The Voice Inside That Never Shuts Up

Every day, after returning home from middle school, I sat at our kitchen table. Hours before my parents would arrive back home from work. I’d eat my afternoon snack and I’d wonder what it would feel like to be an adult. Long hours I spent there, in that square, wood, and wicker chair — wishing I was someone else.

Most days, I still feel like that little girl. Unsure of where I belong or how I’ll get there. I still wonder if all the things I waited on, after all these years, will really, truly, bring me the Happiness I dreamed they would. Yet, as ever, I look forward. There are things I know I will always have: An unfaltering curiosity. A deep, unprecedented faith in love. And, a strange belief that — somehow, despite the odds — everything will be OK.

As I write this, it is my thirty-third birthday. And, I’m not sure how to explain this past year. Everything changed. — My heart, the people who surround it, the dreams it dreams, and the place it resides have all spun forward into new realms of Happiness — places that, I am quite sure, I will never understand. And, I think, these gifts, and many more, are the real fruit of seeking out my own joy. — The little girl at the kitchen table could never have foreseen this.

After more than three years of weekly Wednesday posts, never having missed a-one, this will be my final blog post here at Saucy Sobriety. These past few weeks, I’ve thought long and hard about how to leave things with you. What to impart that could possibly communicate or encapsulate everything I’ve come to understand from taking part in this process. — The thing that will comfort those of you who still sit, waiting and wishing, at the kitchen table. — But, to no end. Because, blog posts or none, there will be no end to this endeavor. Happiness and the discovery of self are pursuits I could never abandon, even if I tried. And, I remain steadfast in my advice, that — you, too, should continue to seek these things in life.

If this past year, heck, these past three years, have taught me one thing it’s this: Happiness is not something you’ll stumble upon. It is something you build. — Do not sit in wait. — No one is coming for you.

Brick by brick. Story by story. Friend by friend. Mistake by mistake. Place by place. Lesson by lesson. — We find our own Happiness. We find our own sobriety. We find our own love. — Within.

Inside each of you, is an incredible light. Something magical and intangible, that I cannot explain. I cannot explain my own light, either. But, as our time together comes to a close, I know that this blog has been one step of many in my unending journey to do just that — to find the hidden magic and bright light that reside inside each of us. My quest, is one that will forever seek out joy and understanding in this life that, otherwise, can be pitiless and cruel.

The day-to-day can be ruthless. Heartless. Thankless. Yet, I strive on. And, maybe, like the little girl in the kitchen, you too will recognize the small voice inside. — The one that tells you the next moment may carry with it everything that you’ve been seeking. And, sometimes, to your surprise, it does. And, it’s in those moments that we find reward, despite all the heaviness.

Happiness and sobriety are the same thing. They are gratitude — for everything — as it is. The present moment is the only tangible thing we’ll ever have. We can hold on to the past, so much so, it halts us, hurts us, and makes us ill. We can hang our hats in the future, but, to be certain, the future we’ve envisioned is NEVER the one where we’ll actually arrive. So, in the here and now, we must take what we’ve been given and find some way to treasure it.

In this moment, my phone bings and chimes. Friends and family send me birthday wishes. I open cards from my parents, my bosses, my grandparents, and in the background, I listen to music that makes me feel joyful. And, though I feel as old and out to sea as I ever have — I know I am a little boat who has learned to break the big waves. — I am surrounded on all sides. With love.

Today, more than anything else, I want to thank you.

If you were a regular reader, or just one of the few who click through these posts every now and then, it means so much to me that you’ve taken any time at all to take part in my story. To know someone has listened to me and heard me, is perhaps the greatest gift I could ever ask to be given. Your time, attention, compassion, support, and empathy have been the glue that’s held me (and this blog) together over the years.

Thank you. Thank you so very much.

Thank you for contributing. Thank you for being witness. Thank you for passing through.

I’ve said it before — I’m crap at goodbyes. So, I’ll leave you here:

Happiness is the reward for seeking. In its pursuit, you will discover who you are and where you’re meant to go.

Listen to the voice inside that never shuts up. — She is telling you something worthwhile.

Hear her. Write her. Sing her. Dance her. Read her. Cook her. Sell her. Sew her. Walk her. Run her. Drive her. Bathe her. Climb her. Swim her. Fuck her. Comfort her. Cradle her. Raise her. Plant her. Judge her. Dress her. Dream her. Hide her. Hate her. Find her. Feed her. Open her. Punish her. Shut her. Forget her. Forgive her. Starve her. Break her. Save her. Reward her. Release her. Kiss her.  Kill her. Cut her. Mend her. Bend her. Resurrect her. Love her. — But, never, never leave her.

Whoever she is, whatever she is, wherever she is — day in, day out — stick with her.

When you are bereft, she is your Happiness. When you are lost, she is your Home.

 

 

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Jim Beam: A Love (Goodbye) Story

All endings beg us to return to the beginning.

As I try to wrap up this blog, to tell the stories that matter to me — the ones that mean the most — I keep returning to Jim Beam. I’ve been unable to escape the thought of his squared, glass bottle. Like a person. A character. — Jim Beam, Bourbon Whiskey, was an essential player in my story. — Just brown booze in a bottle, sure. But, still, after all this time, I’ll refer to that particular bottle as: “Him.” Because, like a fallen sidekick, I still sometimes miss his help.

I miss how I never felt alone, knowing I had a bottle on the kitchen counter. How I could go to any bar — and there he’d be. Seeing a bottle of Jim Beam White Label behind the bar, even now, makes me feel like I’ve run into an old friend — an old lover.

What’s funny is, admitting this doesn’t make me feel ridiculous at all. Not one bit. Because, as I come to another ending in my life, I am aware now, more than ever, of how important it is to recognize the anchors that root us in our past experiences. Jim Beam — yes, to be sure — was just booze in a bottle. But, he was there. He was there, for almost everything in my life before I got sober. And, he was the bottle I tipped back — the bottle who saved me — when things were the most difficult they’ve ever been.

While I was thinking about it, I realized that getting sober is not the hardest thing I’ve ever done. — It was surviving the pain of heartbreak. And, during that period in my life, Jim Beam saved me from myself. There were so many times I turned myself over to that squared, glass bottle, completely, because staying present would have killed me, and nearly did.

I sat through countless 12-Step meetings where members told stories about how alcohol or drugs had saved them from themselves. And, of course, this is how things went awry. Booze can’t actually save you, not forever anyway. But, before things got bad, beyond the-point-of-no-return bad, there was a time where being drunk made my life possible. It gave me a reason to live — when I felt that I had not one. When it came to Jim, I never had to do anything to earn it. I had his love. Jim Beam always sat in wait for me, ready when I needed him. And, now, allowing myself to recognize that, to feel that, I understand why getting sober was so hard. There aren’t many people who will show up for you like that.

Alcoholism, the disease, isn’t about drinking. It’s about what we got from the drink. It’s what waited for me at the bottom of that bottle that defined my problem. Back then, I never thought to savor each sip, thinking the drink would love me back. But now, if I’m being honest, — somewhere inside of me — that was what I thought: I thought at the bottom of every bottle of Jim Beam I would find the love that had left me bereft. And, when I see that bottle today, it doesn’t make me feel sad. It makes me feel grateful. — Grateful that I am alive. — Grateful that my own heart didn’t kill me.

Love, like drinking, is most beautiful in the process. — Never in the result. Love and liquor are comforts you can count on — until you can’t anymore. One day, love is the only thing you believe in, and the next, it’s walked out on you. One day, a drink is what saves you from yourself, and the next — it’s killing you. You have to be careful how far you let things take you outside yourself.

Learning to be present with loss is the hardest thing any of us will ever do. And, we do it everyday. We lose people. Jobs. Places. Things. — Bottles. — And, worst of all, we lose the love that is built into each one of these things. There is no stopping it. No preventing it. The only thing we can teach ourselves to do, is to allow love to go. To leave us. And, to know, somewhere, we will find it again.

This blog, over the years, has been the place I’ve thrown all my love. Anger and calm and joy and death and transition and waiting and finding and EUREKA! It has been everything. And, I think, this particular goodbye is so difficult because, I know that it is because of writing this blog — week after week, month after month, year after year — that I know, not only how to say goodbye, but, why I need to say goodbye. I know now that goodbyes are never permanent. Just like Jim Beam, Saucy Sobriety will sit on the shelf — a reminder that, somehow, I survived.

At the bottom of this bottle, this blog, there is a sweet, unpoured sip that I will never taste. And, I will always wonder: Does that last little gulp contain all the love that I got so incredibly drunk trying to taste?

To which the answer is, obviously: No.

Because, Love was the process of getting to the bottom of it all.

And, that, to be sure, I have tasted.

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Disappearing.

Just shy of three years ago, I turned thirty. And, that’s when I threw my heart into this blog.

At a turning point, and one of the most difficult junctures in my life, there was nothing left to do but — write.

Having just left my heroin-addict boyfriend, I was a few months away from celebrating my second year sober. And, with the world crumbling around me, I was beginning to feel that, in sobriety, I’d lost almost as much, if not more, than I had gained. I had feelings so complex, I didn’t know how to begin unpacking them all, I only knew that they felt worthy of documentation. — So, every Tuesday night, I sat up in my bed, writing feverishly, into the late hours. Hoping to capture something I was sure I’d lost, or, better still, to get a glimpse of something good I had missed.

On the day of my thirtieth birthday, I woke up early to open a package my mother had sent me from New York. It contained, as ever, a poignant note that made me cry, packed along with a long-sleeved blue and grey striped blouse — which I still have, wear, and love.

As I pulled my new top over my head, standing in front of the mirror, I noticed for the first time how thin I had become. While I had been with my addict-boyfriend, I had all but stopped eating.  I had not noticed the physical toll all the stress had taken on me. Staring back at myself in the mirror, I did not notice my age. I saw only how my eyes had fallen back into my cheek bones, how my once snug jeans hung slack over my thighs, and how the size-small top my mother had sent me, fell over my shoulders like a sweater. — Before leaving my apartment for work, I sat down at my computer and wrote: I am thirty. I am disappearing.

I never published that post. Because, back then, I wanted to disappear. And so, calling attention to the ribs pushing up through my chest like piano keys, seemed like it would reveal a little too much about what was actually happening to me. It required sharing an awareness that I was ashamed to admit I had — the knowledge that: I was sober, and, I was not doing well.

Truth be told, as I have written my blog over the years, I’ve left out many of the big details in my life’s story, as it’s unfolded, here, on this page. Because, no matter how present we become, there are parts of us that will always hurt when they are seen.

In just a few weeks, I turn thirty-three, my year-long blog project: My Year of Happiness, will reach it’s conclusion, and, should you care at all to know, I am filling out my clothes just fine. — There is no mistaking that I am still here. In the three years since my unpublished post, I never did manage to disappear.

But, a lot has changed in the past three years. Most of it, good. Some of it, painful. But, despite the redacted details, this blog, and its loyal readers, have been right here with me. You have seen a changing life and a small chasm of the world through my eyes. And, so, in the spirit of transparency, I feel obligated to notify those of you that may find this information pertinent, that, in conjunction with the end of my Year of Happiness — so too will end Saucy Sobriety.

I have spent the entirety of the New Year, 2017, brainstorming how to continue writing this blog in a way that could remain true to me. But, I just can’t. I have poured over old posts, tried to find solace in writing new ones, and spent hours contemplating what it will really mean to discontinue a three-year writing project that, in many ways, has defined me. Yet, something in me keeps chiming — It’s over.

And, it was in reading my unpublished blog post from three years ago, that I found my answer: I am thirty-three. I am disappearing.

But, this time, it is not because I’ve lost myself. — It is because I have found her.

Within, I have unearthed something new and exciting. A life where I can be so many things — all of which have nothing (and everything) to do with being clean and sober. It has been many, many months since sobriety has been the cornerstone of my life. Years ago, at thirty, sobriety was the only thing I had to my name. And, this space, this dot com, has been a testament to my own timeline. My change. My growth. My progression. And, my setbacks. — In a way, it has ushered me into a new, beautiful Universe. And, still, it allows me to go back and remember myself when I forget her. Even in those details that were lost between the lines, I am able to see a woman who has Become.

Now, I notice everything. Everywhere I go — I look for the story. — My story.

My life has taken its shape in the little things: Place settings at a friend’s dinner table. The light that fights its way through a thick canopy of leaves. The tired expression that the old man in cowboy boots wears as he pumps his gas at the Sunoco station. — Before sobriety, I was only worried about myself. — How I felt. How my life appeared. How I would survive all the things I was so sure were being done to me.

This blog has taught me to see. To see everything. To disappear into the background just enough to know that I am a part of something that is so much bigger than anything I ever was, or could have been, on my own.

This blog has taught me to find Happiness everywhere.

And, as my Year of Happiness comes to a close, I see that this has been only one chapter in my story. A bridge I’ve written to take me across the things I could not have waded through alone. I had to write them on paper. I had to have you read them on paper. But, with both my feet back on solid ground, I know that it’s time for new projects, bigger projects. — Time for a new story.

So, in some way, three years later, my story sounds more or less the same. I am disappearing.

But, it isn’t the same. It could never be the same. Because, I will never be the same.

Writing these final posts will not be an easy task. It is difficult to know how to say goodbye. — To you, and, to a younger version of myself.

But now, it is important for me that I begin writing a new story, on my own, without an audience. — One that, I know, I’ll sometimes wish I could share with you.

PHOTO: Selfie, My 30th birthday, 2014

 

 

 

 

Phantom Coordinates

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In the car, I have stopped using my GPS.

It happened to me after living in Portland for a few months, too. — The mundane, yet extraordinary, moment when you gaze out over the steering wheel and — you know the road.

Where it leads. Where you can deviate. The stops, shortcuts, speed traps, and turns that will pull you off one course and place you seamlessly onto another. And, even though it has built over time, in the moment, it feels like it happened all at once — like that euphoric three minutes when you finally learn to ride your bike, sailing down the street, without falling  over to one side.

At the post office, I sent a package to an old friend and I wrote my return address on a label with ease. Numbers that, now, are etched on that strange spot in my brain. Numbers that will continue to live here, at this address — even when I do not — in my head, occupying their own room, holding space, long after walking out of it, a home that will sit forever next to all the others where I have lived, and since left behind.

I live here now. Here. Along these roads.

There is a duplicitous feeling, a kind of beauty and terror when you become rooted in place. For me, there have always been three ways to experience home: To Stay. To Leave. To Escape. — And, no matter what state of experience you find yourself living in, it’s a sure bet that you will find yourself surrounded by people who are experiencing that same place in a different way. Namely, if you’re staying — they’re going. And vice versa.

Since returning to New York State, I’ve found myself strangely connected to people that are in various states of transition. And, I do not think that’s by chance. It’s no coincidence the day I realized that I know how to drive myself home from the Colonie shopping center, three different ways — without consulting Siri — many of the people I know or love are in the process of moving on. Leaving New York to begin something new, far away.

It’s been my experience that the Universe will always hold up a mirror and show me what might have been. The Universe will always ask me to choose. — Stay. Leave. Escape. –– In the past, it always seemed easiest to Escape.

Happiness though — happiness is always right where you are. And, that’s the crazy thing about finding your place in the world, and in yourself. You have to stop moving long enough to really see how things are. It turns out, that mirror, the same one that used to tempt you with its possibility, is just a map, showing you all the different routes available. Routes that will, eventually, lead you to the same place.

Like seasons, the ever-changing cast of characters in all the places I have called home, move in and out of my life, marking unpredictable stages of loss and growth. It can be so difficult to say goodbye — to leave behind our phantom coordinates. But now, as I begin embracing all the unexpected people and places that I find myself loving, I realize that — once, it was just as hard to say hello.

Since leaving my parent’s home in September, people have come and go. — Peter abandon Brooklyn for a job with the Department of Justice in Washington DC. Joseph, is packing up the few bags he has, while learning Spanish and saving his pennies for the plane tickets that will take him to Spain in the Fall. And, Jimmy is about to stuff boxes that will be shipped out from Albany and sent to the south side of Chicago.

But, me, I’m on this road — one that, apparently, I have come to know quite well. My rear view mirror reflects back more than what’s behind me. It reveals place itself, infinite in every direction, lines that move us ever forward. And, weaving in and out of the traffic with me — is Happiness.

As dusk falls over Albany, the grey, Winter sky showcases the magnificent, lavender-tinted, East Coast clouds. Each is sewn to the horizon, connected and held together by thin seams of sunlight,  the sky’s fabric falling like a heavy and handsome curtain at the edge of the highway’s stage.

I lean into a bend on the thruway, moving sixty-five miles an hour, under my big, New York sky. And, now, sure of the road, I see it in the infinite space between the lines that run down the center of the lane, these phantom coordinates, and I know  — it wasn’t my GPS that brought me here after all.

 

Carlee, Carlee, Carlee Chameleon

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Carlee, the beauty school director, tells me that she loves my glasses.

“Those are fabulous. I have a pair just like them! I love them!” She squealed. She is thin and wiry and impeccably dressed. A button-less, coral cardigan is draped around her sinewy, sculpted arms. Her white-hot-blonde curls dangle like tight springs at the tops of her shoulders. She was complimenting me, of course, because it is her job. But, I don’t mind. And, she’s right, my glasses are fabulous.

In the true spirit of chameleon-ism, I’m touring an aesthetics institute because, I’m thinking about changing color — again. I’ve been chided, warned, and scoffed at for entertaining this idea, but, I’ve also been patted on the back and encouraged. And, in managing other people’s responses to what I’m thinking about doing, I begin to realize just how much I’ve learned in this past year. And, not just about me.

When you’re a chameleon, color bleeds. You step on one leaf and your leg turns a waxy green, and then, in your next step, your webbed toe turns a bark-y brown. Then, you’re standing on a yellow blossom and your whole torso blooms along with it, igniting like a burst of sunlight. — Our surroundings change us. People. Places. Circumstances. Situations. Everyday, we step onto a new palate of incredible color. And, I can’t help but think, for so many years, all I wanted was to remain in one place. To understand myself in one color. — But, try as I may, it can’t be done.

Carlee holds the grey door open for me as we walk into a stairway of floor-to-ceiling windows. “This is our new space,” she says, “we just moved into this building, only a few months ago.” — I figured as much, because I made it to my interview on time only because I saw the shiny, new building, with it’s giant windows and inviting sign, as I drove by it on route to the old location — the location Google maps still deems accurate. At the top of the stairs, we walked onto a floor filled with classrooms. White, dry-erase boards lined the walls and book bags sat in chairs at empty desks. “The students are taking clients in the clinic today,” Carlee told me, pulling her cardigan tightly around her tiny frame. “And, it’s a good thing! It’s darn chilly up here!”

Carlee is the type of woman you’d expect to say “Darn chilly.” She is peppy, and, her breed of chameleon is chipper and bright. She is wiry, I suspect, because she is designed to pounce on you with unsolicited positivity and cheer at well-timed intervals. Her eyes are an icy blue, and they actually look at you, really look at you, when she is talking. “I hope I’m not going too fast,” she said, “I get kinda excited to show people around the new building. I graduated in 2008. And, I still can’t get over this new space!” Her tiny, one-inch heels click-clacked across the the top of the linoleum stairwell. “Let’s head back down to the clinic. Then, we can chat in my office.” Her eyes sparkled when they met mine, as if to hypnotize me, before she ushered me, with her twiggy arm, toward the stairs.

I watched the students in the clinic. Some were much younger than me, some, much older. They wore scrub-like uniforms with white, slip-on shoes. It was very clean and quiet. I found the whole scene very calming, custom-made for my OCD-like tendencies, tending toward cleanliness and the minimalist. I thought about one of the instructors from the the beauty school I worked for in Portland — Erica. — I recall her flawless skin and her immaculate attention to detail. For Erica, aesthetics were about so much more than appearances. They were about order. Beauty was her way of commanding the universe. And, there, standing beside Carlee, I felt bad for having thought Erica was an emotionless stickler. I see now, this kind of order, this clean and untouched universe, kept her sane.

Back in Carlee’s office, she sat behind her desk gathering materials to place in a white folder for my consideration. Tuition information. Financial aid applications. Course outlines. Scheduling options. And, should I decide to apply, a form to be completed by the person of my choice, serving as my letter of recommendation. She handed me the folder, closed, and looked at me, I mean, really looked. She was like a beautiful, delicately styled, praying mantis. I was not sure if she was going to hop across the desk and eat me, or gaze upon me with her big, icy eyes until I said something. And, then, I felt my color change right in front of her — I became, suddenly, a deep, peaceful, navy blue — a perfect match to the freshly painted, silky walls of her tiny office.

“Carlee, can I be honest with you about something?” Carlee tilted her head to the right, looking at me as if the answer to my question was obvious. “Of course,” she said.

“I’m thirty-two. And, I’m not sure if I’m going to apply for this program. But, I can tell you, I really like it here. The thing is, I’m a NYU graduate. And, that probably sounds like a snobby thing for me to say. But, when I think about investing in attending this program, I think, maybe, I’m too old or too something — like this is a non-sequitur — I don’t know. I’m not sure what I think I am. But, it would be a huge shift for me. And, I just wonder if you’ve had a student or students here that, maybe, sound like me. Because, I’d like to know that I’m not crazy for thinking about doing this. And, it’d be nice to hear it from someone who isn’t, you know, related to me.”

Carlee paused. She laced her manicured fingers together over a stack of manila folders that sat in front of her on the desk. She leaned in a bit, like she was going to tell me a secret, but, instead of talking, her eyes met mine and softened. Now, she appeared more like a lean giraffe than an insect, her neck craning, gracefully toward me. Her swooping curls, tumbled forward from behind her ears and fluttered gracefully at the sides of her cheeks.

“Sarah, I know you probably think I’m here to sell you a seat in this class. And, technically, I am. But, the truth is, whether you apply or not, whether you enroll or not, or whether you walk out this door never to return again — or not — this class will be filled. And, I want you to be here because you want to be here. And, that’s up to you. You’ve got lots of time to think about that. But, here’s my answer to your question. I graduated from this institute in 2008. I was thirty-four. And, when I got here, all I knew was — it sounded good. It sounded like something different. It sounded like something fun. And, it sounded like changing. Changing my life. And, since then, I’ve worked in this amazing industry, and now, I’m the director of this school. I love it here. I enroll girls who are eighteen and I enroll women in their sixties. And, there’s one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty: You’re never too old to want something new, to do something new, to be someone new. It’s great that you have an undergraduate degree. Really, I think that’s great. But, do you think it’s great? Because, if not, you’re never too old to learn something new. — And, if you want to do that here, we’d love to have you.”

In the parking lot, I sat in the idling car and I drank the cold, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee that I’d left in cup-holder to the left of the wheel. The little, plastic, Oregon license-plate-key-chain that reads “SARAH” dangled from the rear-view mirror where I’d hung it the day I drove out of Oregon for the last time. My eyes welled up with tears as I stared down at my shiny, white folder. Filled with clean, white pages, begging for navy blue ink.

The truth is, we can’t know what color we’ll turn next. We can only know that we’re changing. Learning. Painting legs and toes and torsos — with every, beautiful step.

ARTWORK: “Chameleon 2” By Tilen Ti

(www.etsy.com/shop/tilentiart)

Maybe I’ll Be Her For Awhile

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The last time I remember knowing exactly who I was, I was seventeen years old, sitting at my parent’s dining room table.

NYU had made an error. They’d sent out an email, congratulating recent early decision applicants on their acceptance to the university before the applicants had actually received their official acceptance letters in the mail. And, the evening I got my email, I sat in front of my PC, staring at my AOL home page, elated.

That night, long before becoming a drunk, sniffing, snorting, or smoking a drug — my whole body buzzed. I was more of an energetic mass than I was a person. And, for the first time, in maybe my entire life, I felt worthy. The vision of myself, one that I had carefully cultivated and constructed, had not only been validated, but, better still, handsomely rewarded.

I’d bust my ass in high school, and, with one click of my mouse, the Universe — and the the university of my dreams — had granted me my every wish. Suddenly I had become the one thing I had always dreamed I would be. And, for the first time in my life, I didn’t care that I had no one to tell.

I sat at the dining room table, my arms folded on my mother’s textured, green tablecloth, the day’s mail piled beside my right elbow and the large, white, water-pitcher-vase, that served as the table’s centerpiece, beside my left. My parents were still at work. I had two, maybe three hours before they’d arrive back home. Shaking, the news bottled up inside me like lightning, news that I knew was to good to relay over the phone, I didn’t quite know how to contain myself. So, I cried. I cried for a really long time. It felt like hours. Sitting quietly at the table, just feeling. Feeling everything. I felt the possibility in my future. I felt the satisfaction of having been rewarded for performing the hard work — work that I was never really sure would pay off. And, I felt like, maybe, having accomplished this one thing — I could be easier on myself.

Just one email in my AOL inbox, sent in error, suddenly gave me express permission to believe in myself and my ability — wholeheartedly. I felt solid, a beacon of myself, and, I cried because I’d been holding onto all that emotion for years. I’d been waiting. Waiting to be actualized or noticed or forgiven. And, there I sat, and — I didn’t have to wait anymore. At that table, I became everything all at once.

I let it enter me and exit my lungs in loud, lonely sobs. I was everything I had set out to be. And, in that moment, I was the most grateful I had ever been. I thanked God. I whispered promises into the air — promises that were meant to assure the powers that be:

I would hold up my end of the bargain.

***          ***          ***

Six months later, only one semester into my dream program at NYU — I dropped out. Promptly changing schools within the university.

Ever since then, I have waited for a night like the one I spent sitting at my parent’s dining room table. I’ve waited for the moment where I’ll feel  sure about who I am and what I’m meant to be doing. I’ve moved from job to job, relationship to relationship, city to city. But, I’ve never sat so still as I did that night, waiting for my parents to come home. Never since that night have I had a moment where I have been so proud to share something with them — with anyone. And, I have never had the Universe so perfectly deliver me my true heart’s desire the way that email delivered me my childhood dream.

Breaking into 2017, I think about the three months that remain in my Year of Happiness. I think about how, in one of the Christmas cards my father gave me this year, he told me that his wish for me is that my Year of Happiness extends into forever. And, I think about what it really means to know who I am and what direction I’m about to move in next.

As someone who was always the “good girl” — an exemplary student, a well behaved daughter, and a loyal friend and family member — it still baffles me that I ended up being the fuck-up with so little direction. It still surprises me when I remember that, there isn’t anything that lights me up today the way getting into NYU lit me up back then. And, I still feel it in my gut every time I change gears — the ambiguity of my purpose here. Where can I begin to find meaning when I don’t have the slightest idea where to look?

In a way, my Year of Happiness has given me something back, even if it is just a fraction of what it was — not purpose, but, a renewed sense of meaning. So far, these nine months and, I expect, the three that remain, have shown me that purpose isn’t always something specific. And, meaning is relative. Maybe it was always the Universe’s intention that I be an entirely new woman every few months. Maybe the God I thanked, those now fifteen years ago, always intended me to be lost and found and then lost again. Maybe it was never about the goals I set and failed to meet. — Maybe it was always about being the chameleon. — Changing with ease.

New skin is easier to grow into and slip out of these days. And, while I may have dropped out of the acting program at NYU, I am still a master performer. I’ve played many strange and tragic roles. I change casts and costumes whenever I like. I see someone I want to be, and, I don’t think about it — I become her. I move in and out of my own scenes, project new heroines, and think: “Maybe I’ll be her for awhile.”

This January, the tenth month in my Year of Happiness, I intend to celebrate my Chameleon — the actress I became without ever really becoming. Things I have always hated — the ambiguity, the uncertainty, the disappointment — maybe these are all functions of my greatest role. The one I have played so well, that the lines separating us are hardly blurred any longer. Her stage is set, and, I know my mark.

The truth is, you can’t know anything at seventeen. You can’t know who you’ll be or what you’ll do. You can’t know if your dream today is the dream you’ll have in six months or sixteen years. You can’t thank God for something that you delivered to yourself. And, it should be obvious, that you can’t expect anything that arrived in your AOL inbox back in 2001 to be worth a damn in 2017.

But, you can always sit at the dining room table.

Change color.

And, feel it out.

Tripping Across A Lonely Planet

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The first time we tripped on magic mushrooms, we sprinkled them on top of Stoffer’s french bread pizza.

I stood with Colleen* and  Anna at the forest-green island counter in my tiny, East Village studio apartment where the three of us looked down curiously at the plate Anna pulled from my microwave, hot cheese and mushrooms, still bubbling.

“Is this supposed to taste like shit?” Colleen asked, her jaw moving sharply as she chewed in uncomfortable, contorted movements.

“I think so,” Anna said, washing back her first bite with a bottle of cheap, Belgian-style beer. “Maybe we should have made tea with them instead.”

We were all so young, each of us twenty-two or twenty-three. All of us beautiful, rebellious, and lost. Recent NYU graduates with squeaky-clean slates and deep, unfulfilled desires to feel and experience everything. All our dreams were far too large to fit with us in that tiny kitchen. Dreams that, on that particular day, I don’t think any of us knew how we’d move toward. And so, we told ourselves until we found the way, we would just live.

In those days, living meant smoking bongs in the afternoon, writing music on our guitars, and drinking Gatorade in the place of solid meals. Naive, open, and misguided as we all were that afternoon, we still laughed in my tiny apartment with the girlish wisdom of sages. I think about us now and I feel truly  happy to have been the girls we were back then, and, for the women we had no idea we would become.

Even now, I envy our lack of knowing. How our lives, then, so intricately connected, would soon be divided by a decade and the span of an entire country. In the more than ten years since I’ve seen or spoken to those girls, I have aged thirty, maybe more. I have lost more than I thought I’d ever be capable of losing. I have seen and felt great beauty and love that, then, I had no idea could ever be available to me. But, on that Wednesday, in my tiny kitchen, we started alone, with nothing — just each other and our dreams of adventure. — And, of course, our Stoffer’s french bread pizza, topped with psychedelic mushrooms.

*           *          *

It took awhile for the walls to move.

I sat on the huge, red couch my mother bought me, sinking into the soft, doughy seat. Colleen and Anna sat cross-legged on the hard-wood floor. We sipped our beer and waited. Colleen and I chain-smoked Camel Lights, flicking our ashes into a near-empty beer can that already sat in a halo of ash from the night before. The Summer humidity hung in the air and our smoke hung there with it, like a canopy above us.

I was taken off guard when I felt myself shift. Weightless and free, I didn’t even notice that I had stopped worrying about my mounting fear of entering adulthood without any real idea of who I was. But, fear somehow slipped away. And, with each moment that passed, I felt that I had somehow discovered something deeper. — Deep in the moment. Deep in the city. Deep in my own wild and unpredictable heart. — And then, the walls started moving.

At first, spacial shifts occurred slowly and subtly, like water lapping softly on a shore, and then, more forcefully, in bigger, more violent waves. And, before long, I saw Jesus’ face appear on my white wall, like a silhouette pressed into a white sheet. He pressed through the very same wall I had stared at, pure and undecorated, for two years while writing my papers and reading my tomes on Irish history. “Jesus is here.” I whispered to the girls, who were still seated on the floor. And, when he disappeared, I stared for a long time at the spot where he had been, wishing he would come back.

“I miss Pete,” Colleen said, rolling onto her stomach, holding her cigarette in her left hand. “I miss Pete too,” Anna echoed. — Both of their boyfriends at the time were named Pete.

Then, Anna started to cry. Both girls wanted their respective Pete more than any drug induced experience they were having. And, in a surreal and sentimental moment, they embraced on my floor, both acknowledging that, in their altered state, they had somehow managed to fly on the same wavelength. And then, they both reached simultaneously for their phones.

I, however, felt like I had stepped into Alice’s wonderland. I didn’t miss or have any desire to call my boyfriend at all. — I wanted to call my Dad. I wanted to tell him that Lewis Carroll’s world was far better than anything we’d imagined while we waxed poetic on the subject of our shared love of Alice and her magical rabbithole. But, even in suspended reality, I knew it was ill advised to call my Father while tripping on mushrooms.

I left the girls on the floor, walked into my bathroom and shut the door. The pastel tips of my yellow terrycloth towels moved, writhing like tiny earthworms or soft ribbons of seaweed beneath gentle, ocean waves. The lines of my Martha Stewart K-Mart collection shower curtain blurred and tangled like jungle vines, dancing gracefully without having been moved at all. And, I sat alone on the cold floor and watched the black and white tiles slide in and out of box-like formations, a child’s puzzle in motion.

In a moment of unparalleled uncertainty, everything was beautiful. Every movement, simple and intricate. I believed in everything and nothing at all.

When I emerged from the bathroom, Colleen and Anna were still crying about Pete and Pete, both of whom, they’d been unable to reach. I stood over the girls, a giant Alice — the one who grows incredibly tall after she’s sipped from the bottle that reads Drink Me, — and I told them, “I’m going into the garden. Don’t leave this room.” They looked up, barely acknowledging me, lost in their Pete-less grief, and I turned on my heels, walking across my floor, which felt trampoline-like under my feet, bowing beneath my weight, to my apartment door.

In my building’s garden courtyard, the superintendent’s wife had planted wildflowers around the various benches that were placed throughout. Their petal’s perfume crept up into my nose and the sun warmed my skin and the sky opened up like an infinite, blue canvas. Clouds passed overhead, and I watched them, as they swirled in unusual shapes — I could no longer tell what was real and what was imagined. And then, a tiny purple bloom turned into a butterfly and batted away into the sunlight.

   *          *          *

Later, we all came to. We walked in slow motion to a sports pub on Second Avenue where we waited for Pete and Pete to arrive. Colleen and Anna had bonded without me that afternoon, and I sat sipping my Guinness at the long-lacquered, wooden bar feeling like my own lonely planet.

The world had ceased moving in strange, new ways and I had returned to a reality that felt uneven and unsure. I still remember how that glass of stout, with its beveled curve, felt like a handle I needed to hold in order to keep myself from floating away into the Universe. Even on a day when the only notable event was having taken psychedelic drugs, it was still the drink that held me fast, a dear friend on my lonely planet — a planet now filled with drunken men shouting at television screens.

It has always been a blessing and a curse to know more. To have seen all the things that shape us and disappoint us and hurt us. But, still, after all this time, all these years clean and sober, there is something beautiful in remembering that, no matter how far I’ve come, there are pieces of that lost girl, her solitary planet, still within me. I recognize her, curious at her kitchen counter, free in the courtyard sunlight, and lonely at the long-lacquered bar.

All the change that molded us contains, within it, those core parts of us that will never cease to be. The DNA chains that, no matter what we do, remain unbroken.

And, I sometimes when I stare up at the golden sun, flanked by a host of swirling clouds, I wonder if Colleen and Anna feel the exact, same way.

*All names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The Rotten Fruit

2ripeand1rootenapple I was taking big breaths. In through my nose. Out through my mouth.

That’s what you’re supposed to do when you feel like you’re going to lose it.

I don’t usually leave the house before having my coffee, but, on Sunday, I did.

I slipped into my sneakers, pulled my green sweatshirt over my head, and I walked out of the house into the cold. I stood in the center of  the overpass at the highway crossing and let the sound and smell engulf me. Moving air and gasoline. People, all flying forward at sixty-five miles an hour, and me, standing perfectly still. I allowed all the noise to surround me, humming as it rose up from underneath me. And, in that beautiful mess of movement and sound, I let my fingers feel cold and my ears feel numb. I melted. Into place. Into Albany. Into the fence that stops people who are about to lose it from leaping into the traffic below. And, every thought I had, just one more car on the thruway — I allowed a final chance to make its noise.

Thoughts. This past month, I wrote them. Spoke them. But mostly, I thought them. I’ve carried some of them around with me for what feels like centuries, luggage I’d never opened. Because I knew that, if I did,  I’d have to shove every unruly thought back into that damn suitcase. And, they’d never all fit back inside the way they had before. All my thoughts, old and overripe. — All rotting fruit.

I wrote the stories that had been permanent residents in my head, for years. And suddenly, they were all outside me. My bag of fruit, strewn across the highway. And, out of nowhere, came waves of forgiveness. Everywhere I looked, I had been forgiven. Crazier still, I was able to forgive. Finally. I forgave. — The people. The places. The circumstances. — All of us, redeemed. Drenched in blessed water, burst from my leaking pipes in some holy absolution.

When I woke up with a start Sunday morning, I felt them. — New thoughts. New weight. So, I walked out onto New Scotland Road and I stood on that overpass and dumped everything I had, the old and the new, my suitcase of rotting apples, onto the highway below.

Vibrating along with a thousand engines, I let the person I’ve pretended to be fall into the traffic below, with the rest of my trash. And then, I started walking.

I learned to walk in Portland, after my first, traumatic event in sobriety. Miles and miles. Every morning, before I went to work. Every night, when I got home. I walked, dragging my fruit-filled baggage around Reed College campus so many times, I swear to God, there are still grooves in the sidewalk from my worn out Brooks running sneakers. I walked because there was nowhere else to go, nothing else to be done. My therapist at the time told me to stop walking. Both my Achilles had severe tendonitis. She was worried about me. But, I kept on walking. — Because, I knew, medical advice be damned, that I had marathons to trot before I’d feel any better.

And, that’s just it. As the old adage goes: You gotta do what you gotta do.

Sometimes, you have to carry the rotten fruit. Walk with it. Walk to China and back. It’s only after you’ve dragged your bag behind you long enough that you truly know which stories will truly eat you alive. And then, you have to tell them. In your head first, and then, to everyone. You have to let go of the projects you were never meant to have. You have to be the crazy girl who changes her mind about everything ten thousand times before settling on the right thing, which will, inevitably, end up being wrong. You have to forgive. Don’t forget, because, the whole point is learning. But, forgive. Please. Forgive everyone. And then, forgive yourself.

Forgive yourself for being: Stupid. Selfish. In over your head. A punk. A liar. A child. A cheat. A recluse. A thief. And a fraud. — You have to remember that everyone on this planet is just as fucked as you are, and, you have to learn to like that about humanity.

You have to stand over the fucking highway and drop all of your rotten fruit over the edge, because none of it is going to save or serve you. Not one thought or person or memory is going to save you. It’s you who’s going to save you. Your story — however you tell it — is the thing that sets you free. It can be sad or funny or desperate. It can be humiliating or humbling or hammy. But, the thing it can’t be is: Silent. So, scream it. Your stories aren’t meant to be thoughts that bounce around like a pinballs between your ears. It has to be messy. Rotten fruit on the highway.

Sunday, I didn’t end up losing it. I started walking. New Scotland Road to Whitehall to Delaware Avenue. Mascara running. And then, I walked some more, to a coffee shop in Center Square, Albany.

I stood in line with my raccoon eyes, and got an Americano brewed from beans that, as it happened, were from a boutique, Oregon coffee roaster that I used to frequent when I lived in Portland. The barista thought I was cool because I’d heard of them. I fought the urge to tell him how decidedly uncool I am. But, I didn’t. Because, some thoughts — are trash. And trash doesn’t make good banter, but, it does make a good story.

This month, the ninth in my Year of Happiness, and the last in the year of 2016, is about the Stories. All the stories. My stories. Pent-up stories. Maudlin, sad stories. Trash stories. Every story that’s fit to print, and even better, those that are completely unfit. Because, when this year is over, I’m starting over again. And, likely, again after that. I need room. Room for new stories. All the room I can find.

So, if your going to lose it, start with the old thoughts, the old stories — all of them.

Start fresh. Empty your bags onto the highway.

And, when you’re left with the stories you can’t lift high enough to toss over the edge — tell them.

Start with the fruit.

Artwork: “Two Ripe and One Rotten Apple,”  Daniel Worth;

http://danielworthart.blogspot.com/2010/01/two-ripe-and-one-rotten-apple.html

 

 

 

 

Notes In Her Kitchen

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When I arrive, she is standing slumped over a clipboard in her kitchen.

In an hour, the restaurant will be buzzing. Cooks, bartenders, servers. But, for now, it’s just the two of us, and, she hasn’t seen me yet. I’m standing, trying not to breathe, pressing my spine into the doorway, worried that she’ll smell the liquor on my breath.

Though, I know, even when she does, she won’t say anything. She keeps my secrets as well as I do.

 

I watch her for a minute. Scratching out her lists. Her notes. Counting heads. Imagining her plates. I know I have to tell her. But, something about the way she is standing begs me to wait until tomorrow. Something sad and tired in her movements, makes me hurt for her. We are both so tired. — Different things  have left us exhausted.

I decide to wait. It has to be the last thing she hears from me. Not the first. I can’t tell her. Not yet.

Her husband walks up behind me and startles me. He’s got a big plastic tub full of ice. “Hey you! Are you ready for today?!” He shouts, rocking his head back and forth like he’s at a metal show.

“Hell yeah!” I shout back, pumping my fist, as he walks past me into the main dining room. But, I’m not ready. And, before I can face them, I run back to the office and take a long swig out of the bottle of cheap vodka in my handbag.

It’s the hottest day of our Portland summer. We are all sweating, even in the air conditioning. And, when we walk out to the street to set up the restaurant’s booth for the street fair, it feels like walking into a stick of butter. Thick and oily. Even my cigarette smoke hangs in the air like a net. And, as we walk toward the shade of the tent, I have to talk myself out of dying. Not just for my own sake, but for hers.

***           ***           ***

As a drunk, there are moments that you know, without a doubt, that you have let yourself down. But, until that particular day, during that particular summer, I had never truly felt the weight of letting someone else down.

It wasn’t because of something I did or didn’t do. It wasn’t because of an unpaid invoice or because of the liquor that poured from the restaurant’s shelf into my glass. It wasn’t because I couldn’t hack the job, or the people, or the place. — It was because I couldn’t handle myself any longer. I couldn’t be available for all the things that I said I could be. But, how do I explain that to her? How do I explain that I’ve become unhinged? Every time I see her face, it kicks me in the gut. I couldn’t have known giving up on her would hurt like this — giving up on her dream would hurt like this.

She struggled with the blue awning at the left corner of the tent where we sat in the shade. It gave us little relief from the heat. She handed me her stainless steel coffee thermos. “Sare Bear — It’s time. Get me a vodka-soda.” We both laugh. But, my laugh is more an exclamation of my relief than my amusement. I’ve been drunk since this morning. But, now, I have her permission. Permission to forget the heat. — Permission to forget everything.

Under the tent, I sit next to her in a canvas folding chair and we drink our vodka-sodas from thermoses. The crowds haven’t arrived yet. But, the prep cooks keep delivering hotel pans of fried chicken and noodles for us to serve to people that aren’t there. “Fuck this shit! This is total bullshit. We’re not doing this next year,” she says surveying the near empty street. But, I know she’ll do it again next year — because she does what she has to do for her dream, even when she hates it. Even when the process pains her, she is the most utterly committed person I have ever met. I take a sip from my straw and watch her for my cues. I wait for a sign that I can read, because I have learned to read them all.

That’s the thing that kills me about it. I know her. I know when she says one thing and means another. I know when she’s playing it tough, but is headed for a breakdown in the office. I know when she’s going to smile kindly in someone’s face and tear them to shreds the second they walk out the door. I know that she is in love with her kitchen clipboard more than any of us humans. I know how this place tears her apart and lights her up in every minute she stands at her post in expo, looking out over the dining room like it’s the Serengeti, with a line of servers migrating across an empty floor. I know her. And, I know her kingdom is beautiful and tragic. And, there is so much of me that wants to stay.

But, I can’t. I can’t pull it off. Not in the way she deserves. I keep coming back to that promise I made. — I told her I could. — And. I. Can’t.

We press through the day, hot, tired, and drunk. My mind wanders. Floating in front of me like the little clouds of cigarette smoke. Her dreams. Her faith in this place. Her reckless abandon. Her laughter booming through the dining room. Her frustration, held back only by the sliding black door of the the tiny office. Her silhouette, forever bent over a clipboard full of lists. And me, with only one:

Drink. Drink with abandon. No matter who or what you abandon. Drink.

The sun sinks  and my heart with it. I sit alone in the office waiting for her to come back and meet me. My hidden-purse-bottle is empty now, and I bury it deep in the bottom of my bag. I’m still tired and hot and broken. And, I fold myself over my secondhand IKEA desk and weep into my folded elbows. She walks into the office and slides the door closed behind her, because — she knows.

And, she begins to cry too — before I’ve said anything at all.

***          ***          ***

We both sit at the bar with tear stained faces. “Connie, make us both something good,” she says to Conrad, the bartender who watches us lean into each other at the end of the bar. “I love you Sare Bear. And, I’m gonna miss your drunk ass,” she says looking at me and my puffy eyes. I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out and  my eyes well up again. “Oh, get over it, Bitch!” she shouts at me as she pushes my shoulder playfully. Connie places two cocktail glasses in front of us. “Shooter boots too?” he asks, placing little, boot-shaped shot glasses in front of us and pouring out shots of whiskey before we can answer. She smiles at me in her wild way.

Our sentimental moment has passed, and now, like I’ve seen her do a million times before, without complaint, she will regroup and rebuild, as I crumble beside her.

***          ***          ***

When I picture her face, even now, I feel my heart drop into my stomach like a piece of lead. There isn’t a sufficient apology for walking out on her dream, even under the guise of making myself well again. It never seems enough. I read about her in the paper, online, and in magazines. I get a link about her on Facebook. She likes one of my Instagram photos. I send her a viral video of a pug I know she’ll love. But, my unspoken betrayal lurks. It stagnates, like a moat between us. What we shared, is gone.

To make myself feel better, I imagine going  back to the restaurant, early in the morning, before she or anyone else arrives. I creep into her kitchen, still clean, untouched from the night before. And, I slide a note onto her clipboard at her station before slipping out the door forever.

I imagine, when she finds my note, she whispers “Whatta bitch!” And then, she tapes it to the wall above her mise en place, next to all her other love notes and drawings. And, she even smiles a little before returning to her clipboard, where she begins today’s list with: “Cilantro.”

 

 

 

Lots and Lots and Lots Of Light

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A year is nothing. A year is everything.

I look at my calendar, and the West Coast is an entire year away from me now. I still feel like I could turn around and touch it. Though, my calendar won’t show you the same things that my mirror will. Glass reflects me back to myself. I look and feel older, in ways that are both good and bad. In these short, twelve months, I have seen, grown, and lost more of myself than I have in my whole lifetime.

No matter how (un)enlightened I become, I will always be playing this game of cat and mouse with myself. And, I’ve grown accustomed to it. — I think. Visibility will keep me honest. But, I still try to hide. — And so, I begin this second year, here on the East Coast, chasing myself off, yet again, to somewhere new.

After months of dancing in and out of step with NYC’s incredible beat, I’m being tugged back, toward something slower. Trees and highway. Farmland and family.

Living at home is humbling. You see yourself in the place where you were once a child, and in some ways, it makes you feel that you still are one. It’s not just the house, or my parents, or the neighbor girl who was a baby when you left and now, sneaks cigarettes on the stoop — it’s the city. Streets that seem old and new. There are the old memories that I’ve tried desperately to replace with new ones. And, in in the end, I have had to make peace with the fact that memories are memories. There is no erasing or recreating or forgetting. There is only learning, and finding, and adding new faces to a sea of old ones.

But, most of the time, Visibility isn’t about the number of eyes that see you, it’s about the way you see yourself.

As I prepare to move upstate, toggling my time between city and country life until I find a spot to settle, I can feel it — something more permanent on the horizon. The more I see of myself, the more I know where I want to belong. And, knowing what you want, makes it easier to look. I nestle into the nooks and crannies of myself and I see what feels best. But, for the first time in my life, I’ve promised myself that I won’t pretend to know what’s going on. — I’m just going to go with my heart.

As I wrap up this month of Visibility, I realize that the truth about the truth — remains to be seen. It’ll be there, when I get there. And — I’m not there yet.

So, I make plans to move in with my sister-cousin. I imagine us sitting at the island in the center of her kitchen, laughing and crying, because — that’s what we do when we’re together. We see each other. We make each other visible in ways we couldn’t if we were alone.

Her husband makes her eggs for dinner. Her dog licks my feet. Her flood-light invites moths from across the county to hover above her kitchen door. And, we are there, visible to each other — visible to no one.

She sips a glass of white wine and shows me how to use her Soda Stream. My room, up the stairs off the kitchen, is big. It lets in the light. Lots of light. The closet doors are mirrored and I face myself in three, long panels. — Even living out of my travel bag, I look happier here.

So, I decide I’ll take a few, odd writing jobs. I tell my sister-cousin and her husband that I’ll walk their dogs in the afternoon if they want. I’ll run the dishwasher. Fall is coming, and, I’ll rake leaves. And, now, I won’t have to watch Gilmore Girls alone. — After all, we, my sister-cousin and I, are actually Gilmore Girls, though my Grandmother married that name away — it still runs in our blood.

On the couch, one of the dogs looks up at me inquisitively and I inform her that I am, in fact, a cat person. — But, of course, I am open to new relationships. — She jumps up on my sister-cousin’s lap instead. Dogs know instinctively, in a way humans do not, who will love them best. But, I’m not insulted.

I don’t have it all figured out. I hardly know what the next step will be. I don’t even know if I’ll stay in this town. — I don’t know anything. — Maybe I never will. But, if you want to be seen, by yourself — or by anyone — you have to follow the light. And, in the middle of the hardwood floor, facing the center panel of three, long mirrors, I am surrounded by lots of it.

Lots and lots and lots of light.