turtle crossing

I was saving the diapsids long before you VSCO girls made it trendy by ditching plastic straws in your venti Starbucks cups.

A couple of years ago, driving along my small stretch of road, I saw a turtle up ahead, smack dab in the middle of it. I slowed down, pulled off to the side, and looked both ways before stepping foot onto the asphalt. It was a rather small turtle, just doing its business, taking its time to cross the road. That is until it saw me. One look at this lumbering dude and it withdrew its limbs into its shell.

I picked it up and asked it not to bite me as I slowly and gently walked it across the road in the same direction it was headed. I hoped it wasn’t the snapping kind. I didn’t know much about turtles but was it possible it could whip its head around, elongated and angry, ready to strike my palm with its powerful jaw? Thankfully it never peeped out of its head hole and let me taxi it to the other side. Once it was safely out of rubber harm’s way, I carefully set it down and stepped back a bit to see if it would come out of its shell. It eventually did and continued on its course.

I drive a lot and see a lot of dead animals in the road and it breaks my heart a little each time. I try to swerve to avoid as many as I can but not all animals can be avoided and it should always be done within reason. And I started to think about that “within reason” and realized most of us don’t apply that logic to our day-to-day lives and routine activities. Consideration, kindness, and good deeds are all lacking in society. I’ve often wondered where that breakdown started to begin. Surely it’s not just one factor but a multitude of reasons we’ve all become rancid.

One thing that I’ve noticed is we don’t seem to be taught how to give and receive love. We all feel alone and alienated and bullied and often that bullying comes from a lack of love on the aggressor’s part. We live in an iced coffee cancel culture where it’s popular to point out everyone’s flaws. We are quick to condemn an off-color comment but we don’t try to correct it. It’s instant damnation without education and no opportunity for growth.

It’s easy to write people off and think the worst of them because when we realize people can make mistakes, we have to face the reality that we also make mistakes. And that’s a hard pill to swallow because mistakes mean growth and change and it’s more comfortable being petty. We don’t expect people to do better because we don’t want to do better ourselves.

We openly hate others expecting no consequence but expect retaliation when someone hates us. We are taught suspicion, paranoia, and protection. But it really just boils down to fear and ignorance, two qualities that are not only tolerated by #45 but encouraged. Because when you can create, orchestrate, and control someone’s fear, you can stroll in as the savior and when people feel safe, they trust you. And when they remain ignorant and uneducated, they will never question you.

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love is a quiet soldier

I’m ready to end this honeymoon.

Most people struggle to find ways to keep the flame burning. But I look forward to the day I’m in your arms basking beneath the final flicker. I want to revel in the darkness of domestication, the white noise of your snore, the look of your bedhead, the taste of your unwashed mouth.

Passion is perfect but finding love in the little things is where the real light shines through. It’s the way you stir your coffee, the littlest laughs at a television show you’ve seen a hundred times before. It’s the way you cradle the dog, the carefree way you carry yourself in public. You order so I don’t have to. You ask so I don’t need to. It’s how you know when to be distant without dislocating, to be close without being clingy.

As the temperature taxis into temperament, I realize it’s the nuances that narrate our love. We can take our heads off on a Sunday afternoon and lie in bed for hours, talking or silent, slowly slipping into a space of dreams and deep relaxation. Your warm body pressed against mine is all I need.

It’s a hug over the morning’s hash, a kiss over the night’s coffee. Your symphony voice. Your amusement park mind. The strength of your conviction. The bite of your humor. Shakespeare and slashers, French bistros and seedy dive bars, romance and rope bound tight. Multi-faceted, fantastic, and free.

Love is a quiet soldier, marching with a steadfast hope that it will protect the good and transform the wicked. It does not fight with slander but penetrates with protection. It marches, treads, crawls and wades to get to the heart of those it has chosen. It eventually pours over everything, purifying and perfecting in its own way. It does not punish but praises. It does not attack but encourages. It only fights to free us from our own demons. It encompasses each one of us then sets out to find another unsettled soul. We are the vehicles that carry it across sea and sky.

You carried this soldier to me. You convinced me to open my door and let it inside, to unlace its boots and lay down its weapon. It came a long way to find me and now it’s able to settle, to rest, to make a home here. And it allowed me to find rest myself.

Don’t be mistaken that our hearts are ever halved. We are whole and love comes to remind us that we’ve always been fully formed. It uses others to empower us to feel it for ourselves. You tell me with your hands and mouth, with your gestures of kindness, of care, of consultation. You push me to be better, encourage me to be bolder, and love me for all that I am and in spite of all that I have yet to achieve. I feel safer when you’re near, marching along in life with you as my armor, plated with protection, satisfaction, and the security I am no longer lost in this world.

When the decoration of honors and medals melt away, when the soldier leaves for the next assignment, it’s just us in the quiet morning light. We are left to breathe on our own, to soak in the safety of knowing the other will not leave this bed, that years degrade skin and mind but not heart. For love takes the lead and propels us forward through the sadness and sickness. It’s there with a hand to hold, a mouth to kiss, an ear to listen, each part perfected for its partner. It’s presence. It’s practice. It’s a feeling, an emotion, a compulsion that will not wither and die but will soldier on, endlessly.

night falls down

All I’ve ever wanted was a warm mouth on a cool night, us wrapped together in fleece and flannel, feeling the unfurling gusts of wind whipping up whisps of hair across our faces. The smell of your lips turns sweet smiles into delectable dishes. Your hand rests on my chest, softening the harried heartbeat, calming the catastrophe of current events.

I always stepped into the day, downtrodden among the atrocities, reaching out in hopes of one day finding your fingers ready to soothe the ache of destruction. Facing each empty slot of time, relenting to the entropy when you stepped in as if on cue, ready to remedy the rust that had settled into my bones.

You lead me to the ground and embrace me as the night falls down around us, splitting at the seams and seeping out a serenade for you and me alone. All the bugs and blades of grass bend toward you to bask in your glow. But your focus stays on me, fumbling and funny, flirty and fortunate enough to fall into your line of sight, springing up with newfound spirit, safe enough to scream, to laugh, to share these blankets with you. Crickets sing, the air dances, and the light grows dimmer, hazy shades of green and black, plaid and pristine wrists, blue branches leading to your chest and lips and eyes. Your delicate cheek on mine shines against the light of the moon, piercing through the dark clouds carrying a rain that runs past us.

My head winds down, drained of dismay then fueled with a thousand fantasies swirling like so many leaves in the wind. A warm drink and skin and smile. Lips pressing into the flesh of forever. A lifetime encapsulated into a late night with you, my heart a steady drum, my blood a slow stream. Fluid dreams and concrete connections. Pulling me out of a ribcage coma and shielding me from the sun’s rays, random bursts of violence, and the gravitational pull of disappointment. It’s the clarity of breath, the breadth of belonging, a kiss so pure it hurts as much as it heals.

Let us not linger in the brightness that breaks through the webs of bark, illuminating the trauma of the world. Kiss me until the light leaks out once more, covered in the safety of this dark. Run with me through the black fields before resting again in the shadows. I listen as your heart slows. You wrap your arms around me and I am wiped clean, a blank slate without shame. You invite me to draw closer. I sink into you, close my eyes, and wish for the stars to burn bright forever.

uninvited skin

“Again I belong to the night
I’m a mess Pull me over
I can’t forget her name
Slow me down
It’s like you’ve stolen my soul
So far from heaven now…”
-Issues, Slow Me Down

“I was your prized possession and who was your exorcist?
Thought you was heaven-sent
You left for the hell of it…”
-Banks, Judas

The mind spins at the thought of affection. A desire brought forth those bright blue eyes from behind your fringe. Parting it back and basking in the realization of prayer, God-sent and God-fearing. But mostly fearing your own wants, needs, desires that deviate from the established word. You kept that hidden between kindness and kisses and a fringe of fellowship fell over my own eyes. I wanted to be your back rub. I wanted to taste your laughter. I wanted to get closer to the one who wanted me.

But not that close.

A firm grip on my fledgling innocence, milking it away from me with no choice, no exception, and no time to process the pumping. Building up and blowing out, rinsed in instant regret, falling farther away from the fantasy and crashing into a cascade of concern.

The brain braids together bonds of mutual fondness to detract from this indiscretion, forgetting the words that fell off a cliff, the kisses that cushioned before cutting, the tongue that lied before licking it all up in selfish starvation. Overloaded, overboard, and boring a hole into my chest with your iron-hot hands, singeing all the hair and stealing all the hope from within my heart with your uninvited skin.

A first crush. A last time. A lost signal sped up then jammed in the dark. Mixing chemicals, trusting words, crossing lines, lying in your bed and lying about your intentions. Red lips and nipples and hands, tensed from tugging, a tale tired from being told.

Rise and fall. Rise and fall. Singular in sensation, suffocation, and suffering. Alone in this affliction you thrust upon me.

Carefully selective only to be stolen in sweat and promises of partnership. Three decades dashed as you went down, determined to conquer this basketcase. Cold. Callous. Inconsequential.

An AWOL angel. An MIA messiah. Death waiting above to witness the final climax before climbing down to peel back the chambers of my chest. Thick down your throat, coating you in my trust. A simple spasm of the body. A complex thrashing of the mind. Attempting to reconcile the religion and the regret in the midst of two bodies melding. Had my savior sanctioned this person of faith to flay all my fantasies or was this just a disciple of the devil, deposed in prayer before prying the life from my lips, lungs, and limbs?

No ring, knock, or other notice of entrance. Barged in and banged down my door. Death of dignity followed close behind. A pale horse come to trample my misconceptions of your intentions. Naivety and hope hauled away in the revelation of identity. Ghosted, roasted, and toasted, burned down to the backbone, easily cracked in half under the ramifications of rejection, of need, of confirmation of humanity.

But the only true confirmation was that the devil teases while God taunts. In the face of lethargy and loneliness, when temptation chides chastity, when worship won’t wash away desire, when sigils, sermons, and sacrifices can’t cut through a calloused brain, we knew we had both failed our father. And that neither one of us were leading by example.

You know, Biblically-speaking.

black and gray

“Because it’s a great big white world
and we are drained of our colors
we used to love ourselves
we used to love one another…”
-Marilyn Manson, Great Big White World

“It seems like every day’s the same
and I’m left to discover on my own
It seems like everything is gray and there’s no color to behold
They say it’s over and I’m fine again, yeah
Try to stay sober feels like I’m dying here…”
-Seether, Fine Again

When I was a young artist, I saw the world in vivid color. Everything I knew, everything I enjoyed was found in the contents of a Crayola box. I played in innocent sand and ate laughter for lunch. It was action and adventure, Super Soaker summers and a spinning imagination. I opened up a hole in my head where I used to step in and float in a world of fantastic creatures and confident superheroes.

Play time was the best time. And I always played best on my own. But when people came into my picture, they muddled my colors. They stepped into that hole in my head and saw fit to trample through my fantasies and tear down my constructed view of the world. War went from being a Saturday morning cartoon to a Wednesday night news headline. The bright blue hues hewed into red chunks of violence. Green grass grew into a greed for money. Yellow corner suns stretched into police tape. Purple popsicles transformed from treats to treating the sting of bruises. All my colors had to conform to the world outside of my imagination, a world I could no longer avoid or ignore.

The art in me dried up. People came into my life to pick my brain, break my heart, and claim another color. I looked up from my canvas and saw the landscape of the earth, the willingness of man to crush anything for cash, character, or clout. People on one side of the world hungry for food, people on the other side starving for power. Killing animals, shitting into the ocean, blowing up everything we are scared of in an orange ball of flame, flaming the fires of an orange man’s ignorance, insecurity, and fear.

My world, my life, my existence was devalued, limited to black and white. It came from near and far, outside the scope of my vision all the way to my front yard. A rotating glass door of people pulled the brown from my hair and stole the pink from my flesh, all leading up to him swallowing up my warm white essence before breaking me in half. All that was left was black and a few shades of gray.

Each day grows dimmer. Black oil bubbles beneath our feet and gray smog fill our skies. We can’t see past the hazy hatred that we type up at our computers and send off like missiles. We praise corrupt politicians and cage innocent children. Death, disease, pollution, and politics come barreling at us like a train and even if we wanted to stop it, what more could we do but put up our hands and brace ourselves for impact?

A man who sits and smirks on top of a floating father and child. A cop who kills without consequence. A woman stripped of her clothing, consent, and clinic. A man beaten to death for being gay. Celebrity justifies insanity. God justifies guns. Power justifies the poor. We use any excuse we can to segregate and spit on those we consider less than human. But when did we get so arrogant to think we could ever make such classifications? And when did we get so stupid not to realize skin, culture, and orientation are all shades of the same color?

Life lights us up. Hatred, ignorance, and intolerance work its way into our lives to dim our shine. But we are too busy trying to fit in, too concerned with climbing to the top that we either don’t see the absurdity around us, or even worse, we turn a blind eye to those with white privilege or black water.

Deep inside the shriveled heart, a time or two I feel a twinge, an awakening of defiance, a simple brilliance of clarity that people will understand the error of the world if only they could listen to reason. But reason is the first thing to go in religion, political parties, and powerful people. Still, it comes alive in hopes it might impress or press down on the doubters, reach deep inside to resonate within the souls of those who might still stir toward a solution. If you can see it, you might care enough to change it. It might be too late for some, even for myself, but I look to those who still maintain their colors. The artist is on his way out but maybe the art can live on and help others do the same.

i did not consent, i conceded

I’m a little late to the game but I recently found out that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

A lot of us will be affected by sexual assault at some point in our lives, whether it be through personal experiences or those of friends, family, or other loved ones. This past year I had to endure a nonconsensual sexual experience myself.

Since so many people have different attitudes regarding sexual activity, it’s vital that the intentions, actions, and end results are understood by everyone involved. What one person considers casual fun another might think is an emotionally bonding experience. These differing viewpoints can lead to confusion, resentment, and heartache.

Men and women can be sexually assaulted by either gender. And it’s not always just about the physical assault itself. There is also emotional and mental manipulation that sometimes goes into convincing someone to do something they are not ready to do. Threats of ending relationships or accusations of ruining the fun or being a buzzkill will often be used to weaken the other person’s resolve. These people can spot insecurities and use them to their advantage, gaining trust before pressuring the other person to yield to their desires, essentially wearing them down until they agree, or more aptly, just give in.

There’s shame in feeling like you gave in to someone’s pressure, especially someone you care about. You question your strength and sanity and their disregard for your comfort and safety. But there’s no shame in what happened to you. There’s no shame in changing your mind, resisting advances, or flat out refusing to go any further with someone. It’s your body and only you have the right to choose who gets close to it. A friend who doesn’t take no for an answer does not respect you. They only want to rule you. And that is no friend.

No means no. Hesitance means no. A half-yes means no. No answer means no. Wanting to stop at any time after initiation means no. If consent is not expressly given, then it is not given at all and it is not up for debate or negotiation.

battle

March wasn’t a great month. It marked a significant change in my life that I’m still trying to understand.

And two of my former co-workers died within weeks of each other. Cancer.

I hadn’t worked with them in a few years so it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it might. I guess I hadn’t worked with them or even seen them in several years and didn’t think I’d be seeing much of them again anyway. In some ways, I’d already made peace with it. It did give me pause, though. Especially for one of them. Very sweet lady. Never married. No children. Didn’t have much going on except for being active in her church and taking care of her ill parents. And by the time they passed and she was able to live her own life, she got breast cancer. So then she had to put her pursuits on hold to take care of that. And she sought treatment and wanted to continue it all the way up until the end. Died a few days after her birthday. 

I looked up her obituary and it was little more than just a paragraph: she passed, her funeral was the next day, and the names of family members she left behind. A life summed up in three sentences.

People say she lost her battle with cancer. But I don’t like that phrasing. To me, people don’t ever lose to disease or depression. Because both are deadly and death cannot be defeated.

Why is it with any other form of death, it’s not a win/lose situation? You wouldn’t say someone lost their battle with a bullet or barreling bus. 

Maybe it’s just me but when someone says “lost” there’s an implication of weakness. And we often equate losing with failure. But there’s nothing weak about dealing with cancer. I can’t imagine anyone stronger. In fact, as I was writing this entry, I came across an article in my local newspaper about a woman who has had cancer 3 separate times in 21 years and has managed to get rid of it every time. Think of the toll it takes on your body, your time, your energy, your mental and emotional state, and your relationships with others. Now think about having to endure that 3 separate times. No matter the outcome of that diagnosis, that requires strength.

Because, to me, life and death is not how you measure strength. Cancer will kill you. It doesn’t clear up on its own. You can’t dissolve it away by will. It requires medical intervention. You basically have to douse your whole body in poison and hope it kills enough of the bad stuff and not too much of the good stuff. No, the real strength comes from enduring those painful treatments, the drives to the hospital, the waiting rooms, the vending machine foods, the worry of it going away, of it coming back, medical bills, puking, losing all your hair and the contents of your stomach. The pain, the radiating suffering. The surgery. The hospital stays. The antiseptic smell. The needles and gluey cafeteria mashed potatoes. The tears in your family’s eyes. The chemicals leaving traces of themselves in your skin, the sadness written across the faces of those you love. And knowing all this and picking up and carrying on for another day anyway.

And even if you don’t carry on, even if you let the disease take your body, that’s not losing either. I also recently read an article about a young woman who was diagnosed with cancer and chose to travel the world with the time she had left instead of spending it in a hospital room. She chose not to seek treatment and let her cancer run its course. It’s all a personal choice and one that should be respected. You wanna fight this head on or you wanna let nature take over? Either way, it’s a tough choice. And accepting the inevitable requires a certain strength and resolve as well. 

I think about my former coworker lying in a hospice bed. The last thing she said to her caretaker was she wanted to get out of that bad and back to a hospital for treatment. She knew if she could just get more treatment, she would be okay. She was always stubborn like that. Refused assistance. Determined to take care of her parents, and eventually herself, all on her own. But she was beyond treatment. And she lay there and she closed her eyes and her mouth and a few days later, she died. But she didn’t lose.

mental (st)illness

We preach about weight loss and disease prevention and other aspects of physical health but we rarely talk about taking care of our mental health.

While it’s generally accepted that we all struggle from time to time, very few like to admit they might struggle more often or to a greater degree than what might be considered the norm. But if no one talks about their struggles, how can we even define a norm?

I’ve always tried to be transparent with my struggles with depression, disordered eating, body dysmorphia, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. It’s because I want others to know they aren’t going through it alone. One of the worst parts of mental illness is how isolating it can be. I’ve often felt that no one could possibly understand my loneliness, fear of people, the compulsion to binge eat, or my deep-seated self-hatred. But I’m not the only one. So many people deal with it every day. And knowing that doesn’t fix the problem but it does take some of the pressure off it. And it makes you feel a little less alone and a little more understood.

And because we don’t like to talk about it, you never know who’s going through something difficult. Money, class, and religious affiliation does not exclude you from depression. Just think of celebrities like Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and Robin Williams. They have access to the best psychiatric care possible and it didn’t help them (assuming they sought treatment). And through the years I’ve learned the people from high school who I thought had it all were in actuality suffering greatly. One classmate killed himself about a year ago and another, arguably one of the most popular girls in my grade, is currently in treatment for severe anorexia. I’ve even talked to people who said they thought I had it together but I’ve always felt like a huge mess.

You just never know what someone is going through in secret. So why do we make it so hard to tell each other? Why do we make it so difficult on ourselves to reach out, to give a helping hand or to ask for one?

I got to a point where I knew something had to change in my life or I just wasn’t going to have one. So I sought counseling. I’ve been in therapy for about a year now and while none of my problems have been magically erased, I do believe it has helped.

One of the best things about it is just knowing I have a safe zone where I can rant, cry, and ask questions without the fear of being judged or shamed. But really that’s something anyone with a good friend can do. And let me tell you, therapy ain’t cheap. So if you do have a good friend with a willing ear, use it. If you’re in a position to go to therapy, use it. If neither of those are an option, research online resources.

I don’t have as many destructive thoughts anymore. I don’t automatically tear myself down when I make a mistake. I’m insecure and I want positive attention and reassurance and companionship. I want to make a difference, feel like my life has meaning. I’m also scared of being left behind, scared I’m not good enough for people, scared to stand up for myself. I can be aloof or distant because I don’t want to be abandoned again. I let others reach out first because I don’t think anyone wants to talk to me and I don’t wanna be a burden. I have high standards and low self-esteem. I love giving advice but can’t take criticism. I’m hard on others and extremely hard on myself. But it’s only because I know we can all do better.

And all those good intentions and bad habits make me human. And I realized there’s a difference between wanting to be better and beating myself up for not being perfect. I’m never going to get it right every time, whether that comes to people, work, or art. But that doesn’t mean I’m not worthy of the good things life and people have to offer.

One of the things I’ve learned in therapy is to love myself, something I’m not sure I’ve ever done, something I never even thought I should or could do. But it makes sense. When you don’t love yourself, you allow other people to dictate your actions, your mood, and even your self-worth. But the more you love yourself, the less others have control over you and the more you get to have a say in how you live your life.

We make the easiest things in the world so hard for others. And ourselves. We keep affection at a distance because we don’t want to feel vulnerable. We attack others’ choices because it makes us feel superior. Pain begets pain and, well, that’s just not cool. But I get it. I want to lash out at people sometimes too. Not because I want them to hurt like I’m hurting but because a lot of the time I don’t think people realize how badly I am hurting.

But I guess that’s when we need to take a step back from our own pain to recognize other people’s paths. If only we could use our experiences to help guide instead of gun down the hard times of others. Pain isn’t a pissing contest. We all have it crappy in one way or another. And as long as we can keep our crap and everyone else’s crap in some kind of perspective, it might make things easier on all of us.

learning curve

The light from the television cradled his body, electric blue dancing in his eyes, a cool shadow on the other side of the bed. He rolled around, heavy with worry, his head thick with layers of confusion. A glimpse of a laugh, the rush of lapping it up, the memory of leaving. Crashing into him and forcing him to roll over to find a way to rest.

Beneath our bodies, we are constantly putting together a jigsaw puzzle of our portraits. Some of us are fortunate enough to find our own pieces while others need help from outside sources. People come to assist us in the form of friends, family, and lovers. They can often point out the parts that are hiding right under our noses.

And sometimes we take pieces from their puzzle to try to fit them into ours, thus changing the puzzle, thus changing our portrait. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The piece gets stuck and we end up carrying it around with us, even after the person in prior possession of that piece peaces out. The puzzle grows in complexity with all the extraneous parts, making it even harder to form a coherent picture. And when someone new comes along, they have to sort through all the clutter to help us assemble ourselves again. It gets messy and complicated and time-consuming. Some people come with a lot more pieces than others, and some with many more missing parts.

At the precipice of dreams, a hand brushed against his nose. A subtle stroke that stole his sleep. Constantly swiping back and forth, a ghost that gutted him slowly. A thief in the night, an omen of bad luck, proof that God hated him. Each imagined scenario avalanched his peace of mind, his desire to move on, his plea to just forget.

“That was the easy part,” he thought to himself. “The mouth conforms to shape and size and silence. Anyone can figure out the physical. But what lies beyond the bend? What compels someone to desire, devour, then desecrate someone else?”

It’s a balance of working at that puzzle without feeling the pressure to complete it. Because maybe the puzzle is never really complete. And maybe it’s not meant to be. Maybe it’s a lifelong exchange of pieces between partners, constantly fitting and subtracting, giving and acquiring. The portrait always changes, shifting with our choices, growing as we do, damaged as we are, and falling apart as we come undone.

His eyes finally fell down. Time tripped up the ghost. The words that poured from his fingers told him he would endure. It was the effort of living, the trials of falling, the grace of patience that showed him he had a lot to learn about people and intimacy, fear and greed, boundaries and the boundless hope that still resided in him. For his puzzle, while not nearly complete, was not frayed at the edges or bent in the corners. It wasn’t so much that his pieces had been handled with care. They simply hadn’t been handled at all. But they were just as good as anyone else’s and worth working on. There was potential in those pieces.

But can’t you still enjoy the picture that’s being formed even if there are a few vacant spaces? Maybe that’s the most difficult part. We want the end result, the complete picture. But how often do we stop to appreciate the progress we’ve already made? When he looked at his portrait, he saw something he hadn’t noticed before. It had changed. A few fingers were missing, a part of his left cheek, but while his eyes were closed, both his arms were outstretched. And there was the faintest hint of a smile. Like he was ready.

It was a nice thought but he wondered if he would ever find himself worthy of continuing his puzzle. Was it possible that the empty space between those arms could one day be filled? That his eyes could be opened to all the joy that life could bring? Yes. It was easy to say. Everyone deserves love, right? He could say he was worth it. And maybe someone would one day come along to convince him. But people came and went. He needed to know it for himself. He just couldn’t see how he could. It was a lesson that could take a lifetime to learn.

Maybe the steepest learning curve of all.

knuckles

2011.

55 miles. 1.5 hours. 2 more days. Speedometer climbing from 45 to 55. 3 traffic lights. 4 songs left on the CD. The slowest, saddest song was next. 5 minutes and 33 seconds. My favorite.

Light poles illuminated the sky like shiny pearls forming a winding path. Leading me back to the smoke that filled my lungs and dried my lips, the noise that cluttered my brain and strained my neck. A warehouse of carpeted excess. Flashing lights and MIDI sound effects. Chirping machines and amber drinks. Scraping ash in a silver vest night after night. 2 cars whiz past me. I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I graduated college and received a degree and depression. The security of school was gone and I had no choice but to become an adult. And a janitor in a casino. But how could I be an adult when I was never a kid? Just a trash bag enveloping a skeleton. 100 lights down that hill, steering me toward that ash. That smoke. That drink. Those epileptic lights mocking me. I so badly wanted to be scraped away as well.

55 to 65. 3 years wasted. 90,000 dollars down the drain. Humiliation. Rejection. Gnashed between God’s teeth. 1 life wasted. No friends or family to see the pain. No instructors to see the potential. 2 tears rolling down my cheeks. Such a waste. I could have been better. I was too weak, too insignificant, much too afraid to touch the face of a lover, to grip tight to a goal, to push past the persistent patterns that planted me to that place. Too poor to leave. Every decision was dumb. Every friend was fake. But I was the fakest of them all. A total fraud. I couldn’t do it anymore.

The bug-blurred windshield splintered the light in all directions, turning the pearls into shards, stabbing me on my way down. I wouldn’t do it anymore. I could stop.

So I accelerated.

65 to 75. 2 hands on the wheel. 5 cars trailing behind me. 1,000,000 thoughts, fears, hesitations, and determinations flooding my brain. My heart pounded at the thought. Would I really do it this time? Adrenaline sang in my ears. Then a calm crept up and confirmed my course. I squeezed the steering wheel until I saw 10 white knuckles. And then I closed my eyes.

75 to 80. 80 to 85. Darkness for 1, 2, 3 seconds. Eyes squeezed shut. Lights bursting behind my lids like silent gunfire, a celebration of an end. Just let go. It doesn’t matter anymore. Because you never did. 85 to 90. My grip softened. I peeled my fingers away and for the longest time, I felt like I was floating. Flying. Skyrocketing toward rest.

And then the fear pounded into me, funneled into my fingertips and pried my eyes open. I steadied the wheel, let off the gas pedal. A Rolodex of responsibilities spun around my brain. It was only a few seconds. But I wanted to. I needed to. I just didn’t have the guts to have mine splayed across the dashboard.

I turned into the parking lot and turned my life over to another night of labor, of boredom and ashtrays, fingerprints and sticky beer bottles. Clinking glasses and walking holes in floors. I tugged at the last bit of moisture that clung to my lashes. I watched as the knuckles turned as pink as my eyes.

I learned the real labor was existing with this sickness, to breathe with no pulse, to live with no purpose, to have to fight with lungs and heart just to get out of bed, to know you are a fuckup, to count each day as both a miracle that you made it through and a tragedy that you didn’t die.

8 more hours to go. I couldn’t do it anymore.

But I did it anyway.