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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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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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Waking Up

Rain cascades through the canopy and pummels my freshly planted mint into the loose soil – bubbles gurgling up from underneath the clods and resuscitating the bound roots.

A lone curl bobs up and down in the wind, occasionally plastering itself across my forehead and funneling rain down the bridge of my nose. I gulp down the cool, heavy air and meander over to a cleared bed, situating myself beneath a few interwoven branches and gazing across the terrace.

When I’m cycling through a toxic welter of anxiety- and depression- inducing synaptic misfires, I stop, look at the sky, take a deep breath, and focus on something – usually Gay Gardens, my cathartic flex point.

Gay Gardens

On heavy rain days like today, the house always appears saturated and dirty, like the moldy yellow sponge my dad kept in his homemade car-washing kit in our crawlspace. Evening is creeping in, and I begin my slow, calculated circuit around the house, all the while mentally scrawling a running list of things to fix. Off the sun porch, a gutter hangs sloppily, channeling a constant stream of water into my shoddily dug French drain below – causing dirt to splash up and pepper the flaking yellow paint sloughing off the clapboard.

Inside, the residual heat and steam from my shower fog the window panes. I switch off the lights and peer out the gradually clearing windows. Moonlight illuminates the yard, and casts shadows into the garden’s recesses. As the furnace clicks on, the house seems to heave – the floorboards creaking, the rafters popping; the labored, forced air knocking the cold and damp down just enough for me to doze beneath the bed covers.

Just as I’m drifting off to sleep, louder snaps and pops from the back of the house rouse me fully awake. I listen closely for more, and then my imagination does the rest – crafting a horror movie sequence that climaxes with an ax splintering my barricaded bedroom door. Heart racing, I deftly slide my hand down to retrieve a concealed hammer I took from my last job, the name “Kate” scribbled in Sharpie along its dented head.

Flicking on light after light, I study each darkened corner and fiddle with the door locks, convincing myself that everything is fine – that my imagination just got the best of me.

I laugh into the darkness to reassure myself, sigh, and squirrel Kate into her hiding place before sliding back under the covers.

I comb back through the day, reciting off each to-do, like sheep leaping over a fence.

Paint floor.

Seal baseboards.

Clear weeds.

And then, I’m waking up the next morning.

Over the past few weeks, each morning has been successively refreshing. With mental cloud banks clearing, I’m steeling my nerves for what I know is going to be an uphill battle.

It’s been over a year since I submitted my manuscript for publication, and received my first crushing “Thanks but no thanks” response. Since then, the manuscript has migrated from my underwear drawer to a top closet shelf – always relegated to the darkest of alcoves.

Like my personal life, I’d deemed the tome complete. Now, it’s time to start again.

***

Sun rays pierce the foggy haze, and the floor vibrates – the slumbering house rattles awake.

And I sit here, feet firmly pressed against the cold floor, willing the warmth to pulse through my legs, propelling me forward – awake.

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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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Ebb & Flow

Seattle’s hallmark fall mist filters down through brittle leaves to parched soil. From a single, mossy branch at the top of my plum tree, five purple orbs dangle enticingly – the last vestiges of the growing season.

Deterred by the empty fridge, my growling stomach convinces me that coffee and plums will work just fine for a Saturday morning breakfast.

But then, emerging from the shaded side of a rhododendron, an obese squirrel lazily lopes toward my bounty, sniffing at the decimated plum skins and pits he and his brethren have littered around the yard as he nears the tree’s gnarled trunk.

Animal instinct kicks in, and my disheveled fro grows menacingly – my own hackles. The dogs scatter as I run out the back door, dragging a paint-spattered utility ladder in my wake. The ensuing ruckus from the ladder clanging down the squeaky mud porch stairs startles my nemesis, freezing him midway up the trunk, his marble-like eyes fixated on the insane person running toward him, hissing madly.

He flees. I win. Breakfast is secured.

Back inside, I slice my spoils and drizzle them with honey. Coffee steams in my mug, and Joanna sits nearby, pulling at the stitching of my childhood Care Bear turned dog toy.

On the faded, leather-topped drum table above her, a shock of pink from an African violet’s flower catches my attention. Sometime in the night, its tiny buds sprang to life – blooming quietly, elegantly, fully; the cupped blooms fill with morning light – nature’s entreating communion chalices.

***

After my second cup of coffee, I decide to check in with the rest of the world and open my email. Just a week ago, I’d refresh my inbox every five minutes – hoping for relief in the form of a subject line reading, “Job Offer.” Now that that particularly exhausting, yet satisfyingly cleared hurdle is behind me, I’ve purposefully unplugged – looking skyward, reading, working outside, painting, and relegating my phone to my mental dustbin until I need it.

A property management company rep has responded to my email about altering the lease with a sterile: “We’ll need to ensure that your income alone can cover rent. Please send your most recent pay stub.” Although the response isn’t entirely unexpected, I’m suddenly awash with anxiety – my eyes darting around to freshly painted walls, out the windows to cleared planting beds and newly rooted shrubs.

All this could be taken away with one email, one turn of phrase.

I delete “Thanks a fucking lot!” and reply appropriately, infusing my message with the requisite saccharine subservience most tenants convey to avoid falling out of grace with their landlords. I know this is a business to them, and they couldn’t care less about all of the time, effort, and expense Andy and I both dumped into this heap; that there’s still some persistent electrical problem; that every morning I clear away cobwebs, courtesy of my arachnid roommates; that I’m constantly fighting against some natural element to reclaim this house of paste and popsicle sticks. (#FirstWorldproblems)

But as unintentionally hurtful as the message was, the subtext is nothing new. Just like everyone else, I have to carve out my own niche of existence and defend it.

To live means to fight. It’ll never be an easy ride, and that’s okay.

Living in this cute, rotting house, I’m constantly reminded of the transitory nature of material things. Years from now, will someone be sitting on this sun porch, scribbling away in a notebook or chatting over coffee with friends? Or will these walls and weathered floors be splintered into the earth and overtaken by ivy, or gone entirely and replaced with a McMansion block devoid of personality? I wonder where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing. If I’ll drive by one day to remember my new beginning in this little house.

Part of me accepting the inevitability of change is acknowledging that I’m constantly in motion, colliding with possibilities, obliterating obstacles while creating life, energy, and fulfilling moments in which I feel complete – as though I’ve curled up in my most threadbare, comfy clothes on my weathered sofa with a mug of hot cocoa in hand, watching a storm roll in through the open windows.

Letting the wind blast my face, the cool air filling my lungs – my mind marveling at life’s ebb and flow.

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Training Wings

Perched on the edge of the planter box, I rub my eyes with thumbs roughened from my morning brier-plucking routine.

The sun has nearly set, and the moon is already hanging low in the sky – a celestial combination casting a gray veil over the yard, cajoling nocturnal critters bedded down in the bramble to rustle awake.

Large, ant-like insects flounder through the breeze with awkward intensity, smacking into the open windows, looking for an entrance through the glass before their bodies’ weight drags them closer to the dusty, browned grass.

In the distance, down the hill, the steel mill clangs methodically – sheets cascading down into piles for shipment abroad, filling the air with the sounds of a bustling industrial kitchen. With my glasses propped atop my head, I take in the blurs of green, the slight reds of changing leaves, and close my eyes – absorbing the night, reveling in the smells wafting over from a neighbor’s grill.

Before long, I hear nails scratching against wood, and peer up to the windows to see a shaking tan blob atop the worn windowsill.

“No ma’am,” I coo quasi-authoritatively.

Readjusting my glasses, I stare up into Joanna’s deep, dark eyes – marbles set within her velvety, buff coat. She stares back, and I can tell her thin tail is wagging rapidly. She sniffs the air, licks her nose, and disappears – pitter-pattering back to my room, a signal she’s ready for bed.

I rub my eyes again, shift slightly, and feel the rotted support beneath me moan – and a tickling along my neck. Looking down, I see a large wing stuck to the inside of my white V-neck. And then I know what’s on me: one of the massive ant things.

I rip off my shirt and shake it wildly. My reaction’s not necessarily out of fear, but more surprise. I’ve never done well with surprises.

Another translucent wing dusts up in my solo melee, and I hear a low thunk from the insect’s body landing where I just sat.

I stoop and watch it clamoring along the weathered edge, making its way as an ostensibly different being.

A creature whose wings will regenerate.

A beginner who will learn to fly again.

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The Starting Line

The orange extension cord’s serpentine coils lay across the kitchen floor, mounding at the base of the overworked, cream-colored refrigerator. A casement window hangs open, a tiny mouth breathing in the Seattle chill – a harbinger of fall.

Beyond the freshly painted sill, the yard sits upturned, its overgrown beds gutted – their English ivy and blackberry interlopers ripped out, the browned stalks and residual leaves scooped up by obese robins and thrushes for nest-making, along with the occasional displaced worm for dinner. This ramshackle stretch of existence is my Eden.

Leering over my steaming coffee cup, I’m fixating on the Mission-style, glass-fronted cabinet neatly filled with brightly colored Fiesta, the plants sitting atop cascading down like leafy waterfalls. Joanna is taking a post-breakfast nap in the bedroom, which means the house is silent and still – my favorite time of the morning.

I walk around assessing the cottage’s rooms, mentally scrawling lists of what still needs to be done.

  1. Paint trim
  2. Move dresser
  3. Add curtains

Everything’s been moved and reorganized into a space that’s now uniquely mine. From recent investigative forays into the far reaches of the house, I’m coming to know each nook and cranny. As I strip off layers of 50s wallpaper, and empty Cold War-era End Days larders of canned peaches, peanut butter, and assorted jellies from the crawl space, I daydream about the people who used to live here, and craft their backstories. I wonder if they, too, spent each morning staring out these windows, conjuring fantasies of what they’d make of their existence.

Despite the progress I’m making, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed by everything – succumbing to the numbness and ambiguity of every anxiety-inducing detail on my radar: a needy dog, an endless list of housework and landscape maintenance to complete, a social network to build, an electrical problem to be fixed.

Joanna’s wet nose startles me fully awake, making me slosh coffee out of my milk glass mug onto the weathered tabletop. In the freshly cleaned windows’ reflection, I watch as she drags a gutted seal plush to a sun spot and collapses in a heap of wrenched-out stuffing. Dust kicks up from the floor, the particles dancing in the slates of sunlight pouring in; they look like sea monkeys somersaulting in the air, disappearing in the blink of an eye, making me wonder if I ever really saw them.

I refill my mug and add milk, watching the white marry with the deep, dark roast – swirling together in a tiny cyclone, a contained storm. There’s beauty in this chaotic world, if only we stop to recognize it.

My joints ache, like a cat eternally caught arcing its back, hoping for the release a solid stretch – the most mundane contortion – will bring. A spindly-legged house spider performs arabesque arachnid aerobatics while weaving its silken tapestry from the leaves of my beloved geranium. I get up, stretch, and relocate my eight-legged breakfast companion, watching her drift down from the open window and scurry into another crevice in the board and batten.

I let the sunlight warm my face, and the breeze tousle my unkempt curls. Birds dart from nearby branches into the thicket far behind the house, reminding me that there’s so much to see, so much to explore – that there’s a whole world waiting.

Joanna sniffs at the door and circles, watching me expectantly. I shrug off the morning, the fractured thoughts tumbling around, and embrace the uncertainty of the day with a smile, open mind, and sense of humor.

Because I have a dog to walk, walls to paint, plants to grow, and cookies to make for new friends.

And a cottage with electricity that works most of the time.

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New Beginnings

A cross breeze gently stirs the blinds in the living room — animating them like a ghostly marionette.

Early morning moonlight glances across the mirrors piled on tables, which are stacked on chairs, which are turned in every possible arabesque-like contortion — everything fitting together in a hoarderish Jenga.

The macaw from the unit across the courtyard rouses, belting out a few throaty caw caw‘s before settling back into her early morning haze. Sweaty socks from our run cling to my feet like a second skin.

The new digs!

And I feel rejuvenated.

It’s a new day. A new week.

A new beginning.

***

It’s hard to believe we’ve been living in California for almost half a year. So much has happened. And just getting out here has been punctuated with every possible test imaginable as we started over.

And now, we’re starting over again.

On the road again...

Almost immediately after landing in Los Angeles, we realized that there’s a certain mysterious gravitational pull to this place. There’s grit and beauty, noise and quiet — everything that attracts and repels.

I never envisioned living in such a large city. But now, the streets are more familiar. The freeways less imposing. Goals seemingly cemented on the horizon — like distant dots — now much closer, more accessible, like low-hanging fruit.

Our time here has been exhausting and invigorating. We both started over professionally. We’ve pushed ourselves out of our respective comfort zones — leaving our loved ones, our friends, in search of some new adventure.

And it’s been hard.

But what’s been borne out of this entire process has been something indescribable — a feeling of possibility. Of realizing that so many things we thought were so completely unattainable six months ago are now dancing around our fingertips, and we just have to keep reaching for them.

Leaving everything — and everyone — you know for something else, some nebulous blob of unrealized and somewhat unformulated goals, can be so overwhelmingly painful and draining that it’s easy to crack and crumble.

And we’ve definitely had our low points here. But through it all, we’ve kept going. And now, we’re in a place we’ve wanted to call home for six months.

We’re making friends. We’re laughing more. We’re breathing deeply, and drinking it all in.

Koreatown served its purpose. It was — and will always be — our first nest in California.

But West Hollywood is home.

Home

An apple we reached for and grabbed.

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Talk To Me

There comes a time when each and every one of us realizes that we’re good at something.

Kicking a ball.

Shopping the clearance rack.

Giving head.

But oftentimes we lose sight of said abilities — let them smolder on the proverbial back-burner until our internal smoke alarm goes off, reminding us that there’s more out there than what’s right in front of us.

Or our government shuts down, leaving us — and the world — to wonder what in the fuck is wrong with our country.

***

I’m zhoozhing my sleeves and adjusting my orange cardigan — my fashion-inspired homage to the beginning of October — as Rachel Maddow details how the Republicans are driving the country off a cliff.

And not in the tragically poetic Thelma & Louise kind of way. There’s no clasping of hands; no longing looks. Just fiery carnage.

I think of my friends and family who work for the government and wonder what exactly they’re doing.

How long this will last.

And what the end result will be.

***

But amid all of this nonsense, the days have to go on; we have to keep forging ahead. And somewhere in the chaos we more fully recognize the little blips of happiness for what they are, because it’s often not until we’re hitting something — a wall, a low — that we understand how flexible and pliable our flesh, our minds really are.

Each of us has Gumbyesque abilities — we adapt, we tweak things; we make something palatable out of scraps, mix in ambition, and mend our fractured selves into a different, yet more complete whole.

I know that the ripples of this national embarrassment will reach into each of our lives and pull and pinch and stretch us professionally. And try as we might to deny it, we know it’ll also hit home.

Which is why it’s important to remember the things we’re good at. Our fallback plans — our Hail Mary passes.

I know what you’re thinking.

Did Matt just make a sports analogy? 

***

Now, I’ll be the first to admit how hard it is to bounce back from the lows.

I mean, look at me. I’ve been in a writing rut lately. I’m exhausted. I feel uninspired. I’m trying to figure out how to be better at my job. We’re about to move again. It’s all nuts and scary and tiring.

But every now and then — when my woe-is-me violin quiets enough — I recall past rough patches. The whole unknown of it all.

And remember the tenuous, yet joyful ambiguity it brings with it. There’s so much promise in that murky pool of emotional goo.

Fewer people look at you like you’re a nut if you talk about starting over.

Shades of your past creative selves start turning on their Dickens charm, leaving the dusty chains at home.

And you start remembering those things on the back-burner.

You acknowledge that, while you may not be good at everything, you’re good at more than a few things.

Hell, as I’m re-building my professional life from the crumbly ruins of neglected degrees past, I’m realizing this whole professional 180 degree business is hard. I’m making a lot of mistakes. Running to the bathroom every now and then to catch my breath. (And not because someone in my office ate bad chile con carne.)

The uncertainty — the challenge — is scaring the shit out of me. But in all of the mental chatter — the What in the hell are you doing? Did you really think that would work? — I glean a few shimmering bits, like pearls in an oil-slicked sea.

I embrace the positive. And I own it.

I balance the scales — tell myself that, sure, I may still be learning about XYZ; but I sure as hell can talk to people. Now, that’s not necessarily a ringing endorsement. But it’s something.

Especially when I realize that that southern-inspired quality, which I never really paid much mind to, is quite a boon when you have to talk to a lot of people every single day — or suddenly give a speech to a crowd full of strangers.

So, there you have it — at least I don’t have to worry about being the office weirdo who just breathes heavily and sweats when you talk to them.

***

Sure, each of us may be feeling a bit tipsy-turdy — that all this government cray cray is making us want to drink, upsetting our stomachs. But also remember this: While you or I may not necessarily be able to hit a home run every single day — be that Renaissance Person everyone looks up to — we bring more than one thing to our respective tables. (And apparently more than one sports analogy.)

Even if it’s not fully set, or has a little dry rot.

Because all we can do is bring appetites for better, nourishing days.

And sturdier legs to lean on.

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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.