Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Less than two weeks after Thomas graduated from high school, a certain Dingbat I know celebrated a milestone birthday. Pie turned ten years old today.
In the short term, of course, the birthday doesn't mean much. She still wants to marry Niall Horan (of One Direction fame), she's still obsessed with soccer, she still loves Call of Duty--while I still hate that our parents let her play it--and she still thinks playing reckless games of dodge ball in the living room is the best way to spend her time. She still likes to cuddle with me.
But I've noticed little things, here and there, things that have been in the works for a while but have only now captured my attention. Her height, for one. One day she was this hysterical little midget and the next she moseyed on into the kitchen at nearly five feet tall.
"Der-Der," I said as I knelt before her. "You're taller than me now. When I get down on my knees, you're taller than me."
Her growing stature, combined with a face that is transitioning from adorable to pretty, has given me some startling glimpses of the young woman she'll be. And she'll be beautiful. I don't say that because she's my sister, but because it's true. Pie will be a lovely girl. Is it wrong that that gives me secret relief? Life is so much easier for women who have beauty.
Not that she will particularly need that to fall back on, as the transformations of the last year or so have confirmed what we knew all along: Pie is one smart pastry. I've regaled you before with tales of the disarmingly deep issues she was pondering when she was only seven years old. I ought to have known--and, indeed, I did--that the kind of girl who questioned the nature of mortality in second grade was headed for some good things, cognitively speaking, and along with the subtle changes in her physical appearance have come changes in interest.
One Direction still reigns supreme, but the boxes of Hot Wheels have been replaced with stacks of books (including, to my great delight, the first tome in the Harry Potter series), and the bedtime story requests have gotten a little more complicated.
"Tell me about Rome again," she asked the other night.
"That's a pretty broad subject, Pie."
"About the emperor. The one who fed people to the lions and sat in his palace while the city was on fire."
"Ah. That was Nero."
"And what about the Persians? What about them?"
Her perception, always uncanny, has heightened significantly in the last year and a half. This has had some great benefits; the girl who by nine had developed at least a cursory interest in politics now ignores the Tea Party-inspired racism that she used to imbibe as gospel from her father.
There are, though, as you might imagine, drawbacks as well.
"Thomas is drunk, isn't he?" she asked following an argument between my parents and eighteen-year-old brother.
I looked down into her knowing hazel eyes. She loves me. She trusts me. She doesn't think I'd mislead her.
"No, Pie," I lied. "They just had a dispute. That's all."
She won't believe these deceptions for much longer. I'm trying to be the one she can count on. This influences so many of my decisions; the decision I made recently to pursue other professional avenues (you'll get to hear about that one soon) so that I can help Pie and Thomas if need be; the decision to drink wine in front of her frequently so that she can see an adult responsibly consuming alcohol; the decision to remain calm and fair even when I am angry so that she knows every argument doesn't have to turn into a competition for who can strike the lowest blow.
Tonight I was sitting on her bed, stroking her tired head, thinking that her little-girl years were in essence done.
"I think it's really cool that you turned ten today," I informed her.
"Well, I don't."
"It's a bigger deal than you think. Before, when you were five, you still had little-kid time. But three years from now you'll be thirteen. Five years from now you'll be fifteen. Eight years from now you'll be Thomas's age."
Each year a little bit more grown up, each year a little bit more adult.
"In the next few years you'll get to try new things and discover a lot about yourself. It's a really exciting time. I'm happy for you."
And then, for reasons I could but don't much care to identify, my eyes began to well with tears. And because she hadn't seen, and because I didn't want her to, I stood up, pecked her on the head, and turned to leave.
"Goodnight, Pie. I'll tell you about Caesar tomorrow."
"Okay," she mumbled.
And then I said a quick prayer to a God whose existence I've struggled with for years but whom I have to believe, specifically because of Thomas and Pie, is actually there and actually listening. I'm not stupid, you see. I know that no matter what I do, my efforts to protect them can only cover so many bases, and the idea that the gaps I can't fill would be left to chance is too terrifying for me to accept.
Please keep her safe, I begged. Please.
I left unspoken the corollary He would have to know was there.
Please be real. Please, please be real.
My sister is a small child no longer, but I don't mourn for that. The whole point of my being there now is to give her the tools she'll need to, one day, stand on her own as a well-equipped adult. And it's happening. At the edges of her still-soft face, I can see the outline of that phenomenal young woman almost ready to emerge. I'm not going to try and block the way. It wouldn't be right.
And besides--I can't wait to meet her.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
It was with a disconcerting sense of normalcy that I hopped into a car with my mother, sister, and grandfather on June 9 and trekked to Mountain Town High School to watch Thomas graduate as a member of the Class of 2013.
I was aware, academically, that he had started high school in only 2009. I was aware as well that he was just embarking on his freshman year when I was already in my early twenties. But somehow the fact that it all happened only a few moments ago made the whole thing seem more mundane. Yes, Thomas was graduating high school. But I suppose he hadn't been there long enough for it to surprise me.
There is no denying, however, that a very real part of our mutual lives has ended. For much of the existence of this blog we were ensconced, he at the secondary and I at the university level, within the cocoon of school. As he embarked on the ordinary revelations of teenhood and I experienced a flowering that I now recognize as a (medically improbable) recovery from serious brain illness, we found ourselves together on a road of roughly equivalent adolescence despite the difference in our ages. He was learning how to be a young man and I was learning how to, well, be. We took each other seriously and understood where the other was. I think it's why we got along so well.
But now the extended childhood is over. For me, that means a welcome step into the adulthood I am finally ready to embrace, into a career and a values system that I hope will define the structure of my life for many years to come. For him, it is an open door whose threshold is shrouded in mist. That mist can be an amazing thing. Some people convert it into a rain of diamonds or a hail of amber, the great opening peal of a joyous song. But it can cripple, too. I've seen young men, like Powell, get lost in it and forget that it's eventually meant to dissipate.
Thomas, for now, is at the beginning of his pseudo-boyhood, and the choices that will define him don't all yet need to be made.
As he begins one part of this journey, I can't help but wonder who he'll be when he comes out on the other side.
Monday, June 3, 2013
The creak on the floorboard had to be deliberate. I know how he operates, you see, and he's made an entire career--if you want to call his macabre diversions a "career"--out of slinking into people's lives and upending everything in ways and at times they least expect. Managing to get into a bedroom undetected wouldn't be above him.
I looked up from the nearly full suitcase and swore.
"What? What? What the hell are you doing here?"
The smile Fate gave me in response was surprisingly complacent given that the last time we encountered one another, two years ago, I'd pushed him from a third-story window.
"What does it look like I'm doing?" he asked with infuriating calm. He folded a woolen garment and dropped it into the open trunk. "I'm helping you pack."
I cursed again.
"I should have known you were behind this. I should have known. You're always trying to pull this kind of stuff."
"As always, a pleasure to see you, too," he deadpanned, his English aristocrat's voice going drier than should have been possible. "And it's not as if I tried to orchestrate some grand scheme to keep you in the dark or anything. I mean, really, it's my city. My name is in the title. Did you ever think there was a reason it was called the City of Fate as opposed to say, maybe, the City of Zucchini?"
"You know what, don't," I snapped. "And while we're talking about things that should make sense, how is it that the City of Fate is here but that you have that ridiculous British accent?"
His hands momentarily stopped assaulting my favorite sweater.
"I mean, other than to sound mysterious or something?"
He rolled his eyes and readjusted his professorial paunch.
"You see me as you are conditioned to see me," he lectured. "Which means that the accent is more your doing than mine."
"Sure it is."
My grandmother's humming drifted in from the next room, prompting me to adopt a fierce whisper. "And keep your voice down."
His mouth opened and shut.
"You hurled me from a window fifty feet in the air and I floated off. I promise you, I'm quite capable of ensuring we're not overheard through the door or something equally melodramatic."
"Because you're never melodramatic," I shot, then barreled through before he could reply. "So, what are you here for? Car accident, train crash? Asteroid, maybe?"
"No," he smiled and chomped on an almond bar, which I noted with irritation he'd somehow managed to nick from my grandmother's pantry. "Just a part of your journey, and one I care to observe."
"Like, what, are you taking the train with me?"
"You don't have to see me for me to see you, BB."
"The fact that you just said that makes you creepier than you were before. And that's saying something. Have you morphed into a supernatural peeping tom since I tried to turn you into roadkill?"
"I like to think of myself as more of an engineer," he waxed philosophical. "Or perhaps, I don't know, the HR person of the universe."
"Awesome. Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but I'm only going up for a week."
He grinned in a way that made my stomach sink.
"Look, I'm coming back after five days and staying back, and you just need to accept that," I declared.
"I just need to accept it?" he threw his head of thin grey curls back and had the indecency to laugh. "It's the City of Fate. It's my city. You think I don't know what goes on in it? Or what will go on? You're tied to that place, and, what's more, complicit in the tying. No one made you choose the career path you did."
I glared at him.
"I can find a way around this."
"Like hell you can," he dismissed with a wave of his hand. "Your life will always be inextricably tied with that city, whether you want it to be or not, and the sooner you accept it the better off you'll be."
I crossed my arms over my chest.
"I'm not conceding that."
"You don't have to," he countered with a nod of his head before he strode across the room. "Looking forward to your visit."
Then he propped himself up into the window--"for old time's sake," he noted with a cheerful wiggle of his eyebrows--and was out into the morning sunshine before I could object any further.
I spent the next few days enjoying crab cakes and too much coffee, trying to pretend the encounter in the bedroom hadn't bothered me. But of course it had. And the long train ride up the eastern seaboard was not made any better by the knowledge that each mile of countryside flying by put me a little bit closer to that charlatan's cave.
The sun itself seemed to gloat when I finally stepped off the platform that Monday morning.
"Damn it, New York," I grumbled. "Damn it."
Saturday, May 25, 2013
On May 12, 2013, my brother Thomas turned eighteen years old. Throughout the life of this blog you have known him as a young middle school and then a young high school student, an adorable adolescent whose thirst for exploration and penchant for goofiness so well complemented my own.
Indeed, during the majority of my blogging years, a period that coincided with his mid teens and my early twenties, we were more companions then we were mentor and student. During blizzards snowed in (when we indulged in life-threatening hot tub dips) and summer days spent at mountaintop resorts, we found ourselves comrades in tomfoolery. In many ways our childhoods coincided.
From about 2008, when we went from being enemies to being allies, I spent a great deal of time attempting to positively influence him, wondering always at what kind of man he would become. Now, seemingly a moment after he began high school as a rosy-cheeked fourteen-year-old in the fall of 2009, the manhood on which I so long meditated has arrived.
"It's crazy," he told me several nights ago. "It's just really hitting me. I can get in big-boy trouble now."
I glanced across our porch at the teenager whose shoulders were suddenly broad, whose skin was suddenly tanned, whose newly brown hair--which turned from blonde when he was about fifteen--framed a face sporting nearly black sideburns.
"You can do big-boy things, too," I said. "You can vote. You can own property. You can have your own bank accounts. You can move out."
I flashed back to a conversation he and I had had some time near the summer of 2009, when Thomas was contemplating the commencement of high school.
"I hate growing up," he'd said. "It means I have to do things on my own, like go to college and stuff."
"Thomas," I said. "You're thirteen. That is so far away for you. You're not even going to be a senior in high school for five years."
"Four and a half," he corrected me.
"Same thing," I said. "Look, enjoy being thirteen."
"I know," he said. "'Cause when I get older I'll have to deal with a lot."
"But enjoy being fourteen, too."
"Yeah," he agreed adamantly, not quite understanding what I was saying. "I know."
"And fifteen. And sixteen. And seventeen. And eighteen. And on and on and on. Thomas, there's good and bad things about every age."
Five years later, he laughed over a glass of wine.
"I remember being a freshman and thinking that by the time I was eighteen I'd be so grown up and serious," he said. "But I'm still a giant idiot. I'm still such a kid."
"Welcome to my world."
This eighteen-year-old boy (whom I've agreed to call "medium-sized child" instead of "small child" in light of his recent birthday) will begin community college in the fall and is planning on spending the summer following his approaching graduation doing work for my father's company. I am optimistic about the balanced, intelligent person he's become, though I have understandable worries about his trajectory given the questionable path taken by our brother Powell.
"You know, I used to be so committed to the idea of taking a semester off after high school," Thomas reflected as we sat out front. "I thought, you spend twelve years in school, then four in college, then the rest of your life working. I wanted a break. But I know how I am; one semester could become two, then three, then four. And then all this time passes and you just haven't done anything. Like Powell."
Maybe my fears are unfounded.
But I will, whatever my brother's future brings, remain available to him as a friend and guide, to whatever degree he wants me. Thomas's childhood is over. The extent to which he decides to include me now depends, I suppose, on how well I did my job when he still needed me to do it.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
There was another time in my life when I emerged from a period of intense difficulty to find that I had trouble remembering how to be happy again. I never imagined that such hardship would repeat itself, and in a way it didn't; I have a set of tremendous resources, financial, social, and intellectual, that I didn't have then, and come out of my second most serious downturn with a decided advantage compared to what I had at twenty.
Still, this last year has been one in which I've discovered uncomfortable truths about myself and about, well, life. I rode out of my last crisis on a wave of optimism. The knowledge I've acquired since then has made that phenomenon difficult to replicate.
For all the differences that the two periods have, however, some truths remain constant. Then, as the summer of 2008 sweltered and shined, I committed to paper all the things in my life for which I was thankful, not because I believed it or felt it but because I needed to. I did it because that's what you do to remind yourself what you like about being alive.
And so, in honor of my recent twenty-fifth birthday, I'd like to share with you the things that make me grateful. The last time I did that it woke me up. Maybe this time it will, too.
- I am thankful for the great gifts of talent and intelligence I have been given.
- I am thankful that I have the kind of sister who would make me the birthday card you saw above. I am thankful she jumps about our house making cat noises, rocking out to both Journey and One Direction, and occasionally dropping some profound nuggets on the unsuspecting adults around her.
- I am thankful that I work in a field and at a job I love. I am thankful that I am a literary agent, and thankful that what qualms I do have with my profession are within my power to resolve.
- I am thankful that I have had the financial means to pursue my professional passion, even when that meant interning for free or, now, working for a commission that I have yet to earn.
- I am thankful that, should I need to start over, I will be able to.
- I am thankful to have found a part-time job as a reporter, making enough money to cover my expenses without having to sacrifice my dignity.
- I am thankful that, in my early twenties, I had the presence of mind to make the academic and professional investments that brought me to this point.
- I am thankful for the momentary fancy that brought me to publishing; I cannot imagine finding my place and my fiscal security anywhere else.
- I am thankful that my endeavors have allowed me to live in one of the greatest cities in the world and to see another.
- I am thankful that, this time around, I have friends. They have been such a bulwark through all this. I am also thankful that I have had the strength to walk away from friendships, even long-established ones, when they become counterproductive.
- I am so thankful for recovery. Developing an academic understanding of my complex health problems has been a depressing exercise, if only because it's made me cognizant of some very long odds, but that academic understanding has been my sword and my armor. Twenty-year-old BB is a shadow of twenty-five-year-old BB. Twenty-year-old BB could never have done the things that twenty-five-year-old BB can. And damn it, I'm here, aren't I? I'm here.
- I am thankful that I am twenty-five years old and beautiful.
- I am thankful that I have come to have a genuine, if conflicted, faith, one that fuels my wonder without compromising my critical thinking.
- I am thankful, after a fashion, for my cynicism. A part of me still pines after some romantic notions, but my view of the world has become much more guarded and sterilized. That's made a few things easier to handle.
- I am thankful for the few sizeable paychecks I've been able to bring in through freelance editing. I am thankful that I have no pressing financial hardships, even if I am not yet where I'd like to be.
- I am thankful that I stopped loving my father some time ago. He's so much less disappointing now.
- I am thankful for my improved relationship with my adoptive mother, and for her growing maturity and understanding. Thirty-nine is better than never.
- I am thankful for a summer that will, thanks to work, be full of travel to destinations across this country.
- I am thankful for this blog, for the incredible forum it provides and for the chronicle of my progress it has become with the passing of years.
- I am thankful for you, and for some of the very good friends I've made here.
- I am thankful for an intellectual curiosity that has never been more vital in me than it is now.
- I am thankful for the young man my brother Thomas is becoming.
- I am thankful for my ability to recognize and address my own considerable flaws.
- I am thankful that I had so much to put on this list.
Hopefully this will be a good start. Remember what happened in the few years after I last made one of these? Incredible things. Incredible things.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
On April 7, 2008, a nineteen-year-old who called himself BB set up a Blogger account and made his first post. At that time, half a decade ago, my life had been defined mostly by loss: the loss of my childhood, the loss of my faith, the loss of my innocence and my sanity and myself.
The last five years, though, have been defined by the things I've gained. Thanks to a group of incredible people (most in real life, some of whom I've met here), I gained a perspective and a confidence that arguably saved my life. They met me when I was damaged and loved me anyway, and then they handed me the greatest gift I've ever received: the genuine belief that I was better than, and more than, the traumas of childhood abuse and illness. They showed me that I could define myself instead of letting others define me. They showed me not to be ashamed of being gay, or of struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or of blaring Kelly Clarkson records with the volume all the way up. They taught me that I was great, whoever I was.
I am so in their debt.
Many of them, like Laquesha, Hungarian Guy, and Black Dress Girl, will never see these words because of the anonymity that I must, especially now, maintain. But I know how much I owe them and how lucky I am to have had them in my life.
To the friends who can read this: thank you so much.
Thank you, Jo(e), for showing me what an adult should look like. Thank you, Sue, for caring about me when I didn't care about me. Thank you, Communist, for being an insufferable dumbass. It's why we get along so well.
So, for those of you who don't know and for those who would like to be reacquainted: my name is BrightenedBoy, which is odd when you take into account that I am no longer, strictly speaking, a boy. I am twenty-four years old and a fledgling literary agent who does freelance reporting on the side in Southern State.
I live with my parents, David and Marie, in Mountain Town, though I may soon be leaving. For the moment I share a home with them and with my siblings: Thomas (age seventeen), Pie (age nine), and, in about a week, Powell (age twenty-three). I am plotting my escape and hope to make it in the coming months.
2012 was the hardest year I've had since I started writing here in 2008, but it came with its golden moments and its bedrock lessons. It made me a little stronger each time it wore me down.
April 2012: I turned twenty-four years old and learned that birthday parties do not mix well with attempted murder.
May 2012: I continued my job search and internship even as an emotional tailspin ratcheted into full gear.
June 2012: I visited my grandmother's home in Native State and got some much-needed family support.
July 2012: A major storm hit our property and my brother Powell decided to throw one of his many impromptu house parties.
August 2012: La Reine hired me as a literary agent with Sentinel of the West Literary Agency on August 9 and I was soon out to Pacific State to meet my colleagues in person.
September 2012: Laquesha and I took turns having sleepovers at each other's houses.
October 2012: Green Eyes and Hungarian Guy hosted me for a three-day bender that, in addition to being a bit epic in scale, proved my social life hadn't ended with college.
November 2012: President Obama was resoundingly reelected, to many cheers and much clinking of wine glasses at the election watch party I attended.
December 2012: The friends who keep popping up here threw a New Year's Eve party that almost made up for the preceding 364 days.
January 2013: I came to the conclusion that my father was truly irredeemable.
February 2013: I sent out my first queries to publishing houses even as I struggled with an emotional and mental beating.
March 2013: I mostly just spent this month breaking and trying to pretend that wasn't happening.
So, that's it. Let's hope things start looking up soon, guys. 2013 sort of just has to work. I can't do this much longer.
Friday, March 22, 2013
Four years ago, I took to this blog to confess my fears about the future as I approached my senior year of college. That soul-baring exercise helped allay my worries then, and I hope it will this time as well.
The following is my journal entry for March 18.
March 18, 2013
After a nearly snowless winter we've had some unexpected late accumulation, about an inch or so this morning with more anticipated late in the week. It didn't affect the roads at all but, predictably, was enough to get Thomas and Pie out of school.
They depart on Friday, along with my parents, for a week in Florida, and I'm looking forward to the distraction of hosting a few friends next Wednesday night.
Of late I've been plagued with doubt concerning my future and the career path I've chosen thus far. As an adolescent I had the kind of lurid fantasies all teenage boys do, of private jets and mounds of gold and rock stardom, fantasies I discarded when I realized the importance of joyful work as opposed to some nouveau riche vision of excess.
Money has come to occupy my mind again, though, because money matters. Increasingly, it seeme to be the only thing that matters in this country, and only through the possession of it can one have the things that should be--and once were--basic human rights: an education, healthcare, security in one's home, fair treatment under the law. Everyone else is simply left behind, and for them no legacy is permitted; surviving to the next paycheck is all they know of longevity.
Next month I will turn twenty-five. I had thought for sure that by now I'd be on my own, not only supporting myself but contributing in some way to Thomas's college education, which will commence in the fall. Instead I'm still here. The gap between the potential everyone saw and the total failure that actually transpired is enormous and painful.
Of course, I recognize now that I was hampered to a huge degree by my health problems, which many on placed many of the dreams I had out of reach, even though I didn't know it. More aspirations may yet be foreclosed; can a person like me hold public office? Should he? My hardships have given me empathy and, I hope, wisdom, while my intellect allows me a firm grasp on the issues of the day. In those qualities I have something to contribute, yet I wonder if some hindrance lurks in my brain. Will there be something I don't understand? In a moment of panic will my judgement be comrpromised?
And in asking these questions am I being responsible or merely giving myself an excuse to withdraw?
I guess I'll find out some day, becase I will not abdicate my lifelong dream of making a meaningful contribution to my society. That dream has morphed, though. At eighteen I imagined becoming a celebrated politician and I indulged an inner monologue that fueled my need for self-aggrandizement. Now, having struggled to complete college, having seen friends go without medical treatment for chronic conditions because they can't afford hospital visits, having watched the traditional avenues for social advancement close even as the shackles on the working poor are wound tighter, I care about public service for an entirely different reason.
Yet I question, not for health but for financial considerations, whether I'll ever be able to act upon my impulse to serve. And therein lie the seeds of my doubt. Lately I've seriously wondered if I shouldn't send La Reine my regrets, resign my position, and intern with a publishing house or seek work at a Goldlands public relations company where I can tap into the kind of earning power that would allow me to build a life.
Agenting could do that, too, with the right project, but even with the huge potential payoff I can't wait forever. I'm going to have to impose some kind of ultimatum. In the time leading up to my twenty-fifth birthday I'll figure out what that is.