Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Christmas

My Christmas was both anxious and happy.

That seems to typify my life these days: eagerness matched with fear, restlessness with timidity.

It feels almost superfluous to make the disctinctions, though; it all boils down to anxiety, and anxiety very properly describes where I am right now.

Even before the decorations have come down and the holiday music faded from my head, I find myself impatiently anticipating the start of the spring semester while simultaneously fretting over its logistics: I am registered for classes but am on the waiting list for a resident adviser position and thus have nowhere to live.

With no on-campus housing secured and no way of paying for lodgings even were I granted access to them, I'm left to either hope an RA slot opens up or find an apartment in the Goldlands. That prospect, of working out roommates and rent payments and a budget for food, especially bearing in mind that I can expect no help whatsoever from my parents, is a daunting one. Yet the idea of commuting from Mountain Town five days a week is something I find even more arduous.

I hate the uncertainty of this specific situation but also of this time in general. I'll graduate in a year and am still unsure where I'll be going or what I'll be doing afterward.

I'm conflicted. I'm unsure. Everything is in flux.

I live at home still and despite growing discomfort at not only the practical reality but the abstract notion of being under another's roof as I near the age of twenty-three, I recognize it would be foolhardy of me to attempt striking out now with no degree and no real job prospects.

So I'm stuck, stuck in a house that I increasingly feel is no longer mine as I await and in the same breath fear graduation.

It's all made more confused by the ambiguity of my position: I'm no longer a child or even an adolescent, but really not quite a man.

What am I supposed to be?

My parents and I, for various reasons, have essentially not been speaking for months now, and the stiff silence between us makes me feel like I'm living with two strangers.

I've begun to break that silence, or allow it to be broken, cautiously, but cannot let the space between us be entirely bridged. My trust doesn't extend that far.

If truth be told, the experience of handling my parents has imbued me with a coldness I've never known before. I've discovered this fall a remarkable ability to shut down and shut out, to project an insulation that I've slowly extended to Powell, Anne, and even my grandmother.

I never thought I could be so detached and disconnected.

It's like I can just flick a switch and turn myself off. Even as I'm doing this I recognize its inherent sadness, but I isolate myself from any regret by reflecting on the logical soundness of my decision. Objectively, academically, this gradual withdrawal is good for me.

I think it says something about my deeper emotional state that I'm even capable of it, though, or that it would occur to me at all.

On a level I really do hate my parents for this legacy. For everything.

This is the larger context in which my mind has perceived the holidays, though, and deserves a post of its own.

The actual occasion of Christmas was rather pleasant.

On the afternoon of December 24th I headed over to Mountain Town Episcopal Church, where I've spent the last two months or so as a member of the choir and thus a fairly regular parishioner.

It may surprise many of my readers to know that my religious faith is and has for years been a deeply important part of my life. While I have avoided writing about it, both to guard a private aspect of myself and to forestall the perception that I am proselytizing, it is a major influence on me and guides much of what I do.

The idea of Jesus Christ, the gentle redeemer, the outcast, the seeming weakling who counted as His flock the wretched and rejected of the world, carries a powerful appeal for me that has only grown with time. The Son of God wasn't an athlete or a celebrity or a king. He was a poor man. There's something profound about that.

I arrived for choir practice at four o'clock and at five donned the black and white robes that I often feel make me look like a pious penguin.

For the next hour and a half we led the church in the singing of rousing carols and Christmas hymns, something that I found rather enjoyable.

My parents, Thomas, and Pie were there as well, opting to forego their traditional Methodist service in light of the fact that I was singing right in town. Despite everything that's happened recently, it was nice to see them sitting in the aisles, smiling as I walked past with the rest of the procession, marveling over the little-understood ritual of communion ("I can't believe they let the kids drink wine!" Pie later exclaimed).

I've tried out several churches in my time, but feel that in the Episcopal fold I've found my place, or at least the closest thing to it. No religious body is perfect, of course, being as they are human institutions and thus only as infallible as their creators, but the Episcopal Church satisfies much of what I'm looking for.

To begin with, and this is perhaps most paramount, the church has explicitly opened the door to gays and women, going further than any other major religion to achieve the ideal of universal brotherhood that I believe Jesus stood for.

One of the things that turned me away from both the Orthodox and Catholic branches of Christianity was an inherent sexism that denied half of the congregants the opportunity to fully serve their Lord. The idea that women are somehow "unclean" or less worthy than men to minister in the name of Christ is one that disquiets me to say the least.

Even if we turn out to be wrong on this point, I believe our hearts will at least have been in the right place.

Then of course there is the church's acknolwedgement of homosexuals, those like me, as full members of the communion and of humanity, as imperfect beings no less flawed and no less saved than any other Christian.

I like these people. I like this faith. I feel that joining them would be the best path I could take to Christ.

Christmas Day itself proceeded as most Christmases before it have, though this year without Powell, who spent the holiday with Anne visiting our cousins in Coca Cola City. What's funny is how little his absence affected anything at all; my younger brother has gradually grown coarser and less tolerable, has bit by bit made himself into the kind of person who is not missed. I certainly did not pine for him.

We rose around eight (me haggardly, as I'd been up until one-thirty the night before ensuring that the Chocolate Monster stopped in for Pie) and piled into the sitting room to open presents.

In a tradition we honor on the one day each year that this parlor is used for anything at all, we children took the couch, my father the chair, and my mother the floor as we commenced with the unwrapping.

I didn't receive much: some items of clothing, a package of Axe products, and a few hundred dollars, but sitting there in our pajamas while one of my parents takes haphazard video footage and Thomas and Pie tear through their packages is a ritual I enjoy.

The rest of the day consisted of our assuming hosting duties for Uncle Car Salesman, Aunt Ostentatious, Blonde Cousin, Pretty Hair, Aunt Eighties-Hair, Hick State Cousin, Grand Pa Hick Family, Aunt Lesbian, Aunt Sunshine (Aunt Lesbian's partner), and Aunt Sunshine's teenage daughter.

Finally, after everyone else had left, there arrived a visitor whom we'd all been eagerly anticipating: Beautiful Cousin.

You will likely remember my nineteen-year-old cousin, about whom I've written in the past.

She came to live with us as a high school graduate in the summer of 2009 but left to move into in with her boyfriend, Hick State Guy, just after this Thanksgiving. She was a member of our household for a year and a half, and seeing her again was like being reunited with a departed sister.

I think I've actually missed Beautiful Cousin more than I've missed Powell.

She and Hick State Guy brought a surprise with them: Weya, their new wolf puppy.

We all naturally exclaimed over this beast and pondered aloud how long it would be until the little monster killed our cousin, but she and Hick State Guy assured us that their wolf-owning friends have demonstrated the effectiveness of proper training.

On the day after Christmas Thomas and I left for Grand Ma Normal Family's house, where the dire predictions of a blizzard that would surely leave us snowbound proved to be unfounded.

I've not much enjoyed my stay here; my grandmother is a like a strong heaping of sucrose, enjoyable in small doses placed far apart but a bit sickening in any large amount.

Naturally, none of this has been explicit or open, but I've felt it quite acutely.

We return home tomorrow.

I'm not entirely sure what I'll be doing for New Year's Eve, but I know that shortly thereafter I'm heading up to spent Little Christmas with Anne (that's a tradition I'll have to explain later).

I hope that Christmas has been warm and happy for you all.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Closest Thing to Home

Those of you who've come to know me during the last two and a half years will already recognize that I attribute great importance to milestones.

Every man, in my view, is built by his past, and he who acknowledges that instead of fighting it can have a better understanding of who--and why--he is.

That's the line I try to walk: drawing on the past without being drawn into it, understanding its significance but only through the context of the ever-important present.

December 17th has unique importance for my family.

It was five years ago today, on December 17, 2005, that we moved to Mountain Town from Rich Town.

Then, as now, the roads were covered in snow and the air stung with cold. Then, as now, I took issue with my parents on many counts; that Saturday evening was, in fact, punctuated by an tumultuous argument between my mother, my Aunt Lesbian, and me.

A few examples notwithstanding, though, very little seems to be the same.

Five years ago I was seventeen and Powell just turned sixteen five days prior (his birthday is December 12th). Teenagers then, we've both been out of high school for years now and have taken very different paths: I should have graduated in May but an opportunity with a major record label, among other things, interfered to keep me in school; he's been through rehab, bounced from job to job, and made a few abortive attempts at community college before deciding higher education wasn't for him.

Thomas was ten years old five years ago, but a child and scarcely older than Pie is now. Today he's stepped into being a teenager and everything that comes with it: dating, thoughts of sex, experiments with drinking and marijuana, dreams of rock stardom, and the first ambitions to attend university.

Pie, only two years old in 2005, is now a strong-willed and rambunctious seven-year-old girl. A toddler when we arrived here, Mountain Town is the only reality she's ever known.

I've become better, smarter, and infinitely more self-confident, the consequence of a social flowering experienced at college. If anything my relationship with my parents has grown more fractious, but that is the result of my growing assertions for basic fairness and respect, and so in a way is a good thing.

I've spent five years here now, and I know I won't remain here five years more. It's interesting, and a bit terrifying, to think of where I'll be in a half a decade's time.

Below you will find my diary entry for December 19, 2005. I was halfway through twelfth grade and had moved to Mountain Town only two days earlier.

December 19, 2005

Of the five transitions I've gone through in the last four years, Saturday's was by far the worst.

In the days leading up to our move, our parents allocated us one full week in which to pack. In practice, however, we had much less time to gather our things; after seven hours of school and a full night of homework, there was perhaps one half hour left before we went to bed, and no one wanted to spend it sorting through piles of clothes and such.

Then, on the night before the move, I was home just long enough to fill a single tote before Mom made me go to the store with her. We came back to the house, stayed there for about five minutes, and then went off to Mountain Town for some last-minute unloading.

Oh, that's right; Mom and Dad decided that, to save money, we would move most of our things, leaving only the "really big stuff" for the movers. The result was a laborious few days spent lugging endless totes, prolifically heavy boxes, a good deal of our own furniture, and even Betsy (Dad's motorcycle).

I can't tell you what fun it all was, getting up in the early morning to drag as many things as possible into our trailer, driving to Mountain Town on roads of pure ice, unloading the objects in frigid winter air, and then returning to Rich Town after several burdensome hours to start the process over again.

Really, just peachy.

We moved in on the 17th of December, and then began the tiresome task of digging through all of the boxes for our possessions. My stereo and computer, initially displaced, were located within a day of our relocation, but the green binder containing both my English and Physics classes remained unaccounted for.

Obviously, this caused me great distress, and I was adamant that it must be found.

Dad, thinking perhaps he had seen it in a pile of trash in Rich Town, asked Aunt Lesbian to check. She dug through our garbage and found a purple binder that I'd intentionally thrown away.

The mere act, however, made me feel inclined to view Aunt Lesbian in a much more positive light than I had before. This more amicable attitude towards my aunt was dissolved literally within minutes.

Frantic over the lost binder, I tried to get Mom to tell me the day and time at which the trashmen would come.

After answering a single question, she told me she'd "had enough."

When I tried to ask a second question, she went into a fit of screeches.

"Answer my question!" I yelled over her screams, at which point she exclaimed, "Fuck you, BB!"

Furious, I stalked into the kitchen, where Aunt Lesbian eyed me sharply and said in a dangerous tone, "Don't you talk to my sister that way."

I was already emotionally charged by the whole experience of the move and angry at Aunt Lesbian for earlier rudeness in the weekend, and so I said the first thing that popped into my head: "Shut up and mind your own damn business."

It was as if an atomic bomb had gone off in our kitchen.

The next thing I knew, my mother, Aunt Lesbian, and I were facing off in an explosive three-way screaming match that shook the polished countertops and sent Pie into hysterics.

Tomorrow I'll find out if I got into Major University!!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

First Snow

The weather here during the last week has been the quintessential embodiment of Southern State winters: a long belt of frigid and bone-dry days broken, when the temperature finally edged above freezing, by pitiful showers of icy rain.

This region is often snow-starved despite prolonged stretches of bitter cold, but last Friday we received a glorious surprise.

This paltry dusting--which took until December 10th to arrive--was nothing special, and must certainly seem irrelevant to my many Northern readers used to far harsher climes, but for us it had significance. When you've suffered through a freezing couple of months without so much as an ounce of snow, you'll take what you can get.

Friday's sprinkling of white was not the only sign of the season.

On Saturday, December 4th, thousands of heavily layered people converged on Mountain Town's Main Street to enjoy the annual Christmas Parade.

Young men resplendent in white carrying gleaming bronze instruments, teenage girls wielding fluttering scarlet banners, town council members in an open wooden cart, and countless others (some of them on horseback) processed through streets and waved to the thick crowds on either side.

The sound of cheering intermingled with the Christmas music playing over the town's PA system.

Mountain Town, with its festive decorations, isn't the only place that's been bedecked lately.

This has always been my favorite time of year. As the landscape outside deadens but, typically, offers no sheen of white to redeem the sunless skies and leafless trees, we turn for cheer to our homes, the sparkling Yuletide realms of our own creation.

At the holiday's approach, I try as much as I can to dismiss my worries, which the logical part of me knows I have amplified but which vex me nonetheless. I focus on the fine food, and my friends, and visits to family. I focus on heartwarming music and the birth of my Savior, and the many small things that I have to occupy my time and draw forth my gratitude.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Going for the High Notes

When I posted my last singing video, one reader commented that my upper register had more clarity than my lower register.

High notes have always been easier for me, so I decided to post a song that plays to my strengths. The following is my cover of Kelly Clarkson's "Don't Let Me Stop You." Be warned: the high parts are very high and very loud.

I hope you guys like it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

How I Spent My Holiday

I am including, for the first time since I started blogging, a non-musical video. I will apologize in advance for the fact that the footage is sideways; I shot it with my digital camera and have not been able to figure out how to rotate it. The video will give you a feel for the atmosphere at my Aunt Crazy's recent Thanksgiving get-together. At one point you can hear Cool Cousin advise, "Mom, lean your weight."

I thought I could not bear to be with my parents for Thanksgiving.

So I didn't.

Instead, I packed my bags and headed off to visit the one adult who has consistently acted in my best interests: Grand Ma Normal Family.

My father's mother has her faults, but I've learned to navigate around them. When she brings up, in the middle of casual conversation, some falling out that happened ten years ago, I remark on the unseasonable warmth of the weather. When the current of our discussion steers anywhere near the poisonous reservoir of hate she feels toward my parents, I ask for more cheesecake.

She either takes the hint or is successfully driven off course, and we're able to proceed on in tranquility.

It's easy for me, when the world seems chaotic and unfeeling, to yearn for the comfort of my grandmother's home. She and my late grandfather moved there in 1985, a full three years before I was even born, and she has remained ever since.

I attended four different elementary schools, three different middle schools, and three different high schools and have lived under seven roofs since 2001, but her tastefully decorated house has been a stalwart constant. It has also, just as constantly, been a refuge from the evils that exist outside of its walls.

When I was a child, those evils were all too manifest.

Everywhere offered me more demons and more pain, but my grandmother offered, for the most part at least, love, acceptance, a shoulder to cry on, and a whole lot of homemade cookies.

"This is my favorite place in the world," I once told my father when he came to pick me up.

"Really?" he asked, his face quizzical. "Why?"

He can't see through my eyes, of course.

As I've gotten older, my attitude toward the house at the end of a suburban lane has changed, albeit very slightly.

Now no longer my only salvation from unrelenting cruelty, visits to see my grandmother have become exercises in relaxation, occasions to remove myself from the world and gain perspective. The fact that her residence sits in the epicenter of my tormentors' plastic and rubbish kingdom, a region once so violently hostile to me that I am still afraid to venture out in public there, only adds to the appeal.

When I at last arrive safely in her driveway and drag my luggage inside, I feel I've entered a well-apportioned island of luxury and security in the middle of a boiling ocean.

That sea fortress is a particularly happy one to inhabit.

Its walls and doors are thick and sturdy, its cupboards and refrigerators stocked with delicious treats, its prosperous adornments the only ones that I have known uninterrupted for all my life.

I got there on Monday, November 22nd, and was treated my very first evening to homemade lasagna, which of course was delicious.

After a night of snacking and intimate talks, Grand Ma Normal Family and I were joined Tuesday afternoon by Tall Cousin, the seventeen-year-old son of my father's brother, Tall Uncle.

I don't see very much of Tall Cousin (his father and mine experienced a major fraying in relations when I was young and have not spoken in about ten years), but what I do concerns me, chiefly because it reminds me so much of myself.

An interesting contrast can be made with Rowdy Cousin, the son of my father's sister (Sweet Aunt) and also seventeen.

Rowdy Cousin, like Tall Cousin, is a Senior in high school. Rowdy Cousin also has parents who divorced and remarried and is also planning on attending college next year, but the similarities basically end there.

Rowdy Cousin is an only child, a young man doted upon by a loving father, an affectionate stepfather, and a mother who is fiercely protective but has been wise enough to give her son space and latitude. He is well adjusted, juggling a part-time job, a full social calendar, a vigorous athletic life, and all the mundane demands of high school with concerted efforts to win admission to one of Native State's best universities, where he hopes to study criminal justice.

He has this unnerving calm, in my view borne of exceptional parenting, that I've never seen in someone so young. If you ask him about his life or where he wants to go, he will look you in the eye without a hint of nervousness and tell you his goals. He is confident without being proud, firm without being forceful, a social butterfly without being insincere. I don't imagine that he's ever once doubted himself in his life.

Tall Cousin is a fitting counterpoint, a figure so opposite Rowdy Cousin that it seems the two were made just to be juxtaposed beside one another.

Tall Cousin, by all accounts an innocent teenager, has endured the double misfortune of a stepmother who treats him badly and a father too weak to intervene. Combine this with a mother as suffocatingly protective as she is religious and you get a boy whose personal growth has been seriously stunted.

All of this scares me to death for him because it mirrors so closely what I was, follows so exactly a story whose progress I know very well.

I, like him, was shockingly innocent at seventeen; I, like him, came from a background of abuse (though his seems to lack the physical component that made mine so terrifying); and I, like him, did not have many friends.

Whether through chance or design (it is more, I suspect, design), Tall Cousin has very few mates and rarely goes out. That doesn't bother him, for now. He's got his home and his computer games that are incessantly on, and at present that's enough. Soon, though, it won't be.

When the warm surroundings of childhood are replaced with what initially seem to be the cold ones of university, he will, if he is anything like me, desperately crave companionship. He will also, if he is anything like me, find that eighteen years of failing to lay any groundwork leaves you with a poor foundation on which to build a life.

I really hope I'm wrong about this awkward young man, this boy who seems so standoffish to those unfamiliar with him.

For if I'm not, I know exactly what is about to happen to him, and it breaks my heart to think of how awful it will be.

I have tried to do what I can, encouraging him to assert his independence from his domineering mother and showing him the school clubs for the community college where he is thinking of going, but the whole time I couldn't help but wonder if I was staring at a 6'3" version of myself.

"So BB," he asked in a moment that revealed more than I think he realized. "How do you make friends in college?"

"Oh, it's easy," I lied. "You hang out with your roommates and go to clubs and before long you'll know tons of people."

For many, that would be true.

But for a seventeen-year-old boy with almost no friends, confidence-crushing parents, a narrow worldview informed by religious dogma, and painful shyness, I fear things will be a lot more complicated.

I pray that I am mistaken.

In the meantime, Tall Cousin remains ensconced in an insulated cocoon of church and video games and visits to his grandmother's house. Only time will tell how he emerges from it.

He accompanied my grandmother and me Thanksgiving day on our much anticipated trip to Aunt Crazy's house.

Aunt Crazy, as her name suggests, has quite a bit of personal flair.

The same woman whose chronic forgetfulness has resulted in hysterical social gaffes and joking accusations of dementia is famous for her gusty declarations of "It's hard out here to be a pimp!" and her willingness to do almost anything, no matter how ridiculous, in the name of a good time.

"You know, your Aunt Crazy was always the life of the party," my grandmother has told me on countless occasions. "When we were younger she'd be the one dancing on a table or leading the mambo line. And boy could she wail. She sang just like Janis Joplin."

It's good to see that some things never change.

Aunt Crazy is refreshing to me, and not just because of her profligate insanity.

She, and most of the rest of my father's family, stand as an ideal that I have always found comforting, especially in contrast to the violence and lunacy that abound in the families of my mother and birth-mother.

Aunt Crazy and Uncle Responsible never hit their two daughters (Cool Cousin and Liberal Cousin), and when those daughters graduated high school their middle-class parents ate less and leveraged more to ensure that the girls were put through college.

"Your Aunt Crazy and Uncle Responsible went into debt to pay for their school," my grandmother said. "They did without for years. They felt like it was worth it, though."

That verdict seems to be correct.

Today Liberal Cousin is happily married to her high school sweetheart, is a doting mother to her intelligent and courteous ten-year-old son, and occupies a position as the president of a wildly successful communication services company that counts among its clients some of the biggest corporations in the world.

Cool Cousin is an established chiropractor who hasn't slowed down enough to start a family; when she isn't at her office she's out on the town with friends, or hiking through the Costa Rican rain forest, or volunteering on the ground in Haiti to provide crucial relief, as she did in March.

Sweet Aunt, my father's sister, is one of the most elegant and refined women I have ever met, and her husband, Uncle Mustache, matches her kindness with his gregariousness. Uncle Mustache and Sweet Aunt, like Uncle Responsible and Aunt Crazy, have applied discipline without contorting it into abuse, and their son is a singularly happy boy with a bright future because of their stewardship.

Apart from wondering where and how my father fell off of this bandwagon, seeing his relatives gives me hope for the future that can be.

They are financially stable, professionally successful, emotionally mature, and able to provide the love and support that parents should because they are actual adults with an actual sense of moral obligation. Not one of their number has ever shown me anything but respect and affection.

I want to be like them.

In particular, I may wish to emulate Aunt Crazy, whose every word and action make her the very definition of joviality.

Anyone who can hop on the Wii Fit in her mid-sixties, flail around like a discombobulated chicken, and still come out as the crowd favorite is a winner in my book.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On the Move

I know that in my last entry I promised you a scorcher, but I just don't have the heart for it. It was bad. For now, though, let's just leave it at that. I'll write about it when I'm ready.

At present, I will content myself to discuss the more relevant (and decidedly more pleasant) subject of the packed schedule I have for the following week.

Living at home, particularly while being off from school, is an odd thing in many ways. I have no classes but have not graduated; I work two jobs, but together they add to only a few days a week; I have limitless time, but few social engagements.

The slow pace of things, and the knowledge that nothing in particular is expected or really needed of me, creates a set of circumstances wherein it would be easy to sink into sloth and boredom. To be honest, that can be rather dispiriting, so I've taken to creating my own tasks and deadlines.

The hardest thing for me has been the lack of social interaction.

At school I became accustomed to going out every weekend, meeting up with friends for casual dinners during the week, attending endless bashes across campus, and enjoying the serendipitous encoutners that are a constant occurrence on any university campus.

To be sure, there are many positive things about being in Mountain Town: there's no homework, and while everyone else is stressing over exams I'm reading five books at a time and enjoying spinach-and-bean soup.

Still, though, it can be tough. I'm a person who needs other people as an outlet for my own good cheer, and being in a small town where I have few friends has been lonely.

For that reason, my plans for the next week or so are rather exciting.

Tonight, I will send out e-mails to get information for a News Website story I'm writing. Tomorrow I'll work from eleven to four before heading out for a musical meetup at five, and then on Friday the real fun begins.

After working a full shift at Mountain Town Book Shop, I will leave around five o'clock for what promises to be a debauched weekend at Major University. Red-Haired Friend is turning twenty-two, and we're using the occasion as an opportunity for a reunion.

I made a similar trip last month and had great fun, and my visit this weekend promises to be even better.

Rather than bunking with Red-Haired Friend I'll be staying in Laquesha's dorm. For those of you who don't know, Laquesha is one of my closest friends, a fact that has come as something of a surprise to both of us given that we barely knew each other until last spring.

We met through Red-Haired friend and our initial interactions were actually a bit awkward. After a few immodest party incidents, though, and enough conversations to determine a shared penchant for ribaldry and weirdness, we started to get along rather well.

What up until then had been an unusually friendly casual acquaintance really blossomed this summer when Laquesha, a biology major, was assigned to a facility in a rural part of this state only about twenty minutes from my house.

Isolated from our peers at Major University and with all the issues common of young people trying to forge their place in the world, we provided each other with constant company and by the end of the holiday had grown very close.

"What the hell are they laughing at?" asked an attendee at Red-Haired Friend's October party.

Laquesha and I had been playing a crass and lowbrow game of my own invention, one that involves inferring sexual innuendo from unsuspecting bystanders' casual conversations.

"I have no idea," Red-Haired Friend said, casting a glance our way as our ill-concealed laughter grew more raucous. "But apparently they have their own language now. I'm not used to them being best buddies."

To lighten the hospitality load on Red-Haired Friend, who would have more difficulty accommodating me as all of her roommates are in town this weekend, I'll be staying on an air mattress at Laquesha's place.

This should work out well on several levels.

To begin with, Laquesha and I share a similarly demented sense of humor.

Using a display on her door, Laquesha divines the innermost thoughts of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Furthermore, Laquesha's building is nearly in the middle of campus while Red-Haired Friend's is more removed, which will make accessing the dining hall far easier.

On Friday night Red-Haired Friend, Laquesha, Asian Boy (Laquesha's new boyfriend), and I will go out to see Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream; while on Saturday we will direct ourselves to far less admirable amusements, throwing a raucous and drunken celebration for Red-Haired Friend's twenty-second birthday.

On Sunday it's back to Mountain Town, but only for one night.

I leave Monday morning for Native State, where I'll spend five nights with Grand Ma Normal Family. My grandmother had been wanting to hold a large Thanksgiving dinner, but Aunt Crazy expressed a desire to host this year so we'll be congregating there along with almost twenty other relatives for the holiday feast.

I'm greatly looking forward to a week of great friends, great family, and awesome food.

Even here, though, I've been keeping relatively busy.

I'm still working at Mountain Town Book Shop and have now added a second job writing news articles for News Website, which operates out of the Goldlands. Beyond those two occupations, I've devoted far more time to creative pursuits than I would ordinarily be able to.

Many of you will remember that after my unsatisfactory meeting with some high-profile record executives in September I resolved to come home and record my demo. Thus far, efforts in that direction have progressed more quickly than I would have imagined.

I contacted a local recording studio and found them willing to provide me with two hours of time plus mixing and mastering for only $200.00, whereupon I sought out qualified musicians to help me.

The man who responded to my online advertisement was, unexpectedly a drummer in an already-signed band.

When I asked as politely as possible why he was so interested in helping me, he replied that he was "looking for a fun side project."

Evidently my original song sounded quite fun indeed, as before long his band's guitarist had signed on to the effort as well. After a meeting at Starbucks during which both parties determined that neither was secretly hoping to kill and dismember the other, we reassembled at the drummer's house and got to work coming up with instrumental parts to go along with my lyrics.

Unfortunately for my readers (and really for me as well, as I find sharing such things endlessly gratifying) I will not be posting any audio of these numbers or even disclosing the tracks' names.

I've been fairly open about my music before, but it's recently dawned on me that on the off chance I actually succeed I should probably take greater pains to conceal my identity.

This wasn't something I'd really taken into account up until now, but following my audience with senior personalities in the recording industry I realized that I'd come within striking distance of actual fame. Had the record men decided they liked me I might be in a very different position right now, and my faith in my abilities is such that I'm not willing to dismiss outright the possibility that I could encounter a similar opportunity in the future.

The last thing I need is an errant reader to be driving down the road one day, hear a song they recognize as mine, and then exclaim, "My God, it's BB!" before crashing head-on into a tree.

The process behind the music, however, is still open to total disclosure, and I am very happy to report the results in that area.

My first jam session with the guitarist and drummer yielded a huge amount accomplished in only three hours.

The fundamentals of Cathartic Breakup Song are finished and all that's left to finalize are specific riffs.

Meanwhile, enough was written for Wounded Anger Song that the drummer suggested recording it as well.

"We can definitely knock out the first song in an hour," he said. "And if you're paying for two hours anyway, you might as well get your money's worth."

The refreshing modesty and enormous talent of the two musicians helped matters along very nicely; the guitarist picked up on my embryonic chord ideas by ear and within minutes had expanded them into expressive and catchy melodies.

Their enthusiasm for the project took me a little offguard.

"You're a really good vocalist," the guitarist said. "It's enjoyable."

So enjoyable, in fact, that the two musicians would like to write music for my entire catalogue. When I inquired why they would wish to do such a thing, given the brevity of our association, they said they were hoping I'd play out with them.

"You're way too mainstream for our label," one of them confided in me honestly. "They would never sign you. But the music is fun to play."

I've been giving time to another endeavor as well: my query letter for Captain Vanilla and the Great Adventure has now been submitted to three different literary agents.

That update should keep you and me sated for a while. I'll be sure to post more from Native State or soon after I return.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Captain Vanilla and the Great Adventure, Part III

Both because it's been too long since the last installment of this story, and because I know that many of you are going to be very, very angry when you read my next post, I am offering something happy.

This is the third part in the saga of Vanilla, a nineteen-year-old captain on a very strange voyage. For those of you who are new or have not been following along, and for those of you who are a little dusty on the details, you can find Part I here and Part II here

Illustrations have been provided by the talented Cheryl de los Reyes Cruz, who may soon be joined by another artist.

They retreated to below decks as the air grew cooler, then watched the enormous red sun go down across the edge of a foreign planet. With no land for it to hide behind, it descended into the dark blue ocean, leaving a cavalcade of glittering stars behind it.

They started as faint lights in the sky, like smooth white stones, and then matured into spectacular diamonds as the sun bade the world goodnight, leaving the heavens a beautiful spectacle of shattered celestial glass.

“The sky doesn’t look like this at home,” Michael said, smiling up at it.

“No,” Stephanie said. “It doesn’t.”

Her voice sounded strange, and when Vanilla looked over he saw a tear sliding down her cheek.

“Stephanie?” he asked.

She looked at him questioningly, and he pointed to her face.

She lifted her hand to her eye, then drew it back, as if startled by the moisture she found there.

“Oh!” she said with a sniff. “I’m sorry. It’s just that it reminds me of something, something I can’t quite remember. It’s just so beautiful.”

From the kitchen, James’s voice called, “I hope everyone likes their steak medium rare!”

Stephanie laughed and rose from her seat.

“I’ll light a fire,” she said, moving over to the fireplace that rested in the wall next to the stairs. After several minutes of fiddling with logs of wood and matches, she had a decent blaze going.

“This will be nice for dinner,” she remarked, staring into the flames. “I didn’t realize how cold it would be here at night.”

Michael put his hand to the pane of the wall-length window.

“It’s already chilly,” he said. When he drew his palm back, it left a fog on the glass.

James continued to cook, and the other three pulled up chairs in front of the fireplace, enjoying a silence unbroken by anything save the crackle of the wood and the quiet whistling from the kitchen.

When the chef was finished, he brought out a large plate heaped with pink steaks.

“I hope it’s alright,” he said. “I had a lot to work with, so it should be; this is filet mignon.”

“Wow,” Stephanie said. “Somebody left us well prepared.”

“There were some greens as well,” James said. “In an actual ice box, can you believe it? I made those, too. Help me with it, will you?”

Stephanie accompanied him to the kitchen, and they returned with asparagus, cauliflower, and a bottle of wine.

The vast chamber seemed naked; large enough to seat two or three families, the dining room table was bare except for the small space near the back of the room occupied by four people. Vanilla, as captain, sat at the end, a position which put his back directly to the fire.

He smiled with comfort as James parceled out steaks and vegetables and Stephanie passed round glasses and the wine bottle. When it came to him, Vanilla looked at the dried paper wrapped around the aged glass.

It read only: Vinum Aegypticus, 1323BC.

“1323BC?” Vanilla whispered. “It can’t be…”

James took the first sip of the wine, and his eyes closed in ecstasy.

The other three tipped their glasses to their mouths and let liquid gold pour down their throats. It was like grape juice and honey, incredibly sweet. Vanilla’s tongue lolled about, drinking in the rich taste.

“I hope your cooking can compare to that,” he joked to James.

“I hope so,” the boy replied, picking up his knife and fork and preparing to dig in. “I tried, at least.”

The meat was tender and juicy, raw enough to be succulent, well done enough that it did not sicken. The cut danced in the mouth, gently inviting one to have more.

By the time the meal was done, everyone had reached the conclusion that James was a truly remarkable cook.

He thanked the others for their lavish compliments, then suggested they move their chairs back to the fire again, which they did, taking the opportunity to have a relaxed discussion about their plans.

“So, Captain,” Stephanie said. “You’re the only one who can read the map. Where do you suggest we go?”

“Let me see it,” he replied.

She pulled it out of her pocket, and Vanilla examined it in firelight that glowed the exact same shade as his hair.

Abutting the dotted line on either side were clusters of clouds, on top of which were painted trees, rocks, waterfalls.

“Well,” Vanilla said, pointing to the drawings. “These mean something, along the sides here.”

The others all looked mystified, so he continued, “The map is telling us to go somewhere. I don’t know where, but it’s along the route of the line. Everything else is just sky.”

Everyone nodded.

“So…” he mused. “I say we head for what’s closest.”

He plunked his finger down on nearest part of the map.

“It’s a little bit northwest of here, but I’m not sure how big the distance is. It could be one mile or a thousand. There’s no scale here. It’s just endless.”

He looked down toward the bottom of the map, where a little roving X he hadn’t noticed before drifted about the page, with the miniscule words “You are here” following along beside it.

“We should go up and readjust course,” James said. “I’ll help you.”

“Thanks,” Vanilla replied.

The two boys got up and headed for the stairs, while Stephanie and Michael sat behind, warming their hands. Stephanie looked content, but there was a trace of anxiety on Michael’s face he was trying to hide. He leaned forward as if to talk to her as the other boys left the room, but the door closed behind them and Vanilla didn’t hear what he said.

Both he and James were shocked by how cold it was above decks.

James rubbed his hands over the goosebumps on his arms. His breath came out like smoke when he turned to Vanilla and asked, “Where are we now?”

“Headed south,” Vanilla smiled. “In the exact opposite direction from where we need to be going.”

James laughed and the two of them turned the wheel together, bringing the ship around.

“We’re on course now,” James said, patting Vanilla on the back. They walked down the stairs to the main deck, and James turned to continue down to the dining room.

“Are you coming?” he asked, for Vanilla had paused on the landing.

“No,” Vanilla replied. “I’ll be in in a minute. I just want to think.”

“Okay,” James said. He retreated through the doorway into the warm light of the cabin below.

Vanilla leaned on the railing and stared out into a black velvet sky pierced by the beams of a thousand heaven-bound gems.

What struck him most about the night scene was the silence, unnatural, ethereal, that fell across the whole of the shimmering sky and the encompassed the vast, motionless ocean beneath him, an ocean black but for the reflection of the hundreds of suns above it.

It was a silence that wasn’t silence, a hush; as if the stars themselves had gasped in astonishment at their own beauty. The icy air stung his nose and made it harder to fight the tears.

A pair of thin arms appeared on the railing next to his own. He didn’t have to look up to see whom they belonged to; a strand of golden hair rested atop one of the hands. The other person inhaled sharply, as if meaning to say something, then decided against it. A swish of blonde told Vanilla that the figure’s head had twisted away from him.

Then, slowly, the narrow neck turned left again, pointing its owner’s face out toward the interminable black where the ocean ended and the sky began.

Vanilla’s breath came out in billowy huffs, which he couldn’t disguise because the cold turned them into spouts of steam.

When he finally looked over, Michael’s blue eyes were squinted together, tears pouring down his fair face.

“I’m sorry,” he said without looking at Vanilla. “But it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And I don’t know why it makes me so sad.”

He stopped to wipe his eyes.

“Maybe it’s because I realize for the first time that there’s more,” he continued. “And it’s awful that people never…”

“I’ve seen something much more beautiful,” Vanilla said.

He almost gasped aloud the moment the words left his mouth. He’d not meant to say them, not meant to stare at the other boy like that when he did, but something just brought them out. It was the night, and the air, and the way the sky twinkled at you.

He looked down and blushed furiously.

Michael gulped.

“I—I’ll see you in the morning,” he said.

“Yeah,” Vanilla breathed.

Michael walked to the staircase and turned, his face a portrait of pain and confusion. His instinctive happiness had bubbled over these feelings all his life, but neither emotion had been ripped to the surface with such visceral bluntness before. He opened his mouth, closed it, and went inside.

Vanilla stared out at the stars for half an hour.

He turned from that awesome sight, cast a glance at the beds lined up on the poop deck, and descended two flights of stairs to the sleeping quarters. There, he fell into a green four-poster and was asleep within minutes.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Character of a Nation

My last post warrants further elaboration and I will provide that in the near future. I obviously would not have put the entry on this website if I did not intend to discuss it.

In the spirit of the historic election concluded one night ago, however, I felt that a reflection on the current political and cultural climate of our nation was in order. I am relaying that critique from my unique perspective as a political journalist.

I was hired about two weeks ago to provide freelance news content of a political nature to a website operating out of the Goldlands. My third assignment was to head over to Rich Town on Tuesday afternoon and interview voters and poll workers, gauging their motivations and policy preferences.

What I found profoundly sickened me.

In my professional capacity I could never voice aloud the strong political views I hold, nor could I make known my opinion of those masses who yesterday evening headed to the ballot box and gave control of the House of Representatives to the GOP.

Here, however, I am free to speak my mind, and I will.

I am disgusted.

I am nauseated by the puerility, simple-mindedness, self-righteousness, and sheer unabated ignorance that seem to be the defining characteristics of a majority of American citizens.

I spoke last night with ten different people, three of them Democrats and seven Republicans, and expected at worst to hear from the conservatives a diatribe of ideological dogma whose tenets I disagreed with.

As it turns out, I'd given the people a bit too much credit.

Among the politicians, among the elected officials, there is certainly a binding set of ideals. Half of the Tea Party candidates may not be able to string together a coherent sentence expressing their policy positions, but the national Republican leaders are at least able to weave plausible-sounding lies as they grin at the unbelievable scam the American electorate is letting them pull.

Among the voters themselves, though, the rank and file who were the impetus of yesterday's wave, there is no such thing as ideology. There is no such thing as policy. There is just a vaguely-defined fear of "freedom" being taken away, a longing for a past that never existed, and an anger for its own sake that stubbornly disregards the tremendous benefits conferred on the country by many Democratic measures.

Of the seven different Republicans I spoke with, not one (with the single exception of a town councilman) could name for me an actual, factually-based issue that had roused their concern. Several claimed that the healthcare bill, which is almost exclusively an insurance-regulation law, created socialized medicine, and one young man seemed certain that President Obama had repealed the federal ban on partial-birth abortion, but of course neither of these things is true.

The reasons for their discontent, and thus for inaugurating a major political power shift in our country, never went beyond misconceptions, outright lies, and thinly-veiled racism.

Some of their statements were so outrageous that my editor would not print them. Here are some of the gems that never made it to the Web:

* "This is just the way we were raised, and in order to remain free it's important that we stay true to that."

* "I'm concerned about freedom of speech. There's been talk of trying to shut down people who have this belief in our country, this belief in freedom of speech." [The speaker was referring to Fox News pundit Glen Beck, who has evidently been the target of political persecution]

* "I haven't been given any kind of feeling that [President Obama] is a Christian at all. I don't think he is."

* "The government is looking to a certain type of religion and wants to make it the religion of government. There is an effort to incorporate that into the Constitution, and that would diminish our freedom."

* "The current administration is trying to point our country toward Marxism and a one-world order, step by step."

* "President Obama wants to impose Islam on America. If he had the chance I believe he would." [The fact that the President has failed to act thus far on his religious convictions despite spending the last two years as Chief Magistrate with a majority in the House of Representatives and a supermajority in the Senate did not strike the voter as strange]

* "I don't know anything about [the Democratic nominee for Congress]."

* "The Democrats are all for letting people run over our borders, because they think those people will vote for them." [The Latin horde will presumably be unhindered in its electoral takeover of the U.S. by the constitutional requirement that voters be citizens]

* "Nancy Pelosi--I can't put my finger on it, but she just makes my toes curl. Obama, too."

* "As a person who doesn't have healthcare, I always applaud efforts to get me healthcare." [A Republican voter, explaining why he is opposed to "big government" but conflicted over the healthcare bill]

This is not out in the blighted countryside. This is in a well-educated, prosperous suburb, in one of the wealthiest regions of the United States.

If the contagion of idiocy and fanaticism has spread even here, to this land of professionals and college graduates, then what must it be like elsewhere?

I don't know what to do or think.

I do know, however, that this country's voters have once again proven themselves to be imbecilic children with nothing to say and nothing to offer.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I am. In so many ways. Sometimes I don't know what's good or bad or whether I'm to blame. I hate others and hate myself and in the end all of that toxicity just blends into something that's neither coherent nor expressible, just a mindless profusion of impotent anger.

There are nights when I want to melt into the darkness and be nothing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Selected Entries: October, 2003

When I first started this blog, what were then termed Journals Sections were supposed to be posted every week. I soon figured out that there was a lot more to talk about. That being said, glimpses of my past can help construct my present, and I feel that they are a valuable part of the site.

In October of 2003, exactly seven years ago, I was fifteen years old and in one of the happiest periods of my life.

Some of that happiness was illusory; my escape from the truly awful conditions of Dirty Town two years earlier moved me to overlook or downplay difficulties that I faced in Beautiful Town, such as bullying and regular domestic abuse.

There were also several catalysts of latent unhappiness that I did not recognize.

My unacknowledged homosexuality was a constant hindrance, a source of awkwardness and uncertainty that effectively crippled my social life. This was made all the worse, particularly in retrospect, by the fact that I was extremely pretty at that age but also totally unaware of it. Whenever I did notice the male attention directed my way, I found it repulsive and traumatizing.

The knowledge that I was at the height of my beauty while in a state of closeted chastity would later be a source of endless torment.

October 4, 2003

Powell scared us all to death on Thursday the second of October.

Thomas and I had already been home for about ten or fifteen minutes when he came home and went upstairs in a foul temperament. Assuming that he was just in one of his regular moods, I paid no heed to it, only to comment sourly that he was in another stupid disposition and that he’d take it out on everyone else.

Mom arrived home. To my great surprise, she and my father will actually be paying for my class ring. The one that I picked out is a celestial silver with a centerpiece diamond, my birthstone. It costs about five hundred dollars.

Mom said that instead of the diamond, which would add to the ring’s cost, she is going to get me the cubic zirconium, but I disagreed. I only get one class ring, and I want it to be special. I want my actual birthstone, not some cheap imitation.

Anyway, Powell was ranting and raving upstairs, so I decided to see what was the matter. I walked upstairs and asked him what was wrong.

He just yelled angrily, “Go away!”

I was within instants of saying, “What’s the matter, did someone give you an IQ test?” but I didn't. That’s when I heard Mom asking him what had happened. Powell was crying hysterically; he could remember almost nothing of the past week, and he was sincerely convinced that it was Monday. His pupils were dilated and for several minutes we thought that somebody had slipped him drugs. I privately thought that he might have taken some willingly, but even if he had, now certainly wasn’t the time to be angry with him. He needed help. Naturally, he was terrified.

He was continually asking what was happening to him. My father took him to the emergency room, just after a visit from First Twin and Second Twin relieved us all considerably. Powell had been wrestling with a boy out front and had hit his head on the concrete. He had a mild concussion! He wasn’t on drugs at all! We were so happy.

Well, we obviously weren’t too happy, because Powell had suffered a concussion, but happy all the same. It was when I learned who he had been wrestling with that rage boiled within me. The boy who had thrown Powell to the ground was none other than Annoying Boy. Never mind that now, though. It does have a happy ending, and I’ll go into that tomorrow.

October 13, 2003

Now approaches the glorious winter.

October 14, 2003

I’ve been invited to a girl named Lauren’s party. I don’t know her too well; I sit with her at lunch every other day, but she said I should come. She and Lacrosse Boy are good friends.

October 23, 2003

Last night was one of fury and indignation. Powell and I were send to bed by Mom at eight-thirty p.m. (approximately) for not getting Thomas a towel and for playing on Mom and Dad’s bed (the same thing that Thomas regularly does). We were, and rightly, too, extremely angry. We have agreed that the System is making a stand. We are already operating under Code Red. I have reconciled with Mom and Dad, but Powell is being unfairly punished tonight for forgetting to take out some trash from the yard.

October 27, 2003

I hate my body. I’m tall and gangly and awkward. I never appreciated the elegance of my own form until it mutated into something ugly.

October 30, 2003

I am so relieved!!! My best-case scenario came true! I have a 4.0! I received As in all of my classes except Geometry, in which I got B-. The grade had been a 89.4% (I scored only a 52% on the midterm), but my teacher said that she had rounded the grade to a B- because I tried so hard. She said, “Well, you earned it.” She can be pretty awesome sometimes. I was delighted when my chorus teacher told me that I’d earned an A in her class. I got, to my euphoric shock, a 93% on my Biology midterm. I got a 94% on the Business Law midterm.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Sun

I am meant to stride the world
You can't convince me otherwise
With mountain cliffs to be my feet
And shining stars to be my eyes

I am meant to touch the waves
From east to west my arms will reach
My left hand holds the Orient
My right the Occidental beach

I am meant to feel the sky
And through it I will surely run
No human rope is strong enough
To tie to ground the rising sun

I am meant to be the wind
That thunders loudly through the air
The frozen night will be my voice
The fuchsia sky will be my hair

I am meant to sing for joy
And radiate for my heart's sake
Those who try to block my way
Will only stumble in my wake

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Onset of Fall

I, like many others, am prone to occasional bouts of silliness. In keeping with this, I sometimes bemoan that tremendous blessings were not even greater, and that in achieving something uncommon I did not go further.

I've been very busy during the days that summer has turned to autumn.

To make a long story short, I found myself, through a combination of luck, cunning, talent, and a fair amount of deception, singing before one of the music industry's most famous and powerful men about two months ago.

My brother and I debated how conscious he was of the role that dissembling played in my meeting him at all, and reached the conclusion that he most likely knew but didn't care. I certainly wasn't going to ask him.

In any case, he was taken enough with my rendition of several numbers that he arranged for me to perform for another famous and powerful man connected with one of the largest record labels in the world.

The second man did not much care for me, and my immediate relationship with the company, which had been considering pursuing a recording deal with me, ended.

For a little bit, at least, I was upset at having stopped where I did and angry at myself for not having won over such a crucial decision-maker. After the initial sting of defeat had worn off, however, I started to put things into perspective.

I was able to meet with and sing for an individual who has engineered the careers of some of popular music's greatest superstars. Even doing that was a huge accomplishment in its own right. And while he decided that I wasn't a good fit for his particular label, his verdict did not diminish my talent at all. If anything, I ought to be proud that my voice impressed the first gentleman enough for him to put together the audience to begin with. Vocal ability and perceived commercial potential are two very different things.

Something I've realized is that one setback, no matter at what level, does not end a career and does not preclude a person from having other chances elsewhere. Already I'm in the process of arranging to record a demo in a professional studio.

I will soldier on, and whatever may come I will know I gave it my all.

In the meantime, the multitude of my life's large and small gifts continues in a seemingly endless procession of bounty.

One of the greatest pleasures I have, as I sit in a beautiful house surrounded by family and plentitude, is watching as Fall rolls upon the landscape and touches its fertile fingers to the soil.

The colder nights have led to many evenings in with Beautiful Cousin, huddled over bowls of my mother's delicious chicken and dumplings or sitting in front of the television with popcorn and a shared movie as we exchange playful insults.

Beautiful Cousin's family is far away, and we try hard to make her feel that she is part of ours.

This time of year has always been enchanting to me. Sometimes I fancy that I can sense spirits darting in between the changing trees, a sentiment I'm sure my late grandmother would have appreciated.

I have a lot to be thankful for, and, hopefully, more yet to come.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Finally Figured Out How to Do This

The following is a video of me singing that hopefully everyone can actually view. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hair Update

It's been a really long while since I posted one of these--since June in fact. To fill newer readers in, the Hair Update is a tradition that began two years ago. After shaving my head in October of 2006, I decided to grow my hair out very long, and since September of 2008 I've been sharing the progress with my blog followers.

Back in June, my hair was pretty long:

Even with a trim in between June and now, though, my hair today makes my hair at the beginning of the summer look practically short.

"Damn, BB," Younger Neighbor exclaimed as I took my hair tie out today and let the locks spill across my shoulders and chest. "Your hair is long as fuck!"

I'd have to say he's right:

I like it well enough, but now that it's gotten this long I'm not sure what to do with it. Should I let it keep growing? I already get enough attention for it as it is, and I'm not inclined to turn into a circus attraction with a waist-length ponytail.

On the other hand, I don't really have any really firm desire to cut it, at least not yet. The urge comes from time to time, buttressed by the knowledge that I actually look very nice with short hair, but when I reflect that it's taken nearly four years to grow my hair the appeal of the thought is tempered.

We'll have to see.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Captain Vanilla and the Great Adventure, Part II

After my last post, I thought it appropriate to put something on that was a bit more uplifting. Per earlier reader requests, I am posting Part II of my story, Captain Vanilla and the Great Adventure. I am also pleased to announce that I am collaborating with Cheryl de los Reyes Cruz, a blogger and talented illustrator whom many of my readers are likely already familiar with. Cheryl will be providing one illustration for each chapter of the story, but if any other budding artists out there would like to contribute as well I'd be happy to include additional images.

If you are new to the story, feel free to read Part I so you can become acquainted with what's going on.

I'd also like to note in advance that a character you are about to encounter, named Michael, is in no way meant to be a representation of me, despite our superficial resemblance. Even I am nowhere near that vain. I hope everyone likes Vanilla's ongoing saga and I look forward to feedback.

Vanilla screamed in shock when he opened his eyes and then spun around, disoriented by his impossible surroundings. When he'd fallen asleep, it was surely in his own bedroom, but now his bed and its soaked blankets rested on the deck of a wooden ship.

"Where am I!?!" he screamed.

Next to his own bed were three others lined up in a row, one blue, one purple, and one pink. Vanilla's was green.

He looked up through the rain to see the same boy from his dream, the one with the spiky black hair, rushing toward the ship's mast.

"Hey!" he yelled. "Hey!"

The boy turned to him, his face worried.

"Where are we?" Vanilla asked.

"Help!" the boy responded. "We have to get out from under this cloud!"

Their vessel had settled directly beneath a black storm cloud that was pelting them with heavy rain. It must have been low-lying, because it was closer to them than Vanilla had ever seen a cloud get to anything on the ground.

He walked to the ship's railing to get a better look and his head spun with vertigo; they were floating not upon the sea but in the air, so high up that there were other clouds beneath them and the ground wasn't visible.

Vanilla turned to address the boy once again, but he was at the mast pushing on one of the sails with all his might.

Vanilla ran over and began to push as well.

"Go to the other side!" the boy instructed. The rain was coming down so brutally now that Vanilla could barely make out his face. "And pull! As hard as you can!"

Vanilla obeyed, seizing the wooden cylinder to which the bottom of one of the sails was connected. As he applied his bodyweight to the task the sail turned, and Vanilla saw what the boy was trying to do.

The readjusted sail caught a strong gust of wind coming up from behind them, and propelled them straight up through the cloud to calmer skies.

"You can stop," the boy called over. "We did it. Thank you."

Vanilla was panting, but he managed to ask again, "Where are we?"

The boy looked him straight in the face. He was about Vanilla's height, with chalky white skin and rosy cheeks studded with brilliant blue eyes. He looked like he smiled a lot.

"We don't know," he answered.

"'We'"? Vanilla asked.

From behind another sail emerged a boy and a girl, both looking exhausted because, as Vanilla realized, they'd been working too.

"How many are there?" Vanilla asked.

"Just us three," the boy answered. "Well, four now."

"When did he get here?" the girl asked. She was pretty, with a round, tan face, bright green eyes and beautiful oak hair that shimmered down to past her shoulders.

"While we were turning out of that storm," the black-haired boy answered, gesturing over to where Vanilla's bed lay next to the three others.

"I'm James, by the way," the boy said. "What's your name?"

"I'm Vanilla," he replied. "I'm from Paris."

"Really?" James asked, his face breaking into a white-toothed grin. "Me, too! Where do you go to school?"

"The Paris School of Architecture," Vanilla recited. "Or I used to. I decided to drop out."

"I go to the University of Paris," James said. "I don't really like it. I wish I was brave enough to drop out, too. I'm only in my first year, though, and my father says it's unwise."

"We're the same age then," Vanilla smiled.

"Are you nineteen?" James asked.

Vanilla nodded.

"I'm twenty," the girl said, extending her hand. "My name's Stephanie."

"Are you from Paris, too?" Vanilla asked.

"No," she said. "I'm from England. I don't think we're speaking English, though, or any language at all that we know about. Neither of you have an accent to me."

"You don't have one to me, either," Vanilla said. "You sound just like us. And if you really listen, the words sound strange, like they're foreign. I understand you the way I understand French, and I speak like I would speak French, but it doesn't sound French."

"Doesn't it?" Stephanie asked. "It still sounds like English to me. I just figured it wasn't because James said he was from France, but neither one of us sounded odd to the other."

"I don't know," Vanilla said. "Maybe I'm imagining it."

"Well, I'm out of school too now," she said. "I was finishing up my second year studying history, but my mother died. I couldn't stay. I don't really know what I'll do now."

"I'm sorry about that," Vanilla said.

"I am, too," she said.

Vanilla turned to the second boy and began to ask who he was, but then his voice faltered. He hadn't actually looked at him before, being so absorbed in introducing himself to the other two and figuring out where they were.

The boy's beauty was extraordinary.

He was a few inches taller than Vanilla, with long, sinewy arms that ended in delicate fingers. His face, as fair as white rose petals, was clouded at the cheeks with a light pink that reached his small, glistening red lips, lips that looked as if they'd been dipped in liquid rubies.

His eyes were blue, but darker than James's, and he had long, smooth blonde hair that fell halfway down his back and framed his cheeks in a circle of gold. A ray of sunlight poked through the sail and caught the top of his head, literally making him shine.

"I'm Michael," he said, withdrawing a spidery hand from the pocket of his cargo shorts. Vanilla's gaze was drawn to the boy's bare legs, and he noted that even his feet were pretty.

He looked back up at Michael, who seemed afraid for just a fraction of a second. In a moment the look was gone, though, and Vanilla thought he'd made it up.

He took the boy's hand and tried not to tremble.

"I'm Vanilla," he answered.

"I'm from Florida," Michael said. "And I'm eighteen. I'm going to start college next year, in fact. This weekend is my graduation. Or was supposed to be. I don't know if I'm going."

"Yeah," Vanilla stammered. "Maybe not. But how did you get here?"

"We all got here the same way," James put in. "We went to bed like we always do, and when we woke up our beds were here. Stephanie and Michael were first, and then I came a little while later. You showed up just after the storm started."

"But how long were you here before me?" Vanilla asked. "I saw you in my dream--well, I guess it wasn't a dream, though."

"I saw you, too," James said. "But that was hours ago."

"Hours?" Vanilla asked. It had only felt like a second. "Do you have any idea where we are?"

"Not really," Stephanie said. "There was one clue, but it didn't make much sense."

"Anything is better than nothing," Vanilla said. "Show me."

Stephanie led the way down a set of stairs into the ship's interior. There was a dining room with a table big enough to seat twenty people, a kitchen off to the side stacked with huge piles of meat, a wine cellar, and, in the back, a sitting room complete with a fireplace.

"You should see downstairs," Stephanie said upon catching Vanilla's look of awe. "There are bedrooms with four-posters and even a shower. I didn't know that was possible on a ship like this."

She walked over to a cupboard set by the fireplace.

Sunlight poured in from the huge windows on either side, illuminating an endless sky that sparkled at high noon.

"Michael and I found it while we were looking through the ship," Stephanie explained as she rummaged in a drawer. "We got here a few hours before James, and after we saw all the food in the kitchen we thought someone must have been here, so we started searching."

She withdrew a piece of parchment from the drawer.

"Here it is."

She put it down on a table by the fireplace, and Vanilla bent over to look at it.

It was a treasure map, one of the simplest he'd ever seen, with a dotted black line winding in an arc around the edge to meet an X marked at the top. In the center of the map, next to the line, was a poem.

He read it aloud.

"'The greatest treasure ever made
"'Is on this distant island laid
"'And if that treasure you obtain
"'You'll have no cause for fear again

"'Not silver, diamonds, nor pure gold
"'Can equal what this island holds
"'But if you wish that thing to take
"'You must from yours a captain make.'"

"You can read that?” Stephanie asked in astonishment. “We haven't been able to make sense of it. We could tell there was writing, but it looked like hieroglyphics or something.”

Vanilla sent a puzzled look her way.

“I—I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “It looks like regular old words to me.”

“Well, that helps,” Stephanie said, eyeing him with something just short of amazement. “But the map itself is still impossible.”

Vanilla looked down at the drawing, basically a line from one point to another.

"What are you talking about?" he asked.

"The map," James said. "Don't you see? It's a labyrinth. I don't see how we'd ever get through."

Vanilla studied the map again.

"Are we talking about the same thing?" he asked.

"Yes," James said. "What do you see?"

"Just a line," Vanilla said. "Almost straight. It's curved a little, but that's it."

All three of them looked at him in disbelief.

"Vanilla, that path is incredibly complicated," Stephanie said. "I can only work it out for a few inches before I get lost. I have no idea what you mean."

Vanilla blushed and walked to the window.

"I'm sorry," he said. "Sometimes I don't get things right. I'm a bit different that way. I hope you don't think I'm crazy."

"No," Stephanie said. "A lot of things are strange here. It makes sense that we would be, too."

Vanilla smiled and looked into the sky. It was a beautiful shade of green, one that the skies over France had never known. The clouds spread out beneath, beside, and above him were mostly white, but out of the corner of his eye he caught a pink one floating a hundred feet or so above their ship. It was fat and swollen, like it was about to release a huge amount of rain. It looked like a shopping bag packed full to the point of bursting. In fact, if he looked close enough, he thought he could see something emerging from the side.

"No way," he whispered. If he was wrong about this, he truly was insane.

"Vanilla, is something wrong?" James asked.

"We have to get to the deck!" he yelled. "Now!"

He ran past them, through the kitchen, then the dining room, and finally up the stairs, where he emerged onto the deck and found the cloud again. He climbed another set of stairs that took him to the bridge of the ship, where he grabbed the wheel and directed the ship toward the pink object in the sky.

"Vanilla, are you nuts!?"

It was James, who was on his tail.

"You're steering us straight into a storm cloud!"

"No, I'm not," Vanilla said. "It's not a storm cloud!"

"What are you talking about?" James asked, his hands pressed to his face. "Yes, it is! We're going to drown!"

"James, trust him," Stephanie said.

"What do you mean?" he asked her. "How can you say that? We're headed for disaster."

"Please," she said. "I have a feeling--just, please."

James fell silent and leaned back on the bridge, but he couldn't hide his worry. He was biting his nails so much that flakes should have been flying from his fingers. Stephanie's brow was furrowed, but she was forcing herself not to say anything. She hoped the strange boy with the orange hair was right.

As their ship approached to within several yards of the object, Vanilla saw that he'd been right. He laughed because he couldn't believe it.

In that moment, the great pink cloud opened and began its torrential rain. It wasn't water that poured down, though. It was gumdrops.

Stephanie's mouth opened in amazement and James nearly fell from his perch behind the wheel.

Before long, the four of them were dancing around the bridge laughing. Michael disappeared down the stairs in a flash of blonde hair, and returned a moment later with a wooden bucket in which he nabbed the flying treats.

"Watch me, watch me," Stephanie called to James, opening her mouth to try and catch a falling gumdrop. It hit her in the nose instead, and they both laughed until their sides hurt.

They stayed beneath the cloud until it had emptied itself, and then they went down to the main deck to collect all the candies that had landed there.

Stephanie stared out at the open sky with a great smile on her face.

"What is this amazing place?" she asked. "Where gumdrops rain from the sky? That treasure must be incredible, whatever it is."

"Do you want to get it?" Vanilla asked.

"I want to," she said. "But how would we? The map is impossible to read, and it says that we need a captain. Where would we even find one?"

"I think it should be Vanilla," Michael spoke up.

He'd been bending over to pry a mushed gumdrop from the deck, and his glorious hair shone in a blonde cascade that reached the floor. He stood up and tossed it back over his shoulder, letting it rest just above his waist.

"He could see things none of us could," he said. "Like the cloud, or the way he could hear the language."

"Plus, he's the only one who can read the map," James said. "It wouldn't make sense for anyone else to be captain."

"Me?" Vanilla said. "As your captain? I don't know if I could be. I've never been a pirate before, or even really been on a ship. I was on a sailboat one time with my dad when I was little, but I don't think that counts."

"But it has to be you," Michael said, his blue eyes suddenly pleading. He took Vanilla's hand in his own. "Don't you see it couldn't be anyone else?"

Vanilla's vision blurred a little, and he felt his head spin.

"Okay," he said, removing his palm from Michael's. "Okay, I will. But how will I do it?"

"We'll help you figure it out," James said. "We just need someone. We can't do anything without a leader."

"I say we take a vote," Stephanie said. "All in favor of Vanilla being captain, say aye."

"Aye!" three voices chorused back.

"Alright," Vanilla said, smiling. "I'm glad you have such confidence in--"

"Aye!" a fourth voice squeaked.

They all jumped when they heard it, for they'd been certain no one else was with them.

Looking down, Vanilla saw a small pink bunny about a foot tall standing beside Stephanie's right leg and holding his soft arm in a firm salute. He barely came up to the girl's knee.

"Lapin!" Vanilla said. "You're real!"

"Of course I am," Lapin answered. "I've been in here for years, but back then I couldn't talk. I was in bed with you when you came through, and that's what did it."

The others all had questioning looks on their faces, and Vanilla explained, "It's Lapin. He's my bunny. I got him when I was a baby, but then he was just a toy."

He looked away, embarrassed, but Michael said, "Damn! I should have slept with my bear last night!"

Vanilla looked at him and smiled.

"It's settled then," James said. "Vanilla is our captain. Now let's go inside and eat some dinner, and we'll figure out what to do next."

"Dinner?" Michael asked. "But who will cook?"

"I'm a fantastic cook!" James said. "Not to brag. But that's what I wanted to go to school for in the first place and my parents insisted I study business."

He turned on the setting sun and prepared to head in.

"One more thing," Stephanie said. "We have to give the ship a name. It doesn't have one."

"I think the captain should decide," Michael said.

They all looked at Vanilla.

He thought about it for a moment, and then spoke.

"We'll call it 'Gumdrop,'" he said. "Our ship will be the SS Gumdrop."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

We Must Find the Strength

It was hard not to cry in front of my sister. Still, as angry and disgusted and genuinely sad as I was, I managed it. It wasn’t my father’s words that pulled at my emotions; I’ve seen and heard enough nonsense from that man during my life that his juvenile declarations cause me none but the most passing of anxieties.

What bothered me was the effect it had on my mother. For all her nagging, for all her rigid discipline and obsessive catalogue of often-pointless chores, she didn’t deserve that kind of pain.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” she gasped, her beautiful face contorted by sobs. Black drops of moisture flowed down from her eyes and left twin trails of charcoal on her cheeks. “After all these years.”

“You made me do this,” came my father’s reply. He was surveying the bedroom as coolly as if he were trying to determine what to watch on television that evening.

“No,” my mother gritted in reply. “This was your decision.”

My sister, meanwhile, was sitting hysterical between the couple who’d just been unilaterally split after seventeen years of marriage.

I really don’t think that my mother, even with all the frustration she’d been harboring and all the bitterness she was giving vent to, seriously expected my father to take her up on her suggestion that he leave.

She was calm when she came downstairs to get Pie, saying that my sister was needed for a talk they were having. It was only a few minutes later that a seven-year-old girl’s shriek of anguish and disbelief summoned Thomas and me from the first floor to see what had happened.

“It’s okay,” my father was saying as he stroked Pie’s back. “Mommy and Daddy both still love you. I’m going to be nearby, too, so I can visit all the time.”

My mother was sitting on the edge of the bed, holding her head in her hands, looking like a person in total shock. She’s a strong and often august person, a woman whose hard chilliness can sometimes make her seem completely emotionless, and for those reasons her rare show of distress was unnerving.

The last time I’d seen her so distraught was when her mother died six years ago.

I’m actually of the opinion, along with Beautiful Cousin, that divorce would be a good thing for Our Family. Both of my parents have faults that would test the patience of most reasonable people, but my father, with a decades-long addiction to prescription medication, a persistent tendency to drunkenness, a history of physical and verbal abuse toward his children, an innately selfish character, and an unstable personality marked by hubristic highs and suicidal lows, is undoubtedly the more trying of the two.

The current marital crisis has its roots in these long-term factors, which have been enhanced in recent months by my father’s business successes and his most elaborate affected identity yet.

Ever since I can remember, my father has assumed stereotypical personalities and reworked himself to fit their confines. When I was a small child, he was the slick salesman; when we moved to rural Beautiful Town, he was a country man; now, in Southern State, he’s decided to be a biker.

He and my mother purchased their motorcycles years ago for recreational riding, but in recent months he’s taken this persona to the limit, attiring himself in leather, indulging in absurd tattoos (include a Confederate flag emblazoned with the term “Infidel,” which he explains is a reference to Muslim savagery), spouting off racist and chauvinistic babble, and generally conducting himself like a perfect ass.

The hollowness of this particular charade is revealed in the wild discrepancy between our economic status and that of his new “friends;” they’re as often as not thunderstruck when they come here, yet he maddeningly continues to denigrate himself by imitating their behavior and pretending to be their social equal.

This new trend has coincided with the explosive success and expansion of his company to make him intolerable. My father’s patterns are predictable: when wanting for money, he is humble and either subordinate to or resentful of my mother; when buttressed by a plentiful income, he grows increasingly arrogant and cocksure.

My mother, shattered, spent last night bewailing her own weakness.

“I feel like a baby,” she blubbered on as Beautiful Cousin and I wiped her face, patted her back, and stroked her hair. “I can’t stop crying. It just hurts so bad.”

Then she doubled up and seized herself as if she were about to implode.

“Mom, it’s okay,” I comforted her. “Really it is. The day is going to come when you’ll see this as a blessing.”

“BB, you don’t understand,” she said. “I’ve been with him since I was nineteen years old. I don’t even know how to be with anyone else.”

“But you can do so much better than him,” Beautiful Cousin chimed in. “Marie, you’re beautiful, especially for your age.”

My mother nodded, acknowledgement without pride of the glaring fact that her striking appearance remains unblemished as she approaches forty. She is without exaggeration one of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever seen, but her ruthlessly straightforward nature makes her too practical for vanity.

All the same, she won’t deny the obvious; there’s a reason that men have marveled for years at my father’s good fortune.

“Plus, you have a great career,” I added. “And a great personality. You’ve achieved so much.”

She shook her head.

“Your father makes me feel like I have a terrible personality,” she lamented. “He says I’m no fun at all. I’m sorry, but I don’t want his biker friends hanging out at our house and sleeping in tents on our lawn. Am I wrong for that?”

“No,” I assured her. “Not at all. We don’t know those people.”

“Exactly,” my mother said. “And I don’t know what they would do to my little girl.”

My father behaved in an infuriatingly cavalier manner during all of this.

In much the same way that he used to laugh uproariously while his children sat in bed at seven o’clock, punished for imaginary crimes, he strutted about the kitchen calling cheerfully for one of our dogs while my mother attempted to regain her composure in the basement.

“Mom,” I counseled. “All of this has been going on for years. Do you really want to be with a man who treats you this way? Do you really want to have to continue to monitor his medication and deal with him humiliating you?”

That question opened a fresh wound; just Sunday evening, he informed the attendees of our Labor Day party that he was leaving my mother. She only learned of it when one kind couple came up to her and said that they were there if she needed anything.

“He made our business public,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t believe he did that. You just don’t do that.”

He’s gotten worse in other ways, too; just yesterday he promised to “knock [me] the fuck out” if I didn’t speak to him in a more respectful manner.

“If you ever hit me again, I’ll have you taken out of here,” was my immediate retort. “So fuck you. Get up and punch me. It would make my day to have you arrested.”

They’re gone right now, off taking a drive so they can speak in private. When they return, we’re to have a family discussion. My earnest hope is that this discussion ends with my father’s departure, for now he seems to be doubling back on his vow to move out.

If that’s the case, it would mean that his announcement to my sister, and the resulting torment it caused her, was nothing more than a ploy to strike at my mother.

I just want him to leave.