It’s that time of year again, where I write about you, or write to you. Four years ago tonight you texted me, late at night. I didn’t answer until the next day. By then it was too late. I hope you at least read the reply before you went.
I still have two bottles of mead that Roth and I brewed with the last of your honey. We brewed them in that awful haunted apartment on Grail Street that you and Adrien helped me move into. I’ll never forget the look on your face when we walked through the front door the first day and saw the acid-nightmare graffiti that the hippies who lived there before me left scrawled all over the walls.
“We need to paint all over this shit before it comes to life at night and eats you.”
We all laughed. It was funny in that “Maybe it can’t get any worse than this” way. There were a few months in that apartment that were alright. I liked living alone there. Some days I hid too much. Some nights I was really good at keeping myself occupied.
It was sweet when Molly moved in too. You only came over once more because the place was so creepy. I always look at that summer now in that like they were the last few good months we had before you died. You know how it is, when you end up dividing time in that before and after a person died way. Everything before they died just looks pristine and feels light, even if that wasn’t actually the case.
I felt haunted by the spectre of your death and it’s aftershocks for a full year. It manifested it self physically and I had to leave North Carolina. When I left North Carolina, the mead continued to ferment with Roth in the home they took me into when I got too sick to stay at Grail Street. I came back a year later and we bottled and labeled it. Then we spent the night we creeping around town like nocturnal fairies in the late night heat, delivering the bottles to your friends and loved ones. I think you would have appreciated the design. There was a lot of glitter.
I still have mine. I haven’t drank them yet. Whatever broke in my heart and brain in the aftermath of your passing still won’t allow me to drink alcohol, despite the fact that I maybe stayed drunk for an almost heroic three days straight in the immediate aftermath of your passing. Now I just can’t do it. I’ll start to feel sick and dump the rest of my bottle out. Even last summer, I tried to drink a bottle of hard cider on the banks of the French Broad with Ed. One of my favorite places, with a person I cherish. I took two sips and felt nauseous. I dumped the rest of the bottle into the the rushing water, thinking of it as an offering, and feeling comfort in the thought of all rivers leading to the Ocean.
Or worse, when the alcohol hits my bloodstream and I start to feel that sinking terror that I felt in the aftermath of your passing. You know that gnawing, deep dark existential terror we all feel at some point. We stare into nothing and worry that maybe just maybe, we live our lives for nothing, suffer, and then go into oblivion at the end. There is nothing else. No rhyme or reason, just chaos, violence, and darkness. That feeling happened a lot after you died.
The winter after you died Adrien and I had an end of the world party for ourselves on December 21st, 2012. You know, the night all these annoying ass new age crackers were telling us that the Mayans said the world was gonna end, or change, or whatever. It seemed like nobody could really decide which. I wasn’t sure if I cared. I just knew I was in pain a lot of the time and I hated everything.
We sat in my room on Grail Street. I was cleaning. Cobwebs lined the corners of my room. I didn’t knock them down. I thought of spiders as company. I put things that had belonged to the boyfriend in boxes to throw out. You had lived with him when you passed away. We broke up shortly after your death. It wasn’t sad. I was just ready for something else, and clawing to get away from him.
After that, then I read the runes. I can’t remember what they said. I only remember that it was no comfort. It thought back to a few months before you died in the summer. The day was too hot. You were crying alone in your room. I had never heard anyone be in such pain. I asked the boyfriend if he thought we should go comfort you.
“She’s fine. She just does this sometimes. I’ll check on her later” He said indifferently.
I had to leave because it was too agonizing to hear you hurting so much. I will probably regret not saying anything, or at least offering to bring you snacks, water, just fucking anything for the rest of my life. I thought about that day, and told Adrien I’d be right back. I took the boyfriend’s stuff out to the curb and threw it unceremoniously into the garbage.
Adrien sat in my bed drinking beers. As if he could tell what I was thinking, he mentioned you. Of course. It had only been maybe four months at that point. We talked about you a lot. All of us did. I’d like to think that you could somehow see how utterly beloved you were. I mean, seriously.. People were literally painting the town with your name. I also think you might have been embarrassed. I don’t know. Adrien was so sweet and assured me that they didn’t believe in oblivion, and that you were finally safe.
I just didn’t know. I just didn’t know anything except I missed you and you were gone. The nagging feeling that you had gone into oblivion just wouldn’t subside.
That darkness and emptiness swirled around the apartment all winter. We saw ghosts, but they were all scary, and none of them were you. Maybe you were just so ready to leave earth. I never really blamed you. And who would wanna spend the afterlife visiting the fucking Grail Street apartments, anyway? Sometimes I worry that I spent so much time being miserable in that building that my spirit is just going to gravitate back there when my time is up. Don’t worry. I’m doing everything I can to avoid that outcome.
That last summer in Asheville, mold sick and more depressed than I had ever been, I’d think I heard voices in both my waking hours and my dreams. I never knew if I was hearing an actual malevolent force, or if I just had to personify something that took you.
I got too sick and lost too much of my mind to stay at Grail Street. I moved in with Roth. Sometimes the voices and the panic would come to me there at night. I would lie in bed and claw at a now irregularly beating heart and pray for it to just beat right again. Some nights it just wouldn’t stop raining. The terror would get to be too much and I would lace up my boots in the night and speed over to Ed’s house to hyperventilate in their bed until daylight crept through the blinds. We were both terrified that my heart would somehow stop and death would come for me as I slept.
When I did sleep, I started to sleep with a loaded gun under the bed. I kept a baseball bat in the passenger seat of my truck. I would walk through downtown like a ghost haunting myself; eyes to the ground, fists clenching and unclenching. It was time to move on. It’s not that you were Asheville, but the pall your death cast across everyone I knew became to consuming to stay.
It took two full years of you being gone and a move across the country to feel any sense of lightness about you. Rachel, C-80 and I climbed a mountain on the anniversary of the day you left. We got to the peak late in the afternoon. You cold see for miles around. I whispered hello to you, and I told you how much I had loved you.
And that it was nice to see you again.
Maybe it took going to a place that was just too beautiful for words to feel like there had been anything else but pain and death for all of us.
And I hope you could see it. I really do. Because places this beautiful deserve to be shared with the people you love. And goddamn, were you ever loved. Not just by me, but by everyone who encountered you. Nobody had a bad thing to say about you. That’s a rarity in something as viciously petty and rife with shit talking as the radical queer community.
Every year, I write about you or I write to you. I post the same haunting photo of you. This year won’t be any different. I’m not ready to drink your mead yet. Maybe I’ll give it another six years. In 2022, it will have been ten years since you left. You’d be turning 38. I’ll be 41. If you were alive today, you’d be turning 32 this year. I still don’t resent you for choosing to go. I say it every year. Your death and it’s aftermath devastated me in a way that was almost awe inspiring. It broke me down and left me in pieces in a moldy room.
It broke everyone.
The only choice as to forge ahead through the ruins and reconstruct ourselves into newer and better people. We’ve all got to do that work for the rest of our lives. I know my works in that realm are far from complete. If anything was to be gained at all in the aftermath of your death at all, it’s to be inspired by the level of kindness, deep love, and humor you brought to your friends.
I hope to one day be able to bring even a fraction of the kindness and light to those I love that you showed everyone around you.
It hurts to become. It hurts to outgrow. It hurts to grow back.
I have been spending the last week working on my practicum for work/school. I had initially leaned towards doing a research project on adult basic education. I’ve been teaching a class of three 19-21 year olds every Wednesday for a few weeks now. I like the work. I find it meaningful, and it suits me well. I think that may be the first time I have ever written those two sentences in my entire life. To give the reader context for that statement, I will be thirty-five in three months.
I’d like to think that my kids (I call them my kids, because they are still basically teenagers.) like me. I tell jokes with them, and I swear in class. Sometimes they tell me that they think a reading we’re working through in the text book is boring. I sympathize with them. I can see the frustration on their faces. The reading isn’t challenging. Maybe they feel like it insults their intelligence. Maybe just want to be somewhere else. I don’t take it personally. I just do my best to try and remember what it was like to be 19 and have that feeling like your whole life was just somewhere else. I remember that feeling so well. Maybe I remember it so well because it has persistently followed me since I was fourteen years old and stuck in a rust belt town in rural Pennsylvania.
I wrote a draft of a paper about my kids and I scrapped it. I wrote a second one and scrapped that too. I think I just couldn’t actually translate my enjoyment of working with my kids to paper.
I think it’s because it’s just that. Enjoyment. I’m so lucky for that, that my work is something I enjoy. I’m aware of that.
I found myself abruptly switching topics to writing as therapy, something I fall deeply into. I wanted to talk about writing as a means to heal, and work through our old traumas and horrors. I related my own story as a childhood sexual assault survivor. I talked about how a “trusted adult” encouraged me to write stories about my abusers where I was a victor, not a victim.
There is my first lie of the night. Referring to my mother as a “trusted adult” gives me a hearty chuckle. Of course, that part of the story is true. My mother actually encouraged me to write those stories. She gave me a black and white composition notebook to just that. I wrote those stories for a few weeks and then gave up on it as winter gave way to spring and I began to feel more calm in my ten year old body.
Of course, I left out the parts where my mother grew tired of my crying and my nightmares around a year or so after disclosing my abuse to her. I left out the part where after a move to a new state far away from my abusers she told me one night when I was eleven that it was “time to get over it.”. I left out the part where as adult, my abuse has been written out of the history of our lives. I left out the part where my mother attributes my bottomless anger and depression to the early death of my father.
I feel dishonest as a writer. I can’t just turn in a practicum to my colleagues where I say: “Yep, I was molested. My mom sucks too. Whatever. Long live nihilism.”
Even further into my practicum, my lies get deeper. I talk about writing as a means to heal. I talk about the power of the written word to transform our lives. I talk about it like writing has saved me. Maybe it has. Right now, I’m not so sure. I feel like the same fucked up kid I always did, even three months shy of my thirty-fifth birthday. I talk about writing as a force for positive personal change like I can ever concentrate on it for more than ten minutes at a time.
I talk about writing like it’s actually brought significant light to the darkness that lives in me. I talk about writing like it has brought any sense of functionality to my life. Maybe it has. Maybe it’s harder to see right now. It’s getting late here in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s been dark for goddamn hours now.
I don’t know. It’s all the same words. It’s all the same stories; the ones I’ve told myself year after year about spending most days feeling like the living dead, or about trying to shape nihilism into a life. They are everything I know but goddamn it, if I’m not tired. Maybe I should shut up and take my own fucking advice.
I’ve spent years writing, filling up journals that I never share with anyone, writing blogs, zines, whatever else I can think of. I pour my heart and soul into staining pages with ink, and still feel empty, and empty handed at the end of the day. I don’t know what to show for it. I’ve got a zine that I constantly let out of print, because the shit is so filled with pain that it’s almost embarrassing. What did my bestie say when she was proofreading it for me?
“God, your honesty is almost uncomfortable sometimes.”
It’s true. Except right now I feel like I’m lying like I’m healed, or don’t have some vicious shadows crawling around my head and heart. Twenty years of writing it all the fuck down hasn’t changed that. Maybe it never will. I’m not gonna stop filling up notebook after notebook with black ink until maybe one day I’ll wake up one day and feel like the shadows have shifted a bit.
Tonight though, I’m a liar. I write like I’m healed. I write like I trust any of my feelings. Tonight it’s like most nights I feel like I’m stuck in a room where the January wind is howling outside my window and I’m fourteen years old and hopeless, and it’s 3:23 AM forever. Fuck this. I’m not even going to proofread this shit.
Edit: I lied again. I totally proofread this an hour after I posted it. Ha fucking ha.