an origin story

It wasn't meant to be an adventure out of the ordinary, just a normal kind of adventure. We'd planned it for a few days but had been talking about it for weeks. Maybe even months.

Did you hear about the gas shortage in the southern states? Sometimes I forget I live in the south now, but then I'm reminded by the confederate flags spotting the landscape and the Trump bumper stickers (trumper stickers?) on every xth car, things I had never seen at all during my time living in the Pacific Northwest.

I have been very happy in Asheville. Everything has fallen into place beautifully, better than I even thought it could have if I would have been blessed with any fortune at all. I got a great job almost immediately. I got an apartment that is exactly what I wanted in a home. I live 5 minutes away from Joseph and see him almost every day. 

But despite the good, it hasn't been an easy transition. Joseph is the only person I know here, and I work from home, so I can get a little lonely. For all the things that have gone right and gone well, I've had a series of frustrating and maddening things go wrong too. They're all little things. Nothing bad on its own, but all of them combined has added an enormous amount of stress I haven't handled well. But mostly, every good thing that happens to me is stained with the inability to share the news with my mom.

That has been the hardest part of this. Not having her. She isn't there to send pictures to, to FaceTime with and walk her through my new life here. I don't go for long rambling walks anymore just to spend an hour or two talking on the phone with her. I can't call her when something goes wrong, tell her about it, and get her unwavering emotional support that makes it all better again. Joseph does a wonderful job of supporting me in the ways I need it, but her absence continues to be the most difficult and unexpectedly devastating part of each day.

So we schemed up a plan to help with some of my sadness and stress, and his being on vacation this week made it the perfect week to pull it off.

We had to go down to Georgia.

We researched, we prepared, we went to many stores and bought things, and then we stayed up really late on Saturday night, excitement buzzing about Sunday morning. Our plan was to leave at 8:00 am and be back by 9:00 pm.

But late Saturday night we learned about the gas shortage. On his way home, long after midnight, Joseph went to get gas, and couldn't find any. Every station was closed, every pump covered. He texted me to tell me the bad news. Apparently everyone in Asheville heard that if everyone in Asheville rushed to the pumps and got gas they didn't actually need, we'd run out of gas a week before more gas could get to us, and if we ran out of gas, nobody would have any gas, so everyone should panic and get gas. Good job, guys.

We called off the trip.

Unable to sleep and fighting unexpected tears, I stayed up late wishing there was some way to fix the gas shortage from my bed by morning. It seemed I wouldn't be able to fix the problem, and the more I read about it, the more I realized it wasn't just Asheville. All the big cities were out of gas. Even if we could find gas somewhere along the way, we'd be stupid to risk the trip knowing that every big city in the south was in a state of emergency.

By 3:00am, I gave in to defeat only to have a friend of ours send me a screenshot of a conversation she had had moments before with someone in Greenville, South Carolina - an hour and a half south of us. There was gas there, she'd said. If we could get down off the mountain, we could get gas. 

I told our friend that even if we did uncancel the trip, Joseph was probably already asleep and the later we pushed the uncanceled trip back, the riskier it became in any places where we could find gas. She insisted I get to Greenville.

"Are you still awake?"
"Yeah."
"What are you doing?"
"Thinking about steak."
"Huh."
"What are you doing?"
"I have a crazy idea."
"Hm?"
"Let's go to Georgia."
"Seriously?"
"Let's leave now. I have 3/4 tank of gas. That's more than enough to get to Greenville and back. If we get to Greenville and we can't find gas, we'll turn back. If we find gas, we move forward."
"Do you think that's a good idea?"
"It's worth the risk, don't you think?"
"Do you really want to do this?"
"I do."
"Okay."
"We'll have to drive carefully and not use the AC to conserve as much gas as possible."
"Okay."

We left for Georgia at 4:23am, nearly 4 hours ahead of schedule from our previous plan and without a minute of sleep between the two of us. We were going to get to Georgia, and, more importantly, we were going to get back from Georgia. (We hoped.) I took my work computer just in case we did run out of gas and were stranded in the middle of nowhere for a week.

At 4:30am, we found gas. In Asheville. We pulled into the station a little unsure if we were just living in some weird vortex where only our neighborhood was out of gas.

"Since we found gas five minutes from home, can we turn the AC on?"
"I guess."

The drive from Asheville to Greenville/Spartanburg was eerily absent of other drivers on the road, even for so early in the morning. We stopped at a McDonalds for breakfast and the gas station next door had a weird assortment of men surrounding a pickup truck at one pump, but it had gas nonetheless, so we took a little and went on our way, wishing the sun would rise.

It rose, and we discovered that South Carolina is a little boring to look at.

Because the cities didn't have gas, we opted to take the back country highways, banking our hopes on the small town gas stations not having been hit by the big city panickers. We passed an actual plantation (we're in the south, it was bound to happen) and at least 100 creepy old gas stations that had long been abandoned and left to adamantly stand across the landscape of a region without gas.

Every gas station I found along the way that wasn't closed and covered up, I didn't trust to actually have gas, putting the nozzle in my tank with my breath held. Each time I did find real gas, I felt closer to reaching our goal, but the stress of the reality that we may not get back home again never eased.

Our friend who found us gas in Greenville stayed up all night and all day texting us her updates on where gas could be found and where it had run out, based on her wide social circle of people in every city everywhere that she was talking to about it. We drove accordingly.

We barely saw another car through all of South Carolina and most of Georgia. It wasn't until around 5pm that traffic began to act like gas was to be had in abundance (though it was getting less and less so). Until then, it was me and Joseph with Buck Owens singing through the speakers while we drove through small town after small town, getting a taste for what the apocalypse might feel like: empty and on empty.

We did, however, find a Circle K, with gas. Strange things were most definitely afoot.

The drive down was meant to take 6 hours. It took 9 with all the stops we had to make. The gas station we found in Swainsboro had gas and the most disgusting bathroom you could ever imagine. As we left, I said I would be happy to never use that bathroom again.

On the way back, several hours later, we counted the miles to that same gas station, knowing it had gas and a bathroom. Anything would be better than the gas station we found in Rhine, which had wasps swarming the pump, a bathroom that was out of order, a cloud of smoke filling the entire interior, wall to wall, and a pump that didn't stop when the tank was full, spraying gas everywhere in a time of need. When I commented to the lady behind the counter that the pump didn't stop, she said to me, completely amazed I didn't know already, "Well, yeah, that pump don't stop. You can't leave it."

"I... I didn't leave it. I was standing there with my hand on it the entire time, and now I'm covered in gas."

She had no comment, just suspicious derision. When I went in to prepay a few minutes before the incident (because the pump was so old fashioned it had no card reader) she didn't think to tell me that about the pump? Of course not, she was too busy being amazed that I thought I needed to prepay. Small towns. Man.

As I walked out of that gas station for the second and final time, covered in gas, smoke in my eyes, and carefully avoiding the wasps that flew all around me, I shook my head no at Joseph, who was waiting in the car for word about the state of the bathroom. He shook his head slowly to match, and I delicately slipped back into the car, leaving the wasps outside. I hoped.

"No?"
"No. The bathroom is out of order. We'll stop in the next town. Or you know that gas station from earlier? Let's go there."
"When we left that gas station, you said you would be happy to never see it again."
"I cannot wait to go back to that gas station."

At one point in the drive, Joseph turned to me and said, "Promise me we'll never go to Georgia again."

"Promise." We shook on it.

But there was an important reason why we risked being stranded without gas for days on a back country road in Georgia. If we hadn't gone the day we did, the day we planned to, we would have never met this little guy and brought him home with us.

Meet Buckley. You can call him Buck.

writer's block and new beginnings

It seems time I get back to writing again. I'm still dealing with a bit of writer's block - something I can't decide was caused by the death of my mother or by the level of responsibility I was dealing with at my last job. Possibly it was because I wasn't where I really wanted to be (geographically)? I may never know. I've left that job (such a hard thing to do; I truly enjoyed my time there and have the most incredible group of friends who saw me off), I've moved across this enormous country of ours, I'm daily dealing with how to come to terms with my mother's death, and I really want to find my voice again.

I can still write technical and educational content. I can write for years about topics that aren't necessarily personal to me. I can break down even the most complex subjects and write them in a way that anyone can understand. But writing about myself? That's where the block is.

I don't know if I'll keep up with this, but what kind of writer would I be if I didn't try and fail?

Here's to a new beginning, the risk of not knowing what will come next, to being homeless and jobless in a new city, to misplaced commas, to fragment sentences, to the excitement in seeing what I can make for myself in this new place, and here's to Joseph, my best friend in this world, whom I now will get to see as often as I want instead of once or twice a year.

I'm here, Asheville. I accept the challenge of making this work.

asunder

It was only a sunny smile, and little it cost in the giving, but like morning light it scattered the night and made the day worth living. 
—F. Scott Fitzgerald

I wanted to write last week. I wanted to write about how we treat each other. How we treat strangers. How we, as a culture, expect immediate gratification at the cost of empathy. But something lately has kept me from finding all the words I want to say.

It has been a terrible week nearing the end of a terrible year, but I have been reminded, on the days when I get overwhelmed by it all, that I have a certain resilience about me. That resilience was forced back into play this week by two tragedies in as many days at work.

Having just navigated through the newness of a great loss in my personal life and facing the holiday season for the first time without the most important person in my family, I feel like I'm becoming an expert at grief. It isn't the sort of expertise any of us should have to get comfortable with knowing, but here I sit, no choice but to own it.

The wife of a coworker was hit by a train this week. She's fortunate to be alive, but her life will never be the same. It's one of those tragedies so horrific that it seems unreal.

We weren't yet done with the bad news after hearing about that.

Our company has grown so rapidly that a year ago we split into teams of ten or fewer. On our team we work together, we play together, we go out together, we sit together, we help each other, we learn together, we eat together, we take long rambling walks to coffee shops too far away to make it back to the office in time on lunch breaks together. I trust my team. I love my team. I would do most anything for my team, and that feeling is resoundingly mutual.

My team is like family, and like family, we grieve together.

On Wednesday we learned of the death of one of our own. He was young, healthy and a beautiful, kind soul that was taken far too soon. My team is shattered.

I braved the office on Thursday, not sure if I would make it through the day. When my team lead first saw me, she pulled me into a hug so tight I knew it was meant for him as much as for me.

I know my team will heal together. We may accomplish very little at work for awhile. We may not be found at our table. You'll see us staring blankly at our screens, escaping to conference rooms to watch movies and trying but failing to hold back our tears. We're missing someone important, someone who has been with us all along.

I've chosen to keep working through this, though I'm not sure it could be called "work". I skipped out three hours early on Wednesday night, crawled into bed and gave up on the day. But on Thursday two separate team leads, not my own, pulled me aside to thank me for being present, even if I wasn't getting anything done. "We need you here. You're helping all of us get through this too."

I'm not going to pretend I didn't sit in a pathetic heap of tears and pain when I first heard. I know my patience for being asked an emotionally invasive question I've grown to loathe this year (How are you doing?) is starting to run dangerously thin. I'm terrified of how difficult the memorial service will be.

But in all these things I know of my own strength, that resilience my friends remind me I have. It may be a terrible week and a terrible year, but in all of this tragedy has been some of the greatest moments of my life and relationships. It is in these times that I am reminded my reason for coping. There is so much beauty around us, most especially in the darkest times, that makes the day worth living.

the end

His voice was gentle but urgent. I could hear the fear in it. That's what woke me up; that's what I remember most about the way he said my name. I had fallen asleep. That was the plan, to fall asleep. After three weeks of trying so desperately to stay awake, on this one night I fell asleep. As soon as he said my name I shot awake, tangled in and frustrated by my quilt as I struggled to pull it off of me while the rest of his sentence echoed so loudly in my mind that it rings there to this day.

I think your mom is dead.

He kept talking but I wasn't hearing him anymore. I was hearing what he had already said. I think your mom is dead. I think your mom is dead. I think your mom is...

"No!" My cry came from deep within as I gave up struggling with the quilt and instead rolled my body out of the bed, hit the floor with a knock to my knees, stood, the quilt falling to my feet, and ran past him, down the hallway, not minding the seven stairs, and into the living room where she was.