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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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Bordering on Normal

Closing the front door behind me, I readjusted my crocheted shawl, and stowed the dog-walking bag. Joanna pricked up her ears, and fixated her marble-like eyes on the darkened sunporch.

Usually, that type of thing wouldn’t bother me. But whether it was the crushing weight of the holidays, the fact that George Michael had just died, or my sister reminding me hours earlier that Seattle was the serial killer capital of the country, I took more notice.

I took a step forward, and a man began speaking in an even-keeled, matter-of-fact way – exactly how I’d imagined my murderer to sound.

“It’s…”

…TIME TO DIE?

…YOUR LAST MOMENT?

…COLD IN HERE?

In one-and-a-half seconds of contemplating what he was saying, I realized two things: the sickly jade plant I grabbed was a lousy excuse for a weapon; and two, I was going to die in stained sweat pants and a moth-eaten shawl.

“…seven o’ clock.”

For a moment, I just stood still. Like the stupid friend in every horror movie, Joanna ran determinedly toward the darkened room to investigate the voice. A second later, she skittered back, sat on the rug, and stared up at me – which was when the weight of the potted plant started to register. I lowered it back onto its pedestal, and a bloated leaf broke off and fell to the floor.

Apparently, it was seven o’ clock, and the computer repair technician – in addition to downloading a Dance Dance Revolution anime video onto my desktop – configured my newly rebuilt laptop to recite the time every hour.

As my heart rate reassumed a normal rhythm, and I talked myself out of posting “YOU SHOULD WARN SINGLE PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN THE WOODS THAT THEIR REBUILT COMPUTER MIGHT TALK TO THEM” on Yelp, I pulled the shawl tighter, lit my lavender diffuser, and settled into the sofa with a mug of hot cocoa. This was it: my first Christmas as a divorcee.

The weight of it was unexpectedly heavy.

***

The day before, I’d been sitting at the Canadian border considering witty replies to the standard question: “What was your business in Canada?”

“Those dildos weren’t exactly going to deliver themselves, am I right?”

“I heard the bacon was great.”

“I was in search of some mounties.”

“Did you not see the outcome of the US election?”

After answering truthfully, however, I realized I should’ve gone with one of my alternatives. The border patrol officer’s face drew back in on itself, adding two additional chins to his third.

“Wait, so you’re telling me you came across this morning, and just went for a walk in the park, and are going back?”

I nodded.

“That’s just not normal.”

Partly stunned, I chuckled.

He screwed up his face even more, and straightened his back.

“Pop the trunk.”

“You’ll have to buy me dinner first.”

“What?”

“Certainly!”

I could tell he was eager to file away some story he could use over Christmas dinner to impress his in-laws – regale them with how he’d stopped the largest shipment of cocaine in US history.

Judging by how forcefully he slammed the trunk, my stained reusable grocery bags must’ve been a severe letdown. Without so much as a grunt, he handed back my passport and license, and dismissed me with a wave.

That evening, while eating Trader Joe’s tortellini and reading OverheardLA’s Instagram, I assured JoJo that her breath bordered on a public health hazard. She responded by timing the movements of my lips just enough to lick the roof of my mouth.

Gargling at the kitchen sink, I noticed one of my planters had blown off the back steps. I slipped on my battered Toms and stepped out into the rapidly chilling air, righting the planter and taking a walk around the house.

Remnant raindrops dripped off of my makeshift garden fence, and thrushes crashed around in the shattered Japanese knotweed rotting at the base of the terrace. Biting wind blew through a tree I’d freed from thick, choking ivy – rattling its aged, mossy branches against one another. Around the corner of the house, my rusted glider set caught the breeze and creaked awake. Beyond it, up the hill, a large holly bush’s bright red berries glistened with moisture, and a pair of robins battled over the highly sought after territory, catapulting twigs in all directions.

With my circuit nearly complete, I stopped at a tall foxglove I’d carefully extracted from a precarious niche along a neighbor’s drainage ditch. Its developed roots had cascaded down in a wispy, matted mess, and I’d worked quickly to dig a deep enough hole, and arrange it so that it was braced on two sides from the wind. Fully transplanted, it’d listed to one side, propping itself on a dying heliotrope. I’d repacked the soil around its base, and had broken off sickly, limply-hanging yellowed leaves to rebalance it – and to give the new growth beneath them room to breathe. I ran my hand along the righted, towering stalk as I turned the corner to ascend the porch stairs, and nudged one of its last pale, pink blooms.

Inside, JoJo twirled on the kitchen’s scatter rug and expected a treat for supervising my round-the-house orbit from her various window perches. I put my hands on my hips and demanded to know what should be done. She twirled again, play-growled, and ran out of the room. I kicked off my muck-caked shoes, and slipped on my flannel-patterned house slippers – necessities in the drafty, poorly-heated cottage.

For a moment, I let my eyes dart from newly-painted door frames to found objects, from brightly-colored Fiesta and stripped hardware on the built-ins to patched holes and reglazed window panes. Albeit an ice box, the cottage seemed more alive than ever.

I gave a deep, cleansing sigh – and ran toward the squeaking dog toy, into the heart of our home.

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Momentous

I heave the rolled shag carpet over my shoulder and down the staircase, up the walkway and through the door. Unfurled, its frayed gold and orange polyester tendrils catch the fading light, and the floor is ablaze. Joanna spins around on the ruffled border, stuffing her nose deep within it – inhaling past lives. She stares up at me; I raise an eyebrow, and nod approvingly… 

I turn up the music and exhale deeply, fully, completely – until, like an exhausted balloon, I’m empty. With a sopping roller, I coat the last bare swatch, and the aged wallboard soaks it in like a dried sponge. Stepping back, I survey the room through paint-speckled glasses… 

Amid the workday hubbub, an email chimes into my inbox. The subject line is an expected string of numbers and letters; but still, I hesitate. When I reach the final period, I’m divorced. 

Wispy lavender plumes scent the air. The defunct heater rattles awake, doing its best to compete with the permeating chill. In the distance, across a cleared expanse, the Space Needle burns brightly, torch-like – yielding an unexpected view. On my lap, under a hand-woven blanket, Joanna chases something in her dreams…

Clawing at the freezing soil, I carve out one last spot. The air is bitterly, bitingly cold, and the temperature is plummeting rapidly. My hands are numb, and my energy is draining. Fracturing the root ball, I pack the seedling into its newly sown bed. With dirt ground beneath my nails, I give a frigid exultation – a weighted breath – into darkness…

And in this moment, I am enough.

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Moored

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

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

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

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

And I laugh into the darkness. 

This is what it feels like to be alive.

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

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

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

Everything in its place. 

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

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

Oh, Universe. You cheeky asshole.

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

A little support

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

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

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Authentically Vulnerable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fall

For days, I’ve watched this dead leaf hang from a mossy branch – suspended by a spider’s silken thread. The brittle carcass dances in the strong breezes, and I’m constantly left wondering when it’ll flutter along – when the thread will wrap in on itself just enough to sever the strong mooring it once had.

***

Fluorescent, sugary sprinkles captured the creeping morning light, sparkling on the black formica countertops like diamonds. I brushed them into a small pile, along with dog hair that’d fluttered up from the canine melee unfolding at my feet. Toby and Joanna wrestled briefly, posturing and provoking one another after gorging on breakfast, before tearing into the next room with a plume of dust motes in their wake.

I rummaged around in the refrigerator for the chilled cupcake box I stuffed in there the previous night, flipped the top, and selected the lone survivor – its icing hardened, the formerly moist, cakey body stiff and disturbingly crusty. When I bought the cupcakes, I was the teeniest bit buzzed, which ended up being a good thing since the cake blobs were apparently made of gold, and cost more than their weight in it. But I felt it’d be in poor taste – or worse, tacky – to show up to my second board meeting with nothing but a smile and a sweaty brow. As the evening had worn on, our business-centric conversations strayed into movie reviews while we nibbled on homemade bánh mì sliders and watermelon salad, watching the sun fracture behind the Space Needle and disappear completely beyond the mountains. Cloaked in darkness, the rooftop suddenly became a confessional; deep secrets and exhaustion-fueled confessions rumbled out. I’d pulled my knees up to my chest, appearing ball-like in my chair, and silently absorbed the commentary, realizing that I wasn’t the only one feeling a certain brand of loneliness that came with the setting sun.

With the battered cupcake dispatched, I walked out my front door without the slightest idea of where I was going. But I was fully aware that I was inappropriately dressed for the rapidly cooling evening – with its crisp breeze and intermittent raindrops. Still, I had to get out of the house. Even though it’s been my haven, my own genie bottle, it can also become intolerably claustrophobic – suffocating even. I felt like screaming down the street, spewing out all of the internal mess roiling through my mind into the uncompromising wind, feeling the burden lighten and disappear into the ether.

Tiny brick fragments from a recently demolished house crunched underfoot as I heaved up the sidewalk. Near the top of the hill, I quickened pace and crossed the street to avoid a youngster freshly weened from training wheels weaving wildly down the pavement. From the other side of the street, I glanced back as she pedaled past a rusty, pink bicycle leaning precariously against a cracked retaining wall adorned with faded chalkboard families; she smiled widely, even though no one was watching except me, the ill-dressed stranger.

I pushed into the wind, turning my head against the gusts. One yard over, a black cat lounged on a sun-dappled porch pier, and a young boy watched intently as a man replaced a window on a sprawling rambler; as if sensing the boy’s gaze, the man looked up and waved, calling something to the boy, who then laughed and disappeared into an interior room. But the man kept watching, the way a father watches their child: his gaze fixed, a smile creeping across his face – love disguised in the most mundane moments.

Without warning, my face flushed and heart raced as Rihanna’s “Umbrella” pounded through my earbuds.

…When the war has took its part
When the world has dealt its cards…

I had the strongest urge to sprint until I collapsed. But instead, I rolled my ankle off an uneven curb and stopped myself just short of falling into an old bottle garden. Hunched over, I breathed laboriously, calming my nerves and watching as the smudged, cracked glass cast a faded rainbow across the sidewalk, reminding me that there’s plenty of color in the world.

***

I’ve spent the morning doing absolutely nothing except staring out the window at the damned leaf. The sun is rising higher now, and the birds have woken fully, their songs drifting in and out of the thick bramble beyond the flower beds.

Suddenly, I decide I have to go. I grab my camera in preparation, and scroll through; the memory card is full, and I foolishly peruse the backlog, immediately regretting it.

I flick a series of switches, hesitate over the trashcan icon, and then press it until a message prompt flashes, reading “No images.”

I exhale, emptying my insides through the open windows. The sky’s blue hues seem deeper than they were moments ago, the air a little less oppressive.

I turn to go, but something catches my eye.

Beyond the open window, the silken noose somersaults in the breeze; the old leaf is gone.

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The Life Boat, the Clerk, and the Wardrobe

The uneven clip clop my saddle shoes make on the polished terrazzo floor reminds me of my lapsed chiropractor visits, the muscles around my spine slowly twisting themselves into hardened knots, strengthening my increasingly frequent tension headaches and off-setting my gait.

I advance in the security line, straighten my back, and grate my teeth into a smile while being wanded by a thoroughly exasperated guard. As he tracks up my arms and alongside my head, I expect him to ask if I have anything stowed “up there,” pointing to my hair accusingly like the Atlanta TSA agent I recently had the pleasure of meeting during a “random” security check. Instead, he tells me to take my bag and go.

Consumed with Pokemon capture, the information desk attendant acts completely annoyed as I trip through my directional inquiry and stutter “filing for divorce,” my mouth contorting around each loaded syllable.

“Sixth floor,” he grumbles, readjusting himself and screwing up his face at whatever invisible creature is hovering inside the courthouse foyer.

Exiting the elevator, I sidle up to the intake clerk’s counter, stumble through my introduction yet again, and present my manila folder plumped with signed paperwork – most of which is still dog-eared and covered with Post Its.

“You don’t need this form. Or this one. Nope, not this one.”

I collate the wasted trees as quickly as he pushes them aside, muttering something about “Just wanting to make sure I have everything…”

“But you do need to go get that form over there.”

He motions to a bar glutted with stacks of paper. Like Indiana Jones selecting the holy grail, my hand hovers over the form I surmise is correct.

NO, one more to the right,” he calls from behind the counter.

I pull out the over-copied form, the Arial font approximating that of a dot matrix printer readout. He highlights a few sections, recites what I’ll need, and asks if I have copies of the other forms.

“Yes, but I left them in my car.”

He looks displeased, but allays my fears of having to start this all over on another day.

“It’s fine. You don’t really need’em. Just be sure to write down your case number.”

The litigious vocabulary of this entire process throws me off at every turn. It seems so unnecessarily terrifying. He confirms that I have all of the correct paperwork, and asks me to fill out the form I just fetched. When I step away, I dart back and forth, trying to find a private space to scribble in the appropriate information. Clearly looking like a confused rabbit, I draw the clerk’s attention again.

“You know, you can just go wherever.”

Once I sequester myself inside a reading nook near the copier station, everything starts hitting me in waves. I start sweating, feel nauseous. I want to burst into hysterical sobs. I can’t believe this is all happening.

This is when it, quite literally, becomes official.

I fill in all of the personal information, reread the short form roughly 300 times, and paperclip it to the bulky wad affixed to my manila folder.

Crossing back in front of the clerk, I park myself behind two men at the Filing counter.

“So, let me get this straight. He’s got to file, er, serve this summons form to her. And the complaint? What does he do with that, and how does all that work with getting the property?”

Smiling kindly, the clerk gently nudges one of the ubiquitous signs forward, which reads: “Clerks cannot provide legal advice.”

“Oh, well. Okay, here. I see it here on the form.”

The younger man’s eyes glaze over as the older man’s continued recitation of each form’s title fills the enclosed area with a constant, reverberating din.

I stare hard at the floor, clutching the paperwork tightly across my chest – like a pilot has advised me of an imminent, turbulent water landing and to use my seat cushion as a flotation device. At the next window over, a lawyer makes small talk with another clerk who methodically stamps forms inside each dossier he places atop the counter; his pile is a mass of gray, cardboard-like files – like those that overflow in every Law & Order office set.

The two men stuff the last of their forms into a satchel and leave. The clerk scribbles a few things down on the other forms they left, tosses them into a massive pile, and motions to me.

“Next. You can step up here.”

“Yes, hi. I, uh, need to, uh, file these.”

Like the intake clerk, she assesses everything, recites the astronomically high filing fee, and starts rapping away at her computer. A moment passes, and a coworker comes behind her and asks for paperclips. I stare down at the box of clips in front of me, just out of her view, but don’t have the energy to say anything. They disappear for what seems like three hours, and I think about all the absurd time we waste in life rummaging around looking for useless shit.

She reappears with two large booklets, and typed up sheets.

“My goodness, these aren’t as high quality as they used to be,” she says, waving the booklets at me, the bolded titles of which read “How To Ask For A Divorce.” I almost interject with, “I think we’re beyond that” but, again, the energy just isn’t there.

She glances over the two packets, and then grabs a large date-time stamp with rotating numbers and letters, methodically aligning the ink-caked numerals with a long numeric string she’s reading on her computer screen.

And then she begins.

Stamp.

Stamp.

Stamp.

I watch her dissect my freshly stamped stack of papers – tossing a form here, there, and into a box.

And just like that, our marriage begins its 90-day dissolution.

“Now, you get this, and you give this to the other party. Since you’re filing with no children, you can opt for a ‘Simple Divorce’ if you want, or you can initiate the process to have a court date set for the final ruling.”

“IWANTTHESIMPLEWAYPLEASE,” I blurt loudly, drawing the attention of a woman going through the same process with a neighboring clerk.

“Well, that office is on the third floor, and they just closed for lunch.”

I roll my eyes and laugh and say something like “Of course it is” and thank her for her help.

“And now, you both have to attend this class.”

“Wait, what? I have to attend a class?”

As she quickly touches on the logistics of this absurdly archaic practice – the “Are You Sure You Want To Go Through This?” and its legal repercussions spiel – I feel the last remnant of energy drain from me completely, pooling down my legs and onto the terrazzo.

***

Before I know it, I’m peeing out my frustration in a deserted courthouse bathroom while clutching the packets beneath my arm. I pass back by the Pokemon Whisperer and then join the droves walking through downtown.

I bustle past lunch-goers and the cafe where, 30 minutes before, I was having a final in-person job interview – and hoping that the conversation would translate to the employment life boat I desperately need. I pause momentarily, envisioning myself standing awkwardly, waiting for my interviewer to arrive – my reflection a constant reminder that this interview outfit is now my official divorce outfit.

A few minutes later, I’m buying a cheap shirt at Target so I don’t have to pay the astronomically high “public parking” fee in their garage. Surveying the sale and clearance racks, I reflect on the mundane act of buying clothes – adding to a wardrobe that’s now only mine. It’s a weird, awkward moment.

After navigating the labyrinthine parking garage, I’m so tired I can’t even cry until I get back to work and have to force myself not to cry.

The wall everyone’s been surprised I haven’t hit is suddenly smashing my nose into my face.

I can’t breathe.

***

It’s nearing 9PM, and the table lamp’s light illuminates the bushes outside, reminding me just how exposed the back of the house is with all its glorious windows. Each time I look out, I expect to see Michael Myers quietly standing just at the edge of the yard, the knife in his hand shimmering in the moonlight.

Joanna woofs lowly at a small winged creature attacking the window, determined to diffuse the cursed ball of light blazing afire in the darkness.

My eyes are heavy, and my body aches. I look down at my blank journal page, pen in-hand. But I have nothing witty to write, no metaphors to deconstruct.

Some days, just staying upright is my biggest success.

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To Feel, To Touch, To Move On

Traffic rolls to a stop, and the setting sun’s intense rays glance off my smudged glasses. Sia belts out “Fire Meet Gasoline” from my battered iPod. Since I’ve never figured out the precise sequence of plugging in and starting devices in this car, I just default to the basic, knuckle-dragging predictability of the Touch’s Play button.

The perfect collision of wandering thoughts with meaningful lyrics evokes roiling waves of tears. Like shifting weight to a walking stick, I rap the steering wheel repeatedly – finding equilibrium – convincing myself, “You’ll be fine. This is all temporary.”

The drive home after therapy is never easy – a time of deep reflection, during which exhaustion often takes hold, exacerbating each toiling thought’s toll.

En route to my session, I got a call from a potential employer informing me that, while I made it to the final two, they were going with the other candidate. “Disappointed” doesn’t quite capture the series of cascading emotions that left me crestfallen.

“You know, I’ve been on the other side of the phone on calls like this. And it sucks. I’m sorry. I just want you to know it was an incredibly difficult choice.”

Following the most sincere, genuinely supportive rejection call I’ve received, I sighed, then screamed. Rather than chalking it up to “it wasn’t meant to be,” I fully embraced the emotional flood, letting it wash over me. And then, drenched and dripping in anger and sadness and dejection, I let it go. The future I thought this job would allow me to create isn’t going to be brought to fruition. And that’s okay. It has to be. There just isn’t time to live in the what-ifs.

A row of cars inches over into my lane as they approach a bank of firetrucks and ambulances spread over the two righthand lanes. As a Volvo scoots ahead of me, I see the upturned half of a motorcycle, the back half of which is about 10 feet away, smashed into a sheared-off bumper from a thrashed sedan. Four firefighters strap in the motorcyclist as two paramedics administer CPR. It’s one of those powerfully slow-motion moments, a painful crystallization of true tragedy.

And each of us passersby motors by, absorbing the devastating spectacle – silently willing that never to be us.

***

The West Seattle Bridge stretches ahead of me, all lanes backlogged. I ache to get home, to see Joanna and scrunch her velvety face under my chin. To walk around my neighborhood. To enjoy this little house as long as I’m able to stay here.

To stare out my windows and repeat the simple mantra I murmur every single time I take flight – gripping the armrest with all my might, as if it’ll effect some change:

“I’ve loved. I’ve lost. I’ve lived. I’ve made a difference.”

To remind myself that I’ve laughed more than I’ve cried.

That I’ll keep learning from this rough, taxing, spirited, unpredictable ride.

And will be better for it.