You’ve Always Been

An annual conference with the queen

Third summer since new root

New neighbors, needles evergreen

A strange land to dispute

 

We are the crown, we drink in reign

And raise our brandy glass

We give our thanks in memory of

The boy who mowed our grass

 

No matter what for each farewell

We wish we’d kept them all

Divided we sing, united in dreams

Of old Carnation Hall

 

We pay respects to grapevine

That grew along the fence

Goodbye, forsythia in the spring

Our meeting must commence

 

I have been working very hard outside this year. With each plant strategically repositioned last year, we conquered. Lily patches have become focal points, two massive armies of pinks and warm colors that are coordinated and multiplying rapidly. Hostas that were lifted from poor soil are thriving in their new spots. They’re also making friends, learning to pair with the natives and are stronger for it.

Today I went back to the garden bed where plants weren’t looking like they had in the past, and I approached with a heavy heart for every broken leaf and hole. I didn’t know where anything could go if it wasn’t doing well where it was. But as I began to dig, I realized that the items in question had heavily multiplied….

Each seemingly suffering plant was easily trimmed and became three plants. It was like magic as I pulled each section away from the main root ball. It was like Christmas. I ended up dividing everything and lopping off weathered parts that wouldn’t be missed. I even took samples of everything and potted them so they could grow on the porch like extra copies.

All I had seen earlier were the imperfections and I totally missed the fact that everything was so much bigger – that being crowded was a compliment to progress. I wasn’t losing anything. I was winning. Gaining.

I was queen again.

Saint Patrick’s Massacre

Daniel came up to me at my workplace to buy a video game and he said, “There sure are a lot of St. Patrick’s Day events…I was hearing them over the radio. Maybe we can do somethin’ comin’ up…”

What I took away from that was, “I’ve never really celebrated Irish heritage or gone out for that occasion. And maybe I haven’t been feeling well. It would be nice to have a good time.”

So even though I didn’t feel very good when the day came (bloated, bad day at work, ghostly tonsil pains and other stupid shit), I “started over” after work with a fresh shower and “built myself back up”, telling myself to be psyched for my boyfriend. Once I was ready I took us to an Irish dive bar just 20 minutes from the house. I figured he could get the green beer, silly costumes, elbow-to-elbow comradery with a live band and decent food. Those were my goals.

I let him drive my car.

Of course the place was packed by 7 p.m. I asked a more conservative-looking couple if they would share their table, asked a waitress for the chair she was using across the way and hailed Daniel over. We happened to be front seat to the band and had a great view of the walkway where everyone paraded in their green gear. Once Daniel was handed a menu of Irish specials I really, really thought I had done a good job.

Well. I had just set us up for disaster.

Over the course of the 3 or so hours we were there, the woman we sat with became increasingly drunk and loud. Daniel would look at me as she raised her arms and screamed the lyrics to classic rock songs and I gave him a look back that said: just appreciate the enthusiasm and laugh. The couple seemed to really like us, wanted to talk with us, thought we were great together and yadda yadda. Then the woman (Maureen, I learned when she showed me her Facebook), started calling to other gentlemen to approach the table – young men walking to the restroom, waiters, other customers… she always had something flirty to say and I held my breath, giving sympathetic looks their way although everyone mostly obliged by accepting the attention and hugging her or what-the-fuck-ever.

I shook their hand every time, nodding, trying to excuse them from the table. It worked pretty well aside from the guy who had a green hat painted on his face. He asked us, “Would you ladies like one too?” and re-appeared with big, tacky temporary tattoos. Ecstatic, Maureen fetched a glass of water and I applied the tattoo to her cheek and then she did the same for me. I didn’t want to admit that I was appeasing a drunk, trying to salvage my night, and I downsized the threat of Maureen as I clapped along with the songs and tried to keep my eyes forward on the band.

The guy Maureen was with had a sophisticated green hat. He was older and seemed like a decent, relatively quiet counterpart. He would routinely remark that he “loved us” and he had to get right in Daniel’s ear in order to be heard. What I didn’t realize was that Daniel was not happy with the seedy atmosphere. He didn’t like the noise level. He didn’t like the common people (he would refer to them later as “blue collar”). He didn’t like the band and had somehow talked with the bass player who made a remark that he didn’t appreciate…

“I used to be in a band,” Daniel had started to explain. The bass player proceeded to insist that there was a successful, much bigger band out of Detroit with the same name. He basically called Daniel a garage copycat and I would have to hear him screaming later, “FUCK those guys, and we NEVER would have played a fucking place like THAT. If it didn’t have a stage, we didn’t go on…”

I am always pursing my lips, asking for a kiss. I try to take photos of us together, sometimes, using my phone…Daniel either looks away or doesn’t smile. I chalk it up to his complex over “glory days”, his dread of a bad photo…I wish he understood the power of not looking your best but smiling really big and looking happy and winning, anyway.

Eventually Maureen grabbed me and pulled me to the few feet of dance floor between the band and our table.

I had to smile big and prance and turn around like it wasn’t a big deal. Play the part. After about thirty seconds there were two or three more people pushed right up against us. Then I realized this guy in front of me had his hand on my hip and started to grab harder –

I grabbed his hand, pushed it back over to his body and patted his shoulder in order to show no hard feelings. The advancement caught me off guard and was definitely not invited. A little more saving face, big smiles and I went right back to the comfort of our table.

As I put the credit card in to my purse, Maureen caught on that I had just paid our tab. She shot a look across the table and said to him, “We have to talk.” And from then on, she eyed him differently…like she was cautioning me… They would never talk. We promptly left.

What I learned later – what Daniel drove us all the way home before revealing – was that in his mind, he looked over and saw me “dancing with another guy”, so I got an earful about how “disrespectful that was” to him, how inappropriate, how I should have “ran right over to my man”…

There was some silence as he sat on the edge of the bed looking out. He said, “I don’t think you should be with an older man.”

Every time he said something, I had no idea where it came from. It was like poison from his mouth to my heart.

The other part I couldn’t believe, was that he claimed that nice-looking older man had gone up to Daniel’s ear and explained through the blaring noise that he liked to “dominate his women like in 50 Shades of Grey” and that if Daniel ever wanted to “explore the dark side, to give him a call”. No fucking kidding. And whether it was made clear or not, Daniel perceived that as the old man proposing that we all leave together and sleep together.

Eventually he said that if I was “one of those people” I should leave and not come back.

“I don’t make an effort to keep someone like that. Bye.”

After two years and everything I’ve done he said, “Bye.” With a dismissive, purposeful southern accent. “Baaaah.”

Baaaah.

I was in shock. This was not the first time Daniel had lost his mind over something he heard or saw while we were out together. There was a couple at an Applebee’s bar a year ago…I was talking with them, being friendly, and Daniel had blown up and told me that they hoped I would “leave him and go home with them”… the time we went in to the furniture store and he saw me talking to a male salesman, accusing me of flirting with the guy… little things that told me had issues with jealousy and some delusion from trust issues…

Were these episodes worth it? What if he threw me out one day, over one, and I lost everything? Do I really want a relationship that teeters on his emotional stability?

Maybe I should just wear a burka.

Maybe it’s time to make some new resolutions…

When I grabbed my purse he was almost certain I was going back to the bar…that’s how messed up he was…

“I’m taking Duchess and I’m going home. I’m going to see my mom. She knows…about your fits. Everything I’ve done done for you, everything I do, and you’re throwing it away over 30 seconds when someone jumped in front of me-“

I broke down, started bawling, and started talking about how I should have known better.

“Only, always only, without other people. No one else can be around…you get crazy…” Now I’m freaking out, doubled over, gasping, tears running down the ugly tattoo on my cheek. I don’t know what to do and the person I love is breaking my heart.

“Why do you hurt me so much?”

Daniel changes, like night to day. Something about my reaction, the things I’ve said…for some reason my mother has a sobering effect on him. He stood in front of me and asked for a kiss… I couldn’t do it. But I hugged him and felt my tears fall off my face on to his chest.

I dreamed of Billy Joel.

I was holding glasses like he wears, a concert souvenir, but they had broken. I was walking through a plaza looking for him after a show…I found him twice and both times I could only stop twenty feet from him in fear that I would burden him with the usual OMG SO I LOVE YOUR MUSIC AND YOU ARE JUST SO AWESOME fan gush… being so close, before someone so great, afraid to lose him and unable to approach him. Billy, why have you stopped writing lyrics?

Today I was sending these digest texts of this very passage to Daniel’s phone. I know he had started reading them because he called me despite being in class. The first time I didn’t answer because I was afraid. He called again immediately and I answered.

He was acting super nice. Suggested I go to his desk and grab a Starbuck’s gift card so I could start my day with a cappuccino. I mean just real off-the-wall nice.

Maybe he knows he’s crazy.

Maybe he knows that I know.

Minus Some Body Parts

It seems that I was one of those whose tonsils collected bacteria (tonsil stones) and I was through with having to reach in my mouth several times a week to press on my tonsils and release foul gunk. Someone without cavities shouldn’t be cursed with a gross routine procedure like that, but I was.

So I got insurance through my employer, made a big deal about my tonsils blah blah blah and got the approval for a tonsillectomy. It wasn’t easy if you consider how my doctor rejected the idea at first, told me “tough” and “to learn to live with it”. It took a little fighting and cleverly worded expressions, but after another round with a different doctor I had the green light for removal. Don’t tell Autumn ‘no’. I thought everyone knew that by now. Stupid.

My surgery was on my boyfriend’s “snow day” which excused students and staff from school, so he was able to do his job and be my driver. Daniel called it God’s Will; I called it What Should Have Always Been the Plan, To Take Your Girlfriend to the Hospital. I freaked out as they tried several times to hook me to an IV, told me I didn’t have any veins (great food for that ‘I’m Not a Normal Human’ complex), and was in a stupid hospital robe about to be put under anesthesia. That all sucked, and waking up from surgery sucked due to the deep pockets of pain that replaced my tonsils.

Daniel found a pharmacy that would fill my script for painkillers and paid the bill without his normal “you don’t have to write me a check right away” attitude, and that really touched me. I think he’s learning that he doesn’t have to walk around guarding his dick all day. I’m not gonna screw this guy. Stepping up his game only adds security to that.

Then I couldn’t get a hold of my doctor. An entire weekend went by and her staff said she didn’t work Mondays. On Tuesday I entered the office and for the millionth time, said the same shit I’d been stressing over the phone (slurred and difficult to understand):

  1. I was out of pain medication and wanted to die. (I had a co-worker ask me if I “tortured people in my basement for fun” because I am a relatively tough-seeming person…but this surgery had me drowning in mucus, crying from referred ear pain, and I made huge fists that slammed against something whenever I had to swallow. I NEEDED pain meds.)
  2. My employer and I were told that a couple of days of vacation should cover my post-op recovery time, but by the end of that I was unable to speak, eat or sleep let alone work. The workplace needed information before they fired me.
  3. PAIN MEDS, GIVE ME PAIN MEDS. I was willing to drive drunk on medication and stand at my workplace with throat scabs and blood spilling from my mouth if it meant I wasn’t in pain and I could be back “where I was supposed to be”. Sad.

They just looked at me and argued that I didn’t have an appointment. In front of the waiting room’s sick children I threw a little Irish Bitch fit and started crying because my doctor was inaccessible and I was in severe pain. I threatened to go to the hospital and report every one of them, then I murmured through my swollen vocal chords that I could probably just crush Tylenol in a glass of water and save myself a LOT OF MONEY –

“CAN YOU COPY MY FILE? DOES MY DOCTOR HAVE TO DO THAT TOO? Can you write on a little piece of fucking memo paper that I had surgery done my boss doesn’t think I was SKIPPING WORK AND FUCKING OFF ON FACEBOOK ALL WEEKEND?”

I lost my credentials with the cursing and the insults, so I finished with a more composed, “I apologize for making a scene but I have called repeatedly, over the course of several days, and you never ONCE called me back to so much as say that you had TRIED to communicate with my doctor.”

One of the fucking little whores behind the counter actually said out loud to another fucking little whore, “I wasn’t ready for today to be stressful.”

Oh. My. God.

So they handled me by telling me I could see my doctor after she arrived some 3-4 hours later that afternoon. I said I would accept the appointment (nice, over $100 for a sit-down with a specialist). I was trying to figure out if I had vacation pay left in my bank to cover it, if I just called this fiasco of a day a “sick” day, could I go back to work the following day if I just ran to the bathroom every time I had a drowning/choking/mucus fit…

On my way back to that place for the second time that day, my doctor called me. I was literally outside of her office looking at the locked door, the little clock that said “be Back at 1” as my phone went from 1:01 to 1:02, and she spoke in to the phone,

“I’m sorry. No one ever told me, not once, that you needed to get ahold of me. I’ll be having a word with my staff.”

No need for an appointment, my papers were waiting for me with the fucking little whores. I told them it was great to be back, and thanked them for the items that had caused so much stress.

When I dropped my prescription off at my pharmacy, the Arabic pharmacist looked me up and down, at my long black jacket, at the script, at my ID, and said, “Sorry. This is classified medicine. We do not have it.”

“Please tell me who does.”

“I cannot. It is classified because of these doses. Maybe you should try your pharmacy.”

“You ARE MY PHARMACY. You gave me my flu shot yesterday. This is my first time having insurance and having a script to fill. I just had my tonsils taken out. What IS WRONG WITH EVERYONE TODAY DO I LOOK LIKE A METH ADDICT MY TEETH ARE PERFECT.”

I could see him take in to consideration, my fucked up voice. YES, I AM A REAL PATIENT.

“You must be in a lot of physical pain.”

“I just want to go home. Today has been a nightmare.”

“I have one bottle left for someone who did not pick it up. I will take a chance.”

Take a chance? Jesus Christ. I dress like a fucking criminal. I didn’t even have my knit hat and oversized hoodie on. Just the good ol’ mafia coat. And I’m STRESSFUL TO OTHERS.

Well, it was all ya’ll motherfuckers’ faults because you told me NO.

Yesterday I took a swig of that syrup, waited for the pain to subside so I could swallow some calories before I starved to death, got my leave of absence accepted and passed. The fuck. Out.

There you have it. When I’m recovered and on the other side of YES, you’ll know what I had to go through to get there.

Don’t give up.

I’ve Been Hearing Some Things About Saint Valentine.

Everyone at work knew I had the weekend off to entertain my family from out of town. I bragged on social media about balancing full-time hours with baking and cleaning between shifts. Just hours before my mother and brother arrived I managed to bring things around like personal touches and past purchases (crap, where’s that oil burner) to really show them how much I cared.

Leading up to the weekend I would get this frustrating flash of thoughts across my mind: What’s the point? Why? Who am I doing this for?

Don’t forget the night before when I fought with my boyfriend because he said some random thing that pissed me off and caused me to turn off the vacuum and retire upstairs before I had everything done. Recipe for disaster. Just meant more to cram in the day of.

Christopher was pissed that we had declared it a drug-free weekend. He almost didn’t come because of the nights he’d been keeping prior to my invite. The moment he arrived I caught him trying to find liquor stashed away. It was a big second chance/redemption effort on his part, as he hadn’t visited in a year since becoming belligerent, verbally assaulting everyone and coming close to violence.

Mom had taken him home, embarrassed. Exhausted. So sad.

My goal was to entertain for two nights with home-cooked meals and quality time. The first night was a success. I had a new Valentine’s card to set beside ones from previous years. They loved my baked goods as well as the pot roast and everyone seemed to be getting along. For a while we were all sitting together, reading separately. Chris kept having to go outside in the cold to smoke so I gave him my old e-cigarette and all of the pricey little accessories that came with it. If he didn’t like sitting close to someone else on the couch, a chair was always free for him. Anything I could do or give to accommodate, I did.

On our second and final night together it seemed like I had gotten the great idea of going out to eat. Chris “heard” there was a bar and he appeared to be all in. Mom warned him to pick up his own alcohol tab and that nothing was to be brought back to the house. In reality, Chris has been texting me from his first few minutes after setting down his luggage about how sick he was, how he was going through withdrawal, how he was upset and bored and miserable and so I CHANGED THE PLAN, straying from what was a strict decision made under heavy stress. I didn’t want my brother to remember his visit as a torturous one. I wanted to make him happy, too. I told him I was going to suggest dinner out and then I made it happen like a secret between the two of us.

It was a decision that would cost me everything.

I thought I could see tears in my mom’s eyes during dinner, but it was just too dark to know for sure. Chris had produced a $20 bill for his bar tab (from my wallet earlier on, because I know he doesn’t have much and I wanted him to feel like he didn’t depend on Mom for everything) and after 5 beers in, got the total for $1.25 over what he had money for. Mom, again, to the rescue. Louder and more freely speaking, Chris wasn’t the only one having beers, so I didn’t think anything was going to go wrong with so many reasons to celebrate.

Mom retired at a normal hour and went upstairs. Chris proceeded to destroy the night. He aggressively claimed two beers from the fridge as “his beers” and demanded to know where the liquor was kept. Dan and I were tired and about ready for bed but my brother kept getting louder, singing, shouting…

Then the insults started. He said that my boyfriend was an asshole, that his own girlfriend was sleeping around with other people, that he hated the world, his life…and he wanted to fight us. He charged at the dogs and they thought he wanted to play, but quickly caught on to a bad energy that frightened them out of the room. Chris leaned over in a chair to bite the leaf of a house plant, and almost fell to the floor.

“I hope that wasn’t poisonous.”

“It is.”

Spitting the leaf bits in to his hand, he asked the plant’s name.

“Peace Lily.”

My mother could hear the fuss going on and was texting me her hopes and prayers that he would tire quickly. I wouldn’t know until later that she was crying, leaving the Kleenex on my bedside table for me to find later on.

Chris grabbed Dan’s guitar, held it high, and I could tell he was looking for our reactions. He wanted us to warn him, to be afraid. But we weren’t playing along, instead tending to our own tablets, and that seemed to infuriate him just as well. He carefully strummed the strings and put the guitar back against the wall.

Constantly complaining about a God that wasn’t real, a life that we couldn’t begin to imagine the horror of, he would start crying, crying tears, and then he’d turn it to a Joker laugh, the one from the Batman movie, that he had practiced and mastered. Showing off, breaking down, getting angry, manically cycling and pacing the house before he started really picking on everyone and telling us we weren’t shit. That we disgusted him.

“Babe. I’m going to have to go upstairs and ask your mom to leave. I’m sorry. He’s threatening us. He’s out of control, Autumn.”

Finally losing my patience and damned if I was going to have my mom depart early, I ordered Chris to get his shit because I was driving him home. He realized I was serious and he tried to calm me down but I was done. I asked if he wanted to go home and he said, “Of course, there’s nothing I want MORE.” So I now had an hour and a half to drive each way, around midnight, to salvage what was left of my weekend.

The brother part had failed. His second chance was not a success. One year later, no lesson learned. To think that Dan hadn’t even hesitated to allow him after last time…

On his way out Chris ran after Dan. I grabbed him by his coat and pulled him back as he screamed, “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING WITH A GIRL THAT YOUNG.”

Then he shoved me back, pushing me down under the garage door as it was closing. I recovered my footing and PUSHED him back, screaming that if he touched me again, I would call the police and they could give him a ride. I warned him to choose quickly. I was shouting, loud enough for neighbors to hold hands over their children’s ears.

Mom insisted on riding with me. Several times on the way home Chris opened the car door like he was going to jump out while I drove down the freeway. Mom would cry, shouting, “Please Chris, stop, please Chris don’t”…

Again she was crying, so tired, so wrecked, that it made me furious. I was over Chris and the pain he was causing.

“YOU LEFT ME ALONE FOR TEN YEARS.” Which must have meant, from the moment I went to college.

He remarked about my mother’s marriage, how he had no idea why Dad had put up with her. He continuously attacked us, digging up every piece of guilt, every memory of pain, relentlessly. When the road began to wash with tears, I widened my eyes and got a grip. It was a nightmare.

Once in their driveway, Chris shouted that he had stolen things from my house. I said, “I don’t care” as he chucked my Joker library book in to the back seat. With him gone, I put the car in reverse and a weird siren went off, like my rear camera was malfunctioning. I hopped out to check on it and my mother screamed –

“-AUTUMN HE’S COMING BACK-”

And when I turned my head, the headlights were on my brother, charging at the car with his body. I jumped back in the car and locked it, but it wouldn’t start because I had locked it with the remote start key fob first. SO STUPID. Chris’ body slammed against the passenger window, against the hood…

“WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU STILL IN MY DRIVEWAY?!”

This is happening within seconds. I’m trying to start the car, fumbling at the remote start key in the dark, still wondering why the fuck a continuous alarm was going off at this horrible moment. Mom was opening her door, trying to yell “it’s her camera, her camera is why we’re still here!!” and opening the door after I’ve locked the car from the inside with my remote start causes all of the alarms to start blaring, preventing the engine from starting –

Chris is now running at the car with a large, metal show shovel.

I SLAP my mother across her fucking face. She stops moving and making noise.

“MOM. CLOSE THE FUCKING DOOR NOW. WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE. SHUT UP AND CLOSE THE FUCKING DOOR.”

The car still thinks someone is breaking in and turning the key isn’t working. Everything. Fucking. Backwards. Within seconds. Wrong seconds.

Reverse. Reverse. No engine. Reverse. Reverse.

My mother quietly looked at me and calmly said, because I had smacked her, maybe because it looked like his drinking had been all my idea, “I will never forgive you.”

Then she opened the door again (sirens wailing) and walked off.

UNLOCK. UNLOCK. UNARM. SOUND OFF. CAR ON. REVERSE.

My tires started spinning over the snow before I got myself to slow down and get out of there as fast as I could. I had to put miles between us. Miles. After so many minutes I finally… realized that my mother would be without her vehicle. Without her bags. I had lost my company. Had lost them both. And had escaped something…I cannot put words to…what that was.

I woke up with a Very. Broken. Heart.

There isn’t enough sorry in sorry, to apologize to Dan. We have spent Valentine’s Day together just being at the house, tired. Speechless. I went in to the kitchen and had a piece of the cake I would not be sending back. I opened the oven and tossed little cherry pies in the shape of hearts, in to the trash.

I grabbed the Valentine’s cards and put them away. Blocked my brother’s number until a day, if a day, that he is out of rehab. When my mother pulled in with my father this morning, she asked for her bags. I grabbed them and gave them to her. Moved my car so she could get to hers and follow Dad back home. I did not look at them once.

I haven’t felt pain like this in a while. That real brokenness makes the other stuff seem so petty. It’s grabbing my chest like a hawk holds its prey to ground with its claws. Like the pain is waiting for me to die. This is something that wasn’t supposed to be compromised.

I wish I knew what to do without my family. But I don’t.

They were supposed to be the point. They were why. They were who I did everything for.

In Which I Have Gotten On the Good Foot.

I can remember feeling like I was living a life void of passion, like nothing ever happened. It gave me the impression of being excluded from a bigger part of the world. Substance, meaning, purpose, enjoyment – they all seemed fractured and even avoided, as if I had somehow made choices that gave me an alternate, non-eventful outcome on a daily basis instead of a “natural” course.

It was, in many ways, asking for drama. I wanted infatuation, adventure, big slices of pie… and I got all of it. My knuckles became white from holding on to a man with my life, everything got crazy and the pie went straight to my ass.

I’m often reminded of how this is all a different part of my story. This is my new life. I’ve been struggling with it, crying over it, pushing and shoving it, all in the attempt to grab it and turn it into happily ever after.

The truth is, I can’t control it. I didn’t ask for comfortable, or control, or easy. I asked for the insane.

When I consider the various obstacles I’ve faced, I feel bad for the girl who wasn’t sure whether or not she was loved. And I am embarrassed by some of the things I insisted on in order to tell myself that I was.

Things have progressed enough with Daniel that I finally feel legitimate. My fingers don’t curl around a wedding ring, anymore. I get invited to his social events. When I need help he’s there. Mickey and Minnie have made room for Hello Kitty. Living things are thriving under my care. It’s more like a family, and more like home. Enough give, enough change, enough time and I feel a lot better, now.

I haven’t worried about my relationship in months. I’ve learned that I am stronger than any element that confuses me.

2016 has been good so far. I wake up a few minutes earlier to sit with a healthy breakfast and ask the intangible, and myself, for energy, balance and focus. I am thankful for the day before and look forward to tomorrow. I decide on something that I can do for my boyfriend, for the house, for the animals and for myself. Then I tackle the day.

Happy New Year, indeed.

 

Of Dancing and Pilot Lights

I read for the first time in over a year. It was a graphic novel so it flew by in specific colors without the need for much focus. Something sparked and I said, “Damn” so I read a book. It wasn’t easy; I kept finding myself scrolling through the lines with my own thoughts, completely missing what I was reading. Or the television was too loud, and then the music in my earbuds would be just as distracting. But gradually, my speed picked up and the story in my hands was the only thing before me.

Hot damn! One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to force myself to either read or write. Put my dull brain through the sharpener and see where it went from there. I reached for another novel and a few pages in I kept hearing the sound of my pug’s nails across the kitchen linoleum, though her food bowl is a step down on carpet. She was in front of the door. Waiting, then pacing around, waiting again. Tapdancing to get outside.

I let her out and began to feel the polarities of the balance, my own dance, moving through me. I tried to figure out whether or not I was hungry. It seemed for over the course of a year I had been doing the domestic tango, wearing a chef’s hat most irregularly, going through the motions of trying new recipes back-to-back, around the clock and then not, resorting to that feeling when you’re past full and it feels comforting, fulfilling, an attainable happiness, and the photo-posted quotes on social media had told me that caring for the ones under my roof was greater than any craft I could be dicking around with, outside…

Was I hungry? I had just eaten a few hours ago. Wasn’t I just feeling a little bloated? Maybe I didn’t eat enough. Is it HUNGER, then, am I hungry. As if I suddenly don’t know what I knew.

Daniel is in his office, making a presentation and as I walk by I see a slide that is asking the class something like WHAT IS THE POINT OF THE STORY and as I make my way up the stairs, his stairs, I say to myself: TO SAY SOMETHING. Either for the point of saying it or maybe even more.

It goes deeper than that, sometimes. Even when it doesn’t, it’s still good if it’s genuine. Why worry about whatever specific point the piece was made about? TO SAY SOMETHING ABOUT WHATEVER THE HELL THE TITLE IS. TO GET PUBLISHED. TO GET PAID. TO BE GRADED. ‘Why’ is suddenly so relative and I think, THE TEACHER SHOULD COME UPSTAIRS AND READ IT TO FIND OUT.

He’s so cute in his Oliver People’s glasses, those wide, geeky, Wallstreet frames I picked out. They’re s much better than those narrow, condenscending drames he always wore, always looked over to see things farther away, like he was looking down on everything else. Like an asshole.

Looks can be deceiving. I considered changing the title of my blog to Tales From The Other Side Of The Garden Fence.

Yeah, I scaled over the bitch. And not being the most coordinated person on earth I landed on my ass. I can bring you the inside scoup. Though, admittedly, I don’t always because the lines are blurred but thin between the big white boxes and my waking life, these days. If I tell the truth about everyone in my current time, they may not look so hot. And if they ever read what I wrote, they may get hot. The risk of it doesn’t entice me – the leaking tabloid life doesn’t reward my spirit. It just gets me in to trouble.

Last year I joined FaceBlah and sent a message to Justin, the main character from my Flint Chronicles. This year I thumbed to his profile again, only saying, “Happy Holidays, Jbird.”

He answered right away, seeing that he’d missed the previous year’s instant text. He claimed having no idea how it had gone unnoticed and wanted to catch up right away. Not expecting to actually revive that dying light, I refrained from answering for a while. Then in slow bits between noneventful moments I would answer a question or reiterate that I was glad to have found him, again.

This morning I saw a message he had left at 2 a.m: Are you still up? I can’t sleep.

Back then, in that 18-21 coming-of-age era, 2 a.m. was somewhere around 9:30. And having known Justin, it was still probably pretty early for him. But I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of his lonliness, his untimely gesture to reach out. It made me sad. I had been in situations, phases before, where I may have been wandering the grounds in the wee morning hours, seeking a connection. And I have a younger brother who may very well get the urge to text me lyrics to Van Morrison even later than that, and it makes perfect sense to me.

It didn’t make sense, to Justin’s wife when she saw what he had done.

His number called a few times while I was at work. I answered when it called again, after my shift. Attempting to greet an old friend again, Justin began rattling on about his current plans for an uncertain future, the kinds of events that you just know may never transpire. And just like old times I mostly gave him the option of ranting on. He was always good for stories and you never assumed that they were truthful. Unfortunately he had awkwardly tried to explain our history, of my accompanying him through Flint, MI for the sake of everyone’s energy and the story of the city – and how our relationship to each other was entirely void of the kind of attraction he sought chasing after promiscuous girls.

Of course, he didn’t say it like that. He didn’t know to. That was my perspective. He knew I had been there, enjoyed the trips through clubs and tattoo parlors, and that I stuck around a while after the other supporting characters, nearby residents and schoolmates of his, had started to go separate ways. Uninspired and without a lot of options, Justin had enrolled in the Marines a few weeks after I went home one day and never came back.

He wrote me letters from Iraq, like he did to his mother. My mom helped me put together a care package and we mailed it over, possibly the only thing he received from any of us. Then Justin had his elbow blown off. He came back a hero with a purple heart and I was still too immersed in my own world to go see him. Years passed. An entire era passed. The vagina-chasing, compulsively lying, directionless scrub from Flint had turned his legend around and I never congratulated him. My chronicles ended with rusting street signs, the looming fear of a doomed city, and the absence of closure that comes from our never-ending lives.

“My wife was so upset when she looked at my phone. She thought I was cheating on her. I told her, it wasn’t anything like that. I said, ‘We never even dated! She was never my girlfriend! She was my best friend.’”

My heart was so flattered, even if it was a title I knew I didn’t deserve. How about the guys from childhood, the other ones I wrote about? What about my then-sidekick, Mandi, who had originally brought me in to the whole thing? What about the other redhead who was getting me to drive out there because she dared to follow her heart? The two of them made a lot of mistakes together… what about her companionship?

It all made me stop and think about where we all are. The dances we learned vs the ones we’re doing now. I can just see Justin’s shirtless, skinny, 18 year-old-self breaking it down, leveling with us about the shit we’ve mucked up and and shit we ought to do. He was never one to speak but he spoke, alright.

I think about the years I was cooped up in my hometown, an eccentric hermit, believing I had a tortured old soul even though I hadn’t even really ever made my personal adventures the main story, yet. I had written a passage about a dark barn where old, black machines were covered in tarps. Occasionally there would be a spark or a noise, the idea of it in my head. And I longed for the romantic brains of an engineer who could recognize the once-oiled parts and declare that it all still worked – that I, could still operate on potential.

I feel the weight of the tarps now, more than before. The dust itself adds weight. I’m blinking and muttering. I’m not sure whether or not I’m even hungry.

And I can feel, at the source of the levers and wires, that there is Good. Still good.

Still good, Autumn.

So maybe we need some polishing. Maybe the horizon is still way over there.

Grab an extension cord, girl.

Let’s plug this fucker in.

In Which I Manage To Break An Already Broken Family

Daniel’s father re-married a woman who has a daughter. Her name is Courtney. Courtney is about my age and still lives with their father and Daniel’s step mother. For reasons that were never explained, Courtney had her mail forwarded to our house whenever her parents left for trips to Florida. Maybe she worried about having her own mail sent out-of-state and found it easier to pick up her letters at her brother’s place.

Getting Courtney’s mail was not exactly easy because I had to remember to tell her it arrived and have it arranged to be picked up. Sometimes Daniel didn’t want any company and would be loafing around in his bath robe – not a scene I would invite company over for. Even so, we made the best of it and eventually her parents would be back from Florida and her mail would go back to her house again.

This time, I thought her parents were back from Florida. They were all together for Thanksgiving in Michigan. During the dinner, unfortunately, there was a heated discussion and Daniel became vocal about whatever topic had been raised. Allegedly a few women excused themselves in order to gain distance from the table. I wasn’t there, but I heard later on that it was considered a “blow-out” and I instantly stopped hearing from Courtney.

We had literally texted about watching the parade from our own televisions before I’d sent her a photo of the breakfast scramble Daniel had surprised me with. I sent him off later that day with a chardonnay bundt cake and had asked Courtney to tell me if it was well received, as I’d be working and missing out on the occasion. Everything was fine until the argument.

Daniel had collected the bundt cake on his way home and neglected to retrieve the Christmas present Courtney had given him hours before. I came home from work and saw my baked good in the refrigerator. Later on Daniel told me what had happened. It was disheartening but I couldn’t change the past.

Courtney refrained from contacting Daniel, and from contacting me. All of the thoughtful text messages, social networking and phone calls stopped. I waited in silence to see if she wondered if he was okay, if there was anything she could do. I waited for her to ask me if I knew what had happened, but she offered absolutely nothing… and meanwhile, her mail continued to arrive.

One day I finally sent her a link about correcting the technical issue. Wanting a prompt response, I thought I could save her a trip to the post office so I gave her the link to the USPS site where she could correct her mail route. I never heard back. Not a “thank you, I’ve been busy” or a “hey is something wrong”. Nothing. Silence.

Several days after that, Daniel got a call from another family member who told him that Courtney had read my text, assumed it meant that Daniel didn’t want her mail there anymore, burst in to tears and phoned her mother – who was already back in Florida. I had no idea they had only come home for the holiday (which meant that Courtney had still intended to forward her mail). In reaction to the misunderstanding, Courtney blocked us on her phone. We were officially bad guys to an entire side of his family and apparently excommunicated. Just like that.

All because I had cleaned up the kitchen, looked at a letter and decided that I didn’t want Courtney dragging her feet on getting her mail routed correctly. It was admittedly one more thing I didn’t want to deal with, especially after the sort of shouting that alarmed people and would probably require considerable time and healing. Misinformed, I had sent the USPS link to her at a bad time when I hadn’t done any following up on my end. Instead I was fueled by the bad vibes from her unexplained silence and the worry of how to get the mail to her.

It looked like we were saying, “And one more thing. Stop sending your mail here. Buh Bye”. Like it was somehow related to Daniel’s argument, or maybe just its own isolated moment of dismissal.

We were still Facebook friends. I told Courtney that I was sorry, that I didn’t know her parents were still away. I said that my comment about her mail was not associated with Dan in any way. I apologized for the way it all seemed and I mentioned that she didn’t exactly help matters with a complete lack of communication. I was blocked within 24 hours.

The whole thing has made my connection to Courtney seem artificial. Everything was great as long as she was happy. Now I’m nothing. I wanted the mail thing settled. I wanted her to say something about the dinner but she offered nothing. She could have at least corrected me about her parents being back in Florida – I would have been willing to work something else out. Surely I didn’t cause everything myself. I wasn’t even THERE that day…

Seriously, what just happened? I’m torn between feeling bad and feeling like it was a casualty of circumstance. Was I supposed to act like my boyfriend had done something to the rest of them? Was I expected to ask the questions? Is that the side I was supposed to take? And if that’s the extreme reaction, how much should I let this shit bother me?

I’m no longer “the young girl who came out of nowhere who couldn’t possibly hold substance”. Now I’m “the nasty, young girl who came out of nowhere who couldn’t possibly hold substance”.

Awesome.