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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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The Hard Stuff

Spiders cower in hole-pocked wall crevices. Bags overflow onto cluttered tabletops, computer cords dangling out like disemboweled hunt kills over long-neglected CD cases with 90s-era pop band icons plastered across their yellowed covers. Boxes packed and repacked line every available space – constant reminders of blocks to begin building new lives.

Birds chirp in the rising sun, and wind gusts through overgrown flowerbeds and hedges, creating the illusion of a giant, larval caterpillar undulating across the yard. Beside me, the tendrils of a newly sprouted plant shiver slightly, reminding me of all the cottage’s cracks and gaps I’ve yet to discover – known only by the cool morning air, the nests of freshly hatched brown spiders. It’s a little after 7:00, and the fragments of morning light refract in the jadeite mug I’m holding, offering very little in the way of welcoming warmth.

Staring out at the unkempt blackberry bushes and sprawling decades-old English ivy, I reflect on how much work there’s still to do to reclaim this little piece of existence from the bramble. The pink-tinged sky brightens a bit, and I tip back my mug, sighing heavily as I peer out into the jungle of weeds.

And then the clouds swallow up the light for a moment, and there’s just me – puffed hair and six-o-clock shadow reflected in the dirty window panes.

Still so much to do.

Somewhere in this mess is where I must begin again – suss out the cherished from the painful. All of it’s part of a new recipe, and I don’t know what I’ll make of it.

***

Not that long ago, I wrote that life is a string of unscripted, unknown experiences, from which we can either choose to grow or wilt. Lately, this phrase haunts my shallow sleep and momentary daydreams; it frightens me. It empowers me. And, at times, it crushes me.

Life has changed, and I must change with it.

Andy and I are separating. Albeit amicable, it’s still the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make.

I gulp a mouthful of cooled coffee, closing my eyes and letting my thoughts thread this new reality together as my body adapts to the daily machinations of fledgling routines.

Joanna stretches out in a patch of sun and stares up dreamily with a bloated breakfast belly. And I’m overcome.

I’m a ball of exposed nerves; daily minutiae can thrust me into a mental brier patch. But rather than fleeing from the welter of conflicting feelings, I have to embrace it all head-on – grapple with the hardship, ambiguity, terror, exhilaration, anxiety – and fashion a different future from it.

I must once again become my own knight in shining armor. And remind myself that I don’t need to be rescued – that I am enough.

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There’s No Place Like Home

Good morning. Be advised: I’ve had coffee. You can approach.

As recorded in this un-posted post, I found Wednesday a little challenging:

Oh my gods. Do you ever just have those days where everything you do turns into a giant poo ball? WELCOME TO MY TUESDAY!

But really. It’s 11:30 and this is all I’ve accomplished:

(1) Sent a query.

(2) Wrestled sidewalk meat away from Toby.

(3) Sent the WRONG FUCKING cover letter for a particularly interesting job.

(4) Gone Devil Wears Prada on the asshat moving company that still owes us for fucking up some of our furniture.

(5) Deleted yesterday’s three job rejections, including the one for this job.

(6) Repeatedly screamed “FUCK the FUCKING FUCK!”

(7) Guzzled a pitcher of iced coffee.

(8) Realized that some people’s dogs on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook have more likes/followers than my blog.

(9) Read about a stay-at-home gay dad turned writer, checked out his Instagram feed, and was bombarded by shirtless photos that made me want to EAT A CAKE AND THROW IT UP JUST SO I COULD EAT IT AGAIN.

(10) TYPED EVERYTHING IN ALL CAPS.

I’m in such a foul mood. And the most annoying thing about it is that it’s one of those that I know I can snap myself out of, but I sort of don’t want to at the moment. I JUST WANT TO GIVE EVERYONE MY RESTING BITCH FACE AND END IT WITH AN ALL INCLUSIVE MIC DROP.

Not only did everything in the world rub me the wrong way, but I’d completely misplaced Wednesday.

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source

I haven’t hidden the fact that moving to Seattle has been harder than I initially thought it’d be. I figured we’d land on our feet like we always have, and I’d snag one of the bazillion nonprofit development jobs floating around, and we’d live contentedly happy lives smack in the middle of Capitol Hill and marvel at the amazingness of life.

That’s just not how it’s panned out.

Granted, we like where we live and we’re constantly marveling at the amazingness of life, but we’re also aware that this move has drained us a bit. What’s more, it’s reminded us of what we’ve been missing, and what we want.

Last weekend we ventured out to immerse ourselves in Seattle’s LGBT community (after all, one of our goals before moving out here was to get more involved), and we figured we’d do that by going to visit the location of one particular organization that seemed to be a crazy-awesome hub for LGBT activism. So, fortified with coffee, we set out with equal parts exhilaration and anxiety – because starting over in a new place is always difficult, as is meeting new people.

We walked up, got excited by the fluorescent sign, swung open the door, and walked into a tiny room stacked with books – whose keeper was completely passed out at his desk. After tiptoeing around a bit, stoking the now smoldering embers of our excitement with the slightest fuel – LOOK, THEY HAVE AN OLD, YELLOWED COPY OF SUCH AND SUCH – we started heading for the door, at which time the attendant awoke. I asked him where the “larger center with which this place is affiliated” was located, and just got a blank stare in response. This was it. Thoroughly dismayed, we donated the few bucks we had in our wallets, thanked him, and left.

To the organization’s credit, it was there – present for the community as a resource and support; that’s incredibly important and I don’t mean to minimize it.

But the fact of the matter is, over the past few years, we’ve craved community on this coast and haven’t really found it. We’ve been fortunate enough to meet wonderful people and make a few friends. Still, even in the liberal enclaves, we’ve yet to encounter anything remotely as accessible, opening, and welcoming as the community-centric LGBT Center of Raleigh – where we met, and a place we love.

LA seemed more about appearance and income brackets than community.

Seattle seems more about fragmented, insulated social bubbles into which it’s nearly impossible to break.

Naively, we were expecting that same sense of community from our Raleigh days to be amplified in these larger, more liberal cities. Instead, it’s been the exact opposite. And the very particular sense of loneliness that’s resulted has been what’s been pushing us to move around, to find a fitting answer – even when the most logical solution has been staring us in the face.

Wednesday night, after Andy surprised me with tulips and a sweet card even though I was being a monstrous beast, we chatted over pizza and peach pie. And then watched Revolutionary Road. Whenever we’re thinking intensively about the future, and any big changes ahead, we always watch it.

We watched it when we decided to venture out to this coast.

So we watched it again when we decided to move back.

Wednesday was a big day.

***

So, we’re giving ourselves a year or so before we head back – after all, we just got to Seattle and there’s a lot of interesting stuff here to explore, and things to learn.

But there’s a certain sense of relief knowing that we’ll be returning to a place that’s felt more like home than anywhere we’ve lived – a place where we can make a difference, contribute to the community, and feel a sense of belonging that’s been so lacking out here. Plus, whenever we decide to become parents, we don’t want to raise our kid in a liberal bubble, but we also have to be somewhere where we, too, feel supported and at peace.

Until then, though, we’ll keep our heads up and enjoy our time out here – with our Raleigh goal always in sight. And while our journey on this coast may end, we’ll still learn plenty of lessons while we’re out here.

And gladly take them back home.

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Downsizing Space, Upsizing Life*

The other day I was reading this hilarious tiny house post by the witty blogger behind Hipstercrite, and found myself screaming, “GODDAMMIT, YES!”

Let me first caveat this by saying that, like Hipstercrite, I wholeheartedly acknowledge all the positive things tiny houses represent: environmental conservation, recycling (e.g., you quite literally poo where you eat), de-materialism (it should be a word), blah blah blah good things. Hell, my parents live in a semi-subterranean, off-grid hobbit house in the middle of the woods. (But it’s more than one room.)

The Alabama Hobbit Hole, aka The Mirarchi Homestead

I get it. Being good to the earth is awesome.

But you know what else is awesome? Being good to yourself. Which means giving yourself space enough to think, eat, contemplate life’s mysteries, watch movies, and poo without the smell competing with the chili bubbling on the stove outside the tiny house’s bathroom “door” (it’s a curtain, y’all).

It’s no secret that I love talking and writing about design, mostly because I don’t know the professional ins and outs, and wing it whenever I’m decorating our apartment. But I have to say, if Andy and I ever moved into a tiny house, we’d probably end up getting a divorce approximately 6 minutes after walking through the door. (Although it’d probably make for good reality TV: Two Gays, One Tiny House, and An Obese Chihuahua: Who’ll Come Out On Top…or Dead?!)

We both love having our own space. Which is why our historic apartment in Raleigh was amazing. In fact, the other day Apartment Therapy re-posted our House Tour in their “Pride at Home” series following the SCOTUS decision. That was pretty awesome, not just for its timing and the fact I finally felt like an all-star, but also for the window it gave us into our lives a few years back.

We re-toured it, and remarked about how most of the stuff we saw has since been sold or gifted away. (And it also gave me an opportunity for ample self-loathing when I saw myself in those skinny pants, and my hippie hair. Oy!) Then we looked around our Seattle digs, and realized just how much we’ve downsized since moving from North Carolina to California to Seattle.

I mean, when we first landed in California, we were in a 450 square foot studio apartment in Koreatown, and most of our stuff was in a Gardena storage facility (oh, how little we knew the geography). Which, coming from our 1,100 square foot historic Raleigh duplex, felt like a glorified walk-in closet.

Ah, yes. The living-bed-work room. All in one tiny space! Bah!

Thankfully, the only thing we did right with that apartment was sign a 6-month lease.

And then we were off to West Hollywood – a step up space-wise with an actual bedroom and generous living-dining room. Still, it was maybe 850 square feet – quite a bit smaller than what we were used to. Thankfully, it had a great deal of built-in storage – so all of our random crap (and some furniture) was stowed away.

More space!

But then Seattle happened. We loved the new-old space immediately. But when the boxes kept coming and coming and coming, and the movers bid me a “good luck” with nods to the cardboard box forest behind me, I realized that this apartment was quite a bit smaller than our WeHe digs. (We never knew how big our WeHo place was, because the square footage was never listed.)

Big, open spaces. Big, open spaces. And breathe.

Not only that, but we have one closet.

And when I mean one closet, I don’t mean one walk-in closet and five other closets.

I mean one closet in the whole apartment. Granted, it’s a walk-in, but when you factor in all of the random domestic detritus you always need but have to store (towels, blankets, clothes, coats, umbrellas, ironing board, cleaning products, that one box of holiday decor you allow your husband to have…), you need at least two closets. The only other “closet” we have is completely occupied by our stackable washer-dryer, for which I’ll gladly sacrifice the space.

Honestly, though, as annoying as it’s been having only one closet, it keeps us honest. No hoarding clothes or shoes or furniture. Our space is full enough now, so anything new we bring it means something else goes out.

Except for Fiesta. There’s always room for rare I-will-cut-you-for-that Fiesta pieces. (One of the main reasons why we could never live in a tiny house.)

Always room for Fiesta!

We’ve culled a lot. And when I mean a lot, I mean that the only decorative stuff we have is what we see (except for some framed art under the bed – that ain’t going anywhere). And the only furniture we retained are pieces that pull double-duty, except for those necessary chairs. So our sideboards and cabinets hold dishes (all of which we use) and DVDs, and all of our clothes and shoes and coats and tools and gardening supplies are stored in the bedroom dressers and walk-in closet.

Even though this move was exhausting because of majorly downsizing, it was totally worth it. Do we love stuff? Absolutely. But we don’t need more of it to feel like we’ve succeeded in life, nor do we need a tiny house to convince us that we’re leading a quintessentially “simple life.”

And while this is the smallest apartment we’ve ever lived in (and will probably ever live in), it goes without saying that it’s still more than most folks in the world have. There’s something about living in a small(er) space that anchors this in the fore of my mind; it reminds me to be thankful for this little slice of life, and to cherish everything in it – because what we’ve chosen to retain is what we feel matters most.

Plus, it’s sort of fun transitioning formerly decorative stuff into the functional realm (e.g., the dough bowl that used to hold pine cones in my parents’ house, looked Spartan and old and beautifully empty in our WeHo apartment, and will now be turned into a container for a succulent garden in Seattle).

But there is such a thing as too small a space, and I need more than one pan to cook with.

My ideal is to have another bedroom for guests (or, you know, a kid) and another bathroom. (I also like to occasionally channel Mary-Louise Parker in The Client and tell Toby that all I want is “A little white** house with a walk-in closet.” (Nix the white.) It’d also be great not to have to design everything along a wall in our living room, but I’m done worrying about “design rules.”

Our pared down library

I think our space works just fine, and doesn’t look half bad either. So while we won’t be investing in a tiny house anytime soon, I’ll take some of the tenets from that ascetic lifestyle and map it onto our slightly more material-bloated, less claustrophobic 745 square foot Capitol Hill perch.

After all, Toby’s not about to pare-down any of his toys.

Toby isn't letting a single one go. No tiny house for him!

(*I’m pretty sure upsizing isn’t a word. But it should be.)

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Movin’ On Up. Literally.

We take the turn at 1.5 mph, and hear a bone-chilling clunk-crash-shatter that makes my heart skip a beat. But before we even turn around, Andy and I know what we’ll see.

The project piece we toted across the country, and which has stayed frozen in its “project” state, finally gave up the ghost – shattering to pieces in the back of the car.

I make a feeble attempt to piece it back together, but fail – the broken, newly glued shards slide off a half hour later onto piles of bagged clothes at the thrift store. Instead of slapping them back onto the drawer front, I just turn and run – as if I just lit a firecracker at a gasoline station.

“Go, go, go!”

From the driver’s seat, Andy raises an eyebrow. I jump in.

DRIVE! The drawer fell apart.”

“Chill out. It’s not like they’re going to run after us screaming, ‘How dare you donate something!'”

True. I dust off my hands, but find them sticking together with residual glue.

“Oh well. The albatross is gone. At least we tried to do the right thing.”

We get back to the apartment and find Toby wiggling around, exceedingly thrilled that his car crate is hogging the space the desk had occupied an hour earlier. It’s something ridiculously minor – the absence of a piece of furniture.

But Andy and I know that this is something more – the start of yet another chapter.

I never thought I’d be the type of person who moved around every few years. Mostly because I loathed it, having been forced to do so as a shovel bum for most of my early twenties. But here we are, nearing our two year mark in California – and commemorating it with a move to Seattle.

And I couldn’t be more thrilled.

***

Right before we moved out here, one of our friends told us that her time in California was like a five-year dream. And it’s sort of been true.

I mean, California is beautiful, and LA isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Like any new place, we sometimes let the not-so-great things outweigh the good. It’s a big city – and living in a big, sprawling city can wear on you with its grit, noise, and general impartiality for your feelings. But being homebodies makes doing all the things a little difficult. I mean, I’m all about seeing the sights and visiting everything, but I’m not all about sitting in gridlock for hours to get 10 miles outside the city. And I can only tolerate so many TMZ bus oglers clogging the streets and sidewalks. I know, I know.

Wah, wah, wah! First World Problems!

So instead of pledging that Seattle is going to be our “place panacea,” I’m going to view this upcoming move as what it is: a new experience – an adventure. It could last a year or two and end with us returning to LA, or last five or ten or forever. Who knows? The unknown: it’s the part of the puzzle that drives me nuts in all the right ways, even as I’m literally driving toward it.

Like our move to California, our move to Seattle is a decision we made – not one that was made for us. And one of the greatest things that we learned from realizing our man-infested destiny out here was that we can make big changes and be alright. We don’t have to be comfortably settled to be happy. When that moving itch hits, sometimes you just have to scratch and relish the relief that comes with it.

Leaving a place is never easy.

We’ve done a lot in our short amount of time here: Andy switched jobs, I switched careers, we moved to WeHo, got married, cut up our credit cards, adopted Toby and Pearl, and decided that, one day, we’ll have a kid. Did we make a ton of friends and get ripped and have perfect tans 100% of the time? No. Is that okay? Sure.

What friends we’ve made and what we’ve made of our time here are what count.

Not doing those expected Cali things has taught us a lot about ourselves. We’re homebodies. We like movies, food, antiquing, and playing with our pup. We like being snarky and cynical while also trying to do our best to be good people and give back.

I’m done apologizing for not doing the things I’m expected to do, and I’m too tired to care what other people think about what I actually like to do. I’m ready for a change. And all of the life lessons I’ll learn in the process.

Way, way up there.

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The Wonder Year

The retail clerk looks at me with such horror that I wonder if I momentarily blacked out and smacked a bunch of orphans before running off with their milk money.

“You know, the cute shorts the gays are wearing.”

He straightens his intensely starched suit and pulls his collar to the side, as if he has a puff of cartooned steam to ventilate. Then slides the slim bag across the counter with a “Sorry, no.”

Which is when I realize that I haven’t changed that much since moving to California. That I’m still the most embarrassing person to be around. Ever.

***

Not long after moving here, Andy and I started fielding inquiries from well-meaning family members — specifically about how we shouldn’t let ourselves get sucked into “the scene” and to always “be true to yourselves.” Which translated to “Don’t get hooked on drugs and lose everything and become an asshole who stops talking to your family and friends.”

But I’m already horrible about keeping in touch (sorry, y’all), and the closest I get to drugs is when I walk past one of the bazillion legal pot dispensaries along Santa Monica Blvd. I’m too old to give a damn about the thumpa thumpa going on in West West Hollywood, and I’m much more enthralled with the quiet, in-bed-by-nine East West Hollywood.

It wasn’t until our gay, man-infested destiny was realized that I learned how much people equate such a move — especially to a big city — with going off the rails and absolutely ruining your life. Granted, it does require a little insanity to drop everything and move — but it’s not necessarily symptomatic of a deep-seated issue.

For us, this whole crazy journey has been about self-discovery and starting anew. Of course, we miss our friends and family at the Center and across North Carolina, and the Boys Clubs at The Borough. But we keep ourselves centered here, in our new home. Because everyone shifts from place to place as they make their way in the world and figure out who they are in this moment and who they’re going to be. And each revelation and stride is tinged with a bit of heroism.

***

Getting settled is hard. After almost a year, we’re just now starting to settle down — the dust isn’t quite as thick, and we can breathe again.

But a year ago, we were moving.

Andy had a job. I didn’t.

We had a tiny, closet-sized apartment waiting for us in Koreatown.

And we wondered if we were going to make it.

But we started gaining steam. I got a job.

We started saving and dreaming and working toward our goals.

And then we moved again. To a place we both love.

And adopted our furry son.

And started acknowledging that we need to give ourselves a little slack — that rebuilding a social network isn’t going to be easy. But it’ll happen.

And that our dreams outside the daily grind can be brought to fruition — that they’re still there, regardless of context.

So as we creep up on the anniversary of our move, we’re finding ourselves just as energized and scared and hopeful as we were a year ago.

The roads we travel, the journeys we take.

And just as we were then, we’re charging headlong into it all — reveling in the ambiguity, and cherishing the experiences to come.

The here and now.

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Finding Waldo

Before the night is out, I will find Waldo 134 times — here, posing next to a gorilla; there, wearing little more than his glasses.

But right now, I’m watching Bruce Vilanch’s ridiculously cute salt-and-pepper pug drag her ass across the concrete balcony. The reverberations of West Hollywood’s Halloween spectacular thrum beneath us– the streets gorged by streams of costumed phantasms. The off-street, dark alleys behind — a cacophony of orgasms.

***

A Manhattan before, I’m rubbing shoulders with dragons and Abraham Lincoln and the characters from Moonrise Kingdom. But I just stay focused on the referees leading me and Andy down Santa Monica Boulevard, through the throngs of carnival-goers.

John blows his whistle with such conviction that he actually parts the sloshed seas on occasion. Shawn clutches his artfully arranged flag, ready to throw it down and declare a foul.

But before we know it, we’ve arrived.

A sexified Angel of Death flutters up the stairs ahead of us, and we sidestep through a nearby door.  A breeze whips up along the walkway as we pass apartment after apartment in the sleek, contemporary building.

John rings a doorbell. A gladiator answers. His white Chihuahua darts out, and busies herself with smelling my feet.  He takes a few steps out, stoops, and scoops up his precious cargo.  Which is how Shawn gets a clear view of the hand-to-sword combat going on in the back room.

The gladiator smiles, re-assumes his sentry post, then motions next door.

“Bruce is there.”

Before we can thank him, he’s returned to his ménage a lot.

And then, I’m pug watching.

***

There are times in my life when I’ve wished for more developed, intellectual thoughts to be rolling around in my noggin than what’s screaming in the fore.  And this is one of them.

Instead of reflecting on the thoughtfulness of our friends — for braving the costumed masses and dragging us away from watching Hocus Pocus in our underwear — or our host’s humor and hospitality — his complete lack of pretension — I’m thinking, I’m watching Bruce Vilanch’s pug drag her ass across the balconyIncredible.

I snap out of it, and catch then follow Andy’s concerted gaze. And there, placed just so by the television, Bruce Vilanch’s Emmy’s.

“Oh yeah, well, you know Chi Chi, right?”

I swivel back to the conversation and nod. Even if he’d asked us about a chattery dolphin that has a lion’s head and speaks in tongues, we’d nod, zombie-like.

Yes, Bruce Vilanch.

“Well, he lives over there.”

I peer over the side, toward the lighted apartment in the distance, but get distracted by a Rubix cube dancing below.

Finding Waldo...

The world is a bizarrely amazing, small place. 

***

A week later, my mind is goo.

The Merlot is dark and tastes like strawberry jam — a catalyst to wax poetic.

Faces reflecting an internal dialogue —

The laughter,

Wry smiles,

Heavy, somber eyes

The tears.

The animation.

The intimidation.

Emotion overflowing onto asphalt like a dull, constant rain.

We keep to our courses — exploring new avenues,

Detouring around construction,

Hunkering down and pushing on;

It’s all a journey,

And we’re each just one pilgrim,

Traveling.

We stare out from our table at the passing cars as conversations buzz around us. And I lend my ears all around — like hummingbirds, they swallow the lifeblood of others’ lives: the stories that make us something special.

Andy and I stare over our salads at one another, and just absorb everything.

“This is the moment we’ve been working towards.”

He smiles and nods. And the server materializes, resting our plates in ghostly quiet. I push the slightly sticky wine glass stem toward Andy’s. He meets me halfway — near the bread — and a melodic, soft ting bleeds into the surrounding chorus.

Months ago, we landed in an alien place — knew few people; had dreams of where we wanted to start building a life.

And as we peer through the candlelight, we know we’ve found it.

The answer melting into each other’s eyes.

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The Scarlet K

Mid-conversation, I see him.

He sees me.

Holdonaminute. Ihavetorunfromsomeonerightnow.”

I tighten my grasp on my phone, and hightail it across the street.

He quickens his trot down the block.

“JESUS! JESUUUUS! I JUST WANT TO SAY HI, JESUS!”

But the light changes in my favor and lines of cars drown out his messianic entreaties.

“Sorry, I just had to outrun that Jesus guy.”

“Who?”

One of the reasons we need to move.”

***

Living in a big city has already taught me a lot about people — how much we can be pushed and pulled in a given day, how we can sometimes lose our humanity. It’s made me appreciate the rough beauty that accentuates urban landscapes — like rouge on ruddy cheeks. And how transfixing people can be.

I see things that move and disturb me, and make me wonder where in the hell decency has gone.

But it also makes me appreciate how we all come to determine where it is that we belong — feel comfortable, want to put down roots.

And K-town is most definitely not it.

In fact, it’s our albatross — a scarlet K. Because it seems like we missed yet another gay memo. Which I imagine to be a glittery scroll that reads something like, “Foolish gays live in K-town. Gurl, just sashay right on by that shit hole, mmmkay?”

As absurd as it sounds, it’s sort of true.

The three gays we’ve seen here look haggard and spent, and seclude themselves in the nicest buildings. And any others just look scared, like they’ve ventured into a haunted house where you can eat Korean barbecue to your heart’s stop. I mean, content.

Every other day it seems like five dorms exploded on the street, with particle board desks, blankets, and broken televisions sprinkled down the block. Sometimes stuff sits there so long, it becomes a reference point. Like during our nightly jogs, I know we’re almost back because we pass the upended chest of drawers that’s been sitting there — tagged with graffiti — for nearly three weeks.

But then, we drive to West Hollywood. Take a deep breath. See the mo’s walking around. Drink caramel mochas. And exhale.

Homos on the range.

***

Anthropology taught me to learn from and respect differences — not to judge people, and take things in context. And, above all else, try to understand. But you know what? Sometimes, I don’t want to understand.

Because I’m at the point now where I’m a damn proud curmudgeon when it comes to certain things.

That I can’t quite go with the flow anymore, and I certainly don’t want to embrace my inner hipster and grab a PBR before flipping my YOLO hat and settling in for the uncomfortable ride.

That I prefer people clean up their messes; that I can’t stand trashy neighbors; that condoms should stay on dicks, not caked to sidewalks; that parents actually do something proactive about their screaming children running up and down the hallways.

That I want to live where everyone surrounding me is mature 98.5% of the time, and the closest thing to trashy is a daddy wearing sequined workout shorts.

In that hallowed place where the scarlet K can be exchanged for a “Haaaaaai!”

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Hands-off Moving

I’m not really squeamish.

But as I watch the 23 year-old crater sandwich two marble slabs together and haul them out of the room–his legs shaking, on the verge of buckling–I nearly vomit.

This is the same crater whose foul-mouthed friend has just regaled him, and me, with his latest family drama.

“My brother, he just got busted. Momma and Daddy found everything. So he’s under, uh, house arrest.”

They both disappear, leaving me to the sounds of ripping tape, boxes banging around, and the thump thump thump of the handtruck lumbering down each entry step.

***

Never did I think such hands-off moving would be this stressful.

Granted, it hasn’t really been hands-off. Having found out only a few days before that a professional moving company was going to be contracted to pack, load, and move everything across the country, we’ve already done a massive amount of packing. And spent the unexpectedly exorbitant amount of money on supplies.

You know, that packing tape and bubble wrap you always convince yourself won’t cost a small fortune? Those boxes that you’ll just “get from the grocery store for free.”

Right.

Now, I think it’s only a tad normal to take a little offense to the amount of re-packing that’s happening in the front rooms. I mean, I could’ve sworn I’ve packed everything to withstand a two-story drop.

But with every box I glimpse being assembled, and tape gun running empty, I realize I may have overestimated my abilities. And underestimated the degree to which moving companies have to protect themselves against damaged goods.

Still, I can’t complain. After all, the whole deal has been an unbelievable boon at an incredibly stressful time.

With Andy finishing his last week of work, and me furiously packing the bits and bobs we have to take with us–like, say, the fire extinguisher one of the movers just handed back to me–it’s going to be a sprint to the finish, whether we like it or not.

As we’ve found, moving across the country is a whole other beast than moving to a neighboring city. I mean, sure, we knew that before. But as I’m watching the movers wrap every single painting–without trying to seem like that helicopter owner–I’m realizing how much time has been invested in this new chapter.

***

Right now, with pallets of boxes on the front porch, and rooms still full of furniture and boxes, it’s hard to believe that in less than four days, Andy and I will be pulling away from the curb for the last time.

That the place we’ve called home will be empty.

That our departure will be another person’s homecoming.

That we won’t get to see the friends and chosen family we’ve made as much as we’d like.

That we will actually be en route to our new life.

Trixxy is ready! Sort of.

A life full of unknowns, save one.

That we will happily make it count.

Together.