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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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Authentically Vulnerable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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