There is a light that never goes out

This past Sunday, I went to church of my own accord in the first time in roughly eight years. 

I had to use Google Maps to find it, because I’d never been to this church before. I slipped in through a side door, crossed myself, and sat in the corner of the loneliest pew I could find. 

I looked up in awe at the blue and gold and mahogany ceiling, around me at the sunbeams falling through heaven-high stained glass windows. I persistently avoided eye contact with fellow mass-goers, and managed not to smile at the bishop’s dress thing. I sat and kneeled and stood at the right times, quietly leafed through the bulletin, and kept entirely to myself. 

When the men in dresses and funny hats carrying gold religious items had finished, I crossed myself again and left as quietly as I entered. 

I left the same way I entered, but different inside. Hopeful, for the first time in a long time, and considering that I could believe in something other than myself. 

I’ve never wanted to be a huge believer in myself, as being filled with self loathing tends to be counterproductive to such things, but for the past eight years, I’m all I’ve let myself believe in. Refusing to believe in anything but my broken soul left me callous and mocking of faith and believers. I told myself I didn’t need anyone, and I guess after a while I started to believe that. 

Forcing yourself to believe in someone you loathe entirely becomes exhausting after a while, and last Sunday morning, I knew I was too exhausted to keep it up. Something had to give, and it felt urgent.

Something did give, as my foot crossed over the threshold of the cathedral and touched down on white marble; a resistance to change. Something else gave as I tugged on my too-big pants, fresh off a relapse of epic proportions; my steadfast loathing of myself. More gave out when a three-year-old held my hand for a moment and said, “Peace be with you.” The last piece of forced self-sufficency crumbled as I crossed myself with holy water before I stepped into the cool sunlight. 

All I know now is that maybe believing in someone other than myself wouldn’t be so awful after all. I still don’t know if I appreciate god yet, or if god is real, or that people don’t all suck. But I think I’ll use Google Maps again on Sunday morning, cross myself, and sit down in a lonely corner. It couldn’t hurt. 

I think they lost something that they miss
I wanna find that book
Dust it off and read it again
There was hope in the end

-”Have We Lost,” Flyleaf

Aside

Do you ever wake up in the morning filled to the brim with optimism for the day, ready to conquer big things and take on whatever may challenge you? Today I woke up feeling that way, and managed to avoid big things and divert problems to other people all day. I fell dramatically short of that optimism-fueled view of today’s promise. In meager consolation, I have pointed out to myself that I managed to get out of bed and microwave my dinner without disaster. 

I think we do the same thing to life, and to other people. We talk about their achievements, their bright future, and all the big pieces. We believe in them with fervency and need, and grant them separation from other humans in our minds. They are different from the rest, at least to us. 

But then they die. The bright future and big pieces never came all the way to fruition, and we are shattered. All we have left are the little bits. Things like the way they smiled, the noise they made when they laughed. Just tiny little things that set them apart from the others who broke our hearts, too. 

We console ourselves with these little bits, in the same way I tell myself today was okay because I got out of bed. We had all these expectations, but they fell short of them all. Only the little things, the raw pieces of their humanity, are left by which to love them. 

We set these expectations we can never meet, and no one can live up to, knowing full well we will end up with only little things left. So why don’t we just love what is little to start with? 

It eluded us then, but that’s no matter

Two days ago, I was stuck in traffic. I was angry–how dare other people need to commute at the same time I do, on the same roads? Horrifying.

As I broiled at the back of a line of cars, missing a light for the third time, I looked over to the “scenic overlook” on my right. Scenic overlook is an overly grand term for the place; it’s a speck of gravel, two old signs, a low stone wall, and an antiquated picnic table with one crooked side. Sitting there, on the upward facing end of the crooked bench-seat, was a medium, elderly man, reading a medium, elderly book. 

His rusty, greenish bicycle was propped up against the picnic table with a grey, plastic bag hanging from one handle. The sun was setting, and the barren branches of the trees looked a little warmer for its fading light. He paused to look up occasionally, smiling to himself, as though only he knew of a joke being played out upon the rest of us. 

In the four or so minutes I spent sitting there, I began to simmer down, and think. What could this fellow, one of the known homeless in my community, have that I didn’t? 

I mean, I have books, and a bike, and a few plastic bags. But I don’t smile like that. I don’t watch sunsets and rays of light. I don’t read my books. I recycle most of my plastic bags. 

My frustration showed in my thoughts all evening. I was perplexed, annoyed, by this homeless person on the side of the road, who seemed to have something I didn’t.

I wish now that I had stopped and asked him, but I didn’t. I didn’t think someone of his stature in life could truly have something I don’t. Clearly, I was wrong. 

I don’t know what he has that I don’t, but I want it. I want it because I always want everything someone else has. I want it because not having it feels like losing, and I don’t like losing. I want it because everything I want should be mine, dammit, and whatever it is, isn’t mine. 

And a very small, shriveled place of me thinks that maybe I want it because it looked something like happiness–the real kind that you find in a soul, not a box or a bag or a bottle. 

When I was little, I purportedly told someone that I just wanted to be happy when I grew up. That is not at all what happened. The sadness increased with each step of my life, always two steps ahead. 

I have pretty much everything most people think they want. But when they hear me talk about it, they seem to change their minds. Something about the work all day, never play makes them think twice. They hear the frustration of my lifestyle and back away. My lack of contentment and suffocating ambition are tangible, barbed and vicious in nature. It’s a sad way to be, but it’s what I know. It’s the annoying old couch you don’t really like sitting on, but don’t want to replace, because it’s your normal couch. 

My family came here three generations ago with nothing, Jewish refugees from Russia. They built a retail empire and invented things. Each generation has somehow improved on the previous in everything (save taste in men). We are the American dream; my life is the one they dreamed for those to come. 

But it’s sad. It’s always been sad, and we’ve always been sad. I don’t know if we broke the American dream, or if the American dream is broken, or if it’s both. All I know is I spent four minutes looking through the glass at someone else, with so much less than I have, who seemed to have so much more of what really matters in the end.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
-F. Scott Fitzgerald 

On growing up & being the punchline to my own joke.

I don’t know about the rest of humankind, but for me, life has had a way of making me the joke and the punchline. It’s made been the comedian and the butt of the joke at the same time, the funky irony in my own offbeat story.

Growing up, I was always a little socially inept, awkward in appearance, kind of rotund, and very ginger. I thought I’d grow up to have a mediocre life, maybe have a kid and a cat and a guy I adored who was simple and plain like me. I would do simple things, and be happy that way.

Clearly, that didn’t happen. I became a professional athlete. I travelled and had adventures, I became loud and tough and boisterous. I drank and smoked and got in fights and wore tight skirts and low shirts. I retired and jumped on an escalator to the top, because I didn’t need to climb the ladder.

Despite all of that, I still viewed myself as I was growing up. Awkwardly budding, bad in social situations, and painfully ginger.

But lately? It seems like I’m none of that. Somewhere along the lines, I got pretty. Hot, even. (I almost had sex with an NFL quarterback two weeks ago. I’m still on an ego trip.) I became commanding, and charismatic. People do what I say, when I say, and they seem to want to. I walk into a room, and people know it. It’s cool, but weird. I’m not really sure what to DO with any of it.

It’s strange, waking up and realizing you’re not at all who you thought you would be, and don’t look like what you imagined yourself to grow up to look like as a kid. I don’t really know how it happened, or why. But it did, and it’s weird. Sometimes I scare myself now, and I don’t like what I grew up to be. That’s the worst feeling. Other times, I’m immensely proud of myself for accomplishing everything I have with the limitations and struggles that come with my disorders.

I had one map for my life and it seems as though I ignored it entirely. The map is of a different universe than the one I crash landed on. I guess I could go back to the very beginning and map out the opposite of every choice I had planned on, and maybe that would get me close to where I am now. That, or it would have me in jail.

Life is so full of delicious ironies, and my growth is no exception. I have again been the joke and the comedian, and that’s okay.

Punchlines and ironies
swirl through the galaxies,
Like dust in the sunbeams
that slant through our windows,
Heartbeats and molecules,
Geniuses and silly fools,
We’re all at the mercy
of punchlines and ironies.
-Chris Rice, “Punchlines and Ironies.”

In a world of locked rooms…

I hate hearing people describe quirks as “OCD.” Keeping your house tidy isn’t OCD. Putting on your shoes the same way isn’t OCD. Those are habits. You want to know what OCD is?

Me, sitting here, dutifully typing away after 11pm, because that is when it says I can write. Closing the doors in my bedroom three times each before I go to bed. Changing clothes exactly five times a day. Cleaning my teeth three times at night. Ordering my life into neat groups of fives and threes. The fear that missing any of this will end my life in a horrible way. 

The panic attack when my two hour nightly rituals are interrupted for any reason, and starting them all over again until I can complete them in the right order. Losing sleep for a week at a time because I’m fighting a new compulsion, wanting added to the list. 

Never going to sleepovers as a kid because I couldn’t carry out my rituals. Having to adapt my rituals when I travelled for my career as an athlete. Doing things the exact same bizarre way for years. Counting the ice cubes in my drinks. 

Being afraid of opaque containers, juices, bright lights, small spaces, chipped nailpolish, most people, most smells, germs, cash, grimy dirt, aphids, dirty dishes, soapy water, knives, needles, many fish, large bodies of water, sand, red clay, and being dirty. Each of the above having a ritual to make it better and to soothe me. 

It looks like a world full of locked rooms that I could unlock, but I’m too afraid to do so. It’s being paralyzed by irrational fear, and giving in to compulsions that aren’t even sensible. It’s medication after medication, behavioral therapy, and counseling, all failing after a short time. 

It’s having an IQ in the 180s and feeling like a moron because I can’t just go to bed like a “normal person.” 

It’s holding the key to my own escape, but hesitating to put it into the lock. I could unlock the room, and be free, but I could just stay here. I know this life. I don’t know what the other life would be like. I don’t know if I want to know. But I’m holding the key, and that is some solace. Kind of. 

In a world of locked rooms, the man with the key is king. And honey… you should see me in a crown.

-J. Moriarty

 

Sleepless on the marble

Throughout my short life, I have been afflicted with bouts of deep melancholy. Nothing has solved this, and I continue to routinely retreat into its depths.

It’s not a feeling of despair, or desolation; it’s the feeling of every sad parting all rolled into a moment, the feeling of the light never stinging my eyes, the clouds never parting. It feels cool, like a world where the sun has never risen. There is no fight to it, it simply arrives as master. It does not overwhelm anything, because when it is here, it is all that is here. It is a day with no sun, no stars, no streetlights. 

It is being a corpse in a river, cool and motionless. It is navigating a sea of glass with nothing and no one for guidance. It is fullness and emptiness all at once. It is pain, it is pleasure. It is pure, it is perverse. It is depth, it is shallows.

I have resigned myself to these bouts when they occur. They waft in, little feathers of what they are, often when the skies are clouded or raining, but not always. They do not stay long, perhaps a week or two, and leave as gently as they come, drifting off lazily in the breeze. 

It is only in these bouts that I feel I am an authentic human being again, and vulnerable to the intricate graces of our blue and green marble. That is why I stopped fighting them. Melancholy is a very raw way to be, and being raw makes feeling everything else so much easier. It takes away any choice I have in the matter, and makes me feel what I perhaps would shy from otherwise. The feeling is not always a pleasant one, but it is always one I need. 

I have plenty of time to think when I am melancholy, because I cannot sleep. I can rest, and quiet my mind, but I cannot truly sleep. I can feel everything in the peace of the dark. 

Being melancholy has never failed to remind me of me, and this bout has been no different. I know it is leaving now, but until it does, I am sleepless on this marble, and I am reminded. 

Long walks in the dark 
Through woods grown behind the park, 
I asked God who I’m supposed to be.
The stars smiled down on me, 
God answered in silent reverie. 
I said a prayer and fell asleep.

-Priscilla Ahn, “Dream.”

On snow, my person, and having coffee with demons.

I hate the snow. 

Where I’m from, snow means mass hysteria and a rush to get milk and bread at the grocery store. Businesses close for days, and I’m stuck inside moping. 

Snow pauses everything, and forces me to pause my frantic rush. When I pause, everything I’m running from has time to catch up to me and sit down for a chat. It forces me to once again confront my past and use my soul to think. I don’t like to think, and I don’t like to pause. 

Though I am fierce, I have found that I am still too small to change the weather, and thus, for the past two days, I have paused. I have had coffee with my demons in the sunroom, overlooking the silent, white landscape, and I have been exceedingly unpleasant about it. 

I have whined about everything from snack cakes to theology to aliens to social media to Valentine’s day. I have thrown almost all of my clothes into the laundry because I was too angry to fold them and put them away. I have refused to do the laundry because I just don’t fucking want to do the laundry. I have bitched and moaned about everything on this damned white continent. 

Yet somehow, through my whining, one little glimmer of truth shown through, and that’s why I’m sitting here, typing. (I’m angry about it.) 

For the last, oh, three years, I’ve been on a frantic search to find THE perfect significant other for the moment. I wanted someone to share life with, to say good morning to every morning, to tell I loved them every night. Someone safe, who made me feel at home, and who felt at home with me. Being a little naive and young, I assumed that this perfect human being had to be someone I was romantically involved with. 

So, two years ago, I met a super cool girl, and she’s been my best friend since then. We talk every single day, and always say good morning and good night. She knows me inside and out, and I know her just about as well. I can be totally honest with her, and she can be totally honest with me. I would fight in a land war in Asia for her, which is a joke most likely only she will understand. 

It didn’t occur to me until I found the perfect romantic interest, and… just wasn’t that interested. Sex isn’t incredibly interesting to me anymore, having had quite a lot of it, so all I really need from anyone is an emotional connection and honesty. And while he offered that, it just didn’t seem that exciting or enticing or new. I realized that I already had that, and I’d just been missing it because I thought it would look different.

Despite frequently being asked if we’re an item, we are not and will never be. It’s just not like that. It’s kind of better than that, because we’re completely honest without needing any sort of romantic reason to be there for each other all the time. 

It’s cool. I like it. I think it’s why I’ve finally decided I don’t really need a romantic relationship. There’s nothing there that could be better than this. Maybe someday I’ll have room for someone else, but not now. I don’t need anyone else. Just me and my person, facetiming while sledding and sending illegible sleep texts. 

It is things like these that rise to the surface when I am forced to pause and have coffee with my demons. Whether it is sickness or snow or traffic, I hate it because it makes me think and learn from them. I begrudge their advice, but I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe we should start doing this more often. 

 

On time, pearls, pews, and a really shitty cake.

Some people say time heals all wounds, some say it just wears you down. But I don’t think time is what has worn me down. 

You know what I think it is?

I think it’s been keeping a horrible silence for fourteen years. I think it was losing my childhood to a very real monster, not the kind you can turn on the lights and frighten away. I think it’s being ashamed of feeling too ashamed to say anything. I think it’s the bad day that just won’t end, no matter what little rays of sunshine poke through. I think it’s getting out of the shower and seeing old scars brought back to the surface. I think it’s the fear of going out in public in case I see the monster again.

Or maybe that loud noises and fast movements still terrify me. That I can’t look through an old scrapbook without seeing a possessive figure lurking behind me, daring me to save myself. That I hear and smell and see things that terrify me, and I can’t remember why, because my brain removed the memories from my conscious mind to protect me from something too horrible to relive on purpose. That my subconscious betrays me in my sleep by breathing life into those same memories. 

And when people tell me I shouldn’t talk about a decade of my life because it’s shameful and I need to quit being a victim is really the icing on the cake. 

Time has no more to do with this than my palm tree. It’s the shameful silence that has worn me down. I have been dragged through hell and back but keep it all locked up tight, because it might make someone clutch their pearls and feel uncomfortable. We can’t possibly have that. No, let’s ignore these predators, lurking in the godforsaken pew behind us, and just carry on. Surely, it’s the exaggeration of a troubled child. 

The silencing of the screams of children is what has worn me down. How dare you silence the truth and shame them for their pain. How dare you silence me, and shame me for my pain. 

You know what? I’m going to be quiet anymore. I’m ending the bad day, and starting a new, shameless one.

Those bastards can clutch their pearls all they want. Maybe it’ll give them a firm enough hold on something to be able to remove their heads from their asses. 

 

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.
-Khalil Gibran

 

Follow the stars

I’ve always had this thing about the stars. When I travelled all the time as an athlete, I never really had a place to call home. That’s kind of a lonely feeling, especially as a kid. The one thing that kept me anchored somehow, to something, were the stars.

In any city, state, or godforsaken back alley leading to a dive bar, I could look up, and see the stars twinkling in the night. A thousand, million little diamonds, guiding my heart home. No matter what was going on, I could always find peace in the sky. They look so tiny and beautiful from down on earth, but they’re all so vast and hot and timeless up there.

They were home, and a reminder that even tiny things could be big if you looked at them the right way.

No matter how lost I felt in my own mind or poor choices, I could look up, and know it was going to be okay. No matter how filthy I felt, how addled my addicted thoughts were, and no matter how young I was, they were always with me.

When I feel lost now, I flip on my blinker on my drive home and pull into a little dirt driveway. It doesn’t lead to much; supposedly the land behind it is supposed to become a nature preserve, but that’s never going to happen. At the end of the driveway, on a bit of a hill, there’s a big rock shaped kind of like a bean bag chair. I park my car, turn off the lights, and take a short hike to the top of the hill and my rock.

Even if the wind is whistling and cold, I feel warm and at home. I feel complete there. The stars are the one constant I have.

But yesterday, as a familiar feeling of filth and loss creeped into my bones and flooded my veins, I couldn’t see the stars. They were gone. The sky was a smoky pink and blue swirl, dull and devoid of light, like a velvet box without a ring. It was horrible. Home left me, sitting on the side of the road, crying. The world is so huge, and I’m so small, and dirty, and lost.

Helplessness has never engulfed me so wholly as in that moment. Without the light, I can’t see through the dirt covering me. There is nothing to shine on the tiny bit of gold in the middle.

Tonight, they’re gone again. The stars seem to have left me, much like everything else I’ve loved. I am alone in the dark. I was a refugee seeking shelter in the light, and now, I have no light to seek.

I feel so lost.

Seventy-three coupons and a mission

Have you ever googled pictures of galaxies? You should. 

When I look at a galaxy, I’m reminded inevitably of the human race. So many unique little features, sparkling lights, dark voids–and all doing something, in some way, to change and create the structure or life of their galaxy. 

Humans are like that. Every human being has the power to change the world. We are all parts of a whole, and just one little action can change the entire direction of the whole. Smiling at the sad person on the corner might have changed the day of a person who needed their day to change so their life could change so they could change our world by curing the common cold. That insult thrown at the weirdo in middle school might have triggered a spiral of insults they threw at themselves and sank their ship. You just never know.

Every action can inspire or destroy, and change the course of human kind. 

Someone told me I was worthless; I believed them. And because I believed them, I always wanted to prove to myself that I was worth anything. So, I changed a sport, graduated 18 months early with a 4.0 GPA, became the youngest person in leadership in a company’s history, fed 2300 people, wrote a book, saved three lives, and can go a week without chipping regular nail polish. 

 

Someone asked me if I was OK once, and I told them “no, but I will be.” They didn’t seem to care, but if they hadn’t asked, I never would have answered. And if I’d never answered, maybe I never would have thought I could be OK. I’m OK now.

Teeny little things can change everything. I’m not saying you constantly have to spew plagiarized quasi-inspirational quotes from Tumblr, but just be the good thing in someone’s day once in a while. Maybe smile an extra time, or say you like their shoes. Pat them on the shoulder if they’re crying. Give them a commiserating look when you can tell the person in line in front of you with seventy-three expired coupons and a mission is annoying them as much as you. Or help the person with seventy-three expired coupons and a mission. Whatever. 

Ghandi said you should be the change to wish to see. I say go a step further and initiate the change you wish to see, too. Be the person who changes someone’s day who needed their day to change so they could change the world. 

Be part of the whole. Be a sparkling light in your galaxy. Illuminate the dark voids. (And seriously, google galaxy pictures, cause they’re cool.)