Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Wild's Twisted Mirror


Someone with a past like mine should not spend so much time alone.

When I'm with people, occupied, swept along in the hustle and bustle that is work, social engagements, shopping, dinners, errands, exercise, reading, family, then I'm good. When I get to live life the way a normal person lives life, I am in general a happy and pleasant individual. Which is remarkable, all things considered. Scroll through the archives of this blog and try not to weep at what you find there. Domestic violence. Suicide. Vicious and unrelenting abuse. It was a miracle that I got through all of that more or less intact, got to the point that I could be an agreeable link in a chain of friendship and kin, a typical member of a typically functioning social circle. More or less, a regular dude (or girl, but the point stands).

About a decade ago, I did my first blogger meetup as a college student in the Washington, DC region, and the writer with whom I met expressed a surprised assessment of my character.

"From your writing, I expected you to be really serious and reserved," he quipped at the time. "But you're actually like, a normal person."

Genuinely one of my greatest achievements in life has been to become "actually like, a normal person." It's why I revel in my Starbucks and my Taylor Swift records and my completely indefensible love for Twilight. By all rights I should be a raving lunatic, or barring that a fashionably tortured Gothic misanthrope. Instead I'm a comically typical white girl, cheerful and good natured, like, as one co-worker playfully noted "a little ball of sunshine." Except when I'm alone.


Then old wounds open up. Old shames breathe. And pervasive insecurities whisper in my ear, of all the things I'll never have and never be able to do. There's so much to worry about these days. Whether or not to transition, then how to bear the cost of it if I go that route. Which direction to take to further my career, and whether I'll be equal to the task. How, how in the name of the sweet Lord above, to get out of this village, where I feel trapped: the robust salary and low-pressure working conditions I command here come at the price of social isolation, but to reclaim a more typical life would be to surrender a hard-won economic position that very, very few teachers enjoy.

Alaska teacher pay, even in a city, would allow me to live at least a middle-class existence, but those city jobs are difficult to come by. Everyone wants to work in Iceport or Aurora City. So what's a boy to do? The prospective options--teaching job here, teaching job in another village, teaching job in a city, non-teaching job in a city--for next year are manifold with conflicting and interlocking time-frames, all of which is to say nothing of my long-term ambitions to enter a very specific career path within the federal government. It's all just so much. Through the maelstrom of deadlines and pressure and logistics I can see a glimmer of a happy future worth living in, but it seems so far off sometimes.


I'm going to be spending two weeks in Iceport during Christmas break (something I've elected to do en lieu of a very expensive Yuletide trip to the East Coast) and at least a few things will be acted on then. I have a job interview with a group home for troubled kids sometime around the New Year, and I'll also be meeting with a psychiatrist to get a clinical evaluation that could be my foot in the door with the federal government. Granted, I have yet to find that psychiatrist, but still.

"I can see you've applied for an overseas position," said the federal coordinator to whom I'd been assigned. "But there are domestic positions that are subject to non-competitive hiring processes for individuals with disabilities, and that could be a quicker and smoother path for you. Why don't we get that started? Then we have two irons on the fire and they can proceed simultaneously."

This could potentially be a godsend; I've harbored dreams to embark upon this very specific job track within the federal government for about a decade now, but the barrier to entry is high and the selection process rigorous. A workaround exists in the form of what is called Schedule-A hiring, a non-competitive hiring process in which qualified persons with disabilities are considered in a pool by themselves, apart from the population of general applicants. I am absolutely eligible to do this, but require a letter from a physician to verify the legitimacy of my status.

Hence why I am now searching Iceport for a doctor to confirm the ailment with which I was first diagnosed at three years old and which has altered, in profound and almost universally negative ways, every aspect of my life. It's stressful and aggravating, but if it helps me climb this particular wall then it will be worth it.


Otherwise, I'm going to just enjoy being normal for a fortnight. I've rented an apartment in Iceport for the greater part of the break, and I'm very much looking forward to such exciting adventures as grabbing coffee, going to the movies, and grocery shopping. With a car! Wise Woman, my neighbor from Gori who now lives in a village on Alaska's west coast, is flying to the city to spend four nights and days with me, among them Christmas itself; and Miss Violet, a teacher who lived in Point Goldlace last year but has since relocated to Iceport, is hosting us for Christmas dinner. My father will be up for a few days as well, somewhere between Christmas and New Year's.

Other than that, the time is mine. Hopefully somewhere in the twinkle of Christmas lights and the flash of New Year's Eve fireworks, a little ball of sunshine can emerge again.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Who?


It's been a weird few months.

I guess, in honesty, it's been a weird few years, and what's more the first years of my life that have ever truly been mine. My twenties were a vortex in which all I could do was survive, and even on that count I fell terribly, tragically short on a dark day six Octobers ago. There was no time for self-examination. Instead I plodded on, dutifully doing absolutely whatever I had to do to stand on my own two feet and thinking of little else until, after more than a decade of whirlwind conflict, achievement, and despair, I found myself, all of a sudden, alone in Alaska. I really couldn't even process it.

For so long there'd been nothing but struggle. I was, to use an educator's parlance, seeing only to my physiological and safety needs. And then when the offer to come here arrived, it was so unexpected that the journey began seemingly without my initiating it. A job prospect in Southern State had fallen through in February and with three months left in the spring semester I found that a teaching position in Alaska, for which I'd interviewed basically on a lark, looked a lot more attractive than it had a few days earlier. I switched my bank accounts, packed up my life, and landed in Iceport three weeks later. My government housing on the tundra was the first home I'd ever lived in that was mine.

I did weirdly well in rural Alaska, better frankly than most other people, and I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe it was the dysfunction of my own childhood, or awareness of my own shortcomings, but the deeply strange and often difficult dynamic in the villages was something I didn't have much trouble dealing with, even if the social isolation got me down.


That first assignment, in White Venice, didn't last long. The lack of running water was a bridge too far for me, and White Venice was in several ways just not my cup of tea. Instead I wound up spending an eventful--and at times heartbreaking--year in Gori, where I lived in a beautiful little apartment next to a big-hearted woman with deep compassion and open ears. And I had time to sit still.

That's a remarkable thing when you've never had it, and it leads your mind to places it wouldn't--or wouldn't dare--otherwise go. I was twenty-nine and working late at the school one night the first time I logged onto a trans chat room under an assumed name. Which is not to say I'd never acknowledged the thoughts before. Once, years earlier, I confessed to a therapist that I always felt I should have been born a girl but that one had to be pragmatic and that I'd make my best go of it as a gay man. Said that blithely. Like living an entire lifetime in disguise would be as mundane as going for a walk through the park. I was twenty-four then. By twenty-nine a lot of things felt different.

I found myself poring over memories, reliving and dissecting all of the forbidden thoughts and elements of myself that I'd worked so hard to hide during my adolescence. The female role-playing in games of make-believe with my brother. The cheerleading routines in the front yard. The daydreams about marrying a boy from my third-grade class, which must have been wrong because they featured me in a dress up on a sunny hill with him smiling at my side. I felt so perverse when I indulged that fantasy, but couldn't help returning to the thought. And then there was the time I was nine, when I realized that the voice and the face in my head were both female, and the shock of shame and alarm that sent through me. I had to fix it. I had to make it right.


So I tried. I practiced walking like a boy. I drilled myself into talking without my hands, lowering my voice, reconfiguring my mindset, adjusting my daydreams to make their star male--young and elegant and vulnerable, feminine in every way that counted, but somehow male. I worked to make myself less of what I was. And to a really awful degree I succeeded, because here I am, thirty-one, unsure of who I am or where I belong or what's authentic.

"I've always felt female inside," I said during a recent conversation with my therapist, whom I'm able to chat with by phone in light of my unusual living circumstances. "But when I think of actually acting on it, the next thought is, 'You're insane.' I mean, I've been in this male body for thirty-one years. It just seems so out there. Like, 'Are you seriously thinking this? This can't be real.' I just don't know who I am. And I feel like a fraud."

"You know," she said. "That's really common."

My therapists, my friends, my confidants, my rivals, my peers--everyone, it seems, save my lovers--have been women or girls. I never really thought about why; it just seemed natural. Which is not to say I don't have male friends, but they've been a lot fewer and farther between. Women just seemed to understand me better, and I them.

"You're like a girl," one of them sneered at me in second grade. "A prissy one."

You're telling me, honey. You're telling me.


The fact that I've long been a natural caretaker has not made any of this easier, and has caused me anxiety in adulthood as my behavior and my sex seem increasingly out of alignment. As a teacher I'm nurturing, compassionate, funny, fair, firm when needed. Some of the kids make me melt. More than once, I've looked at a few of those in deepest pain and wished I could take them home with me, even though there's no way that's possible. One day last school year an eighth-grade girl slipped up and called me "Mom" in front of the entire World Geography class. We all laughed at it, none louder than me--"Honey, you're so confused," I quipped, to more gales of giggles--but that child was on to something.

And I've always been like this. As a little kid I enjoyed taking care of kids younger than me. When Pie was born, sixteen years ago, my non-existent ovaries practically exploded. I was the babysitter who never needed to be asked. I was endless kisses on a forehead and endless bedtime stories and a face that was always happy to see her. All those hundreds of back massages, never repaid (the rapscallion). I carried her around on my hip, me a boy of sixteen, as I did chores around the house. And only later did I realize how deeply, deeply weird all of that was. Weird, anyway, for a boy of sixteen. But maybe not weird for an older sister.

My obviously maternal disposition has served me well as an educator--and allowed me to cheat, as I'm basically a female undercover in a heavily female field that looks to hire men--but made me feel out of place, too.

Why are you like this? I've wondered. What kind of man are you? What must everyone think?

And I wished I was a woman standing up there, soft curves wrapped in a cashmere sweater, makeup helping my hazel eyes pop, silver earrings dangling against easy blonde waves, because so much of who I am would just make a lot more sense if that were the case. My manner with men, too, is an odd thing: always respectful, always professional, but light and with a hint of flirtation. It's the kind of thing that would be catching in a pretty young woman. It doesn't quite have the same effect when I do it.

"Can you describe Morningstar to me?" my therapist asked. "What is she like?"

I thought about it.

"She's strong," I answered. "She's sure of herself. She's funny. She's intelligent. She has kind of a black humor because she's been through some shit, but she's come out on the other side. She's flirtatious. She knows how to have a good time." I paused. "She can take anything that gets thrown at her. She knows who she is."

"Well, BB," Gender Therapist responded. "Have you not just described yourself?"

Have I? This must be why she gets paid the big bucks, because that is an absolutely fantastic question. Has there been another BB in here all along? Has Badass Bitch just been waiting to escape?

"Maybe Morningstar wants to step out," Gender Therapist suggested. "Maybe BB has been protecting her. Or maybe this is all a fantasy that you need to put away so you can be a wonderful, kind gay man. But I think that if you let Morningstar out, she may not want to go back in."

Somewhere in my heart that feels true. The idea of Morningstar being out here, where the whole world can see her, where colleagues and friends and strangers and children and men can see her, is almost intoxicating. If I'm being honest about it, part of the reason I've had so much trouble finding a husband is because I've always wanted to be a wife.

But there's a lot of complexity between here and there, you know? I'm not sure how to take that first step.

Monday, September 23, 2019

In the Light of the Morning Star


My body smoldered in the hazy light of the pit.

How had I...?

Where...?

Flashes sparked behind my eyes, too many to count, too many to reason out, a boundless loop of vignettes that seemed to come from separate lives but that I somehow knew were all mine.

Cheerleading routines in the front yard, an impromptu squad formed with a cousin and a friend. 

The shimmer eye shadow that made my hazel irises shine, but that I'd later look back on with embarrassment. "It was 2003," I'd explain, all tinkling laughter. 

More and more. All these scenes. 

Standing in my mother's office, hard plastic shoulder pads on my narrow frame, feeling a desolation no nine-year-old could articulate. Looking at my father, who held a $20 bill in his hand and disappointment in his eyes. Pleading in a little boy voice, "Dad, I don't want to play..."

Being admitted onto the squad, all of sixteen, and thinking I'd made it. That with the bows in my hair and the skirt on my waist and the chest that had finally come in I was one of them now. 

Twelve years old, in bed weeping, begging God to make me normal. "Why can't I like girls?" 

Twelve years old, licking my cherry-watermelon lipstick and sharing a confidence with Britney in the locker room. "I think he's going to ask me to winter formal..."

Twenty-one years old, at a nightclub with straightened hair and a button-up shirt, out of the closet all of a month. Seeing my boyishness and softness as an asset for the first time, but not knowing how to use it. 

Twenty-one years old, in a hot-pink tee with green Greek letters on my chest. My running shorts are neon blue and of course the first time he talks to me I'm a sweaty mess, just off a three-mile run and practically soaking through my sports bra, my ponytail in a bird's nest of a French braid. The way his warm brown eyes crinkle when I smile shyly. The way they lock on mine. His voice like a warm breeze: "I know this place off campus..."

I jolted fully awake with a shuddering gasp. "Where..." I wanted to call his name, but couldn't remember it. My ribs screamed as I rolled onto my side, and I moaned at the electric shock that radiated through my shoulder joint when I maneuvered my left arm to push myself into a sitting position on the abrasive ground.

"Where am I?"

My voice was hoarse, husky, but even so there was a lightness to it that seemed both foreign and right. I looked around. I was in the middle of some kind of crater, surrounded by glass and fire and bits of smoking sand, like I was a comet that had crashed to Earth. Sandstone pillars towered around me in a wide circle, an orange and red Stonehenge. I made to stand, and that's when I noticed: the me who'd fallen into this trance wasn't the me who was waking from it.

My hips were rounded and smooth, my thighs wider than before, my soft flat stomach tapering upward into a pair of full pink breasts. Every part of me was changed. When I stumbled to my feet, briefly teetering as I misjudged how the weight distribution would pull my frame, I stood several inches shorter than before. A lock of thick flaxen hair blew across my face in the hot breeze, revealing a texture so wavy it was almost curling. That, at least, was the same.

She was at my side before I knew it, her platinum hair and blue eyes shining from a face that looked as tired as I'd ever seen it. She was always so exhausted when we encountered one another. Her arms were strong, though.

"Let me help you, Starlight," Good said, putting her hand beneath my shoulder.

"Where are we?" I croaked. My voice was musical, bright. What an odd thing. It sounded exactly like the voice I'd always heard in my head, but never aloud.

"A place of truth," she answered.  "Where material realities yield to spiritual ones."

"I don't understand."

"You will."

The dust-choked air cleared before us, revealing a pair of twin rock columns that framed a sere landscape beyond. Between them appeared an immensity of translucent liquid material, and then Good and I were standing in front of a mirror that must have stretched fifty feet high. She looked weary, careworn, concerned, but still pretty, and I looked...

"Like my mother," I whispered. My mother fairer, my mother younger, but still.

Good lifted a hand to my face and drew her finger softly down my cheek. "You've always looked like your mother"--A twelve-year-old boy, wrapping brown construction paper around the bright pink cover of a paperback book, so no one would know he was reading The Princess Diaries--"But yes, now it's more pronounced."

I twirled before the reflection, surveying the lean curves enveloping my still-tall body.

"I have a fat ass," I noted, with something like joy.

Good laughed, and in the distance I could hear the most glorious wind chimes. "Your ass is perfectly fine."

The vignettes were still playing, but now they were in full color, parading across the diaphanous screen of light arrayed before us.

A thirteen-year-old boy, dreaming about princesses and devouring The Royal Diaries series. His father standing in the kitchen doorway, disgust etched on every feature of his face. "Why do you even care about that shit?"

An eleven-year-old boy, finding his friends in the heroes of Animorphs. His favorite character is Rachel, who's both beautiful and strong. In his superhero fantasies, he's just like her.

A tall girl, awkward in a blue bikini, careening out over the lake but refusing to let go of the rope swing.

"You're a chicken!" yells a voice from the shore.

She turns back angrily. "I'm not a chicken! You don't know that there aren't rocks!"

A five-year-old boy, sitting in his grandmother's basement, appealing and needling as the crease between her blue eyes grows deeper.

"BB, I can't," she tries to explain. "Your father will be angry..."

"Please, just one finger," the boy begs.

The woman's resolve weakens and she pulls out the brush. "Okay, but just one."

The blonde girl, older now, scanning an immense parking lot for an opening in the sea of occupied spaces. Looking in her rear-view mirror at the passengers, whose t-shirts and makeup match her own. "Listen, you drunk bitches!" But then her resolve weakens too and the three of them dissolve into cackling laughter.

Another boy, the one from before. The one with the brown eyes. His smile so big. The little house in Alexandria. My swelling stomach. A date marked on a calendar--

"No!" I shrieked, recoiling from the scene. I turned on Good with accusing tears in my sparkling hazel eyes. "Why would you show me that? Show me what I can't..."

I didn't need the projector now, because the movie was rolling in my head unbidden.

Nine-year-old BB, a shirt over his head, an earring dangling from his ear, bitterness in his heart, staring into the looking glass over the beaten-up bureau and thinking that he would have been pretty, if only. Eighteen-year-old BB, hearing the soft laughter of the girl from the bunk bed below, in the arms of his freshman-year roommate, and feeling in that laughter a longing deeper and sadder than he can begin to fathom.

"Bright One," Good pulled me into an embrace as thirty years of loss formed a weight that drove me to my knees. "You've always known."

Always, always, always. So backwards. So perverse. Obscene. Everything out of joint. Nothing as it should be. The girl, Morning Star, unborn. Or born wrong. In a prison.

Fifteen-year-old BB, sitting in English class in the fall of 2003.

"It's like when you have the brain of one gender but stuck in the body of another," a guffawing tenth-grader informs his neighbors.

A second boy shakes his head in a surprise display of empathy. "Man. That has to be awful."

And then the sudden voice, stark with sadness and conviction, that answers in BB's head: "IT IS."

He says nothing, and throws the thought away as he turns back to his assignment.

I doubled over on the ground, crying so hard I could barely breathe. Good put a hand on my shoulder and wept softly into my golden hair.

"Does he know?" I asked, thinking of the young man with the brown eyes. The little house. How he looked at me in those ridiculous running shorts. "Does he know I'm not there? Somehow?"

She knelt to the desert floor and wrapped me in her arms, and then we held each other as we both sobbed. My grief was all for myself. Hers was for me--and for the infinite pain she tried so hard to lighten in her circuits of the world. We sat there a long time, two shuddering women, and when the tears finally stopped I felt hollowed out. Like I'd never cry again. Or like I'd never stop crying. Like I'd just released the first volley in an endless torrent of grief.

For a while the only sound was wind coursing through dust. When we took our feet again I found myself wrapped in a soft white robe that she secured around me with delicate fingers. I remembered, and breathed, and prayed, and let my voice ring out over the sandstone, and cried again, and thought about how beautiful the ochre sun was as it dipped toward the desert horizon. She stood next to me the whole time but said nothing. Did nothing. Just let me be. Just let me feel it.

When the closing of the day turned the dunes pink and the skies violet, I turned to her again.

"Why did this happen to me?" I asked.

She sighed and looked up into the heavens, toward the God who'd made her, too, as much as He'd made me.

"I don't know," she said, her blue eyes painted pomegranate and aquamarine in the dawning stars of the night. "But I know you were made to bear pain, and to rebound from it. As you've already done, over and over. From the first time I met you. You were born for resilience. Born to overcome, and then to carry that strength. Born to break the night and herald the day."

She smiled.

"Like the Morning Star."

I considered all of the impossible considerations.

"Can I?" I asked. "Overcome?"

She surveyed the constellations that were fanning their sparkling raiment out over the vast expanse of the moonless black desert.

"I think so," she answered.

Monday, September 2, 2019

An Untitled Chapter


In my early years here, I said so much. There was a lot to say. Everything around and within me was morphing, changing, revealing, resettling. I was in college, and every day seemed like a new corner of self-discovery and endless possibility. Some of my loquaciousness owed, too, I think, to the developmental stage I was at; that first year I was 20, an adolescent, and I talked through my feelings with the earnestness of someone who needed to figure things out and the candidness of someone who hadn't yet trusted and been burned.

Today I'm much more circumspect. And today, in general, less changes. Most of my twenties were the laying of so much groundwork, all for a career I've now started. I'm still a teacher. I still live in a log cabin in the middle of Alaska. I'm still very, very gay and very, very single and very, very ambivalent about the direction I see my future going. I used to muse endlessly about every potential path, but that's a habit I fell out of around the middle of my twenties. There are too many prospective avenues, and more than a few that might veer unanticipated into your line of sight right before you hit them. Better to report when there's something to report.

I suppose that's a drawn-out way of saying that I'm all right, but in a holding pattern.


As another fall begins here in Alaska, cold and early and yielding swiftly to winter, I have the time and space to sort through some things that have long needed sorting. There are at least five possible career options open to me for next fall, any one of which would take my life in a radically different direction. Which to pursue? Not all of them are in education, as I never saw myself spending my entire professional life as a teacher, and the ones outside the classroom range widely but are each at least feasible. I only get this one life. Just this one span of time. I don't want to waste it.

A further complicating factor, in my life and in the life of this blog, is that some of this work would by definition not be something whose details I could openly discuss. When I was nineteen and my vocational world consisted of lecture halls--led by someone else--and the student newspaper, I was free to divulge every dirty bit. But a job with the federal government? A job in a law-enforcement capacity (strange as that might sound)? If I find success in some of these endeavors, a huge swath of my life will be out of bounds here. But one must advance.

Several years ago, when I was still living on the East Coast, I took a trip into the Goldlands whose nature I never disclosed to you and then had a pleasant lunch with a friend (who's since gotten engaged; what a world). I was, in fact, entering the application process for a federal role about which I felt very passionate, and successfully completed the first round of screening before being eliminated later that year.

"You are a really strong candidate," my assigned mentor told me at the time. I was twenty-seven and had taken the setback well, but it was still a disappointment. "You just need to gain some more life experiences and then come apply again."

Four years later, I'm arranging another trip into a city and shooting for the same goalpost. Working, as well as I can, toward long-term fulfillment. But this is a game that requires patience, and even if I'm chosen it could be more than a year before I learn of it. So other arrangements have to be made in the meantime. Other possibilities weighed.


And then there's just the stuff going on with me, and figuring out the nature of who I am. Coming out on this blog eleven years ago felt emotionally wrenching, but compared to the dilemma facing me now it seems downright easy. I'm not going to elaborate at present because there's nothing to elaborate on, save uncertainty and confusion and a lot of heartache felt over a long time. But you should know that I'm working through some heavy-duty stuff. Trying to get to the bottom of who, exactly, lives in this head of mine. The summer maybe provided some insights.

Way back in January I was planning for a potential visit to a far-off tropical country, but when a number of things on that front fell through I took a hard turn north and wound up in a place I'd dreamed about going since I was twelve years old: Russia.


I had a summer off, a healthy bank account, a near-lifelong ambition, and career aspirations that might be helped by the trip, so I threw caution to the winds and hopped on a plane. There were so many surreal moments during this excursion. Seeing Saint Basil's for the first time, when it sneaked up on me from around a corner and brought tears to my eyes. Walking through an incandescent Red Square at night. Standing before the cavernous entry hall of Russia's largest university, then entering it as a student enrolled in the summer language program. Three weeks in Moscow flew.

For the whole of this near-month I shared an airy, sun-soaked Moscow flat with two Americans, one pursuing a PhD and the other a cultural interest, who quickly became erstwhile friends. On our last day together, after many restaurants and study sessions and museums shared between us, we walked the shiny parquet floor and mused about the strange bond we'd formed.

"When I first met you I was a little bit wary," the 28-year-old PhD candidate, Radical Guy, confessed. "I thought, 'Okay, this is a roommate who's much more social than I am.' But it wound up being a good thing. You got us to do things we wouldn't have done otherwise."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Think about when we went out the other night."

It had been a fun evening, a social mishmash of young professors and international students who had as many reasons for being there as places they came from. Laughter and clinking glasses and halting Russian (quickly mocked in gleeful English) had formed a soundtrack to the gathering.

"Most of those people were there because of you," Radical Guy said. "Engineer Guy and I just kind of showed up. You've really been the social glue of our group."

It was one of the better compliments I've ever gotten, and it happened to be true.

Whatever you're supposed to do, I thought. Whoever you're supposed to be, you are not going to find that person in the middle of Alaska.



I need to find a therapist. I need to make some phone calls. And, in about a month, I need to board another plane, this one taking me to a long weekend and a job screening. Until then, I'm just hanging tight. Trying to be ready to take the right step at whatever juncture comes next.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Prince

I am not the peaceful prince
Who wields the sceptered sun
Who came to clear the clouds and to
Shine light on everyone

I am not the scribe of law
Or font of wisdom pure
Not the king to care for all
Or safety to ensure

I am chaos, fury come
The sword on which will gleam
The blood of wailing peoples run
A steaming, tear-streaked stream

I am not release from sin
I'm vengeance crowned with greed
I am retribution with
An army at my feet

I am fire in the night
Arrived in steel-tipped rage
I am pillage, I am rape
I am Death engaged

I will melt the very ground
In sulfurous tides of flame
I will lift a banner proud
Above your smoking plain

I will take no bribe of gold
My only price is life
A mountain of you, stiff and cold
Will be my sole delight

I am starlight beaten black
A wolf borne of a sheep
What you have made you can't turn back
Nor fly from pay you've reaped

Sunday, March 31, 2019

'Round the Unexpected Turns



I'm a planner. Always have been. That stems, I think, from the fact that I am also a worrier, and that from childhood I've been plagued by these episodes of spiralling what-ifs wherein I envision every dark and nightmarish scenario that could play out in my life. That's why I maintained full auto coverage on a twelve-year-old car everyone told me was a clunker. It's why I insure every single flight I take. It's why I double-check locks, memorize phone numbers, and make those doctor's visits sooner rather than later. It's why I plan. The planning makes me feel better; it provides contingencies and, what's more, it provides purpose.

But I've also learned, amply, that the plans sometimes have a way of falling off as life paves unexpected paths. Who would have ever thought, for instance, that I'd be in Alaska? Certainly not me.

I spent most of the spring semester laying carefully constructed itineraries for a summer spent living and working in a tropical country many miles from here, only to have my hand forced by flaky landlords and evasive prospective employers. Unwilling to book air passage across an ocean with neither housing nor work lined up, I instead paid for a flight headed the other way. 

Home. 

Home, which I miss so much.


"I'm excited to see you," I told my grandmother by phone.

"You are not," she teased.

I laughed, but was surprised to find my eyes misting with tears. I'd been facing the prospect of not seeing her, not seeing my siblings, not seeing any of my family and friends or the land of my birth, until Christmas. I hadn't realized how much I was yearning for all of it until the moment I gave myself permission to go back.

"I'm so glad the trip fell through," I continued. "I didn't even really want to go. It just felt like the right thing for me professionally."

There may yet be another trip, a briefer one, that will replace my aborted equatorial junket, but I'll let you know about that when and if it happens. It, like its predecessor, is planned in the service of a career transition--that may or may not occur. 

I don't know much of what the future holds. But I know that, come May 25, I'm going home. Which is great for me, but will provide the readers of this blog and the followers of my Flickr page with dividends as well, in scenic photography if in nothing else. 

After all: Alaska is beautiful, but there's nothing like Virginia in summertime. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Meeting Fate in the Forest


The crack of the branch was just loud enough to alert me that something was there. It's a peculiarity of his; he likes to let you know he's around, but doesn't want to announce his presence. In our previous encounters it's been a creaking floorboard, or an open door, or a window left ajar. Maybe it's just his British understatement--despite his being incontrovertibly not British--at work, or maybe he just wants to imbue these deeply weird visits with some sense of normalcy. Whatever the reason, he always pops up in the most mundane ways.

I had decided to go for a walk because of the unseasonably warm weather--highs nearing 20 degrees had turned the clouds soft and prodded them to release flurries of pillowy white snow--through a favored path near my house, and I spun quickly at the sound of snapping wood, fearing I'd encountered the wolf rumored to be prowling outside the village. My long hair in the falling snow made for a shimmer of gold and white as I turned about--and there he was. The same as he'd ever been.

"Hello, BB," he smiled, his ample stomach covered in a blue cashmere sweater and his grey curls peeking out from beneath a pageboy cap.

I suppressed a gasp as he came into view.

"Fate."


His grin faded but his eyes still twinkled. "It's good to see you."

In all the years we'd known each other, and through meetings at turns teasing, adversarial, even, once, outright violent, he'd never looked at me the way he was looking at me now. Like he was seeing something he hadn't noticed before.

"Fate," I said. "Last time..."

I let the apology hang in the air and he waved it away.

"You were young last time," he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. "And in a great deal of pain, most of which was not your doing."

I laughed against the shame that burned beneath my cheeks.

"I think I'll always be young to you," I said.

The smile returned to his face.

"Even so."


"Thank you," I responded, deciding for once to accept compassion when it was offered to me. I resolved to do that more often. And what could I say, anyway?

I'm sorry I fell so far. 

I'm sorry I lost my hope. 

I'm sorry I became someone else for a while. 

I'm sorry I hurt you. 

I'm sorry I hurt myself.

The last time we'd seen each other was five years earlier, in the context of a life-consuming crisis that ended with my attempted suicide in October 2013. Childhood demons had risen to devour me, and in the spiral of despair and rage that followed my fate felt like a black hole of anguish--and he, Fate, the master of that anguish. When he'd appeared in my parents' kitchen in Mountain Town I was drunk and wounded. I spoke in a way that made me recoil to remember. I hit him.

His dark eyes in my present offered understanding, forgiveness, some measure of respect.

"Do you know why I'm here?" he asked.

"Yes," I said, then cocked my head in genuine surprise at my own answer. For once he didn't have a leg up on me. I started laughing. "There's something I never thought I'd say."

He loosed a full-throated guffaw and kept taking me in with those impenetrable eyes. "So you've figured it out."

I nodded. "I'm leaving, aren't I?"


"In time," he responded. "Along a path unique to you. But yes."

He clapped me on the back. "You're not meant to linger, my boy. Not here. Not yet. Too many strands for you. Lives to be lived. In some ways you see and some you don't."

I considered that.

"I think I've always known," I said after a long pause. "That it wasn't going to be the white-picket thing for me. I've been chasing that because I never got to have it as a kid. But I can't ever replace my own childhood. All I can do is build my adult life. And maybe I will have the white-picket thing. Maybe it just looks different for me."

"It looks different for everyone," he offered. "Happiness wears many colors. Sings many songs. Each tune lovely to the ear for which it was made. It's something that gives me comfort in difficult moments."

I gazed at him a while, tried to imagine myself through his eyes.

"I know now why you come," I said. "Well, not why you come. But why you come when you do."

"And why is that?"

Memories, memories. Years floating by.

"When I was getting ready to graduate college," I said. "You came then. When I started working in publishing, with all that opened up. All that taught me. You've visited at touchstones. Moments of realization. Or reckoning." My eyes went hard, and his went cloudy. "Last time..."

"A touchstone," he pronounced, his smile sad. "When you teetered between death and life. Between a closing of all your fates, and the opening of many possible ones." 


Truth hit me like a gust of subzero wind.

"You didn't know," I gasped. "You didn't know what would happen."

"I knew what could happen," he answered, his mouth a thin line. "Not what would. In so many ways I am only a steward. It is easier stewarding for some than for others. Your openness has always made you..." He waved his hand in a circle. "Confounding. All these potentialities spiraling off. And one or two so very black. As I said, it's good to see you."

I pondered the drifting snowflakes, each frozen sparkle unique. Each a possibility, never replicated. Falling all over and dancing on my fair face.

"It's good to see you, too," I said, and realized, again to moderate shock, that I meant it. His past visits had so often portended another milestone on the black road to death along which I raced for the first half of my twenties. Today his presence just confirmed I'd figured out something that needed figuring-out.

"You threw off a measure of fear when you came here," he said. "Continue throwing it off. Follow the voice that calls, even when it doesn't tell you what you think you ought to hear. Your road can encompass so much if only you will embrace it."

I thought back on decisions made, plans laid, e-mails sent, phone calls placed. A friend mourned. All within the space of about a week, last week, when I'd taken stock of things and chosen to pursue an ambition I'd laid aside for timeliness' sake.

"So you do know some things," I said.

"What can be," he answered. "What might be. The balance in many particulars is up to you."

"That's what Good said," I noted. "She appeared in the airport when I first came here. She said I was more tightly bound to you than some, less tightly bound than others."

"She's wise," he mused. "And she likes you."

I snorted. "She should come around more often. Maybe send a few winning lotto tickets my way."

"I'll have to mention it to her," he said dryly. The winter sunset had colored the sky in rapidly fading hues of subdued copper and scarlet. He appraised them like they were an approaching bus. "That'll be me, then. It's been good to chat."

He lifted his hand to wave, but before I could stop myself I'd stepped forward and wrapped him in a hug.

"Thank you for my possibilities."

He surveyed me with genuine surprise. Again, not something I ever thought I'd see.

"You know, given how our other discussions have gone, I expected a somewhat different reception," he pronounced. "I seem to recall your pushing me out a window twice--no, three times. Two of them at a considerable height. In light of all that I'd been keeping my eye out for a wood-chipper or a renegade snow machine. Perhaps a rabid moose."

I laughed. "Two of those times you jumped--" He glared. "--Under duress, fine. Point conceded. And I looked into it, but you need a permit for a wood-chipper, so..."

He stepped back with crinkling eyes.

"Eyes and heart open, my young friend. And mind disciplined."

The last blades of sunlight folded behind the evergreen horizon, and Fate vanished into the twilight.