Parallel Lives

I wrote this as a follow-up/interlude to this piece, which at the time I said was fiction. And in a way, it is, just like this might be fiction too.

But story-truth is still rooted in the actual truth– we are always telling the stories of our lives. So, as I am learning to become my own storyteller again and finally feeling stability for the first time in a bit, I am also reclaiming the stories that were too hard to face a few months ago.


The shock is visceral. Later, when so much work has gone into cutting this body, this cancer of ill-fated memory and stomach-churning hindsight, out of your life, trying to remember the fork that decided the life you chose feels foreign and jarring.

Now, though, the moment wakes you up at night, catching you in your sleep like a cold draft when you’ve left the window open. Something in that moment, where you knew each small step would determine what came next, still haunts you sometimes. Are you terrified of it? Is remembering it simply a pilgrimage, a gauntlet, a way to ensure you will never, ever find yourself in this place again? Or is it a deeper question than that– one that forces you to look back and ask yourself how, just how, you let things go this far and become this broken?

You see the white flash and the photos you found– wait, no, scratch that. It’s not the photos themselves– those have faded from memory. What is painfully vivid– even now– is the feeling of finding them. The quiet thump when you fell to your knees on the cold, wood floor. The search for something, anything to cover your nakedness, as if a cotton dress could protect your body from betrayal. It coursed through your system then– icy and choking– and you sat back on your bed, back against the wood wall, trying to catch your breath.

The thought of it all as you sat there– broken as everything has was– made you angry, yes. It also made you vaguely sad, oddly appreciative, pre-nostalgic in a weird way as you were already seeing how this story will wrap up. You were already writing, re-writing, and finalizing the obituary of this thing you had helped create.

You played the film through to the end and tried to take the best course of action. You looked at your lives in parallel, what they could look like– if you wanted :

You knew you could try and capture this moment, this body, because it will never be the place you call home again. That safety, that sense of knowing how the world worked and the rules that governed the way the universe functioned, are gone now.

You could lay down beside him, quietly pressing your forehead into the space between his shoulder blades, knowing that this is it. This is the end. This is the last time.

You know and he does not know you know but you do, and in knowing you also know everything is over. The dramatic irony of it all catches in your throat– you know heartbreak has arrived, and all you can do now is try and ride the wave of what is to come– but not just yet. He still hasn’t woken up yet, and so for the next minutes, you can still pretend like everything is okay.

You could take a second, shut your eyes, and breathe. You ache to both try and remember everything about this– the final farewell, the last breath before the death knell– but also try and forget all the things that brought you here.

You could feel the warm skin of belonging and smell the familiarity of partnership but also know that all those things are lies now. They are broken. The body next to you fills you with disgust and rage and sadness and longing and you didn’t know you could love something so deeply  and then 20 minutes later hate that same thing just as much– not a cancellation of love, but the yang to its yin, the dark to its light, both churning in your chest and stewing deep within you. You didn’t know the two could live together inside your heart, ripping you down the middle as you say goodbye.

So, for a moment, you could lie there. You could try and recapture everything– all the love and safety and happiness that once lived inside that body for you– before having to let it go.

But you knew that to do so would only make the killing of it that much more painful, that much more tragic. It would be like kissing the criminal before dropping the axe– it might bring you a second of joy, but would the high only make the pain that much worse in the end? You knew that you have to do this, kill this, end this now before you are too weak to stare it in the face for what it is. Now. It’s the only time you would be able to.

So, even after weighing all the options and watching all the scenarios, you knew what you must do. You watched yourself reach over to his leg instead. You hovered your hand above it, taking a moment longer before jumping off the cliff, then you grabbed his ankle and gave it a shake.

“I need you to wake up now.”

And In Each Other: Rejoice!

The warm, squishy body wriggled in my arms for a few minutes. Penny, my aunt and uncle’s dog, let me snuggle her, and then looked up at me as if to say, “Dude, it’s loud in here.”

And it was. I was home for Christmas for the first time in years, and my father’s side of the family had all come together and raucously filled my aunt and uncle’s house. The number of cousins is in the double digits, and that doesn’t include their significant others, children or my grandmother and our aunts and uncles themselves. The dining room was packed full of people who have known me since my birth or theirs.

It was, to be honest, perfect. It is kinship of the clearest kind– forged through years of laughter and heartache, built on a strong foundation of finding love and joy within each other, even when it felt impossible.

I love Christmastime for lots of reasons. Beyond the surface-level, it’s a time to remember to love as puppies and babies do— without restraint or judgement, and with a full-hearted sense of wonder and awe.

This Christmas, though, I was in mass reflecting on the nativity. I was praying with imagination and imagining myself in the stable. When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve normally seen myself in awe as one of the shepherds or wise men.

This time though, for reasons beyond my understanding, I imagined myself as Mary. Don’t get me wrong– I hold no lofty illusions about my own lack of sin or greatness in the world. I was just sitting in mass, thinking about her in that moment, and realized that Mary must’ve been so scared.

I mean, pregnancy is scary. Motherhood is scary. Doing all of those things, at a young age, when you didn’t even conceive the kid but instead because some angel showed up and said God wanted you to? Like, how even? Now, to top it all off, everyone in the neighborhood is being the worst and you have to birth this kid in a stable, one of the coldest and grossest places one could birth a tiny human? That is truly some shenanigans right there.

In all seriousness, though, I imagined how helpless I would’ve felt in a moment like that– how out of control everything would’ve seemed, how my body would’ve, perhaps no longer felt like mine.

And I got a little teary because I have certainly felt that way this year.

Then, in all that fear and helplessness and pain, I thought about how Mary looked up and saw people around her— a husband that stayed with her through the most ridiculous of circumstances, random folks from the meadows who were told that they needed to come through. And I remembered a line from Fr. Boyle’s book, Barking to the Choir: “If love is the answer, community is the context, and tenderness is the methodology.”

In the middle of the worst conditions, the birth of a child created a community of warmth and love. For one night, that stable was an enclave of joy, laughter, love, and light. In a time of struggle, tenderness rallied these people together to create something much stronger and more powerful. Much like the dining room of my aunt and uncle’s house, they found raucous, bubbling kinship in each other, even when the world outside felt less than hospitable.

In my own time of personal struggle this year, when I felt helpless and out of control, was it not my own community that made me feel like I could overcome and reminded me that I was loved? Was it not the friends consistently at my side supporting me, the people the universe conspired to bring into my life, the family who loved me unconditionally? Earlier this week, I spent time with people who I had no blood connection with, but who had known me for nearly twenty years. Some I am still very close with, some I hadn’t seen in ages, but no matter what I was welcomed with open arms and laughter.

Ultimately, what staves off fear and helplessness is connecting with and loving each other, even when it feels impossible, even when the connection may not seem visible. It may be your blood family. It may be your chosen family. It may be the dude who you were arranged to marry and some shepherds who followed a star.

You never know how and when community will emerge though. The question is, when it comes, will you be ready to accept it? Will you be ready to turn your back to the harshness of the outside world not to forget it, but to seek to improve it by turning towards each other and rejoicing in the presence and light of others?

So, as we move into 2018, I am eager to continue finding the communities of kinship, and rejoicing not simply in all things, but trying to rejoice in all people. I am hopeful to try and focus this year not just on love, but on community and tenderness too.

For a savior was born unto us for one real reason: because, above all else, we are loved.

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Running Towards Hope

A confession: I’ve been hurting the past few days.

Nothing crazy, but I’ve been waking up feeling particularly tight and painful. I couldn’t figure out why: did I have rhabdo (I clearly didn’t.)? Did I need to break in my shoes more? Had I pulled something? Of course, at a certain point, it hit me that three months of three-a-days with very sporadic rest wasn’t a particularly healthy strategy and that the amount of strain I had put on my own muscles was likely just catching up with me.

So, after a painful 5k on Thanksgiving morning, I took the day off yesterday, since I knew that I had to go out and do my twenty-miler sometime this weekend. I rolled out last night, went to bed early, and prayed that this morning I’d magically feel better when my feet hit the road.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t. At least, not at first. I woke up feeling fine and, despite gusting winds and periodic storms, the cool weather boded well for me. This was a good day to go out and do the damn thing.

I was bummed to discover, though, that after a few miles I was still tight. My shins were screaming and my hips ached. What is going ON?! I mentally wondered to myself. I kept having to stop every half mile to try and stretch out to make the pain go away. I kept trying to breathe into my muscles, but I was really struggling to make this run work.

Then, right around mile 3, my arm grazed a pole in just the wrong place, tearing a huge hole in the sleeve of my favorite shirt. I groaned and stopped. “BRUH!” I yelled at the sky, at God, the way only a young, Catholic, CrossFit asshole can. What’s the deal? I asked. Do you want me to stop and turn around? What do you WANT from me?

I stopped, stretched, and breathed for a second.

I heaved a heavy sigh, and the questions came back to me: Are you present? Are you here? Are you listening?

And thing is, I knew the answer: No. I was caught up in my head, stewing in anger over some things happening in my life that had nothing to do with the run and, frankly, were out of my control. I had been holding all the anger and sadness in my body for days now, and was parsing through it during those first few miles.

I shook my head, frustrated that all this negativity was still affecting me. I shook out my body again, and continued to parse through my thoughts. After a few minutes, I came back to two questions for myself:

  1. As frustrated as I am, can I let it go? Could I accept that even if something is unfair, it may also be what’s right? Am I able to say a silent prayer of gratitude for the surfeit of love and light in my life and walk away?
  2. Even when we are working through anger, can I still act with kindness and love? Can I center on that and find forgiveness? Am I able to stand up for myself and name my hurt while still ultimately knowing that, in the end, compassion is the place I am moving towards?

As I looked at these questions, I knew what my answer had to be. Even if I didn’t feel like living up to them, I knew that the only way I could stay true to myself was to recenter myself with these questions as the compass. I knew that, if I could say yes to these things, I would be okay, and able to come back to the place of unfettered love and joy that makes me who I am.

So, I prayed for strength and grace, and began to run towards forgiveness. It wasn’t easy– forgiveness encompasses all the sadness and frustration of grieving.

As I ran, though, I thought about the rainbow I had seen that morning. In Christianity, the rainbow is the sign of God’s promise to His people after the great storm. It reminds us that, even when the rain comes for forty days, we ultimately believe that the universe will bend towards justice and good. It’s a reminder that, in the end, things will be better.

I kept running. In a lot of ways, forgiveness is an act of hope. It’s moving with the belief that hurt has occurred, but does not need to be dwelled in. It’s understanding that the only way to move past pain is with love. It’s knowing that we can move past pain in the first place.

With each step, God asked if I trusted that things would be okay. With each step, I affirmed that the answer was yes. Each step was a silent prayer of gratitude and hope, a testament to my faith that things would get better.

As I ran, my body loosened up. My hips settled a little more. I breathed a little more deeply. I knew that, even if this wasn’t going to be easy, I was going to get through it. I was going to be okay.


So, what’s next?

Well, I have two marathons within six days of each other, because that’s what I like to do. I’ll be running the Honolulu Marathon and then, later that week, run the inaugural Hawai‘i Bird Conservation Marathon. Since the latter is an all-downhill course (I know), I’ll be taking Honolulu nice and slow to see what I can do later that week.

Of course, I haven’t been training for any of this. I’ve been running, sure, but until today my longest distance has been 10 miles. Today was hard and painful (running into the wind for those last 6 miles didn’t help). So, honestly, if I can finish both of them with a smile on my face, I will be amazed and happy.

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So, This Is Love

It doesn’t hit me until I am doing laundry.

My body is already bone tired— there’s a weird pain in my hips every time I turn and I’m pretty sure I’ve permanently strained my rotator cuff, since every time I have to pick up anything there’s a weird pinching in my back. My shoulders sag; even my ear is sore from hitting the mat. I’m tired.

Then, I realize that my laundry doesn’t fit in the machine. I’m going to have to do at least two loads since I just remembered that there’s another pile in my gym bag I forgot to grab. I sigh, since it’s all going to have to be washed on hot and extra long because… frankly… it stinks. It’s covered in sweat and salt and spit and no dinky, express wash is going to be able to handle this.

I rub my eyes, split the load, and get ready for a long night of laundry.

When did this happen? I ask myself. Have I also had this much stuff to wash?

I realize that, no, it hasn’t always been like this. It’s because I’m switching identities multiple times a day now. I jump from middle-school English teacher to runner to CrossFit athlete to jiu-jitsu practitioner in a single twelve-hour period. Each requires its own costume, its own gear, and each has me use and abuse a new article of clothing. That increases the hours I spend doing laundry each week and since I’m out late doing all these things, it makes for a very, very long day.

So, this is love.

It hits me when I was hunched over the washer, stretching my hamstrings as the machine begins to whir. If love is the measure of our devotion and investment in something, the way we attempt to name the amount of time and affection we give, then I have been having an intense love affair for the past few months.

Love is multiple loads of laundry every week so that you have what you need. Love is line-drying jiu-jitsu gi and getting your own CrossFit equipment. It’s separating out piles of running clothes and looking for matching socks at 10 PM because you have to be up at 4:30 AM to run if you’re going to be able to get to everything else that day. It’s having to pack and unpack your car in multiple trips because between all the clothes and all the gear for these twelve-hour-days there’s no way you can carry it all at once.  It is, at the end of that day, running to your classroom and grading twenty essays in your jiu-jitsu gi because it’s easier to go straight to back to school then it is to go home. It’s sore shoulders and aching calves and groaning as you try and roll out all these muscles, knowing that the next morning you’re going to get up and do it again.

Because that’s what it takes. Or, more importantly, that’s what I want— it’s not about medals or accolades. I’m not a competitive CrossFit athlete or jiu-jitsu practitioner; I don’t win marathons. I simply love doing these things, even when they hurt. Even when I have a bad run or my lifts suck or I lose every sparring session, I am in a deep and intense love affair with my body. That love makes me move from workout to workout, knowing that the sacrifice and commitment now will mean something much greater in the long run.

After years of trying to understand love– of my family, my friends, my students, a man– I’m finally understanding what loving myself means. It’s the time and devotion and affection for the physical space I inhabit each and every single day. It’s investing in myself and that space to do things I never thought were possible.

“Joy cometh in the morning,” Psalms tells us. It’s not just a reminder to know that a new day always dawns, but a spiritual exercise in hope and persistence. Love is the mental wherewithal to persevere when things are bad because I believe that they will eventually be better. It’s knowing that, on the days when my body may not perform the way I wanted, the joy is in the practice itself and not the outcome. It’s believing that every failed lift or tired run is a step towards eventual triumph.

So, yes. It’s long hours and lots of laundry and an aching body. Yet, I know that at the end of that day when I finally make it back to my apartment, I will sigh happily with relief. Everything hurts except my heart. My heart is always bursting with a love for myself that completely new and thoroughly joyful.


 

Note: So, during aforementioned marathon grading session, I took a break to run to BJJ so I didn’t burn out. I definitely forgot a change of clothes and had to run back to my classroom in my gi to finish grading. The ridiculousness of it struck me, and I wanted to capture the moment. Thanks to Calamic Photography for the photo edits. 

On The Other Side

When I first wrote this a few months ago, I was a mess. I wrote this in a flash and closed the window, unable to look at it again because it was too raw.

Today, I looked in the mirror, looked at my life, and did not feel like a mess.

So, I went back to edit it, and I was finally ready to actually read it. It feels good to feel like myself and be writing (and re-writing) again.


I didn’t realize how truly turned around I was until you started acting exactly like I would have a year ago.

“I get in my head,” you told me.

I know the feeling.

So, when I told you I’d been out on a date right after you left (me! The one who writes love stories for boys the minute I meet them. How strange to unabashedly risk everything and not care about your reaction), you exhibited the exact kind of false, cool, calm that is trying to mask a brain fast at work. The emergency lights blare and the alarm is “woo woo woo-ing” all over the place. I hear it in your voice as it insists that this is fine.

You say that, but I know you because I think you are like me and I know myself. Behind your assurances, I can hear the crackling of fire as my honesty burns down the paper pedestal you put me on far sooner than you should have.

See, the problem with me is that I’m a mess right now.

I know this because, right now, you don’t seem like a mess. You seem like you might be seeking stability.

I know all the tell-tale signs. You slip in pet names when we talk, seeing how I react. You ask me what I want from you. You sit there when I ask you the tough questions and then, instead of running, you make me bulleted lists with answer. You spend your time checking in on me and opening up to me and telling me you want to be better this time.

And the thing is, I’ve lived that life. I’ve made of living of it, in some ways. I have spent a lifetime opening hearts up, breaking walls down, providing the vulnerable foundation on which men can come to a better understanding of themselves and what they want.

And, to be honest, I’m tired.

Something broke in me and all my ability to open up, be the one who moves forward, be the one who gives anyone stability, feels like it’s gone. I have spent a lifetime cleaning up other people’s messes only to become the mess myself. I tailspin into impulsive decisions fueled by the one-too-many-beers I had two beers ago. I tell myself that this is fine with the same false, cool, calm you exhibit, but mine is a brain fast at work too.

The difference, though, is that you’re masking your terror so as not to scare me away. I don’t know who I am hiding my terror from except myself, and when I see so much of my old self in you it holds up the mirror that makes me ask where I lost myself before I met you.

It started with a lie.

Not your lie though. Or mine. Someone else’s lie. Someone else’s lies and someone else’s baggage and someone else’s pain running the show because isn’t that always the fucking case with a woman.

Eventually the lies felt bigger than my ability to love and everything was broken and the only way my mind could triage was to shut down the whole fucking system. Total reset. I refused to notice the emergency lights blaring or the woo-woo-wooing of the alarm and threw up my arms. The only thing was to move forward, to try and find a way to feel good again, to slowly make my way through and cling onto anything that felt vaguely like hope.

And maybe that strategy worked. I don’t know. I’ve made it to the place now where at least I can look in the mirror and finally start seeing the truth of things.

I am a mess right now. You are not a mess.

But, as the system slowly reboots, I guess things are becoming clearer.

And as I try and wade my way out of the mess— pushing the debris to the side, holding onto what I can of myself as I make it out of the muck— I am slowly learning to listen to the signs. The emergency lights blare, and I stop, shake my head, and turn in another direction. I hear the “woo” of alarm sirens approaching in the distance, and I close my eyes, take a breath, and change course.

Maybe, just maybe, I can find my way out of the mess.

When I do, I will brush myself off, and look in the mirror. I have no idea who I will see on the other side.

But I think I have to get there on my own.

And The Walls Come Tumbling Down

I’m taking a sick day for the first time in forever, and I’ve spent much of it sleeping.

I wrote this a bit ago after another re-reading of Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Herwhich is evident in the style. This is a highly excerpted and edited version of a much longer piece that I’ll probably never publish (though, thanks to Doug, Colin, Leslie, and Lindsey, who gave me feedback on the full reads). But it felt good to get this out.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, story-truth is an interesting thing. Timelines are fuzzy, things get fictionalized, etc.

And I’m sleeping just fine now.


 

You always assumed your love triangle phase would happen in your twenties. Some youthful lark, you figured, some princesa shit you’d pull on some guys when being young and bitchy was acceptable and you could chalk it up to youth. You’d roll your eyes at this younger version of yourself someday, and you’d be able to blame the selfishness of it all on your twenties and be happy you moved on.

Now, though, you are thirty and the stakes feel higher for everything. You still wear your hair long, your shorts short, and cling to something you cannot yet name. You didn’t spend your twenties being bitchy and pretty like you hoped you would. Instead, you were chubby and awkward and terrified you’d die alone. You nurtured and loved and were so desperate to not miss on the opportunity for “the love of your life” that you ended up letting the brief period you thought could love yourself selfishly slip through your fingers.

So, after kicking the last heartbreak, you figured you finally had all your shit figured out. You knew what you wanted, you told your friends. You were gonna focus on you. You weren’t going to rush anything and you were gonna be patient and wait for the right guy. They nodded their heads hopefully, encouragingly, but silently laughing that you’d fuck up again and end up causing the same internal drama you always do.

That’s what makes your current predicament so fucking annoying. You end up with the same internal drama. Now, you find yourself in a weirdly shaped cage that you don’t know how to get out of.

You have not slept properly for nearly two months— you refuse to admit that the myriad of reasons your friends list (post-breakup trauma, current inner-turmoil, a new job) may matter. You insist to your parents that you are seeing a therapist and that you are fine and that you’ve simply never slept well. These things are all true, but even you quietly admit to yourself that three hours a night for a month doesn’t make for the most lucid version of yourself.

This is the version of yourself, though, that is riding high-octane fuel into each weekend, turning yourself into a woman with a variety of interests that you vaguely hope will not only make you happy, but pique the interest of a dating life that sometimes feels dead inside you. You teach all day, then run three-miles as a coach, then run to CrossFit, then run to Jiu-Jitsu for few hours. You are usually tired, but feel like if you stop, you will be turning your back on things you fought so hard to regain control of in your life. You often don’t come home for twelve hours, dripping with sweat and barely able to stand. You’ve never been in such good shape, and you keep silently praying that putting your body through this will mean that, finally, you will sleep.

But you don’t. Somehow, sleep still eludes you.

So, you have to fill the time.

We’re not talking about anything physical, though. It was never about that. You just miss having a person. The one you talk to throughout the day and night. The one who listens to your dumbass jokes and sends you news articles throughout the day and gets your shit. You have friends who will be there, sure, but you’re consistently concerned that you are bothering them. Secretly, you’re worried that if you’re not repaying someone with love or money, they have no obligation nor desire to listen to your shit.

It’s the nothingness, though, that scares you. It feels foreign, unreal, unfathomable. That night, for the first time in a while, you cancel a second date. You have no desire to go out that night.

It wasn’t the date. It was you.

To be fair, you’ve had another three-hour nap for sleep, and this week you have realized that sometimes your eyes don’t focus properly for a few minutes. Still, you don’t know what is going on. You, who were always so passionate. You, who were always so ready to jump into the arms of the next great love story and open your heart. Where are all those feelings now? Where have they run off to?

You’re so tired and your eyes still won’t focus and you don’t know how to stop your mouth anymore. Instead of the date, you call a friend, rambling and lamenting to him that you’re scared you’ve lost the parts of yourself that wants to want someone else.

He listens. Then, he asks you: what if you’re not ready?

You sit with that for a second. You ask yourself— did you want to bail on the date because you wanted something else? Or did you bail because you wanted a friend and not the work of being someone’s thing-I-got-right?

You tell him he may have a point. He tells you to get off the phone and write.

That night, for the first time in months, and without the aide of liquor or medication, you sleep for six hours straight.

And the walls of the cage come tumbling down.

Asking the Moon to Cease and Desist

I was reminded that I wrote this 5 years ago. To date, it might be one of my favorite pieces of poetry I’ve ever written.

I’m turning 30 on Friday, and I know I should sit down and reflect, but I really don’t know if I’ll have time. If anything, I listen to this and smile at the girl I once was. I no longer talk to the subject of this poem, but it is such a nice time capsule of who I was. And I am joyful that while I’m wiser and more self-sufficient, I am still as unfettered and loving as I was then.


I would like to request a cease and desist
That you stop with these over-the-moon
tactics. Don’t shake your head and
act like this is news. You created the
moon-tide strategy. The one where I take
a big running leap off your surface
and you somehow wield gravity and
centrifugal force and I don’t get
very far— a wave grasping at the shore
trying to regain my own center. But it’s hard
because the weight of your hand
on my back is a powerful force, and the
gravity of it still leaves a print on the
moonlit beach between my shoulder blades.
and the centrifugal force that
made as you spun your fingers through
my curls over and over again
until I lolled my head against
your chest is too strong on warm
Hawaiian nights, even after a few longboards.

So I am requesting a cease and desist and
maybe even a breach of contract.
because when we set up this agreement
no where in the bylines did you disclose that
conversations with you would be this easy. That they
would reveal the same level of comfort my immigrant
mother once described she felt when she finally finds
someone that speaks her native tongue.

and when we entered into this binding measure there
was no fine print to warn me that
you could make me laugh so hard, or
get me so frustrated with how ridiculous you are.
Trust me, I’ve checked. Waiting for you text before
I go to bed has left me a lot of time to learn some things
about contract law.

And the contract was clearly signed under duress.
there was that moment where we could and maybe should
have walked away but instead you put
the barrel of possibility on my lips and
pulled the trigger. And no red-blooded woman
could’ve withstood firepower like that.

So this thing we are still creating each
time we talk, it must cease. it must desist instead
of continuing to wrap itself around my thumbs
every morning when I text you and around
my throat every afternoon when I wait for your
call and around my eyes every night
when I scan the bar for something that will
serve as your poor-man’s version
but everything I see is shaded with a tinge of
our poorly-lit what-shouldve-beens.

But that’s useless to me now because you are
6000 physical miles away and 12000 emotional ones
and when my head is hitting the pillow you’re already in the next day.

And all I want to do is call and ask you what our tomorrows look like and
if we every course-correct this sinking ship or we just keep
filling in the blanks with poor-quality facsimiles. I already
see it in the guy who almost smells like you but it’s tinged
with cigarettes a whiskey different from the one that
was on your breath when we met. And I see it in the girls on your
Facebook who have curls like mine but lack my… funny thumbs that
could press into your palm when we walked down Hollywood blvd together.

And we’re still walking now, the image of us goes around
and around in my head and beats on my heart like
the waves, pounding the shore for no other reason
than that the moon commands it because no one has
begged it to stop.

The Story Doesn’t End: What I Will Tell My Future Daughter About Love

 

Sometimes, I write letters, especially when I am struggling to find my own voice.


Little one,

I don’t know if you and I will ever meet. The universe spins and throttles about on so many different axes that to be certain of anything seems like a fool’s errand.

And yet.

You come from a heart-on-the-sleeve stock, my dear (at least on your mother’s side). Everything can be so exciting– if you want it to be. The graze of a hand, catching someone’s eye, your first kiss– all of it can bubble so effusively in that spot right beneath your lungs. You’ll feel like you’re filling with air and everything will feel tense and your skin will feel like it doesn’t quite fit you because you’re all wiggly with joy and apprehension and excitement about the course your life might take. All of this can be spurred with a small gesture if you want.

I hope you let yourself have that kind of joy if you want it.

We live in such a cynical, difficult world sometimes. We’re taught to “play it cool” or not give too much. The world might tell you that sharing your joy is a surefire way to give up your power at the table, so best leave it at the door.

And to those people, my love, I sort of want to say, “fuck that shit,” (pardon my cursing, of course).

The thing is, there are people in the world who see their love as the weight on a far-swinging pendulum.

You can hold that weight in your hands, let it sit there heavy and cool and close to your chest. When you feel it start to pull towards someone else, throw your balance into your toes so you’re less steady than before, you can react defensively. You can hold it tighter to your chest, squeeze yourself a little harder, assure yourself that the weight and power and shine of your love is still yours and yours alone.

On the other end of that pendulum is a throw-yourself-at-it-drop-everything kind of love. It’s devoting the entirety of your strength and balance to someone else, praying they send it back to you with the same force and devotion. You’re left tottering on your toes, waiting for the other person’s counterforce to steady you. As you swing the weight back and forth, you hope you don’t knock down too many bodies along the way– especially your own.

Sure, either of these is an option, I think.

But there is a magic in the middle ground, if you can find it. You don’t have to see love as this sacred, weighted object that you can only wield with strength and centrifugal force. You don’t have to see it as a shining thing that you lob at someone when you’re ready.

Instead, I want you to see love as a story.

By now, you probably know your mother lives for the story. Love is no different. Your story began far before you took breath in the world, as did mine. It began with me, your grandparents, and back and back and back. When you were ready, you picked up the pen and began writing your own lines. Your hand was unsteady at first, but as time went on, you started becoming more confident in your grip. You caught the mistakes you were making. You wrote adventures and difficult silences and laugh-out-loud shenanigans.

Love is letting someone share the pen and write with you. It’s giving up the agency of sole authorship and letting them wrap their arms around you and hold the pen too. Hips against yours, arm slung around your waist, you will let them nuzzle their chin the crook of your neck. They will kiss your ear and gently place their hand on top of yours and write that part of the story with you.

It will make the story richer. Little star doodles will find their way into the margins, and the story will become so much funnier and sweeter. You will laugh and cry and fight as you figure out the next chapters. You will both make mistakes. You will have big cross-outs and messy, ugly ink blotches that no amount of white-out can fix. Love will never be the neatest pages in your story. It will look like chaos if you want. It will be big and bold and ridiculous.

And it will be absolutely beautiful.

Still, just because someone makes an appearance in your story doesn’t mean they stay. At some point, you may realize it just doesn’t fit. Or they got tired of writing with you. Or they want another partner or you want another partner or the million other reasons love can change and need to be let go.

It will hurt. A lot. Your back will suddenly feel naked against the air without the other person. You hand will feel unsteady again after letting someone write with you. The pages will feel cold and blank. You will feel like you can’t write anymore.

Here’s the thing, though: You still have the pen. The story isn’t over just because someone stopped writing with you. You will still be able to keep writing. The magic of the story is that someone you love can rip out your heart, make you cry and ache, and you will still be able to get up in the morning and keep writing. Your story cannot be ended by anyone but you. 

I don’t know a lot about love right now, if I’m honest. I know I have a lot to learn. But the  lesson I want to give you is this: don’t stop writing. Don’t be scared to share your story. It will be tempting to set down the pen. The first time your heart is broken, you will want to hold it tight to your chest like that pendulum for fear of ever sharing again.

Relax your body. Breathe. Let the grief and the fear flow through you, and then let it go. When you look back later, you will love those pages you wrote when you were in love. You will have a fond, small ache for the people who wrote with you, even if you know they weren’t the right co-author. The pages you shared enriched your story, added color and nuance.

Forgive yourself for the scratches and the inkblots and the “mistakes.” They were just part of your process. They were the lessons that taught you that no matter how empty it feels now, tomorrow will still come and tomorrow will feel better.

And when you’re ready, love, look up from the paper. See people again. Look at the world around you and then write some more.

When someone comes along who makes you feel like you’re filling with air and your skin doesn’t quite fit you, smile. Hold out your hand and ask them if they want to sit with you for a second. You have a story you want to share with them.

With love,

me.

 

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

I am still trying to write a thing. I don’t know how it’s going.


Here’s the thing: I like telling stories.

That doesn’t make me special. I’m a sometimes-writer and full-time English teacher. I have spent years fitting events into narrative structures: dynamic characters, dramatic tension, nuanced relationships wind through conflict and still end with a neat resolution. My world, most days, is spent somehow trying to craft something that fits into a narrative.

I thought this was just craft, something I did on paper. Then, someone noted a small, white lie in my work, saying, “You like making things fit your story.” It wasn’t mean, they were just making an observation. At that moment, it clicked.

It wasn’t mean, they were just making an observation. At that moment, it clicked.

I have been telling myself stories for years.

Nearly every relationship I’ve had is subjected to hours in the tumble-dry cycle of day-dreams. I take the smallest tidbits, find the narrative and fill it with so much hot air it floats away with the rest of my imagination.

My narrative habit has been curling its way through my brain, around my heart, and into my actions since childhood. A gossamer string, my desire to adapt my perception of reality– then manipulate that reality to my perception– has been woven into my life since long before I could understand it.

It’s in adolescent journal entries describing, in excruciating detail, the real meaning behind my crush putting his hand briefly on the back of my chair as he talked to someone else. It’s being sure that, when his “ocean blue eyes, like a stormy sea” (a line, no doubt, purloined from some bad fanfic I had read on the internet) locked with mine, it was because he was seeing something deeper in me. It’s embedded into the fabric of time I’d spend skulking around corners at school, hoping to “accidentally” run into some guy.

When, somehow, I would convince that crush to actually date me– with obvious flirtation, with praises and pretty words– I was still creating storylines for them that would, eventually, end.

Storyline: A young Mormon missionary falls in love with a Catholic girl. He proposes. She says yes. He goes on his mission and when he returns, they find a way to work through their religious issues and have a happy life.

In reality, six months after he left, the heady high of my first kiss and first love had worn off. I was sixteen when he gave me a ring. I was seventeen when I sent my missionary a Dear-John-email (we weren’t allowed to call or see them in person, or I swear I would have). He begged me to accept his God into my heart. I ignored his messages. I returned his ring. 

He’s married now, I think. He blocked me on Facebook.

I did this a few more times in high school:

Storyline: The midwestern track star who tutored me in math dates the unathletic drama kid after they meet in orchestra. Very High School Musical, before that was a thing.

He broke up with me when he realized our time was up. I threw a fit and sobbed some dramatics, though deep down I agreed.

Storyline: The fellow thespian, who I badgered to go out with me my senior year. We went to the same church, sang in choir together. It made sense.

In reality, we were both biding our time, play-acting what we thought love looked like. we fought, we made peace and we parted ways. 

This, of course, is natural for many high schoolers. As a teacher now, I see myself in so many sixteen-year-olds skulking around corners, hoping to bump into someone. 

What is more difficult to realize is that I didn’t leave the practice behind in my school like I thought I did. I see now that I have been weaving webs of stories and heartaches long past my graduation.


 

It is a weird, almost-archeological act to look back on old writing.  Yes, many of us find and keep memorabilia from past lovers (photo booth strips, ticket stubs, a napkin they wiped their mouth with after a first kiss and other moony tangibles of the like).

Words are different. Journals, emails, and even now text messages create archives that speak not just to the existence of a relationship, but our mindset while we were in the relationship. Much like past love letters my parents have, first-person stories of just how besotted (or frustrated) we have been with someone exist for years to come.

Unlike the previous generation, however, artifacts of my relationships are not hidden in a Tupperware box in my closet. They are strains of my old-self buried in my email account. They are left-over rice grains in the drafts folder of old blogs—just when I think I’ve cleaned them all up, one sticks to the bottom of my foot months later. Try as I might to delete someone (and trust me, I try), bits and pieces of past relationships are consistently available at my fingertips.

I look over old emails and the words still feel strangely foreign. The person in them doesn’t sound like me at all. Who was this “us” we created? It appears so strongly here—casual banter and mutual knowledge, names appearing as always-conjoined or pronouns notating the “we” and “us”. Don’t worry about us! We’ll meet you there.

It is strangely dissociative, and I’m filled with a sudden urge to figure out the mystery of the woman I have been these past few months who feels so distant now.

After a stable three-year relationship, I had a moving-too-fast fling. Maybe I was desperately seeking to fill the space left by my break up. Maybe I was overly romantic and allowed myself to get swept into someone else’s fantasy. Maybe I just went temporarily insane.

Some texts remain. Like the emails, I feel so removed from the woman in those words. She is more like a character in a story I have written than any semblance of my actual self.

I read the texts in her voice:

Meet you @ home in 20 min. Who was this girl who gave allowed a near-stranger to call her apartment “home”?

That’s ok, I just wanted to make sure you got home ok 🙂 Who let hours-long absences go because of a breezy “I love you.”

Who was this woman, and how was she ultimately betrayed?

He once joked that at least he would be an interesting story for me to write, but he ultimately failed there too. Our relationship ended with so much banality: he cheated on me. A tale as old as time that any good writer could have seen coming from a mile away, but I was so willing to accept his stories that I completely lost myself in them.

I read the messages, and then I realize that I was also telling myself stories the entire time: that I was okay with this “relationship,” that I had been okay with the break up before it, that the two weren’t connected. Even the past emails were, in some ways, stories: I was a girl planning a to meet somewhere with a man who didn’t particularly like travel; we were breezily headed somewhere that, in fact, we were not.

These past words feel foreign because they are merely images of the character I was in that part of my story. They are no mystery at all; they are merely chapters in my life now closed. 

The question is not, though, how to move onto the next chapter. The question is how long I will be able to keep weaving stories for myself, or if I will ever pause, look around at myself and my reality, and see and accept things as they are.

Here’s the problem: I’ve been weaving stories for so long, I can’t help but wonder what that even means. Even now, as I look at what I’ve written, it’s difficult to figure out what is “truth” and what is “story-truth.” I read the words and wonder how many of the choices I’ve made in my life happened because it was what I wanted, or because that’s what I thought, as the writer, should happen next. How many plot-line roller coasters have I strapped myself into, thinking I saw denouement at the end?

Storyline: A woman sits in her apartment trying to write. She is trying to figure out how the story should end. She sits, looks at the screen, sees the blinking cursor. She knows there is no one to ask for help writing the end. She also knows that, as much as she wants to, she does not know how to end the story.

She looks at the screen. She sees the blinking cursor. She waits.

The Breath Before

I don’t often write fiction. I don’t think I do it particularly well, but I’ve been reading a lot of Junot Diaz this weekend and I guess I wanted to see what would happen. Here’s an excerpt. 


 

You are sitting with your back against a white, wood-paneled wall. The sun is streaming in. It is Winter, yet somehow still bright out. It is early morning and the cold seeps through the cement of your crappy apartment near the subway and all the way through to the wood of your wall. The cold is soothing on your back. It is 6:25 in the morning, and you are unsure if what is happening to you right now is real.

Moments before, you had snuck to his phone and looked through. A cardinal sin, yes. But you have a gut feeling. That’s how you justify it. Or maybe your life-long desire to Nancy Drew your way out of situations has reared its ugly head again. Or maybe you were just curious. Maybe all three.

Anyway, you do it, and after snooping through some text messages, you find photos. Lots of photos. And videos. Some girl whose face you don’t know, but in that moment it doesn’t matter. Later, you will wonder if she was in on it, if she knew, but, in the end that won’t matter either. She didn’t promise you anything. All you know is that the photos are there and the photos mean it’s the end and the photos rip you down the middle.

Now, you are sitting against the wood wall, trying to understand what your life looks like in this moment.

Later, after you have kicked him out of your small studio, you will realize you need to be at the lab in twenty minutes. In a daze you will find clothes and your coat. You won’t know how you got there, but the doors will swoosh open. You will duck past the interns waiting to be briefed by you. “Hi, Doc!” one will call out as you give a small, tight-lipped smile back. Later, he will remark to his friends that you seemed off that morning.

You will find your way into the office. Dan, your lab partner, will turn to ask why you’re late. He will see your face and know. He’ll wrap his arms around you and you will allow yourself a single sob. A convulsed release of the air and pain that have been sitting in your chest since 6:22 that morning when you saw the photos. He’ll give you a squeeze, then you’ll release yourself from his embrace, smile, and say, “Here we go,” before you turn to do your goddamn job.

That’s for later, though. Right now, you are sitting in your room, your back against a cold, white, wood-paneled wall. You look at his body splayed across your bed, his feet hanging off. You pull at your lower lip, your nervous tick he always picks on.

When you found the photos, your stomach tightened, you caught your breath. Suddenly, for a second, you saw only white, before it faded away and the photos and the videos were there again, as clear as day. It was as though your brain has taken a screen cap of that image, so that later when you are deciding what to do, it would throw the memory of this moment back front and center. Your ears start ringing. It will not stop until you make it into Dan’s arms later that morning. You drop to your knees, before getting up, putting on the first dress you can find and sit on the bed.

You find yourself there now, your back pressed against the wall for stability.

Later, after you have woken him and told him what you know and told him to leave, he will sit there, his eyes red and wet. He will apologize, but he will know better than to ask for another chance. He will tell you he still loves you, and how sorry he is before you finally get him out the door. It will take nearly an hour.

That hasn’t happened yet, though. That will be the memory you sit with later that night over a glass of whiskey that you are crying into: the image of him on the edge of your bed for the last time.

Right now, you are sitting at the other edge of your bed, you back against the cold, white, wood wall. You pull at your lip and furrow your brow. You wonder for a second if you could simply erase the image. If you could make things easy. If you could continue unabashed and unabated.

You know you cannot.

You take a breath. In. Out. You take another breath in and reach over to shake his leg.

“I need you to wake up now.”