I was in Hobby Lobby the other day looking for a new calligraphy pen. As I walked through the aisles, it reminded me of when I was a little boy. I would have been in heaven.
Living in a small town, we didn’t have specialty art supply stores like Hobby Lobby or Michaels. All we had was a small Wal-Mart in the next town over. As a single-digit-age kid, my world is incredibly small so a trip to the next town felt like a huge adventure. And a trip to Wal-Mart was like Walt Disney World. ‘Cause that meant I could get a toy. And also some new crayons.
I was happy with my one aisle of arts and crafts our Wal-Mart provided. Over the years, I did outgrow the space as I eventually purchased just about every piece of charcoal, fine-tipped drawing pen, pastel, and watercolor set available. But at first, I was mesmerized by all the different tools and techniques I wanted to master.
I loved drawing when I was a kid. And coloring. And painting. And building. And creating in general. It was fun for me and the more I did it, the better I got at it. Not only did I enjoy the creative process but took great satisfaction at the outcome, felt genuine pride over that final polished piece.
Art was all I knew and that’s all my peers began to associate me with. I was “that chubby artist guy.” And while I was better than average, I was no Picasso. But everyone acted like I was. And I found that kind of reputation hard to live up to. I started developing art anxiety that compounded my general anxiety. I wasn’t as good as people thought and I started to feel like a fraud. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be as amazing as others expected. And the art that I enjoyed so much began to feel more like a chore.
But I thought college would help me catch up to the expectations people had for me. I would learn the craft, refine my techniques, and learn to fall in love with art again. Unfortunately, attending an art school only reinforced my fears that I was not good enough. My classmates were lightyears ahead of me and wildly talented. But again, art was all I knew. God knows I’m not good at math. I’m not really good at anything, actually. So I stuck with it, got my degree, then promptly moved back home and “retired” from art.
I didn’t want to deal with my insecurities, didn’t want to face the possibility of failure, so I just stopped trying. One of the biggest mistakes I could have made.
Since graduating college nearly ten years ago, I’ve only occasionally done something creative. I’ve drawn a picture here or there. I’ve made a couple of videos. But for the most part, I’ve just not been artistically active. But I still think about it. I still want to learn more about drawing, photography, calligraphy, design, and animation, which was my major in college. Yes, ya boy knows how to do cartoons. I could have worked for Nickelodeon if I wasn’t such a knucklehead.
Back then, I had no expectations. I did art for fun, not for fame or recognition or validation. It was for me and me alone. And the mistake I made was trying to associate my art with my value.
I still feel the pull to be creative. I still get excited about stationary. Still feel the pinpricks of possibilities from pens and pencils. It’s bittersweet and it almost hurts a little bit because I think of the time I wasted and think that I could actually be talented if I would have just kept practicing. Now I’m very behind. But that doesn’t mean I’m totally done.
I almost want to start over completely. Rebuild a foundation first. Start small. And go back to my roots of doing art just for the fun of it. Just for me. It used to be soothing and enjoyable and I want to have that back because I could sure use some soothing these days.
There are so many resources out there. It blows my mind. The Internet is an amazing place and offers so much knowledge. Youtube alone has so many free videos that can teach you to do just about anything you’d ever be interested in. There are also great places like Lynda, Udemy, and Skillshare. And although you do have to pay for those, some of the classes might be worth it.
So that’s what I want to focus on. I’ve had good intentions before and they never panned out. But this time I really do want to get back into it. And I want to take it easy on myself. I’m no professional and I’m not going to try to be one. I just need to do something creative and productive instead of just being lazy all the time. I want to feel proud of the work I do, like I used to be.
I feel you coming closer to me. A heartbeat that quickens and deepens with each step. Your face leading to a trickle of excitement, a pinprick of nirvana. Gliding to the floor, cradling yourself next to me in a silent, semi-conscious stupor. Turning over, my nose brushing your mouth, black circles expanding, blood branches rushing to compensate your exquisitely crafted face.
A hazy vignette hangs over us, dream-like in the notion of you finding me, a mass of mess on the cold tile and molding me into a man again. Hoping to remain locked inside this lucid dream in order to replay this scenario until it sears into my head.
When I close in and pull your lips apart with my tongue, I want you to move toward my mouth, push forward and kiss back. When I trace lines on your skin to write love letters on your legs, I want you to run your nails over my shoulder blades to write me back. When I cry into the crook of your arm, I want you to wrap your arms around my neck and hold me back. I want to look into eyes like teeth, salivating for a single sovereign kiss.
I wonder about your journey as I make plans to be your destination. I want you to set forth and secure a place with me. I want to be encapsulated by your presence, to braid my bones with yours, to live knowing I will die loving you.
We need to love just as much as we need to be loved. I want to care for you as my own, to raise you higher and rake you down. I need the approachable animal, the amiable assault, the hurricane of spirit pounding down on me. I want to be tied to your tongue, healed by your hands, cemented by your ice-blue eyes.
This warmth is foreign and your touch shouldn’t feel as good as it does. I’m as scared as I am serene. Sirens slice through the candles and conversation, warnings of wild fights and fears of decaying. But the blaring blurs into a hum at the base of your throat, an inescapable moan, a penetrating penance for past punishments.
I’d become accustomed to pain. Persistent papercuts that pervaded all my parts. Slugging through the day with open wounds and worry of another tomorrow. Now here, lying on this cool floor, I am flushed with chemicals. My spine is tapped. And with you sliding from me, swelled, spent, sweating, I finally know about comfort.
How is it to feel yourself falling asleep?
For me, it’s like I’m standing on a cliff to unconsciousness. I feel my feet hang halfway off the edge and look down into oblivion. Vertigo hits and I feel momentary nausea, like my stomach is being pulled into sleep before the rest of me.
There’s a lace-thin layer between eyes and lids. It’s in that portal between practical effects and faraway fantasies, that slice of time and space, that I am pushed into by the hand of exhaustion. I am plunged into the black before the bloom of a dream.
That’s where I see you.
You’re only there for the smallest amount of time, a greeter at the door to dreams. But you pluck me from the murky deep and help lay me down gently into an inky spot in the sky. But before you go, I freeze frame you in my mind and you’re the picture I choose to carry over with me onto the other side. It’s where we can be together, where I feel safe to explore the imagination that uncoils during boredom or a great need to feel something. It’s where I can act out the scenarios I can only sketch in a notebook when my eyes are open.
Being with you here, in this space carved out of the cosmos for just us, feels bittersweet, like a chocolate candy flecked with copper. It’s the only place I can see you idealized. And the only place anyone can see who I actually am.
You’re like a ribbon that weaves through my ribs. You push air into my lungs. You turn me from a corpse to a Casanova. I sink into a scene of me resting deeply in your arms, your hands running through my hair, my mind reprieved from the black that steeps into my skull every day.
The same hand that callously casts me into the abyss plucks me from your pulse. But your veins have worked on me. I wake up to a heartbeat. I pull a remnant of your face back into reality and use the morning sun to sear it into my memory. Sometimes it works. Most often it does not. But even when you slip away and pass through the portal again, I know you’ve been with me from the residual red on my chest and cheeks. And with breath on the blankets, I feel the push of blood again and the comfort of knowing you’ll call for me when I reach the precipice once more.
This is what being human must feel like.
I’m ready to dive into the deep end with you.
I want to explore uncharted waters and the weight of your head on my neck.
The sun beats down on our bare shoulders. Diamonds skip across the water. Birds whistle in the distance as we douse our bodies and dunk our heads. We swim for hours, leisurely lapping past our lives and linking fingers to keep from floating away. We bask in the sun as the heat casts a halo around our heads and wet ringlets form crowns across our eyes.
I swim to the shade but your catch my foot and pull me back into the heat, out in the open with blushed cheeks and bruised knees. Course hair on rubber skin, the smell of plastic and pool chemicals as sharp as the sear of the sun.
There’s a gentle strength to water, the way it effortlessly lifts us up and takes the weight of the world off our shoulders. For as long as we are submerged, we are protected. We don’t have to worry a hole into our hearts or fear the next fall. We are always held up. But I have to wonder, is it the water doing the heavy lifting? Or are you?
We splash and smile in the summer day, the hours dragging along like a doggy paddle, plodding toward a break in the heat. The sun squints to a close and takes a swan dive into the dirt. The air cools but I’m not chilled. The sky forms a black veil over our heads to cover up our kisses.
I sail past the chlorine on your lips to find the sweet beneath the sting, sinking further into you, melting into your mouth. I am buoyant in your embrace. And for the first time, I can open my eyes underwater.
I can’t wait to see you again, without chemicals and without clothes.
I dream almost every night. Most people do. Most people can’t remember them. I can remember that I dreamed, just not what I dreamed about. And it’s frustrating because my dreams are often either pretty boring or pretty nice and I want to be able to recall a good feeling. ‘Cause I sure don’t have them in waking life.
And I always wonder why I remember some dreams vividly and others not at all.
A few weeks ago, I dreamed that I was in a building that looked a lot like a Blockbuster. I had an uneasy feeling, like I was out too late and should be at home or had a weird feeling about being at that location (maybe because most Blockbusters are closed and why the heck would I be in one?) but I shrugged it off.
Moments later, a guy came in carrying a gun. I was alarmed, of course, but tried not to freak out. Maybe he was just carrying it to make himself feel better or in case anyone tried to jack his membership card. I reasoned with myself that I would be okay. People only get shot on television and in movies. It doesn’t happen where I live.
But he turned to me, stepped up to me, and shot me in the ear.
The first thing I thought was, “I knew I shouldn’t have been here.”
I didn’t hear a gunshot or even feel anything but my vision turned into diamonds shining against a white light. I fell to the floor and once I hit the ground, I knew I only had a fraction of a second to live.
So I prayed to God to forgive me.
And then I felt this relief come over me. I don’t know if it was because God had answered my prayer or that I felt better that I’d had a final chance to get right with God or that I was just finally dead and didn’t have to be sad anymore.
And then (and this hasn’t happened before) I realized I was dreaming. But by that time, I knew my mind was being pulled back into consciousness. I felt myself being shot through that slippery tunnel that connects reality and dreams. And as that happened, I tried to get up from the bloody floor and fly away. I wanted to take over the dream but it ended before I could lift off the ground.
Most dreams of mine feel random but I could determine a link between this one and my waking moments of contemplation. I had recently listened to a podcast in which a guy said he woke himself up from his dreams by killing himself in his dreams. I guess he had the lucid dream experience down pretty well.
And I’ve been pondering the idea of reconnecting with God. I never turned full atheist but I just gave up on trying to get God to ease the ache in my heart. All the church and prayer and scripture never seemed to make a difference. I was, as I still am, beyond reach. Yet God is always in the back of my mind. I don’t know if it’s Christ convicting me or just that old time Christian guilt at work. All I know is the Holy Ghost is haunting me and it kind of sucks.
While the dream obviously incorporated the different things I’d heard, experienced, and thought about in the weeks leading up to it, it might not be anything significant. It probably stood out to me because it was the first dream I’ve ever had in which I could feel myself dying. I usually wake up before the last breath. But not this time. And instead of it being scary, it was strangely satisfying.
one for the head, one for the heart…
At night, I let your lips carry me away.
I’m often restless when lying down. The day’s events bulldozer my brain into a rubble of untapped possibilities and debris of doubt. This fixation on fixing the past pulls me away from dreams. I switch from my back to my stomach to my side, turning away from the thoughts that grip me awake. But it doesn’t seem to work.
Until my mind meets up with you.
With closed lids, I think about your face and it helps filter out the superfluous noise. My mind’s eye pans out like a camera until I can see us both. Our lips are perfectly framed as we close in and kiss. But it’s not riveting. It’s relaxing. Your mouth is the melatonin that helps soothe me from the days’ stresses.
It’s this vaguest sense of shape, you and I. It’s been so long that I almost don’t know what it looks like to be intimate. I have to color in the missing parts of parted lips in order to properly set the scene. And focusing on filling in the gaps helps put me to sleep.
Other times, I think of you in bed next to me. I hold my extra pillow close to my body, mold its shape to what I imagine you’d feel like. Occasionally I’ll wrap my arm around it, other times lay my head on it like it’s your chest.
I recalled a conversation we recently had about cuddling and how you thought it was uncomfortable.
“It’s a nice image,” you said, “but the reality of the situation is it’s not as romantic as it seems. It gets hot. Quickly. And your arms go numb.”
I smiled at you and said, “I don’t care. I want to do it anyway. People experience these things. I wanna be one of them.” And I wanted to do it with you. But I’d never have the courage to tell you that.
Back in my mind, taking into account our conversation, we do eventually separate, inching our way to our own side of the bed. But our backs still touch. Our spines connect like cogs, interlocking as they work to spin us into sleep.
I take comfort in just knowing you’re there. We don’t have to touch from head to toe. Your energy is enough. Just knowing you want to lie with me is enough. Just knowing that you will be there tomorrow is enough. It’s just a dream before a dream, a fantasy to help me focus on getting to the other side for one more night. And that, too, is enough.
My head left as soon as I saw you. All the slick lines and cleverly calculated conversations dissipated in the wake of your wavy hair, ice-blue eyes, and crinkled grin. 4 years of feelings turned to flesh and I was not prepared.
Although I initiated the meeting, I had to mull it over during the hour-long ride to see you. Maybe I wasn’t as ready as I thought. I wondered if I should turn back so you wouldn’t be able to see the real me. My life is a Snapchat filter. Every text is examined before sending. Every photo is cropped before posting. Every essay is examined before publishing.
But real life is not as well lit. There’s no blurring blemishes, no red lines cutting into bad grammar and bad jokes. The construction is fragile, breaking at the slightest error in looks or logic. I didn’t want to face that possibility.
But there was another possibility that kept me going. It was the thought that things could be better than I was anticipating, that we could actually translate from text to touch. That, for the first time, I might not be so lonely.
Seeing you was like seeing a celebrity. You know what they look like in pictures but they’re still strangers. Meeting them is a weird paradox of intimacy and intimidation. And that’s how I felt when I saw you look up at me from your chair. You were an image come to life, someone I knew only through words and pictures. We had shared our lives through blue bubbles but never a physical space.
A hug or a handshake? What was more appropriate? I wanted a hug but my brain went on autopilot, my eyes darting, my body squirming to get away from the non-existent microscope I felt was on me. Did I look enough like my picture? Worse? I hoped better. I jutted out my hand and could not focus on your face. I was embarrassed, shy, retreating into myself, losing language and lucidity, wanting your autograph and a hug and a picture before you moved on to better things and better people.
But things weren’t as bad as I feared I would make them. Although the conversation started off rocky, we both found an easy pace after a while. And when I managed to make it past my nerves and say something funny, your laugh put me at ease. It was full, deep, and genuine. And the best sound I’d heard in a while.
The whole day was a delicate dance of trying not to stammer over a joke while making a point to get to know you better. And I wondered how much I should ask, how far I should go with the flirting. That was the one thing that didn’t seem to carry over from our previous conversations. You weren’t as forward or cheeky as you are over WiFi. Maybe you were just nervous as well.
It was like tiptoeing on soap bubbles, navigating the vast expanse of exploring someone else while trying not to offend, intimidate, or make uncomfortable. I wanted to both watch my tongue and allow myself to think about yours.
What if what if what if…
Although I knew it would never amount to anything more than a platonic evening out, I wondered. And I was okay with just wondering. Things were going fine enough without flavoring the activities with unnecessary fantasies that were too far-fetched to come to fruition. It was best to take things slow, one smile at a time, one joke at a time, one laugh, one glance, one awkward silence at a time.
It ended with a hug. And as I saw you lean in and open your arms, there went my silly mind again, flying out of my head while I wrapped my arms around you for 2 seconds before I broke away. Hugs were never my strong suit. Almost immediately, I wished I would have held on for longer. Would a second hug be too awkward to ask for? Yes, without question. But I’d already forgotten what you felt like and I wanted to be able to savor it. Maybe next time.
I wanted there to be a next time.
I hope you did, too.
I often wonder if you think of me.
Can you separate me from the others you follow? How do I stack up against better beards and bodies?
I wish you knew I post things just for you sometimes. I study what you like and try to follow suit, to show you I like it too. We have a lot in common and I think we’d have a lot of fun together. Do you ever think that?
I want to show you who I am through pictures and words and song lyrics. And maybe a few funny memes here and there. I want to be smart and funny and intellectual. I want to be artistic and slightly quirky with a keen sense of pop culture and wise words. I want you to see I’m well-rounded, that there is an infrastructure of feelings beneath the surface level sadness. I’m more than my misery. It’s just hard to convey that sometimes.
I don’t know you. But I know your smile. And I want you to know mine.
I’m often disinterested in things around me, be they people or policies. I’m numb to the nightly news and find favor in sleeping. I don’t care about a lot these days. But for some reason, I care that you will one day care about me. And maybe it’s because you’ve awoken my interest like a long-dormant entity roused by provocation. But what you’ve provoked in me, I’m not quite sure. I can’t say I understand it but there’s a part of me that finds comfort in it. There’s a part of me that finds electricity in it.
I often want to talk to you. I want to reach out like the many times I’ve reached out but I’m scared to make that step. My fingers are frail from past failures, my legs weak from chasing abandonment. I’ve stayed to myself for so long, for too long, and there is an ever-increasing curiosity as to how I’m now coming out of this relationship coma.
But would you like me if you knew me? I’m kind of hard to deal with. I have trust issues and I don’t think highly of myself or anyone else. But I’d like to think you’d change my mind about that. I know it’s a big task but I’d like to hope you might be up for it.
Or maybe I should keep things the way they are, a delicate balance of curiosity and anonymity. You don’t really know me and I don’t really know you and maybe I’m too scared to crack apart this fragile daydream. I’m afraid what spills out will spoil this moment, these days of studying your interests and engaging you from afar.
I dream of advancing inches, of getting closer to conversing with you. But I also dream of just keeping you in my mind, of late night movies and simple dinners, of you grabbing my arm as I make you laugh, of you keeping your hand there two seconds too long. It’s safe to think these things, to enjoy the moment in my head without fear of failure or falling by the wayside. And for now, it’s enough. And really, it will always have to be enough because we will never be. And maybe keeping the faintest attachment is the best thing to do. Hurt often follows closely behind beating hearts.
For now, I’ll just be comfortable being curious. And I hope that somehow you read this, although I won’t explicitly show it to you. And I hope if you do, I make you curious as well.
I’ll take this moment. I’m content with knowing you like what I share. It gives me hope that you might think about me what I think I think about you.
I had a dream the other night…
I walked along my usual dirt road route. I concentrated on my iPod and tried to find a few uptempo songs to carry me through the next mile when a school bus zoomed right by me on the narrow dirt road. It shot up a cloud of dry sand that landed in my eyes and the crevices of my mp3 player. When the dust cleared, I saw the driver had horns jutting out of either side of his head.
That’s when I knew it was time to turn around and head home.
The distance from the dirt road to home lengthened the farther I walked. My stomach tightened with a growing anxiety I couldn’t place. That’s when the memory of a dead kid crept into the forefront of my mind. He was found underneath a small bridge in a shallow body of water near where I was walking. His face had been torn away. He had greasepaint smeared on his hands.
The road lengthened even more as the school bus appeared in the distance in front of me. But during the time it took for the bus to circle back around to me, it had changed. It was armored with steel rods like some kind of brace or support system fused to the sides. It tore into the dirt and kicked up a blinding cloud of dust. It charged toward me, the engine growing louder. The sound caught up to me first, entered my ears and invaded my body.
I saw my house on the horizon and ran as fast as I could to make it to my front door before the school bus could make it to me.
I burst through the door to my kitchen and found my mom putting away dishes. I wheezed as relief pushed away the engine noise in my guts. I told her about the school bus.
As I spoke to her, she closed the cabinet door and turned to me. There was something off about her face.
“What’s wrong with your nose?” I asked.
“It’s just blistered,” she said. But as we talked, it grew bigger and bulbous. It flushed red as if all the blood vessels in her nostrils had burst in unison.
Something wasn’t right. I took a step back. I kept my face to her as I inched closer to the front door. My hand reached for the doorknob as her nose bloomed into a blood-filled ball.
And then she lunged.