I do not miss this:
I do not miss this:
Now I have this:
I do not miss this:
I do not miss this:
Now I have this:
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?"
"What are you doing?"
"Thinking about steak."
"What are you doing?"
"I have a crazy idea."
"Let's go to Georgia."
"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?"
"We'll have to drive carefully and not use the AC to conserve as much gas as possible."
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?"
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Everything I write is true — a lie I have kept for nearly a year and a half.
There is a fallacy to this. You see, my name is not Amelia.
The people, their names, too, have all been changed. It’s important for me to make this confession because I cannot tell our story otherwise.
A year ago, I asked him if my blog taught him anything about me that he didn’t already know. “You like to give people made up names,” he said to me, immediately, without needing any time to think about his answer. He charmed me for hours at a time in conversation that was leisurely, but never lazy. I’m certain he would say the same of me.
He was right, of course. I do. I always have. Everyone. Every friend. Every relationship. A made up name came easily to my lips and was transferred to the page for all my tales and misadventures.
Except for him. A nickname would never come to me. I never forced it. I never wondered. I just knew from the beginning. I knew he could never be anyone but who he is.
I met him before I met Jacob McAdoo (a made up name, you always knew.) Only a few short weeks after Thoreau. It was happenstance, the way we found each other. Kismet. An algorithmic fluke. In the early days, we wondered and mused at the good fortune of our unlikely meeting. Anymore it’s a distant past we share, and the details of our early friendship have passed into memories, some easily recalled, others hazy by the passage of time.
The both of us had to step out of our own comfortable characters to reach out to the other and make it work. I went first. Back in those exhilarating, horrible days of online dating, I would never make first contact. I never needed to. The week I found him, I had over 50 new messages from over 50 new men wanting to meet me. I had my pick.
But I stumbled across the profile of a man 2600 miles away that stopped me.
Many men have charmed and wooed me. Many I have fallen for and thought I wanted. But never once have I known an immediate familiarity and knowledge that I was looking at him. This one. This man. He is the one I am going to spend the rest of my life with.
Such an intrinsic revelation seemed absurd to me, so I worked hard to ignore and suppress it for a few months. But I didn’t move along, either. No.
As I remember it, I thought I wrote him that same night. As he remembers it, I disappeared for a day and came back the next to send a message. His memory is more lovely and probably more accurate. I couldn’t leave behind the profile, the mystery and the idea of a man on the east coast and did what I never did: I wrote first.
I didn’t expect a reply from him, but the following morning I had one. What he wrote was far more wonderful than I dared hope for. Throughout my brief few months with Jacob McAdoo, I romanced him with words and messages. We grew intimately close, in some ways, while still remaining complete strangers in others. Looking back over our first several months, I see how beautifully we unfolded before each other, slowly revealing ourselves and drinking deep the communion we shared. He delighted me with his words, and I looked forward to each message.
When I told him that Jacob McAdoo wanted me to stop seeing other men, he let me go quietly. I wanted him to continue writing. We weren’t seeing each other — we were pen pals, were we not? But he didn’t write for a long, lonely month. He may have been more lonely than I was that December. It was not until January 1st, 2014, when he took his turn to step out of comfort and character. I received one short line from him that day, ("Ovid Repurposed, or something like that"), the line that changed our course. He had tried to let me go but could not. And yet he wouldn’t tell me the mistake in Jacob McAdoo that I had made either. He waited patiently for me, not knowing that I would come back.
To this day, I struggle to forgive myself for falling into a quick and disorderly relationship with Jacob McAdoo. I ache knowing of the loss and confusion I caused him during those weeks I was away. But I wouldn’t know of his loss and confusion until later.
I know now that I was depressed. I am certain I was also struggling with a post traumatic stress that I didn’t know I had, brought on by months of pain and suffering, a near death experience I should not have survived, my mother’s cancer, and an unbelievably quick succession of people I allowed to hurt me (though they may take the blame for their own selfish actions.) I found that I had become devastatingly emotionally unstable for a number of weeks after Jacob McAdoo. Even though I wasn’t in love with him, and I wasn’t even happy with him, our split forced me into an uncomfortable but necessary place where I had nothing left.
In the rubble of my misery, I clung to the man on the east coast and realized, with everything cleared out of the way after a hard prairie burn, that there was only one. The entire time — my entire life. Every failed relationship. Every heartache I suffered. Every year that passed and left me wondering what was so wrong with me that I couldn’t have love.
I know now.
He brought me back from the edge of my despair, and after I had begun to heal, he told me what I couldn’t have known.
That first time that he saw me, he knew. He knew she was the one.
My name is Amy, and this is Joseph.
That is the truth.
I always forget that the sun is still up here. I forget until I glance a peek through the space in the clouds and there is blue, there is bright, there is the hint of warmth and light. I forget until I’m on a plane leaving SeaTac and it takes less than ten seconds to go from the drear of Seattle up through the heavy clouds and it’s pink and yellow as the sun hits the peaks and cones of wispy white and the sky above my city actually is clear and blue and empty and spacious. It always is above the clouds.
I’m in that space right now. We haven’t even been in the air fifteen minutes yet and I’m already soaring somewhere above halfway between Ellensburg and East Wenatchee. I’ve never been to East Wenatchee.
My computer tells me I have 2:11 left to write. This means, more realistically, I have about 1:45 or less. I know exactly what happens when I hit the :30 mark. Now my computer tells me I have 2:55. Fickle. Indecisive. The lady next to me is reading a Julie Garwood book. I used to shelve Julie Garwood books. I used to flush the spines for money and benefits. I still do this at home. My bookshelves are exquisitely straight and clean, always. My books are better than most anyone else’s books, and my mom was given a death sentence three months ago. I’m using her plane ticket this morning. She was supposed to visit me with this ticket, back before we found out. She gave it to me, and I’m visiting her instead.
I should be looking for a new job. I should be worried about how I’m going to pay my rent in November and December. How I’m going to pay my taxes in April (because that’s how I’m going to pay my rent in November and December.) I should be put together and responsible and successful and I should have meaningfully meaningless appointments this week, dates this weekend, shoe shopping and gardening and dinner parties with friends. What friends. I don’t even know. Men who liked me well enough until they decided they didn’t actually like me nearly enough and are suddenly no longer friends. Maybe they never were friends. Colleagues struggling with depression who need me constantly but don’t always remember that sometimes I need them too.
I don’t have the bandwidth to be these normal put together things and to be a daughter of Stage IV Serous Surface Papillary Primary Peritoneal Carcinoma (“but we’ll just call it ovarian since it’s such a rare and unheard of cancer.”) I don’t know how to live a normal life like that while I fly back and forth, like a business person with meetings to attend, meetings with terminal illness. Hospitals. Doctors. Dunkin Donuts coffee and garage sales and tears and god damn test results.
Don’t you start crying on this plane, Amelia.
“Hey, I was wondering…” My roommate says to me this morning as she’s driving me to the airport. There’s so little traffic that early on I-5 through Seattle it’s almost a different city entirely. “If you’re not back in town yet when Mal visits later this month, can she stay in your room if I wash your sheets?”
“Yeah.” I say. “Yes, of course. I won’t be back yet when she’s in town. The sheets are clean though. I just changed them yesterday. But the duvet cover…”
She glances over at me and I say a little boldly, maybe boldly to disguise some diffidence, “That needs to be washed.” It’s morning in Idaho, but I can’t see Idaho. Just clouds forever. I was supposed to fly yesterday; I told him I wouldn’t write about it here and I won’t, but there’s a reason I’m flying today instead.
I’m on my bicycle, cutting tight circular patterns into the asphalt, so tight one more fraction of an inch leaning in would be impossible to balance and topple me over to the dirt and grit of torn skin. Circles turn to figure eights. I’m dizzy. And I can see and feel each crack, each hole, each tuft of grass and weeds pushing through the broken pavement. I’m learning the bumps, expecting them, lost in the daze of the spin of it but focused completely and intensely on what I’m doing. I grew up in the house on the corner where two streets meet at a T. The space provided at that intersection was perfectly sized for hours of cumulative figure eight turns on my bicycle. I’m not moving forward right now. I want to move forward. I want love and money and success and new friendships. But moving forward may mean moving forward without her. Long work days and meetings and the busy-ness of life and then, one day, the phone call and The Regret. So I’m stuck, I’m spinning, I’m feeling this place, this year, this time of my life when I’ve been given a second chance as she’s fighting so desperately hard to get one too and I’m incapable of pulling myself out of it. I need someone who wants to pull me out of it, or everyone needs to let me continue as I am.
It’s a clear and beautiful day up here, Bozeman.
Wolf was my rebound from Death. I know this now. If he were to mysteriously, magically, miraculously decide to come back for me on his sailboat, I’d have to say no. Perhaps he could woo me with his charm. I’ve discovered a new anger for having something to dream about and then being left with even less hope than before. I’m already struggling my way through a difficult year where hope has been painfully stripped from me over and over and over and over. Maybe I do want to sail the world with a sailor. Maybe I do want to build a house, a little touch of paint on my cheeks, a wry and mischievous grin on my face, my hair in braids. I don’t braid my hair, but I could start. Maybe I do want to stop fighting my nomadic tendencies and adventure with someone special or settle down with someone nice. “I have no doubt that you’ll meet someone in the next few weeks who will make you smile. He’ll make you smile so much you might not even recognize yourself.” Matthew’s words to me days before I almost died. Days before I met a sailor named Wolf. Weeks before I met another sailor named Thoreau. Words to me before I met all the men I haven’t yet met, all the men who may or may not want to be the person who will love me.
I mean love me. No. I mean love me. Mean what you say or push off. That’s my new motto. That’s what I deserve after a year like the one I’ve had.
I thought I was going to get married this year. He lied to me. I kissed him at midnight on New Year’s as fireworks exploded above the Space Needle a few blocks north of the Belltown roof where we stood shivering in each others arms. He lied to me and I don’t talk about it because somehow his lies make me the flawed one. How can I ever trust anyone again? Everyone lies and everyone dies and everyone else gets married and everyone else falls in love. I fly back and forth. The business of death and loneliness.
I’m going to drive to Absarokee one day. I’m looking at it on this digital map as I’m flying over the thin, weak veil of clouds covering it. Why not? Maybe somebody will want to drive there with me. But maybe not. I’m not Elizabeth. I’m Jane. I don’t need a Darcy. I don’t need to be saved or completed. But I would like to have someone who thinks of me first, often, most and last.
I didn’t get married this year. I fell out of love. No, I didn’t fall. I was pushed out of love. I clawed my way back up to the normal, I fought my way quietly, alone, ashamed back to being out of love. I met an extensive metastasized abdominal beast we so easily call cancer this year. I met doctors who don’t give a shit about the people suffering behind the dollar signs of their weighty padded paychecks. I survived my own horrible unexpected near death experience this year. I watched as people watched me die. They watched me struggle and fight because I didn’t want to die and they did absolutely nothing to help. I was their unexpected entertainment. How many people did they tell about what they saw? How did they write themselves into that story? Not the cowards they were, I’m certain. Everybody lies and everybody dies. This is normal.
The enormous gradient blue out there hanging over Canada is in my blindspot. I’m halfway home. I still call it home, but it hasn’t been home for years. Wyoming below my feet as I passively navigate the space above these eight states this morning. Figure eight states. I’m exploring the bumps in this road. The tufts of clouds as they push up through the broken cracks below.
I sat at Love & Loss by the water this morning, the sun hitting my face, as I waited for my colleague to join me. I sat there for almost an hour. Another hour that I sat on loss. I have been sitting on loss for over two years, since a few weeks after I first heard about Bang Bang. The first time he made me cry. I was sitting on loss when he called me to talk about it and I asked him if I could come over, so we could talk in person. He said no. Maybe that’s why he said yes, because when he said no, I couldn’t respond. I didn’t want him to know I was crying and I didn’t know how to get a word, audibly, to come out of my mouth, so I didn’t say anything. I sat there on loss and cried silently while he sat in his apartment on the other side of the phone. He must have figured it out and he changed his no to yes. We sat on his roof that night and drank vodka and talked about what we were, what we wanted from each other. Everything changed that night. But nothing ever got better like it was supposed to.
When things ended between us, I found myself always going back to sit on Loss. I read books on loss. I waited on loss. I watched on loss. I checked my phone over and over on loss. I sat on loss while tourists took pictures. Loss loss loss loss loss. Where’s the & Love? Don’t I get that? Don’t I deserve my turn at that? How many guys do I have to lose before one loves me? Before one will fight for me? Am I really so unlovable? So unspectacular? So boring? So ugly? So not worth taking home to meet the parents? So not worthy of love? Ungirlfriendable. Hours I’ve spent over the last two years and so many months sitting on Loss looking out at Puget Sound, that neon red ampersand a beacon of something hanging above me.