Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The River

Sometimes I can’t account
For all that has passed behind me
For all the hope
For all the bright belief in the goodness of people
In the goodness of myself
For all the time

Stretching backward
Stretching forward
A winding river of loss

On whose one shore is pain
And angst and yearning
And hopeful prayers
And youth’s boiling tears

On whose other shore is silence
And acceptance
And resignation
And the hard-won droplets of him who knows better than to weep
Or to send any more earnest entreaties
Heavenward

Sometimes I can’t account
For the length of my gaze
For the improbable reach of my stare
The days and doings it intimates
None of them yet come
But all of them done anyway

And each one mattering just as little
As every single one before it
All of them ending the same

Sometimes I can’t account
For what I feel
For what I don’t
For the barren bed of that river
For inevitability

For how little moves me
For how little matters
For how little I care
About how little I care

Sometimes I can’t account
For being the way I am
For wanting to want
But knowing I could never love anyone enough
To give them my weekends

Dogs are messy
Children cry
And are so ungrateful
And can be so easily ruined

And then become tiresome
For fewer things are more annoying
Than a ruined child
Except having to feign love for one

Chains I don’t want
Obligations of empathy
And pretending
To care about such endless noise

From everyone
All the time
And tolerating the drone
For the few moments when I don’t want to be by myself

Sometimes I can’t account
For when the old me slipped below the waters
For if a new me will ever come up from the current
For where this river leads

Except the endless leagues before me
As clear as this page
Ten thousand inconsequential days
Killing time
Until the Eternal Night

Sometimes I can’t account
For the passage of this long day
For where I find myself in it
For if it will ever have purpose again


Friday, August 4, 2017

To My Health, Part 1


I did not intend on blogging today, but an unplanned nine-hour layover in Pleasant State seemed as good an occasion as any to whip out the laptop and pen an update, so here it goes. In a way, this is a good thing; my hectic journey back to Arctic State was sure to preclude writing for a while, and there are, as always, things to be said.

This summer was a good one. I don't mean that it was particularly enjoyable, or that I engaged in many worthwhile pursuits, as it wasn't and I didn't. Cash strapped and undertaking certain labors during the extended holiday, I was pretty much bound to my apartment. A trip to Confederate City with my father failed to materialize. So, too, did planned ventures to Humid State and Northern State, and the two months of Russian lessons to which I'd been looking forward fizzled when I realized I couldn't feasibly afford them. But this summer, like last, brought to a head certain things I'd needed to confront, and it also concluded with the resolution of two significant ongoing health problems (or at least put me on the road to that resolution).


Some of you may remember, from the recap I wrote at the end of 2015, that beginning around the start of graduate school I experienced the onset of a traumatic mystery ailment.  This unnamed problem slowly drained me of energy, left me sluggish and mentally slow and physically weak, and caused hair loss and digestive issues to boot. 

I had no way of knowing, when in June 2014 I first realized I'd become slightly more forgetful, that I was embarking upon a years-long struggle whose progress would parallel the insane stress of earning a master's degree. That struggle, by the way, had nothing to do with fighting the problem itself--but everything to do with fighting the ignorance, arrogance, and occasional negligent stupidity of doctor after doctor who was convinced I just needed "more sleep." One tried to put me on anti-depressants, assuring me I could be depressed even if I didn't realize it. Another, when I pointed out I was losing hair, remarked sagely that I had "a lot of hair for a man." 

It was a year and a half in before any of these eminent geniuses thought to run a basic autoimmunity test, in keeping with symptoms I would later learn were textbook indications of autoimmune disorders. The physician who finally thought to look in the most obvious place was not an impressively self-important specialist, but a humble family doctor. And she found it.

In January 2016 I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease, a hereditary condition in which one's immune system attacks and gradually destroys one's own thyroid. Because the thyroid regulates everything from metabolism to brain function, the gland's gradual decline leads to impairment in these areas, resulting eventually in the weight gain, hair loss, brain fog, and chronic fatigue from which I'd been suffering since shortly after I turned 26.


As it turns out, this illness has been making periodic cameos in my father's family for generations, and while my carrier father did not develop the condition, my grandmother, great-grandmother, great-aunt, and cousin all did. You will notice that all these people are women; Hashimoto's is about ten times more common in females than in males. Your boy BB got lucky.

Not, however, in his choice of endocrinologists, as diagnosis did not end my odyssey. Early-stage Hashimoto's is tricky to treat, because the medicine used for that purpose is liable to cause heart attacks if administered too heavily, and there are varying views as to when exactly it's  safe to begin therapy. 

Even after the disease had progressed enough to push me into partial thyroid failure--which, mind you, has just been an exorbitant amount of fun--two separate doctors told me they would wait for the gland to completely die before they did anything at all. Medical guidelines be damned.


At the close of July, however, I wound up in front of a physician whose head was not lodged firmly in her own asshole. It was a refreshing change.

"Tell me about your family history," she wanted to know. "Who else has this?"

The prompts were focused and relevant.

"Are there other autoimmune conditions in the family?"

"How has your digestion been?"

"What is your energy level like?"

"How are you doing with weight?"

I've seen half a dozen endocrinologists. She was the first one who asked these questions instead of reciting my lab numbers off a page. And then she made a decision based on her patient as opposed to a print-out.

"None of these numbers, by themselves, are worrisome," she informed me. "You have the Hashimoto's, but it's still in the early stages. We don't even need to test for that again, because once it's there it's always there. And your thyroid numbers are abnormal, but only slightly. You're still in the subclinical range. What concerns me is the combination of the Hashimoto's, the family history, the symptoms, the thyroid numbers, and your age. You're not that far outside the norm, in general. And these results would be normal if you were sixty."

Her intelligent blue eyes narrowed.

"But you're not sixty," she said. "You're a young person showing numbers that are pretty much normal, but not what we usually expect to see in a young person. So you're not in a bad position right now. But I think you're headed that way. And we want to get ahead of that if we can."


A great number of things suddenly made sense to me.

"My grandmother was thirty when she had to start medication," I offered. "I'm twenty-nine."

And a typical age of onset, just for reference, is after fifty.

"It can work that way," she replied. "In certain families there are patterns."

"Since I am young," I put forward. "And we're intervening early, is there any chance my system could kind of, you know, right itself?"

She grimaced slightly, but told me the truth. 

"I don't want to say it never happens," she responded. "There are cases like that. But generally that's not how this works. Usually the trend is for things to get worse."

I respected her for that.

I also respected her for treating me as a human being, and for being proactive where others were complacent. I respected her for assessing my whole situation, in context, and for acting appropriately.

"Let's see if we can get a handle on this."

And just like that, this struggle was no longer mine alone. 

A little more than a week ago, I started thyroid hormone replacement therapy, ingesting in pill form the synthetic chemical I will almost certainly have to take for the rest of my life as my body gradually loses the ability to produce this substance on its own. 

This doesn't magically make everything better, of course. It can take months before the medication is effective at easing symptoms, and the progressive nature of Hashimoto's disease means that, especially in the early stages, my doses will likely be adjusted multiple times. Attention to diet and exercise is a major component, too, and I will hereafter need to be much more mindful of what I eat and how I exercise. But there's no hope of fighting this thing without medical intervention. Now I have medical intervention.

And in six months, or maybe a year, when my medication is optimized and I've made the dietary changes that have to be a part of recovery, I can be healthy again. I can spend a day out without having to go home and lay down. I can get seven or eight hours of sleep, not nine or ten, and make it through the day without folding in on myself at 2 p.m. I can hit the gym and actually see the results of my hard work. I can be, well, me again.


Last week I wound up, by total happenstance, on the campus of Major University, where I completed my bachelor's degree six years ago. The visit hadn't been planned and I realized, in short order, that I was not ready for it. The main road through the grounds took me parallel to a familiar running track and directly past student apartments where I'd formed countless happy memories, a number of which came rushing back at me unwelcome and unbidden. I could feel the sun on my arms, the wind in my hair, the smile on my face. In my present day, I could feel the tears stinging my eyes.

The last time I was there, I lived there. The last time I saw that trail I was twenty-three, trim and energetic, a lean-muscled stallion pumping across campus and trailing a shimmering golden mane behind me. I thought nothing then of running five or six miles at a stretch, then heading over to the dining hall with my teammates, all of us still clad in ridiculous neon-orange booty shorts. Because why the hell not? Because I looked good and I knew it. Because I wasn't tired. And for years now, I've been tired.

I don't ever expect to be that person again, that boy of twenty-three. That can't be. 

But I do want to feel what I felt then: vital and confident and youthful and tight. As a man of twenty-nine should be able to feel. I've just taken a huge step in that direction.

A second huge step also came this summer. But that, my friends, is why this post will have a Part 2.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Home


Those of you who are longtime readers will know that the concept of home has always been amorphous for me; I spent my childhood and adolescence moving from town to town, eventually up and down the Eastern seaboard, attending high school in three states and living, during one twelve-year period, in ten different homes. I'm not yet thirty, but have resided in six states (seven, if extended visits are counted). What does home even mean to me?

Never in my life has that question been as pertinent as it is in this moment. My pursuit of home is, in a way, why I haven't written here since the beginning of May. After school let out a month and a half ago, I rushed back to the East Coast and spent the time feverishly drinking in friends and family, conveniences and simple pleasures. I've chosen this summer to dwell in Southern State, the place where I finished my last year and a half of high school, where I went to college, and where, it turns out (by a bizarre coincidence) my ancestors resided for something on the order of 300 years. Is Southern State my homeland? Insofar as I have a homeland at all, the answer is...pretty much. Formative experiences and deep ancestral roots tie me here, but after all these years the truth remains that I'm not really from anywhere, whatever I tell people for convenience's sake.



Some part of me, I think, has always been searching for a place that felt right, for that thing the great majority take for granted but that has been elusive for me. I have, at least, a hometown: there were too many angst-filled adolescent nights in Mountain Town for it to be anything but that, and more than anywhere in the world, there I feel familiarity like an old glove slipping on. In terms of a home state, though, a native culture? That's bit of a different ballgame.

Perhaps that's part of why I feel so conflicted regarding my immediate future in a certain faraway icebox dotted with a few small cities and the occasional grizzly bear. I have found there a career path that is rewarding and very lucrative. What about a life, though? Staying in Arctic State is, from a financial perspective, the single best decision I could make, but I worry as to my ability to construct something resembling a fulfilling personal milieu with friends, stimulation, a partner, a space of my own. And the thing is, as I ready in less than a month's time to fly back north, I don't know and accept that I don't know the answer.


The thought of not returning to the South's sun-soaked green valleys and florid summer skies next May tears at my heart, as does the thought of foregoing visits with treasured friends whose companionship has brought me great joy over the years. By the same token, the prospect of leading an existence permanently divided, with work and relationships on either side of a 4,000-mile-long wall, brings me no peace, either. To spend nine months in a personal wasteland, and then attempt to cram a year of fulfillment into the remaining three, is no way to live. That's a half-life, less than a half-life.

So if I'm to stay in Arctic State, with all the opportunities it offers, I must make a home there. I must have camaraderie there. I must have love there. And what does that mean? For one thing, living next summer in Iceport or some nearby locale would be virtually unavoidable; it's hard to meet friends somewhere if you peace out the moment you're out of work and spend all your off time on the other side of the continent.

It may be, after a full school year in, I just decide to come home. Back to Southern State, back to what's familiar and normal and natural. But if I choose to live in Arctic State, I have to live there. I'll let you know how that goes. Even that outcome carries different potentialities: staying in the bush, where the money is great and the weather horrifying, then living in one of the cities each summer; or eventually moving onto the road network to teach in an urban ("urban" being a relative term) community that has all the amenities of home with the added excitement of potential frostbite in April.


But I don't have to make that choice right now, so I'm not going to. I will have plenty of time for self-reflection, for assessment, for prayer. As in all things, I'm convinced God will steer me right. In the meantime, I've enjoyed the long-missed company of friends and family. Thomas and Jewess, his girlfriend of nearly five years, came to my Southern State residence on one of my first weekends here in early June, accompanied by Beautiful Cousin and her military beau. I rented a three-bedroom apartment to myself for the summer, which has made hosting visitors a point of particular ease.


"Oh," said Poetess, surveying the guest rooms I'd gleefully furnished and the serene country view off my third-floor balcony. "This is lovely."

"Beautiful," Viking Guy confirmed.

We stayed up until 4:30 in the morning, drinking on the balcony as we shared childhood stories and wildly inappropriate jokes. It was great fun and something I really needed.

Other guests include my 14-year-old sister, Pie, who stayed several weekends ago; and Cool Cousin, the globe-trotting doctor who will arrive here on Friday. Nor have I been shy about venturing beyond the confines of my spacious quarters--you'd be surprised how much you miss driving, and I've been perfectly happy to hop in the car and cruise an hour or two north for a social reunion, to say nothing of the numerous jaunts around this city I've taken with a new local acquaintance.


I am anxious about what it will mean to return to Arctic State, and anxious about my future there. There's no point denying that. But in the last year, I've done and accomplished things I would once have thought unimaginable. I obtained a master's degree, worked a brief stint at a PR firm I was smart enough to leave, took a huge chance with a job on the teetering edge of civilization and lived to tell the tale. I achieved financial independence, struck out on my own, assessed myself honestly and learned to be my own advocate. I've taken on a lot and handled it relatively well.

Yes, I'm anxious. But there's no doubt in my mind that, eventually, I'll figure this out.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Back to Iceport, and Then Beyond


I was weirdly sanguine about moving to Arctic State, even after the big transition that took me from the suburbs to the tundra in the space of a couple of days.

This isn't such a big deal, I thought, parka clad and a whole week into my time in White Venice. The weather isn't terrible if you dress for it. And it's isolated, but there's Internet and everything you need. There are people to talk to. I don't get why this drives people crazy.

About three weeks later, I understood why it drove them crazy. The same faces and the same routine, day after day and week after week. The tortured planning required to obtain basic necessities. The sheer distance from family, from friends, from anyone. The time and the space to get lost in your own head. And I'd fallen into a funk.

So when my father proposed, as he is wont to do, gallivanting across the North American continent on a lark, I was quick to embrace what I otherwise would have (rightly) regarded as an irresponsible expenditure.

"Your birthday is soon, anyway," he reasoned. "Robin and I can come up to Iceport and see you. We'll pay for your flight and hotel. Do you want to do this?"

Yes. Yes, I did.


And so on Friday, April 14, four days after I turned 29, I savored the sweetest sight I'd ever seen, muttered a few prayers, and hopped aboard the rickety Cessna tasked with spiriting me across the tundra. And I was Iceport bound.

The weekend was what I needed on so many levels. First of all, it got me out of the snow-flecked bubble in which I'd gradually been going insane, something my father picked up on in our conversations leading up to the meeting. 

"I don't think you're excited to see me," he quipped. "I think you're excited to see a 7/11."

And there was definitely some truth in that. The hotel room he'd paid for was gorgeous, a silk-and-satin affair perched twenty stories over downtown Iceport, with a sunlit window through which I could scan the entire city while reclining on a fluffy queen bed. I went and got my hair done. I wandered into coffee shops. I spent a gratuitous amount of money on sushi. And I, a social butterfly, soaked up every single moment of the human interaction. And of the running water.


But it was also nice to see my father. Earlier readers of this site will know that he and I have had a complicated and painful relationship, some of the most difficult chapters of which were recorded on this page. For a long time, and with good reason, I chose not to speak to him. Moving 4,000 miles from home has a way of focusing your priorities, however, and one dark weekend on the tundra I had to ask myself: Is being right worth not having a father? Is it worth carrying this weariness? Is it worth getting a call one day, a decade or two from now, that the man who raised me had died?

In light of his remorse, and of his changed behavior, I decided that the answer to that question was no. That doesn't mean things he did in the past are all right, or that a repeat of them would be acceptable. It means I've chosen to forgive someone who asked for forgiveness, and to accept a flawed man without illusions as to his nature. Which nature, incidentally, he chose to reveal again during my birthday getaway. 

"Listen, we got married Wednesday, just so you're not blindsided."

That news came after he and his new wife had already landed and were driving to the hotel where I'd just checked in. And it came by text message.


Dad and Robin met in January, decided soon after they were soulmates, and then embarked on a wildly accelerated relationship because "you know when you know." I've heard of such spontaneous marriages working out before, and I hope against hope this one does, too. Because now the thing is done.

"I didn't tell you because I knew you'd say I should pull back and take it slow," he informed me serenely over a dinner of seafood and Cabernet Sauvignon. He looked over at Robin, whom, I reflected with some degree of hilarity, was now technically my stepmother. "BB is like that."

I took one giant gulp of red wine.

"Well, Dad, that is what I would have told you," I said. "But now that it's happened, I'm rooting for you 100%. Because now you guys are tied in all sorts of legal ways."

Robin smiled warmly.

"Well, that means a lot to us," she said. "Your dad makes me really happy."



And he has, as usual, managed to bag a woman who's way, way above his pay grade. I love the man, but I seriously don't get it. His previous wife, my adoptive mother, was a career woman who singlehandedly sustained a family of four children while he was wandering from one short-term job to another, and struggling with addiction half the time to boot (though she compensated for that by being, well, a little bit psychotic). His girlfriend before Robin was a businesswoman with a pricey education and a pricier CV. And now he's married an airline executive with a master's degree, two accomplished adult children (one of whom she put through college at considerable personal sacrifice), a job so demanding that my eyes practically watered just hearing her typical workday, and a disposition that, by most accounts, makes her genuinely sweet and considerate. This is a driven and prolific individual.

"Yeah," Thomas cracked. "I don't know what the hell she's doing with Dad."

Time will tell. For his sake, for hers, and for that of everyone involved, I hope they're able to make it work. Sometimes a person really is good for another, and she seems like she might be good for him. 


Meanwhile, the rapidly closing school year has left me with a big decision to make about where I'll be starting in the fall. Today, after careful consideration, I accepted a contract from a school district adjacent to the one I'm in now. It was a bit of a dilemma, but the little village of Gory felt like a good fit, and it's a decision I'm satisfied with. 

Other decisions need making, too, as we have a little under two weeks of school left--astonishing--and I need to know where I'm living when I return to the Lower 48 on or around May 19. To that end, I've dispatched Thomas to investigate an apartment that so perfectly fits my needs I suspect it may in fact be a crack den in disguise. That possibility discounted, I'll be living alone in a spacious two-bedroom place with laundry, kitchen, furniture, and scenic view for a cool $1,000 a month.

Not a bad deal.

Sometimes I look around and don't know how the hell I got here. But it's impossible not to feel I'm at the beginning of something really good.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Nine Years


Every year I say it, but every year it's true; I can't believe how quickly the time has gone since I began writing here on April 7, 2008. I was nineteen years old then, and a college sophomore. My brother Thomas was only twelve, my sister Pie only four. Eighteen-year-old Powell was still a senior in high school, and my parents were still married, still living in the same Mountain Town house to which they'd moved two years earlier. George W. Bush was president. Everyone was getting excited about this hot new underground artist named Lady Gaga. The economy was slowing down, but the bottom had not yet dropped out. And I was a child.

Now Thomas is twenty-one and contemplating a return to college himself, thirteen-year-old Pie begins high school in the fall, twenty-seven-year-old Powell is still struggling under the burdens that have weighed him down for many years now, and my divorced parents have both found new relationships, while I am 4,000 miles away from all of them.

So many changes.

In looking back, one of the most bizarre things to me about this entire blogging enterprise is how serendipitous it was. A routine Google search on an unrelated topic brought me to Writing as Jo(e), a remarkable storyteller whose warmth and compassion were exactly what I needed during a deeply hurtful period of my life. She encouraged me to commit my thoughts to digital paper. And I did.

For the last nine years, this blog has been witness to the most consequential chapters of my life, to the joys and growing pains of a young person transitioning from boy to man in the context of substantial obstacles--but also of amazing victories. I began this blog carrying so many demons, and nine years on I can look back at a long list of personal and professional accomplishments that have been enriched by the self-reflection and community this place offered. Who ever would have thought I'd get a master's degree, or move to the Far North, or teach history in a village of 400 people and get paid a damn good salary to do it? Who would've thought I'd be an openly gay man who accepts himself and arranges dates in Iceport? And a group of wonderful bloggers have been with me every step of the way. I've always been so thankful for that Google search.

Nearly a decade on, I have no doubt there are many more twists coming in the plot. But for now, a year in review:

April 2016: I turn 28 years old.

May 2016: I complete a difficult student-teaching assignment and begin a well-deserved month off of school.

June 2016: A two-week sojourn at a Northern State monastery teaches painful but needed lessons.

July 2016: I begin a summer course, the last class of my graduate career.

August 2016: I finish my master's degree in education, move in with my grandmother, and start work at Native State Public Relations.

September 2016: I weigh whether to enter teaching or continue in the public relations field.

October 2016: I decide that I will apply for teaching positions for the spring 2017 semester.

November 2016: I begin applying for jobs, and also commence research on teaching in Arctic State. The 2016 presidential election results give added impetus to my job search.

December 2016: My time at Native State Public Relations ends.

January 2017: Most of this month is occupied with job searches--and with some much-needed rest after four hectic months.

February 2017: Following an unexpected opening, I interview for and secure a teaching position in Arctic State.

March 2017: I fly north.

For the first time since you've known me, I am doing that thing I've been talking about since we met: standing on my own two feet. Paying my own bills. Earning a steady paycheck, and in a field that gives me fulfillment. I still have problems, sure. But who doesn't? And being in a stable financial place means that the handling of those problems can proceed way more smoothly than happened when I was twenty and my whole future hung in the balance.

I've done a lot of heavy lifting these last nine years. Now, professionally at least, I can do some settling in. Knowing that feels so incredibly good.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Reunion


Where is it? I mused. Where, where, where?

This was a month ago, and I was meandering around Iceport International Airport shortly after my arrival in Arctic State. The object of my pursuit was the Starbucks I knew to be hiding somewhere in the facility and which, as my departure time to Riverville crept ever closer, I knew I needed to find pronto. This would be my last iced caramel macchiato until the middle of May.

I spun around in an exasperated circle, luggage in tow, when a familiar voice sounded from the row of chairs behind me.

"You're not lost. You're right where you need to be."

I turned my head to a pretty blonde wearing a cashmere sweater.

"Well, fuck me," I said. "Fuck me running."

The woman cocked an eyebrow from behind the oversized newspaper she'd splayed in front of her like a secret agent in a mid-century spy movie.

"You didn't used to curse so much," she observed.

"And you didn't used to read the Times."

That brought a smile and the lowering of the parchment wall.

"You know, there was this time," she explained. "In about 2009, when I convinced myself I didn't need to keep such close tabs on Evil anymore. Not my most insightful moment."

"And you find him there?" I gestured with skepticism at the Old English font.

She jiggled a front-page story on the dismantling of the Paris climate-change agreement and smiled her weary smile. "Every day."

I plopped happily into the seat beside her, my caffeine craving momentarily forgotten.

"It's been a while," I noted.

Good squeezed my knee with her free hand.

"It has."

She looked tired as always. The kind smile that came so easily to her face seemed to struggle against the weight of all she knew, all the same mistakes she saw repeated over and over again. Some of those, I realized with a start, were mine. I'd been short sighted, self-absorbed, reckless. But also a child. I didn't blame myself for those years, and knew she didn't, either.

"I missed you," I said.

"And I missed you," she replied. "It was hard to just watch. But you were in so much pain then that your heart didn't have much room for me. You couldn't see the good in the world." She had this marvelous way of expressing emotions with just her hazel eyes, which gleamed for a moment and then resumed their usual warmth. "So you couldn't see me."

"I guess that's why I saw so much of Fate back then," I mused.

She nodded thoughtfully.

"You saw doom," she offered. "Which is one aspect of him, and explains why your last meeting was so...eventful."

True. On that occasion, I'd punched a primordial being twice in the face and compared him to a piece of fecal matter.

"I hope you'll tell him I'm sorry about that," I said. "I wasn't...you know. I wasn't myself."

"I think he knows that," she replied. "He's not one to hold grudges. You see enough and you get some perspective on that."

"How is he, by the way?"

She smiled, but didn't lie.

"Okay," she said. "In his city. There's always plenty of fate for him to attend to there."

"I hope I don't see him again for a long time," I noted. "Nothing personal. Just..."

Her eyes crinkled with the pleasure of a teacher whose student has just realized something important.

"It doesn't do to see too much of him," she told me. "Some people are tied tightly to him, others barely bound to him at all. But no one should dwell on him more than they have to. His work isn't conducive to living a day-to-day life."

"And where do I fall on that spectrum?" I asked. "Bound tight or not at all?"

She appraised me evenly. "Somewhere in between."

I sighed. "I'll take it."

"And you're not seeing him a lot," she observed. "Good sign."

"But I am seeing you," I countered. "So what does that mean? Happy ending? All sunshine and rainbows from here?"

She threw back her head and actually laughed, a sound like wind chimes blowing in a summer breeze. It occurred to me, with a shock of surprise, that I'd never heard her do that before.

"You know it doesn't work that way," she said, but her tone was all mirth.

"I do," I agreed. "Worth a shot, though."

She laughed again and I wondered absurdly if immortal forces of elemental power had friends. She seemed like she'd be great fun at a cookout.

"So why are you here, then?"

"Because you realize it doesn't work that way," she responded, folding her newspaper and dropping it to the floor. "Because you're here. Because you've chosen to engage in the world and accept what it brings to you, even if that's difficult. Because you've realized that finding something worthwhile requires sacrifice and risk. Because you've decided to get a little messy. All Good comes from that."

She had a way of laying it out there. And she was always right.

"When I was younger I made so many decisions based on fear," I admitted. "For years. And then at some point I realized I was twenty-eight, and if I didn't change it then one day I'd have just that fear. And nothing else. Because it all keeps moving forward, whether you're on track or not."

She lifted her chin like she'd just figured something out, too.

"You're feeling a little bit of Time," she said. "Pressing on your shoulder. Most people are immune to her in youth. But you've passed from that, haven't you?"

"Gettin' old," I pronounced, my hand running down the teacher-appropriate sweater I'd donned for the trip.

She guffawed. "'Old' is a relative term."

"Which I guess you'd know if you hang out with Time. Another friend?"

"Well," she pursed her lips. "More like a colleague. You probably don't want to meet her."

My eyebrows shot up quizzically.

"She's...disconcerting. Even for us. I tend to interact with her only when I have to. Like the last time you and I saw each other."

That occasion, more than five years ago, was on my very last day as an undergraduate. It also, as it happened, involved a brief episode of time travel.

"I always wondered how you managed that," I said. "The bit where I popped back into 2006 for an afternoon."

She picked up a tray of cinnamon buns that had appeared literally out of nowhere and offered me one.

"Yeah. I called in a favor."

"A favor? No disrespect, but what could you have done to make a 14-billion-year-old chick owe you one?"

She pointedly sucked some cream from her index finger.

"First of all, she's older than that. And second of all, I made her chicken-noodle soup."

"I'm sorry, what?"

She looked just a little affronted.

"Well, my chicken-noodle soup is amazing. Which makes sense, since I did invent chicken-noodle soup. Just saying. But beyond that, it keeps really well, and she's always going on about how 'nothing lasts, nothing lasts.' So reliable heat-ups are a big hit with her."

I stared and didn't care that I was being rude.

"You're kidding."

"I am not. I once made her a macaroni-and-cheese casserole that got her through the Middle Ages."

"But macaroni and cheese wasn't invented until--"

"Don't dive too deep on this one."

"Okay."



For a while we just surveyed the bustling airport, and, from the observation window, the sunlit snowy city beyond.

"I'm really here." I said finally.

"You're really here. On the journey."

"You know, the toilet I'm going to have lights your poop on fire instead of flushing it."

"Well. That's part of the journey."

Before long, it was time for me to head to the gate through which I'd depart for Riverville and White Venice.

"You're doing the right things," she said as we stood and hugged one another. "Keep doing them. Even when it's hard. Even when it's scary. Especially then."

"I'll do my best."

I'd walked a good distance away when she called after me.

"And BB?"

I turned around.

With a grin, she lifted a venti iced coffee she hadn't had a few moments earlier.

"The Starbucks is just around the corner."