She laughed at me, a big, toothless, throaty laugh with lungs soaked in nicotine and mirth. “Nobody important!” She slapped my knee. “Last woman who told me she was nobody important was Kipp, and she went on to be the founder of Rose’s Place.” She inhaled her cigarette deeply and exhaled toward the sky. “I thought to myself, how dare she say I’m nobody important to me, a homeless woman.”
I extended my palms, as if on them she could read the truth of my claim. “No really, I just file papers. I’m—“
“Nobody important?” She turned from the heavens and trained her pale green eyes on me. “When I found out who Kipp was, I said to her, I know you.” She punctuated her words with cigarette jabs toward a nonexistent Kipp. “You stopped to talk to me on the street. You told me you were nobody important. And Kipp said, I’m not. You girls are.” She stubbed out her cigarette on the concrete and took out another one. “She was very important. You could be, too.”
I don’t know what I expected when I turned around to talk to this woman, but it wasn’t whatever was happening. She never called my name, never asked for money, but her form crouched under the overhang stuck in my mind.
I looked up at the sky. You couldn’t tell now, but in a few hours a thunderstorm would wind its way down from New York, and she wouldn’t be watching it through a window. Something up in that vast expanse, an “inner voice,” a God or instinct or chemical collision said, “Go talk to her.”
So naturally, I kept walking, because who does that?
“Go talk to her.”
Then another voice, equally loud, said, “Who do you think you are, walking up to a homeless person and asking her about her life? She didn’t invite you over. You think you’re going to waltz in, hand her a few bills, and that makes you a good person? Go home.”
“Go talk to her.” I turned around.
“Hi,” I started.
She looked up. “Hello.”
“I—“ (It’s remarkably difficult to talk to strangers, sometimes.) “—I was wondering how you’re doing.”
Perhaps she wasn’t wrong. She looked warm enough in an unzipped green overcoat, long-sleeve blue shirt with a few sequins at the top, and 80s gray sweatpants. Stringy blond hair sat on top of an orange face that spent too many hours in the elements, worn and wrinkled, far too old for her otherwise 40 year old frame. Her thick tree-stump fingers, deeply cracked, knew many winter’s nights, but they were steady enough to hold her slender cigarettes and fiddle with her red lighter.
“Where are you going to sleep tonight?” I asked.
“There’s a shelter not too far away, if they open tonight,” she said. “My friend sleeps here.” She patted the concrete step. At first I thought it was only a gesture toward the hard bed, but then I realized I was being invited to sit with her. So I did.
“I’m Bethany,” I said, holding out my hand.
She took it. Her hands were rough but warm. “I’m Valerie.”
Valerie, such a beautiful name. It has a softness to it, don’t you think? I can imagine a mother cradling her baby, studying the pink curves of her newborn cheeks, and whispering, “Valerie.” In that name, she hopes for the best for her baby—protection, love, happiness.
“Valerie,” I asked, “What happened? What brought you here?”
What was I doing, prying into the life of a stranger? You’d never interrupt the Don Drapers of the world and say, “Good Sir—yes you, with the hat—what brought you to this point in your life? How did you go from a little tyke to what you are today? Indulge me.” But what can I say, Valerie and I had two options that night: talk to ourselves or with one another. She opened up.
“It’s a long story,” Valerie replied. “A very, very long story. But in short, domestic violence. There are a lot of girls out here that suffer from domestic violence; there’s not enough room for us in the shelters. Long waiting lists. I’ll probably get in at the end of winter.”
The prospect turned my stomach sour. Boston winters are known to be brutal even for those with four walls and heaters. Whenever someone finds out I just moved to New England, they laugh and shake their heads. “So this is your first Boston winter?” they ask. It sounds more like, “Joke’s on you, sucker! Your pansy butt should have stayed in California!”
And here, someone told me they plan to spend the blistering winter nights outside because of a bad ex? I didn’t understand. “Domestic violence? How does that keep you on the street—I mean what stops you from getting an apartment?”
Valerie’s jaw bone set low. “To get an apartment, you need money, and they make it impossible.” Valerie’s fingers began to fiddle with her lighter, flipping it head over head. “They never listen to the court orders to stay away. You get a home, they find it and stalk it. You get a job, they show up and start screaming inside, threatening the other employees, until your boss fires you for everyone’s safety. They find you.” She noticed her fidget and clamped down on the red fire holder. “Lots of girls out here that have stalkers. Safer on the street than in the homes, though.”
“Why would you be safer on the street?” I asked.
“Because in there, they can lock you in a room, hurt you. But out here,” Valerie looked up and down the street, “I can get away—hop a bus or a train, get away. Most dangerous hours are between 12 and 5 when the buses and trains shut down. But I have people out here who look out for me.” And here, she patted the concrete again.
There was a network, a series of alliances, a world with animosities and friendships that I passed every day but never knew. “Do you all know each other?” I asked. “You and the others who live out here?”
“Some of us, yeah,” Valerie smiled. “We’ll hang out, you know, grab a cup of coffee.”
The notion struck me as odd—two street friends gabbing over a cup of coffee. Street people live on the street; they aren’t out and about socializing in coffee shops, are they? I also heard my mother’s voice yelling in my head, “But that’s such a waste of resources! It’s so much cheaper to brew coffee at home. Why spend three dollars on a cup of coffee when you can make one at home for 15 cents?” This woman wasn’t spending her resources wisely.
It took a moment to register—where else would this woman get her coffee? What was she expected to do, save money by plugging her fancy twelve-cup brewer into the sidewalk? And a warm cup of coffee—it seems so quintessentially human, so comforting to the heart that it’s worthy of protection. Life is hard, real hard. Shouldn’t everyone have the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and a cup of coffee?
Valerie interrupted my thoughts. “What about you?” she said. “What do you do out here?”
“Oh, I’m nobody important.”
Rose’s Place. She couldn’t stop laughing about Rose’s Place and that woman, Kipp, the only other person in Valerie’s life who introduced herself as nobody important. “She was a force to be reckoned with, Kipp,” Valerie said. “The mayor had a soft spot in his heart for her. Could never say no to her requests. Oh, he’d make her fight for it, but he’d always give in.”
“I’m not from around here,” I said. “Who is Kipp, and what is Rose’s Place?”
“Rose’s Place is a woman’s shelter. Kipp founded it. Fiercest woman you could ever meet, would fight for us all, straight to the Governor himself. Imagine that, to the Governor! Most humble woman, too. Nobody important!” And Valerie howled with laugher, clutching her sides with one hand and waving her cigarette in the air with the other.
“I’d like to meet her,” I said.
Valerie’s face fell. “I wish you could, but you can’t. She died. Lung cancer.” She took another drag and pointed to the left. “But Rose’s Place is still up on Haynes Street. Same staff. Very loyal staff.”
I thought of the staff, of the people who stayed for years working in that system, in the circles of people I knew nothing about and never aspired to know. The goal wasn’t to get in that system; the goal was to get out.
What I wanted in that moment, more than anything, was to hear Valerie profess a desire to break out of those circles, to rise above, to join the working class. “You go girl!” I’d say. “You can take a shower and get fixed up real nice. I bet you’ll get a spot in the shelter. Before you know it, you’ll have saved enough money. You’ll have your own apartment, and you’ll never have to sit out here again. You can thank me later; go begin your new life!” Cue the montage of self-improvement clips—she’s printing out a crisp white resume, twirled about in a salon chair to reveal a brand new haircut, shaking a hand post-interview, and saying something inspirational like, “Thank you, Bethany. I feel beautiful inside and out.”
She didn’t say that, though, and neither did I.
What I realized afterward was that our relationship, and the relationship of me to every homeless person, is predicated on two things: power and pity. I walk by on my morning commute, and I make eye-contact, or I don’t. I stop, or I don’t. I take out money, or I don’t. And when I see someone as a category to be pitied, i.e. homeless, I can’t really be friends with them. I wasn’t really seeing Valerie as an individual.
It’s never “cool” to be the person who admits to these enlightenments. (“I’m okay with the women, the blacks, the homosexuals; they’re people too.” Holy St. Francis, here’s a name tag. Welcome to MENSA, Dr. Douche.) To say that in my mind, she went from a homeless woman to Valerie isn’t a badge of pride. After all, she was Valerie the whole time.
But I think these embarrassing mini revelations happen to all of us more than we like to admit. We see categories: Republican, Democrat, Christian, Muslim, Gay, Straight, Citizen, Immigrant, Those with Homes, Those Without. It’s all shorthand, and in many ways necessary to keep our minds from crumbling under the pressure of data overload. The trouble is, these categories gloss over nuance, tearing our focus away from what connects us as human. It can be shocking to meet a category and find a human there.
Staying connected sucks, though. “The homeless” is easier to grapple with than “my friend Valerie.” If I choose to love her, how can I deal with letting her sleep on the street in the rain? In the impending New England Winter? Am I supposed to invite this stranger into my home?
In fact, I couldn’t deal, so I asked her one more question. “It’s not all doom and gloom, is it Valerie? Being out here, like this?” I wanted her to be happy—or maybe I just wanted her to tell me that, so I could get on my train and go home to my heated apartment.
“No,” she smiled. “It’s not all doom and gloom. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes it feels far away, but I see it.” She looked out from the overhang and up at the twilight sky, speckled with white dots that refused to be outshined by the city lights. “When I look up there at night, I see my guiding light.”
I see guiding lights in those heavens too, Valerie.
Those stars shine above us all, right?
A Tale of Two Houses
I imagine doomsday prophesies to carry a certain sound, almost like thunder from heaven, booming, resonant and grave. So when my landlord sing-sang in a tone used by Southern ladies gushing over babies, “You’ll get used to it, to being alone forever,” I almost didn’t understand the words. It was like he was fawning over my shirt, but it was a shirt that read Lifelong Loner. Why would anyone fawn over a shirt that read Lifelong Loner?
“You don’t really think I’ll end up alone forever.” I tried to imbue my words with authority, like they were a statement of fact.
“Oh, yes I do. And it’s fine. You’ll get used to it, trust me.” He nodded and smiled, pleased with his hospitable delivery of homemade glass shard cookies.
“But,” I protested, “I don’t want to be alone forever.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
“I’ll bite you!” I have no idea what possessed me to say it. Telling someone you’ll bite them is second in disturbingly immature behavior only to actually biting someone. But I said it. Luckily, my breezy Southern landlord didn’t pay me no mind. He had been lost in the hubbub of the two houses.
When I moved here two weeks ago today, I had no idea what kind of environment I was entering. It’s a beautiful D.C. neighborhood that, though it be slightly worn, has the fit and feel of an expertly tailored suit. Tall brick houses with white trim sit atop small green hills, flights of stairs lined with manicured flowers leading up to each house. Two of these houses, side-by-side, are owned by the landlord. It’s only upon entering these homes that one may sense a difference from this otherwise family-focused suburban paradise.
The two houses
Multiple bedrooms apiece, the landlord rents out the rooms with no security deposits and no leases. This makes for a highly transient environment, but the landlord must attract primarily social transients. If you rent a room in one you might as well be renting a room in the other, the people mix so often.
In the first house, in addition to the landlord, Matt and me, we have Kevin*, mythical Kevin, the one who technically rents a room in the basement yet nobody ever sees. He is the only one who breaks the social rule. And that’s all I can tell you about Kevin.
Kevin’s exact opposite is Rex, the NASA intern who doesn’t know how to read. But that’s okay. This gregarious frat boy knows how to network, charm the metaphorical pants off people (perhaps some literal pants as well) and convince others to do anything he needs—like reading his texts out loud. Additionally, Rex is beautiful like Vin Diesel is beautiful. His one bicep has more curves than a woman’s entire body. Rex can do no wrong. Rex will take over the world.
“His arms distract me,” one of Matt’s female friends sighed.
“I hear you, sister,” I had to agree. “He hugged me and his peck stabbed me in the neck. I didn’t know pecks could stab you in the neck.” We giggled.
“Daddy!” screamed Junior, the nine-year-old Puerto Rican kid from the second house. He was talking to Rex, but Rex is not his daddy. Rex bribed Junior into calling him daddy in exchange for the child’s favorite pastime, being thrown in the air like an airplane. Rex finds the situation humorous and imagines it will help him attract women. As if he needed help. Last time he went to the beach, women asked to take their photos with him.
“I wonder if you’re confusing Junior,” I said cautiously. “Whenever he comes over, he asks if his dad is home.”
“Oh he’s fine,” replied Rex. “Junior! Get Daddy a beer.”
“Rex!” I chided.
“What, he’s not allowed to touch beer? Junior, get me two.” And then Rex threw me in the air like an airplane. He has bad habits.
There are others in the second house, like Sergei, the Ukrainian NASA employee who does know how to read—and knows astrophysics to boot. I may not be that skilled with numbers, but when I learned he was Ukrainian, I knew how to make a friend.
Back in California, my family had Ukrainian neighbors. They were wonderful people with which to make festivities. You never saw such a spread of delicious foods, nor felt such levity, nor took so many shots. Before a round, they cheered a cheer, and I remembered the cheer.
“I know a phrase in Ukrainian,” I said to Sergei. “Budmah. Hey!”
He laughed a hearty laugh and explained to the rest, “‘Budmah. Hey!’ is a cheer we say before drinking. It means ‘Let us be. Hey!’” So in honor of our newfound knowledge, we took a shot.
Also in the second house lives John, my new token conservative friend. He shows me day by day that love and compassion are much better starting grounds for debate than mistrust. That doesn’t mean we always get along.
Once, in the unfenced backyard between our two houses, we sat underneath a starry night sky watching the fireflies dance through the garden. Sometimes they reached high enough in the air to look like shooting stars. It was a beautiful, serene moment. Then it began.
“Why do you conservatives have to legislate all of your personal beliefs?” I know, I know. I started it. What did you expect?
“First of all, that’s not true; you liberals try to legislate everything. Second of all, we were having such a nice time…”
“How do we legislate our beliefs? We want lack of legislation. People should be able to marry whomever they want, and that can be done without a law. You guys want laws that define marriage to exclude gays.”
John paused. “Bethany, this is why we can’t have nice things.”
Smiling, I took the hint and redirected my attention back to the fireflies. A minute later, John perked up again. “It’s hardly fair to accuse us of legislating our beliefs when you have allocated tax funds to Planned Parenthood, an organization which directly finances things we don’t approve of!”
“John, this is why we can’t have nice things.”
We laughed. Yes, conservatives and liberals will continue to address these issues, but perhaps taking a moment to sit peacefully, sharing a night sky with someone of the opposite aisle, also has its merits.
Finally, there’s the rest of the Puerto Rican family, Junior’s parents, uncles and aunts. They don’t come out as often, but when they do, it’s a party.
“Do you want a beer?” Uncle Elijah asked me.
“No, that’s alright. I don’t really drink beer.”
“Do you want a cigarette?”
“No, I don’t really smoke cigarettes.”
Elijah went in the house and returned with a freshly opened beer and a pack of cigarettes, thrusting them into my hands. I guess it was time for a beer and cigarette.
The days are quiet, the nights are rancorous—or at least congenial. It’s a strange bunch here, a constant stream of comings and goings, encounters and stories of encounters. And somehow, despite the multiplicity of histories, cultures, beliefs and quirks, we get along swimmingly. I like everyone, even the landlord. I will miss them when Matt and I move into Matt’s new house next week.
*Most of the names in this story have been changed.
Holy sweet Belgium, I made it. I may have been in a bikini, drenched in sweat and covered in the stench of warm, previously frozen Brussels sprouts, but I made it. As I crested the hill and saw the Washington Monument pointing upward over the trees, a bastion of Freedom and Democracy calling all who seek to serve, a tear dropped out of my eye, quickly drying on my cheek as hot air blasted out of the car vents. “That felt kind of nice,” I couldn’t help but think.
In case you’re not up to speed on all these details, let me start further back. I began this road trip in a 1991 Toyota Corolla, an automobile whose crowning glory was its 40 miles per gallon consumption rate. It was Nathan’s car, and while he maintains that he told me it had no air conditioning before we left, I plead ignorance. It was fine through early April in the Western states, but by the time we hit Texas, I began to flip out. Not only did we have the windows fully rolled down on the highways in 90 degree temperatures—for any movement was marginally better than stagnant air growing increasingly humid via the sheer act of breathing, and which also limited conversations to screaming out over the ambient noise, “I THINK WE TURN HERE!” for hours on end—but the car didn’t do well in stop-and-go traffic, which meant that we had to blast hot air out of the vents for anything other than clear and open highway driving.
Don’t get me wrong. In the end, I’m glad we took it. Nathan and I easily put 10,000 miles on that car, and the cost of that voyage was comparatively cheap. But it meant that, after Nathan left and I landed in the 80-90 degree humid weather of the east coast, I had to find ways to cool myself down.
Nathan’s dad had given us a cooler to take on the trip, but while Nathan would buy snack food and throw it in there, neither of us had ever used it to sustain a desired temperature. I decided that now was the time. Cold fluids, and lots of them, were in order. Out of Charleston, South Carolina, I stopped at a grocery store and bought myself a four pack of cold Redbull, then proceeded to scour the grocery store for an ice pack. They didn’t have one. Lucky for me, I had a brilliant idea: frozen vegetables. Everyone knows that when you sprain your ankle, if you don’t have an ice pack on hand, frozen vegetables will do the trick. Why wouldn’t it work in a cooler?
I evaluated the veggies and my scientifically minded brain landed on Brussels sprouts. Relatively large, I thought they would hold their cool for longer than peas, like ice cubes last longer than shredded ice. I patted my sweaty back, giving my genius its proper due. So off I went, my Redbull and Brussels sprouts guaranteed to help me wind my way up the coast to the long-awaited Washington DC.
Please, listen to your inner voice telling you that I am an idiot. It was a horrible idea. Not only did it not stay cold for very long, but the smell of sick, festering Brussels sprouts seeped out of the cooler and intermingled with the hot, sticky air of the east coast. At the next Rest Area I whipped in, nearly gagging and desperate to throw out the sprouts. They smooshed beneath my fingers like a sprout puree. And yes, the bag leaked. All over the inside of the cooler.
If that wasn’t bad enough, my white wife beater looked like someone had peed on my back. Being a relatively unathletic girl, I’d never experienced this before. It turns out that sweat can be yellow-orange, and as my lower back had created its own ecosystem with the amount of water it expelled, it had dyed my shirt the color of concentrated urine. “Gah!” I yelled. “Screw it!” So I dug through my backpack, took out my bikini top and fled to the women’s restroom, trying to cover my back with jazz hands lest anyone think I was into severely disturbing fetishes.
Newly (de)clad, I jumped back into Brussels Sprouts Express and hit the gas pedal. Nothing would stop me now! And nothing did, besides traffic that is. I entered Washington, DC around 3:30 in the afternoon—which, in case you didn’t know, is a perfect time to start hitting traffic. This meant blasting hot air, which in turn meant lots and lots of sweat. Dripping bikini Bethany creeped along from 0-15 miles per hour on the highway, happy as a clam. I took all the gaping stares from truckers and mothers as welcoming nods. I took all the blaring horns in the vicinity as victory trumpets sounding the arrival of the long-awaited pilgrim. And when I accidentally cut someone off and got a fist shaking at me in the air, I took that as a “fist pump,” or a sign of unbridled enthusiasm and camaraderie (see youtube for more on the fist pump).
I let a tear drop and dry at the sight of the monument, and like I do when I’m this overjoyed, called my mom. “I’m here!” I told her. “I made it!”
“Good for you, sweetheart! You’ve reached the end of your journey.”
“Oh no, Mom,” I laughed, seeing an old woman shake her head disapprovingly in my direction. “This is just the beginning.”
Oh yeah. It happened.
Doesn’t do justice to the traffic, but there she is!
Blood and Water
Warning: Adult Content
The wine kept coming even though the clock struck midnight, and the sound of giggling on the second story balcony anticipated a long night of levity filled with gossip about boys, boys, boys. Sylvia and I were couch surfing with Danielle in Charleston, South Carolina, three new friends continuing a night of carousal that began many hours before.
We sat blabbering about Sylvia’s most recent conquest until we noticed our host gone silent. She was peering intently over the woodwork down to the street below. ”Sup girl?” I prodded. ”See any hotties?”
“Something’s going on; I’m not kidding you,” she whispered. “There’s a—“
Crash! Danielle was interrupted by loud noise and a deep moan. Hurrying over, I saw a male figure sprawled on the sidewalk, bicycle flung into the street. Danielle sprung into action, running to the kitchen and grabbing a knife. “Someone needs to follow me with a cell phone in case we need to dial for help.” With that, she was out her front door and charging down the steps. I grabbed my phone, and Sylvia and I followed close behind.
When we opened the front door, we saw the man getting up with a stumble. Tiny moans escaped him as he turned away from us, oblivious to our existence. Danielle walked up behind him, reaching out to touch his shoulder, knife grasped in her other hand. “Sir, do you need—“
She was interrupted again by another sound, the sound of running water. The man was peeing in the middle of the sidewalk. From the back, I could see that the seat of his pants was already wet with urine and it was running down his legs. I surveyed the area—a shattered beer bottle lay on the ground, blood pooled next to it. The setting was not what I would have expected to see in conjunction with this tall, elegant black man dressed in nice slacks, dress shoes and a button-up shirt. I would have been attracted to him if he weren’t bleeding and pissing all over himself.
Danielle waited for him to finish and then tried again. “Sir, I saw you fall. There’s blood all over the ground. You couldn’t have fallen in a better area, because I work in medicine.” It was true, in a way. Danielle was a trained midwife, but even if she weren’t, Sylvia was a second year medical student in Puerto Rico. The two of them were ready to take action.
“What the fuck is going on?” the man moaned.
“Let me look at your hand.” We walked him over to the porch steps, and in the better lighting, I saw that the liquid on his pants was partly urine and partly blood. His hand was bleeding profusely.
“Bethany, get his bike out of the street. Sylvia, if you run upstairs in the kitchen cabinet, I have a medical kit with a flashlight, alcohol, scissors and bandages.” We dashed our separate ways and rejoined as quickly as possible. I held the flashlight as Danielle poured hydrogen peroxide over his bleeding hand.
The man cried out in pain. “I don’t need this,” he said, trying to get up but falling back over.
“Sir, you’re bleeding a lot more than I think you know,” shot back Danielle, dabbing at his hand with a washcloth and watching the blood bubble back out as quickly as she took it away. The main cut was on the side of his right hand. It was short—about a half inch across—but it was fairly deep. The sweet smell of blood mixed with the sharp smell of urine reached my face, perhaps amplified by my level of intoxication, but I tried to focus on the urgency of the moment.
“Should I call 911?” I asked.
“No,” Danielle replied. “Not yet. Sir, do you have insurance?” His eyes moved from object to object, never focusing, his brain and body on sensory overload. He wasn’t processing her question. “Insurance, I ask if you have insurance. I don’t, and I would be pissed if someone called 911 and I got stuck with a bill for thousands of dollars. I’ll try to help you if you don’t have insurance.”
“I love you girls. Where the fuck is my bike?”
“I moved it out of the street for you, Sir,” I said. His eyes looked up and saw mine for the first time. They were deep brown and glazed, but he saw me.
“I love you,” he said.
Danielle finished bandaging his hand. “You might need stitches on that hand,” she said while surveying the rest of his body. “I think you cut your leg. Would you take off your pants?”
“Fuuuuuck no!” he cried. He looked like an animal trapped in a cage, sensing danger all around him, not realizing that the danger lay with his loss of blood.
Exasperated, Danielle tried to explain. “We’re not trying to molest you. We’re trying to help you.”
“No disrespect, but I don’t fucking need you. I love you. Thank you.” The man got up and tried to walk, legs swinging left and right, arms reaching out as if asking the air to brace him. “Where’s my bike?”
I panicked. This man was hurt, bleeding, and a continued danger to himself and others. “Please, let us look at it,” I begged.
Sylvia jumped in. “We have to respect his wishes. He doesn’t want to take off his pants, and we can’t force him to do that. Let him go.”
I felt responsible and so did Danielle. Danielle tried again, “Sir, are you wearing underwear? We won’t try to take off your underwear, I promise.”
The man whipped himself around and stared at us, reaching down for his belt buckle. “I’m sorry, I love you guys, but I’m so horny. I’ll fuck all you girls.” He stood wavering on his legs, eyes in a daze, blood and urine drying on his tan pleated slacks.
Sylvia threw up her hands and walked inside. Danielle and I looked at each other. “If it’s drying like that, the blood is probably clotting already,” she murmured.
“Yeah, but should we let him go? He shouldn’t be wandering around like this.”
“Sylvia’s right. We can’t force him to do anything. We did what we could.” Danielle moved up the porch and opened the door. “C’mon, Bethany.”
I climbed the steps and looked back, watching him try to orient himself to the ups, downs, lefts and rights of the world. “Sir, is there anyone I can call for you?” I asked. “A friend? Your wife?”
At this word his body stiffened, and then collapsed without falling. His face melted, his eyes welled, his shoulders sagged, his arms hung, his knees wobbled, and without any sound, this shadow of a man looked to a woman only he could see and tremblingly mouthed the words, my wife.
“Would you like me to call her?” I repeated.
He shook his head. “No.”
Danielle and I returned to the apartment, she fuming over the fact that he wouldn’t let us see his leg wound, me distraught because I couldn’t convince him to let me call someone. Sylvia and Danielle saw a drunk man, but I didn’t see a man at all. I saw a child, someone who wasn’t mentally capable of understanding his situation and making his own choices. “What if he hurts someone?” I asked.
“He’s on a bike. He won’t hurt anyone.”
“Well, what if he hurts himself?” I felt like I was on the verge of tears. Even if he was responsible for getting himself that drunk, I let him go. It was a constant refrain that played over in my mind—if he dies, his blood is on your hands.
Ten minutes later, we went back to our booze. We discussed our plans to run through the town’s fountain the next day. We laughed. But inside my mind, it kept playing, if he dies, his blood is on your hands. Be okay, Sir, be okay.
The next morning as we sat down to breakfast, we noticed a fire truck outside the balcony. “What are you guys doing?” Danielle called down.
“We’re cleaning off blood from the sidewalk. There’s a lot of blood down here.” Danielle told them what we knew, which wasn’t much. We never got the man’s name.
Danielle, Sylvia and I went downtown to splash in the children’s fountain. When we got back, the blood and glass were gone. It was as if nothing happened, and even in this era of information, I’ll never know what became of that man. Be okay, Sir, be okay.
Sylvia and Danielle
I have uploaded many more pictures. Click on Trip Photo Archive to check them out.
The Pick Up
“You’ve been here for hours. You’re leaving?”
Startled, I looked up into a pair of cool aqua blue eyes much younger than the sun-aged skin surrounding them. Accessorized with a sly smile, a tall, muscular man in fitted polo shirt and khaki shorts sat underneath an umbrella outside the Starbucks, legs stretched in front, arms relaxed on the rests, head reclined against the wall behind. He had the physique of a languid lion, regal in his ease yet prepared to tear the throat out of anything that threatened to interrupt his pleasures. I, apparently, was not a threat.
“Um, yes. Have you been here?” It was only after asking the question that I realized I said something rude. Clearly he had, or he wouldn’t have noticed my being there for so long. My question belied the fact that I had not noticed him in return. What an idiot, I thought.
If the question irritated him, he didn’t show it, but rather continued with his display of masculine prowess. “Yes,” he replied in his buttery but deeply resonant voice. It was as if he had lungs so cavernous that both the original sound and an echo escaped with every word, a voice accustomed to speaking once only, for once was twice enough.
He is so masculine that he must eat babies for breakfast.
“Do you come from California?” he asked, head indicating toward my license plate.
“And for how long will you be in Atlanta?”
“Just another day or two. I’m driving cross country right now.”
The lion lifted an eyebrow. “How has it been?”
“Pretty extraordinary. People have defied my stereotypes at every turn.”
“Then you can’t have been to North Georgia!” he laughed. “It’s a pity you aren’t sticking around.” An arm as thick as my thigh reached for a card on the table, placed there in advance for ease of access. “Take my card. If you need someone to show you around the city while you’re here, give me a call.”
“Thank you,” I said. I learned long ago that the easiest way out of these situations was to accept the number, smile and leave. I took the card and prepared to exit the arena, but first glanced down at the name. NFL Alumni, it read.
You’re getting picked up by an NFL player. It was an obvious but strange thought. I’ve never consorted much with athletes, and I doubt I could tell you three rules of playing football. But the notion of talking to someone who made such an elite athletic team intrigued me, as clearly was his intention. Okay, he has five minutes.
“You played for the NFL?”
“Six and a half years.” The practiced line traipsed across the air waves.
Need to quash the ego. “I don’t know anything about football.”
“That’s okay, it’s just a game.” Slick.
“So what’d you do afterward?”
“I moved to Florida, laid on the beach, drank beer and got with bad women.”
It was more honesty than I was expecting, but I couldn’t say I was surprised. “Sounds very NFL of you,” I said. “Women, cheerleaders, that’s the life, right?”
“Oh, that’s overplayed. There were rules against fraternizing with the cheerleaders, and there weren’t women waiting around after the games. If I could come back, I would be a rockstar. Those guys are skinny, take lots of drugs, and there are millions of girls waiting around after every show.”
My eyes lowered in disapproval. “So you mean to tell me,” I spoke slowly, “that I am talking to a pro athlete who would rather have been a strung out womanizer?”
It was Mr. Gorgeous’s turn to look surprised. “I mean,” he sputtered, “I mean that—err—if you were into that kind of thing—I mean if I were into that kind of thing—that’s what I would do?”
In the next five minutes, I somehow managed to learn that he had a crazy ex wife in Europe, a crazy ex girlfriend in Santa Monica, and that all of the crazy women in Atlanta at least had real boobs, not like those silicone Los Angeles balls you see bouncing around every day. Also, he worked in plastics.
I think he noticed that he was losing my attention, because he tried to pass me a compliment. “You know, you could be a cheerleader.”
“Gee, thanks, but that’s not my scene. Actually, it’s getting pretty late, and I have to meet my hosts for dinner.”
“You have my number. Please feel free to use it.”
“I just might,” I winked. The five minutes were over, but I managed to accomplish something. First stereotype, check!
Today, I was determined to give myself two hours of solid depression over the fact that, after a month and a half of companionship on my journey from California to Washington D.C., I now had to travel alone, without the person who became such a dear friend to me. The time had come; Nathan was flying back to California. I seemed to me that malls were a great place to wallow in loneliness, so after I dropped him off at the airport, I went to the nearest one.
Whatever peoples’ reasons for being in malls, they usually don’t involve meeting other people (unless you’re a teenager and can’t get into bars). Girls go with their girlfriends and gabber endlessly about the pretty things in the windows. Guys beeline from store to store, faces set in a ‘get in, get out’ expression. Haggard mothers push baby carts and tug on little hands, simultaneously herding their cattle and frantically checking off their lists. Put hundreds of people in malls, and each of them passes anonymously by the other in their own world of wants, to-do’s, and missions. So I entered the mall, ready to amplify my pity party by turning myself into Ms. Cellophane, surrounded by people who didn’t know I was there. It was not to be.
I found a lounge area with large, ample chairs, big enough for one person to sprawl or two slender people to sit very, very close. I set up shop in one of these chairs, taking off my slip-on shoes and lying back to edit previous work, sadly ignoring others and being ignored. This lasted for about an hour until a pair of odd-looking people, a boy and a girl about my age, sat on a couch across from me.
It occurred to me that they were mentally disabled from the sharper-than-normal stare they cast upon things, but of course, this was of no concern to me. After a while though, I felt a piercing gaze on me. Looking up, I noticed the girl staring at me with a look so penetrating that it took my breath away. Her gray-blue eyes took account of everything around me—my shoes on the floor, my sunglasses on the end table, my bag, my phone, me. In fact, she was a more slender version of myself, pale with dark pixie hair and an awareness that extended beyond my own. She was hearing and seeing things that I could not see.
After fifteen minutes, she walked to my table and picked up my sunglasses. “Elisa!” her friend barked.
“These are my glasses, these are my glasses,” she mumbled.
I wasn’t sure what to do. “Excuse me, but those are my glasses,” I said.
“No, my glasses.”
“Elisa!” her friend called again.
“Please bring me back my glasses.” She came back with my glasses but picked up my shoes, beginning to walk away.
“No! Those are m—“ I started.
“Elisa!” the boy interjected.
“My shoes, my shoes,” she mumbled.
“Elisa, those are not your shoes. Please bring me my shoes.”
She came back with my shoes and started to grab for my phone. I preempted this one. “No! That’s my phone.” She grabbed for my bag. “No! That’s my bag.”
“My glasses! My phone! My bag!”
“No, those are not your things.”
“I want to talk.” And with that, Elisa shoved me over and sat down next to me in the chair. She pressed her body against mine and put her nose into my neck, inhaling deeply.
I felt frozen in place and completely lost, so I called to the boy. “Excuse me, can you get your friend? You need to get your friend.”
“She’s not my friend. She’s my sister.”
“Well, can you get your sister?”
“Elisa!” he called, to no response. He had no power over her.
Elisa grabbed my hand and started to pet it tenderly. “Those are my glasses.”
What was I supposed to do? Yell at her to get off of me? Pack up my things and run? Elisa interrupted my thoughts by smelling me again, gazing at me with those deep grey eyes. She held my hand harder, stroking it like a cat, and I did not feel comfortable or safe pulling away from her. I had no idea what this woman might do if provoked.
“What is your name?” she asked me.
“Bethany,” I said. “What is your friend’s name?”
“Simon!” I yelled.
“Elisa!” he yelled back.
“I’m talking, I’m talking, leave me alone, I’m talking to Tiffany.” She laid her head on my shoulder. “My shoes, my glasses.”
“Those are not your things, Elisa. Simon!” Simon was now talking on his phone. “How old are you? Who is watching you? Is that your mom on the phone?”
“Yes,” he said.
I reached over and took his phone. “Hello, my name is Bethany. I am sitting next to your daughter.”
“Why?” came the exasperated voice.
“Because she decided to snuggle with me,” I responded.
“Oh. She likes attention.”
“Do you want me to stay with them until you get here?”
“No, please put my son back on the phone.”
I gave the phone back to Simon as Elisa moved from my hand to my leg. I tried to take her hands off me and distract her, engaging her with questions like, What do you like, or Where are you from, but she just repeated my questions to herself. Part of me was vexed at having my personal space invaded so intensely by a girl with piercing eyes and smooth, slender fingers, a person who considered my things hers, my body hers, my smell hers, but another part of me laughed at the absurdity of this dynamic which I was so ill-prepared to confront.
Whatever the mother said to Simon must have galvanized his spirits, because with a newfound authority, he walked up to his sister and demanded that they go. Elisa stood up and began to leave, but not before once more reaching for my bag.
“No, that is my bag.”
“My bag, my bag,” she smirked, grinning a devious grin, and then with Simon in tow, Elisa turned and melted back into the anonymity of the mall.
After she left, I sent Nathan a quick text telling him what happened and that I didn’t know what to do. He wrote back, “Maybe it was nature’s way of trying to comfort you.”
Maybe it was nature’s way of trying to comfort me. I had come into the mall, lonely with the departure of my friend and determined to sit in my loneliness. For better or for worse, Elisa had pulled me out of that feeling. It’s impossible to feel lonely when someone is stroking your hand, your hair, your leg, putting their face into your neck and breathing in your scent. One may feel other things, but certainly not loneliness.
So be it nature or happenstance, thank you, Elisa. You pulled me out of my sad state, back into reality, back into the now. And this is a much nicer starting point for continuing my journey, alone, from Atlanta, Georgia to Washington, D.C.
Getting to know the Back of my Hand
The back of my hand is brown. It startles me every time I look at it.
Hello, brown hand. Nice to meet you. I hear we’re supposed to know each other?
It turns out that we Californians were fooled. The best place to get bronzed is not a California beach—that’s just where it gets the most even. No, color of amber molasses is readily had after working a vegetable garden for eight hours in the Mississippi Delta. Exhibit A: The golden young Adonises that plow the fields shirtless. Exhibit B: Me. I’m so delicious looking that you’d want to drizzle me on your pancakes.
More on the Delta soon. Topics to be covered: the mental effects of manual labor, the history of the Mississippi soil, a story about a pig farm emergency, and some thoughts on Karl Marx’s Alienation of Labor. You know you can’t wait!
Dinner with the Companion
I stood in the waiting room of one of the fanciest eateries in New Orleans, dressed in the finest wrinkled clothes accessible from my carry-on suitcase, hair and makeup crafted as best I could manage given my haphazard lifestyle. Around me, men and women with pressed suits, fine jewelry and perfect teeth sat in the low but warmly lit room, paneled in a deep, rich mahogany like something Mr. Darcy may have lounged in during a cold winter evening. It breathed the understated elegance of established money, and the appropriately low level of laughter intermingling with the clinking of crystal and silverware on china only added to the graceful ambiance. Despite all of this, I was clearly disconnected. Nathan chuckled.
“What’s so funny,” I exhaled, more of a requisite response than a question.
“Well, we’re in a place like this, but we spend nearly every waking moment together, so—“
“—we have nothing to talk about,” I finished for him.
We looked at each other and burst out laughing.
“Is this what married life is like?” I asked wide-eyed. My eyes bounced around the room, alighting on random object after random object, hoping that something would give me inspiration for an interesting topic.
“You’re bored already! After only a month!” I can only guess his thought—Bethany is not fit for wivery.
I jest, but the fact of the matter is, when you easily spend 12 or more conscious hours per day with someone, and then you sleep in the same room with them for another 8 hours, day in and day out for a month, you cover a lot of territory. Interests? Check on day one. Dislikes? Check on day two. Dreams and aspirations? Check by the end of the week. Childhood traumas? Check by week two. Soon, you’re blathering stories that are usually reserved for three year friendships, deep and petty secrets, wild hypothesis about the nature of the universe that most people have but only crazy people on the street share, not to mention the outward articulation of the extras, the quirks, the individualistic traits.
Take Nathan. He reads signs. Out loud. “Blimey Street. Donut Joe’s. Wacky Wallace’s Game Shop.” But he doesn’t just read them. He gives them life. So Blimey Street becomes “Bliiiiiimey Street!” and you can imagine the rest.
At first, I found it funny. Then it started to drive me nuts. Nathan picked up on that, and started reading signs out loud less, but he still does it occasionally. And now, it’s just a thing, like someone drumming their hands on the steering wheel in time to the music, background noise that is neither positive nor negative. Nathan reads signs.
Nathan pointed out one of my quirks. I have this habit of being outwardly excited about something and bringing others into my excitement. Local street art? Cool, check it out! Stranger giving insight about local hangouts? Awesome, let’s chat him up! Historic downtown merged with a trendy new music scene? Come listen to this; I can’t get enough! Except I can get enough. After a while, my new data censor gets full. I’m on information processing overload, so I shut down instantly, like a computer that gets too hot. And then I walk away. Yeah, it’s weird. I just take off by myself. My head drops to the sidewalk and I shuffle around the neighborhood, musing, letting thoughts float in and out of my head like birds drifting through the sky. Nathan turns around, and I’m gone, and he has to text or call to find out where I’ve ended up. I didn’t even know this about myself, but it’s true. I’m a bi-polar conversationalist.
But once interests, dislikes, dreams, traumas and individual quirks are covered, conversations turn to the minutia of everyday life.
I got a couple chapters farther into that book.
While you were in the shower, I stubbed my toe.
What are you thinking? Nothing. What are you thinking? It’s hot. Yeah.
So there we were, in one of the fanciest restaurants I’ve ever entered, looking at each other hopelessly, laughing at our hopelessness. We would have talked about how lucky we were to be in this dining establishment, about the generosity of the lady who thanked us for helping clear the tornado wreckage around her home with a weighty check and instructions to eat at August once we got to New Orleans, but we discussed it many times before. Luckily, once we were seated, food itself provided enough fodder for conversation.
They started us off with bread rolls and butter as is customary, but the bread rolls were crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and the butter was warm, light and whipped. I enjoyed the textural contrasts. From there, they brought us egg crème topped with caviar and brioche, compliments of the house.
Next came our appetizer, crisped rice, crawfish, tomatoes and mushrooms. The sauce was lightly sweet and spicy.
Nathan ordered our entrees. He got the pheasant and butternut squash, and I had the speckled trout with mushrooms and a hollandaise sauce.
For dessert, we ordered a goat cheese cheesecake with honey ice cream. They also included butter sugar praline cookies, mini chocolate crèmes and candied fruit bits.
There we sat, the sign reader and bi-polar conversationalist, not discussing ourselves but enraptured with the food, exploring realms of taste in the space of two people who know each other fairly well. As it turns out, I can’t imagine a better way to eat that kind of food. It deserves focus, appreciation, and comfortable minds. It deserves the attention that two good friends can give to something besides one another. At the end of the meal, we looked up at one another, sated and happy.
“So…” I began.
“You ready to go back now?”
“It’s nice to be back in the middle of nowhere.”
“I suppose so.”
I chewed on Nathan’s thought like the cattle lining the two lane Louisiana highway chewed their cud, rhythmically and without hurry. Texas had been a state of cities for us—Dallas, Austin and Houston were our stops—and cities have a force that tends to propel people forward. We stopped at Dallas’s Earth Day Festival, and together with thousands of locals listened to the obligatory state fair music groups, passed booths each claiming to out-green the next, and ate food truck food stuffed with sodium, MSG and preservatives. Don’t let my sarcasm fool you; Earth Day was wonderful, and I got to pose with a great looking bug.
First Prize for the Earth Day Art Fair: A Dead Earth
The Bug & I
Austin introduced us to a physicist working at the highest levels of government and industry, a music producer who worked with the likes of Willie Nelson and Billy Idol, a professional runner who raced 10 marathons a year, a walking bag of bulging muscles who couldn’t put his arms flush against his sides, live rock music of a level of musicianship that made me want to scream, cry, and take up groupie-hood as a profession, and many other characters with the kinds of passions that required caffeine and adderoll. One country friend in Louisiana said, “What people from cities don’t realize is that country people are more open-minded than city folk, because they live and let live.” Perhaps it’s true. Either the city self-selects for highly driven people or it creates them, but city people tend to specialize and out-do each other. It’s hard to afford city life otherwise. You’re not growing your own veggies, milking your own cow or building your own house in the city. So you find your market and sink or swim your lungs out.
But here we were, driving toward a town of 10 people where the land was still held by the posterity of settlers, land that wasn’t bought but claimed, lands of paradise and few parking lots. Here, people would say “Ya’ll come down,” sit on a porch overlooking a pond, talk about the weather with the interest of people who know it determines their dinner table, and discuss changes in migratory patterns of local birds. I suppose it was nice to be back in the middle of nowhere.
“Ya’ll come down here,” came the call of our new host, Mary. She was a small town farmer who signed up her small farm with WWOOF, Willing Workers On Organic Farms. Nathan and I would be the Willing Workers, and in exchange for 4-5 hours of labor a day, we would be fed and housed for a week. “Ya’ll might be ax-murderers, but I’ve decided to give this a shot.”
“Want to be an axe murderer?” Nathan mumbled to me.
“Only if we Bonnie and Clyde it,” I whispered back.
It’s been two days now, and I find my reactions to farming life pretty darn hilarious. On the one hand, I really enjoy it, but on the other hand, it is completely unlike my normal day-to-day experience, and as it turns out, I’m somewhat of a priss. As I pull weeds from the soil, beetles and spiders crawl out so I instinctively jump up and shake my body. I’ve used a weed-whacker and found myself covered head to toe with small pieces of grass, but it ends up other places too. It flings inside my nose and ears, so I snort like a horse. Dirt zings into my mouth and I gag like a cat. Weeds smack my jeans and I yelp like a puppy. My back is slightly sore from swinging that thing around in perhaps too precarious of motions.
If I get too much dirt on my hands, I don’t feel the natural pull of moist skin as finger rubs against finger anymore. My fingers turn into dry pieces of paper sliding against one another, never quite touching. It sounds rather nice, but I’m not used to Bethany Paper Hands. I’m used to Bethany Well-Moisturized Finger Hands. So I ick and then glance at Nathan, Nathan Sunday Newspaper Hands, who can dirt himself all day without a flinch.
We decided to plant tomatoes. Now, I’ve planted a plant before, so Nathan didn’t have to tell me to dig a hole. I guessed that much. What he did do was bring over a small bowl of chicken manure and a trowel. “We’re going to add some manure to the hole,” Nathan said. Great. No problem.
He dug a hole with the trowel. Then he took hold of the manure, stuck his hand in it, and sprinkled some into the hole.
“OH, okay, WOW, I thought we would be scooping that out with the trowel.”
“Well you can if you want to, but I wanted to massage it into tiny granules instead of letting it clump like this.” He showed me a piece of manure that had hardened into a rocky-looking clump. Then he squeezed it until it burst and sprinkled like little pixie dust into the hole. “But like I said, you don’t have to do it like that.”
Stupid reverse psychology. “Oh, I’ll do it. I’m just never eating with my hands again.” Let me tell you, I’ve never squeezed chicken manure so hard. I sprinkled that pixie dust so gently that Tink would have been jealous.
But I’ve gotten a little better. When I took the saddle off the horse today, I didn’t scream “GROSS” at the film of sweat on the saddle’s underside. I just put my hands right in that moisture and carried it back to the barn, happy that I had ridden a horse. When I caught a cricket for fish bait today, I didn’t get too creeped out by a jumping insect knocking against my hands—I just held it, excited to go fishing in the evening. And by the day’s end, when I saw a stray weed, I didn’t reach for my gloves—I just pulled it out. It turns out that dirt washes off pretty well, and it turns out that I like pulling weeds.
Yes, it’s nice to be back in the middle of nowhere.
Falling in Love, Snakes, and Reality
Sometimes, a foreign emotion from a fairy-tale or news article appears within my body, a new emotional way of interacting with the world becomes possible, and it changes my idea of reality deep in my cells.
It happened the first time I fell in love. I knew that this would probably happen to me some day, a disease I wouldn’t be able to fight, just like poor Thumper. I knew this because I watched Disney movies, listened to the story about how my parents first met, and saw it happen to older kids. I knew some of its properties—that it was supposed to feel comforting like sitting in my mom’s lap, exciting like riding a roller coaster, scary like looking over a mountain cliff, and consuming like my favorite book. But I didn’t know what it would be like until I woke up that fateful day, and it sat in front of me like a second nose. It was just there, clearly, so I thought, Ahhhh, this is it. This is that thing they were talking about. And now it’s stuck on my face. Ha! It’s stuck on my face! I love my face! I love your face! Yay for faces! And trees! And love! My spectrum of emotional reality was expanded.
Sometimes, a new emotional way of interacting with the world becomes possible, and it changes my idea of reality deep in my cells. It happened to me the first time I experienced Fight or Flight. They told me about this phenomenon in school during science class. When animals come in contact with a threat, they have two modes of self-preservation: fight, where they tackle the threat head on, or flight, where they run away from the threat, and the reaction is instinctual. But I hadn’t faced that many threats. Society took care of the beasts in nature that wanted to eat me. So I read my books about animal aggression and the food chain, passed my science tests, and lived my life.
Then one day, I took a jog on a mountain path, jiving in time to the Bon Jovi pushing me forward. As I zoomed around a corner, my eyes lighted upon a rattle snake, tensed, head flaring up, shaking its tail. It hissed. It did not want to be my friend. Without thinking, I skidded, pivoted, and dashed back the way I came, finding a new speed and adrenaline in my muscles that could have brought me first place in the 200 meter dash a month ago if only there had been a snake at the starting line. It was fire. It was palpable. It turned my eyes red with fury and necessity. And only minutes later could I think, Ahhh, this is it. This is that thing they were talking about. My spectrum of emotional reality was expanded.
Sometimes, a new emotional way of interacting with the world becomes possible, and it changes your idea of reality deep in your cells. It happens the first time we experience death, the birth of a child, deep betrayal, or the joy of a cultural tradition that’s not our own. It happens on a road trip across the country, meeting people from many walks of life. Old McDonald had a farm, but so does Charles Wallace in Oklahoma, and I got to live on that farm for three days. I held a baby chick. I plowed a field in a John Deere tractor. I spoke to a man who saw a social deterioration of an American Lifestyle, the inability to sustain oneself on a small family farm, the taking over of big corporate farms, and the deep sense of loss he felt.
I’ve eaten with people who prayed before dinner to Jesus. I’ve eaten with people who prayed before dinner to Grandfather Sun, Grandmother Moon, Mother Earth, and Our Ancestors. And I’ve eaten with people who haven’t prayed at all.
I’ve been thanked for inadvertently helping people think about what they value in their lives. I’ve been yelled at for inadvertently saying the wrong thing. These are stories for another day, but let me tell you, being both hugged and yelled at by strangers (not the same strangers) can really change your emotional reality.
Just ask any veteran. We see the movies, we watch the news, we read the papers, we know the facts, but we cannot know the emotional reality of the men and women who fight for our freedom—or the reality of the men and women they fight against. If we lived both lives, if we understood the concerns, fears, and joys of both sets of people, could we break through to a new understanding of reality?
It’s easy to speak hippie speak and preach love and kindness. It’s another thing to have an emotional reaction to people you feel are ignorant or intolerant or just plain rude. A number of days ago, I met a man who would talk to Nathan but not to me. I would ask a question and true, he would answer it, but he never once looked me in the eye. He would keep his head rigidly fixated on my traveling companion, responding as if Nathan asked the question! I found myself loathing that man. People aren’t all flowers and sunshine, and I do believe that the way he treated me was wrong. So am I a relativist in all things? No. I can’t say that I am. But I can say that I am expanding my reality of emotional possibilities, and—boy howdy—it’s pretty neat so far.
I came on this trip because I am a believer in six things: 1) There exists both intellectual knowledge and emotional experience, which also feels like its own form of knowledge. 2) Emotional experience is more viscerally convincing than intellectual knowledge, but knowledge gained through emotional experience often conflicts with people from other backgrounds. 3) Each piece of emotional experience contains its own truths. 4) It is possible to continually expand my spectrum of emotional experience. 5) The more I experience, the closer I can get to truth. 6) In this method, truth turns out to be a mosaic, not a doctrine.
Tonight, we party in Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States. Tomorrow, we grab our migrant shoes and travel to Louisiana for a week-long job, working a small country farm in exchange for food and lodging. Oh, let me fall in love, newly, again!