Shh, Shh, Shh

© Jack Amick, 2011.

© Jack Amick, 2011.

Cups of coffee to make up for the sleep I missed because I had too many cups of coffee. A mind running over my schedule for the term and all the things I want to get done in the next year so I can transfer smoothly into university. The sound of my husband sleeping next to me. I run my fingers down his back, roll over, and slide out of bed.

Wrapped up in Mason’s oversized hoodie I stare myself down in the mirror. Hair in every direction and the type of crazy eyes I thought I’d left with early-twenties cocaine binges. It’s late. Later than I’m used to. But I’m up.

We’re all up in the air now. A new season, a new set of math and science courses, new ideas, new plots. Everything I know is a transition and I keep finding myself restless and angry as I search for solid ground. For quiet. For something to connect to.

In the morning I go running and everyone keeps their eyes down. Intentionally not looking at each other as we pass shoulder to shoulder on the sidewalk. Social media sites are filled with old friends and people I barely know all talking at once, but not to each other. I’m careening. So I shut down my Facebook account less than twenty-four hours after making it. I make motions to shut down other blogs and Twitter because mostly all they feel like are more eyes on sidewalks. More people near each other, but not together at all.

I’ll bury myself in textbooks and study halls. Long walks with Mason and lazy Sundays in bed. Paper and pens. Conversations over coffee. Texts to friends. Words posted up here to read, to absorb, to email me about, but not to comment on. Not to hit a “like” button that really only tells me you were here. The human digital equivalent of a dog pissing on a bush. I’ll keep locking eyes and smiling when I pass you on the sidewalk as you keep staring at your shoes.

Fifty-Third

Me, Rodney, and Prairie in Kansas City, 2004.

Me, Rodney, and Prairie in Kansas, 2004.

“You know, I just never really got into Bob Dylan.” Those were some of the first words I ever remember you speaking to me. It was late at night, pushing morning, and Prairie was driving. I was on the phone with you, getting directions to your apartment. I was sixteen that summer. You must have been close to your forty-third birthday.

Prairie and I had driven out to see Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson play in Kansas City. The result of a pact made while sitting on the floor of a Patti Smith concert. I said I’d love to see Dylan someday. She said, “Find a show and we’ll go.”

I’m sure we must have met before, but I definitely don’t remember. You were an enigma in my family. The uncle that stayed in the midwest that no one heard much from. But when my folks called to let you know your nieces would be in town, you were quick to open your home.

We slept on your apartment floor. You served us tomato juice in the morning. Showed us your pencil drawings. Told us about what it is you do out there in Kansas. Asked about our lives.

Scouring the apartment for some sort of parting gift you gave me a metal chain that I fastened around my wrist. I wore that chain for years. The years that we managed to grow a friendship. You started coming out to visit.

When I graduated from high school my parents had you out as a surprise. I got home from school and was walking up our back steps when you came to the door. I dropped my books and threw my arms around you. Always such a pleasure.

It wasn’t long after that you moved to Washington. Started coming out for Christmas. We’d sit around the campfire and share stories over whiskey. I catch myself wondering how things might have been different if we’d gotten sober together. You never did. I haven’t had a drink in 261 days. I think that’s a better birthday present than the Jim Beam I usually toast you with.

We were standing on our porch one night, smoking cigarettes. Talking about how glad we were to have reconnected. You said, “I don’t know if you’ll ever get married. I don’t think much of it myself. But if you do, I sure would like to be there.”

I said, “Of course you’ll be there. I can’t imagine doing something that important without you.” But you’d be in the ground less than a year after that conversation. Maybe that’s why our wedding ceremony didn’t have an invite list.

It’s hard to think about your life without thinking about your death. Without thinking about how I had the biggest mental breakdown of my life a month after you went missing. About the torturous two years of not knowing what happened to you. The way the discovery of your body hit me like a sledgehammer to the gut. I had to face the fact that I was right when I first heard you’d disappeared and knew you’d found a nice quiet place to end your life. It’s hard to separate out all those things. To remember how lucky we all were.

Lucky to have driven out to Kansas that year and forced you back into our lives. To have coaxed you out of the midwest and planted you on the west coast. I have those vivid memories of what a phenomenal and precious human you were. Those four years of Rodney. I will be forever grateful for that.

And as for the rest of it? You said, “You know, I just never really got into Bob Dylan.”

I said, “I won’t hold it against you.” And I didn’t. None of it.

Happy fifty-third birthday, Rodney. I love you. Always.

Germination

© Lamentables, 2009.

© Lamentables, 2009.

I described my game plan. It’s even better this year. It starts even earlier. I confessed how terrified I am of the approaching winter. How confident I was last year only to be struck down at the end of January and not able to gain traction again until the beginning of June.

“It hasn’t been that bad in years, man. I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it out.”

We talked about what’s different this year. How it’s not like we’re just repeating the same cycles over and over. We’re growing. We’re new. Spiraling upward constantly. We do not line up at the same startline every season. We’ve never been here before.

He told me that he remembers. That he was there with me the whole time, but it never looked the same to him. Outside. Removed. Watching. “It’s like a seed in the cold, wet ground. A million things happening that we can’t see.” Then, seemingly overnight, sprouts. Tiny roots and tiny green leaves trusting that they know exactly what to do. “You weren’t shut down. You were just in germination.”

Focus

© OUCHCharley, 2009.

© OUCHCharley, 2009.

I collapsed into myself. At 5 AM I wake up, go running, shower, breakfast, school, lunch, homework, dinner, walk with Mason, homework, sleep. Wake up. Repeat. Wednesdays I meet with Leif, Fridays are for Alyssa, Sundays we go grocery shopping. My first term back at school in over three years slipped by before I even had time to notice. Midterms. Finals. A 4.0 report card. I pull my head up and look around only long enough to reevaluate my game plan, ask my math professor for work to do on vacation, and quickly fold back in again.

Before we know it the days are shorter. It’s time to pull back out the alarm clock that slowly gets brighter, the happy light, the vitamin D. This year is different. This year I get a head start. This year I stay busy. I devour more books and research papers about all the things I need to do to stay in the proper headspace. To not lose my momentum. I plan my training runs into my class schedule, I automate all my meals, I take my vitamins, I write, I talk, I cling to my routine.

Juggling. Constantly. I work hard to find the overlap between all the things I’m doing. When a stranger asks me what I do I have a list to rattle off and when they follow-up with “So what do you do for fun then?” I repeat the things I just said.

We’re pushing forward. We’re constantly improving in every aspect of ourselves. I get so caught up in learning all I can, in being as consistent as possible, in taking care of each detail that I forget to ask the big questions. The “but what is it that you really want?” questions, the “what’s the point in all this?” questions. I forget to ask, “Is there anything that could ever make you happy, I mean, really?”

I forget to ask them, but find them answered anyway.

Tracks

Image

© Andy Bothwell, 2014.

We love different
Think different
Live different
Our minds lay tracks different
Weave different
Find ways from A to B different
We play different hits reels
We listen to different to songs
Find meaning different
We spend time different
Classify waste different
We talk different
Laugh different
Make jokes and receive them different
Our brains connect different
Get stuck and fascinated different
We touch different
Connect different
Think, move, and cry different
We put stock in different things
Act on those things different
We classify and quantify and come to conclusions different
Feel different
Hurt different
Lose hope and regain it different

But we’ve never
done anything
wrong.

Littered Lot of Gravel

Unexpected Beauty

© Patrick Lentz, 2007.

I catch myself walking around the city in all sorts of weather, all different times of day. Yoni Wolf is singing in my ears over and over again, “And always one rose grows though a littered lot of gravel/Or we’re struck dumb and doomed when it doesn’t.” So I start searching out what we can learn, how we can grow. Yes, something good will come of this, too.

We tore it all down to the bones and analyzed it. First alone, then together, then alone again. All the big decisions get made in the dark spaces. In the time I walk out into the woods alone and stare up at the trees, trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. What kind of story I want my biography to be. In those quiet moments, with nothing but twigs breaking and heavy breathing my brain pulls the strings out of the tapestry I’ve been weaving and examines each one individually. I’m constantly boggled by how many I didn’t choose purposefully. How many I felt forced into by long-standing patterns that are useful to nobody. We come back together and I show him what I’ve been looking at and he nods his head and smiles proudly at me.

Pulling back we can examine it. Feel it and name it. Sort it and slowly start putting it back together again. There still aren’t answers to everything, but we’re figuring out that there are no paths chosen for us. I remember long phone conversations in seventh grade where we just went over and over song lyrics. Suddenly a friend I used to have is talking Led Zeppelin to me again, “Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run/There’s still time to change the road you’re on.” I’m struck wondering how many times I thrown up my hands and yelled, “What the fuck am I doing!?”

Over the past few years I’ve found myself feeling more and more stuck. Stacking more and more responsibility I don’t particularly want on myself to the dismay of the people closest to me just because I thought that’s what I should be doing. How I was supposed to be. No, it doesn’t have to be this way. Almost the exact opposite, in fact. I’ve spent so much time thinking that I need to take care of people around me that I forgot the best thing I can do for everyone is take care of me. So I stuck that Jim Rohn quote up on our fridge.

The greatest gift you can give somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, “If you will take care of me, I will take care of you.” Now I say, “I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me.”

Right underneath our wedding photo. I read it every day and I dig my claws into the things I want. I look at all the things I can do to better myself and understand that those things are not done to the detriment of my marriage, my relationships. That taking the time to develop and nurture my passions must always be my first priority. That doing those things does not place unnecessary strain on everything else in my life, but radiates outward and strengthens everything it touches. I remember that the greatest gift I can give to myself, to my spouse, to my parents is doing what I know I have to do to make myself happy.

I spent the month plotting. Studying. Developing plans. I enrolled at my local community college and developed a lesson plan to remember my forgotten years of mathematics. I started asking all those neglected questions. Started answering them. Started acting on those answers. Sketched out what I needed to do before attending university (with an actual focused goal this time). Poured over transcripts and read everything I could get my hands on.

It’s exciting and it’s terrifying all wrapped up into one. We spend so much time making excuses. So much time telling ourselves that if this or that were different we would be, too. I remember when I was growing up my mom had a piece of paper stuck to our kitchen cabinet that read, “No one ‘does it to you’. You do it yourself through other people.” I didn’t understand it then, but something about it wrapped itself around my memory and it squirmed its way back out when I started digging around, trying to figure out where my sense of purpose went. It spoke softly at first and eventually started screaming.

Going after what you want is terrifying. But existing only half-fulfilled is life threatening. I’ve spent so long explaining why I couldn’t do the things I used to care about that I’d almost convinced myself it wasn’t just because digging down and finding out what you’re really made of is really fucking scary. I’d almost convinced myself that I wasn’t just afraid of failing. I’d almost convinced myself those things didn’t matter. That I just wanted different things now.

Nothing is the same as it used to be. But at the core, the flame is still there. It’s been waiting patiently for me to remember it, to feed it. To stop telling myself that the circumstance is too different. That different fires need my attention now. I’m sure in a few more years I could even convince myself that all those things were true. That I don’t need to test myself, that I don’t need to constantly be pushing my boundaries, that I don’t need to see exactly how much I’m capable of. But I don’t think I’d ever be able to convince myself that I’m as happy as I could be without taking the chance to see.

Neglected Questions

© Regan House Photo, 2012.

I order my coffee and he asks my name. Smiling, I tell him. The word rolling off my tongue in its constant and familiar fashion. Our eyes lock for the second time during the transaction, “Ruby. You look like a Ruby.”

Oh, thank god, I think. At least something still fits. I’ve been floating around lately. Not sure if my feet are on the ground or pointed skyward. Nothing fits. I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing.

A week ago I told him what my life looked like. He pulled all the pieces of information I’d handed him over the last nine months and listed all the things I’ve ever expressed any desire for. Looking at me over the top of his mason jar glass he prods, “What’s stopping you from doing any of that?”

“I don’t know. It just wasn’t the plan. The plan was different, you know? We had one. We did. For the last year and a half I thought we were going one way, but very suddenly we completely changed direction. So I guess… I mean, I guess I just don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do now. I was working so hard on something that is no longer applicable.”

Like a college kid who suddenly realizes they no longer have any interest in pursuing their major. All the work I’ve been doing is only useful in moderate amounts. I’m struggling. Floor out from under me. What the hell am I supposed to do now?

Options are endless. I know that. I know. Paradox of choice, I guess. And it’s just been so long since I asked myself that. I dropped out of school almost three years ago. That was the last time I’d put any thought into any sort of plan. Even then it swung violently between the things I thought I’d find fulfilling and the things I thought I’d find fulfilling, but would ultimately destroy me.

Sitting on the tiny balcony of our Oakland apartment, smoking Newports, with my phone pressed to my head, I talked to Tobias. “You know, people say if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life, but I think that’s total bullshit. Working hundreds of hours a week will leave you depleted no matter how good the cause. I just don’t know if I want to do that.” So the pendulum took another swing away from law school and back to teaching. But that takes arguably more guts, doesn’t it? I remembered the conversations we used to have about knowing I’d done something important if I earned at least one death threat and wondered if standing at a whiteboard in a high school classroom would ever get me a genuine one.

Then you take into account that getting my Juris Doctorate would cost well over 200,000-dollars and it’s hard to tell myself that it’s something I have even the slightest interest in. What can lawyers really do anyway? And that’s just another question that was left unanswered when I put my key on the dining room table with a check for two months rent and a letter telling my roommate that, no matter what I’d try to convince either of us of, I wasn’t coming back. Mason was the only thing I’d been certain of my entire fucking life.

Still is.

But at some point I have to start reintroducing those questions. Those, “If you could do anything you wanted, what would you do?” questions. Because I can. And I haven’t been asking them. Not lately. Not with any expectation that I might answer them. Definitely not with the inkling that I might answer them and then act on that answer.

Maybe that’s the fear. If I know the answer then I have very few excuses not to act. If I act I open myself up to fumbling, to failing. To putting the things that were important when the plan was different on a back burner. To having to ask for help and support. To not knowing if it will continue to be something that interests me, but sinking my teeth in anyway.

That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? Really. I can talk myself into something and then right back out of it in less than a week’s time. Lists of pros and cons that are made up of nothing more than what I assume everyone else wants and expects out of me. Like my whole life has been a messy collaboration of “are you proud of me yet?” and “fuck you for telling me I couldn’t”. So I wonder if even when I thought I was skimming the surface of the big questions the answers were all coming from the mouths of everyone but me.

Come on, kid, what do you want from me?