Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Beginning of an Era

I thought I'd failed it.

I flunked, the words repeated in my head. I flunked, I flunked, I flunked.

I wasn't going to pass the exam. I wasn't going to get into graduate school. I wasn't going to have a career or ever escape the house that had brought me embarrassment and misery and my violent rendezvous with death.

But that isn't how things are actually going to go.

The envelope came in the mail with two very simple words: 86th percentile.

I hadn't just gotten through the thing. I'd scored higher than almost 90% of the people who'd taken the test nationwide.

And I'm in.

On August 25, I will commence classes at the delightful little school--Mountain University--pictured above, and in two years I will conclude those classes with a master's degree in education. After that, I've decided: I'm headed north. Our Family has resided in Southern State for the last four hundred years. Well, it's been a cool four centuries. But I'm me.

"Yes, yes, come to Northern State!" a blogging friend encouraged me by text.

"Get up here!" chorused a college buddy who teaches in the City of Fate. "I'm so happy that you're doing this."

I've been fascinated by the Snowstorm region since I was a teenager, and why shouldn't I pursue my dreams? I'm having this marvelous revelation that life can be a thing you enjoy.

"I wonder what the North will be like?" I mused to Black Dress Girl between sips of iced coffee. "I've never really been there."

Because let's face it, the City of Fate is a region unto itself.

"People up there are generally nicer," she said. "And better educated. It's kind of refreshing. But don't expect me to visit you in the winter. I am not even about that."

After the teaching career, of course, comes the second teaching career: a high school position is just a stepping stone on the way to a college professorship in history. That will take a doctorate, which I hope Northern State's outstanding universities will prove helpful in furnishing. But we have to take one step at a time.

So the blogger you met as a college student will soon be a college student once more. And this graduation will be a world removed from the last one.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Things Recovered

"Oh, my God!" the young woman with the glossy black hair exclaimed. "I haven't seen you in forever-o!"

"I know-o!" I responded, my voice contorted into the absurd Spanglish dialect we'd perfected as our own. "I cannot believe it-o!"

"Oh, my gosh, BB, how long has it been?"

"Years. At least two years."

"I think it's been longer than that."

The last time I'd seen Peruvian Girl was while I was attending Major University, but the intervening time had done nothing to dampen a familiarity that we quickly resumed as we strolled in the park, clutching our coffees to our chests and raising our hands against the light summer rain.

College brought many wonderful new friends, but Peruvian Girl was one of the few who predated my university years, a girl who knew me when BrightenedBoy was truly a boy, eighteen and innocent and with a world of hurt ahead of him.

Before long we were reminiscing about the same stories we'd gone over a dozen times before--"and then your brother left me in the woods"--and sharing the inevitable details of siblings growing and lives changing.

"My sister is graduating from college this fall, and my brother will be eighteen in September! How did this happen? BB, you were seventeen when we met."

Time has dealt us both some blows, hers in the form of a breakup and mine in the form of a breakdown, and both our bodies and our achievements have fallen short of the ambitions we had for them. She's twenty-four years old and once again living with her parents; I'm twenty-six years old and in the same position. We were both once substantially more attractive than we are now and we both feel it.

"We are each carrying a little chub," she noted, making an observation I would have permitted very few people to make. She clutched her stomach. "I used to be so skinny."

When she learned how my new bulge had come about, tears welled in her eyes.

"BB, I don't know what I would have done if someone had called me or I'd seen it on Facebook. Did you really almost die?"

But in between bemoaning what we were and what we failed to be, there were bright glimmers of something very different.

"I think I'm going to go back to school and finish my degree," she said. "My mother says I'm too old, but what does she know? I'm twenty-four. I can't work in a restaurant the rest of my life."

"That's funny," I said. "Because I'm starting graduate school this fall. To be a teacher."

"BB, that is so great!"

"And you know, we're both going to be hot again."

"Oh, I know-o. I started hitting the gym today."

Peruvian Girl knew me before, before my own mind betrayed me and I came unmoored in a spiral of death and drinking and mania. She knew me before I stopped being me for a little while. And her unblinking faith in the sweet, beautiful BB of yore, the one she met and grew to love, reminded me both of what I was and what I could be.

I'm still that person. As I move forward with a boy's spirit wedded to an adult's experience and, yes, wisdom, I can shine as bright as I ever did and maybe even brighter. In the mail there's a graduate entrance exam application that holds my future. In my new phone there's an app that tracks my weight every single day, counting down the forty-five pounds I have to lose by January 1, 2015. Twenty miles to my west there's a school where my career will begin.

I did not die at twenty-five. And my life is far from over.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Damn you
Damn me
This thing is such a vicious cycle
And it's so obvious it's not love

But it's love in the moment
Of the moment
Of the way you make me feel
Of the way there's only glittery you
When there's only glittery you

My absence ends you
Your presence decays me
And what I hate the most isn't what you do to me
But what you make me do to myself

I know it even as my lips touch yours
That I'll regret you when we're done
You're the worst of me
I'm the best of you

I'm the end-all-be-all
So much more extraordinary than what I let you tell me I can be
But I'm addicted to the way you whisper your lies
And even in my best moments I wonder if they might be truths

That my soul is a mediocre flash of broken light
That I was made for only one moment
That I was doomed from the start
That I'll never be beautiful again

One day I will take you in triumph
Wrap you in my arms
Lean in and whisper
"I won."

Monday, June 9, 2014

Exercising Restraint

It's hard to say what exactly went wrong in the time leading up to my October 20 suicide attempt, but I think it's safe to conclude that the causes feeding in to that awful eventuality went back many years. Take your pick: homosexuality, brain disease, childhood abuse, financial desperation, and then an embarrassing and pervasive failure to launch in the face of the worst economy since the Great Depression. It was a perfect storm. A time bomb.

But one of the things for which I bore responsibility was an intemperance that grew more pronounced as I drew closer to death. In college I was an infrequent if enthusiastic drinker, but after graduation a couple of drinks every few months became a couple almost every night. In the despair that followed my suicide attempt, my lack of restraint only grew: I drank to numb the pain, and when drinking wasn't enough I turned to boatloads of bad food to warm my heart. The results were predictable but stinging: an abysmal performance at a friend's party that effectively ended our acquaintance and a weight gain of forty pounds that, in the space of a few months, destroyed my once-admirable physique.

I've always been the pretty one, the skinny one who from early adolescence attracted male attention. To suddenly not have that was disorienting and disheartening. But I brought it on myself.

As I found my professional bearings, embarking on a stable career path, I decided to reevaluate some other parts of my life as well. That is why, shortly after my twenty-sixth birthday in April, I decided to give up drinking for a full calendar year. I'm not tee-totaling for life, but it seemed to me a good idea to put the brakes on a habit that was causing me to act in a way I found unsatisfactory.

Two months in, the most surprising thing about this endeavor has been how easy it is. I occasionally find I'd like to have a drink when out with friends, but there's been no real temptation to break my vow. I haven't had to fight myself. The lack of struggle has been a refreshing reminder that maybe I didn't have as much of a problem as I imagined.

Much less sanguine has been my relationship with food. I love to eat, and I eat to feel better. It's an unhealthy relationship that has had a major detrimental effect on my appearance and self-esteem, but today, after six months of attempting and failing, I made the same kind of solemn commitment to stop overeating that I made to stop drinking. For a full year (with a select few cheat days built in), BB is on a diet. And it's awful. Today is Day #1 and I'm so hungry that I could eat my right hand, but I've lost two pounds since this morning. By June 9, 2015, I'll be back to my college weight. That's an amazing thought.

So here's to restraint, direction, temperance, and discipline. They've been absent from my life for far too long, and I'm so happy to welcome them back again.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Much-Needed Update

I'd like to apologize for being absent so long--more than a month, which I think may be a personal record for me since I started this blog in 2008. It's just that I've been busy. I am, after all, getting ready for grad school.

The photo you see above is one I snapped on the campus of Mountain University, and it is there that I will report later today for my first class in a teacher-certification program that will take me approximately two years to complete. What I'll embark on this afternoon is an undergraduate prerequisite (I won't formally begin graduate studies until the fall), but it is something I need to do for this program and so in a sense it's the program's first step. I'm so excited for this.

My six years here have seen a lot of dreaming, the kind of really audacious ambition that only a very young person can have, and I suppose it's a mark of my emerging adulthood that the aspirations I have now focus not on pop stardom or music renown but on a stable career and a liveable income. There is, to be sure, something sad about that; I am a boy of twenty-one no longer and will never again be that shining youth. Yet the things I want for myself all result in my happiness, and they come without the immense pressure of having to change the world in the process of achieving them. It's a good thing.

And I have some audacity left in me. I grew up in an abusive hellhole run by two homophobic anti-intellectuals, and yet I have the nerve to think that I might one day be a history professor who leads a fulfilling love life. Your BB won't settle. And I still sing sometimes. My voice has a lot more rasp to it now, as if it's weary of the world, but I still sing.

So today begins the whirlwind. I'll wrap up my prerequisites this summer, then, financial aid in hand, will commence graduate work in the fall and will move onto the campus of Mountain University. Bye bye, David and Marie. It's been swell.

As for the long-term plan? I'll complete the teaching program in 2016 and then will secure a position teaching high school history. While working, I'll go back to school yet again, this time to obtain a bachelor's degree in history. That done, I'll apply for fellowships to pursue a master's degree and a doctorate in history, almost certainly with a focus on the antebellum South and the planter class in particular. And then it's off to the college job market and, hopefully, tenure. Call that one a ten-year goal. Hell, maybe a fifteen-year goal. But it'll be so awesome when I finally reach it.

Thank you guys for being so understanding and supportive all this time. The last few years have been rough--hell, I tried to kill myself--but I finally feel like I'm stepping in something like the right direction. I'd really like for you to witness that.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Six Years

Today it has been six years since April 7, 2008, when I sat down at a computer in the Student Newspaper office of Major University and typed out my first blog post. Sometimes it's hard to believe so much time has passed; sometimes it's hard to believe how recent it was. Six years in the blink of an eye. A lifetime in six years.

Back then, I was a boy of nineteen, an adolescent with a host of problems that would bedevil, release, and then consume me over the course of the next half-decade. Some of these anniversaries have been happy ones--2009 and 2010 were both joyous occasions. Others, such as last year's, found me at lower points. Today I'm at a median, recovering from the horrible pit into which I fell throughout 2013 but not quite out of the woods yet. I have plans for the future and will act upon them soon.

So, for those of you who don't know or would like to be reacquainted, my name is BB. I am a twenty-five-year-old college graduate pursuing work in public relations, and by this summer will be either engaged in a job in that field or in graduate school.

I live in Mountain State with my father David, mother Marie, and siblings Thomas (age 18) and Pie (age 10). My brother Powell (age 24) lives with my birth-mother, Anne. And now, the previous year in review:

April 2013: I turn twenty-five years old

May 2013: Thomas turns eighteen, which inspires both happiness and disbelief on my part

June 2013: Pie turns ten, another emotional occasion

July 2013: I attend a convention in Misty City and begin the final slide towards suicide

August 2013: Our Family prepares to move from the reviled Farmhouse

September 2013: I slip ever further into the suicidal trance, and often wonder how I'll be able to make it to my planned execution date of January without throwing in the towel early

October 2013: I move in to the new house on October 7 and attempt suicide on October 20. I am nearly successful and am subsequently hospitalized in a psychiatric ward

November 2013: I begin a long recuperation at home

December 2013: I at last buy a new car after trading in the 1996 Oldsmobile that got me through college, and Our Family enjoys its first Christmas in the new home

January 2014: I begin an abortive unpaid internship in Marble City, but abandon the position by the end of the month

February 2014: In a moment of darkness, I conduct myself in a spectacularly offensive manner and lose several friends in the process

March 2014: I come to terms with my destructive behavior and initiate a plan to move forward

So that's it. Hopefully a year from now I'll be recounting much happier events than these. In the meantime, I'd like to thank all of you for the support you've lent me during the many peaks and valleys of the last six years. It's meant a lot.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Dark and Violent History

Longtime blog readers will know that I have periodically discussed the illustrious history of my mother's family. They were a truly remarkable group of people, self-sacrificing patriots who gave their all in the defense of liberty, in the Old World and the New. I have for many years enjoyed reading and learning about them, but have known exceptionally little about my father's line, about the story of my own last name.

In retrospect, it might have been better not to look. But look I did, and I found what I found.

More than anything else, this journey, undertaken during lunch breaks and the few hours between work and bed, was full of surprises. To begin with, I started looking in the wrong geographic direction: north. My brothers, sister, and I were all born in Native State, as was my father and his father before him, and I presumed that the family line would stretch back from Native City to some village in Germany. Not so.

In fact, the census records detailing my great-grandfather's life revealed an unexpected twist: place of birth--Southern State.

"No way," I whispered, delighted.

Southern State, you see, is my adopted homeland, the place where I've lived and where all of my life experiences have taken place since I was sixteen. For a twenty-five-year-old that's getting to be quite a span of time, and I've long since come to regard the locality where I attended college and came into my own as home. It was validating to learn that my roots evidently originated in the place I'd grown to love. But how far did those roots sink?

"Exactly," Powell said. "If they came to Native State from Southern State, then where did they come to Southern State from?"

I smiled.

"I'm going to find out."

And so I dug.

After a while I started to become concerned; the records just stretched back and back and back, and for a while I wondered that I'd never find the Our Family origin.

"Richard Our Family, born 1881 in Southern State. John Our Family, born 1851, Southern State. James Our Family, born 1823, Southern State...Peter Our Family, 1750...Salathiel--Salathiel?--Our Family, 1725...William Our Family, far back can these go?"

The answer, to my astonishment, was 1619, and the place was a touchstone of American history.

"King's City," I marveled, reading the name recited by countless generations of American schoolchildren. "King's City."

In the King's City population census of 1624, there he was: John William Our Family, age 24, arrived November 1619--from Wales.

"We're Welsh?" my father asked.

"And French," I clarified. "A French family married into Our Family in the 1700s."

"What does 'Welsh' even mean?"

What, indeed. The Our Family history in this small country adjoining England is evidently a long and impressive one, but it was what we did after arriving in America that interested me. And it was that, the devilish details, that dampened the happiness I'd felt at learning my family had been in Southern State for 400 years. Which was, obviously, a great thing to learn.

"It's like when we moved here, we were coming home," my brother Powell said. I thought that was such a lovely notion. But in this ancient home of ours, we did things that should not be done.

The land records for 1645 list John William Our Family as purchasing 1,200 acres of land near King's City, the area his descendants would occupy for the next 300 years. It also lists him as furnishing the labor needed to work that land. For two centuries, from this initial endeavor to the great Civil War that forever freed four million human beings from bondage, the economic mainstay of my family was slavery.

It is tempting to dismiss this legacy by saying, "Well, everyone in the South owned slaves."

And it's not true.

"Of the 6 million white inhabitants of the so-called slave states, less than 350,000 owned slaves, and only 40,000 controlled plantations requiring a working unit of more than 20 field hands. But the 3,000 or 4,000 principal slave-owners generally ruled the politics of the South." (Churchill, The Great Republic, 137).

They were an elite among an elite. Criminals among criminals.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Our Family's involvement in slavery is its consistency over two and a quarter centuries; the family ruled an empire of the lash, maintaining at least fifteen to twenty slaves per leading member throughout the entire Antebellum period. James Our Family, the last head of the family, before the destruction of the Civil War, is listed in the 1860 census as holding forty-seven men, women, and children in chains.

Individual instances of brutality were more shocking, more visceral, than the fact of the immense legacy could be.

In 1774 my sixth great-grandfather, Salathiel Our Family (tell me that doesn't just sound evil) posted an ad in a newspaper seeking a runaway named Sam.

"This Negro shall be easy to identify," assured Salathiel. "For I have branded him upon his face."

You can imagine that, as a progressive young gay man, the knowledge that I am in fact descended from a dynasty of vicious Southern slaveholders (which, you'll note, bothers my father's conscience not a bit) has not been welcome. Which is not to say there aren't things to celebrate in the Our Family history.

The family had a habit of educating its sons at Harvard, an oddity that I learned was actually common among Southern planters, and on the French side we are descended from Huguenots who came to Southern State seeking religious liberty in 1689. Since at least that time my ancestors had subscribed to, in another bizarre coincidence, the Episcopal Church, which is my denomination of choice.

So I am, by chance, an Episcopal Southern-Stater who learned he's descended from 400 years of Episcopal Southern-Staters. Perhaps your history defines you more than you know. But what rings across our story, louder than any other sound, is the crack of the whip, and it is that that haunts me.

Of course, the Our Family story changes dramatically after the Civil War. The plantations are burned, the slaves freed, the fortune lost, the masters at last served their richly deserved comeuppance. Within two generations of the war we'd left Southern State, my great-grandfather and his father seeking factory work in Native City. In 1923 my great-grandfather, at the age of only thirteen, landed in a local newspaper when he was injured in an industrial accident.

So now I know a little bit more about who I am and where I come from. The Our Family name stood for something, something repugnant, but something that I now understand. And as I marvel at some of the strange ways in which my own life has lined up with this history--my moving to Southern State, my becoming Episcopal--I wonder at how the defining aspect of that history, slavery, may still influence us.

If anything, I hope to take it as another reminder of how the powerful treat the powerless. I have suffered nothing like those whom my ancestors enslaved, but I, too, know powerlessness, and that powerlessness at the hands of vindictive men and women has taught me the value of mercy and compassion.

It is my aspiration that, one day, when centuries from now someone looks back upon my name, they will say, "He was good. He was kind. He left things better than he found them."

There are precious few peacemakers in Our Family's shared history. Maybe I can be one of them.