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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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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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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.

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Untying the Knot

Sometime around midnight, I thrashed awake screaming—throwing off what few covers I’d craved amid the heatwave, pillows hitting the walls and startling Joanna awake one room over.

Something heavy lay across my torso, and in my sub-sleep panic, I’d assumed it was either a possum or an anaconda that’d fallen through one of the house’s many rotted sections.

Switching on the bedside lamp, I realized the offending creature was, in fact, my completely numbed arm. Having been contorted at some bizarre angle, it’d reached a painful numbness. I assumed my body had attempted to reopen circulation by flopping it across my midsection, rousing me awake.

I shifted and lifted it onto a supporting pillow, wincing as the blood started rushing back to it, painful pangs thrumming as I lulled myself back to sleep.

***

Hours later, sunlight was beating against the sun porch’s drawn curtains, and I flicked on my fans, turning them to their highest settings. They did very little, but at the very least, they pushed the heavy, heated air around rather than letting it hover, slowly weighing my eyelids down into unwanted naps. Opening the windows, I could feel the air outside was just as still—no hint of a cooling breeze.

While JoJo slurped down her breakfast, I saturated the garden as best as I could—watching rivulets cascade down through the cracking blocks of compost and soil churned up by nocturnal creatures mightily vying for the snow peas and beans dripping from their flowering vines. I surveyed the damage, and mourned the disappearance of three of my four strawberries. I eyed the hovering, bloated squirrels hard—spraying a plume of water tree-ward.

Back inside, I poured myself an iced coffee and lounged at the kitchen table while I chatted with a friend from North Carolina. After ruminating about the state of the country and the daily horrors that unfurl on social media and across embattled news outlets, he described a glorious buffet lunch he’d just had: crispy fatback, creamed corn, thinly-sliced sautéed cabbage, and mounds of mashed potatoes exploding with gravy-saturated centers. He’d avoided the chitlins. I longed for a truly southern breakfast.

The sun wasn’t getting any cooler, and I checked the time, telling my friend I had to get ready for Pride.

“Now, m’dear, go and sink into some tight jeans. Pull on a suffocating tee, and go to that damn parade and find Mr. Right. Or Mr. Overnight.”

We both laughed, knowing full well that I’d do nothing of the sort.

Instead, I dunked my head under the faucet, threw on my clearance Target rainbow shirt, frayed, worn jeans, and a pair of Dollar Store sunglasses. Along with my sash of activist buttons. Having entered a different part of my life, I no longer needed to cling to the false confidence that sprang from not eating breakfast, or tarting up clothes by either shrinking or tattering the life out of them.

I wasn’t going to Pride to find someone. I was going simply to be present, to reaffirm my collective belonging to a community that desperately needs cohesion. And I went because I needed to see that expression of love, compassion, and unity. I needed to see people of all faiths, races, ethnicities, and gender identities mingling and supporting one another. I needed a reminder that we, the people, would be okay—and to see the brave, upcoming youthful faces that’re contributing so much to the fight against our country’s current totalitarian regime. I needed to see that, while it hangs precariously, our democracy has future protectors.

I lasted all of forty-five minutes at the parade before I skittered across the street—past a man dressed in a condom-clad penis costume and sequined Planned Parenthood cape staring longingly at a large floating Chipotle burrito—and wound my way up to Capitol Hill. Since the divorce, I’ve been pushing myself to return to The Hill—to remember the good times, and map on my next chapter alone. Sidestepping into a former bake shop haunt, I ordered two of their savory biscuits and an iced coffee, shoveling it all into my mouth as I surveyed the desolate streets below. It hit me that a bake shop was the perfect place to go for solitude during Pride; the carbs most likely elicited twink terror amongst the most lithe, forcefully thin of the revelers.

Having devoured my brunch, I dusted crumbs off my lap and meandered to a nearby hardware store to pick up eye hooks and a few tubes of caulk for my house-painting project. Ahead of me a man with a tattooed spine dripping down his neck bought a fan, and I lost myself in a momentary daydream—imagining him shirtless, sitting in front of his spinning purchase, sweat dripping from his forehead and down his inked back. I mopped by brow, and watched as he turned the corner, disappearing into the growing foot traffic outside.

On the subway home, a crowd of young women flooded on from the downtown stop, their rainbow bikinis and fake tattoos and glitter glimmering as much as their metallic shoes. One complimented my button sash, and I said I liked all of their shoes—and did my best to quell my internal panic that they might be thinking that I was some deranged, Kiss the Girls-style foot fetishist. But then I realized that they were probably born a solid decade after that movie came out.

The ease with which they held on to one another in public, exchanged intimately friendly pats among their group of black and brown and white faces, gave me a necessary jolt of hope. I could see something similar reflected in the face of a woman standing in front of me, her National Park Service rainbow tattoo flaking slightly at the edges, a rainbow badge on her sleeve reading, “You are safe with me.”

The subway shuddered to a stop in the industrial district, and I hopped off, racing my way to the bus stop. After a solid thirty minutes, I realized the buses were probably all backed up by the parade. So instead of waiting, I walked the four miles back—across the West Seattle bridge, snapping photos along the way, letting the sun kiss my pasty white shoulders.

Every now and then I’d stop and survey the vistas, catalog the swaths of graffiti and street art—some including messages of hope.

Women are Perfect

Others, calls to action.

Rail against

And others, simple reminders that there’re other folks out there.

Hello, World!

I stopped at a rusty chain-link fence, and screwed up my face at a wadded paper towel tied and retied multiple times across various links.

Knotted

Something about it struck me—at once beautiful and unsettlingly ugly, it reminded me of how, last year, I’d knotted myself around my problems so much that my life centered them, normalized them; and it wasn’t until I started wasting away around the tied-up mass that I recognized how severely tattered I’d become.

***

A block from Gay Gardens, I breathed deeply and stared into the cloudless sky. It’d taken almost a year along the road back to find myself in a place where I finally felt emotionally grounded.

I smiled up at the open sky, the promise of it all. And then a bird shit on my sunglasses.

Once I took JoJo out and refilled her water bowl, sprinkling in ice cubes, I walked back outside, pulling a battered chair from my studio along the uneven brick walkway I’d re-laid months before. Atop the chair, I twisted in the eye hooks and hung up my single purchase from the parade. The rainbow flag fluttered in a brief, welcomed wind.

Gay Gardens

I stepped back into the cooling shade of a black cherry tree—its newly formed fruits dangling confidently—and watched the flag undulate along the weathered clapboard.

I smiled, and mopped my brow again. I was home.

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From Dowdy to Daddy

A month had passed since the divorce was finalized.

“But you’re much too young to have divorce,” the scraggily Sweden announced from the front seat, cracking a semi-accusatory smile in my direction.

An awkward silence fell over the car, as if someone had released the most potent fart imaginable and wasn’t copping to it. I stared daggers into the back of his head as the shuttle driver took a left, as if hoping a change in physical direction would steer the conversation similarly.

Well, Igor, it’s not as though there’s a period of time you have to spend together to qualify for a divorce. It happens regardless of age.”

“I lucky for my friend who pays for my things. Like car problems.”

“And I’m sure you only have to undress slowly in front of them a few times a night.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing.”

Four days prior, two parts of my car’s axle broke while I was making a routine three-point turn on a residential street, just a block from the estate sale I’d planned to peruse with my ten dollars of tightly budgeted “fun money.” And as I watched my car of three months being hauled to a dealership for intensely costly repairs, I clutched mightily to my sweat-saturated five dollar bills in my pocket, realizing the semblance of fun I was having just got shot to ribbons, and that, in a few short days, I’d most likely be even more upside-down on my ten-year-old Toyota than I was already.

“Here we are,” the beleaguered shuttle driver muttered, the sound of the doors unlocking our cue to get out.

I slid the van door open slowly, letting Igor gallop ahead with gusto to charge his friend’s account.

Once the technician reviewed the suite of problems my new-old car was experiencing, I handed over my credit card, which I was two months away from paying off. With one necessary swipe, I tacked on two more years worth of monthly payments, nearly maxing out my card. I drove home in the pouring rain, stepped inside, and layered on a coat, turning the thermostat down from 62 to 60 degrees.

***

My unspoken New Year’s resolution quickly shifted to surviving in Seattle without spiraling into suffocating debt. Everything else became secondary–food was tightly rationed; personal hygiene was kept in check, but out went haircuts, new razorblades, and hair products; JoJo’s food was changed to a cheaper variety; and socializing involving eating or drinking out ceased entirely. And just as quickly, the specter of Low Self-esteem Past made a strong reprisal. I began avoiding mirrors altogether, which wasn’t an easy enterprise in a rotting house bedecked with Art Deco mirrors–hung strategically to reflect the scant Seattle sunlight into the cottage’s dark, light-fixture devoid recesses.

The physical changes my body underwent in the process of working through our divorce didn’t really register until, months later, I finally looked in one of my mirrors. I didn’t like what I saw, and resolved to change–despite my miserly mentality of not spending time or precious money on myself.

As I channeled my creative energies into inexpensive projects, I also decided to jump back in the saddle of making doctors’ appointments–of being a semi-responsible adult and managing my health and wellness.

Scraggily, unkempt hair was cut away, overextended clothes were bagged up and donated, and my scuffed glasses were retired. And I started to feel more alive, excited, and ready to reflect out the fellow that’d been long buried beneath anxiety, depression, and stress in the deep, cavernous corners of my sullied mirror of selfhood.

I’m growing to love the person I’m turning into–a slightly crazed creative trying to tackle fulfilling projects and effect meaningful change in a charged sociopolitical climate, while also basking in minor daily triumphs and practicing self care.

Almost a year ago, things were falling apart. I was unsure where I’d be, and if I’d be able to own up to who I needed to be to push on. And now I’m here–a guy who’s aware of and fully embraces his flaws while also acknowledging the things that make him unique.

Roads to self-acceptance are rarely smooth, especially when you emerge from a well-traveled stretch onto one that’s unpaved, riddled with potholes–where your years as a semi-twink are over, and life experiences have pushed you into daddy territory.

It’s been weirdly fun to embrace this new start–to revel in the absurd ambiguity of it all. And to do so authentically, owning my truth.

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In Bloom

From the living room I watched as the breeze ripped through the densely vegetated slopes, rattling the tree branches and tousling their fragile new leaves.

In the distance, the Space Needle glowed torch-like and I stared on until the gusts died down and the wind-bent trees rebounded into place, cluttering the view ever so slightly. Built in the early 40s, Gay Gardens had had quite a view of the growing Seattle skyline, even before the 1962 World’s Fair raised the city’s most iconic building. And gradually, the view narrowed with the enveloping canopy, and the little rotting cottage became isolated behind a nearly impenetrable green wall of blackberry bushes and aged rhododendrons.

JoJo dozed in my lap, and I focused on the mediocre movie I’d snagged from the Renton Goodwill a few weeks prior. The wind howled again, and a thud echoed across the roof, rousing JoJo who woofed and scampered around searching for the offending noisemaker.

The next morning, as I made my rounds ripping up weeds, I noticed one of the chimney caps had gotten dislodged from the windstorm. A few weeks prior, the same thing had happened, and some wee beast had made its way into the attic, startling me and JoJo awake with what could only be described as zombie-inspired guttural cleansing. So as I clawed my way up onto the roof, I worked quickly to carefully re-center the cap, ensuring there was no available point of entry. In the process, I eyed a rogue brick that’d dislodged from the chimney stack—clearly the thud-inducing culprit from the previous night. I shoved it back into place, completing the puzzle.

With the spotty clouds opening up between intermittent rain showers, I had an unobstructed view of Elliott Bay and a faint rainbow. Just below me, pale pink buds studded the branches of a gnarled tree clinging precariously to the back slope. Glutted with promising effulgence, each one dripped and glistened in the rapidly clearing grayish mist.

I took a deep breath and slowly took stock of my little home, feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having the opportunity to play a role in reviving this oasis.

A little slice of paradise.

And in my bones I felt something familiar—the sense that Gay Gardens will be where I celebrate many life-changing moments, each of which will become a part of this Eden, adding to the narrative of this secret long-held by time.