Thursday, April 7, 2016
Time never stops marching. That's a powerful truth that most try to forget, some try to escape, and a wise few learn to embrace, but it is a truth to which each of us is subject. The sun rises. The sun sets. Countless morning blends into countless morning, year into year, each moment at once irretrievably lost and each yet somehow eternal by virtue of the universal qualities inherent to it. We go from young to old and then we die and others come, and incidentals often change while fundamentals rarely do.
I cannot believe it has been eight years since I started this blog. On April 7, 2008, eight years seemed (if I thought about it at all) like an impossibly long time, and so it was; I was only nineteen. Eight years was half of my life. Today, of course, things are somewhat different. Then, I was a teenage boy; now I approach thirty. Then, I was a sophomore in college; now I am in the final semester of my master's degree. Then, I was closeted and fearful; now I am out and fearful only of not finding the right man for me. Then, I was immersed in the greatest trauma of my life--my relationship with my parents; now I have put significant distance between us and intend to impose still more.
Then, I was young; now I am still young, but perhaps not so young. I find myself, particularly now that I am student-teaching and in an authority role all day, behaving in ways that are stereotypically "adult." The fashions from my own senior year of high school, a decade ago, finally look outdated. The music I listened to comes on radio stations' "throwback" segments. I don't understand, and lack the ability to correctly use, the lingo currently en vogue among the nation's secondary students. And I find myself increasingly coming down on the side of caution and of respect. Within limits, of course. I believed as a child, and believe now, that the need for respect cuts both ways. But if I'm being reasonable, I'd like the favor to be returned. Of course, every now and again I am reminded of how much left I have yet to do. If ever you get to thinking you're becoming old and wise, having a seventeen-year-old girl confuse you for a student at the school where you teach is a sure way to bring your ego back down.
Above all, though, I'm more experienced. At twenty-seven I have accomplished--and survived--a lot. I've worked in professional environments. I've had professional failures. I've had to admit some of my own worst faults, among them a drinking problem, and have come out a better person for the efforts to redress those issues. I'm more tolerant of other people's shortcomings because I've had so many of my own,
And I'm secure in myself. Not all the way, and not as much as I'd like to be, but secure. Which is a long, long way from the self-conscious mess that was nineteen-year-old BB, apologizing for things that needed no apologies and accommodating those who should have been thrown away. The last year has been one of growth. Let's take a look at how it went.
April 2015: I turn 27 years old.
May 2015: I conclude my first full year of graduate school.
June 2015: I begin taking summer courses to keep myself on time for a 2016 graduation.
July 2015: After years of wanting to do it but not having the opportunity, I begin studying Russian with a private tutor.
August 2015: The second and last year of my master's program begins, and I also start to display the first significant signs of an autoimmune disease.
September 2015: A friend tells me about the Foreign Service, and I begin to research a career in diplomacy.
October 2015: I take the Foreign Service Officer test in the Goldlands and am successful. I use the opportunity to see an old friend.
November 2015: On November 12, my family celebrates the 396th anniversary of my 11th great-grandfather's arrival in Southern State in 1619.
December 2015: One of the most difficult academic semesters of my life concludes with my filing, for the first time in my student career, a formal complaint against a professor. After a difficult Christmas Eve, I make the decision to put more distance between myself and my wayward brother Powell.
January 2016: The largest blizzard of my lifetime delays the start of the spring semester by two weeks.
February 2016: I begin student-teaching, the crown jewel of my education master's degree. Earlier in the month, I travel to the City of Fate to explore the possibility of doing missionary work overseas following graduation. On February 20, after a painful episode in which I nearly lose a friendship, I at last confront the reality that I have a drinking problem and commit to completely foregoing alcohol until at least 2017 (it's been forty-eight days and counting).
March 2016: After a month with 7th-grade social studies students, I transition to a 12th-grade classroom, where I encounter both new challenges and new opportunities. At the end of the month, I begin making plans to move out of my mother's house and in with a friend by May.
This anniversary is different than the others. Every other April 7, I've faced uncertainty regarding the future. Now, in a very core way, I don't; in one year's time (indeed, in six months' time) I will be financially self-sufficient. I don't know what occupation or even what country I'll be in, but I will have a master's degree and will, one way or another, be at last independent. I've never known that before. Now I do, and I cannot wait. I've been so happy to take this journey with you over the past eight years, and to see the journeys you've taken as well. I hope we can continue, in person and online, for a long time to come.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
It's funny how your late twenties can be such a confusing time. Confusing for me, at least, in a way that my teen years never were. Being the zany kid who liked to read, who brought whoopie cushions to school and devoted weekends to watching awful horror movies with girlfriends, that was easy. That I knew how to do. I earned good grades, then retreated to a warm cocoon secure in the knowledge that I was securing my comfortably distant future. I knew how to be seventeen. And sure, in retrospect there was actually a lot of darkness, even horror, lingering under the surface during that time, and because of my parents' alternating abuse and neglect my childhood was undergirded with a foundational insecurity that no childhood should have. But still, the expectations were clear and simple. And I was clear and simple. At seventeen.
Somewhere along the way, things got a lot more complicated. It's a decade later now, and I approach the end of twenty-seven still not quite knowing what it means to be the age I am. Am I young? Am I old? I'm not yet thirty, but I walk through high school hallways as a student-teacher and consciously present myself as a source of guidance and adult stability. I'm months away from the completion of a master's degree, something I don't even quite believe, but outside of work I'm happy to jump into a fantasy novel for a whole day, or giggle with my twelve-year-old sister over the most mundane and stupid things. I still laugh at bawdy fart humor. That part of me might not even be gay, if we're being honest. I want to be an adult, self-sufficient and prescient and skilled. But I don't want to be old before my time. I want to rise to my responsibilities, but still have the enthusiasm and brightness of my youth. I'm trying on different clothes and can't tell which ones fit. And sometimes I feel so impossibly tired.
This year has been and will be a milestone. I've grappled with the onset of an autoimmune disease and its attendant problems: chronic fatigue, bouts of cognitive impairment, a digestive system turning on itself and a body going into panic mode. No one can agree exactly what's causing this, but in test after test the same thing keeps showing itself: autoantibodies lurking in my blood. Somehow, in some way we haven't determined yet, my own immune system is trying to kill something inside of me. But it's not all bad.
Sometimes I can have as much as a week with no symptoms at all, and I've learned to appreciate smaller things and put problems in perspective. When I first started showing serious symptoms last fall I responded with private hysteria, but now I'm exhausted of thinking about it, exhausted of the countless doctors' offices, yet another of which I must go to today. They'll find it, whatever it is. And I'll be okay.
This year I've also confronted difficult truths about myself. I have been undisciplined and lazy, inconsiderate of others, though in mostly minor ways. I work now to hold myself to higher standards. And I have finally come to understand that I can no longer drink. Alcohol and I started off well; my very first beer at age eighteen resulted in a dizzying rush of giggles and exuberance, and through to my very early twenties I made sparing use of that liquid courage to marvelous effect in social gatherings. BB at twenty-one was a light drinker who could become the life of the party when he wanted to. And those parties were great, and that company sparkling. Does anything ever seem as magical as it does when we're young?
But BB at twenty-three started to head to a very different place. BB at twenty-three began to drink not to enjoy, but to escape--not to commiserate with lovely people, but to forget horrible ones. BB at twenty-four continued drinking, even alone, because he just liked the feeling, even if so often he went to a very sad place while indulging. BB at twenty-five hit critical mass, losing friends and nearly his life. BB at twenty-six put the reins on the partying. And then BB at twenty-seven dropped the ball.
I have a drinking problem. And it's so funny, because in my earlier years I was always the good boy, the pure boy, the one who had his head on so straight. But I can see now that I've had a drinking problem for about five years, and that the most distant whispers of it were blowing softly into the wind even before that. Many of us form a conceptualization of ourselves in our formative years, and then that is always our "true" self, even if we deviate from it for most of our lives. So I really am still in disbelief that I, innocent and trustworthy BB, wound up here. But I have to deal with reality as it is, not as I would wish it to be.
And in my reality, I choose to be thankful for the forgiveness of a friend on whom I imposed in a terrible way. I choose to be thankful that my indefensible decisions did not cause my own or someone else's death, did not ruin a career I've worked so hard to get. And I choose to end this. I choose to be a better person than the person I have been.
The day after, when I was drunk until after noon and still hungover when I went to bed for the evening, I nursed an unsettled stomach and unsettled conscience. A pounding headache and pounding guilt. So I made the declaration that countless drunks have made: never again. I've seen many of those people throughout my life, and "this time" is always the last time. It's an exhausting game of pretend that gradually robs its players of self-respect and dignity. But in my case the thing had been building for a while; I'd worked hard to impose limits on my drinking, but found myself cheating around the edges. For months I'd vowed that if I couldn't keep it together I'd abstain, and when in late February I failed in so fantastic a fashion to maintain control of myself I knew the time had come. That was twenty-six days ago.
I'm not saying I'll never drink again. But at least for the rest of this year, it's best for me to do what I haven't done in a full decade: see what kind of person I am for an extended period without alcohol. I can go to the open of 2017 and assess from there. Nearly a full month in, the results are positive. Do I miss having a drink at social occasions when everyone else is imbibing? Sure. But I don't miss the consequences. I don't miss what came after.
To be clear, my drinking was acceptable and healthy probably 95% of the time. That other 5% packed one hell of a punch, though. And even when I held myself back, there was always that insidious desire for more and more and more. Which does not seem to be present, by the way, when I just totally abstain. I did have cravings about two weeks in, but in general I've not thought about drinking that much now that I know it's just not a possibility. It was moderation I had trouble with. And that makes me wonder how much of this was psychological.
This morning I'm sitting in a bright room, staring out a sunny window and into a warm day. It's my second day student-teaching at a local high school, and because of observations that are taking place my host teacher just gave me the run of the school. I've spent time in the empty teachers' lounge, writing this. This morning I wandered through the library, chatting with the delightful librarian about her college experiences in Germany and Russia before heading over to get lost in the fiction section. Countless hours spent diving into books during my own high school lunch breaks came back to me. I felt like my old self again.
Parts of that old self weren't praiseworthy, of course. I am more nuanced, more empathetic, more outgoing and less judgmental than I was a decade ago, in large part because of my missteps. In that critical way, I've done a lot of growing up. But there's much seventeen-year-old BB had to offer. He was inquisitive, kind, imaginative, and motivated. He was devoted to his faith. If Old BB and New BB can get together to combine some of their best qualities, then the BB who comes out of conference committee will be in pretty good shape.
This year could take me in a thousand different directions. I don't know for sure that I'll go right into teaching, but come August I will have that option for the rest of my life. And however uncertain I am about outcomes, I am absolutely sure that I'm moving in the right direction.
Saturday, February 6, 2016
The serpent comes
He fills the sky
A poisoned eclipse of silver-black scales
That eat sunlight and dreams
I wield a sword of summer dawn
A blade of starry wonderment
To rupture his foul heart
And restore the sun
But his coils are vast
And strangled my childhood
His hiss is a seismic scream of doubt
And shatters my fluttering hope
His mouth is a seductive pit where Death reclines upon a forked tongue
And beckons me to turn my neck
Every once in a while
The serpent rears high
A pillar of weeping rage
A trunk of acid anomie
That covers my whole horizon
I lunge in feral anguish
And heave gleaming Daybreak
But the weapon finds no target
It only draws him nearer
His venom burns my eyes with spiralling blindness
And rips apart my mind in a shower of frothing hatred
It swerves my hand
So the blows meant for him land on others
And then they're lethal
Bloody and boiling
And steeled with monstrous strength
The kind I can never aim at him
I'm meant to be the prince who kills the snake
It's written in the heavens
Just north of my name
Just south of Polaris
But it's hard to raise Daybreak in the middle of the night
When I see what he shows me
And hear what he whispers
And when my voice so clearly matches his
I'll fail myself and all the constellations
He'll devour me in the end
Thursday, January 21, 2016
Chill and serene
A word from a dream
A voice crystalline
Unmoving white steel
Dark grey streaked with teal
Flame cloaked in ice shield
The spear in the loom
The brine in the bloom
The kiss tipped with gloom
The silver snakes chance
Grieved winds for a dance
Sharp diamond romance
The clear-eyed deep sleep
The prize winter reaps
Blue sun in black deep
The breath braced with might
Stars fuel for the fight
A cold dawning light
Sunday, December 27, 2015
The year 2015 was strange for me. It was a year defined by major and, in moments, debilitating struggle, but also by my ability to overcome that struggle. It was a year defined by sad recognition of my own and others' limitations, but also by a happy readjustment based on that recognition. It was the year in which, more than in any other, I determined and took concrete steps towards having my own life.
You'll notice that I did not write much here throughout the fall. My last entry, dated from October, recounted reunion with a longtime college friend, and after that it was radio silence from old BB for a full two months, longer than I have ever been absent from this site in its nearly eight-year history.
I had cause. I dealt with a terrible professor, the worst of my academic career, and when his initially unhelpful behavior advanced to vindictiveness and then outright lying about me to my adviser, I was moved to, for the first time ever, file an official complaint against an instructor. Failure to pass his class would have barred me from student-teaching and, in effect, delayed graduation and a job by another half-year. The day his final project was due, I was a hysterical wreck and reached a level of stress that unhinged me a bit from the surrounding world. Those days were a frightening blur to which I never want to return.
Starting around the beginning of the fall term, and due at least in part to the burdens of that time, my obsessive-compulsive disorder came roaring back. If this condition were in fact that cutesy preoccupation with neatness that is depicted on TV, a recurrence of it would not have been a problem. But my life isn't Monk. By October I was convinced of the inevitability of my failure, and was routinely afflicted by horrifying nightmares in which my hair and teeth fell out.
And then, at about the end of August, my hair actually started falling out. Along with patches of my eyebrows. A recurring forgetfulness that had first surfaced as early as the summer of 2014 amplified, and I began losing words, misplacing items, and falling victim to disorienting moments of what I can only call "fog." My emotions were heightened and I cried easily. My energy plummeted, and I wound up tiring out after even brief moments of exertion.
"You need to see someone, BB," my grandmother told me this summer. I'd been helping her with yard work, and about twenty minutes in just hit a wall and could do no more. I needed to sit down, and urged her to take a break, supposedly out of concern for her wellbeing but actually so I might mask that I was being outflanked by a seventy-three-year-old woman. "You're too young to be so tired. And you've been like this for years. You get winded so quickly."
After a dermatologist determined she could not help me because my hair loss was not age related--i.e., not natural balding and thus a symptom of something else--I was referred to several other doctors, and began a semester-long odyssey of blood tests and physician visits that required me to explain why, at the age of twenty-seven, I was exhibiting signs consistent with very early dementia. One doctor even asked if there was a family history of early-onset Alzheimer's.
The actual culprit does seem to be hereditary, but not so bad as all that: hypothyroidism, which runs on my father's side but which may have been missed in my case because of my relative youth and because men are affected nine times less often than women. One more blood test, to be done shortly after the New Year, should confirm the problem and justify a medication regimen that will hopefully put an end to this nightmare.
But the nightmare had a big casualty. In September, I made the deeply painful decision to cut my gorgeous, waist-length hair, which I'd spent nearly nine years growing into a waterfall of golden waves in which I took great pride and happiness. The result, though still long, falls far short of the spectacular beauty for which I'd become known in the near-decade since 2006.
When this is over, though, and this health issue resolved, I will not lose one more thing to it. Not one more word. Not one more memory. Not one more instant of clarity. Not one more day of yard work. Not one more strand of hair. I will grow that hair back, to as long as it ever was, and wear it like a flaxen badge of vigor. I will achieve that by this time three years from now, in the fall of 2018. I will have just celebrated my thirtieth birthday.
I overcame the professor from hell and pulled an A in the class I thought would sink me. I overcame the extraordinary apathy of my family and the dismissiveness of one breathtakingly arrogant doctor to finally get something concrete when I knew something was wrong with me. But there were also things I could not overcome.
This November, Our Family celebrated Our Family Day, the annual remembrance of our immigrant ancestor's arrival in the New World. Last month marked 396 years since my 11th great-grandfather set foot in King's City, Southern State, in the fall of 1619, and the party included tales of the past and somewhat dubious plans for the future.
"On the 400th, I'm getting smashed," laughed Thomas.
Towards the start of this blog, when I was a boy of twenty and Thomas one of thirteen, I made the conscious decision to attempt stamping our our father's ruinous legacy. Where David--my father--showed inconstancy, I showed steadiness; where David showed disproportionate anger, I showed even temper; where David was quick to build minor mishaps into life-defining crises, I didn't sweat the small stuff. I taught Thomas how to drive because our father wouldn't. I helped Thomas with his homework because our father couldn't. I helped Thomas plan ahead because our father was unconcerned. I listened when he needed someone to talk to, because our father couldn't be bothered. Time after time, I showed Thomas kindness that I hoped he would internalize as a way of living rather than just as an act from which he benefited. Of late, though, I wonder if I ever had a shot.
This fall, I asked him several times to pay me back the small sum of money I'd loaned him when he was in a tight spot. About the third time, he snapped.
"BB, I have a lot going on right now," he said, shooting me the look of disdain I now so often receive from him. "And paying you that money isn't my priority."
He might've slapped me. I stood in his doorway, not believing that the selfish, inconsiderate young man sitting before me with such indolence was the same person in whom I'd reposed so much confidence just three years before.
"Well, Thomas," I said quietly. "When you needed that money, it was my priority to give it to you."
Two weeks later, he put a down payment on a piece of expensive music equipment. A bit after that, he had to have work done on his car and I was happy to let him use mine. I even gave him gas money because I know he doesn't make much. And then, when I was away with family out of state and asked him to return some movies I'd forgotten to take back, he wouldn't. He didn't have $5 to cover the trip to the next town. When I told him I had about $50 in change in my room, he shrugged me off with a scornful text.
"I'm sorry, but I'm not paying for gas with quarters. I'm just not doing that."
This has accompanied increasing blue-collar mannerisms (including a maddening affected laugh), a refusal to make realistic plans for the future, a tendency towards overblown criticism that is reminiscent of our father--Thomas recently berated me, for instance, for "always doing things halfway" because I waited a bit to clean up dishes from a dinner I'd prepared for him and Pie--and a draw to heavy drinking.
"BB, you and Mom have to do something," Powell told me by telephone. "You guys have to help him."
"No, I don't," I answered. It was cold and it was definitive and it had been building a long time. "I don't have to save Thomas. I can't save Thomas. I'm not his father. I have to think about a boyfriend and a husband and having kids of my own one day. I need to have my own life."
I love Thomas, and every moment isn't a bad one. But he's becoming someone I don't know, someone so far removed from the boy he used to be that thinking of it makes me want to weep. I'll always love him. But I can't help him. And that's what I meant earlier, about recognizing not just others' limitations, but my own: I can't save the world. I can do my very best to be a positive influence on others, and to extend them what help is within my ability to give, provided they demonstrate a willingness to take that help and use it constructively. Someone who won't do that reveals themselves quickly. When I was offered help from my grandmother, I ran with it and earned a bachelor's degree. When Rowdy Cousin was offered help from his parents, he did the same thing and on graduation was hired by an accounting firm who offered him a salary that would have been generous for a person twice his age. If someone doesn't want to do something, though, you can almost never make them do it. And I will no longer waste precious energy trying.
Aunt Crazy said it best.
"Powell is a lost cause," she pronounced, her jolly face cooled by calm certainty. "But Thomas...maybe not yet."
I'm done with lost causes. My father, my mother, my stepmother, my brother Powell, all lost and never coming back. My door is closed to them. Thomas stands on a threshold whose precariousness he does not yet recognize. Pie is still a great light to me, but not my life. I will let her go, too, not to a place that I throw away, but to a place I visit in moments and with love. She has a harbor with me. Just not my most important harbor. I'm saving that for my own family, and leaving behind the siblings and stepmother who have, if we're stripping away politeness, been astonishingly ungrateful to me. I've given too much to the wrong people. Now, at least for quite a while, I'm going to give to myself.
Friday, October 16, 2015
My siblings and I have this joke that one of the hardest questions any of us has to answer is, "Where are you from?"
Take your pick: Native City, Dirty Town, Beautiful Town, Central City, the Goldlands, Mountain Town. The list goes on. On balance, however, and especially in light of my recent discovery that my ancestors lived in the region for upwards of three centuries, I have decided that Southern State is, if not quite where I'm from, then certainly the closest I have to being from, well, anywhere. It was where I learned to drive. It was where I had my first kiss. It was where I graduated from high school, went to college, came out of the closet, and made my closest and most enduring friends. It was where I first came to believe in myself. A week ago, as I drove over the mountains and into the glory of a Southern State autumn, I was reminded why I called it home. I swear the sun shone a little bit brighter there.
As I advanced further into the Goldlands, closer to the heart where Major University lay, the physical and cultural landscapes began to change; the leaves grew bolder, the roads wider, and the mountains and fields of the lands to the west were replaced by the silver and white glitter of urban prosperity rising from the cinnamon hills. An unbroken wave of white faces speaking lilting English gave way to the hues of the entire world, to tongues from all corners of the planet. I wrapped up my business early and swung by a Korean grocery store to buy myself some seaweed.
"Hey, man," I said as Filipino Guy's sleepy voice filtered through my phone. "Listen, I got here like two hours early and so I'm already done with everything. Do you want to get lunch now?"
"Sure," he replied. "I mean, I was sleeping while you were being productive, but let me get a quick shower and I'll be right over."
The Goldlands has long been a place where I've found renewal, resources, innovation, and the means to push back borders, and so it was fitting that this was the region I went to initiate what could be a radical shift in professional direction. I've not quit the day job yet, though, and will fill you in on this potential avenue as I learn more.
"I'm sure you did well," Filipino Guy said as we sat down at a local Korean restaurant not far from where we'd gone to university. "I took the test a few years back and passed, and you know way more about all the political and history stuff than I do."
I took a sip of my soda.
"Well, if you can do it..."
I shot him a mischievous grin and he laughed in response.
"Very true, sir."
Filipino Guy is an old college friend, two years my senior, whom I met my very first week at university. I was reminded of this when discussion turned to the other members of our extended friend group, who now live as far afield as Knoxville and Texas, Washington and New York, and to many of whom neither of us has spoken in years.
"That's how it is after college, though," he mused. "People lose touch, people have things going on. It's not personal. I think it's nice to be able to see people every few years and be okay with that."
"I think it's hysterical that we're still friends after all these years. And it was so random how we met."
"That comm. class," he said.
Our eyes met over steaming soup and fried chicken, and for a moment we both felt a sudden rush of sorrow; nine years ago in the waning summer of 2006, he was a boy of twenty and I one of eighteen. In the decade that's followed, we've both changed in terms of values and direction, have both endured dark periods that in his case consisted of mean-spirited atheism and in mine of a manic spiral to suicide. Both of us are happy with different aspects of our lives, and both of us have successfully weathered our storms. But in light of those storms, the summer of youth when we first met seemed so terribly far away.
"We're getting older," he said.
"I don't know," I countered. "I think we both look pretty damn good for pushing thirty."
"Yeah," he said, eyes gleaming. "And you're white. You should be totally falling apart by now."
I laughed and surveyed his vigorous frame and the smooth, handsome face that continues to attract appreciate stares from the young women of the Goldlands.
"You're doing about as well as one would expect for an Asian."
"I am," he agreed, with a sip of his drink. "But I see it in certain ways. My hair is starting to thin."
I waved him off.
"It's probably just how you're styling it."
"Yours, on the other hand," he said, taking a handful of the long blonde hair that, since it was recently cut to just below my shoulders, is now soft and absurdly thick. "Remains luxuriant. You always knew how to turn me on."
I slapped my (very straight) friend's hand away and assured him once more. "We both have nice hair. You're as irresistible as ever."
But when we paid our bill and walked to the parking lot to say goodbye, I looked up at him and saw in the sunlight what the dim bulbs inside had concealed; across the whole of his head, the tiniest patches of scalp were visible in between spikes of black hair. The loss was evenly spread and I wouldn't have noticed it had I not known him for so long, but he was right.
And then something really hit me: I am twenty-seven years old. Filipino Guy is twenty-nine. Somewhere along the way, the flow of time to which at eighteen and twenty we imagined ourselves immune kept on going, and then one day we woke up to see the difference that had accumulated while we weren't paying attention. We're young still--but not youths. He's earning a master's degree to move from his current engineering job to one that offers more prestige and pay. I'll be either teaching or doing more media-related work in a year's time and will at last be able to stand on my own two feet financially. Somehow we've started turning into honest-to-goodness adults.
There's a little sadness to that, but far more happiness on balance. I find myself wondering how our friendship, and my friendships with others, will evolve as still more years pass.
Monday, August 24, 2015
It hasn't happened yet. Not really. But in spirit, summer passed away this morning and yielded to cold winds that are as yet metaphorical. August 24 marked, after all, the start of the school year.
This has always been a season replete with deeper meaning for me. Fall has been the time when I've seen not death and decay but magic blooming from scarlet trees, winter the time when I've seen not desolation but white-cloaked sleep, a welcome occasion to regroup from the stresses of life. A time somehow apart from time. When the skies fade to grey and the air bites with frost, I make my home a fortress and survey the world from atop its battlements. Strange as it seems, those months of withdrawal are always when I feel richest and most complete, most disconnected from the rest of humanity but most able to let select facets of it in more deeply. It might have something to do with the fact that my personal deliverance, when I was thirteen, came in the dead of winter. It might be genetic memory (I am, after all, a Swede by extraction). It might be some primeval vestige left over from a happy childhood day long forgotten. Whatever it is, I've been this way as long as I can remember.
So the start of the colder months is something I welcome. Winter is my time to plan and regenerate. In the summers I execute, but many of the great ideas come when I'm holed away.
Today is, of course, August 24, a date to which history attaches great significance. It was on this day in AD 410, 1,605 years ago, that Rome fell for the first time in eight centuries to an enemy army. The empire had been weakening for some time, of course, and its decay was no secret to contemporaries, but August 24 shrieked to a shocked world that one era had died and another begun. Rome, the Eternal City, was eternal no more. The greatest power of the world, the queen of Europe, was merely another city to be sacked, and as such was neither a great power nor a queen after a millennium of being both. What followed, sixty-six years later, was confirmation of what the flames of August had first proclaimed: Romulus Augustulus, the last ruler of the Western Empire, abdicated his throne on September 4, AD 476, and the pathetic fiction of Roman hegemony fell alongside the Roman state itself.
Those two dates, August 24 and September 4, marked the end of the long Roman summer and the beginning of the desolate winter known as the Dark Ages, in whose howling blizzards would perish generation after generation in blackness. The impermeable night was broken only a thousand years later, in 1453, with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. That event is taken by historians to delineate the commencement of the Renaissance--on May 29. Glorious rebirth. Spring.
Just now, though, the days grow shorter and the afternoon skies slowly shift from periwinkle to navy. And with the metamorphosis from summer to fall comes another that is long overdue: my name. You know me and will always know me as BB, first BlackenedBoy then BrightenedBoy (it can be argued that 19-year-old BB should have chosen a pseudonym that would age better), but the rest of the world has known me these last twenty-seven years by the name my father selected in 1987. A little-known fact is that my mother Anne, though woefully inadequate by all other measures, had the good sense to pick for me a name from Antiquity.
"I wanted to name you Your-Soon-to-Be-Name, after this Roman senator [who was by and large a horrific person but had a single redeeming quality I can't reveal without giving away his identity], but your father overruled me. He heard Your Current Name on a sitcom that was popular back in the '80s."
That's right. Anne wished to give me a name that had lasted for several millennia. David chose one that was in vogue for several months. This has been common knowledge for some time, and David freely admits the facts of the situation while completely missing the horrible light in which they paint him. No matter. I've always been able to see he's an idiot, even if he hasn't.
So on August 21, I went to the courthouse in my locality and filed the paperwork that, in about a month's time, will result in my name being legally changed to what my mother intended all those years ago.
"My father has made so many bad decisions, many of them involving me, and I just thought, 'Why should his stupidity mark me for the rest of my life?'"
"No, you're right," said Black Dress Girl, who also legally changed her name for similar reasons and after an extended period of contemplation. "It's your life. It should be the way you want it to be. Your father was always trying to make you into something you weren't."
And damn it, Anne may be a sociopathic narcissist with a penchant for outrageous lying and a slim grip on reality, but she really nailed it with that name. It just fits me to a tee. So while the fact that my mother intended this for me legitimizes the whole business, in a very real way the decision has nothing to do with her. She picked the name, but doesn't define it. She chose it, but doesn't own it. It was just always meant to be.
This will be my last fall semester--as a student--for several years, until about 2020 or so, when I am tentatively slated to begin my second master's degree, that one in Russian studies. In less than a year I will, at long last, be gone from this house, starting new under the name that should always have been mine and, finally, as my own person. No David or Marie attached. No one else's money to keep me afloat or house to keep me warm. Just me. Just BB. And hopefully, after a while, I'll have a partner to share that with. Then it'll be just us.
For now, though, I simply await the winds of fall, and give thanks for whatever God brings with them.