Hello/Goodbye Freedom

Yesterday, I had surgery to remove both of my fallopian tubes, which is similar to getting my tubes tied but with the added benefit of heavily reducing my risk of the more aggressive forms of ovarian and breast cancer, as studies show they often originate in the tubes. While it is something I have considered doing my entire adult life, the Supreme Court leak indicating their upcoming attempt to overturn Roe v Wade, coupled with living in a red state that has trigger laws in place to end access to reproductive healthcare pushed me to action. I scheduled my appointment to talk to my gynecologist the day after the leak went public and my surgery ended up being the day before the sham of a Supreme Court made their detrimental decision official. While I am relieved for myself that I no longer have to worry about an unwanted pregnancy derailing and/or endangering my life, that relief is tinged with guilt that not everyone has that guarantee anymore. 

I have known I never wanted kids ever since I was a kid myself. I had baby dolls, but I never mothered them—they were simply my friends and peers. I used to beg my mom to have another baby because I really liked hanging out with them. Whenever my friends and I played “house,” I never wanted to play the mom. I most frequently requested to be the housecat. I have had nightmares about pregnancy for as long as I can remember, even during stretches of time where it would take divine intervention for me to be pregnant. 

There’s a common misconception about me and most people who don’t want children that we don’t like kids or being around them, but I would argue that I like kids more than most people do. I have absolutely no doubt that a vast majority of parents out there love their own kids and think they’re rad little people, but that love of kids often doesn’t extend to other people’s kids. I love hearing all the dumb little stories kids stutter through over and over again, and I love how they laugh at the same joke no matter how many times they tell it. I love acting like a monster who wants to eat their toes, or pretending we are a den of lions who must cross the savannah for a fresh watering hole. I love how they see the world in their own unique, uninhibited, untainted way, and I love that they still think absolutely anything is possible. I will hold any baby you hand me for hours at a time and I will read them a story, with the appropriate character voices, until they fall asleep on me. Kids have always tended to gravitate towards me, and I am incredibly proud of the fact that even the shyest among them open up to me, because I have become exactly the kind of adult my cripplingly shy child-self sought out and trusted. I have acquired scores of nieces and nephews (the non-gendered plural of which is “niblings” which delights me to no end), and I love them without bounds. 

If I were forced into a situation where I had to have a child, I think I would do a decent job being a mom, but that is not a role I have ever wanted. I enjoy the freedom of a quiet house when I need it, the ability to duck out of town for a weekend without intense planning, being able to prioritize my own mental health without guilt. I would also lose the energy to interact with and love the niblings already in my life in the same way if I had my own children to tend to. I believe to have children or not is the biggest decision a person can make in this life, and I wish more people put as much thought into it as they should instead of just following the traditional script that is laid out for heterosexual couples, and women in particular. Having children is the prescribed future for women, and I’m in no way saying scores of my peers have mindlessly decided to have kids, but I do think there is a lot of pressure to give in to that norm, and there’s a lot of fear involved in stepping outside of that traditional family framework, simply because society is not set up for us in that way. I’m incredibly lucky to have the support I’ve received in making the decision to alter my body so I never conceive a child. Friends who have kids and a couple of friends who are currently pregnant have expressed the same joy in my decision that I have in theirs, which is so affirming. My mom and brothers have been nothing but supportive—my mom was so supportive that she came in town to drive me to the surgery and stayed with me today to make sure I was okay. Not everyone has that kind of support in their life, and I know I am incredibly lucky. 

I had talked to doctors about sterilization before, but none of them had taken my requests seriously. A couple of them insisted that I had to be married and already have children for the procedure to be done, which made me feel as though I had fallen through a wormhole back to when women were considered the property of their husbands. Others insisted that I would change my mind. I switched insurance and got a new gynecologist last year and when discussing my options for birth control, she was the one who presented sterilization as an option. I faltered for a moment and said, “Even though I’m not married?” She gave me a funny look and asked if I was planning on marrying someone who was going to force me to bear children even though I had just said I never wanted any. When I said no, she said, “Then you’re the only person in the world I need to talk to about this.” She presented me with facts about the procedure, and she provided me with statistics about the percentage of people who regretted the decision, broken down by age range. She presented those statistics in an informative way rather than as a threat, like previous doctors had. The statistics for people my age range regretting the procedure are very low. I told her I would look a little further into the procedure before making my decision, and she sent me on my way with good resources to delve into. 

After the Supreme Court decision was pre-emptively leaked, I was flooded with fear. I have an IUD in place currently (and will continue to keep it inserted until it expires, as it prevents my menstrual cycle from being horrendous), but there is still always a chance of birth control failing. An added layer to that fear is that if the IUD were to fail, the chance of that pregnancy being ectopic is higher, which has happened to two of my friends. Ectopic pregnancies are never viable, and they are very often deadly if left to fester on their own. The process of removing an ectopic pregnancy is medically considered an abortion, even though a baby could never come of that type of pregnancy. I live in a red state with trigger laws and while Missouri technically (and only recently) removed the provision that criminalized abortions for ectopic pregnancies, I don’t trust that to stick. I don’t trust anything to stick at this point. I scheduled an appointment to talk with my aforementioned gynecologist hours after the leak was made public. 

I saw my doctor within a week, and she was unsurprised at the timing of my appointment and shared her own fears about the future and how it will impact the quality of reproductive healthcare she provides for her patients. She told me we could schedule the procedure as soon as I wanted, and that was that. I gave my workplace six weeks’ notice that I would be taking a week of vacation at the end of June, and I got it officially scheduled. I spoke with my insurance company to make sure I wouldn’t be thousands of dollars in debt from this and I was informed that sterilization is completely covered. All I had to pay was a facility fee, which was admittedly higher than I expected or would have liked, but I am lucky enough to be in a position where I could swing it. They also offered a financing plan if I couldn’t. 

I checked into the facility and was talked through the whole process before I went in. The anesthesiologist explained everything incredibly well, which is great, because the thing I was most nervous about was going under, since I hadn’t experienced general anesthesia since I was five years old. My doctor, who was also my surgeon because her badassery knows no bounds, stopped by to say hello and address any questions I had before I was given a relaxant and wheeled to the operating room. All of the staff in the operating room made sure I saw their faces and knew who would be in the room before putting me under. They put the mask on and the next thing I knew, I was waking up wondering if the surgery had even been done. It was laparoscopic, so I only have three tiny incisions on my abdomen. They gave me a pain pill before releasing me, but I was able to walk with very little discomfort almost immediately. My mom and I stopped by the pharmacy to get my prescription, but I was home within three hours of the surgery. I lounged around and watched TV and movies and ate the lasagna my mom had brought me. I took a pain pill before going to sleep just in case.

Today I woke up feeling like I had done a lot of sit-ups or had a particularly core-heavy workout, but no real, substantial pain. The most uncomfortable thing I’ve experienced is referred shoulder pain, which happens with most laparoscopic surgeries, as the gas used to inflate the abdomen during surgery often gets trapped by the diaphragm, which triggers the phrenic nerve, which causes shoulder pain. I have plenty of pain pills if I need them, but I haven’t taken anything since last night and will probably just stick with extra strength Tylenol, if anything. I’m going to take it easy for the next couple days and just hang around my apartment, but it has been a shockingly easy recovery so far. 

I know not everyone who wants reproductive sterilization has the means to do so. A combination of already being a healthy person who is able to undergo surgery, having the financial ability to do so, having a job that provides quality insurance and vacation time, finding a doctor that actually listens to me, and a support system for the aftercare aspect means a lot of privileges lined up all at once. If you live in the Kansas City metro area and are looking for a new gynecologist, even if you don’t want this permanent of birth control, my contact information is in my “About” section, so email me or send me an Instagram DM, and I will send you my doctor’s information. 

The relief I feel at my own freedom from constant fear of an unwanted pregnancy has been overshadowed by my anger at the official overturning of Roe v Wade. The three Supreme Court justices that Trump appointed directly lied under oath in order to gain their appointments by implying that the decision was already settled by the court and that they had no interest in overturning settled decisions. I hope that everyone who insisted that being devastated by Trump’s election in 2016 was an overreaction is having an incredibly shitty day today. I hope that anyone who is celebrating today’s overturning realizes that they are not actually pro-life, as this decision will cause not only the death of many people who will still seek out abortions, just not safe ones, but has the potential to criminalize and incarcerate people who have miscarriages and are grieving that loss. This will bring unwanted children into the world to be abused and neglected. They will not stop at abortions, either. There have been direct statements from the Supreme Court implying that same-sex marriage, access to birth control, interracial marriage, and voting rights could be next on the chop block. I would like to offer a sincere “fuck you” to anyone who scoffs and says that would be an overstep, because those out-of-touch dinosaurs have already overstepped. 

I’m angry and sad, but I am not without hope. Recent polls imply that around 70% of Americans support access to reproductive healthcare, which includes abortions, so I don’t think the fight is over, not by a long shot. I think we should take the day to grieve this tremendous step backwards, but then it is time to fight back to regain control of our own bodies. My body is still healing, so I can’t attend protests this weekend, but I am with you each and every one of you in spirit. 

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Two Years Sober

As of today, Tuesday 2/22/22, I have gone two years without alcohol. It took a lot of work to get here, and it continues to take work to maintain this. There’s nothing that compelling about my drinking/quitting story. There was no one incident that resulted in a downward spiral of my life, I didn’t get fired for sneaking drinks at work because I never felt the need to drink during the day. There were plenty of instances of me making questionable or even at times dangerous decisions but there was never any one big event, no bomb that went off in my life that acted as a wake-up call to scare me sober. Everything happened internally. Nearly everyone was surprised to find out I was uncomfortable with the way I was drinking, because they saw me as just a normal drinker. I was good at drinking. I rarely stumbled around, I never drove drunk, I didn’t pick fights or become angry or overly emotional. To just about everyone else, it appeared that I went out, had fun, handled an impressive amount of alcohol with grace, and went home without incident. 

When I first started thinking about quitting drinking, I posed the idea to myself as taking a small break. I tried dry January and didn’t last the month. I tried moderating myself and trying to limit drinking only to certain nights, but there was always an excuse to make an exception if there was reason to celebrate. The threshold for things worthy of celebration quickly got embarrassingly low. The few times I actually met a certain number of days I had set as my goal to go without drinking, I convinced myself that I had reset my attitude around alcohol and could drink like a normal person again, but I always failed at that within a week. I tried to institute a drink limit whenever I went out, but it never stuck. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize I am simply not someone who can have just one drink and be satisfied. After a night of failing to moderate myself or stick to self-imposed limits, I would come home, drunker than I wanted to be, and try to read the many books I had bought about drinking and addiction and quitting, but I would be too drunk to read, so I would wake up in the morning curled around the books in bed, face puffy from crying before I had passed out. Severely hungover, I would force myself to read through the books over and over again because even though I hadn’t made a mess of my life the way a lot of the authors had, their descriptions of the way they viewed alcohol, obsessed over it, resonated within me so much that I felt both validated and disgusted with myself. 

I cannot separate my drinking and my sobriety from my father. I don’t know that I ever met the sober version of my father, because he is at least buzzed in all my memories of him. I’m not certain his problem was as prominent in my childhood, because at least in those memories of him, he was fun and was able to relate to and have fun with his children. Maybe he always drank the same amount, but I just didn’t notice it until I got older. He died in 2018 when I was 27 and he was 63 from complications that come from a lifetime of heavy drinking. All my life, and after his death, he has been a looming reminder of what could be, some slurring, stumbling ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who appeared to me at the end of drunken nights after the fun was over, after the sheen of the night had worn off, leering at me from the edges of my unsteady, whirling, dizzy mind as a reminder that I might do this forever—that this thing that used to be light and fun was turning into something heavy and all-encompassing that would someday alienate me from everyone I love, that would make me believe the world was out to get me, that would kill me and disguise itself as my own choice. My father was not a bad person—underneath the drunkenness was an incredibly bright, charming, funny man, and while I know that addiction is a disease that can easily overtake a life, it is a disease that he actively chose never to seek treatment for. 

I always pictured my dad’s addiction as this dripping, tar-black, sticky shadow that clung to his insides and spread out further and further until there was very little left of him, and I have constantly been afraid of that very same thing inhabiting my own body. When I was younger and through my teenage years, I swore I would never even start drinking, because even back then, I felt traces of that same shadow in my chest and I was convinced that whatever it was that had made my dad this way was inside me too. Whenever I am deeply sad or depressed, I feel a similar black shadow begin to take over parts of my body. The way I was drinking made that shadow start to feel heavier and stickier, and it was getting harder to dissipate. I felt the only way to keep it from growing was to starve it of alcohol, and it seems to be working. I chose to treat what may or may not have turned into a disease, because I didn’t like the idea of waiting around to see. 

A lot of my sober-firsts came over a year after I had quit drinking due to the pandemic ending social activities for a stretch (and limiting them still now). I attended my first sober wedding in the past year, and I only knew my date, but I still ended up forming fast friendships with new people in the exact manner I would have if I had been drunk. I danced just as terribly, too. Post-vaccination, I started seeing more of my friends more regularly. Being the only sober person in a room can be taxing if I’m not in the right headspace. I take great pride in the fact that my friends are all brilliant and beautiful people but going to a party and watching them all get (and I mean this in a loving way) visibly more stupid as the night goes on is only funny for a little bit until you get told the same story for the fourth time in one hour, then twice again the next time you see them a few days later. Watching a grown adult forget the concept of “empty” as they shake a spent bottle into their glass, as though the wine got caught on something on the way out, then watching them peer at the neck of the bottle, utterly confused as to why it is not performing its one function, is quaint in the way that a toddler gets mad at a banana for not actually being a phone is quaint. It’s cute once, but you can’t reason with either group, and you end up being the one who has to put them to bed. I don’t care when other people drink around me, but there always comes a point in the night where it’s better for my sanity if I take my leave.

I’ve always had an insatiable hunger for everything that this world has to offer in the way of small delights. As a kid, I was constantly reading, writing stories, daydreaming, wandering off on my own, and creating a rich inner world that I would spend hours exploring. I was a solitary child and most at peace in my own company. Somewhere in the last few months of my drinking days I realized that I had drifted so far from that sense of inner peace and had at some point in my twenties begun to dread being alone with myself. I didn’t daydream as much, I didn’t make up worlds inside my head, I didn’t read nearly as much as I used to. My mind was dulling and alcohol was tamping down that hunger for the world I used to have. As soon as I quit, that hunger came roaring back and it terrified me. I didn’t know what to fill it with, and we were right at the start of the pandemic when everything was shut down. I was furloughed from my job and I suddenly had twenty-four hours to fill every single day. For the first time in my adult life, I was bored because my go-to activity, grabbing a drink with a friend, was no longer an option. During another attempt at quitting a few months prior, I had committed to reading 52 books in a year, but I ended up hitting 120 by the end of that year, seven months sober. I started going for long, ambling walks every day, just for the sake of wandering. I started noticing things about my neighborhood I had never seen before. I started making up backstories for every person I passed. I started writing fiction again. My hunger stopped being scary and became motivating instead. 

Here I am, two years sober and delightfully hungry. I am living alone for the first time in many years, and I am more at peace with my own company than I ever have been. The first few months of sobriety consisted of a lot of stereotypical self-care activities like bubble baths and face masks and anything to make it feel like I was capable of caring for my suddenly vulnerable and jittery body, but now my self-care looks a lot like regular boring adult stuff and I am in love with every moment of it. Every night when I set up my coffee maker to automatically start brewing right before my alarm goes off the next morning, I think about how nice it is to regard myself highly enough to want my little morning treat ready for my sleepy little future self. When I cook myself dinner, a new habit after years of living with a professional chef, I stir my veggies and think how great it is that I care enough to properly nourish this body that I have been given. I am constantly dancing and singing around my house because all this kinetic energy must be expelled through wiggling shoulders and into hairbrush microphones. I still get sad sometimes and feel that dark shadow float across my body, which may be inherited from my father, or maybe it exists in all of us, but there is no longer that alcohol-fueled self-hatred there for it to stick to—I have starved it and in turn provided a feast for my ever-hungry self. 

Lost and Found

I lost you three years ago today. When I say I lost you, that’s exactly what I mean. You are dead, but I have no idea where you went, because you are somewhere I have never been. People love to speculate about what happens after death, but the world is full of people who have never died, so you remain lost. And when you lose something you’re supposed to check the last place you left it and retrace your steps, so I jump around through time, retrace the steps of our relationship. I check everywhere I’ve ever seen you, just in case I’m there at the exact right moment to experience some sort of glitch in time, some freak event wherein I can catch even a glimpse of you. 

I look in your mom’s house, your brother’s house, your sister’s apartment. I turn over pillows and look behind potted plants just in case death shrank you, because there is nothing in this world of which I am certain. I drive past your old apartment building and past my old house and consider asking the new tenants if I can have a look around, maybe ask them if they’ve run into any exceptionally handsome and hilarious ghosts since they moved in. I look in the park where your family and I spread your ashes last year to see if anything still remains.

I look in the art museum where we wandered around one week after meeting each other, hands lazily clasped as though we had been doing so our entire lives—no need to hold on tight because we both already knew we fully belonged to each other, even then. We paid more attention to the other people than the art and made up backstories for everyone, some silly, but never unkind. I never heard an unkind word cross your lips, even when your dripping sarcasm was on full display. 

I look in the bar where you told me you loved me for the first time, stone cold sober, shouting it so everyone in the building could hear. You were telling me something I already knew, and I said it back, which is something you already knew, too. It felt good to let what had been growing inside of us rapidly since the moment we met burst out of our bodies and into existence, like those crazy seed pods that explode into the air.

I go to the parking lot of the grocery store where we first met. I park in the same spot I parked in back then, I walk the same aisles we walked as we talked, strangely familiar with one another, already sharing a shopping cart, and I pause in the pasta aisle, where you offered to cook me dinner that very night. I was not and still am not the type of person who generally allows people I met seven minutes prior to come into my home and cook for me, but I said yes without hesitation. That grocery store is overpriced and is now out of my way since I moved, but I still shop there all the time, just in case you’re there, weighing our options and debating between a white and a red sauce. 

I check at the edge of that lake we drove to during the last leg of summer. It was the golden hour, and you waded into the lake, fully clothed. I stood on the shore, afraid of the water, afraid of drifting away or slipping beneath the surface, until you turned around, water up to your neck, and extended your hand to me. I went towards you, and we were both silent and serious for possibly one of the first times ever. You took a step towards me when the water reached my neck and I wrapped myself around you. We floated there, drifting in lazy circles as the sun set around us, staring silently into each other’s eyes, and I have never felt more intimately connected to another person in my life. It was then that my suspicions were confirmed that you knew me, the core of who I am, not just the parts I choose to show people, and to be seen so completely in that way is both terrifying and liberating. In those moments, I saw a thousand futures for myself laid out before me, each of them with you, because everything was possible with you as my partner, but not even one accounted for you dying young and leaving me here without you.

I know all the old sayings. I’ve lost so many people that these things have been said to me so many times that they have lost any scrap of meaning: you’ll live on in my heart, you’ll always be with me, you’re watching over me, we’ll meet again in the next life or wherever our essence goes after death. It’s my first inclination to say that most days these thoughts are enough for me, because I’m nothing if not a people-pleaser and hate for others to think I am unhappy, but the truth is that there has been no day in the last three years where those thoughts have been enough. No, I don’t weep daily and wrap myself in black shrouds and stand on cliff-sides shouting at the sky (though, if there were any good cliff-sides nearby I may consider it), and yes, I am actually happy more often than not on a day-to-day basis and have dated new people and lived my life. But there is still this gnawing dread in the pit of my stomach that you were it. You were the only person capable of seeing me in my entirety, and I know that is logically untrue and I am fortunate enough to have many incredible people in my life who really, truly get me, but it’s not the same. 

People sometimes ask about you and one of the more common questions is “When did he die?” and is it terrible of me to be relieved to finally be able to say it was a few years ago? A few years puts a comfortable distance between now and then that one and two simply did not have, and the pity that is inevitably thrown my way has less gravity to it; people’s shoulders slump less, their eyebrows contort at less dramatic angles. There are less well-meaning reaches across the table to put their hand over mine as they insist that I don’t have to carry this alone, even though they wouldn’t have the slightest idea about what corner of this unwieldy and heavy thing to even wedge a finger under to begin to lift it. I am not ungrateful for these gestures—I am only wearied by the amount I have been given when in all actuality the people who helped me most were and are the ones who are willing to just sit in a room with me while I am sad while we focus our efforts on bad television rather than the hole in the universe right where you used to be that remains open, a vast and unfillable maw. 

While the maxims are tiresome and nothing could hold a candle to you actually being here, if I cannot find you here on this earth as Andrew, then I will find you as everything else. You can exist as the smell of sawdust, as the shuddering awakening of the furnace the first cold night of the season with the promise of warmth. I will find you in the new bloom on a plant you got for me that lives on my dresser jungle, as that feeling I get after a long, full, wonderful day as I sink into my bed and my body relaxes because it reminds me of coming home which reminds me of you. I find you during every road trip because every playlist has a piece of you in it. I find you in that space in the early morning before the sun rises when I wake up and realize I have a couple more hours before my alarm goes off, because in a perfect world, I would bury my face in your chest and easily drift back to sleep, but this is an imperfect and unfair world, so I instead drift off to meet you in my dreams, where you are so often found. I find you in the laughter of others—the type of laughter that causes a decade to fall from their face, because wherever you went, laughter followed. I find you during every golden hour in the summertime, because I am reminded of the way the sun reflected in your amber eyes that day in the lake, and because that particular kind of lighting perfectly encapsulates your exact kind of warmth. I find you, I find you, I find you, because even though you’ve been gone a few years, you are still everywhere for me. 

If You Had Lived

You have been gone for nearly three years now, and I don’t have as many impossible days as I did in the first year you were gone, or the second year, but they still crop up now and then. On those days, I allow my mind to wander to the alternate universe I often dream about in which you and I both live our full average-expectancy life. 

We would have moved to Nashville for a few years, maybe bopped up to the Pacific Northwest for a while. You would have convinced me we should get married and given me that beautiful ring you bought just a few months into our relationship. I would have agreed, not because I think marriage is the sole path of a successful relationship, but because it was important to you, and because when I thought about the way “my wife” would sound rolling off your tongue, the part of me that was always moving a little too fast, whirring just a little too hard, came to a slow, calm stop. Our wedding would have been small and simple. We would have done that thing where we stand on either side of a door and squeeze each other’s fingers, and my mom would have walked me down the aisle, and your vows would have made mine look like nursery rhymes, because I may be able to write the words, but you can speak them into nearly tangible things that float in the air. All the people who matter to us would be there to celebrate our love, and it would be one of those weddings people make the exception for when they say they don’t like weddings. But that wouldn’t be the single most important day of our lives, because that’s too much pressure for a day, especially when we have decades and decades of days to come. 

We would be married and we would move around for a few years while I worked on my writing and you, your music. We would both become successful enough to make a good living, but not the kind of famous that becomes a burden. After a few years of marriage, people who didn’t know us very well but who still felt the need to provide commentary on our lives would worry that we had no plans for children, even though we would have plenty of children in our life via our siblings and friends. Their most common concern would be, “Who will take care of you when you’re old?” as though the sole purpose of creating more people is for them to feed you soup when you become feeble. We would assure them there are plenty of people in our lives willing to feed us soup at an unspecified later date. 

We would, eventually, fall into our version of settling down. Our dream had always been to buy a big, old, dilapidated house to fix up, and after a couple of novels and a couple of albums, we have the means to do so. We find one in a perfect spot, likely in the Midwest so we’re not too far from family, and it’s far harder than we anticipated, but we do most of the work ourselves, and with the help of our handier friends. For weeks, we sleep on a mattress on top of our dining room table until the bedrooms are in working order, and we’ll forever refer to the early days of the house as “camping” and give each other knowing smiles when people ask about our home during dinner parties at that very table. There’s far too much room in the house for just the two of us, but that’s okay, because we have a constant rotation of friends and family staying with us to escape whatever it is they need escaping from. Our house is filled with love at all times. Even when it’s just the two of us, our 90s grunge ghost who haunts the home, lovingly referred to as Jonathan Taylor Thomas, keeps us company. There will never be an exorcism or banishment here, so long as he keeps his grunge music at an acceptable listening volume. The house is filled with so many plants that you often joke that our inside is looking more like the outside, but that doesn’t stop you from bringing home more potted plants for me. There are books, so many books, lining our walls and spilling into every room, and we spend most evenings sitting on our big porch, curled up into one another, reading. You always interrupt my reading when you find a really good sentence or turn of phrase, but I never mind, because seeing you light up and get excited, which is so often, even after all these years, never fails to make my heart glow so brightly that I’m sure it’s visible from the outside. 

We love to examine each other’s aging bodies because it’s a marvel to us, to grow old. Every wrinkle and grey hair is another memory we get to share together, because time is not something we fear now that we know we get to spend it together. We find the security of middle age delightful, because even though we are softer around the middle and creakier in the knees, we are more confident in who we are than we’ve ever been. The important parts of who we are have solidified, but we are still pliable and willing to change and adapt to the new ways the world works. Our friends’ kids are teenagers who keep us hip and let us know the beautiful ways the new generation is making the world a softer, gentler place, and we support them, no matter how starkly different it seems to us, because we always remember the time when we pushed for more softness, and we remember the older folks who pushed back versus the older folks who embraced it and helped us pave new paths. We want to be the ones who help the new people pave better paths, not get in their way. 

Our house is the house we stay in for the rest of our lives. Our young friends tell us we should sell it, move into something smaller, more manageable, but the house itself has become a member of our family. It has witnessed our love, our fights, housed our family when they needed it, grown with us. We have hosted the weddings of several friends here, had a huge Halloween party every year. It’s the house we both plan on dying in, because when you’re old, dying feels like something you can control a little better, something more predictable. We talk about our deaths openly, how and when we want to go, what we want to happen afterwards. We scare our younger friends with how openly we discuss our respective demises, but they don’t understand that we almost lost each other once, decades ago, in an accident. They don’t understand that a drunk man nearly reached through time and stole this blissful future from us. They don’t understand how lucky we are to have been given this time. They eventually give in and help us with planning the details, because we both want input in planning our funerals.

We know the statistics, and because we have been granted these beautifully average lifespans we know that you will probably go first because you’re a man, especially considering you’re five years older than me. I will, unfortunately, have ten years of my life left after you’re gone, statistically, but that feels okay. That feels natural, even though it will be sad and difficult to be without you after all this time together. A few years before you die, we start gently binding our hands together with a scarf when we go to bed, just in case you die in your sleep. Neither of us wants to be alone when we go, so we make sure I’ll be there the moment it happens.

We are as comfortable in our old age as we were in our middle age. A lifetime of hanging out with the elderly has prepared me for what it’s like. We’ve been a couple for decades, and even though we still surprise each other now and then, we know each other so well that it’s like we’ve each become an extension of the other. I don’t have the same bad dreams I had in our first years together, when you held me throughout the night and sang me back to sleep, but they still come every now and then, as does my insomnia. When this happens, even though we’re in our seventh decade of life, you unwind the scarf that binds us, shuffle out of bed to get a book, and read to me until I fall back asleep. I never know what story you were reading by the time morning comes, because the words don’t matter—it’s the steady thrum of your voice, which has been soothing me for decades, that reaches into the deepest part of myself, vibrates at the most recognizable frequency I know, that lulls me into a peaceful state. All my life, it has only been your voice that can do this for me. When I wake up in the morning, I see that you have re-wrapped our hands in the scarf and fallen asleep with the book on your chest. I kiss your old, wrinkled face and shift my old, wrinkled body right against yours. 

In the months leading up to your death, you seem to know it’s coming. You’ve always been affectionate, but you start holding my hand more than you ever have. Across the dining room table, on the porch while we read, while we take our slow walks after dinner, my hand is in yours, as though you’re afraid you will leave me at any given moment but don’t want to go alone. Your mind is still as sharp as it ever was, but your body is slowing down. Your final night, you’re more tired than normal, but you still kiss me goodnight and tell me you love me, just as you have every night for over 43 years. You have just turned 76.1 years old, and as we secure our hand scarf, I think to myself how lucky we’ve been to have so much time together, how lucky we are that this beautiful life that we’ve built, this gorgeous love story we have lived, will have a perfectly average ending. That night I dream of a half empty bed and wake up to find you gone. I wear our hand scarf around my neck to your funeral. I am so sad, of course, and life is so difficult without you, but you died, and I spent more of my life with you than without you, which is the only thing I ever wanted. 

All of our friends visit me often over the next ten years, and they’re not afraid to talk about you or bring up stories about you, like so many people are afraid to do after someone’s loved one dies. We laugh and laugh about what you would think about a new book or movie. All the grandchildren and grand-nieces and grand-nephews of our family and friends, all of whom we have spoiled their entire lives, check up on me and feed me delicate sandwiches and refill my ice cube trays and show me new technology. My mind mostly remains in tact, but sometimes, mostly late at night, which has always been when I’ve felt closest the frayed edge of this world, I look at them and ask them where you’ve gone, where is my love, where is Andrew. Sometimes I talk to you as though you are there, and maybe you are. They don’t talk down to me or lie to me, because they’re good kids who have been raised not to fear aging and death; they simply say that you’re gone, then they adjust the blanket on my lap and take my old frail hand in their young strong one as we watch the bats chase the moths from our big front porch. 

One such night, when I’m 81.1 years old, we finish watching things zip through the air, this young thing helps me up, bracing me while my knees creak back into place, and they walk me to the door of the bedroom we shared for so many years. They stop at the threshold of our room, knowing this place has always been for just you and I, and lovingly watch as I settle into the side of the bed I’ve been sleeping on for 53 years, and we both silently note the side that has been empty for ten of those years, the left side, the heart of the bed, and they ask if I need anything, a glass of water or an extra blanket, and that’s when I see you, the real you, not just a rippling mirage of my aged and lonely mind, standing beside our young friend with that crinkly-eyed smile that drew me in all those decades ago, ready to take me to wherever you had been for the last ten years. The walls behind you start to slowly disintegrate and I see the stars appear, closer than they’ve ever been. I smile at you, and then at our friend in the doorway and ask them to fetch my scarf from the dresser. They bring it to me and kiss my forehead, and I wrap the scarf around my hand and drift off to sleep, knowing when I wake up, the heart of my bed will no longer be empty and our knees will no longer creak and you will take my hand and show me the new home you’ve spent ten years making for us. 

A Love Letter to All My Friends

I have the luxury and extreme privilege of having a large number of friends in my life as an adult, some who have been around for decades, some who have just popped up in my life. I see or talk to some of them every single day, while years will pass between others, only for us to pick right back up where we left off. This group is disparate and diverse and so different from each other and myself that I sometimes have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that I get to call them my friends. Now that we are all vaccinated, I am able to sink into the arms of the people I love again for the first time in a very long time. There are so many beautiful parts to my life, but I have no doubt the most beautiful thing of all is the numerous people my heart is tethered to all over the world. My concept of home is in tatters, because it has been a long time since all of the people I loved lived in the same town, let alone state or country. The quality of people in my life is astounding, and I will never stop feeling supremely lucky to even exist in the same stretch of time as them, let alone count them among my people. 

They have given me nieces and nephews, and impromptu midnight road trips to catch a glimpse of the universe above out in the middle of Kansas. They give me books to read so that we can briefly exist in the same plane of fiction together, and I give them books about fungi so they can be filled with wonder over something I am newly obsessed with. They are scientists and poets and teachers and landscapers and IT guys and librarians and they are so much more than what pays their bills. Some are younger than me, some are in their nineties. They are the godfathers to my cats, and we have animated conversations about specific houseplants we refuse to even attempt to keep alive. They have been with me since middle school, they have been with me since yesterday. There are a few whose friendship only exists online, and we have never seen one another in person. We send letters and animal bones and cat pictures and heart-eyed smiley faces in the mail and over the internet.

They ask if I’ve eaten, and they bring soup to my bedroom when I’m sick. We pull each other into new restaurants and try the strangest things on the menu and tell each other it’s a hate crime if they don’t let us pay the bill. We sit on porches with coffee and talk about sobriety and how thankful we are to not be alone. We go for walks around my neighborhood and decide what we do and don’t like about houses we will never be able to afford. They requested custody of me when I broke up with one of their friends, and we requested friendship when we decided to forgo what started as romance. We sit on docks and talk about God, and we watch trash TV and eat trash food. We speculate about extra-terrestrials and go down YouTube rabbit-holes of conspiracy theories and parallel universes. We meet up at protests, we call each other out on our ignorance and blind spots. I have the spare key to half a dozen houses in one city, half a dozen more in another, and I’m on full-name, belly-scritchin’ basis with droves of pets all across America.

I met them in alleyways and thrift stores and classes and house parties with music so loud we didn’t know each other’s names for hours. I met them once in person, then spent hours and hours on the phone with them until we saw each other again years later. They grin at me from the stage as they strum their instruments and sing the song they wrote about that one wild night we had last summer. Our sweat-soaked bodies move together on the dance floor to music we grew up with and we don’t care whose eyes are on us because our eyes are on each other. We lock eyes across the room at a party and have entire conversations with minute facial expressions. We get ready for a night out on the town with the intention of finding someone to fall in love with for the night but end up finding a corner to ourselves and talking to no one else because we are in love with who we are with each other as much as we are in love with each other. 

There have been a handful of friends with whom I share a love so deep that it felt like a natural progression to try shifting into a romantic relationship because we didn’t know what else to do with our overflowing love, and I am so grateful for the experience and even more grateful that we were able to seamlessly return to friendship. A happy byproduct is that in times when a comforting hug is needed, we better know how to hold each other’s bodies, and if I’m being honest, I’m half in love with every single one of my friends in that I imagine us growing old together, for better or worse, ‘til death do us part. The love I have for them feels ancient in the same way starlight feels ancient.

We have been eighteen years old buying things we forgot for our dorm rooms while being thrilled and terrified by our newfound freedom, and we have been thirty years old buying things we forgot for the dinner party while being thrilled and terrified by the endless ways our lives have yet to turn out. We get through the funerals of our friends together by making it a challenge to make each other laugh, respectfully. They are full of wisdom almost exactly as often as they are full of shit, because we believe in a balanced life. Some of them know every part of me, some of them only know a little bit. Their hugs feel like home. They are the great loves of my life.  

My heart is scattered every which way and I sometimes get to visit the pieces, never often enough. When I’m there, I consider uprooting myself and moving cities to be with those pieces, but if I am away from other pieces for too long, living in that other place with those pieces sounds like a great idea as well. I want to be everywhere all the time with everyone. I often call friends when I am driving home from a visit elsewhere, and during my most recent trip, I noticed that the grass in the median along the highway seemed inordinately long and wild, but I couldn’t remember if it was always like that or if something had changed. I have such a wide variety of friends in my life, that one person gave me a long list of ecological benefits for the tall grass, one talked about highway hypnosis, another wanted to discuss the sentimental reasons behind why I had noticed a strange detail in a strip of land that directly connected one part of my heart to another. I still don’t know about the long grass, but the grass doesn’t matter—the point is they all picked up the phone when I called them to discuss absolutely nothing. Everyone I know is so brilliant and they are all experts on so many things that I carry them around in my heart like an encyclopedia set and use any excuse to pull them out so they can teach me something new. Even the friends who are no longer here on this side of the living still somehow find ways to stretch all around my heart and fill in cracks that appeared when they left. I don’t mean to brag, but it’s possible that I have discovered the meaning of life, and I will tell you that it is this exact combination of people, past, present, and future. 

three years, still here

Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault, suicide


Early June marks three years since I was attacked and raped in a public bathroom, which most of my friends and followers know, but there are some who arrived late to the party who do not. I’ve written about it before, once a few short months after it happened in a freshly-traumatized, messy manner, and then again exactly one year after it happened in a much more composed and hopeful manner. I wasn’t planning on writing about it again, not because it makes me uncomfortable to discuss it, but because it makes other people uncomfortable. But over the past couple years, a lot of fellow survivors have asked if I’m going to write more about it, and they told me they really benefitted from reading what I had to say. I don’t claim to be the voice of healing or trauma or survivors, but I do know what it is to feel alone, and I will do whatever I can to help alleviate that.

The past year or so has been extremely difficult for a lot of people, myself included. The pandemic gave a lot of us far more free time than we were used to, and, on top of worrying about the Plague, this spare time turned over a lot of rocks some previously unchecked trauma was hiding under. It also synched up with my decision to quit drinking, which opened up a lot of mental space, for better or worse. People often note how together and composed I seem, given what absolutely shit circumstances life has thrown my way the past few years, and it’s true that I function surprisingly well overall, but I don’t want to give the impression that I’m out here living trauma-free, fully healed and whole. Very, very few people have ever witnessed me being not okay. I can write about it day and night, but when it comes to actually allowing myself to unravel in front of someone, every part of me clenches to hold it together. 

The extremely hopeful post I put out one year after my attack was filled with truth, but it also wasn’t the full scope. I didn’t include that I still visibly shake when I enter a public restroom, and I keep my back to the wall, eyes on the door, as often as I can. There is a certain fogginess of memory that frequently accompanies trauma—the mind protects itself when the body cannot. I offered up a prayer to forget every single day for a long time, because my mind decided instead of looking away, it would remember every single detail of that day. Perhaps that is another form of protection; I must remember it was real so that I do not unravel into a state of nonreality. The sound of a hand dryer in a bathroom, which can cover up the sound of a man entering it, can send me spiraling if I’m not expecting it. The smell of the type of food that was cooking in the nearby kitchen can toss me to the floor, and even though I still eat this cuisine (because I refuse to let that be taken from me on top of everything else), I throw it up every single time, without fail. I remember what he was wearing and how the cloth felt against me. I remember what color his eyes were, I remember the color of the ceiling in the bathroom. I remember the wet snap of my collar bone and the shock of cold followed by the blazing heat that spread throughout my torso. I remember what stupid song was playing overhead and being borderline amused that my worst moment had such a shitty soundtrack. I remember what it felt like to accept that I was probably going to die, that I was going to become another statistic for people to fret over anytime they went anywhere, existed in any space that a man might unexpectedly slither into. 

I remembered his hands over and over again in the weeks and months following. I became afraid of other people’s hands, unable to convince myself they wouldn’t twist and morph into his hands and finish the job. The man I met and rapidly fell in love with mere weeks after I was raped, Andrew, picked up on this immediately. When I unexpectedly flinched the first time he touched me anywhere other than my own hands, he was not hurt by my reaction. He instead slowly moved his hand and placed it over the top of mine and placed it on my knee, my own hand a barrier against his. He cupped my face by using my palm. He used my finger to lightly trace letters, secret messages, into my skin. He kept his hands behind his back or in his pockets when kissing me for weeks until I slowly started placing his hands on my body, started putting my hands over the top of his, then letting them roam, because his hands were his hands and no one else’s. He reminded me that hands are made to show love, and the hands that had shown me the opposite were an aberration—not hands at all, but the claws of a monster. The night that Andrew died, I kissed every one of his fingertips and thanked them for returning me to myself. 

I met my friend Rachel in group therapy that summer. She was raped one day after me, and our circumstances were very different, but our trauma was the same, and we frequently joked that if there was astrological grouping for survivors, we were glad to be in the same. Neither of us had told our friends or family what had happened yet, aside from her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend and my Andrew, so we leaned pretty heavily on each other, even though we stubbornly wouldn’t refer to each other as friends until a couple months later when we simultaneously quit group therapy and publicly outed ourselves as survivors in wild facebook confessionals we sent to each other first before posting on the same day, same time. We always got coffee after group to discuss the dark things we couldn’t talk about in front of the sometimes annoyingly optimistic group of people that had gathered together. We acknowledged that we had been changed forever, no matter how “back to ourselves” we might one day feel. The versions of ourselves that had previously existed were dead, and if we focused on returning to them, we would spend our lives chasing after ghosts. 

We made lists of the things that had changed about us, itemized our losses and in some cases, our gains. I’ve always been fairly observant, but now I notice if I see the same face more than once in a public setting, and I immediately notice if anyone has so much as glanced at me. After, I cried more easily; after, it became more difficult for Rachel to cry. We both found out we are far more capable of physically harming a man given a small window of opportunity and good timing to pair with our quick thinking. I think I may have lost the ability to not assume the worst in any given situation, because I was in a seemingly innocuous situation that turned worst case scenario. Each phone call from an unknown number is immediately news of a dead friend or family member in my head, which makes telemarketers very uncomfortable when I share with them my relief. Every loud noise means I could be in danger. Every strange man is a threat until proven otherwise. I am harder and I am softer all at the same time. 

Four of us from the support group are now dead. One overdose, two suicides. One, Rachel, died of cancer a year ago this month. It was one of the great honors of my life that she asked me to sit with her as she passed and write about it, but I hate with everything in me that she is not here to make fun of my pale skin, that she is not here to offer guidance on a book idea that is getting too heavy to hold onto, that she is not here to tell me about her childhood in Haiti, that she is not here to smile with her perfect teeth and make everyone in the room jump in surprise and then join her when she laughs so loudly and abruptly, that she is not here for both of us to muscle through early June like she has been the last two years, that she is not here to tell me we’ll be okay, that she is not here. So many people are not here that it doesn’t feel fair that I am, and sometimes it feels like if there is a god, they are testing me and I am failing miserably. On my worst days, I feel like the last man standing in a horror movie, even though I know that couldn’t be further from reality, because I still have so many people with me.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I am very happy to be among those who are still here, and I plan to do everything I can to remain here for as long as possible. I am overwhelmingly lucky in that I still have an insane amount of supportive people in my life. I have so many friends who check in on me, the coolest family in the world, and a surprising number of online acquaintances through this blog who have become virtual pen pals. I recognize that I have far more support than a lot of survivors, and I always offer my own blanket support to anyone who needs it. 

The week leading up to the anniversary has been difficult every year so far. My body physically reacts to the impending day by rejecting any and all food, so I survive on meal replacement shakes and water, which, this year, start getting rejected in the final days leading up. A friend administered a banana bag IV to make sure I didn’t drop dead of dehydration, which I found to be very thoughtful. Sleep becomes impossible, because given the choice of reliving that day in my nightmares on an endless loop and just not sleeping at all, I tend to choose the latter. I feel very safe in my house—it’s in a good neighborhood, I live with people who I trust with every cell in me, plus a dog that may hide from birds but has a mean, scary bark who regularly and hilariously growls at ex-boyfriends we happen to run into, but I don’t feel safe when I’m asleep. 

I know that three years is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, but it feels like an eternity. I am far enough away from the day in space and time that it feels as though it should not affect me this deeply anymore, but only because I want for it not to. I am soft with myself around this time of year, because I recognize that healing is nonlinear and messy, but a part of me hesitates to refer to this as an anniversary, because I’m afraid that I will be married to this pain, for better or worse, until death do us part, decades from now. I am afraid and I am angry, because I am carrying the life sentence that he deserved, had he not been weak, so much weaker than me, and died. I am so happy and so grateful to be alive, but I am sometimes filled with a roiling anger, and I want to take this fire that is raging through me and hurl it at someone, something, but I don’t even know what my target would be. 

What happened to me is so outlandish, so ridiculous in its adherence to the outdated narrative that rapists are cartoonish villains who leap out of bushes to attack unsuspecting women, that it would almost be funny if it weren’t anything further from it. I’ve analyzed that day over and over in my mind the past three years. I retrace every single step leading up to what happened, every single decision I made. I know that absolutely nothing I did caused this to happen, just as no person in history has been to blame for getting raped, but I am human and I look for reason in the unreasonable. I want to know why he chose me. I want to know why I survived. I want to know if there is something small and insignificant that I overlook each time I replay the day that could have saved me had I known to look for it. I want to know so it doesn’t happen again.The reason I was so hesitant to share what happened to me three years ago, why I waited a few months, is because I was afraid of it defining me. I was afraid to even call myself a survivor, because that is such a big, heavy word, and I wasn’t ready because I didn’t feel like there were enough other descriptors attached to me to balance out that weight. Of course, there were, and there are even more now. I’ve been taking stock of who I am, what my interests and skills are, over the past year, and I’m happy to report that I am pleased with my findings. I bought my first plant not long after I was raped, and it sounds dumb, but I feel so linked to this jasmine plant. It bloomed for the first time right as I was feeling comfortable in my own skin again for the first time, and it has bloomed far more often than most jasmine plants—every couple of months—since then. Right now, there are fragrant little blooms filling my bedroom with their intoxicating scent, and it has sprawled out and gotten a little wild over the last year. I have since acquired somewhere around 50 other houseplants, and much to my surprise and delight, I am very good at taking care of them. I’m a plant lady now. I started baking again when the pandemic hit, and I have since started selling my baked goods frequently enough that I could consider it a part-time job. I managed to read 120 books in one of these past three years, and I’m not keeping track of the numbers anymore, but I’m still devouring books like a monster—a variety of genres, too. I could talk your ear off about fungus. I started playing flute again and was surprised to find I retained a lot of my abilities; I wish I could say the same about my guitar skills, as I’ve recently started playing again, but I am back to the beginning basics with that one. I started a new job about six months ago, and working for a locally owned company has been a refreshing change of pace after six years with the same corporate-esque restaurant. I’m sober now—after some internal debate, I count that as one of the supremely cool things about myself. I have so many interests, hobbies, and skills. Modestly, I think I am only getting smarter and funnier and cooler as time marches on. I am a complex person, and what happened to me is horrifying and terrible, and it changed who I am, but it did not define me. My life did not stop that day because I did not allow it to. I kept moving, and I will continue to keep moving, because I am proof that it is possible to suffer all-encompassing, devastating loss and for your heart to keep beating, your lungs to keep breathing, for you to keep going. I don’t know how to make this time of year any easier for myself other than acknowledging that I need extra space and love for myself, which I have allowed and will continue to allow whenever I need it. I am alive out of a combination of luck, strength, and support, and none of that is going away anytime soon. 

Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
MOCSA Crisis Line: 816-531-0233, 913-642-0233 (specific to the Kansas City area)

Marv

Marv was born into extreme poverty in southern Missouri in the early 30s. He, his parents, and his four siblings lived in a one-room shack for most of his childhood. He started working as a dishwasher when he was nine years old to help support his family, and by the time he graduated high school, he was practically running the whole diner. He received a full academic scholarship to college, but that was put on pause when he was drafted and sent to Korea. 

Marv came back a different man. He witnessed things that gave him nightmares for decades, and he became staunchly anti-draft and anti-war, particularly during the Vietnam years. He spoke to me a little about his experiences in Korea, but he remained vague and distant for the most part. War had radicalized him, and he was a huge civil rights activist in the sixties and his career veered into civil rights law. 

When he returned, Marv was able to accept his original scholarship and attended university and soon after, law school, also on a full ride. He always said that leaving his family behind, yet again, was the hardest decision he ever had to make, but he knew becoming a lawyer would give them security in the long run. He still worked while in college and sent every penny back home to his parents. He graduated with honors and was quickly offered a job in Kansas City. Marv was able to buy a house and moved his parents and younger siblings up to the city, where his dad found more opportunities for better-paying jobs, and they eventually clawed their way out of poverty and were comfortable for the rest of their lives, all thanks to Marv’s dedication and love. He never allowed them to pay him back for the house and he soon bought a house of his own to move into with his new wife, Sarah. 

Marv and Sarah met at a dinner party hosted by Marv’s boss and hit it off quickly; they married within a year of meeting each other. Marv always maintained that he had few regrets, but one of them was that he worked far too much and didn’t put the right amount of effort into his marriage to Sarah. They had a son soon after they were married, Henry. Despite being well-respected and an incredibly successful lawyer, Marv lived in constant fear of losing everything and being thrown back into poverty. He was so afraid of going backwards that he didn’t live in the present as much as he felt he should have. He loved his wife and child, but he focused only on being their provider, and the war had made him wary of forming intense attachments to anyone. When Henry was 13 years old, he fell ill very suddenly and was dead within hours from a severe case of bacterial meningitis. Already on its last leg, his marriage fell apart shortly thereafter. He and Sarah didn’t speak for nearly a decade, but they eventually got back in touch and met up once a year to reminisce about Henry until she passed away several years ago. 

Marv took the first vacation of his life when he was 50 years old. He drove across the country to California to see the ocean for the first time, and he wept. He hadn’t cried when Henry died, or when Sarah left him, or when his parents had died a couple years prior. He cried in his sleep, but he had never allowed himself to cry when he was awake until he saw the Pacific reaching outwards to infinity, two thousand miles from home. He walked straight into the ocean, fully clothed, and let his tears flow freely. He said he has never felt more connected to the entire world than in that moment–he felt as though the sea was nothing but a collection of every person’s sadness as it gently rocked him back and forth. He assured me he did not mean this in a depressing way, only that it was nice to think of everyone’s sadness having a place to go and be collected, no longer alone. When he got back to his hotel room, he called his office and told them he was taking a leave. He stayed at the beach for a month and re-evaluated what he was working for and towards. 

Marv’s career remained in law, but he slowed down after he got back to Kansas City. He took less work home with him, only took on a reasonable amount of cases, and he found hobbies, read books, went on long, ambling walks. He allowed himself to let his guard down, he became softer and gentler. He remained a passionate and fiery lawyer until he retired, but he let himself have a life, too. He forgave himself for his shortcomings.

After he retired, Marv still worked occasionally, but on a volunteer basis. He offered free legal advice to those who needed it the most and continued to be a champion of civil rights, even though the official movement that had originally given him his spark had long since ended–worked remained to be done, and remains still. He stayed active and kept up friendships with his former coworkers. As the years wore on, Marv began having difficulties living by himself, so he moved into a senior community.

Marv always proudly announced to anyone who listened that he is part of the original gang of friends I made when I started spending time in the community several years ago. He asked me to teach him more about computers and the internet, so I showed him everything I could. He became fascinated by social media, and he loved seeing my facebook and instagram pages whenever I posted something new. He told me that I had a future in cat photography and stand-up comedy, even if I cursed a little too much. We regularly looked up his old war buddies, or friends from his earlier life. I showed him how to print pictures, and he lined the walls of his apartment with photos of all the people he had ever loved in his life. He also printed off every obituary he could find and read them with a focus, dedication, and respect I can only hope gets paid to my future obituary. 

Marv was severely funny. He frequently helped Larry, the resident practical jokester, set up all sorts of pranks, and he always had a joke waiting for me whenever I showed up. He had a sweet tooth, and he was glad it didn’t go away when he got fake teeth. He specifically asked his dentist to make sure at least one of his dentures was sweet, too. Not one visit went by in which Marv did not hand me a Reese’s from the pocket of his cardigan. He frequently ate cookies and baked goods that an unknown resident left out all the time, and each time, he would exclaim that he was eating the best cookie of his life. He eventually found out the identity of the mystery baker: Gram. 

It took those two goofballs over a year to admit they had feelings for each other, but as soon as they did, they were married within months in a beautiful wedding they graciously asked me to be a part of. Gram was a civil rights activist in the 60s, and they determined that there were a number of times that they were in the same place at the same time, protesting the same thing, but they don’t recall ever meeting each other. I once asked them how they thought their lives would be different if they had met back then, and Gram said she didn’t know if she would have been brave enough to let herself be in a relationship with a white man when she was younger. Marv took her hand and said he would have fought the devil himself if he tried to keep them apart. 

They were married for a year and a half, and in their wedding vows they admitted that the forever they planned on being together for would be shorter than the average couple’s, but they both came alive during their time together. Marv became more mobile, Gram became more outgoing. Other residents always knew when they were coming because they could hear their laughter echoing through the halls of the community. They made each other happier than either could recall ever being. 

Yesterday, Gram called to tell me that Marv had had a heart attack and was in critical condition. Restrictions at the hospital had been lifted slightly to allow for one visitor, so she was able to be with him the entire time. Marv did not make it through the night, but Gram was there holding his hand the entire time.

Due to the pandemic, I have not seen any of my elderly friends in person in over a year, and we have been relying on phone calls and video chat to stay in touch. I am halfway vaccinated, and they have all received their full vaccinations. We were planning on a masked get-together in the garden in May once my vaccine had fully taken hold, but Gram called me this morning and said she didn’t care about the risk, that she needed to see me in person. I put on three masks and rubbed hand sanitizer all over, and went to give Gram a long-anticipated, much-needed hug. We both cried, then sat in the garden and reminisced about Marv. 

Gram told me what alarmed her the most is how she went over eight decades without knowing Marv was even on the planet, but now she can’t remember how to exist without him. They had talked about death, because neither of them were naive enough to think they had all that much time left in this version of life–I have talked about death with every resident I have met in the community, as death is not the taboo topic it is outside of those walls. It is simply the next step. Armed with statistics and the fact that he was a few years older than her, Gram knew it would likely be Marv who went first. They spoke of his final wishes for himself and for her. His main wish had been fulfilled–that Gram be by his side at the very end. Everything else is just details. 

Gram is one of the most beloved residents in the community, so she has an army of support, as well as the love of many of my friends who hear about her all the time. I gave her a hug good-bye, and she slipped me a Reese’s from Marv’s cardigan, which she was wearing, and promised she would call if she needed anything at all. Marv will be desperately missed by everyone who has ever encountered him, but his memory will be a blessing to us all.

One Year Sober

As of today, it has been one (leap) year since I’ve had a drink. I’ll save the feigned modesty and come out with it: this is one of my proudest accomplishments. I may have picked the worst time in the twenty-first century to quit, though, arguably, it was also the best. Sure, I had to face the realities of a pandemic, being furloughed, a wild election, and attempted coup, the deaths of nearly half a million of my countrymen, and turning thirty with no chemical buffer, but at least I faced this hellscape with no hangovers. In all earnestness, not having the option to go to a bar or party with my friends helped me to quit. I’m not saying my DARE officer was right about many things, but there is definitely a social pressure to drink to fit in, even among very understanding friends. I don’t know if I would have made it to a point where I am secure in my sobriety if all my favorite bars had remained open and all my favorite people continued to gather there. 

I quit for a lot of reasons. I don’t like how much space in my brain thinking about drinking takes up. I don’t know anyone’s mind but my own, but it didn’t feel normal to always check how much I had left in my glass compared to everyone else, or to consistently go past some self-imposed drink limit, or to get to the bar early to get a drink or two in before everyone else showed up. I was a spectacular drinker for a long time. I could match anyone drink for drink and still convince the Pope that I was sober, because I was a very composed drunk. I made moderately bad decisions, but nothing life-ruining. People always assume something bad happened–some rock bottom that served as a wake-up call that scared me sober. The last night I drank was absolutely lovely; I celebrated a friend’s birthday, ended up at my favorite gay bar, got home at 3am, and had a great time. In fact, I was nervous to end my drinking career on such a fun night for fear I’d look back and convince myself I could try again and drink in moderation, but I decided waiting for something worse to happen was insane.

I noticed a curve to my drinking that, left unchecked, could easily turn into a spiral. Alcoholism hits hard on both sides of my family, and I fear I’m at the age where the pendulum begins to swing one way or the other. I was never mean or cruel like my late father, but I wasn’t as kind or fair to a lot of people, specifically romantic partners, as I should have been. I didn’t care about feelings when sending those late night texts. I didn’t have the time or energy to do much outside of work, because when I wasn’t drinking or planning on drinking, I was nursing one of many increasingly ferocious hangovers. I didn’t drink every single day, but it wasn’t just on the weekends either. I started getting too comfortable having a few glasses of wine by myself. I started blacking out more frequently than I’d care to admit, and I was filled with anxiety that I had done or said something I shouldn’t have. 

I’d tried quitting for small windows of time, but they never stuck. Part of the reason is I was living with another addict at the time, which is not to blame her, but to highlight my own lack of boundaries and self-will when offered a partner in crime. The main reason those early attempts failed is that I built in expiration dates–I’d tell myself I’d try it for a month or 100 days or whatever and see how I felt. Of course, I felt accomplished and “fixed” with these resets and went right back to drinking as I had been. The fact that it was difficult to quit each time solidified that I needed to quit for good.

This time around, I told people who continuously asked how long this would last that I would see how I felt after a year, but I knew exactly how I’d feel and I knew I’d have to choose to ignore it. I didn’t want to tell people I’ve quit for good in case I fail, and I still don’t want to say forever. I know that I never want to drink again, but I can never say for certain that it won’t happen. I don’t think it’s wise to deal in absolutes. 

I had a lot of time to evaluate why the idea of quitting was so scary to me. There are a thousand little factors, but I think a large part of it had to do with my vision of myself when I started drinking. I didn’t drink or party in high school, and I wasn’t that popular, nor did I have a real desire to be. I wasn’t bullied or a loner by any means; I was generally well-liked, but I just had my band friends and was happy with that. I also didn’t date or receive much of any romantic attention in high school. Once I got to college, it was like a flip switched and all of a sudden I had more friends than I ever had and was kissing more boys than little high school me had ever dreamed of. I also started drinking and going to parties, and I became the friend who was down for anything. Alcohol loosened my nerves and gave the false confidence to always say yes. I was cool for the first time in my life. After I graduated, I was still the friend who ended up in a stranger’s pool at 5am, or on top of a building to watch the sunrise with friends and strangers we had picked up along the way. I was always up for one more adventure, and I was afraid of that identity slipping away. When I quit, I was a woman at the tail end of my twenties: the world was already telling me I was approaching irrelevancy and my vanity wanted to preserve my cool factor, even if it meant slowly killing myself. 

My fears about sobriety, by and large, did not come true. I didn’t get less creative–the opposite happened and I’m writing more than ever. I’m embarrassed to admit I bought into the “tortured artist” archetype far longer than I should have. While I may have gotten more boring to the people with whom the basis of our friendship was going to bars together, I’m still just as much of a weirdo to my actual friends. Late night conversations didn’t lose their sparkle, and now I remember them with stunning clarity. My sleep didn’t magically get fixed, but the lusciously layered dreams I once had as a child have returned and show no sign of dulling anytime soon. My mind is constantly whirring in a way it hasn’t in a decade, and instead of subconsciously using alcohol to quiet it, I let it whir and spit out crazy ideas and I feed it delicious books. I still manage to make a heap of questionable but harmlessly fun choices. And I’m still cool as hell. 

I don’t judge anyone else for social drinking by any means, because I know a majority of people have a wildly different relationship with alcohol than I do, but I do think the way drinking is so steeped into our culture is deeply unhealthy. It’s so frustrating that every activity now has a boozy element to it, and for that exact reason, I’m mostly grateful that I quit drinking while everything was shut down, because there are very few places to go where alcohol isn’t creeping in the corner. Wine Mom and Beer Dad culture makes me incredibly uncomfortable and angry, but that’s a topic for another day. I started to see it the last few years before quitting, but being sober has made it blatantly obvious that functional alcoholism has its claws in an alarming number of people. Being sober has also opened my eyes to the number of my peers who have also decided to quit, and the number who are curious about quitting or dialing back their intake. The year or so before my sober year, I read everything I could about quitting drinking and I reached out to some very kind friends and acquaintances who offered support and advice and general comfort. I offer the same to any of my friends and acquaintances who are thinking about quitting: I’ll tell you what I know and what worked for me, I’ll listen without judgment, and I’ll share my favorite sober memes. 

Thank you to everyone who has continued to love me even though this aspect of my life has changed. I’m truly grateful to know such supernatural kindness in my life. One year down, the rest of them to go.

a thousand lively things

You were a thousand lively things before you were dead. You could hear a song once, in the background, from across the street and replicate it on the piano or guitar within seconds. You were a charismatic storyteller who never even realized the entire room stopped what they were doing to listen to you, every single time. You had an easy warmth that people gravitated to, and you always welcomed them in. You were a voracious reader, and you were adorably impossible to read next to, because you always got so excited about what you were reading that you had to tell me about it. You were recklessly kind and would give up hours of your time to help someone you didn’t even know. You were so many lively things that I have a hard time even using the word “dead” to describe you. I most often just say you’re gone. 

We were full of dreams, big ones. Our plan was to one day renovate a big, old house that was haunted by a 90s grunge ghost that we would lovingly refer to as Jonathan Taylor Thomas, because that was the first 90s name we could think of. We speculated that we might hear “Smells Like Teen Spirit” echoing through the hallways late at night, and we promised each other not to be too scared when we saw a flash of flannel tied around a waist turn the corner. Anytime we drove past a run-down house, you would don a posh British accent and say, “Ah yes, but it’s got good bones, my dahling. We must consider the bones.” It would be me, you, and Jonathan Taylor Thomas living in our beautiful old home together for the rest of time. We had every room planned, even the rooms our future nieces and nephews would abscond to when they needed a sanctuary. 

I met your entire family during our third date, when we left dinner to go to the hospital where your dad would soon die. Your mom told me that night she’d never seen you look at someone the way you looked at me. She welcomed me right away. On that very worst night when we lost you, the very moment we found out you would never wake up, your mother, unsettlingly calm, took my hand and said, “Let’s go see our love, one last time.” She still calls me every couple months just to catch up. I never once felt like an outsider in your family, and I’ve continued to see your siblings over the last two years, too. Your sister FaceTimes me regularly and asks how I’m sleeping, how the book’s coming, asks for advice. Your brother introduced me to his boyfriend as his sister, and I cried that night, and I have cried so many nights. I will probably cry tonight, too, but today was filled with an unexpected amount of laughter. 

Your mom called me a couple weeks ago. She didn’t like that you were in a fancy jar, she said it felt wrong. She wanted to spread your ashes, so that’s what we did today to mark the anniversary of your passing. Your brother, sister, mom, and I got all dressed up, and went to one of your favorite, most scenic places in the area, that for legal reasons, I must redact, as we found out on our way there that it is absolutely illegal to spread human remains. When you brother told this to your mom, she slid on her sunglasses and said, “Well we’re already wearing masks, everyone put a hat on or something. They’ll never catch us; I’m an excellent getaway driver.” The initially somber tone dissipated and not one of us could stop making jokes the entire way there. 

We arrived, and we promptly lost our minds with laughter when your mom pulled out a margarine tub. She shrugged and told us she was afraid the aerodynamics for pouring and spreading weren’t right with the urn, so she transferred you into the plastic tub. There was an allusion to not believing you weren’t butter, another one to hoping this made you easier to spread.

Nobody really tells anyone how to spread ashes (probably for legal reasons), so we all took a turn. Your brother went first and shimmied the tub back and forth and said he felt like he was feeding chickens. The wind caught you when it was your sister’s turn and we all shrieked and closed our eyes and mouths. Your mom whispered to me, “I didn’t know there would be CHUNKS in here, good LORD. The term ‘ashes’ is misleading. What am I supposed to do, throw these bits?” I almost dropped the whole Country Crock tub on the ground, but caught you midair, which caused a light dusting to puff into the air like I was a very morbid magician. Your presence cannot be ignored, even in death. Today, it spoke louder than your absence. 

We returned to your mom’s van, giggling and full of criminals’ adrenaline. We sat down and were all silent for a moment, then agreed this is exactly what you would have wanted us to do today, and exactly how you would have wanted us to behave. This day will always be difficult, but today was less hard than last year, and I imagine next year will be slightly less painful still. Your absence no longer feels like an all-consuming black hole that threatens to absorb every bit of light in my life. Instead, your absence has become its own presence that we are unafraid to address, unafraid to leave that spot at the table of our hearts open for you instead of trying to cram it full of distractions. You are gone, and we are all worse for it, but we are not destroyed. You were a thousand lively things, and now we must carry those lively things forward for you ourselves so that you can rest eternally in our love. I will love you forever, Andrew.

Snow Day

I talk a lot about the house I spent my early childhood in, because it remains the most magical place of my memories. The house on Henke Road exists in a golden era where my older brother still thought I was cool enough to let tag along, my younger brother still followed me everywhere, my dad was still fun to be around because alcohol hadn’t yet fully eaten away at his kindness, and my mom was the same as she ever was–loving, creative, silly. That house is the only place where I was ever fully and totally free. I had very few worries that couldn’t be hugged or played away, I wasn’t old enough to doubt myself. No one I loved had died yet, my heart never broke inside the walls of that house. My family was all in one place and loving each other was simple and easy–of course we still love each other a great deal, but it’s different now because we are different now, and all spread across the country. My memories of the house on Henke Road are divided in two major categories: endless summers spent running around digging holes and being a wild creature, and a string of snowy days wrapped up in snowsuits and scarves sledding and building snow structures. 

Even as an adult, I get giddy when I see snow in the forecast. I remember staying up late on nights that had the potential to turn the next day into a snow day. My brothers and I would obsessively watch the scrolling banner on the local news hoping to see our school district’s name pass us by with the promise of a day off. Some nights rewarded our vigilance and we knew before going to bed that the day was ours. Other nights we were made to go to our rooms not knowing what tomorrow would hold. The moment my eyes opened the next morning, I would shoot out of bed to the window to see what had dropped on us overnight and excitedly ask my mom if she’d gotten the call. I don’t remember ever being able to sleep in after finding out we had no school that day, because there was so much to do.

My very first snowsuit.

Snowsuits, to this day, are the superior choice when it comes to dressing for a day of snow romping. Why bother with two separate pieces when you can outfit yourself with a seamless, impenetrable, fashionable one-piece? We would suit up as though we were preparing to be shipped off to war. We needed full coverage, because we had no plans of returning to the warmth of our home for hours, maybe all day. Once our mom released us, we would run out the door and immediately drop to our knees and ball up the snow to see what we were working with. Was it sticky snow great for balling up and pelting our siblings with? Powder that made an incredible display when kicked out in front of us? Could we get optimal speed when sledding?

We had a hill that was perfect for sledding down in our backyard. It was steep enough for us to gain some speed, but not so steep that trekking back up it completely wore us out. We had a couple different kinds of sleds, all with their own unique purposes. The bobsled-looking one was for speed–the aerodynamic shape gave that away. The round turtle shell sled was great if you wanted to try and spin around as you careened down the hill. The bigger one was perfect if you wanted to go two, sometimes three at once to get some weight on the sled to make the trip to the bottom even faster. We would sled until we got tired of it, then go our separate ways for a little bit before meeting back up to start building things.

I was a quiet, imaginative kid who really enjoyed her alone time, and I was always making up stories in my head. When we split up, I frequently would go out near our tiny orchard of tiny apple trees that produced nothing edible and flop on my back and stare up at the branches. I would idly make show angles and imagine what all the characters I had created in various stories would be doing on a snowy day. I could stare up at those branches for hours and just think about all their adventures. The sky always felt closer on snow days, and the world was peacefully silent. Even now, one of my favorite things in the world is going on long walks in the snow, and I’ve been known to flop on the ground on occasion. As a kid, I would lay in the snow until it was time to regroup and start our snow construction.

My older brother, Caleb, was always the leader and brains of any operation. Frequently, he would enlist my help in building an igloo. I helped him make the blocks and he stacked them. The structure was never as big as we wanted it to be, so we could really only go in one at a time. It was so silent in there, and still starkly white, despite having no windows and only one small entrance. I felt like a lone Arctic explorer whenever it was my turn to be in our igloo. Another architectural endeavor we commonly embarked on was building two or three fortified walls for our snowball fights. Looking back, it’s incredibly sweet that Caleb helped our younger brother, Max, and I build our walls so that we stood a chance against getting endlessly pelted by snowballs. Our battles were epic. Tears were shed, alliances were made and broken. In the end, it was always every man for himself. 

Each major snowfall, we would also create as big a snowball as we could. Sure, we made a snowman here and there, but our interests lay in singular rather than stacked snowballs. The beginning part was easy, of course, but the bigger our creation got, the more difficult it was to roll it around. By the end, all three of us and sometimes our parents would be out in the front yard pushing our monster snowball around until we either ran out of close-by snow or strength. The snowball would outlast the snowfall and stayed in our yard for weeks after the snow had melted due to sheer density and volume, slowly shrinking into nothingness. Kids on the bus would marvel at its longevity each time we were picked up and dropped off as soon as school resumed.

One winter, my dad decided to try and create an ice rink for us. The first attempt did not go so well. We shoveled all of the snow out of a rectangular patch and ran the hose, but the water mostly just soaked into the ground and made the grass spiky and icy. The next attempt, my dad left a few inches of snow on the ground and simply flattened it out before delicately spraying the area with the hose. A couple hours later, we were all skittering around and colliding into each other out there. We all stayed out at the ice rink for hours until the sun started to set. I was too young to really know why, but I knew that I had to remember that day forever. The way the light spread and hit the snow, the trees, my family’s faces, it felt like something holy was happening and I was lucky enough to witness it. There aren’t many memories that exist of the five of us being together and being truly, thoroughly happy, but that is my favorite among the few. I think of this moment anytime I get caught in the golden hour during winter, which feels so rare since it is so often grey and cloudy.

At the end of any snow day, the three of us, sometimes the five of us, would tromp back inside and remove our snow clothes and the door, then toss them in the bathtub to dry while we drank hot chocolate and wore warm socks and thawed out from our adventures, hopeful that the snow would continue to fall or the plows would fail and we would get another day of magic tomorrow.