Thursday, September 4, 2014

An Odd and Delightful Bunch

I quite like the members of my father's family, but I am beginning to question their taste in leisure activities.

"With your brother gone, it's just Aunt Crazy and me here," my grandmother told me today on the telephone. "She's staying until Uncle Responsible and Cool Cousin fly back."

"Where are they this time?"

"Wyoming."

"Oh," I scoffed. "Are they chasing wolves again?"

"Bears," my grandmother replied. "They're chasing bears."

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I Am Afraid


Up until today it was a bit like pretending. I was back on a college campus, once again living in a dormitory, once again surrounded by undergraduates, young men and women at the peak of their physical beauty and for the most part wholly oblivious to that fact. The feeling of being out of time was inescapable; I didn't belong here with these children, carefree and unaware that their world was so small, sheltered and buoyant and so very, very young.

Yet here I was. If they couldn't tell that I wasn't one of them, maybe it was time for me to forget, too. This afternoon that illusion was shattered.

I entered the classroom for my first graduate-level course and was greeted by an assembly of faces that were almost all older than mine. The professor thanked us for our time, thanked us for our attention, and said he understood the strain some of us must have been feeling from working during the day.

That's why all of the graduate classes are in the evening, I realized suddenly. It's because these people work.

The gulf between their world and mine was enormous, but I realized that in one moment it had been irrevocably bridged. I did not operate under the stresses these people did, but we were now, all of us, firmly in the realm of adulthood. No longer were we initiates--our professor spoke of "our industry" and "our careers" in a way that made the burden we were there to assume unmistakably clear. This wasn't schooling. It was vocational training.

That training will proceed more quickly than I  might be comfortable with, and all of us will be obliged this fall to participate in a practicum, on-site observations of local high schools in which we will appear as "educational professionals."

This brought up an immediate host of worries: what am I to wear? How am I to act? What if the students don't take me seriously? And how can I possibly stand at the head of a classroom and pretend to be an authority when so much of my own life is unresolved? I thought I would have become more secure by now. I never imagined how unsure and lost I'd actually be at twenty-six.

And there it is: I am twenty-six.

One of the hardest things I've had to come to terms with during this process is the fact that I'm not young anymore. Don't laugh. It's true. Sure, I'm young, but I'm not a kid, not a late adolescent whose audacious dreams are still within the realm of possibility.

As a boy of twenty-one I did absurd things, things like aspiring to a recording career and, what's more, achieving measurable success in pursuit of that goal. That sort of fantasy is, of course, closed to me now.

"You shouldn't say that, BB," Anne said. "Some famous musicians didn't get their big break until they were in middle age."

"That's true," I countered. "But it wouldn't be now what it would have been then."

"No," she said. "You had that whole Justin Bieber thing going on."

At twenty-one and twenty-two I was dewy and bright, a golden-voiced young boy who looked about sixteen. I was surrounded by numberless friends and built a vibrant social world whose center I occupied with undisguised relish. It was such a change from the years before, when illness had isolated me, that I felt like some sort of superhero. Invincible. Eternal. Beautiful. And a moment like that simply cannot last. A more durable happiness can be achieved, and hopefully will be, but it will take me years to do it, and in the meantime I'm left moving forward from a past that makes me feel so degraded.

Even this institution conspires to align itself with that perception. It is smaller than Major University; its food is less varied and less nutritional; its buildings are older; its students, born and bred in this poor mountain community, are less attractive; its professors are less regarded. It is a seismic step down that has at moments left me stunned.

Where are all the people? I wondered time and again on my first day. There were more students in our food court than there are on this entire campus.

It's hard for me to rid myself of the notion that everything is less than what it was. That I am less than I was. The weight gain that followed my suicide attempt has only amplified these thoughts: I do not look significantly different now than I did then, but I am still substantially less attractive. In decline. Decayed.

That decay, physical and social and moral, is something I am working desperately to reverse. I'm losing weight. I'm befriending anyone I can. I have, most importantly, a career path in mind and am adamant in my refusal to veer from it.

Here's the thing: I can handle taking a detour in order to accomplish bigger professional goals, but I cannot handle settling into a life I don't really want. I have no particular desire to teach high school. But because I need to pay my bills while I'm seeking the bachelor's and master's degrees in history that will allow me to become a university professor, I am willing to do it. On the sole condition that I immediately begin pursuing my history education once I commence secondary teaching. That's the only way it would be bearable.

And I am so terrified I'll fail. That the dream of a professorship will be the fairytale I use to lull myself to sleep at night, until one day in middle age I wake up and realize it's an ambition I'll never achieve.
If it is at all within my power to reach the benchmarks I've set for myself, I will do it. I will exert all of my energies towards that end.

And in the meantime I'll try to figure out who I am and what kind of fulfillment I can find as grown-up BB. I'm so horribly lonely sometimes. And I'm so scared of growing into a lonely, sad adult. All of it is new and frightening. I can only hope it will end well.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

First Day


On the morning of August 25, eight years to the day after I first began undergraduate studies, I became, once again, a college student. That first August 25, in distant 2006, marked the beginning of a long and black journey, but this one inaugurated a full-on thrust towards a bright future.

As welcome as this new start is, however, it has also been a bit strange.

Three years ago, during the fall of 2011, I commenced what I believed would be my last semester on a college campus. At the time, closing that chapter of my life felt right and fitting. To suddenly find myself a university resident again at the age of twenty-six is surreal.

"I was thinking of you today," I said to Laquesha on the phone. "Moving in has made me all kinds of nostalgic."

It's been like traveling back in time, walking amongst these young men and women who were only in middle school when I first began college.

But maybe I don't stand out as much as I imagined.

"So, are you a freshman here?" one boy asked me as I waited in line at the dining hall.

No. No, I am not.

Classes are good thus far, with Mountain State History emerging as the surprising favorite. And my dormitory on campus is complemented by a house only twenty minutes away, so that when the pace of things at school slows down the comfort of home is but a quick ride down the road. My second college experience is proving to be more relaxed than my first.

The welcome absence of my father makes that nest all the more inviting, and will, I hope, contribute to a happy and productive semester.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Between Shadows

I stand between shadows
What was and will be
The greatness of yore and
The future of me

My towers have fallen
My banners are gone
The world that enthroned me
Is changed and redrawn

I wander a lost one
I'm faded and weak
The beauty that thundered
Is shrouded and meek

But I have a power
That others don't hold
From cinders and rubble
My hands can spin gold

I rode the waves once and
I'll ride them again
The mountains and oceans
Will be my seat then

It's already started
As in days of yore
Haven't they told you
I've done this before?

It won't be like last time
It won't be the same
My soul has grown stronger
And brighter's the flame

I rise as a giant
The stars show my way
And with every sunrise
Advances the day

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Home Alone Adventure


It's been less than a year since Our Family moved into this wonderful house just across the border from Southern State, and seeing as at the end of the month I'll be relocating to a college campus to commence graduate studies, I jumped at the chance to enjoy the property by myself for a week.

David and Marie, in what very well may have been their last vacation together, were off for to Hispanic Island with my sister Pie, and with Thomas away in Humid State at the beach I was left to hold down the fort all on my own. Kind of.

Beautiful Cousin joined me for the duration of the week to help care for my parents' five dogs, whom Marie knew I would not tolerate catering to. Off of work and on leave from the National Guard, this 23-year-old took the opportunity to catch some sun by the pool and, when the occasion called for it, seized her relaxation with military precision.

"I asked your mom if I could borrow one of her bathing suits, but she told me she locked her bedroom door and took the key," Beautiful Cousin said. "That bitch don't know I'm the Army."


"Oh, my gosh, please don't fall," I called from the window. "Can you imagine how we'd explain that? 'Beautiful Cousin was just trying to break into your bedroom...'"

After climbing out one window and jumping into another, Beautiful Cousin emerged, the bathing suit clutched triumphantly in her fist, from David and Marie's chamber.

"Dumbass didn't lock the window."

"Yeah, because what normal person would break in from the roof?"

"Details."

"Um, Beautiful Cousin? What about the screens?"

"Oh, shit. I can't put them back in from the inside!"

This is what led to me frantically dancing around the porch with a shaky ladder as Beautiful Cousin shimmied down the shingles trying to gain purchase with her dangling foot.

"Hold it still, fucker!"

"I'm trying! There are bushes in the way!"

I wobbled, nearly sending her headfirst into the shrubbery, and she tumbled, cackling, into my arms.

"Let's get this thing put away before your neighbors call the police."



On Wednesday, Peruvian Girl came over to enjoy horror films and pizza, with a walk in between the two movies to work off some meat-lovers calories.

"Look at the sun," she mused as the orb glowed bright red behind a thin veil of clouds. The mist of cumulus was such that we could stare directly at the setting ball of flame.

"Isn't it crazy to think," I added. "That people have been staring at this same sun for millennia? Two thousand years ago some Roman friends probably took a walk and did exactly what we're doing now."

We stood there for several minutes, having the kind of profound conversation that only really good friends can just fall into, and then after pondering the ephemeral reign of humanity headed back home to watch a good old-fashioned slasher.

It was a nice way to spend some of my last free moments before the start of the school year. Very soon, I'll be leaving--and another member of this household may soon get a long-overdue boot out the door. But that is for a later post.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Beginning of an Era


I thought I'd failed it.

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

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

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

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

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

And I'm in.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Things Recovered

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

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

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

"Years. At least two years."

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"BB, that is so great!"

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

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

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

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

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