an epilogue for 2013

We've finally reached the end of this weird, indulgent project I've been working on all year! It's been fun to have a definite goal. A lot of the stories I wrote here were part of a longer piece that got lost along with my netbook, which I lost when I made the mistake of taking it to a sketchy laptop repair place here in Seattle. It was very nearly finished, and I wanted to tell the stories without just writing the whole thing again. (I may still do so at some point, but not just yet.) This whole project has been about the stories we tell, how they change in the telling, how we contradict ourselves for the sake of narrative, or sometimes simply because we've forgotten what the truth is. I'd be happy if you read them again now that it's complete. So much of what I was trying to do relies on the contrasts between the various stories. I'm already happy if you read even one of them, of course, and even more so if you ever smiled, or thought about something differently, because of the words I've been stringing together here for almost eight years.

Quite apart from this project (which was great), 2013 was a good year in a quiet way. I spent it doing things I wanted to do, rather than things I felt like I should do. And I learned a lot of things, about myself, about the world. And of course I learned that there's many more things I have yet to learn. I earned the animosity of one person who is my opposite in many ways, and earned the terrifying, unflagging devotion of another person who is my opposite in many quite different ways. Both are interesting stories in their own right, I'm sure, but I'm not yet sure how to tell them. Perhaps 2014 will be that year. Perhaps it never will be.

And in November I wrote a short story again--not the microfiction I put on here, but a full story of about 3000 words, or probably ten to twelve pages in a word processor. It had been a couple of years since I'd done that, and I'm not sure why I stopped. It feels like coming home. I'm going to do more of them, hopefully one a month. (I cheated and started early, though. December's story is here.) I'm not sure where I'm going to put them yet, but I'll probably link to them from here, and I'm sure I'll keep telling stories here.

Regardless. By the time most of you read this the new year will doubtless have already arrived. I hope it's a good one. I hope you rediscover something you had forgotten, and don't know how you could ever have lived without. And I hope you create something beautiful, something you're proud of, something you can't wait to share with people.

changes, pt. 5


I think it was probably a New Year's party where I first kissed you, and even with midnight as an excuse it took far more absinthe than was wise to convince me it was a good idea. I'd convinced myself it would be no big deal, that we could continue our little game like nothing had happened.

For a while we just basked in the glow of the moment. Then you said something like "So what does this mean?" and everything I thought I knew shattered in that instant. Instead of answering I just lost balance and fell against your chest, and you smiled and said "You okay?"

And I wanted to say, no, of course I'm not okay, you stupid boy. With five little words and the entire world changed. Instead I just mumbled something vaguely about having too much to drink and you deftly maneuvered me over to a recently vacated couch, where we sat down and I leaned my head on your shoulder and vaguely nodded as you spoke.

I could see the face of the future. I used to run away because it was a game, and it amused me at the time. Now I'd have to run away because the alternative was to stop moving altogether, to settle down and let life happen. And as much as I hated how you'd changed the entire world just now, I hated the idea of a changeless life anymore. So I told you I was sorry, even though I hate apologies, and you smiled and told me it was okay, completely unaware what you were forgiving me for.

changes, pt. 4


You only took me across the mountains once during the winter--home to see your folks for the holidays, allegedly, though we didn't actually spend much time with your family while we were there. You said you didn't like the cold, which was definitely true, but in the quiet moments where you were driving from place to place and you didn't think I was watching I could tell you were actually afraid.

And it made sense. I watched you change into a different person everywhere we went. Someone from your past, maybe, or just someone you thought was more palatable for these old friends-your demeanor and your mannerisms changed instantly and completely. Each version of you was slightly catered to whoever we were talking to. At least your laugh remained the same. I've always known you had your faults, but your laugh was always perfect.

I told you what a surreal time this whole trip had been once, and you laughed. You laughed at everything back then. I imagine it's the one thing about you that's stayed the same. Except this time I asked why you laughed, and you looked afraid again, then thoughtful. "It's easier," you said. "Every time I come back it's a reminder of how much everything changes. Even me. Especially me."

"Easier than what?"

"If you can't manage a sincere laugh at something that terrifies you, you're living your life wrong," you said. Then you distracted me with stories about the old place, about the life that you'd left behind. I could never tell if you were afraid of the past or the future, and it was only now that I realized it was probably both.


changes, pt. 3


I keep thinking of this promise I made to Eris once, full of words like "always," and how I knew even as I was speaking it that it wasn't a promise I'd be able to keep. I keep thinking of how she smiled and kissed my hand and gave me a look that said she knew it was meaningless, too.

I convinced myself the thing I needed to fight was change: that the reason we both knew it was bullshit is we knew that we'd both change, that the world would change around us. Life is a storm, I thought, and I'd just have to be a rock strong enough to weather it for both of us. (It went without saying that the chaos of life would blow her about like a leaf in the wind.)

Even once the inevitable finally happened, after we'd both betrayed each other, after we made a half-hearted stab at reconciliation, I believed that change was to blame for everything. That maybe things could have been different. But I keep thinking of the morning I made that promise. How I'd known in that moment that she would always be alone with me. How I'd resolved to be steady and unchanging, when the one thing that might have saved us would have been a willingness to change with the leaves.


changes, pt. 2


We already had problems by the first winter. I guess it's probably pretty obvious by now that we had problems by our first meeting, but I realized it that winter, when I tried to create a ritual to stave off the passage of time, staying up all night for the solstice. It had been such a beautiful thing in the summer, but now the days were short and the nights were cold. Things had already changed.

We were curled up together in front of the fireplace, drinking hot chocolate, because that seemed like the sort of thing we should make a ritual of. Somehow it all felt hollow, and the more it seemed that my plans were falling flat the more desperate I became. She saw that, of course. She's always the first to notice my flaws, and the first to point them out--because, she always liked to say, she values honesty above all things.

I said something like "I just don't want anything to change between us," but that was a lie, and I think I was mostly trying to convince myself. Of course I wanted change. I wanted things to be like they were in my mind, all whimsical and perfect. I wanted the world to change for me. I wanted, more than anything, to believe that I wouldn't be forced to run when I couldn't lie to myself anymore.


changes, pt. 1


I came back to Seattle once, hoping to pay my sister a surprise visit--it turned out she was out of town that week, of course, because that's the sort of thing that happens. So, finding myself with a sudden surplus of free time, I wandered through the city, revisiting my old haunts. There's something comforting in the unchanging. Eventually I found myself in my old neighborhood, where the most important of my old haunts had been: a used bookstore next to a coffee shop. They were places I still thought of when I thought of 'home,' which probably explained why, for so long, I'd felt restless and irritable. It's hard to feel safe when home is thousands of miles away.

Except when I reached the block, the bookstore was gone. In its place was the hideous blue of a Chase bank, sitting there like a bad set from a sci-fi movie. It was as if they'd put it there intentionally to taunt me--as if to say "This used to be a place of comfort, a place full of knowledge and secrets and hidden treasures." How could something so beautiful become something so utterly soulless?

The coffee shop still stood, at least. I ordered a chai tea and didn't dare ask when the bookstore had gone. It would have been like asking when the earth had come unchained from the sun.


a prelude for december

It's hard to believe we've very nearly reached the last month of the year. December! For Thanksgiving I've gone home to eastern Washington, and a truly amazing freezing fog crept in last night, leaving a thick coating that almost looked like snow on the ground. I sometimes forget, in the maritime temperate climate of Seattle, how beautiful winter can be. Or how dangerous. (I've not forgotten the cold. Cold is something you never forget.)

Six months ago I wrote stories about eternity. This month I am writing stories about changes. Autumn is of course usually the season of change, but by the time December rolls around I always feel like everything is in flux. You can't get the sunset to stay still, for instance, but even culturally. We move at a breakneck pace through the holiday season. After Thanksgiving it becomes the race for Christmas, and then Christmas comes and goes and you're left cleaning up the tinsel, just in time to ring in the new year--and the new year is a holiday all about changes.

Some of these stories I've been waiting to tell since I started this project, and some of them, of course, I'm making up as I go. Regardless, I hope, if it can't be warm where you are, it is at least beautiful.


death, pt. 5


When I fled my old life, I spent a lot of time in solitude. I tell people it was "quiet contemplation" but I'm not sure if I was really contemplating anything so much as I was basking in the silence, learning to accept that it was okay to do nothing but exist for a while.

After a while I began to imagine that I had died. That was reason it was so quiet in my new apartment, why I didn't answer my calls or my emails or basically anything. Eventually, the calls and emails tapered off, and only a few dedicated individuals--my sister, mostly--kept trying. I thought that was fitting, really. The dead aren't something we think about. This world is made for the living. When the dead depart, we pay our respects, then we forget.

Once I emerged from my tomb, I started writing again. They were sad stories, stories about death and mortality and isolation. People started wondering if I was depressed (because when I was actually depressed they just thought I was being weird), but it seemed important. It wasn't until much later that I realized I was writing a eulogy for the life I'd led.

Is that so strange? I felt that in some way I truly had died, and some new self had moved in to replace the old one. The habits and quirks of my old self were gone. When I finally realized that, I asked my sister over and we held a wake. And somewhere in the middle of all this I realized I no longer felt like a ghost.


death, pt. 4


I was never more convinced that Eris had no appreciation for death than when she almost died in a freak accident, sometime last year. She kept telling me she should have died, that the odds were as stacked against her survival as they were against the whole event happening anyway. And she was so fucking cavalier about the whole thing. I called her out on it, of course. She just shrugged.

"Worse things have happened."

"You almost died."

"C'est la vie, I guess." Then she smiled like she thought she was the cleverest fucking thing. "Or maybe that should be c'est la mort?"

Which was typical Eris for you, really. For me, death was the only sacred thing. For her, it was a shrug and a bad joke. I'd almost say the idea that it might matter to someone seemed utterly alien to her, but she knew it mattered to me. When she finally, inevitably betrayed me, what hurt most is the fact that she chose the one thing that I held sacred to do it with--a story about death, something that had made me who I am, something so sacred I'd kept it secret until she came along. Then she took my secret and published it in her sister's fucking lit mag, just because she wanted to do something to hurt me.

The last time that we spoke (before she showed up on my doorstep years later, anyway) I told her she'd violated something sacred, and she just shrugged and said, "I don't understand why you're so upset. Stories are meant to be told, aren't they?"

And she really believed that stories might give us some sort of immortality, because as far as she was concerned, death had no meaning. The part that really hurt, though, was the gnawing fear that maybe she was right.


death, pt. 3


I was crashing at Alex's place for a few weeks last year, and since the last time we'd spoken before that was years ago and also ended with a lot of shouting, there weren't many safe topics of conversation. Mostly we just didn't talk, of course. We very studiously avoided situations where a conversation was likely--it's easier than you'd think, really.

Since I'd just had a brush with death, I kept having these dreams where a star fell on the house. I'd hoped being in Alex's house would make them go away, but instead they just followed me there. The first night there, I had the dream again, and woke up with a start. Then I felt her next to me and closed my eyes and tried to relax. We would both survive until the morning.

She woke up next to me and asked, sleepily, "You all right?"

The smart thing to do was say "I'm fine, just a bad dream," and go to sleep. Instead, I said, "I keep dreaming I'm dying. Some nights I'm scared to go to sleep, and I just want it to stop."

"You always used to tell me you weren't afraid of death, because life is narrative and your story will always live on, or some bullshit like that."

"All philosophy is bullshit when it comes to death. That's why we keep trying. We always think we've found the sole exception. But we haven't. And when we actually deal with death, we have to confront that."

"Sounds like more philosophy to me."

"Probably. But it's bullshit that helps me sleep at night."

And for the rest of that night, at least, I slept soundly.


death, pt. 2


Did they ever destroy that 24-hour place where we used to hang out? I know they were going to. I was crushed when I found out, and spent the evening writing down little stories I remembered about the place. Things we'd said, or things that happened there--you know how it is. I probably sent you one or two, for the sake of old times.

We have this macabre fascination with dying things, you and I. Not that we'd ever admit it, or even really talked about it. There was a time once--it must have been at the diner, I guess--where you asked me about it, and I almost talked about it. But we talked about everything but death, because that's the one thing that's always on our minds, isn't it? And since nobody ever says what they mean--least of all me--how could we ever actually talk about it? Besides, words have no power in the realm of death. It's something you experience. You can describe the shape of it with words but not its texture, its color. Words can't look death in the eye, and they certainly can't grin back at it.

So that moment came and went. You kept looking at me like you thought I was going to cry, and I wasn't sure what to do, or what to say. Which, as you might imagine, is new to me. It's been years since that day, and probably the diner has been destroyed now, but I finally figured out what I should have said.

"We should go to a funeral together."


death, pt. 1


When you were in London, I used to think of what would happen if you died while you were there. That probably sounds worse than it is--it was just this fear I had. As if distance made it more likely that you'd be hit by a bus, or something. I don't know. Anyway, when you came back, and we finally met at a party and sat out back and watched the wind tear the leaves off the trees, those thoughts didn't go away. We'd been talking philosophy and how people change, and as you talked I imagined you still and cold and composed in a coffin somewhere.

Eventually I just asked you, "Have you ever thought about death?" and then when you smirked at me I immediately regretted the question, because of course you had. But you actually suppressed the smirk. I still don't know if that was on purpose.

You told me how you used to go to funerals of people you didn't know, for reasons you could never quite articulate. "I guess I was just obsessed with death," you said. "Maybe I still am." Then you smirked again and said that you didn't want to get all morbid tonight. But your smile seemed thin after that, and your smirk looked more like a mask than ever. You looked as human as I'd ever seen you look. Who was I to intrude on that?

a prelude for november

There are basically only two holidays that I really appreciate: Halloween and New Year's. (There's also May Day, but that's not really a holiday in the US, and anyway that one is much more personal) They're the only ones that feel genuinely human to me, because they aren't trying to be about anything else. I've written about the new year extensively (just look at January and December in my archives), but less so about Halloween. I guess it's harder to know what to say, because it's mostly a holiday about having fun. But it's also, inescapably, about death, which is why there's ghosts and zombies and vampires crawling around.

But now we're moving into November, which opens up cheerfully with the Day of the Dead, and, more to the point here, is six months after May. When I started this project I knew there would be a pairing of life and death, and I knew that May had to be the month of life, so it fell to November to be the month of death. It would have worked well for October, of course, but it's fitting here, too. November is the point where you can't pretend that winter is still a ways off. It's coming, and it will always come sooner than you think.

Of course, despite the fact that I've always known I wanted to write this month about death, I haven't had the faintest idea what I'd write about, because my usual framework of ghosts and the absurd isn't here for me to fall back on. I had this idea in my head that death required some sort of special treatment that I was afraid this framework wouldn't support.

And that's absurd, of course, because I talk about death the same way that I talk about anything else I've written about here. Death has been a part of my life from a very early age: I can't talk about who I am without, ultimately, talking about death. Why should my characters be any different? Even if they haven't known anyone who's died, death is a constant companion for us all. So perhaps I can learn something by approaching it from someone else's perspective, for once.


results, pt. 5


When you called and asked if I could pick you up from the airport, I made plans. I guess it doesn't really matter what they were now, but I made them. I wanted you to have fun when you got home from London, because at the time that was something I cared about.

Then I remembered what happened every single time I'd made a plan for you. How you always had a better idea, and how I always quietly let you have your way, because that was the sort of thing I did, and anyway you seemed happier that way. But I kept trying, because I figured one day you'd be happy if you were surprised, or even just if you let someone else drive for once.

But I learned what sort of results I'd get if I made plans for you: nothing at all. Just this once I wanted to actually do what I'd planned--and, if I'm being honest, I think I wanted to repay you for all your years of disrupting our plans. So I decided I'd just skip the bit about the airport and go and do alone all the things I'd planned to do with you.

I'd hoped to get a sense of smug satisfaction as I ignored your texts, but, true to form, you wouldn't even grant me that. Instead I just wondered whether we would have actually had fun for once, like we'd come so close to doing so many times before.


results, pt. 4


It was sometime in the fall that we first met, wasn't it? Some party neither of us really wanted to be at, where the city was shrouded in fog and the evenings weren't quite cold enough to keep us from hanging out on the back porch and staring at a city that seemed so beautiful and quiet. So we sat there in the dark and watched our breath cloud the air and talked about how we both hated parties, and I made plans.

I had the whole evening planned out. I'd walk you home, then I wouldn't let you kiss me and I'd vanish into the fog. In the morning you'd call and I'd keep dancing just out of reach. And everything went exactly according to plan, like you were some character I'd made up. I don't know if you ever understood how frustrating that was. Things aren't supposed to go according to plan. It's supposed to be this dance.

The thing is, I figured that the only reason my plans all turned out so well is you had a plan of your own. The hope of that result kept me from even considering altering my plans. So I kept dancing away, right up until the point where you finally gave up following.


results, pt. 3


One of the biggest ironies of living a life so obsessed with plans is you don't even have time to consider whether or not you're getting the results you wanted out of them. I remember my calendar used to be full of these little notes for weeks in advance: lunch dates with people who were useful to know, parties full of the sorts of people who went to parties to network. So when the 24th rolled around, for instance, I'd know exactly what my day would be like, who I'd be talking to, and all that jazz.

It was seldom very pleasant, but I did it, because everyone around me seemed convinced that without plans, there was only chaos. So my life was very orderly, of course, and also extremely hectic, because it takes a lot of effort to maintain all that planning. And despite living at all times on the brink of disaster, I'd look at people without my organization and say something like "There but for the grace of God go I."

My sister has always been the one who helped me step outside of myself. She showed up unannounced and cancelled all my plans, and despite my initial anxiety, my life did not collapse. I was able to relax and only spend time with people I actually liked, and it dawned on me then that the only thing my plans were actually accomplishing was making me hate my life.


results, pt. 2


I remember once I was delirious with fever, and instead of staying home in bed like a smart person I decided I'd follow through with the plans I'd made with Alex the week before. It was something stupid--she was out of town and she promised to buy me ice cream when she got back. She noticed I was sick right away, of course, but when she asked if I was all right and I gave a weak "I'm fine, it looks worse than it is" she brushed it off.

This was back when Alex being gone was the worst thing that could happen to me, and I managed to endure a week of that because I had fixed in my brain the thought that at some point in the future we were going to get ice cream. But the moment was here, and I was barely able to focus on the fact that there even was a moment.

We sat in the corner of the ice cream parlor and she talked. She probably told me about her trip, but I couldn't understand any of the words. It was all I could do now to focus on the ice cream, the very thought of which had sustained me. Now it was my anchor to the real world, and Alex was just some dim memory, something that happened to someone else.

Later on she told me she had fond memories of that evening. "It was just so . . . so you, you know?" And I did know, but I don't think she really did. She didn't understand that this innocent plan we made helped me realize that the relationship I clung to so desperately was just an illusion--no more real than the fever dreams. And suddenly I wanted something tangible. I wanted something I could sink my teeth into, cold enough to make my head ache and send chills down my spine, sweet enough that that wouldn't stop me. She could never offer me anything more than an idea, I realized then, and somewhere in my heart I knew that ideas are just a prison.

Of course I'd never talk about this. It was a realization that took place subconsciously, and my waking mind spent all its energy trying to fight that realization. But everything changed from that point. All because we made plans.


results, pt. 1


It was always impossible to make plans with Eris. She was just one of those people who is made entirely of chaos--and that was probably part of the draw at first. Sure, she'd always stick to the letter of any plans I'd try to make, but there was hardly any point to it. She destroyed the spirit of the plans just by being there. So way back when I still called her 'porch girl' I started making these elaborate plans, just to see if she'd actually follow through with them. And no matter how convoluted she always kept them perfectly, and despite that the entire thing was ruined.

She reveled in the chaos, of course. She has this infuriating little smile she does when things go wrong, like it's just so exciting and why aren't I enjoying myself? I saw that smile a lot. Somehow, though everything went according to plan, nothing turned out the way I expected. I never really understood it then, but I think it was mostly just her reaction. Like she knew how I wanted her to react and she refused to follow the script. She had her own idea of a good time.

The most infuriating thing is how often she was right. Her suggestions always stuck with me, as crazy and unpredictable as she was, while my own plans were utterly forgettable. I'm confident now she was quietly mocking me--no matter how intricate my plans, she could do better without thinking about it, without trying. But she would always, always give me a chance, even after the end had come and gone.


a prelude for october

October is actually the month where all of this started. I wrote seven ghost stories for October last month. Later, when I was talking about the ghost stories to a girl I'd never speak to again, she asked if I did something like that for every month. "I do now," I said. I tried to do something for November, but it didn't happen. Then I thought about it, and I decided that I wanted to do this project, with themes and counterpoints. May would be about life and November would be about death; then I filled in the rest of the months and have been tweaking that list ever since.

October didn't get much tweaking. April was always about plans and October was always about results. I don't think I'm using "results" in the typical sense of the word, though, because when I hear the word I think "he gets results!" But the results for these characters you've been getting to know all year aren't always good results, because they don't always make good plans. (Sometimes I'm not even sure good plans really exist.) Results are what happen when plans meet reality. The explosion that follows is sort of like the one that happens when matter comes into contact with antimatter.


doubt, pt. 5


I started feeling weird about how I never trusted anyone, so I started hoarding secrets--that way, when someone started asking why I doubted them, I could hand them a secret. "Here," I'd say. "This is for you." And it was mostly just a test. Everything is a test.

It was the same thing with Eris. We'd reached the point where I needed to say "no, I totally trust you," so I dug up one of my buried secrets. "Here, you can have the one about my friend who died in middle school." I wrapped it up neatly and gave it to her in a box. I told her I gave her this because I trusted her, but really it was because I doubted her. Because I wanted to see what she'd do with something so precious to me. So I watched her and I poked and prodded her, and I even got myself to believe I was just proving how much we trusted each other.

Eventually all the little tests, trying to get her to prove that I should still trust her, became a ritual. She never fought back or complained or anything. I built an entire relationship on doubt, and still, when she finally did prove me right, I had no idea it was coming. By the end I doubted she was even capable of betrayal.

It hurt, of course, but part of me was secretly pleased.


doubt, pt. 4


Before I fled my old social circles--that festering den of liars that I loved so much--there was a kid I dated, whose primary virtue was that he didn't seem like the rest of the people I knew. He was obsessed with uncertainty and doubt and the ephemeral nature of reality, and for some reason that was relentlessly charming, and made me want to follow him blindly wherever he wanted to lead me.

My sister laughed at me when I told her about him, because she saw herself in my descriptions of him. She said, "You can't trust people like me. We're inherently untrustworthy." And that just sounded like the sort of charmingly self-deprecating thing people like that would say, so I didn't really pay it much heed. But she said something that stuck with me.

"The best thing you can do for someone like that is to doubt them," she told me. "When you've embraced the ephemeral nature of the world we live in, the last thing you need is someone trying to make you into some sort of immovable rock."

I didn't listen, of course, because humans never listen to the good advice. But when my gossamer anchor disintegrated, suddenly the full weight of it struck me. I don't even remember this kid's name, but I do remember how important it is to give in to doubt every now and then.


doubt, pt. 3


For most of my life, the people I've been closest to have tried to maintain a careful distance from me, because as far as they're concerned I'm just a ticking time-bomb, waiting to go off and betray any trust they gave me. And that's probably fair, of course, but it made me doubt myself, too. I doubted myself so wholly and completely that it became a part of who I was--a little bit of stability to cling to.

Alex changed all of that, or at least tried to. She trusted me implicitly, and in so doing she robbed me of a carefully constructed identity. Any time I tried to tell her, she tried to reassure me, like I was a child telling her about monsters under my bed. And I just let it happen, because against something so powerful as trust, what could I do? Every effort to revive that doubt failed, no matter how I tried. Her soothing words drowned the self to which I had clung so desperately.

So one evening, as she was whispering about how she wished I could see myself from her eyes, I resolved that there was one weapon against which trust could never stand: betrayal. Her confidence in me would be shattered, and I could finally be free of the tyranny of trust.


doubt, pt. 2


Doubt sort of defined our relationship, didn't it? And really it sort of defines all human relationships--we can't just go around trusting each other, after all. We keep our guard up around random strangers, so why not around people who are close to us? Just because you were important to me was no reason for me to suddenly assume that you had my best interests at heart. I never had your best interests at heart, after all. Anyway, a breach of trust can happen entirely on accident, and if all of our endless fights were any indication, that was bound to happen sooner or later.

So of course I doubted you. I had no reason to do anything else. It's nothing personal, it's just that life is simpler when you operate under the assumption that people are going to let you down. And it's not like I was wrong: you did disappoint me, time and time again. So doubt was just another thing I did in order to survive.

For the longest time you used to send these drunken emails late at night--I assume they were drunken, anyway, because I'm generous--talking about trust. Telling me you trusted me, or saying how much it hurt that I didn't trust you, or asking that I show how much I trust you. Not often, just every couple of months, usually when I'd done something that brought the doubt that formed the seed of our relationship into the foreground. You were fond of swearing that you'd never betray me--as if I even knew what the word meant. I've always been far too sensible for that.

I assume you got your answer, anyway, when I never wrote back. For all of the problems we had, I always thought our relationship went well precisely because I kept my expectations low. Unrealistic hopes have destroyed civilizations and brought empires to their knees. What hope did I have against that?


doubt, pt. 1


Something about you seemed fundamentally untrustworthy from the moment we met--I think it was a Labor Day barbecue, wasn't it? I can picture it clearly: you complaining about America's lack of appreciation for the labor movement, about how by rights this should be on May Day, about how most Americans simply see it as an excuse to eat hamburgers and get drunk. I can still hear your sarcastic tone, still see your ironic little smirk. I showed up late and didn't know anyone there, but I knew two things as soon as I saw you: I knew that you liked me for some reason, and I knew that was probably a bad thing.

I drank more than I usually do that night. I'm not good at parties, and you were making me uncomfortable. It didn't help. I ended up ducking out back for air after even more people showed up, and I wasn't really surprised that you'd followed me out there. I was surprised that it didn't bother me anymore. Perhaps the alcohol had drowned that little seed of doubt. You asked if I was feeling okay, your tone abruptly lacking the carefully constructed irony from earlier, and that put me on edge again. As if your apparent sincerity could be anything more than artifice.

I answered honestly, because honesty is usually the best way to get rid of someone. But you stayed, and I made what I have often thought of as the worst decision of my life then: I decided to just let you stay around. So long as I kept that seed of doubt alive, so long as I didn't let myself trust you--well, there was no harm in seeing where the evening would take it, was there? I was fairly certain the evening would end with you in my bed, except when we reached my doorstep you simply leaned in close and told me to call you when I was sober.

And that's how I stopped watching the doubt I'd spent all night nurturing: in that moment I was certain I'd misjudged you. I let it grow wild, and from that moment on, the only thing I was uncertain of was myself.


a prelude for september

September always feels like something is ending to me. Or rather, a lot of somethings: summer is ending, and with the coming of fall it becomes official: the year is almost over. That endless period where the sun never sets has gone away, and the days are getting shorter. This isn't a bad thing, of course. Sometimes summer is more dead than the darkest nights of winter. The sharpness of an autumn breeze carries a beautiful new life with it.

I wrote about trust in March, which seems like it was forever ago, in another world. September's stories are about doubt. At some point it was going to be betrayal or something obvious like that, but betrayal isn't much of a counterpoint to trust, is it? It's one of the many possible outcomes of trust. (One of the others is solidarity. The two aren't mutually exclusive.) But doubt--it's that little voice in the back of your head telling you to be on your guard, even when being on your guard could cost you everything. Doubt is a constant companion for a lot of people, I think. The real trick is to make it your friend. It's only a creeping poison if you let it be one.


solidarity, pt. 5


I managed to talk you into taking public transit that night, because that night was supposed to be some sort of reconciliation, and I wanted a chance to talk. The moment you asked me to go I imagined it: waiting in the thin fog, alone at some bus stop, waiting for a bus that would take forever to come. I'm sure it says more about me than anything else, but people bond over those unpleasant moments, don't they?

I'd be lying if I didn't say the image I'd kept in my mind of that night didn't linger far longer than the actual events. Which is to say: no matter how I tried, I could never convince myself that solitude was preferable to solidarity. The difference, I think, is that solitude is real, and therefore easily dismissed. Solidarity is an idea. God knows you tried, but you can't kill an idea.

Still, sometimes I wait at that bus stop, and the city's beautiful and quiet, and I wish that all your efforts to kill that bond that we shared had succeeded. Sometimes I wish I could think of nothing but the peace of a city sleeping, instead of your ghost coming up to haunt me. But I can't. You can't exorcise the ghost of someone who's not dead. And on some level I know that we'd both be the poorer for it even if we could.


solidarity, pt. 4


I think I told you once that I hated the idea of being alone with my thoughts, and I'm pretty sure you took it literally. It wasn't so much about . . . well, it's like this. The plan, when I got back from London, was to share what had been happening inside my head for the duration of my trip. I'd been, in the strictest sense, alone with my thoughts for most of that time, but I was fine with that. I looked forward to seeing you again. When I told you I hated the idea of being alone with my thoughts, what I really meant is I hated the idea of losing the solidarity we had.

And we kept it through some pretty rough times, didn't we? Even when we hated each other there was always a sense of camaraderie there. You may have been convinced I was history's greatest monster, and you may not have even been that far off, but you still listened to my thoughts. We shared the strange conviction that there is a difference between people who are important to each other, and people who like each other. We'd always been the former; we were only occasionally the latter.

That was a connection that was deeper than anything else. So it never crossed my mind that when I got back, you'd leave me alone with my thoughts, using my carry-on as a pillow, staring at the sterile lines of the empty airport, the feeling of this profound bond we once shared unraveling keeping me from anything remotely resembling sleep.


solidarity, pt. 3


When I tell stories about Alex, I'm always sort of a passive character in them. Part of that is because I'm sort of a passive person, but as is the case with all good stories, a lot of it is because I'm lying. On a good day (or bad day, depending on your point of view) I could tell you everything about her, and about our relationship. I'd spent my entire life getting good at observing things, starting with myself and working my way out.

She was the sort of deliberately abrasive person that fancies themselves "brutally honest," so she didn't have any close friends. Just me. And she'd gotten used to the idea that no matter how much abuse she heaped on me, I'd just shrug and deal with it, because we both needed each other--the connection we had was a fucking addiction.

I'd started deliberately needling her, doing the things she always hated. I'm sure I thought it was a good idea at the time. Every time, she'd react the same way--which is to say, badly--and I'd get pissed off and start needling her even more. This went on for longer than I'd care to admit. Eventually all the quiet resentment I'd been building up turned into a white-hot fury, and I drove her away.

When I'd screamed my voice hoarse, I called my sister. She told me stories that made me laugh, and for a while everything was okay. And that was more solidarity than I'd had in years.


solidarity, pt. 2


We met in late August, I think, just after her school started. It was one of those summers where it got ridiculously hot later than anyone thought it would, and I remember her in her summer clothes glistening with sweat and sitting on the porch. She looked like she needed a friend, so I went out and said hi. She was a little weirded out by that, but then we got to talking and actually got on pretty well. I told her if she ever happened to be walking by my place again and she saw me she should stop by. I didn't expect that we'd ever actually see each other again, so I didn't ask for her name or anything.

So imagine my surprise when I was sitting out on the porch, one afternoon just after the morning's low clouds had burned off, and there she was walking by. Her face lit up and I couldn't help but smile back--nobody that I knew ever seemed so excited to see me. She hurried over and asked if she could join me, very politely, and I said sure.

She told me her sister usually drove her home, but she was busy, so she decided to walk, but the way she said it, the way she looked when she saw me--she walked by just in case I was there. She was willing to go out of her way to take the chance that she'd run into me again. And the elation I felt at that realization was impossible to contain.

We'd made a connection, I decided, and I would fight like hell to make sure that nothing would ever break that connection.


solidarity, pt. 1


I don't remember his name or his face, but I remember the shape of the mark I left on his neck after a night of sloppy drunken kissing on the floor. I also remember the guy sleeping on the couch a few feet away from us, dutifully pretending to sleep--I think I thought about him more than the kid I was making out with, which, in fairness, isn't saying much.

We met again years later, when I was back in town to visit. Everything seemed so different now--which I think had more to do with me than anything else, of course--and there was a party and we ended up out on the front porch. It was one of those hot, muggy days where it felt like a storm was going to break any minute--but it had felt like that for hours, and no storm seemed to be forthcoming. I think I felt a raindrop or two.

There was a silence in our conversation and I apologized for being inconsiderate all those years ago, and he just smiled and laughed and said he wasn't worried about it. Life's too short, he told me, to worry about stupid things like that.

"Doesn't stop me from doing it anyway," I said.

"Hey, me neither."

Then there was some more silence and several people came out to join us on the porch and, because this is the nature of social gatherings, we didn't talk again. But that moment of solidarity made the whole thing worthwhile.

a prelude for august

I never used to like August very much, though looking back on it I realize that sort of thing isn't really August's fault. I think it's just that it's one of the really dead parts of the year--sometimes high summer is as suffocating and lonely as February, the month where I wrote about isolation. This month I'm writing about solidarity. It was originally going to be 'community,' but that word bothers me, because almost every time someone uses it it means they're a phenomenally insincere human being. It's also just not a very good counterpoint for isolation.

Solidarity, however--sometimes all it takes is knowing that there is one person out there who cares, and suddenly you're not alone anymore. Sometimes we find that solidarity in a community, but sometimes community is the most isolating thing there is. Community is a word that means something to a select group of people--or an isolated group of people, if you will. Solidarity, I think, means something to everyone. Whether or not we admit it, that's what we all crave, isn't it? Sometimes I think human living is nothing more than reaching out blindly, hoping that someone will take our hand and say "I'm with you."


regret, pt. 5


I didn't really tell anyone I was leaving when I finally got around to it. Not even the handful of people I actually liked--it was better, I thought, to make a clean escape. Some of them didn't know I was going until I was gone. And it was a good feeling, lying there in the dark on the couch of my new apartment, a hundred miles from the life I'd built for myself, staring at nothing at all. Freedom is always a good feeling, even when it's a little terrifying.

But I'd gotten used to the old life, with all the plans and expectations and projects. I'd never call it comforting, but it was familiar. It had taken a lot of work to build, too, and I'd just abandoned it. I mean, yes, it had been a prison, but it was my prison. I'd designed it in an effort to find meaning in a world that seemed to have none. And abandoning all that work now meant that this quest was fruitless, didn't it? Was it even so bad back there? I could have stayed for a bit longer, made it work out with a little more effort, couldn't I? But going back was impossible.

There's a famous line, mostly used by the hopelessly naive, about how the only things they regret are the things they didn't do. Sadly it's more true than I'm prepared to admit. I've done plenty of things I regret, of course, but the list of things I didn't do? It's practically infinite. And I regret all of them, almost as much as I would have regretted doing things differently than I had.


regret, pt. 4


I came home from work one night and Eris was waiting on my front step, along with all the memories I'd managed to bury in the interim years. She gave me the same tentative smile she had when we first met, and seemed to hold me at arm's length even when she wrapped her arms around me. And despite all that, just then, clear as day, I could see this beautiful future unfold.

Except none of that was possible. I didn't know why she was here, and I didn't believe her when she told me. Well, that's a lie. I knew why she was here: she was chasing a dream. It was a dream she didn't believe in, and it was a dream that wasn't going to happen even if she did, but that's why she was here. I knew the look: I'd seen her chase dreams before. I'd seen her stop believing in dreams before. Hell, I'd led her down both of those roads.

She'd led herself here, whatever else was true. We were both powerless to stop it. I knew that in a few moments I'd invite her in and offer her a beer and tell her stories and pretend nothing had ever happened. And she'd go along with it and act like there was still a shot, and that weird false optimism would be as infectious as ever. The vision I'd had of a beautiful future evaporated, and in its place was a moment of real clarity, a glimpse of the real future: this would be just as fucked up as everything else about our relationship had been. We'd rip all of our old wounds open, and for a moment, before the spell took hold, I regretted that I didn't have the strength of will to say no.


regret, pt. 3


I made a list of coincidences the day my house was destroyed and I jumped on a bus headed east. For some of them I even did the math for how unlikely that particular chain of events was. My mind was fixed on that: everything that happened up to and including a meteor landing on the house I shared with my roommate was so phenomenally unlikely, the only thing that could possibly explain it was the whims of an angry god.

It had destroyed more than just my home. It had destroyed my entire life--who I was, what I'd done. This was an omen, a sign--I was supposed to do something with this new freedom. This was as much a gift as it was a curse, because bigger than all the coincidences of that day--the meteor, the fact that I survived, and so on--was the biggest coincidence of all: the fact that I existed at all to begin with. The fact that anything existed.

Freedom fell from the heavens on me. I could have done anything, gone anywhere. Instead I went running east, back into Alex's arms, back into a life that had just been destroyed. I could have gone anywhere. Instead I went backwards. And once I realized that my half-mad impulse had locked my course in, what could I do but regret it?


regret, pt. 2


I want to say I regretted calling you immediately, but that's not entirely true. It crept up on me like a fever. Every ounce of hope that I allowed myself to have--maybe running really did fix everything, maybe you weren't angry at me for disappearing, maybe you really would pick me up and we could act like things had never changed--vanished like fairy gold, leaving nothing in my hand but dried up old leaves, which I promptly threw on the fires of my regret.

I regretted that I called you, I regretted that you agreed to pick me up, and most of all I regretted that I still clung to that tiny shred of hope that kept me from calling again and saying that I'd try to find someone else to pick me up. I regretted the cold certainty that you'd see through that lie, and that even if you didn't, nobody would be there at the airport. I'd driven everyone away, except you--including you, really, and that was the problem.

Most of all, I regretted that I'd dug up a past that I knew was dead, to make sure that not even fond memories remained. By the time I got on the plane back home, I regretted all of these idiotic notions that the world had changed, or that I had changed--nothing ever changes. But I knew I was right about one thing: when I got back we'd act like nothing had changed. We'd be guilty and bitter, and by the time we were done with each other we'd regret even the most beautiful moments.


regret, pt. 1


Memory plays funny tricks on you if you aren't paying attention. Or even if you are. You left without warning, so of course I didn't know that the last time we met would be the last time we met, but suddenly that night loomed large in my mind. You seemed subdued, fidgety, nervous--not the breezy, confident woman I knew. Not the girl who was as annoying as she was enchanting. The girl I was drinking with that night seemed defeated.

I didn't dare ask what was wrong, because you had taught me that this sort of thing was usually a trap. But the trap never sprung. The night wore on and you became increasingly agitated, and after we left, rather than wait for the bus like we usually did, you insisted on walking, and as we walked you talked endlessly, gesticulating wildly. You were a little drunk, and you were talking very fast, and you tripped over your words or used the wrong ones, and didn't stop to correct yourself. And I thought: this isn't you. This is someone else entirely.

We reached the door to my house you looked like you had something you wanted to say, something you'd been trying to say or build up to all this time, and for a moment I swear you were looking at me like you needed help. I smiled and said "did you forget where your house is?" and suddenly, effortlessly, the woman I knew you as returned, smiled charmingly, and said, "No, I was just making sure you remembered how to work the doorknob." When I demonstrated that I did, you grinned and left.

And that's how I remember that evening. For the first time since I'd known you, you were vulnerable, and I just played the same stupid game we were always playing. Rather than try to help you--someone I cared deeply about, despite all evidence that this was a terrible idea--I decided to treat you the way you'd always treated me. I'd take it back if I could.

a prelude for july

It's hard to believe we're actually halfway through this extended conceit I'm putting you through. This is an example of a lie, the sort of lie we tell all the time because we don't know how to properly mark something as significant or noteworthy. So we pretend we're having difficulty believing it, when the opposite is usually true. It's far harder to disbelieve than it is to believe.

This is where hope comes from--humans will never have a hard time believing something, even when we have no evidence for it. Hope was the theme of my stories from January, you may recall. This month is their counterpoint. This month, the stories are about regret.

I was tempted to make the counterpoint to hope something like nostalgia, but that isn't properly the opposite, is it? Hope is thinking of the past with positive thoughts; nostalgia is like hope, except pointed backwards. There's still positivity there. Regret, on the other hand, is hope's truest companion.

It may be helpful to read January's stories before you read this month's stories. This is the part of this project where I start writing variations on the stories I've been telling for the first half of it, and I suppose that makes it the part where we find out whether my hopes for the project ultimately turn into regrets.


eternity, pt. 5


I used to use words like "forever" because I thought every eternity was like that first summer we spent together. I doubt you even remember that road trip we took across the mountains. There was an early heat wave, but you were always in your element in the burning sun. You navigated some small town I don't even remember the name of like you'd been there your whole life, talking to people I didn't recognize like they were old friends. I guess for you it was just stepping back in time.

We slept on the floor of your friend's apartment that night, and I told you how surreal this had all been, and of course you just laughed and said the heat must have addled my brain. You laughed at everything back then, of course. I imagine you still do. But even at the time I remember that day stretching on forever, an endless chain of people and places. It was strange and magical and wonderful, and I used words like "forever" because I imagined days with you would always be like this.

Now, of course, that day is an eternity ago, and I realize that "forever" is as much a threat as a promise. Several summers on, you were still making the days stretch on forever, except now it was exhausting just trying to keep up. I would have given anything to make those days end, except, of course, you were my ride. So you never stopped, and I never realized that I could have gotten off at any time.


eternity, pt. 4


It's funny how long even the shortest nights of summer can seem. I spent a summer with Eris in Maine, and we spent our nights on the grass of her lawn watching the stars, sometimes talking, sometimes quiet. We'd stay out until the light of morning crept over the eastern sky and one of us would suggest that we move to an actual bed.

On one night we were driven indoors by a storm, just after dawn. We ran inside and laughed in her bedroom and wrapped ourselves in blankets, only she just kept shivering, and I asked if there was something wrong. She shook her head at first, then sat up on the edge of the bed and told me that she'd spent the evening trapped in someone else's mind.

She lay there, paralyzed, staring up at these alien stars, thinking thoughts that she knew could not have come from her own head, just praying for a dawn that seemed an eternity away. Perhaps it was. I'm not going to pretend I understand what happened, or why, but even I felt powerless after she told her story. I took her hand and promised that I would always be there, at her side, and if she ever doubted who she was she would always have me there to comfort her. And I meant it--I'd be there through eternities both long and short.

She smiled at me and kissed my hand and said "That means a lot." And it was the most beautiful, heartbreaking lie she'd ever told me. No matter how close I held her, she would always be alone with me.


eternity, pt. 3


Summer solstice was the first time I kissed you, and also the first time that I realized I was terrified of you. I'd been making you chase me for what must have been months, and suddenly the prospect of an entire summer--and summers back then lasted forever--made me realize that there was a reason I was running away. This was supposed to be a game, and the thing about games is you can pack them up at the end of the night and put them back in the closet.

But you weren't playing the same game. Despite everything you were ready for a summer with me--you were ready for an eternity with me. So I asked you that night if this meant we were a thing now. You said you guessed we must be.

"What does that mean?"

"It doesn't have to mean anything. I like you. I think you like me. Isn't that enough?"

And I wanted to say no, you stupid boy, that isn't enough. That will never be enough. The days are long and so full of potential, and here you are telling me you're prepared to just let eternity happen to you, like it's no big deal. Like it isn't going to end at any moment. Instead I just shrugged, and looked into my coffee, and in the swirls of cream I saw the future.

I would be forever running away--it's in my nature, as a very dear friend once said, though she thought I was the frog, not the scorpion. You would be forever chasing me, and I'd always be just out of reach. You thought eternity meant kisses in the sun and days that never ended. Instead you'd be my very own Tantalus. I wonder if you even realize what you stole.


eternity, pt. 2


When I first moved to Seattle I lived a few blocks from a used bookstore which was right next to a little coffee shop on one of my neighborhood's major intersections. They were the first landmark I really recognized, the first part of the city that I saw and didn't just see a maze of endless buildings, all faceless and alien. And they became a part of my life just as much as "home" was. Every weekend I'd go down to the bookstore and pick something up, then sit at the coffee shop and drink coffee and read. It became my little ritual.

At first I used my ritual to stave off loneliness in a new city. Eventually I made friends but I still kept some time free every weekend, because it was comforting and familiar--or, put another way, because it was changeless and eternal. And even once I'd moved away, all my thoughts of home included that coffee shop, that bookstore. In my mind these ritual altars stood tall and proud, untouched by the years, mysterious and ancient like Stonehenge. They'd be there long after I was gone. It just wouldn't be Seattle without them.

Once I'd left town, of course, I stopped performing my little ritual, and sometimes I feel like things would have been better if I hadn't--like these little shops actually helped keep the world at bay. An absurd thought, perhaps, but you need absurd thoughts to understand the eternal.


eternity, pt. 1


I was sure that first summer would last forever. Summer is a season that slowly creeps up on you, and suddenly it's June and you realize the sun hasn't set when it should have, and somehow you're okay with that. So we'd sit on the porch and watch the summer evenings creep in, or we'd go exploring, safe in the knowledge that dark wouldn't come until much later.

She was my shelter from an indifferent world, and, as it was summer and we had nothing else to do, and armed as we were with eternity, we faced it together, bravely, triumphantly, ridiculously. Wasting away the summer nights, laughing off the endless days. No matter how many hours of sunlight we had, the days were never long enough--the days passed quickly and the nights seemed to stretch on forever.

I made her stay up until sunup on the solstice, because it felt important--this was the heart of the endless summer. How could we not? Then we slept, safe in the knowledge that we'd done something right. We'd paid our homage to the gods of eternity. How could what we had not last forever?


a prelude for june

June is officially the start of summer here, though unofficially it tends to be marked by what the locals call the June gloom, or occasionally Juneuary, which is probably why I can never think of it as anything but a beginning. 

Most people who aren't from Seattle live under the impression that it's rainy all the time; this is something of a misrepresentation. By the time summer rolls around we often go weeks or months without rain. Nothing but clear skies and a gentle breeze. It's not until autumn rolls around that the weather even thinks of changing. From June onward it is possible to believe that the summer will never end.

Winter has that problem too, of course, but we fill our winters with festivals, marking the solstice and the new year and other things that pass the time. Summer has nothing. Summer stretches on endlessly. So I've always thought of June as the month that begins an eternity, and this month's stories will be on the subject of eternity.

This month also means we're approaching the halfway point. It never seems like it's been that long.


life, pt. 5


Life is narrative. It's not that stories all work out in the end--they obviously don't--but stories are important. Probably the only thing that's important in this fucked up world we live in. That's the thing I've always latched onto when it seems like it's slipping out of control.

Well, I say "always." This is one of those things I can trace to a single conversation. This was after some party at someone's house back in high school, hanging out with Alex on the porch. I always felt overwhelmed at big parties, though Alex seemed right at home. She was right at home pretty much anywhere.

I was complaining about the sorts of things you complain about when you're seventeen and think that everything is the end of the world, and she just shrugged and said, "I'm sure you can make a good story out of it, at least." You know, the sort of meaningless thing you say when someone is complaining and you don't really think it's worth complaining about but you don't want to just slap them and tell them to shut the fuck up.

But I was drunk, young, and impressionable, and that seemed somehow profound. That became the lens I used to view the world, and suddenly stories were everywhere I looked. It was still overwhelming--life will always be overwhelming--but it was comforting, and then it was important. Since life is narrative, it's always safe to say you're part of something that will last long after you're gone.


life, pt. 4


Things started to really fall apart just before I finally fled. I was depressed and ended up abandoning a lot of commitments I'd made, which of course made me feel even worse. So I tried to trick myself into getting motivated by falling in love with this kid I'd only known for a month, and then convincing myself that if that fell through at least I had this other boy I wasn't particularly into but who liked me well enough to fall back on. And it worked, for a while. I dreamed up a future with both of them (but mostly just the first one) and was sure that, as soon as it all worked out, the depression would go away and life would continue as smoothly as it ever had.

There were a number of flaws in this plan, of course, but the one that seems most glaring now is that I failed to take into account that these people lived their own lives when I wasn't around, and those lives weren't going to line up neatly just because I'd planned things that required them to. After our lives had briefly intersected, their lives veered off quite radically. Since I was relying on them as something of a psychological safety net, this didn't work out particularly well.

I spent a lot of time writing about how capricious life can be after that. I've still got pages upon pages of me, waxing eloquent about life and its inherent unreliability. All of it, of course, is written with the assumption that when I talk about "life" I'm the only figure that really matters, and with the assumption that "life" is something you can figure out.

It's not, of course. It took me a while to finally understand that, but I finally did: life means everyone. Everyone you will ever meet has this entire universe living inside them, and no matter how close you get to them, you can only ever brush the surface. Once you've figured that out, it's a lot easier to come to terms with.


life, pt. 3


I hear they're destroying that 24 hour place we used to hang out at, putting in some more office buildings. I always thought of that place as the last monument to us. So many late nights with only cheap coffee and greasy food to keep us awake--that, and the certainty that we had life figured out. I thought it fitting to write one of them down. That way a little piece of the monument might remain.

It was, oh, probably a Tuesday night, about four am, and there was a lull in the conversation that went on a little too long, because we were both falling asleep and had said pretty much everything we had to say. Which was, in fairness, quite a lot. I said something like "We're both absurd, you know."

"Are we? I mean, I knew that you were, but--"

"Sitting here like we've worked out life's little problems. We haven't. That's not how life works."

"Maybe not. But I know tonight I'll go home happy, tomorrow I'll wake up hopeful, and maybe somewhere I'll make something better." Then you paused and gave me your little triumphal smirk. "You'll be just as miserable as ever, of course."

"Of course."

"The thing is, despite your best efforts, you've already helped."

I thought about that a lot. I don't know if you even remembered it, but it was good to be reminded that despite my cynicism, sometimes life was pretty all right.


life, pt. 2


After you came back from London, when we finally met again at a party, I remember thinking how incredibly unchanged you were by everything. You treated me exactly like you always did--just like you did when we first met, as if I hadn't left you at the airport and as if you hadn't run away for several months, and avoided me for several months after that. I even said something like that. "You never change, do you?"

And you gave me that little ironic smirk and said "I change plenty, you just aren't clever enough to notice." Then, later, you joined some of your friends out back for a smoke. You never used to smoke. I must have been giving you a surprised look because you just smiled and blew a smoke ring in my face and gave me an insufferable 'I told you so' look.

I think that broke the spell. I realized that when I was looking at you before I was just seeing a memory. Whoever it was that left all those months before, she didn't come back with you. You still looked like her, and you still had her smile, but life had happened since then.

Eventually it was just you and me out back, and your smile was starting to wear a bit thin, and of course I couldn't ask what was wrong. Instead, I said, "Life's a funny thing, isn't it?"

You took a long time before answering. "Not really," you said. "We like to think we're all characters in our own stories, but we're not. We like to think we've figured out the story, but it never works out that way. Life isn't funny, or ironic, or anything like that. Life just is." Then the smile came back. "That's all the philosophy you're getting out of me tonight, Nicholas."

It wasn't until you were long gone that I realized I'd probably derailed your story just as much as you'd derailed mine.


life, pt. 1


Eris showed up on my doorstep again. It had been years since we'd interacted at all and there she was, sitting on the porch just like she did when we were in high school, except now she was a little more guarded, and though her smile was sincere it was also not the kind of smile you give to someone you think of as a friend.

I let her in and offered her a beer, and she took the easy chair while I took the sofa and she told me in conversational tones how a meteor had fallen on her house and she decided it was probably a good time to go on vacation. So she took the cash she had left and jumped on a bus and drove across the country, and now here she was, sharing a beer with me almost like she'd never left.

"You don't really look like someone who's just lost all their worldly possessions in a freak accident," I said.

And she just shrugged, and said, "I don't know. That's life, I guess."

It took me a while to figure out why that bothered me. Something about the phrase put me on edge until she was gone again. And I think it was this: I could never believe that life is just a sequence of freak accidents and disasters. We were ultimately terrible for each other, of course, but in between all of that we had such beautiful moments. Moments that probably led her to come here on a whim, moments that convinced me to invite her in against my better judgment. To just dismiss it all with a shrug and a "that's life" made it all seem so cheap.


a prelude for may

It would probably be a lie to say that May has always been my favorite month, but in recent years I've come to accept that it is the best month, at least here in Seattle. May is the height of spring, before summer takes its hold and all the colors fade and the sun becomes an interminable presence in the sky. May is the month when people no longer worry that the bad weather might come back. May is a month for life.

The stories this month are stories about life--which is, of course, a very broad term. But that's what happens when you live by the cycle of the seasons, I suppose. Winter is a time of death, spring is a time of life, summer is eternal, autumn is ephemeral. It's all about symbols, sure, but these are symbols that matter, symbols that people believe in.

So: life. I have some stories about it, if you'd like to read them.


plans, pt. 5


I never really liked making plans, but with Eris it was kind of necessary. Without plans to hold her down she was completely unpredictable. I think that's what drew me to her in the first place, because chaos always looks like a lot of fun until you have to deal with it constantly. But when I made a plan she would always follow through, so it sort of became our thing.

I remember, back when I was still calling her 'porch girl' and we weren't really officially together, I started making these very convoluted, specific plans, just to see if she'd follow through. I thought at the time that she did because she was eager to please, but looking back I feel like this was something she'd done to prove that she was better than me, or more reliable than me. At the time it was somewhere between flattering and creepy.

The thing is, the first time we met I promised I'd wait outside to meet her again, and I never did. And throughout our entire relationship she told me I was her anchor, and the whole time she was really telling me, through everything that she did, that she was the reliable one. In the end she betrayed my trust, of course, but she never once broke her word. When she agreed to a plan, she stuck with it, and that's something I can't say for myself.


plans, pt. 4


For years I was convinced that the only important thing in this world was "plans." I was never particularly happy with it, but when I made a plan I stuck with it, come hell or high water. My days were mapped out weeks in advance. Somehow I was convinced this was the road to a successful and enlightened future.

My sister came to visit unexpectedly once and I remember the first night she was in town I had a date with some kid who, despite boring me to tears on our first date, managed to convince me to see him again. He said he had something special planned. I was dreading the evening, but a plan was a plan. I gave Eris my regrets, and sort of expected to go on the date and find some excuse to leave early.

Instead she stole my phone and called him and said "Yeah, this is her sister. She can't come out tonight, or any other night, because I'm visiting and you're boring." Then she deleted his contact and tossed the phone back at me. "There! Now you don't have to see him. Now we can watch a movie or something."

I reluctantly assented, but was determined not to enjoy myself. That plan, too, fell through pretty quickly, and as I was sleeping those first, vital seeds of doubt were finally planted: maybe I was living life all wrong. Maybe I could do without all the useless plans.


plans, pt. 3


I remember once I was delirious with fever, and instead of staying away like a smart person Alex just lay with me in bed, as if hat would somehow make me feel better. Trying to sleep that night was an unending nightmare of chills and sudden overwhelming heat, strung together by fever dreams from some haunted corner of my psyche.

I remember thinking that the night would go on forever, that maybe there had never been anything but night and anything else was just a dream. And then cutting through my delirium Alex started talking, just making these stupid little plans. "Hey, when you feel better we should go get ice cream." "This weekend do you want to go see that movie?" "I kind of want to take a road trip next week."

And it actually helped. Somehow she got my brain thinking about these tiny little concrete moments, these meaningless little plans, and at some point as she kept talking I must have finally drifted off to sleep, my fevered mind content in the knowledge that at some point in the future we were going to go get ice cream. Sometimes it's enough to just have a plan.


plans, pt. 2


When you called and asked if I could pick you up from the airport, I started making plans. As soon as I knew when your flight was, I tried to figure out what we should do that night, because you were someone I made plans for, even if they never happened properly. I made plans because you were important to me, and I knew this gesture you'd made, asking me to give you a ride, wasn't meaningless. I knew that because nothing you do is meaningless. There's always a reason and there's always a plan.

I agonized over this for, oh, it must have been weeks. None of the plans were actually particularly viable because you'd have just flown for however many hours it is from London to Seattle, and you'd be tired. But I tried. I imagined driving out to Gasworks or something and watching the city and just talking like we used to do before, and I kept coming back to that one.

So that was the plan. I still remember ignoring your phone calls that night, thinking what a lovely night it would have been to just sit on the grass and watch the skyline glow, your head on my shoulder. And I remember thinking, as I deleted your texts without reading them, it had been a good plan.


plans, pt. 1


The first time I met you--I want to say early April, but time is so fickle--I made plans. First it was just planning to get you alone so I could talk to you. This worked better than I'd expected, because it turns out we both hate parties. Did I ever tell you that I hate parties? I've just gotten better at hiding it; you, I'm not sure if you ever figured it out.

Anyway, once we'd had a chance to talk I knew I'd walk you home. We'd stand on the front porch under the light of the waning moon and talk. You'd probably pretend to fumble with your keys for a while, then we'd sit down and sit in the beautiful chill of an early spring's night. By that point we'd both be too drunk to be subtle while flirting, but we'd try anyway.

You'd try to kiss me, then, and I wouldn't let you. I actually remember what I had planned better than I remember what actually happened. You'd lean in, hesitant, because you're a hesitant sort of person, and then I'd pull back, hold you at arm's length. Then I'd say something like "Maybe when you're sober you should give me a call."

The thing is, and I think you figured this out before I did, this wasn't just a plan for how to tease the boy I'd just met at a party I didn't want to be at. It lasted a lot longer than that, because the first time I met you, I planned to always be just out of your reach.


a prelude for april

I never much cared for March, conceptually. It's not quite spring and not quite winter (though this year it has been very spring-like indeed), so I always have a hard time trusting it. It's not until April rolls around that you can really feel safe in the knowledge that spring is here, and you can start making plans again.

This is probably why April's stories are about plans, which are, to me, something of a strange concept. At the very least, you can't ever speak them out loud. Plans never, ever work out the way they ought to. Even the seasons never seem to happen like they should. The universe goes on whether or not we make our plans. And yet people continue to make them. It's the strangest thing.

Of course, this whole little project has been a plan in its own way, and at the very least I'm enjoying myself. Hopefully you are, too, because there's still most of a year of it left.


trust, pt. 5


Everyone always talks about trust like it's some sort of a big deal, as if every moment of every day isn't full of decisions to trust someone for no good reason. I trust that the bus driver isn't going to drive us off a bridge, for instance, even though I'm pretty sure we've all seen those YouTube videos of a bus driving off a bridge. All this talk about trust being rare or sacred is just another way of saying "sometimes life goes wrong, and I'm going to live in terror of that moment."

So, yes, I trusted you. I had no reason not to. I trusted you wholly and completely and implicitly because as far as I was aware, you weren't going to be a dick about it. Life is simpler when you stop trying to make trust sound important. It's just a thing that humans have to do in order to survive.

I remember when you used to send me all these maudlin emails late at night--I assume you were drunk, and I never responded to them--asking me to forgive you for your "betrayal." Maybe every couple of months or so. Did you ever wonder about why I never wrote back? Never even mentioned them? It was mostly because I never felt "betrayed." I don't think I know what the word means. I felt abandoned, sure, and the chasm between us was unfathomably wide, but betrayed? Really? Don't flatter yourself.

I trust a lot of people who end up failing to live up to that trust. Sometimes it's minor, sometimes it's a big deal. It hurts, sure. But it's not a betrayal merely because my expectations are unrealistic. It's as much my own doing as anyone else's. You didn't betray me. You never lost my trust. It's just not that big a deal.


trust, pt. 4


Didn't we actually meet at a St. Patrick's day party? I can picture it clearly, you complaining about cultural appropriation, about the American need to find an excuse to get drunk. I still hear the sarcasm in your voice, see the ironic little smirk you're still so good at. I showed up late and didn't really know anyone there, but I knew two things as soon as I arrived: I knew that you were pretty much insufferable, and I knew that you liked me for some reason.

I was nervous before I left for the party, and despite all I'd had to drink it wasn't enough to stop me from feeling completely overwhelmed. I stepped out back to get some air, and somehow there you were  standing next to me. "You feeling all right?" All the irony and sarcasm gone. You were actually, genuinely concerned.

Obviously I've since come to regret this decision, but I answered honestly, because at that moment I trusted you. We talked until I felt a little better, then you walked me home. We stood on the porch for a while, and you leaned in close and I was certain you were going to kiss me, and you suggested that I should call you when I wasn't being a sloppy drunk.

In retrospect I know you were just being your insufferable self, but I was drunk on that weird bond that trust makes, and I decided I'd call you the moment I was sober.


trust, pt. 3


I always knew I was probably too unstable to be trustworthy--sometimes it was a dim thought somewhere in the back of my mind, but it was there. There was nothing more terrifying than the idea of someone I cared about deciding that they should trust me. It would be nothing more than a string of betrayals, and as soon as I detected a closeness to my relationships I'd point that out.

It didn't work. Not with Alex, not with anyone. I remember how she took it as some sort of confession, told me she was sure I'd never do anything to hurt her, acted like I wanted sympathy when I said this, when all I wanted was a little distance. And I sighed and let it happen, because what else could I do? The irony, of course, is that if I were actually trustworthy I probably would have found the strength to say something. Instead I decided, well, I'd done my best, right?

I used to say I didn't realize how much power being trusted gave me, but I think I did, at least on some level. It's just that until the very end, I was never willing to actually use that power. I knew that I was unworthy of trust, but I also knew that it was sacred, so I handled it with the reverence it deserved.


trust, pt. 2


In my old social circles, trust was pretty much not a thing that happened. Life was lived eternally for the moment. People made plans with no intention of ever following through, or feigned interest simply because that's what you were supposed to do. Everything was utterly meaningless, and I spent countless hours of my life trying to inject meaning into it.

There was this kid that I dated back then who seemed so different from all of that. He was uncertain in a world full of meaningless certainty--he couldn't even decide what name he wanted people to call him. And he even managed to make his perpetual uncertainty seem somehow profound. I was utterly taken by him.

I told my sister about him and she laughed at me. "He sounds like me," she said.

"And I trust you."

"Right, but I'm your sister. He's not. Mark my words, that relationship is not going to last. People like me are inherently untrustworthy."

I trusted her judgment, of course, but I decided to stick with it anyway. Heedless of the consequences, I plunged in to a world of uncertainty. I had no real reason to trust this poor kid, but I did it anyway. Sometimes you have to do something radical.


trust, pt. 1


I was always pretty careful about who to trust. I know that makes me sound like I think I'm all smart and clever and shit but it's just the truth. I didn't let people get close to me. It was safest that way. Then I started hoarding secrets so I could hand some out to the few people that earned my trust.

The one I remember is the one I gave to Eris, forever ago. It was a story I'd never told anyone. When I was in middle school I had a friend who died. Back then it was just me and her against the world. We were pretty much inseparable, and probably a little insufferable, too. I got no illusions about that. I remember we were out running around, doing whatever it is middle school kids do and she suddenly just collapsed. I thought she was just being silly. I laughed. I told her to get up. Then when she didn't I just sat there at her side and had no fucking idea what to do. It felt like forever before I finally called someone to help. And I always wondered if she might have lived if only I'd been smart enough to call for help sooner.

I never told anyone that story, at first because it hurt, then later because I wanted to have a secret. Then Eris showed up on my front porch and suddenly I wanted her to be a part of that. I let her in and wanted to make sure she knew how much I trusted her, so I gave her this secret. Literally gave it to her, all wrapped up and written down. "I'm giving you this because I know I can trust you," I said, and I meant every word.


a prelude for march

Saying farewell to February always feels simultaneously momentous and premature. February is winter's last best chance at making its fingers felt in the world, but March is a month fraught with uncertainty, where winter and spring vie for supremacy. Maybe it's fitting, then, that the theme for March will be "trust." March is a month of few certainties, and when the world is chaotic sometimes there is nothing left to do but trust. It's terrifying and weird and beautiful all at once--to trust is to surrender to the uncertainty that surrounds us.

When I was younger, one of the phrases that always stuck with me was "the people in these songs should have names." I found myself thinking about that this month, and I realized that, though I know the names of all of these people who are telling stories, you do not. I imagined that maybe it would be an interesting endeavor to work out who was telling which story, but I think I was mistaken in this. So from now on I will give them names. Or rather, I will reveal their names--they've had these names since long before I started writing this. Furthermore, I've given them names in the stories I've already published--perhaps you should go back and reacquaint yourself with them?

It is my hope that these stories will build as the year wears--there will be new context and new perspectives, and it's only four months until we start reaching counterpoints. Four months! It seems so far from now, but also so very close. Time seldom follows the rules we tell it to, and it never really fits in the stories we give it.


isolation, pt. 5

This was never really my strong suit. She was the only person I was ever really close with for a long time, you know? I didn't need people. That was sort of my thing. So I was used to being alone. The world's a big place, and most of it's shitty. You learn to deal with it. One of the things she was always telling me is how nobody's self-perception is any good. I just always figured I had mine figured. She was right, though. Somehow I came to rely on her being there. I'm not sure which part I regret more: that I needed her, or that I didn't realize it until she was gone.

But the point is I didn't realize it, so I didn't think I'd care if I drove her off. The things I used to find charming--the restlessness, the uncertainty, that weird eternal calm--started to bug the shit out of me, and eventually I started calling her on it. We'd fight, we'd make up. But we were both young and dumb. I didn't so much want her gone as I wanted her to be less . . . her.

It felt like every day I was saying "I'm tired of your bullshit," and every day she'd come back with something snide that I'd ignore, because life's too short, you know? I thought I'd seen the worst she could offer. Then I said it one day and she snapped. I'd never seen anyone so angry. I didn't know anyone could be so angry, especially her--she'd lose her temper for a minute or two, which mostly meant she'd raise her voice a little and say something sarcastic and dismissive, then she'd calm back down and go back to that weird calm of hers. It never lasted. This was different. This was someone expressing all the frustration that she'd been quietly trying to ignore for--it must have been years at that point.

I fled because I needed to get away. Then I realized I had nowhere I could go. I'd driven away the only person who would be willing to help. I drove around the city for hours, just looking for something that could feel sort of like a home.


isolation, pt. 4

Of course, every story that says "in retrospect" is a lie. For instance:

In retrospect, I guess we must have met on Valentine's day. I didn't think of it at the time because, you know, we'd just met, and I was single and not really thinking about it at all. I just remember it being one of those Seattle winters that wasn't really a winter, and my sister calling me to tell me she couldn't pick me up after class today, so I thought something like "fuck it, I'm going to walk." Though I guess it's hard to imagine high school-aged me saying "fuck it."

Then about halfway there (it's always halfway when you're walking) I sat down on some random doorstep to tie my shoes and eat some Valentine's candy I'd gotten, and then the girl that lived there came out on the porch and sat next to me. And that was profoundly weird, and I don't think she learned my name for months (she called me Porch Girl until she stopped finding that amusing, which took a while). The rest of that week I walked home from school, hoping she might wait outside for me like she promised she would. And every day there was no one there. Just me and the clang of the city, in this neighborhood I didn't really know. 

Sometimes I still tell people that this was the moment that made me realize that there is this whole world out there, and none of it cares about me, but that's probably not true. I think I always knew that, even as a self-absorbed teen: the world is big and unfriendly. So after I passed her house I thought about what would happen if I took a wrong turn and got lost somehow, and became convinced that nobody would care. Naturally this meant that in my mind, she was inextricable from isolation and loneliness. My only mistake was thinking that she was a shelter from an indifferent world.


isolation, pt. 3

I used to be so afraid of isolation. I think that's what drove me. Somehow I'd become convinced that being introverted was a vice, so I forced myself to go out, burying myself in plans, interacting with people I didn't really like, because some anti-Imperial activist once said "be the change you want to see in this world" and I decided I wanted to be like all of these happy extroverts that interacted with all these people I didn't like and seemed to enjoy themselves. Worse, I managed to get a job writing about the awful culture I'd sunk myself into. So even if it were possible for me to enjoy it (which it wasn't), now it was about work.

This is a story I'd end up telling my sister's old lover; then I wrote about telling that story as the last thing I ever wrote for my little culture blog. It was one of those parties I was always going to, where I met this kid who was shy and adorable and took forever to finally actually kiss me no matter how many hints I dropped. We spent the evening kissing on the floor, and the whole time all I could think about was the guy sleeping on the couch three feet away, and how we must have been keeping him awake and how uncomfortable that must have been for him.

Naturally even once we'd finished I spent the evening lying awake and wondering if this would forever color his perception of me, if this altogether weird evening had managed to alienate someone who was actually pretty cool (a rarity in this world I lived in now). I felt a sense of loss, and in retrospect I think it was about then that I realized why I always felt so lonely.

I met a good friend for coffee the next morning and told him about my revelation. It went something like: "It's like, I thought the cure for loneliness was to just meet as many people as possible, you know? And I'd always come home and feel even worse."

"Hangover notwithstanding?"

"Hangover notwithstanding."

Of course he made fun of me for living to please a version of me that never existed, and of course I fell into the same trap again a few days later, but I went home and filled my head with stories and really, truly, basked in my isolation.


isolation, pt. 2

You want to know what isolation is? Isolation is coming home from a beautiful vacation with a head full of hope and landing in the airport late at night and exhausted and happy and realizing the person who promised to pick you up at the airport isn't there and won't be coming at all. It's waiting at the baggage claim and watching as everyone else slowly filters out with their families and loved ones. It's not having the money for a cab, and being too late to take public transit, and trying to sleep on your luggage until the buses start running again in the morning.

I think I had twenty dollars to my name that night. I had the evening planned out. We'd go to that 24-hour place we used to go to, and drink too much coffee and eat too much greasy food and and stay up until we were delirious. It would be a beautiful thing--except you weren't there. Instead I tried to use my carry-on as a pillow and ended up staring at the carousel for hours, far too uncomfortable to sleep--and even if I wasn't uncomfortable, how could anyone sleep when they returned to the real world and found that they had finally burned all their bridges? How could anyone sleep when they are so utterly alone?

Because I made another realization that night: this was all my own doing. I'd driven you away. I'd driven everyone away. There was no one to blame but me. In my deepest solitude, I could not even turn to myself for comfort. That's what stung most, I think. That's why I could never really forgive you.

I caught a bus in the morning and spent the last of my money on groceries. I didn't speak to another living soul for a week.


isolation, pt. 1

The other night I was waiting for the bus, which isn't so unusual, but then I realized it was, you know, that bus stop. This was probably 1 or 2 am, after a show on the Hill, and there was this weird misty drizzle and this thick fog, and it was a weeknight so everything was pretty quiet, and with the fog it seemed like I was just on this island of reality in the middle of this fucked up world we live in. I felt powerful. I felt alive.

That's something I've learned since last we spoke. Isolation is a powerful thing. I remember once you said something about hating the thought of being left alone with your thoughts. That night it filled me with a strange energy--that nobility of mind the Prince of Denmark spoke of. That night I could endure anything, and I could endure it alone.

It reminded me of that time I'd watched you walk off into the snow, leaving me alone at that same bus stop, all those years ago. (I still have your scarf, by the way.) I didn't understand the feeling then, but I felt the same strength fill me then. I didn't recognize it at the time, but I do now, and this time I'm determined to hang onto it. Except here you still are, haunting my thoughts, refusing to be exorcised by my words. Even in my deepest solitude you undermine me.


a prelude for february

It's always hard to believe that a whole month has passed since we put another year behind us, but that's the thing about time: it doesn't care.

The stories in February are stories about isolation, because February is a month where you hide from the world. You've endured two months of winter and there's still at least one to go, and all the winter festivals to help keep you warm and human are behind you. February is a month to be endured alone.

There were five stories in January, which were told to me by five people, and which I've told here before. They're five people who know each other, and they're often stories about each other, and there will be stories from each of them every month. And every story will have a counterpoint, six months later: while January's stories were about hope, July's will be about regret.

But we're a long ways from the warmth of the July sun, or even the brilliant colors of May. It's still the winter, with all the winter's problems, and somehow the shortest month of the year is always one of the longest.


hope, pt. 5

Telling you that you bugged the shit out of me is probably not going to come as a great surprise, since I'm pretty sure you did it on purpose. But there was still something compelling about you, even if I couldn't figure it out. I remember sometimes you'd ask me why I even liked you, which was a fair question, and I'd always say something like "I don't know; you're a mystery, I guess."

And it's true. You were really the only thing I cared about, and it was as inexplicable as you were, and it was spiraling out of control and I had no idea how to stop it, and everything I did just made things worse. Then, without any sort of warning, you disappeared. You'd gone off to London, according to the letter I got weeks later. And you seemed almost apologetic.

You needn't have been. You needn't have worried about anything. I was relieved, at first, and then the future seemed brighter, like a cloud had been lifted from my life. There was nothing left to worry about. I could conquer the world, just then.

The feeling didn't last, of course, but that's the thing about hope, isn't it? It never does.