you are my Sunshine

the sun SOM

Hey, Sunshine–

I don’t know why you decided to pop up in disguise to my friend, but I’m glad you stopped by.

But can I say this now, with the confidence I never had when you were around:

Dude, you’re a fucking weirdo.

You must have known that I had been thinking about you–although just in passing…while I was waded in the murky marshes of Mercury’s  retrograde motion.

You really got us, man. We’re those way-too-serious Saturnian types. So you loosened our prim ponytails and lassoed us with your Jupiterian jokes.

Child of Purim, I’ve wondered if were we ever this jokey in the last millennium?

Yes and no. But isn’t that the classic answer of true-blue Maroons?

It’s that our jesting was poisonously laced with a bit of stubborn, respectful sobriety, a little too much reality.

Too much humble earth, not enough raucous light and connective illusion.

Yet once we faced it, in your student ghetto apartment–

you stood by the window, garish street lights illuminating you like some wearisome ghost of carnality, and, oh god–

I wanted to be haunted.

We chose to solemnly spoon, sighing and whimpering into a long-standing, unyielding no.

We’d live in the smothering blankets of our sticky insinuations.

But damn–did I respect you for respecting me.

And then, somewhere north along a long, dark boulevard, I saw you again, that one last time, with Neptune’s ziploc bag of herbs.

“I have a cold,” I said as we sat on my bed, looking at each other with steady eyes and wry smiles.

We both knew what that meant.

Sitting in Lula’s on a lonely, empty night, underneath those dim, white Christmas lights, eating dessert.  I was still so fucking high-strung.

I couldn’t relax into the moment, into you…

And you knew that, and you wriggled, far East and away, in your weird fishy way that drove me mad.

“calm. down.” you wrote replied to me after I wrote you some long screed of worry.

I know now you were feeling all I felt, even more than I could or even express, and how that feels like an inescapable rogue wave of emotion.

If I had only known that I was a seagoat and you were a fish…I would have swum differently…

So you showed up on Friday night in old man cosplay. I can only assume where you are now has surprised you as an atheist–

(can you even call yourself that anymore?)

Well…it’s not over…is it?

Maybe you showed up in tweed and pipe because you’re Classic that way.

And maybe that’s what you wanted, in the end, here.

I wanted that for you, too. I assumed. I fucking assumed.

And when I went to look you up, knowing you wouldn’t be caught dead on Facebook…

I didn’t expect to catch you dead in a ditch.

How banal, darling.

You always had some cantankerous old man, screeching inside of you. And you had probably seen a lot that a kid didn’t need to see, before we met in the middle of Jenny’s genius talks and in the never-ending parade of Echo and the Bunnymen t-shirts.

I knew there was more to it, to you–

And then I learned that you were mad because the world wasn’t fair. Shit, I was just as mad.

An alluring anger burned between us that could never be cooled.

There’s so much I’m leaving out here–besides that we couldn’t quite sync up.

But really, all that there’s really left to say is that you were there for me when I needed you, not when I wanted you.

So, for now, we travel endlessly on this Möbius strip of grief.

And, just so you know, I’ll never have a cold again, but it doesn’t matter now…

I just wish it did.

 

If you liked what you’ve read, I’d love your support as a patron on Patreon. Tiers starts at just $1/month. 

If you want to give a one-time gift or monthly gift, hit me up on Paypal.

Thanks for your support! 💘

Advertisements

newton’s cradle of grief

newton's cradle.gif

This month has been a lot for a heart to take and to process.

A massacre. A rock legend’s death. Potentially hundreds of people dying in on an island with barely any power or not enough clean running water. The exposure of sexual harassment and assault at the hands of one movie mogul. The cascade of stories of survival and the exposure of other perpetrators. Wildfires destroying more acreage than the size of New York City.

Another rock legend dies from brain cancer last night.

I took yet another break from Twitter because I was starting to sound shrill and sucked into this vortex of pain and anger. For me to leave because of an emotional contagion is saying a lot, because that’s not usually my bag. The people I am friends with on Twitter are my main community, which I am chagrined, but they are real people, real people who really matter. So it’s kind of a big deal to me when I’m not there.

And I’m not the only one who has left for Twitter for a spell. It’s more than OK to take a break from things when they aren’t serving you.

I also left because astrologically, Mercury is conjunct Jupiter in Scorpio and I wanted to focus more on improving my writing and editing business, to dip my silver tongue in the stars and say all the right things to all the right people. But emotionally, I’ve been a lot distracted, even with my sabbatical from Twitter.

And actually, Mercury conjunct Jupiter, in Scorpio, has probably created the climate of this fixation on sharing pain and anger.

And my heart just pours over…

Gord Downie’s death last night was one that Canada has been bracing for since he announced his battle with brain cancer and the subsequent final tour with his band, The Tragically Hip. It was a band I knew about back in 1996. I loved the song, “Ahead by a Century,” but I had no clue how big the band was in Canada and how much Downie meant to his nation. I learned a lot about that last year.

It’s weird how his death allowed me to shed at least one tear for Tom Petty. I’m listening to him right now (Highway Companion, for the record) and I can finally do that a little more, listen to his music. It’s like all the pain and trauma from this month is in a Newton’s cradle. This new loss of Gord Downie, and the grief of a whole nation, knocks through all the grief from before and starts at the grief at the beginning of the month.

I can’t even comprehend what happened in Las Vegas, though. It’s unfathomable, even though people die of violence here, and elsewhere, every day. What’s going on in Puerto Rico is closing in on genocide due to chosen negligence.

My conscience is seared all the way around, but maybe it’s the only way to get through the day so I don’t collapse under the weight of the all the pain and sorrow that’s been very heavy lately. It’s fixed, like Scorpio energy can be.

And then there’s my own stuff.

Not to roll out the scroll of my own suffering, but living here has been triggering memories of living with my family of origin, of how unpredictable it was due to living with someone who has untreated mental health issues. That came to a(nother) head today when I once again woke at 5:30am in the morning to the smell of brewing coffee, which derailed my whole day. It took forever to go back to bed, and then I woke up too late.

If something gets tripped up like that, over and over, to mean it means it’s time for healing. So today, I was planning on doing some work-related things, but today was a day to work some of those old emotions out: forgiveness and self-compassion and grief and anger.

New things knocking around old things.

And I imagine that’s what it’s like to hear these survivor stories–being triggered as others tell their stories. I only hope that healing can occur as Newton’s cradle of grief goes back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

This may sound really rah-rah and strident, but in this increasingly fixed and stubborn energy, I want to think about solutions. Especially if you’re any kind of marginalized person, you already know the world is a fucked up place. You’ve tried, in your own way, to heal yourself, to bring healing to your corner of the planet. Yet sometimes Twitter can just become an echo chamber and all you can hear are endless screams and cries and groans and yells. It could be an empath’s burden, feeling everyone else’s feels so easily. But one can only feel so much…

As I was telling a friend today, I’m so tired of hearing people glibly say that we’re all gonna die. I’ve gone through hell and back too many times for that sort of existential resignation.

I don’t have any overarching solutions right now that don’t involve a lot of money–as my friend today has surmised. So right now, the best thing I can do is to make sure I can make some so I can donate to causes that support marginalized people, i.e., take care of myself so I can take care of others.

What else can I do?

I love the people who love me back hard.

I continue to find compassion for myself as I look at my old stories with fresh and kind eyes.

I try to push back the dark, rolling clouds of doom that tried, and failed to overwhelm me today.

I keep hope close to me, but not too close so it smothers me with exaggerated optimism.

I cry if I need to.

I attempt to be more grateful and rejoice if and when I’m successful.

I look for the threads that hold things the good things together. Tie those thread tighter.

I do the best I can and know that it’s enough.

I can even look forward to things, like having my own family and not living here and/or in Florida anymore.

For now, I have to focus on the work that’s in front of me, which includes fighting to be here and not drowning in doom. If I’m sleep deprived like I am today, it can be really hard. But the fight is worth it.

To find joy and hope in the midst of immense suffering can seem impossible. But in order to survive and really live, it’s necessary.

May we all keep fighting to be here and to be happy, loved, and safe.

If you liked what you’ve read, I’d love your support as a patron on Patreon. Tiers starts at just $1/month. 

If you want to give a one-time gift or monthly gift, hit me up on Paypal.

Thanks for your support! 💘

“I accept that”/the lost tribe

acceptance1_SOM

Lately I’ve been binge-watching the outlaw biker show, Sons of Anarchy, and one of the minor characters, Chucky, says the title a lot. He’s got…some issues. If you’ve watched the show, then you know what I mean. It’s clear that he’s been in a lot of therapy that had some Eastern/Buddhist leanings. As a sidenote, I find it really intriguing how new age/spiritualist messaging has filtered through pop culture.

I woke up this morning thinking about that phrase: “I accept that.” As the new moon in Aries starts a new lunar cycle, I definitely feel the urge to start again, to leave the past behind.

What am I actually accepting today? That, in this Venus retrograde season, where we’re reviewing what we value, and that includes relationships, there’s no going back to the glory days of my relational life–and that would be college, where I found my people, people who valued a rich interior life, people who were really thought, really snarky, and really there for me.

I accept that most if not all of them miss me the way I have missed them. I’ve been living in mourning since I left and returned to college to finish. That’s at least 17 years of sorrow. Life happened the way it did, and even though I’m friends with people from college on Facebook, it’s not the same. We’ve all gone on with our lives–without each other.

Case in point: I noticed that my first year roomie, a fellow Capricorn, was in town on vacation while I was in grad school. I reached out to her, met her son–it was fun. But, it wasn’t the same. Later, I reached out to her during one of my many hard times down here, and I got some kind, almost condescending “there there” words, but no real help. Whatever real friendship we had dissolved in the seas of time.

Currently, she’s doing really well, working in municipal government. I’m torn between being proud of her, being insanely jealous of how her life has been so stable and rewarding, and just being tired of putting any emotional thought or concern into her or her seemingly fabulous life whatsoever. I’m pretty sure it’s all of the above.

Multiply that times a few people, and it’s a constant emotional drain, like a pipe that’s been leaking for a while, and then all of a sudden, a pipe bursts. I wistfully look back on these relationships that were supposed to matter–that’s the bill of goods you’re sold as you go into college and graduate school, that these will be lifetime friends. I don’t really have any.

Add to it that it’s very hard to make friends post-college, then I wonder if finding a lost tribe is possible, or worth it. Adulting is hard enough, but it does help to have some semblance of support.

Earlier last week, I thought of how school past junior high was always full of conflict. All these lifelong friends I was supposed to have do not exist. What I have instead are boring acquaintances. I get to see their babies and their spouses and their vacations and all the curated happiness they allow to filter through their Facebook feeds. No tinges of intimacy.

Another story: a friend of mine and I connected on Facebook a few years ago, and I spilled my guts about a mutual friend who basically cut me out of her life because I was a little too Mercury in Sagittarius-blunt about the death of her father. I said she must be glad about it. Maybe she had come up in conversation–I’m not sure why I brought it up. Usually, I don’t disclose things without a reason.

That other friend and I had seemingly parallel lives, and we bonded on that. Friend #1 reacted like I had uncorked bad wine–she was compassionate, but it just seemed like time had rolled on, and that I had spewed some irrelevant vinegar all over her. I had apologized to Friend #2, but it’s definitely up to her to accept, or to not accept, my apology, or to forgive, or to not forgive me. I did the best I could with my antidepressant-addled brain, making my way on my own painful journey. When ours intersected at her father’s death, we abruptly parted ways. And all I can do now is shrug. I’m done mourning what can’t be undone.

I don’t think I won’t meet people like the ones I met in college again, but there won’t be the same shared sense of mission, of collective awakening that seems to happen only in college. We were all writing our own bildungsromans, together, being the major and minor characters in our life stories. And with my family’s drama dragging me down, I missed out on the final chapters that my friends were writing. I had faded into an apathetic background, into obsolescence.

But this is what I accept: if my story was meant to be any other way, it would have been so. I fought hard to stay in school and get back into school, and most of those friends fell out of touch during that time. I did the best that I could with the resources that I had. And, if I had mattered more, people would have stayed in touch. The only person that kind of kept in touch years after I had left is dead. So, that’s that.

I’m frowning as I write this because acceptance isn’t necessarily some pain-free experience. I’m sad that a lot of the human condition I’ve experience involves losing a lot of people–or maybe never really having them at all. So much of my time was recovering from familial wounds. So maybe the better term is acquiesce. I reluctantly, but without protest, accept that I’ve lost way more people than I have kept.

I’ve been ruminating about how I had been framing my life here as an isolated one, as someone who is completely emotionally destitute. This support group I’ve been attending for the past few weeks at first seemed to be my local only lifeline. Now I’m not so sure.

I skipped two times in a row because of allergies and because of writing deadlines. I didn’t miss the group, and yet I made myself go last week and it was canceled when I was just 10 minutes away. I didn’t miss the group because the last two times I shared about my life, it just seemed to not land on any place of understanding. And it hurt, doubly. Sharing with strangers isn’t easy, but the lack of response is a sort of rejection. Yet I was definitely missed. I received text messages from a couple of people wondering where I was. It was nice, but there wasn’t a mutual sense of being missed.

I don’t know what that group will mean to me in the future, if I will go this week or ever again. And that’s 100% completely fine with whatever outcome comes to being (yes, I’m saying that more for my own edification). I probably needed this group to realize that I’m not as bad off as I think I am, even if these people will definitely not be the lost tribe that I am looking for.

And that’s why I have gone back to my college years, in my mind, when I was able to share deeply and intensely, for hours, and not get blank stares in return. It was a special time, but I live in a different time now. I accept that.

Also: I am finally learning some fucking discretion about who I share my life to. Those recent heartbreaking and honestly embarrassing group experiences reminded me that most people will not care about the quotidian details of my life. There’s something I’m currently going through that only one person knows about–which is not really normal for me, but it feels mature and normal now, to value myself, my life, my desires, my passions, and to share them with people who do the same.

Maybe, most of all, it’s that I do have good relationships with people online. It’s not the same as being in the flesh with folks, but it has been enough for a while. I kept making my life wrong and empty and less than by valuing in-person relationships over just relationships in general.

I accept that this is the path I’m on. It’s not the one I’d actively choose for myself, and many times it’s unpleasant and soul-crushing. But I’m doing the absolute best that I can. I accept that no other relationships are going to rise from the dead and be as awesome and as close and as meaningful as the relationships I have in my life right now. I’ve tried, and it’s just…never the same.

Having a tenderhearted Cancer moon that really values relationships and the past-I’ve wasted that precious emotional side of me exerting a lot of effort into dead things, like my past. As alive as it can be in my life, it’s so very, very dead. All of it. It got me to where I am now, but I’ve been living in the cemetery of my youth for such a long time. I accept that my life still looks like the remnants of a forest fire, still smoldering, still raining ash. I also accept that through all that fire, fertile soil is underfoot. Seeds have been planted. Sprouts are appearing and will continue to appear.

So, with the newness of Spring, of Aries season, and of this new moon in Aries tomorrow, I welcome more new life, new chances to be understood and seen and heard, and new chances to not waste time on trying to revive dead things. I can instead use the rich organic matter of pain and loss as the fertilizer for new dreams and a new life. I don’t have to wait. It can start right now. I’m not dead: only my past is.

P.S. I am baking apples because I hate Gala apples and I accidentally picked some up. I saw the number 55 (which means big changes coming) right before I returned my cinnamon onto a shelf. While I did that, I brushed passed a favorite mug of mine. It crashed and broke into a musical explosion. Holding onto my past is like holding onto a shattered mug. Instead of holding onto those broken pieces, or trying to glue them back together, I swept them up and threw them away.

If you liked what you’ve read, I’d love your support as a patron on Patreon. Tiers starts at just $1/month. 

If you want to give a one-time gift or monthly gift, hit me up on Paypal.

Thanks for your support! 💘

Be careful what you wish for…

A gardenia from my backyard

A gardenia from my backyard

I took the above picture in a prolonged fit of rage. I was practically screaming on social media, but it almost felt like I was watching myself rage. Still, I had a student from my comp class lie and go to the dean’s office complaining about his failing grade. I never knew how much lying would make me angry, though you couldn’t hear it in my voice on the phone. I was ever the professional, calmly explaining myself. After the phone call, where I was on speaker with the student and the dean’s administrative assistant, I went outside and took some pictures of the flowers. Some of them I knew, like my favorite fuchsia bougainvillea, purple morning glories, and the gardenia above. And a couple them, I didn’t know. Grounding myself in nature, I was able to semi-reset and go back to my other job of technical writing.

Since August 2012, I’ve moved five times, and where I live this time is closest to work and, for the most part–besides a landlady who likes to visit at unannounced times and pilfer things–it’s drama-free. Even how I just minimized this current landlady’s foolishness shows me how much I’ve changed in the almost three years I’ve lived and endured down here in Florida.

It’s not that bad.

When I was going through the emotional and financial upheaval that I wasn’t really counting on to happen because I had decided to “follow my dream” and write my memoir about growing up…somewhere along the line, I didn’t like who I was becoming. Embittered. Brittle. Rigid. Dry. Some time in there, I had asked over and over to be more grateful. Maybe because I was tired of hearing my own long-winding song of woe. Maybe it was to spare others of the oft-repeated refrain.

And then things got worse. Much worse.

An eviction. Horrible roommates. School drama: betrayal, an extra semester, and more student loans. More horrible roommates. A job loss. Homelessness. A landlady who nickel and dimed me. No more car.

When I was thinking of blogging about gratitude here, I had either just come back from Target after I had gotten a ride from Uber, or I was making toast in the toaster oven, and then spreading the soft, spreadable butter (with 50% less calories) and sprinkling cinnamon sugar. I wish I had written this in that warm moment, because I felt like I was overflowing with gratefulness, like a honeycomb being peeled open with a warm knife.

And maybe that list of compounding disasters is all it was: a hot knife flaying off the wax of my life.

As pretty as that picture looks, it was a lot more painful and ugly than the picture connotes.

Yet theres is no other way I could be so full of gratitude over things like cinnamon toast (I had some today, too) if I didn’t start on the ground floor of my hierarchy of needs–food, shelter, transportation. This excruciating stripping process is not anything I would wish on anyone, though–especially for myself. All I was trying to do was desperately looking for a silver lining, some cord of hope to hang onto until all these storms passed.

But this is where I am now, still on the ground floor, looking for the elevator to take me up a floor. It almost feels luxurious to be mad about a student’s lies and to actually go take pictures of flowers to decompress. I look forward to being upset about a bird crapping on my car, of not being able to find a shoe I like in my size, the restaurant being out of my favorite wine, a flight being overbooked, a concert that I can afford being sold out, going with my second choice of fabulous places to live, impatiently waiting for an amazing guy that I just met the night before to call me, having to reschedule a doctor’s appointment…

Although I am grateful now, I look forward to being normal again. Yet with all those losses and heartbreaks, etched indelibly into me, it will not be like how my life was before I moved down here. It will be a new normal–one I hope not to ever take for granted and one that I am already welcoming in, one flower petal at a time.

If you liked what you’ve read, I’d love your support as a patron on Patreon. Tiers starts at just $1/month. 

If you want to give a one-time gift or monthly gift, hit me up on Paypal.

Thanks for your support! 💘

If it’s a car you lack, I would buy you a Cadillac…

This is pretty stream-of-consciousness and loosely structured. All apologies.

2015-03-04 07.16.25

Sunrise and fog (which you can’t really see)

The title of this blog post is a lyric of one of the songs I was going to sing in a chorus I joined two months ago. It’s from “Thank You for Being a Friend.” Yes, that’s the Golden Girls theme, but it’s also a song from 1978 by Andrew Gold. When we sang this for the first time, the alto section leader laughed and nodded her head at me because I had recently asked for a ride to practice. Yes, that was embarrassing.

I was going to sing that, plus other songs for a show in June to celebrate the chorus’ 25th year of existence. Instead, one full moon ago, on February 3rd, I had to give up my car. My ride to the chorus decided to drop out yesterday. After that, I also decided that with this city’s abysmal public transportation, I couldn’t continue with the chorus.

In a long list of things I’ve had to give up to be here in Florida, for survival, the chorus doesn’t hurt as bad. I am disappointed, but I was only in it for two months. The car, though–it took a whole lunar cycle to talk about it publicly. That’s more to do with my growing reluctance to share my chronically crappy life on Twitter, and that’s a good thing.

I don’t necessarily regret what happened. If I have to be cliche, I’ll say that I learned so much from this ordeal. So let’s start from the beginning.

I bought Bluebelle with I know now as an underwater loan, but I didn’t really want her. I set out to buy the cheapest car on the lot, some white Paseo that cost like $6000. But my cousin was like, “No, no, no…” and lead me over to some more current Corollas. Of course, he’s not the one paying for the car. Buying a car can be a traumatizing, draining experience, and this was my first. It took a few hours and I felt like I was being bamboozled by everyone and my resolve crumbled. It was hard to be on own my side when I had to go to the first day of class the next day and my cousin worked–time pressure. I had been a proud pedestrian in Chicago. Down here, though–I am living in the sprawl. I had to have a car. If I ever had a regret, it would have been to push back. I’d’ve paid off my car by then.

Bluebelle, my car, got me around quite well, but it was a struggle to pay for it while being a grad student and a fellow who could not work more than 20 hours a week on a shitty stipend and not working until the beginning of my second year. I downsized my living situation (read: faced eviction) in December 2013. I felt like was a money pit, but really, I was just seriously poor.

Then the following September, almost two months after graduation, I had to leave a rather abusive, tough housing situation. I had lost my job in July and my part-time grant writing position had just started the week before. Rent for that month hadn’t been paid yet and I had been trying to hustle up something. That started my month-long journey in homelessness which I may write about one day. I still had my car, which held a lot of my stuff.

Around the same time, I started going to church–a more woo woo spiritually inclusive church (read: yoga and Reiki and past lives, oh my!) It was actually good timing since my life was imploding. One afternoon, after attending Tuesday noon prayer, I walked out to my car. I was parked by the music director. She had walked out with another church staff person. I forgot the conversation we were having, but the staff person offhandedly said with mouth agape and eyes widened, “Whoa, are you living in your car?”

“Sort of.” I explained how I was bumming around the city and drove off to a coffee shop to work. I don’t really remember too much embarrassment from her or the music director, but I could tell that she wasn’t expecting my answer. That conversation ran through over and over my head for weeks.

After I found where I live now (which started off nightmarishly, and again, maybe I will write about my housing woes one day), I felt like I was facing a dam with many leaks and I didn’t have enough fingers Car. Insurance. Gas. Rent. I always paid rent first, so all the car leaks–well, they kept leaking and leaking and leaking. After the part-time grant writing gig ended (most notably and possibly coincidentally) because I decided to give my client a contract to sign) I started teaching in January of this year and another part-time writing job at the end of January. Neither of these jobs pay well enough to keep the car. Like when I got my part-time grant writing job, it seemed too little too late for my finances.

My tags expired in December, so I was scared of being pulled over with a Pandora’s box of car and driving issues. So driving became an exercise in anxiety and evasion of the law. One January afternoon, while driving to a job interview, I was driving and a sheriff was behind me. I kept trying to drive away from him–I was only a few miles away from my destination. I’m surprised I didn’t break out into a sweat. I had already rehearsed what I would have said if I got pulled over. I was prepared to turn on the water works, which would have come pretty easily at that point.

I was desperate. In many ways, I still am.

After having the absolute worst experience on the phone with a hostile customer service rep (the only service she gave was to her multinational corporation who probably paid her shit), I arranged to drop off Bluebelle at a dealership. Actually the first one didn’t work out, so I had to drive to another one. I was trying to avoid the drama of the repo man to come to this house. That was a weird day, to drive one last time, from the west side to the north central side to the south side.

It was a beautiful day, though–sunny, blue skies, warm. I had the sunroof open. I had been dreading this for months and months. I had been so afraid of this day, of turning into a pedestrian again in a town that runs them over so easily and then provides them with horrible public transit. In terms of my spirituality being forged in these desolate financial times, I wasn’t really feeling God or the Universe. I was just feeling the drive to survive–no pun intended. I wasn’t teary. I was, and still am, tired. Empty. Defeated. Alone.

I took my first Uber ride from the dealership, with a chatty woman in one of those weird HHR cars. I actually had music practice for Sunday’s service and I had already arranged a ride home. Beforehand, there was some Native American ceremony going on. There’s one that happened tonight–full moon. After being dropped off, I was saged from head to toe. The timing of being saged after such a gut-wrenching experience of shame was for sure the Universe looking out for me. I’m still not even sure how I feel about these ceremonies, even though the pastor and her partner are partly Native American (not phenotypically, but genotypically), but I believe in the power of sage.

Then I sang and was taken home by a fellow singer. I briefly related my car woes as he told me of a similar situation. I had wanted to actually trade my car in, as he had, but that didn’t really occur to me until it was too late. I had beaten the specter of homelessness, but not of carlessness. That day, and night, I felt carried along by Something…

Between that full moon and this one, I’ve taken Uber and Lyft to work/school. I’ve also taken public transportation. I’ve walked to and from–more like urban hiked. I had to walk in the wind and rain to the Wal-Mart two miles away to get money from my mom–the primary lifeline I’ve had throughout grad school. I felt really beaten down, like I was walking in cement. My pants were soaked and one of the leg’s hem tore. I took an Uber to school that cost twice as much because I’m pretty sure my driver didn’t know how to get on the toll road when the main road near my house had a major accident that blocked both directions. All I could see was red flashing lights. I heard later a car had flipped on its back.

That night, I took my first public transit ride home. It’s two dollars to ride and you can get a transfer that lasts 90 minutes for another ride, which kinda sucks. Public transit is cheaper in Chicago. A transfer card gave you two rides and lasted for two hours. I had to wait about an hour after class for the next bus. This bus drove west to downtown and some chatty guy we picked up was talking about the rainstorm before and some random not-of-age teenage Brazilian tourists who were lost and taking public transit. He talked about how this particular bus route was bad and always stuck in traffic.

As a writer, I was really trying to absorb this jolly guy–middle-aged, with a jean jacket, with an easy smile. This was my first bus ride and it smelled like a Chicago bus when it’s snowed and the el platforms are covered in sand because of ice–like sweat and piss and a long day rolling around the city.

The terminal downtown is open air, and I found the bus that would get me within a 40 minute walk (two miles?) from my house. I checked my phone to see if I could Uber from there, but surge pricing at over three times the normal rate. Lyft, per usual, was busy. Like the suburbanite that I had become again, I nervously got on, bone tired from teaching English composition, hoping that my students hadn’t seen me at the previous bus stop and also hoping that no one would take to me on this ride. I just had to make sure that I got off before the bus turned around. It was after 11pm at this point.

It felt strange because I had taken public transit most of my adult life before this. I had taken buses and trains home late all the time. Somehow, this felt scarier. Taking public transit here didn’t make me feel like I was normal, like it did in Chicago. It didn’t matter too much what your income level was there. It was a true melting pot, even if you could tell what part of town you were on by who got on and got off. Having a car in Chicago seemed like a hassle–parking (permit parking), higher car insurance, “dibs” when you shoveled your spot out from the snow, the incessant traffic. Having a car here, next to the happiest place on earth, was a necessity. For example, the bus near my house only runs hourly, as if it was a commuter train line. And we have one of those, too–which runs along I-4 and does jack shit for me as a westsider.

Here, there’s no bus tracker app to see when the next bus is coming. You just have to know the schedule. It really felt like taking the bus here really meant you couldn’t afford a car and that’s it. It was a thick, bright line that I had been hurtling towards for the past couple of years and now finally had crossed.

This is a pretty bourgie lament, I know, evein if my tax returns show that I live way below the poverty line. After all the judging I did on people driving beater cars, after my car started to look like a beater because I didn’t have money to take care of a couple of fender benders, tree sap on the hood, and a lost right wheel hubcap…here I was, riding back to my still kinda new neighborhood and too proud to ask when that stop was so I could hop off and trudge home.

I had been tracking where we were going on Google Maps and when I finally had the courage to jump off the bus, I was now over an hour away from home and still hadn’t recovered from the two mile death march o Wal-Mart. I stood under a street lamp and got an Uber home, a $5 ride. Later, I decided I would never take a bus back from school at night. Not too far from where I was standing, a kid had been shot in his car–in the afternoon. There I stood after midnight, by myself, surrounded by trees–walking in a new part of town in the night seemed like something I shouldn’t risk again.

The grossest ride I’ve taken so far reminded me of New Year’s Eve in Chicago. It was on a Wednesday evening, rush hour. My ride to the chorus wasn’t going to go, and I had stayed at work all day and took the buses to chorus practice. The first bus I took was full of students, with one in particular who had his head bowed over his water bottle. He tried to be covert but he puked into said water bottle. It reminded me of when I saw a guy puke into his bookbag on the blue line when I was heading back home in Chicago. Puke, outside of drinking at a bar, or being in an elementary school, seemed out of place. I really tried not to take this as an omen for my public transit life. Nothing has been as filthy since, and I hope that was just some frat boy who decided to drink too much during the day.

Waiting for the second bus, I was dressed for being in a car, not for sunset outside. I had a velvet blazer, a scarf, and a merino sweater and jeans. The wind was blowing pretty stiffly, and it’s February. The sun goes down and takes all the warmth with it. My hands could not get warm. The cold was spreading up my arms. There was a bus shelter, but it seemed to funnel in the cold air, not shield us from it.  I’m from Chicago–how can Floridian humidity and the cold (it was only in the 60s) made me feel like such a weak ass punk? I made my way to chorus and never really got warm for the three hours I was there. I only felt warm when I got home. I was prepared to Uber, but a friend took me home. That was two weeks ago.

Yesterday, I took the bus to my part-time job’s once a week, one hour meeting. I was lucky at an almost three hour trip took two and a half hours instead. The scariest part of that was walking a mile to the bus stop. Well, it was scariest in my mind. Looking at the map, 1.1 miles wasn’t what I wanted to do at 7am in the morning. I live in the hills so it’s no easy feat to walk around here. But this was mainly all downhill, through another subdivision. I took a picture of the sun with the fog in the trees. About 100 feet away from the bus stop, I smelled something that smelled like death. And it was death: the mushy, off-white guts of an armadillo on the side of the road. This bus took me to a superstop (like a mini terminal) not far from my house–maybe a ten minute drive. The next bus–and I almost got on the wrong one–took me downtown to the main terminal. The last bus took me to work where I have to walk another fifteen minutes. It was another beautiful day, in the 80s by the afternoon, with cool sea breezes. No Floridian humidity yet.

The day before, I tried to take the bus to work but it was so late that my connecting bus would have left already. I sat roasting in the sun for about 20 minutes. My t-shirt had two big sweat marks right under my bust that didn’t dry off until class time.

But yesterday, I took some pictures of spring springing forth: an azalea flower, a flowering tree, palm trees at the downtown bus terminal. I was trying to embrace the long ride back home as I froze on the bus. It was warm out, but I had to remind myself that Florida always has the a/c on, no matter what. I took the second bus to a town north of my home and then did what I was scared of always doing–I got on the wrong bus. This bus went north and west for an hour. I was already woozy from being up since 5am from nervousness and leaving the house at 7am for a 10am meeting. I had done this before, in Chicago. One night, on my way to a Bible study or some church group, I had ridden the purple line instead of the brown line, which meant I had to take the red line back to where I was and then take the brown line.

Anyway, it was still a lovely day, even though I was freezing on this bus, too. I lean against the large window and decided to look at the scenery. It looked less like The Truman Show and cookie cutter subdivisions, and more like Florida. I don’t even know what that means–I should have taken pictures like a tourist. Wild palm trees? Orange trees in yards? Houses with personality? The live oaks? The only house I remember was blue and white, Spanish inspired, and had tall cacti in the front.

It made me miss California and want to leave Florida, like I have been wanting to do since I moved down here almost three years ago.

I stayed on the bus, watching people get on and off, and I felt overdressed. I had dress pants, a t-shirt (Threadless), and a cardigan on. There were people who were leaving the first shift of jobs and heading to the second shift of other jobs. Because I had been on this loop, I saw one guy from Winn-Dixie get off and his girlfriend, who also worked at Winn-Dixie, that he pecked on the lips get on the bus. She had a lot of black hair clips holding down her hair. On the loop back to my neighborhood, we picked up a lot of kids from school. I had been listening to Kaskade the whole time, so I jammed my earbuds into my ears and turned up the volume since these boys didn’t know how to use their inside voices.

Finally, I got off the bus, wondering if the bus driver thought I was some weirdo who liked riding buses. I realized after he had jerked to a stop that I have started to get carsick while being on buses. I was used to controlling my own horizons, my own speed. Buses felt like rude awakenings with first-time drivers who weren’t used to the brakes yet.

This bus stop was on the other side of a very busy four lane road that I hated driving across because it has steep hills that cause blind spots. All over town, with white crosses and colorful silk flowers, there are so many memorials of pedestrians who have been killed here. I did not want to become a white cross. It took a couple of minutes as cars hurled themselves down the hill. The closest crosswalk was downhill and then I would have to go uphill, again, to my subdivision. And I wasn’t going to do that. I had left work at 11:15am and returned home at around 3:30pm.

***

It’s been about one month and counting without a car. When I first gave it up, it seemed like something I wouldn’t be able to live without. I’m surprised now at how quickly I’ve gotten used to not driving. This isn’t to say that I haven’t battled those inner demons of shame. It doesn’t mean that I like this at all. The 0.2. mile walk to the bus stop that comes every hour doesn’t feel great. I hate the walk to Winn-Dixie–especially the long climb back with food. Not having a car is more of a symptom of being poor, of not being as independent as I want. I’ve been trying to reframe this as a huge inconvenience, even though I haven’t spent nearly as much money as I would have with a car. But then again, I haven’t been going to church as much. School has been busy, but also, I don’t want to ask anyone for a ride.

I keep thinking of this Bible verse, which is really out of context, because this has nothing to do with age. The Gospel of John, chapter 21, verse 18, and Jesus says the following:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.

It’s the last part that gets to me: that I’m being taken where I do not wish to go. I do not wish to go on two to three hour bus trips when it used to only take me thirty minutes in a car. I do not wish to wait for an on-demand driver. I do not wish to have to move again next month to God knows where. I do not wish to try to figure out how to get the boxes that I moved with Bluebelle into storage and move them back here to pack up and move again.

Maybe, for me, that verse should read, and when you become poor, you will stretch out your hands, and someone will take your belt from around you, and you will go wherever you can find some place to lay your head.

I know that even in Chicago, people would take public transit all over the city, a much bigger city, with the same sorts of stories, two to three hour commutes because public transit was lacking in their neighborhoods. Looking back, I would balk at taking two trains and a bus from the northside to the southside and it took a whole hour. How luxurious that sounds now. Just an hour?

So. It’s not about the car, per se. It’s about knowing that my safety net still has gaping holes, that I’m not sure who I could sing the whole Golden Girls theme song to, or who would sing it to me (that’s the local loneliness); that I feel very vulnerable on the bus and walking down the street now; that I have an expensive large piece of paper and a thesis that needs to be revised and published so that I can prove to myself didn’t come down here just so I could lose my home and car and a lot of my dignity and a bit of my soul’s softness.

There’s something about having your hierarchy of needs fucked with on a daily basis. There’s a sort of despair that clings to your spirit like stale cigarette smoke, that you feel like only death can cure. Before I moved down here, I’ve had some lean months, but not lean years, and I never had lost my housing. But I had been through some pretty ridiculous, insane things, things I felt were worth writing about. So that’s why I came down here, in a town with one of the lowest per capitas, to tell that story to kids who didn’t care and didn’t get it.

I’m 99% sure my situation is temporary, even though it’s been a journey through the circles of hell for the past two years. That makes me feel like a weak ass punk even writing about this. There are people here who have hustled their whole lives. Maybe losing the car was a last straw for me. I had been too hopeful for my time here–tacitly hopeful about how the American Dream would be realized in my life. I was used to making goals and, well, eventually, things working out. I would have never made it through college if I didn’t hold onto hope. The utter almost-disaster that my life has become is unrecognizable to the woman who looked down from Chicago with unsullied hope in her heart. I’d find my people. I could take care of myself. Someone would be looking out for me.

Instead, I got sent on a magical mystery spiritual quest. The worse my circumstances are, the more spiritual I become. I would not be in a church community if I had found my writing community or the love of my life, if things had gone. There would be no reason to search for more. I can’t say that I’m very happy about this, though. Just trying to do that whole “silver lining” thing that people tell you to do when you’ve had bad things happened to you. I’m sure it’ll pay off some day.

Not to say that being poor is the way to spiritual salvation. I am no nun and I took no vow. Poverty fucks with your head and your soul in a way that no one should have to experience. I knew that as a social worker over a decade ago. I knew that even more when I had my own social worker at in grad school, right before I lost housing the first time. Just because I grew up middle class doesn’t make poverty any more poignant or compelling. It just makes it more commonplace.

***

Funny enough, when I first moved down here, I had wanted to take the buses here and write about my experiences, but I could never find the time to do it. Just looking at the bus routes on Google Maps freaked me out. Three hours to get to school from my house? It was an exercise in gratitude, that I only had to drive 30 minutes and try to find parking in time, but still be late for class. Well, I got my wish. Yay?

As I write this, I’m watching the fifth season of The Wonder Years and Kevin Arnold is talking about how having a car means freedom. Soon, as I should have done in the first place, but didn’t have the wherewithal or the courage to do so, I’ll get some beater car that can get me to St. Pete. I’ll check out the Dali museum and see another sun set over the Gulf. I’ll go to work and back in one piece. I’ll have a full-time job or some other part-time job. I’ll drive to visit my friends in Atlanta, or drive to Tampa to see the Bears beat the Bucs. I’ll just be so grateful to drive.

To go wherever I wish to go.

If you liked what you’ve read, I’d love your support as a patron on Patreon. Tiers starts at just $1/month. 

If you want to give a one-time gift or monthly gift, hit me up on Paypal.

Thanks for your support! 💘