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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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Sedentary Socialites or Again, Why Do We Have Two Bars In Our House?

The older we get, the harder we fall.

Wait, no.

The younger we are, the higher our bullshit threshold.

Almost.

The older we get, the harder it is to meet people and actually want to meet people and feel like you have the time to be social and host dinner parties and rationalize why you have two bars in your house.

There we go.

***

I like to think of myself as a social person. I’m southern, which means I can talk to anyone about anything for at least six minutes, and possibly longer — especially if we’re standing in a long checkout line at the grocery store. I quickly become completely fascinated by other people and their lives and what they do (unless they flay the skin off of things and wear their creep show creations as masks). Throw all of that innate interest into a blender with an anthropological background and, wabam, socialite central. Which is why I figured that we might as well outfit our apartment with two bars.

The semi-mobile bar. The formal bar.

But these days I’m starting to put a little more stock in that saying I always heard about how hard it is to make friends as you get older. I mean, I guess I figured my drive to constantly connect with people would remain, well, constant. But I’ve just sort of slowed down. I mean, I know that that’s to be expected following a big move and new jobs and moving again and adopting a dog and doing every possible thing we’re warned against doing together together. Still, the past few months I’ve found myself super drained, and have felt like I’ve aged approximately 500 years.

So, is this the new normal? Is this what happens when I pack up one decade’s worth of experiences to drag behind me as I tip into the next? Or am I really 529 years old and am just now realizing it — like that dead teenager in American Horror Story?

Or maybe this is just evidence that I’m expecting way too much to happen in a relatively short amount of time. Being the insane control freak that I am, it’s typical that I want everything to be exactly the way it should be at exactly the right time, regardless of how much energy has to be front-loaded in the process. But I’m learning that it takes me a hell of a lot more time to bounce back from stuff than it used to. And that that’s okay.

Because we’re still working to make things happen, to cultivate friendships — and acknowledging that the good stuff takes time. Time that’s well worth it.

So I won’t completely re-purpose the bars quite yet. I’ll just keep dusting them off. Until the timing is just right.

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Nesting, Y’all!

Anyone who knows me — hell, anyone who has met me once in a bar — knows that, when it comes to nesting, I nest hard.

And I’m not a minimalist.

Which is why I’ve been on a crazy-long writing hiatus.  (Alright, I’m also lazy.)

But, I like to think that I stand a better chance of getting some quality writing done when the house is a home, and this magpie is all finished prancing about the nest, adding bits and baubles and sparklies.

(And if y’all didn’t catch that reference to The Secret of Nimh, shame on yourselves! Go rent it now!  I mean, buy it.  I mean, download it.  I mean…)

As I was saying, I love design.  I love interior spaces.  I love marrying all of it into something cohesive that reads like a place where I want to spend a lot of time.  Or at least someplace where I can get completely bombed and maybe pass out on the floor.

And that’s exactly what we achieved in Raleigh.

But, it’s been a while.  And Toto, we’re not in Raleigh anymore.

***

Suffice it to say I was more than a little nervous when we rediscovered a lot of our stuff — y’all know, all of that fun decor that’d been stored away for six months.  Most of which was last seen getting loaded onto a semi in Raleigh.

And then unloaded on the other side of the country, into either our storage unit in a galaxy far, far away (Gardena)…

The other 3/4.

…or into our cramped Koreatown closet — a.k.a. our six-month studio.  (Remember that adventure?)

But now, we’ve somehow managed to shoehorn ourselves into the neighborhood we’d coveted from afar…

The new digs!

have moved in…

On the road again...

…and have even adopted a little ball of joy — Toby (a.k.a. Jabba the Pup).

Toby, a.k.a. Jabba the Pup.

Still, stuff has to get stowed.  Furniture must be moved.  And you can only stand that cardboard smell for approximately three minutes before it becomes maddening and you’re running around in a cucumber mask demanding someone clean up this mess!

Cardboard sea...

Slowly but surely — and with a few vodka chasers — we’ve managed to pull things together.

The living room, less the cardboard forts...

And rip down those horrendous vertical blinds.

And while we still have so much art stored in closets, we’ve decided that — since we can’t coat the walls in paint — we’ll cover them with paintings.

If you can't coat the walls in paint, coat'em in paintings.

Because if we’re going to go all out — be one piece of furniture away from descending into “cluttered” territory, or one painting away from cray-cray studio wannabes — we have to do it up right.

So, bring on the oddball pieces — like Andy’s childhood desk.  I had no idea where this was going to go until I just owned it — shoved that sucker at a diagonal, pulled it out, and made it something useful again. The student desk is no match for design innovation!(Side note: being completely dazed by sinus infection medication helps.)

All in all, we’ve thrown everything into a pot, set it to boil, and created something that’s not too cold, not too hot.Just right.

But just right.

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What’s in a Year?

Time flies by at such a rapid clip, it’s often hard to pinpoint exactly what’s happened in a given year.

Sometimes, you want to forget things that’ve happened.

But there’re also plenty of moments that demand to be remembered.

And this past year has been chocked-full of both.

So, kittens.

It’s time for a 1990’s-esque flashback.

*Cue the wavy screen*

***

A year ago tomorrow, I was looking a hot mess and prepping for OutRaleigh, the LGBT Center of Raleigh‘s annual fundraising event. There’re pictures to prove how messy and sweaty and generally gross I looked, and how apparent it was that I’d gotten approximately twenty minutes of sleep prior to running around and orchestrating the KidsZone.

Little did I know that I’d meet a particular mister that crazy, rain-filled day. And that a year to the day that we met, we’d be leaving to start our lives in Los Angeles.

Between the time we made it official and now, we’ve gone through a lot.

We negotiated the ever-stressful process of merging households, but were pretty happy with the result.

We suffered through ridiculously long commutes to horrific jobs.

We realized how much said jobs and their respective stressors filtered into our lives and jeopardized our happiness.

We made the decision for me to leave my job.

We traveled across the country to escape, and to entertain crazy plans of one day moving to the West Coast.

We made it there and back again, all the stronger and happier.

We started making strides to realize those crazy plans, and endured a long, agonizing process of job-searching and waiting.

We made the decision to go for it, even though we had no idea if job prospects would pan out.

We slashed our plans down to dollars and cents to make it work.

We screamed and cried and repeatedly questioned if it was all worth it.

And then we screamed and cried when we realized it was.

***

With our remaining car packed to the gills, and Andy’s last day of work upon us, we’re camping out on the hardwood floors of our Raleigh apartment one last night before we start to truly follow our gay, man-infested destiny to the “left coast.”

It’s been a crazy ride, and it’s certain to have even crazier moments as we learn our way around a massive, expansive city. But we’re ready to learn, and eager to explore.

So, kittens. Hold on to your hats.

Because we’re just getting started.