage, and I hoped it was less than three dollars.

“UM YEAH THAT’S TWO DOLLARS.”

Hallelujah!

“Great, um, I’ll use it for my grill.”

I didn’t have a grill.

“OH MAN I DIDN’T EVEN THINK ABOUT THAT AND I JUST BOUGHT A GRILL CLEANER.”

He ran over to a pile of tools propped against a rotting shed, as if to prove its existence.

“WHEN THE HANDLE BROKE OFF OF THAT I JUST SAID FUCK IT.”

I pondered how he’d broken the handle—most likely forcing his latest victim into a bath, scrubbing dirty, filthy hair from their supple skin, chiding in a sing-song voice that Mother demanded a clean canvas.

So not only was I buying a garbage brush, but one that was broken to boot. I eyed the hole in the center of the plastic body where the handle had broken off, doing my best to avert his steely gaze.

“Well, this will do it!” I shouted, extending my crumpled two dollars.

“OK GREAT.”

He grabbed them with his roughened hands and shoved them into his pocket.

I turned and darted away, walking quickly to the street—all the while waiting for his hairy arm to pull me back, a chloroform-soaked rag pressed to my face, the brush falling out of my limp hand onto the alleyway, like the pearls from Bruce Wayne’s mother in the original Batman.

Sunlight glanced across my face as I skittered past the “fun stuff” sign and jumped into my car, pressing the accelerator.

***

JoJo twirled and barked at the macaw as I planted it in the center of my elephant ear plant’s pot, taking care to tie the most unstable stalks to the stake. I wiped the macaw down with a damp cloth and stepped back, smiling at the bright, chipping paint—wondering about where it came from, the stories it carried.

Macaw-fully good decor

I tossed the wire brush into a bin of home improvement tools, and laughed to myself at the absurdity of the whole exchange and that, in retrospect, it wasn’t the wisest move. I wondered if he’d sold anything else.

The infamous brush

Heading out to my garden, I grabbed a bowl I’d snagged at an estate sale months before. Its roughened glaze and off-kilter shape had struck me, and I imagined the potter who’d made it, who’d scrawled their name into the base. In the other hand, I toted my partially filled kettle, and planned to use the leftover water from the morning’s tea to refill the bird bath.

Rounding the corner, I stopped suddenly. Harriet, my resident Northern Harrier hawk, stood squarely in the middle of the bird bath, cleaning her beak in the little water that remained. The wind ruffled her plumage and she shook droplets all over herself. Within moments, she took flight, fracturing small twigs in the trees above, sending squirrels darting in all directions, barking frantically at her ascent. I waited for a moment, and then filled the concrete bath—a lone puff of down floating on top of the glassy pool.

Pod by pod, I plucked peas from their wispy stalks, tossing them into the bowl atop romaine leaves. I nudged baby cucumbers and eggplants and strawberries slowly budding on their vines, willing them to bulk up—to make the end of the month seem a little less wanting.

With my bowl full, I turned to head inside, and smiled at the streak of pink emblazoned across the gray sky; a beautiful farewell to another day gone.

Inside, I cut up everything and made a salad, positioning myself with it in front of one of my fans along the sun porch’s window bank. The heat was subsiding, but the cool air was a necessary, enlivening jolt; I still had things to do—writing to complete, art projects to start.

But I just stared out at the green, watching the light fade from the sky, trying to remind myself that I have to stop racing around from project to project lest I miss the beauty of quietly simple moments. There’s a certain fullness to my life that comes from embracing the world on a very basic level, of recognizing that I’m one tiny cog in a vast, pulsing world of bizarre creatures—tormented, suffering, vulnerable, jubilant.

As I do every night before I lay down to sleep, I reminded myself how fortunate I’ve been to have the opportunity to bring some of my goals to fruition, and to keep working toward others, especially now—when so many have so little, and our country is descending further into darkness. I usually murmur this to myself while looking at a glass jar I mended as a high schooler—aspiring to be an archaeologist, which I was able to be for nearly a decade—which contains fortunes from long since crumbled cookies.

Mended fortunes

It always reminds me that, though each of us may feel like a distinct, lonely shard in a fractured mirror, only by mending ourselves into a stronger whole will we be able to protect the future we know is within reach, that’s worth the fight.

***

Embedded in the most mundane moments of a given day, there’re stories of how we’ve swept the suffocating cobwebs off our weathered pasts, refreshing them with a coat of paint—liberally brushing on vibrancy and radiance, reflecting the color we know our lives can bring. But the only way of adding them to the blindingly fantastic kaleidoscope of humanity is by sharing them—reminding one another that we’re not alone.

That each of us has the power to bridge the gap between calamity and creation—sparking beauty, love, and connection, the promise that permeates every atom around us.