My ex came out 6 years into our 7 year relationship (interview III).

This is a follow-up piece. You can find…

the first post in the series here.
the second post in the series here.
the first interview in the series here.
the last interview before this one here.

Me: Hey.

Michael: Hay. The beginning stages of horse shit.

Me: Huh?!

Michael: Think about it. Horses eat hay and…

18527261_10209187970242639_965695857254557158_oMe: Okay I think I’ve got it. No more segways. And I swear, if you bring up Paul Blart Mall
Cop. Cause I know that’s where you’re going and I don’t want to talk about King of Queens again. You need to move on.

Michael: I wasn’t going to do that…

Me: We were together too long. I could just interview you in my mind and get the same answers.

Let’s talk about the whole coming out relatively late thing, age 30. You’re a counselor. How do you think that impacted you?

Michael: I think I was afraid longer. My family is very conservative and they don’t agree with it. Fear is why I waited 2 or 3 years after I came out to you to tell them and I didn’t even tell them on purpose. My mom asked me and I said yes. And my dad found out somehow (I think my mom was worried about me and told him).

Me: What do you think made your mom ask you?

Michael: We’re close and she was wondering for a while and she wanted to know if it was true.

Me: But you know I did subtly prep her when I was worried about your well-being and called to tell her I think she needed to drive the hour to check on you.

She asked me why you were so anxious and since I couldn’t say, Oh, he is bisexual and since your family follows pundits like Rush Limbaugh, he’s afraid he won’t be accepted, I told her that you didn’t feel like you had social support for some things in your life because, as the youngest child and only one to graduate college, you felt pressure to act like you had everything together. I tried to keep it ambiguous but to impress on her the seriousness of the situation.

Michael: Yeah. I know. I don’t care about that. I am glad you did it the way you did it, knowing what I would want, because it was easier to tell her when she knew how anxious I was and how afraid I was to show them who I really am. It was like a weight off my shoulders because since our family doesn’t talk about things, I don’t know if we would have ever gotten there.

18527116_10209188452654699_3109046233448553177_o (1)
I included this one because I thought it fit given it looks like I’m excited I just found out I’m going to hear some gossip… and because Michael looks really photogenic here… He’s single, ladies and gentlemen. Ok, probably too weird.

Me: Okay so tell me how your family is doing now. Who knows?

Michael: Just my mom and dad.

Me: Why not your brother, sister, and nephews?

Michael: I feel like they’re more closed-minded than my parents. I honestly do. If it’s outside of their comfort zone, they don’t get it and don’t really want to explore the idea. My parents try to get it I think.

Me: When do you think you’ll tell them and how?

Michael: I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that. But I just feel like I would do it when it’s inevitable, like bringing a guy to Christmas and they’d figure it out. I still worry about that one though. I don’t know why. I am afraid that maybe my sister wouldn’t want me around my nephews, maybe, but I don’t know if she would though. I don’t think so but I’m afraid it could happen.

Me: What do you know of their opinions on this topic?

Michael: Nothing. They just don’t talk about it. Like at all. It’s just not a topic of conversation.

Me: How does it impact you that they don’t know?

Michael: It’s still hanging over my head. And I try to act like it isn’t because I don’t want to tell them but it’s hard to ignore. I feel like I’m still living that double life, like that secret life. And yeah with my parents, it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders–

Me: Are you talking to me through your Apple watch while showering?!

Michael:Yeah!

Me: Technology is weird. I’m just going to leave that one alone.

Michael: But I just don’t feel like I will be relieved after telling them.

Me: But you didn’t think you’d be relieved after telling your mom and dad before they knew.

Michael: True. I think it kind of helped that they had an idea. Kind of like you hinting at it to my mom so it wasn’t such a shock. I don’t think my brother and sister have any clue.

Me: Yeah, I don’t know if that is a good way to do it or not. I just made a judgment call and was trying to put your well-being first without taking away your right to privacy and make that big decision on your own. I took a lot of tums when your mom and I were texting because I was just fraught with guilt and anxiety about what I should and shouldn’t say. I just kind of tried to not deny anything or go out of my way to convince her you aren’t because I didn’t want to make it worse when you did tell her.

So I know this is really different for your family. How is your dad responding to it now versus how he did initially?

17492995_10208739703236244_8982091458121934150_o
This is Michael with my mom. We’d already broken up and I think she already knew at this point. He wanted to tell my family first to sort of test how it went because if they didn’t accept him, he didn’t want to tell his family.

Michael: When he came down to see me that day you were worried about me and I was going through that stuff, my mom told me he knew while he was standing right there. And I thought she meant about my anxiety and she said he knows everything. And I just thought, oh shit, this is awkward. We were in my apartment and we just had a discussion. She told me before that huge talk, in my room while he was in the living room, that when he found out he told her he’d suspected it for a while.

He didn’t talk about my sexuality directly but he said he knows what’s going on and it doesn’t change anything. He still loves me and supports me. I think my parents try really hard to be supportive now and sensitive, like not accidentally saying something that could offend me. I really appreciate that. I think it says a lot that he is being really mindful.

Me: Yeah, I’m really proud of your parents. I know they have had less exposure to LGBT+ topics or experiences but they handled it how I expected they would handle it. I know not all people are this fortunate but I had a good feeling your parents would love you more than it might scare them initially. They love you pretty unconditionally. When your mom told me she knew, I just tried to kind of be supportive and acknowledge that line that probably isn’t as politically correct because in our ideal world, people are immediately accepting and it is no different than heterosexuality. And as much as I hope we get there one day, I think we have to be realistic where we’re at now.

I’m comfortable with LGBT+ topics and it was still an adjustment for me because it was so personal. So I tried to make sure she knew that I had had to process it and it was okay to feel conflicted as she got used to the idea. For me it wasn’t so much about who you were going to be sleeping with. It was about the sudden sense of change and just reforming my relationship with you around this new and really important information…

…did she say why he suspected it or if they talked to each other about it before they knew?

Michael: No, she didn’t. I don’t know if they would have talked about it.

Me: I don’t know how you didn’t ask. I mean to each his own but I’d want every detail so I could analyze.

Michael: Ok, I will so you can analyze for me [laughing].

Me: You don’t have to but… I will do it.

Maybe you should just show up to a family function with a shirt that says, I’m gonna make American gay again. MAGA, bitches. Did I tell you I bought you a magnet that says Make American Gay Again? I’ll give it to you when I see you next.

[As he is getting ready and singing] Why don’t we talk later?

Michael: Okay, I’ll ask my mom those questions and get back to you.15235410_10207780456055664_8615438083598685341_o

Me: K. Send me a picture of your co-worker’s planner. So I can go have planner envy. Just take pictures of all of it. The outside. Everything. Just go up to her and be like, I know this is random but Imma need a picture for my ex-girlfriend who–

Michael: Who turned me?

Me: I hate you. Byyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeee.

Michael: Love you. Kiss my puppies. Byeeeee.

Michael’s piece–if he stops procrastinating, Michael–should be up tomorrow morning. If you’re curious to hear what he has to say about what it’s like to come out at 30 in Trump’s corner of the world, with friends and family who love him and support Trump, check it out.

My Blogtober Project.

This entry is a follow-up to a previous entry which you can find here (I recommend reading it first or this won’t make as much sense).

14567480_10207527117322354_4177760255090210184_oWith that being said, he is a big reason I want to do OUTtober and Blogtober together this month. It made me realize that while I can get heated about things like same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ rights, I have a lot to learn and still have some subconscious biases that I need to continue to address. Because of this, I want to use this project as a learning opportunity and a means of becoming a better friend, peer, and community member. Although we are from different geographic areas, we both come from backgrounds where LGBT rights and social issues are not given the recognition or respect they should receive. As social media has shown us, there are plenty of people will never behave towards the LGBT community with any decency or respect. There are also, however, a lot of people who are prejudiced (which is still wrong) because it is unfamiliar to them and they haven’t had to grapple with it.

I don’t have a ton of readers. Quite frankly, I don’t know how regularly people read my blog and I’m okay with that. This experience, I hope, will check some biases which I may still have and also help me determine how I can better handle conversations with others who may not be as accepting. I am going to have some guest posts from members of the LGBT community, a set of interviews with Michael where we talk about his experience being in a “straight” relationship and questioning, and I’ll be reading and summarizing some articles on LGBT topics for students selecting colleges, how LGBTQ is defined, and an introductory understanding to the LGBT community for individuals who may be unfamiliar with it.

rainbow color patch on area rug
Photo by Sanketh Rao on Pexels.com

My goal is to post an LGBT-related entry every day for October. If you manage to see this, wonderful and I hope it helps us both to learn. If there is something you notice that you think I could do differently, if you agree or disagree, if you have questions, please let me know! Also, if you happen to be less comfortable or familiar with LGBT topics and have something you want to talk about or learn about, chances are I could benefit from learning about it too and can ask others or research online to find the answer. If you don’t feel comfortable commenting here, please feel free to reach out to me via my contact form at the top of the blog or emailing me at atlasgriffin12@gmail.com.

Thank you and I hope you check out my interview entry with Michael which will post tomorrow at 9am EST. Please consider commenting below. I would love to hear your thoughts (regardless of what they are; I’m always open to feedback).

Happy Blogtober!

 

My promise to myself for October.

I am committing to myself and my need to prove to myself that I can absolutely crush it this month. It’s been a long time since I felt that way. I struggle with consistency and actually following through on goals and plans so I’ll need to work on that.

If you have any tips for being consistent and making sure you follow through, I’d love to hear them.

In the meantime, I’m going to watch this video of my dog one more time just going at this puppacino like it’s her life’s purpose and try to have the same enthusiasm and motivation for my month.

Happy October!

 

Where in the Hell did you come from?

So often, I pause and think how in the hell did this happen to me? And you’re going to think it’s me complaining, being a hot head, or venting about something that frustrates me with you. And that would all be fair. I am a hot head and I do get really, really, really frustrated with you. It bears repeating. You really, really, really get under my skin. More than I think I ever have with anybody who I actually liked as a human being.

But nope. You’re wrong. It’s in those simple, quiet moments that you don’t think matter, that you don’t expect joy to creep up on you, that I just have to take a step back because what I have is imperfect, yes, and really challenging but it is all of the best things that I thought were unrealistic in a relationship. A relationship has never stayed this new for me. There are some things that get really old really fast and I think they just make me realize that they get old because they are the same issues manifesting themselves when we don’t address them. But I have the best of both worlds right now in that I look at a picture of you or a text you send me and my heart just feels like it pops, and yet I have that comfort and intimate friendship that takes longer to develop.

You are a challenge for me. On the daily. I didn’t like you when we first met, as you know, and it was a challenge to learn to like you. Then I learned to respect you and like you as an individual. Over time you became a friend, then a best friend, and way further into knowing you than you would ever expect, it finally dawned on me what was there. It’s like it just pulled up matter-of-factly in a cab one day, got out with its suitcase, walked into my life and unpacked like it had been there all along. I’d been so incredibly proud of how platonic and balanced our friendship was, that we were the example of a man and woman being friends with absolutely no doubt or romantic interest. Our chemistry was what I thought was the best kind to have, buddies who could work together on projects, balance one another, argue and push one another, but absolutely just kill it. My greatest fear in our friendship was that it would change, not in the way that it has but that it would drift away. So when this happened, when one day in the middle of a joke I suddenly sensed a question mark somewhere in my mind, it was really disorienting. It was the first time in my life that the expression I had to stop and put my head between my knees or I was going to vomit was actually physically and concretely true. I didn’t care how it looked. I suddenly got that random, off-balance feeling you get when turn in too many circles way too fast and stopping realize you’re going to fall over and crack your head open if you don’t sit down. It wasn’t a cliche emotional epiphany punctuating this culturally overrated storybook formula. If anything, the small part of my mind that could think outside of focusing on keeping my feet rooted to the floor and my head above my feet, took it as a sense of foreboding that moment was anything but idyllic and something had been so permanently changed I would find it had been lost rather than another thing gained.

But now, regardless of anything, as a best friend alone I don’t think I could love you more. And in spite of all of that, you are a challenge for me almost every moment of every day. Sometimes it’s a frustrating challenge, a decent amount of the time. Others, it’s the same way you challenged me as a friend, pushing me to be a better version of myself every time I get somewhere I think I have it figured out. Now it is where I could be a better partner. And as frustrating as that is–and as much as I will be willing to vehemently swear you’re wrong to my last breath–I become a better friend, person and version of myself every day you are in my life.

You are one of the most ideal things that has ever happened to me without the disgusting cliche of being perfect. I guess that’s probably one of my secret reasons for complaining sometimes; because perfect is so artificial and gross to me, I feel better when remembering it is flawed but genuine. Somehow in so many ways you’re everything I didn’t have in my mind for this formulaic, color-in-the-numbers life but you’re also everything that, if I had believed I could have it, I would have wanted in somebody I could be with. And I would have never guessed, even in all the years I knew you before this, that it would have been you. Truth be told, I’d have bet on the majority of people before you and somehow that longtime platonic buffer built the sort of bond strong enough it didn’t need more than friendship and is more durable because of it. In spite of all of the frustration and as much as I dug my feet in and refused to humor this question I suddenly felt compelled to ask myself, you’ve made what it means to have a “person” come to life and take meaning for me.

I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve. I am a hothead–sorry to say, we’re both probably stuck with that. I definitely have my protective shell. My bark is louder than my bite. All of those things. But I’m really fortunate you’ve been patient enough to give me the room to grow into some of the challenges of our friendship and subsequent something else because for the first time ever, I feel as if something really extraordinary and powerful could happen in my life. Just like I hate admitting you’re funny, I’ve never liked admitting to people that I like you. Although it was clear we were good friends, the warmest acknowledge of that anybody would see was that I was willing to tolerate you for an indefinite amount of time. Ever since that I’m gonna pass out or puke moment, it has become annoyingly clear I like you so much that, if I had to choose between you and a glass (actual glass) of iced, cold fountain Coke, I would almost stop to think about picking you.

Does that make me crazy?

I heat up. A ball in my gut, just a lumpy nothing-of-a-rock pushes on me from the inside and lights a spark. Heat, not the kind of warm heat when you step inside your well-lit home on a cold winter day, but a shallow heat that will burn faintly and exhaust quickly, crawls to the tips of my fingers and toes. It lazily floats through my blood and takes up residence in its own pit behind my eyes. I don’t know if it’s anger, frustration, disappointment, fear, hurt. That nameless feeling is the one I get in all of those situations. It just bathes my motionless body in it like warm milk.

The nerves in my skin and some part of me inside, the most vulnerable part of me, divide the unpleasantness. The outer layers of my skin resign to being unsettled with no physical reason. Confused and unable to determine the cause of the mildly agitating sensations, I can feel the entire outer layer of myself, my skin, my muscles, everything, curl up in inpatient frustration. Bracing itself.

Meanwhile an entirely different process occurs inside me as I feel my emotional self retreat, shrinking back from the points where it joins the tips of my fingers, connecting me to the world outside my body, shuttering and pulling itself in from my legs and my throat and my chest, rolling up on itself like an armadillo, absorbing whatever unnamed emotion made it past my skin. Whatever sharp object it grabbed as it sank back to its refuge, it holds, like a terrified snake that has wrapped itself around a knife but, because rolling up is what it does to protect itself, can’t release the tension that holds it there.

Like a President and a Vice President, the ball that holds me inside and the shell of my body that keeps everything unknown at a distance mutually and systematically have separated because the risk of having the two of them together is greater than the benefit. Together, they both become vulnerable. Instead, like boats in a game of Battle Ship, they spread apart because if one takes a fatal hit, at least one might avoid being punctured.

All of that happens. In seconds. That’s the beauty of routine and the remarkable nature of repetition. I do it on autopilot now, even with the slightest notion of possible hurt. At this point, it’s really my body’s decision. It’s like an overflipped switch; now it can flip itself and the defenses slam themselves into place like a veteran of bomb raids. My mouth, caught in the middle but forgotten, is still, uninformed by the inner recesses of my mind and deprived of the muscles and motor functions at the corners of its lips.

You can ask any questions you want. Blank eyes will be your answer. Because you’re speaking to an empty room that doesn’t reach the bottom of the well where I hold myself. Not that it matters. You won’t miss my voice. You likely wouldn’t even notice the silence if it wasn’t saying something about you, something which you then hold against me. My absence creates chasms of silence that your self-important words fill as is only natural.

I love you. Well, the part of me that can feel when it isn’t compacted into this claustrophobic ball really loves you. But I need not say this because you don’t miss my voice. I’m not even sure you’ve really ever fully heard it. You miss the reassurance that its presence means you aren’t accused of something. You don’t care what it has to say and it’s not personal to you. It’s just not important enough to even realize how much of me you’re missing. And I try so much to show you. I practically beg for you to glance but your screen holds your eyes a willful prisoner.

Is this all in my head? Am I too demanding? Or is it realistic to write letters you think the addressee will read? Is it too much to ask you to look at what I hold for you to consider for longer than four seconds before you return to your Facebook, trying to recuperate that missed time? Probably.

Simple steps for when you most need a lifeline.

So one of my favorite quotes when I’m not feeling well (and by not feeling well I mean I’m having a really hard time with suicidal ideation. I don’t actually want to die but it’s almost as if there is something chemical that keeps triggering that switch) is, just to give you a heads up, ironic given the topic. But, for some reason, it works for me. As ironic and insensitive as it may sound (I am a firm believer in being genuine and still mindful to wording things as sensitively as I can), in that moment I  get some relief from an old FDR quote. Paraphrased, it’s basically: when you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on. I figure if a sailor’s knot can hold a ship to a dock, it can sure as well at least keep me holding on for the time being.

It’s not a quick fix but it’s a reminder of what I need to do. Tying a knot is a skill you need to know before you need it and its utility is to hold something together. This is my metaphorical knot when I need something to hang on.  Different things work for everybody and I’m not saying it will work for you but if you’re like me, you keep trying something new, never expecting anything to stick and then something seems to have at least a little adhesiveness. Because because mental illness is a fickle and confusing thing and I can only speak to my experience, I suggest the following. If it works for you, then it has made writing this impromptu post worth it. If it doesn’t, as hard as it is, keep trying because something could surprise you (even if you feel like that is a Hallmark thing to say and there is no way that could happen, been there).

Okay, so let me walk you through it. Chances are, if you don’t feel well, you aren’t up to doing a lot of things, so determine tasks with your depressed self in mind, meaning don’t get overly enthusiastic about solutions that sound great when you feel well but will be barriers when you don’t.

Below you’ll see that I address the note and use the word “you” instead of “I.” I write “you” because, at least for me, when I’m having suicidal ideation, the person telling me I can’t get past it might at the moment feel like the real me but it isn’t. And the real me isn’t going to be there if I’m that bad so I essentially write a note for myself for when I need it. It’s short, sweet, and in that moment I can trust it because I know the better version of myself that thinks more clearly wrote it knowing how hard that moment is.

Step 1: Address your note. Keep it short. Example:

Hey Atlas,

I know you don’t feel well right now and you’re not up to a lot but just trust me on this one, do each of these things your list and it will be okay.

Step 2: Write down the following on a piece of paper (these exact words in this exact order):

Something that brings you relief:
Something that brings you comfort:
Something that makes you feel connected:
Something that makes you feel supported and loved:

Note, these should be very easy and simple to do. Mine, for example, are as follows:

Something that brings you relief: Open up your Cooking Craze app. Don’t spend any money but play this until you can at least think.

Something that brings you comfort: Put on your soft hoodie, pick up three things that you can easily put away/throw away in one minute. Put on either your I want to process and embrace the suck right now playlist or your pick-me-up playlist. [I actually have mine under the playlists tab if you are into this idea. Or you can just go here:]

Something that makes you feel connected: text somebody you miss. All you have to do is say, “Hi.” When they respond, respond back. It only has to be one sentence.

Something that makes you feel supported and loved: Open your planner, page 3 or 4. [This is a page where I have written down things that people have said to me in the past, including myself, that have made me feel loved or good about myself. It can be validating like acknowledging something I have done well or just an expression of how the person feels).

Step 3: If you took the time to read this, you clearly haven’t quit yet. Love, Atlas.

I prefer a handwritten note because I’m almost always home when I need it but it can be an email, a note in your phone, whatever works for you. For me, the note just says, Hey, you believed in this enough at one point to write it down. 

If you try it and it works, or if you try it and it doesn’t, I’d love to hear about it. I haven’t ever read about this particular coping solution but I’m sure somebody else has written about it at some point and it kind of fits within the overall umbrella of making some sort of plan. Whether it is this or something else, I hope you find something that helps you.

Do you have other things that work for you? Have you tried anything that didn’t work?

Walking beside me in the dark.

I stand next to this twin of mine. This twin that looks as much like me as a sewer does a stream. It is bent over under the burden of an invisible weight. I hold my cane behind my back and debate going it alone. It has the nose of Cyrano with a stout end. Mine is nothing special but normal all the same. Its ears droop and it drags along in a tired sort of way. I stand upright wearing my a silver wrist watch and finely laced black leather shoes. I wear a crisp peacoat tailored to my tall frame while it is draped in an ill-fitting sheet with a ghostly silhouette. There is nothing gentle or feminine about it, nothing bold or masculine. This is not my twin whose beige skin is broken along like the cracks of a concrete wall, broken and to the mercy of any passersby. This is not my twin that walks beside me, always chained to me where our feet meet the sidewalk. This is not my shadow.

Arori (third installment)

That night was the most fantastic and terrifying thing I had ever seen. Raining golden, red, and amber sparklers is a wonderful image but terrible in actual reality. And as much as it scared me, I couldn’t avoid it. It would be too cliche to compare it to the sensation of not being able to look away from a train wreck. And really not much very like it. The experience was something more comparable to when something happens and you’re just caught there, in that moment. You can feel time spinning around you but those whole few seconds open up to you as if you were meant to see it. You have to look not because you’re intruding, like a person gawking at somebody in a car crash, but because it’s like it’s happening inside you. It’s hard to explain but once it happens you just know. And that was why I had to wander back out into the street again the next night.

afterglow art backlit bokeh
Photo by luizclas on Pexels.com

The potholes still had rainwater in them from that afternoon. I put my hands into the pocket of my hoody as I strolled down the street, just looking, hoping for something. I walked and walked but the sky was too cloudy and every time I thought I got a glimpse of the moon is was covered up by another cloud. Nothing changed the  rest of the week. Every time I went out and every time, nothing.

I chalked it up to my imagination which was what everything had always turned out to be. I was always more afraid, more excited, more anxious, more everything than other people. My mother called it being sensitive which I certainly was and always had been. Nobody ever really figured out what made me that way but I was terrified of my own shadow and I had an overactive imagination. So I stopped wondering and wandering. I tried to take my mind off it and even avoided looking out the window at night.

Then one night I didn’t have to sneak out to look and I didn’t have to come up with a reason to avoid it. Some friends and I went to some mediocre movie and walked home after. It was a short walk and they lived nearby. Purposely, I stayed engaged in conversation and looked down at my green converse, searching for a speck of dirt even though I’d long ceased to care. Yet all along in the back of my head was what I had seen those two nights and I couldn’t shake it. One peek, I told myself, and then you’re done. I  thought I saw a pale toe hanging over the moon’s edge.  Sure enough there was still a toe, and more toes, a foot, and an ankle. The ankle rolled slowly back and forth almost as if to an unheard song.

Without even thinking about it I started to branch off into a side street. My friends called after me and I yelled back that I forgot an errand for my mom. I stepped up my pace so none of them would join me. I could feel their surprised gazes on my back until I rounded the nearest corner. Then I dared to look up, searching for her.

Arori, I called in my mind. Arori. Persistence didn’t seem to pay off after a few minutes, then I looked down to narrowly avoid a black cat with fiercely green eyes. When I returned my glance to the moon,  there she was, staring calmly down at me as if she had been there all night. There you are.

Here I am. I’d forgotten how much her voice sounded like a melody and a hum at the same time.

Hello, I laughed, this time out loud. She just sat there patiently, expressionless and looking back at me.

Then I was at a loss. What do you say to a, whatever she was? I hadn’t had enough conversations with people in the sky to have experiences to fall back on, probably luckily for me.

Silver pupils sparkled under long black eyelashes. She rolled them playfully. You’d be surprised how many conversations I have with people like you.

People talk to you?

Yes, they talk to me. Quite often, actually.

But you’re not real.

She laughed.

But really, you’re not.

I suppose you could say that, depending on your definition of real.

Well, according to science…

I know what science says. Rock. And I know what science says about rocks.

And it’s all true.

Well it’s science. It’s true, and often times quite reliable it seems, until it’s overturned. In that respect, it’s temporary and I’ve been here longer than “temporary.” Science does describe me but just because man hasn’t unraveled the truth entirely does not mean that is all there is to me. You don’t know what you don’t know.

Juno’s fountain.

A lot of days I like to sit in the town square and eat my lunch—egg salad on crumbling white bread and grape juice usually. It’s quiet enough but just the right rhythm. I slide under the same tree, depending on the weather, not too mindful about getting dirt on my pants—that’s what black slacks are for. The clock chimes noon and by fifteen after I’ll have peeled back the plastic wrap, alternating my focus between my meal and the cars passing by, going wherever they’re supposed to go, places not on my list of to-dos. Most of them come and go on bikes, riding in cars, elbows on windows and cigarettes snug between fingers, walking briskly by, eager to squeeze an appointment in the lunch hour. Always coming and going, focusing on saving time or wasting it.

Sometimes though, you get the people attracted by the square, the ones who amble aimlessly around the city, looking for something to make their day matter or to inspire them. They’re the only ones who come here. I don’t quite know why—for me it’s the proximity of it to my office, a bleak place that always seems to leave me achy for a little sunlight, even from a rundown square like this one. But they stop, take a look around, have lunch perched on the fountain in the center; it’s a crumbling one, spare stones caught between worn crevices, a nostalgic throwback caught from some Greek deity and dragged to a nowhere American town. The centerpiece pays tribute to some goddess, Juno, I think, but I can’t be sure. At any rate, she’s missing a few fingers, her ring and middle, and looks as if she’s taken a blow to the cheek, probably by the same wind that’s causing her death grip on that sheet pressed against and pulled from her contours. The people who stop by usually either ignore her presence or stare at her romantically, a little too strongly for my taste, like they’re staring at a piece in the Louvre instead of a marble mirage drowning in a crumbling brick courtyard. I get tempted to tell them to knock it off but they’d be too blind to see that anyways.

So I keep my teeth behind my closed lips and just watch them get on with it and sometimes I’ll see something that interests me. Every once in a while, a couple will stop by out of boredom and try to capture a romantic moment. It’s generally cliche or forced—they’ll try to hold hands just the right way, smile at just the right angles as if being photographed in time. Memory doesn’t really work that way but it will take a few years for them to realize that—to grasp the idea that memories usually trigger involuntary emotional reactions, not glorified black-and-white or sepia tones. But okay.

A lot of them are young couples, like the one I saw early spring, hatchlings just shedding their last bits of shell. She was pretty, but in an awkward way—an honest but unwrinkled smile that looked like it sat just where it belonged, followed by a body that was all elbows and knock-knees. She was a bit sheepish and her lashes long and dark like a lamb’s, shades over unscathed eyes. Ivory skin covered bony fingers which grazed the palm of a boy about the same age, maybe sixteen, maybe a year older than her. He had one of those closely-shaven buzz cuts freshly done in mom’s kitchen, a school baseball tee covering scrawny limbs which would be trunks by the end of spring, and high tops just a little too long for his legs.

They took forever to get up to the fountain, him stopping periodically to tickle her sides, her to giggle and wriggle away—both of them trying to avoid stomping the daisies planted all around them, placed in spots a little too delicate for walkways. When they finally got up to the fountain, in the midst of all that marble, she looked up in awe at the goddess like a young kid does at a baseball star. I smirked—she reminded me of someone I once knew, someone with the same endlessness in her eyes. He didn’t spend much time staring at the fountain but instead focused on his companion, frozen in step. He took a breath, as if he was about to dive into the water before them. I waited, knowing it would happen. It always did and it had to at some point. He slid off his shoes and socks, dipped a toe in, bobbing his head forward a moment. Then he dove, leaning in, nose first, face breaking the water’s surface, lightly brushing his lips at the corner of her mouth, and then resting them there. She shied away a moment, smiling as if it tickled, and then faced him to return the kiss. Feeling a bit strange, I turned my head, watched a few passing cars. I observed the patches of grass worn out by treading feet, left only with mud and a few struggling blades. I searched for a passing bird, looking down on the same scene. But I found nothing so lively, nothing that wasn’t automated, nothing else in the passing world that had anything to say to me. Nothing that soothed the forced feeling of longing that was itching its way up my skin. Something here was all too familiar.

Continue reading Juno’s fountain.

Arori, the painter.

Heat seared towards me on the tails of red sparks. I was in the wrong end of a firework shot towards the ground rather than away from it. It felt like one of those moments you see in an apocalypse movie. I was going to die. We all were. But when I looked up at the woman, I noticed her eyes for the first time. Large, but not in a looming kind of way. They were black but a gentle black with a twinkle, like a diamond sat in each of them. You’d think she would have realized what she had done. You’d think there would be an expression of guilt, or at least one of panic. But nothing. She just waited.

And then the shower fell to the earth all around the awning. It looked like handfuls of sparklers falling to the ground and extinguishing in puddles. Steam curled up in snakelike tendrils from where each spark had landed. There was some hissing for a bit and then nothing. Silence except for a dented pop can being pushed across the pavement down the street.

I thought that when I looked up she would be gone, like she had never been there. Just a constellation outlining a shape I had imagined. But she was, and was staring down at me knowlingly, like we had known each other my whole life. She smiled and I saw rows of pearls, real pearls.

Arori, I thought. I didn’t understand where that came from. My name is Arori. I looked over my shoulder for somebody. Up here. She smiled again.

“Oh.” Very eloquent response of course.

She nodded and turned away from me, spreading pink, orange, and yellow across the sky. It was most vibrant in the east and faded out into the west where she sat on the silver edge. Goodnight. But, it’s almost morning. I heard a laugh that sounded like a short melody. Maybe for you.

The lady waved a few multicolored fingers then hung onto the moon as it flipped around and the sun began to rise above a cloud like a child slowly peering out from under the blankets in the morning.