Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Time for Reflection and...

The year 2015 was strange for me. It was a year defined by major and, in moments, debilitating struggle, but also by my ability to overcome that struggle. It was a year defined by sad recognition of my own and others' limitations, but also by a happy readjustment based on that recognition. It was the year in which, more than in any other, I determined and took concrete steps towards having my own life.

You'll notice that I did not write much here throughout the fall. My last entry, dated from October, recounted reunion with a longtime college friend, and after that it was radio silence from old BB for a full two months, longer than I have ever been absent from this site in its nearly eight-year history.

I had cause. I dealt with a terrible professor, the worst of my academic career, and when his initially unhelpful behavior advanced to vindictiveness and then outright lying about me to my adviser, I was moved to, for the first time ever, file an official complaint against an instructor. Failure to pass his class would have barred me from student-teaching and, in effect, delayed graduation and a job by another half-year. The day his final project was due, I was a hysterical wreck and reached a level of stress that unhinged me a bit from the surrounding world. Those days were a frightening blur to which I never want to return.

Starting around the beginning of the fall term, and due at least in part to the burdens of that time, my obsessive-compulsive disorder came roaring back. If this condition were in fact that cutesy preoccupation with neatness that is depicted on TV, a recurrence of it would not have been a problem. But my life isn't Monk. By October I was convinced of the inevitability of my failure, and was routinely afflicted by horrifying nightmares in which my hair and teeth fell out.

And then, at about the end of August, my hair actually started falling out. Along with patches of my eyebrows. A recurring forgetfulness that had first surfaced as early as the summer of 2014 amplified, and I began losing words, misplacing items, and falling victim to disorienting moments of what I can only call "fog." My emotions were heightened and I cried easily. My energy plummeted, and I wound up tiring out after even brief moments of exertion.

"You need to see someone, BB," my grandmother told me this summer. I'd been helping her with yard work, and about twenty minutes in just hit a wall and could do no more. I needed to sit down, and urged her to take a break, supposedly out of concern for her wellbeing but actually so I might mask that I was being outflanked by a seventy-three-year-old woman. "You're too young to be so tired. And you've been like this for years. You get winded so quickly."

After a dermatologist determined she could not help me because my hair loss was not age related--i.e., not natural balding and thus a symptom of something else--I was referred to several other doctors, and began a semester-long odyssey of blood tests and physician visits that required me to explain why, at the age of twenty-seven, I was exhibiting signs consistent with very early dementia. One doctor even asked if there was a family history of early-onset Alzheimer's.

The actual culprit does seem to be hereditary, but not so bad as all that: hypothyroidism, which runs on my father's side but which may have been missed in my case because of my relative youth and because men are affected nine times less often than women. One more blood test, to be done shortly after the New Year, should confirm the problem and justify a medication regimen that will hopefully put an end to this nightmare.

But the nightmare had a big casualty. In September, I made the deeply painful decision to cut my gorgeous, waist-length hair, which I'd spent nearly nine years growing into a waterfall of golden waves in which I took great pride and happiness. The result, though still long, falls far short of the spectacular beauty for which I'd become known in the near-decade since 2006.

When this is over, though, and this health issue resolved, I will not lose one more thing to it. Not one more word. Not one more memory. Not one more instant of clarity. Not one more day of yard work. Not one more strand of hair. I will grow that hair back, to as long as it ever was, and wear it like a flaxen badge of vigor. I will achieve that by this time three years from now, in the fall of 2018. I will have just celebrated my thirtieth birthday.

I overcame the professor from hell and pulled an A in the class I thought would sink me. I overcame the extraordinary apathy of my family and the dismissiveness of one breathtakingly arrogant doctor to finally get something concrete when I knew something was wrong with me. But there were also things I could not overcome.

This November, Our Family celebrated Our Family Day, the annual remembrance of our immigrant ancestor's arrival in the New World. Last month marked 396 years since my 11th great-grandfather set foot in King's City, Southern State, in the fall of 1619, and the party included tales of the past and somewhat dubious plans for the future.

"On the 400th, I'm getting smashed," laughed Thomas.

Towards the start of this blog, when I was a boy of twenty and Thomas one of thirteen, I made the conscious decision to attempt stamping our our father's ruinous legacy. Where David--my father--showed inconstancy, I showed steadiness; where David showed disproportionate anger, I showed even temper; where David was quick to build minor mishaps into life-defining crises, I didn't sweat the small stuff. I taught Thomas how to drive because our father wouldn't. I helped Thomas with his homework because our father couldn't. I helped Thomas plan ahead because our father was unconcerned. I listened when he needed someone to talk to, because our father couldn't be bothered. Time after time, I showed Thomas kindness that I hoped he would internalize as a way of living rather than just as an act from which he benefited. Of late, though, I wonder if I ever had a shot.

This fall, I asked him several times to pay me back the small sum of money I'd loaned him when he was in a tight spot. About the third time, he snapped.

"BB, I have a lot going on right now," he said, shooting me the look of disdain I now so often receive from him. "And paying you that money isn't my priority."

He might've slapped me. I stood in his doorway, not believing that the selfish, inconsiderate young man sitting before me with such indolence was the same person in whom I'd reposed so much confidence just three years before.

"Well, Thomas," I said quietly. "When you needed that money, it was my priority to give it to you."

Two weeks later, he put a down payment on a piece of expensive music equipment. A bit after that, he had to have work done on his car and I was happy to let him use mine. I even gave him gas money because I know he doesn't make much. And then, when I was away with family out of state and asked him to return some movies I'd forgotten to take back, he wouldn't. He didn't have $5 to cover the trip to the next town. When I told him I had about $50 in change in my room, he shrugged me off with a scornful text.

"I'm sorry, but I'm not paying for gas with quarters. I'm just not doing that."

This has accompanied increasing blue-collar mannerisms (including a maddening affected laugh), a refusal to make realistic plans for the future, a tendency towards overblown criticism that is reminiscent of our father--Thomas recently berated me, for instance, for "always doing things halfway" because I waited a bit to clean up dishes from a dinner I'd prepared for him and Pie--and a draw to heavy drinking.

"BB, you and Mom have to do something," Powell told me by telephone. "You guys have to help him."

"No, I don't," I answered. It was cold and it was definitive and it had been building a long time. "I don't have to save Thomas. I can't save Thomas. I'm not his father. I have to think about a boyfriend and a husband and having kids of my own one day. I need to have my own life."

I love Thomas, and every moment isn't a bad one. But he's becoming someone I don't know, someone so far removed from the boy he used to be that thinking of it makes me want to weep. I'll always love him. But I can't help him. And that's what I meant earlier, about recognizing not just others' limitations, but my own: I can't save the world. I can do my very best to be a positive influence on others, and to extend them what help is within my ability to give, provided they demonstrate a willingness to take that help and use it constructively. Someone who won't do that reveals themselves quickly. When I was offered help from my grandmother, I ran with it and earned a bachelor's degree. When Rowdy Cousin was offered help from his parents, he did the same thing and on graduation was hired by an accounting firm who offered him a salary that would have been generous for a person twice his age. If someone doesn't want to do something, though, you can almost never make them do it. And I will no longer waste precious energy trying.

Aunt Crazy said it best.

"Powell is a lost cause," she pronounced, her jolly face cooled by calm certainty. "But Thomas...maybe not yet."

I'm done with lost causes. My father, my mother, my stepmother, my brother Powell, all lost and never coming back. My door is closed to them. Thomas stands on a threshold whose precariousness he does not yet recognize. Pie is still a great light to me, but not my life. I will let her go, too, not to a place that I throw away, but to a place I visit in moments and with love. She has a harbor with me. Just not my most important harbor. I'm saving that for my own family, and leaving behind the siblings and stepmother who have, if we're stripping away politeness, been astonishingly ungrateful to me. I've given too much to the wrong people. Now, at least for quite a while, I'm going to give to myself.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Into the Goldlands

My siblings and I have this joke that one of the hardest questions any of us has to answer is, "Where are you from?"

Take your pick: Native City, Dirty Town, Beautiful Town, Central City, the Goldlands, Mountain Town. The list goes on. On balance, however, and especially in light of my recent discovery that my ancestors lived in the region for upwards of three centuries, I have decided that Southern State is, if not quite where I'm from, then certainly the closest I have to being from, well, anywhere. It was where I learned to drive. It was where I had my first kiss. It was where I graduated from high school, went to college, came out of the closet, and made my closest and most enduring friends. It was where I first came to believe in myself. A week ago, as I drove over the mountains and into the glory of a Southern State autumn, I was reminded why I called it home. I swear the sun shone a little bit brighter there.

As I advanced further into the Goldlands, closer to the heart where Major University lay, the physical and cultural landscapes began to change; the leaves grew bolder, the roads wider, and the mountains and fields of the lands to the west were replaced by the silver and white glitter of urban prosperity rising from the cinnamon hills. An unbroken wave of white faces speaking lilting English gave way to the hues of the entire world, to tongues from all corners of the planet. I wrapped up my business early and swung by a Korean grocery store to buy myself some seaweed.

"Hey, man," I said as Filipino Guy's sleepy voice filtered through my phone. "Listen, I got here like two hours early and so I'm already done with everything. Do you want to get lunch now?"

"Sure," he replied. "I mean, I was sleeping while you were being productive, but let me get a quick shower and I'll be right over."

The Goldlands has long been a place where I've found renewal, resources, innovation, and the means to push back borders, and so it was fitting that this was the region I went to initiate what could be a radical shift in professional direction. I've not quit the day job yet, though, and will fill you in on this potential avenue as I learn more.

"I'm sure you did well," Filipino Guy said as we sat down at a local Korean restaurant not far from where we'd gone to university. "I took the test a few years back and passed, and you know way more about all the political and history stuff than I do."

I took a sip of my soda.

"Well, if you can do it..."

I shot him a mischievous grin and he laughed in response.

"Very true, sir."

Filipino Guy is an old college friend, two years my senior, whom I met my very first week at university. I was reminded of this when discussion turned to the other members of our extended friend group, who now live as far afield as Knoxville and Texas, Washington and New York, and to many of whom neither of us has spoken in years.

"That's how it is after college, though," he mused. "People lose touch, people have things going on. It's not personal. I think it's nice to be able to see people every few years and be okay with that."

"I think it's hysterical that we're still friends after all these years. And it was so random how we met."

"That comm. class," he said.

Our eyes met over steaming soup and fried chicken, and for a moment we both felt a sudden rush of sorrow; nine years ago in the waning summer of 2006, he was a boy of twenty and I one of eighteen. In the decade that's followed, we've both changed in terms of values and direction, have both endured dark periods that in his case consisted of mean-spirited atheism and in mine of a manic spiral to suicide. Both of us are happy with different aspects of our lives, and both of us have successfully weathered our storms. But in light of those storms, the summer of youth when we first met seemed so terribly far away.

"We're getting older," he said.

"I don't know," I countered. "I think we both look pretty damn good for pushing thirty."

"Yeah," he said, eyes gleaming. "And you're white. You should be totally falling apart by now."

I laughed and surveyed his vigorous frame and the smooth, handsome face that continues to attract appreciate stares from the young women of the Goldlands.

"You're doing about as well as one would expect for an Asian."

"I am," he agreed, with a sip of his drink. "But I see it in certain ways. My hair is starting to thin."

I waved him off.

"It's probably just how you're styling it."

"Yours, on the other hand," he said, taking a handful of the long blonde hair that, since it was recently cut to just below my shoulders, is now soft and absurdly thick. "Remains luxuriant. You always knew how to turn me on."

I slapped my (very straight) friend's hand away and assured him once more. "We both have nice hair. You're as irresistible as ever."

But when we paid our bill and walked to the parking lot to say goodbye, I looked up at him and saw in the sunlight what the dim bulbs inside had concealed; across the whole of his head, the tiniest patches of scalp were visible in between spikes of black hair. The loss was evenly spread and I wouldn't have noticed it had I not known him for so long, but he was right.

And then something really hit me: I am twenty-seven years old. Filipino Guy is twenty-nine. Somewhere along the way, the flow of time to which at eighteen and twenty we imagined ourselves immune kept on going, and then one day we woke up to see the difference that had accumulated while we weren't paying attention. We're young still--but not youths. He's earning a master's degree to move from his current engineering job to one that offers more prestige and pay. I'll be either teaching or doing more media-related work in a year's time and will at last be able to stand on my own two feet financially. Somehow we've started turning into honest-to-goodness adults.

There's a little sadness to that, but far more happiness on balance. I find myself wondering how our friendship, and my friendships with others, will evolve as still more years pass.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Summer Yields to Autumn

It hasn't happened yet. Not really. But in spirit, summer passed away this morning and yielded to cold winds that are as yet metaphorical. August 24 marked, after all, the start of the school year.

This has always been a season replete with deeper meaning for me. Fall has been the time when I've seen not death and decay but magic blooming from scarlet trees, winter the time when I've seen not desolation but white-cloaked sleep, a welcome occasion to regroup from the stresses of life. A time somehow apart from time. When the skies fade to grey and the air bites with frost, I make my home a fortress and survey the world from atop its battlements. Strange as it seems, those months of withdrawal are always when I feel richest and most complete, most disconnected from the rest of humanity but most able to let select facets of it in more deeply. It might have something to do with the fact that my personal deliverance, when I was thirteen, came in the dead of winter. It might be genetic memory (I am, after all, a Swede by extraction). It might be some primeval vestige left over from a happy childhood day long forgotten. Whatever it is, I've been this way as long as I can remember.

So the start of the colder months is something I welcome. Winter is my time to plan and regenerate. In the summers I execute, but many of the great ideas come when I'm holed away.

Today is, of course, August 24, a date to which history attaches great significance. It was on this day in AD 410, 1,605 years ago, that Rome fell for the first time in eight centuries to an enemy army. The empire had been weakening for some time, of course, and its decay was no secret to contemporaries, but August 24 shrieked to a shocked world that one era had died and another begun. Rome, the Eternal City, was eternal no more. The greatest power of the world, the queen of Europe, was merely another city to be sacked, and as such was neither a great power nor a queen after a millennium of being both. What followed, sixty-six years later, was confirmation of what the flames of August had first proclaimed: Romulus Augustulus, the last ruler of the Western Empire, abdicated his throne on September 4, AD 476, and the pathetic fiction of Roman hegemony fell alongside the Roman state itself.

Those two dates, August 24 and September 4, marked the end of the long Roman summer and the beginning of the desolate winter known as the Dark Ages, in whose howling blizzards would perish generation after generation in blackness. The impermeable night was broken only a thousand years later, in 1453, with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. That event is taken by historians to delineate the commencement of the Renaissance--on May 29. Glorious rebirth. Spring.

Just now, though, the days grow shorter and the afternoon skies slowly shift from periwinkle to navy. And with the metamorphosis from summer to fall comes another that is long overdue: my name. You know me and will always know me as BB, first BlackenedBoy then BrightenedBoy (it can be argued that 19-year-old BB should have chosen a pseudonym that would age better), but the rest of the world has known me these last twenty-seven years by the name my father selected in 1987. A little-known fact is that my mother Anne, though woefully inadequate by all other measures, had the good sense to pick for me a name from Antiquity.

"I wanted to name you Your-Soon-to-Be-Name, after this Roman senator [who was by and large a horrific person but had a single redeeming quality I can't reveal without giving away his identity], but your father overruled me. He heard Your Current Name on a sitcom that was popular back in the '80s."

That's right. Anne wished to give me a name that had lasted for several millennia. David chose one that was in vogue for several months. This has been common knowledge for some time, and David freely admits the facts of the situation while completely missing the horrible light in which they paint him. No matter. I've always been able to see he's an idiot, even if he hasn't.

So on August 21, I went to the courthouse in my locality and filed the paperwork that, in about a month's time, will result in my name being legally changed to what my mother intended all those years ago.

"My father has made so many bad decisions, many of them involving me, and I just thought, 'Why should his stupidity mark me for the rest of my life?'"

"No, you're right," said Black Dress Girl, who also legally changed her name for similar reasons and after an extended period of contemplation. "It's your life. It should be the way you want it to be. Your father was always trying to make you into something you weren't."

And damn it, Anne may be a sociopathic narcissist with a penchant for outrageous lying and a slim grip on reality, but she really nailed it with that name. It just fits me to a tee. So while the fact that my mother intended this for me legitimizes the whole business, in a very real way the decision has nothing to do with her. She picked the name, but doesn't define it. She chose it, but doesn't own it. It was just always meant to be.

This will be my last fall semester--as a student--for several years, until about 2020 or so, when I am tentatively slated to begin my second master's degree, that one in Russian studies. In less than a year I will, at long last, be gone from this house, starting new under the name that should always have been mine and, finally, as my own person. No David or Marie attached. No one else's money to keep me afloat or house to keep me warm. Just me. Just BB. And hopefully, after a while, I'll have a partner to share that with. Then it'll be just us.

For now, though, I simply await the winds of fall, and give thanks for whatever God brings with them.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Nights

The nights are the worst
When doubt and terror tiptoe in equal measure
Alighting their razored feet upon the grooves of my ripped soul

When there rises a wall so high and so treacherous
I'm sure neither of us can breach it
Me to reach your love
You to show me a way out of the blackness

The nights are the worst
When the unwept tears carry searing questions:
How did this happen? How does a person go this wrong? Can you ever come back into sunlight after you dive into a serpent's throat?

The nights are the worst
When my heart quakes with the fear that forgotten terrors
Are lurking in the corners of my mind
Just hidden by the shadows of the ones I can remember

Of sickness and pain
Inadequacy and fear
Blood on white fingers
A child who carried the blame for grown-up evils

The hoarse voice that called me that flaming word
That laughed at my tears
The leather crack that made my eight-year-old skin scream
The spit that bathed my little boy face in hatred

The wall that knocked more air out of me than his hands
Anger welting on my back
Dignity dripping down my leg
A message festering in my mind

Wails of anguish
Then and now
The horror that shrieks with them

Unloved once, so unloved forever
Not right once, so not right forever
A ghost once, so a phantom all these dragging years
Somehow always half a person

Somehow always unable to reach you across that awful gulf

I want to give all of me to you
And take all of you in me
But I never learned how to do that
I only learned how not to

I dream of you in moments
Of passion I can't return
Of solace in arms
I'll never let hold me

The nights are the worst
When the only thing that fills me is all I never got to be
And grief at what I'll never become

Friday, May 22, 2015

Happy Days Passed and Happy Days to Come

Yesterday marked a major milestone in Normal Family: Rowdy Cousin graduated from college. I couldn't make the event, busy as I was with preparations for work and the summer sessions of graduate school, but I sent my congratulations by text message and viewed the Facebook photos of Rowdy Cousin surrounded by happy family members. This relative of mine, whom you've gotten a few glimpses of over the years, received his pseudonym in 2009 or so, when he was a rambunctious boy of fifteen. Back then, when he wasn't playing hide-and-go-seek in our grandmother's basement, he occasionally pulled me aside to ask questions about relationships and college drinking. Rowdy Cousin is twenty-one years old now, and the pictures of him this week reveal unmistakably what those close have known for a while: the boy has become a man. Broad shouldered, tall, robust, and handsome, he smiled into the camera beside his mother and long-time girlfriend. 

Rowdy Cousin long ago passed the point where I could teach him anything. He once asked me about what parties were like; now he's been to more than I have. He once asked me about how he'd know what he wanted his major to be; he already has a job offer from a prominent accounting firm and will begin work--at a very competitive salary--next month. He once asked me about dating; he's been in a relationship with a lovely girl for more than four years. Rowdy Cousin is one of those rare people who makes other people happy with just the fact of them. He's athletic and outgoing, hardworking and good looking, intelligent and accomplished and humble and courtly. On top of all that, he's pretty damn funny. He understands he's a gem but has no ego about it, understands he's a walking cliché and sends my brother Snapchats of himself on the toilet just to remind everyone that he's still capable of being an idiot. I am pleased to see this young man blossom so spectacularly, and I am very aware, as is everyone else, that his success is the culmination of the tremendous investment his parents made in his education and emotional development. Rowdy Cousin paid no tuition. He worried about no bills. He covered no cell phone. He spent four years devoted to study and, yes, fun. And it worked. 

"It's like Uncle Responsible says," my grandmother told me on the phone today. "You invest in them when they're young, then you see it pay off down the road. And now it's really paid off."

I would never tell Rowdy Cousin this, but beneath my joy at his accomplishments, all of which he has earned, there is a tinge of sorrow. I can't help but look at this person, six years younger than I am but already so strong, and see the things I'm not. Self sufficient. Successful. Confident. Possessed of striking good looks. Rowdy Cousin is a high-achiever in a family of high-achievers, and at twenty-seven and without a career, even if I'm headed in that direction, I'm not. At least not yet. 

"I guess sometimes I feel like I'm bringing the group average down or something," I joked to my grandmother this evening by telephone. I've never had the kind of parents a person is thankful for, but I am grateful every day for my grandmother. I would have been lost many times without her, and she's the one person I can talk to about truly anything. "I love Rowdy Cousin , but it's like I don't measure up. You know?"

"Oh, BB, he's never felt that way about you."

"No, I know. He's not like that. I'm saying that I feel that way. I look at what he's done and I look at what I've done. I know I'm getting there now; it's just a few years later than I wanted it to be."

"Honey, you've had a lot of things thrown at you," she said. "He hasn't. Of course he should be proud of what he's done, but it's not the same thing. You have no idea how proud I am of you."

And then my grandmother did the last thing I imagined she would do. She started crying. 

"Oh, don't cry! I'm fine! I'm really not upset."

"But you don't remember. You were so young. When you first got sick we talked to so many doctors. We were in and out of the hospital, meeting with different psychiatrists, and I read everything I could get my hands on. So I know what it does. I know what you were going up against. And I can tell you, it's a miracle that you are where you are. The recovery rate is so low."

That depressingly small number--I've seen it quoted as low as 3%--means that I ought statistically have been condemned to a very different kind of life than the one I am leading. I suppose for a while I was. And my transition around age twenty, for reasons that are unclear, into the exceptional group who are able to regain their health is something I am enormously thankful for every day. 

"You're on the right track now, and you shouldn't feel any shame. Of course it took a few more years. And when you add the parents you got on top of that, it's really incredible that you pulled it off."

"Well, I haven't pulled it off yet."

"But you will. I know you're going to be okay."

I know I am too, at least now. I look at where I was even five years ago, at twenty-two, and can see in my decisions disarray and impaired judgement, chronic confusion atop foundational disorganization. I finished my undergraduate studies with a 2.7 GPA, avoiding any discussion of my health issue, let alone treatment of it, out of shame and a desire to be viewed "like everyone else." But I wasn't like everyone else. And in light of that, maybe it's okay to give my past self a few breaks. 

"I still have hazy moments," I confided to my grandmother. "They're very quick, and no one ever picks up on it. But my thought process now, my work ethic, my priorities, my plans, everything else is totally different."

"I know it is. I can see how much you've changed."

Summer sessions start next Wednesday, and Russian lessons start the Monday after that. This fall will mark my last semester of academic work, and after a semester of student-teaching in the spring I'll graduate with my master's degree in education. Ready to work and ready to go. I'm not playing it by ear anymore, not by any stretch of the imagination. Hell, I have an eight-year plan that rests substantially on my mastery of Russian grammar.

"I'm really proud of Rowdy Cousin today," I told her. "I know you are, too. And in a year, you can be proud of me."

"I already am."

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Birthday Filled With Promise

The following is an excerpt from my personal journal, two days after my twenty-seventh birthday.

April 12, 2015

I turned twenty-seven years old on Friday, April 10, 2015, and had a very pleasant weekend, indeed. The first thing to strike me was the fact of my age: that I am actually three years from thirty, actually a decade past seventeen and six years past twenty-one. What I've realized, however, in all this surreality, is that what any age means is, developmental considerations aside, completely arbitrary. I don't need to be where anyone else is at twenty-seven; my twenty-seven is what I make it. And so as a twenty-seven-year-old I am serious and sober, funny and fun loving, responsible and reserved, goofy and garrulous. I am a series of contradictions that add up to something lovely.

The passage of another year is, of course, a time at which I naturally reflect on where I've been and where I want to go. Of late, perhaps exacerbated because my twenty-nine-year-old cousin Perfect just gave birth to her first child (a little girl), I've felt a great yearning for companionship and then children. Children aren't something I desire in the immediate future, mind you, but they're something I can just see on the horizon, something by the time I am exiting my early thirties I imagine I'll be very ready for. I dream all the time of those children, of what they'd look like and what personality qualities they'd have, what their interests would be and what kind of life I would provide for them.

And I dream too of a husband. Of a boyfriend first, but definitely of a romantic partner. Someone who'd hold me and tell me I was beautiful, someone to whom I could confide anything, someone who would hear my victories and my sorrows and care for both, and someone whose victories and sorrows I would care about in turn. Occasionally I wonder if I'm holding out for the perfect man, searching for something I can never find, but then I ask what's so unreasonable about wanting a man with whom I'm compatible. What's so unreasonable about wanting a man I'm attracted to? What's so unreasonable about wanting a man with career goals? If I can find those three things, I figure I'm in a very good position. I'm so scared we'll never meet. I ask God every time I pray to bring us to one another.

I hope one day I will have my little daughter, the daughter I've dreamed of so long. I hope she might be joined by a few others.

The long-term considerations are what they are, but the actual weekend of my birthday was unequivocally nice. Mom was away all week, and so on Friday night Thomas, his girlfriend Jewess, and I hosted my friend Redbeard, his girlfriend Lithuanian Girl, a classmate of mine, and Peruvian Girl for a night of white wine, meat-lover's pizza, raucous talk, and inappropriate jokes. Everyone got pleasantly tipsy and by about 12:30 in the morning everyone had left. I don't think it could have gone much better. In fact, it went weirdly well between Thomas and Redbeard, the latter turning out to be a metal fan of some seriousness, and the two of them chattered on about this band and that while we womenfolk exchanged looks of desperate boredom. Saturday was quiet and filled with reading, and then today came a perfectly suited late birthday present: Hillary Clinton announced that she is running for president.

The big reveal came via a campaign video released on social media, and marked in my view a major break from the approach she took when initiating her 2008 bid for the presidency. Then, she was seated at home at the mansion Whitehaven and boldly proclaimed she was "in it to win it." Now, she has affixed her seal to a two-and-a-quarter-minute campaign piece that doesn't show her until a minute and a half in. The focus is instead on a group of representative Americans: a Hispanic woman raising her young daughter; a black couple expecting their first child; a white retiree and a white factory worker; a gay couple preparing for marriage. What they all have in common is that they are all trying to build lives. Her promise to them, and her rationale for running, is that she will help.

Overall I thought the piece was savvy. She seems to be courting what she is intelligent enough to realize is the emerging demographic and cultural coalition in this country, and she's doing that not just by featuring them in her ads but by considering them in her policies; at one point she concedes that despite the gains of the Obama years, "the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top."

Even eight years ago that statement (and the cast beside which it was delivered) would have been considered controversial, maybe even radical, but we've moved into a different time. I don't trust her. I think she has at her core good motives that are sometimes compromised by her personal ambition. That being said, Secretary Clinton's propensity for maneuvering to wherever the votes are could be, in terms of practical outcomes, a very good thing provided she understands where in fact the votes are. It is the new coalition that will dominate. If she sees that, and molds herself to them--to us--then she'll have pursued a good agenda for impure motives and that, all things considered, should be seen as a win for everybody involved.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Seven Years

Today marks seven years since April 7, 2008, when on the advice of a friend I created a blog and published my first post. The intervening time has been a blessing to me in so many ways; I've enjoyed great personal change, have been able to chronicle that change in a medium that captured a magical time in my life, and, of course, have been privileged enough to meet all of you. In the last seven years things have shifted, as they're wont to do. Readers have come and gone, friendships have grown and withered, and acquaintances have blossomed into something more. The balance is clear: blogging has been a hugely positive part of my life, and without it the last seven years would not have had the richness they did.

So for those of you who don't know or would like to be reacquainted, my name is BB. I am a 26-year-old graduate student pursuing a master's degree in secondary social studies education, and am already plotting the move that follows graduation next May. I live in Mountain State with my mother Marie and siblings Thomas (age 19) and Pie (age 11). My brother Powell (age 25) lives with my father David, a destructive man whom my mother wisely divorced last fall. It's been a busy year. Let's recap.

April 2014: I turn 26 years old.

May 2014: After considerable debate, I choose to pursue a master's degree and begin fulfilling my undergraduate prerequisites for the program.

June 2014: I proceed through summer classes at Mountain University and plan for the fall.

July 2014: I score within the 87th percentile on the MAT, a general graduate admissions test, and am officially accepted into the master's of education program.

August 2014: I begin taking graduate courses at Mountain University.

September 2014: An expanding friend group lends itself to delightful opportunities for socializing, quelling my doubts that I might not be able to enjoy the same kind of broad interpersonal network I'd had at Major University as an undergraduate. My father David moves out of the home our family had shared together.

October 2014: My first teaching observation, at a middle school, is a source of great happiness to me. I decide to eventually pursue a second master's degree following the one I am currently earning.

November 2014: Thanksgiving is happier than it has been in a very long time. David's departure becomes permanent and I effectively disown him, severing a longstanding source of pain and conflict in my life.

December 2014: Our Family has its first Christmas without David. The day is peaceful. In the afternoon I drive to Decaying State and spend Christmas Day with my birth-mother, Anne, for the first and last time in my life. I conclude my first semester of graduate school with a 3.5 GPA.

January 2015: After more than a year of failed resolutions, I bear down on losing the significant amount of weight I gained following my suicide attempt. Major progress follows. I begin my second semester of graduate school. I determine that my second master's degree, as yet several years off, will be in Russian studies. On January 4, I am officially baptized into the Episcopal Church, following both my heart and a centuries-old family tradition.

February 2015: By the middle of the month, I have lost nearly twenty pounds and am hammering away at a challenging academic load.

March 2015: A spring visit to my birth-mother Anne opens my eyes to a sad truth: often, people don't change. My decision to disown her, less than a year after doing the same thing to my father, removes yet another major locus of discord and negativity.

The last year has been very good to me. This time in 2014 I wasn't even sure if I was going to enter the graduate program; now I'm halfway through and already learning Russian in anticipation of the second graduate program. I'm thinner than I was last April. I'm happier. I have more friends. I have better direction. I have God, and for the first time in far too long He has me.

Thank you, as always, for the pleasure of your company and the helpfulness of your insights. I will resolve to write a bit more here than I've been doing, and I will look forward with great excitement to recording whatever this year has to bring.

Friday, March 20, 2015

To Mother, Again

You are a cultivator of death
A farmer of pestilence
A bringer of disease
A teacher of ignorance

Your womb's laced with razors
Your breasts trailing bile
Each step you take
Leaves a pit like a grave

You have no right
You, who imperilled your children before you would provide for them
Who abandoned them before you would work for them
Who played with their lives for the sake of a drink

You have no right to anything
To anger
To resentment
To us

You took the forgiveness you did not earn
And made it a blade to fly back upon me
A thousand cuts salted with the knowledge
That you have never cared

But you misstepped
You thought my goodwill was unending; it has a sharp edge
You thought I was weak; I am stronger than you will ever dream of being
You thought you were like your mother; you're only half right

In cruelty, yes
In pettiness, yes
In intent, yes
But she at least was smart

She at least had her shining mind
She at least could play the game you think you've mastered
Her cuts were clever
Her lies were believable

But I am not you, and you are not her

It must be hard to be the dull brown between two points of light
Indignant with no dignity
Scheming with no cunning
Designs with no architect

Just stupid and mean
A mediocre monster

You will wail and moan at this
No one will care
After all, you never stop screaming
But you've only made me scream once

That night on the highway
It must have been a great high, to be worth that
The lives of your children
The ones you loved so much that you never tried to get them back

You've thrown away so many unearned blessings
That I suppose my love didn't seem much different
Thank you
It would have been such a waste to spend one more moment on a person who doesn't deserve me

My father ripped us away from you before you could inflict your damage
And now you never will
We escaped
You lost

So don your plastic pawn shop crown
Cloak your shoulders in cheap used fur
Reign over your flea market realm
With power that cannot touch us

Know I am beautiful
Know I am brilliant
Know I am strong
Know I am happy

And you can never change that

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


You gave me a chasm
You gave me a hole
You gave me a canyon
You took such a toll

You left only absence
Bequeathed only grief
You should have been building
Not playing the thief

You made me a phantom
You cut a vast wound
You made me a cripple
When you came unglued

You took my belief and
You robbed me of hope
You bloodied my brightness
You bound me in rope

I can't even hate you
I can't curse your breath
I only feel nothing
And only see death

Monday, March 16, 2015

An Open Letter to Millennials

It can be hard on the spirit to be a Millennial. We were born into the most prosperous civilization in the history of the world, into an era whose complacency was shattered one early fall morning when we were only children. 9/11 tore open the fog of our childhood, and in the ensuing years the traumas of the outside world rushed in one after the other: Iraq, Katrina, cultural decay, and in 2008 the shattering coup de grace of the financial crisis. We inherited doom and were blamed for being afraid. We inherited dislocation and were blamed for being unemployed. We inherited empty coffers and were blamed for being irresponsible. We inherited anomie and were blamed for being disengaged.

The real story of the Millennials, however, is not the one told by cynical Baby Boomers who have, with a staggering lack of self-awareness, bequeathed upon us such inspired monikers as “The Me, Me, Me Generation.” The loudest of these self-indulgent caws has come, predictably, from those who in their own day were the most ardent hedonists, the most avid consumers of LSD. My message to my fellow Millennials? Ignore those people. They truly are, in so many senses of the word, worthless.

What I want to tell you is something that you no doubt know but maybe, amidst the barrage of negative press, forgot: we are great, and we will save this country.

Look at what we’ve done. We spawned some of the most talented musicians, some of the profoundest art, in the history of America. We invented social media and, before most of us were yet twenty-five, changed the way in which the entire human species communicated. We blazed a path at the forefront of technology and even now are pioneering the alternative energy methods that will define our nation’s economy in the coming decades. We rose in the face of a financial catastrophe and elected a president whose skin color was unimportant to us. We rejected the bigotry of countless generations before us and insisted upon treating each other as equals, regardless of the differences that we always knew were trivial. We stand, 100 million strong, and to the face of our parents’ prejudice raise an insurmountable hand. We refuse to countenance their ignorance. We insist that it will die with them.

The people who call us degenerate are wrong. They, after all, took upon themselves the task of destroying the social contract their parents bequeathed to them, and they exhibited the dissipation shown by so many who have inherited something without having to work for it. We will not make the same mistake. We have seen what happens when the levers of power are held by a party who believe certain classes of us to be lower than others, who believe it is acceptable to abandon entire subsets of our country in the economic wilderness. They thought they would somehow benefit from this. We saw that a wound to any of us was a wound to all of us, and it is this quality, more than any other, that sets us apart from the scornful generation who heckled us as selfish even as they grew fat on others’ suffering.

We are great not because we refused to serve in a war, not because we pushed the limits of psychedelic drugs, not because we pretended to like bad music or because we once used too much hairspray. We are great because we refuse to embrace a philosophy that does not lift every American. We are great because we accept nothing less than equality. We are great because we will make a country in which everyone matters and everyone has a chance.

We are great because we are builders.

And one day the things we’ve built will tower into the sky, casting a shadow so huge that the foolish anger of earlier days is swallowed up without a whisper. One day our children will live in a nation where every single citizen has healthcare, where every working person can afford to clothe and feed themselves, where a university education is open to everyone who wants it, where dignity is not reserved to the wealthy and opportunity is not foreclosed to anyone. One day our descendants will survey the abundance and concord around them, will look up to our ancient faces, and will say, “You gave us this.” One day our grandchildren will be amazed that an entire political party took up the task of discriminating against gays and women. One day they will shake their heads and think, “I can’t believe it was once like that.”

We will leave to our sons and daughters a better world than the one we were left. We are a generation of volunteers, a generation of voters and organizers and educators and engineers. Let the middle-aged continue to call us down even as we repair the damage they inflicted on this country. Our society is now engaged in a temporary debate about whether bigotry should trump equality, whether colossal wealth for a few should preempt prosperity for all. The debate will not last long. And when the Republicans and their illiterate ilk draw against us a sword of fear and ignorance, they will find that aluminum breaks upon granite.

They are a stick; we are a mountain. Like a mountain we will stand, hard and quiet and huge and immoveable, enduring one meaningless storm after another as we grow ever higher. We will create the country we should have had, and then we will teach those who come after us not to be hoodwinked as our own parents were. There are no shortcuts. Imposing poverty won’t create riches. Imposing discrimination won’t confer privilege. In the end, we all rise or we all fall, together.

So keep at it, Millennials. It’s ours for the making.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Seizing What You Want

Perhaps more than other people, I understand with stark perception the reality of powerlessness; my life has been defined, to a significant degree, by major traumas that were beyond my control. But because I've had the experience of falling under shattering blows and then devising ways to recover from them, I also understand, more than other people, the power a person can wield if he chooses to.  And what's funny is that often those who have been most victimized show the greatest facility for utilizing the resources available to them, however scarce those resources might be. Engineering a total reconstruction, after all, requires one to summon a bit of creativity.

At two distinct points in my life, total collapse was imposed upon me from outside forces and I was obliged to figure a plan for building myself back up. On both occasions, catastrophic bottoming-out (which in the most recent instance resulted in my actual death) was immediately followed by roaring recoveries whose achievements far surpassed what had gone before the crises. We can do extraordinary things if we decide to.

To that end, I've been busy. I've been busy knocking the hell out of some graduate-level writing assignments, busy fulfilling student-teaching requirements, busy learning Russian vocabulary and arranging Russian language lessons to commence this summer, busy enjoying a flowering social life in this new community, and busy losing--as of this morning--eighteen pounds. I never forget what they did, but the people who hurt me have a way of feeling very far away these days. I suppose it's because I'm on my way.

That way has become a lot clearer in the last couple of months. I nixed the option of getting my second master's degree in the history of the Southern U.S., opting instead to pursue either Russian studies or Russian history, the job market depending. I'll not be doing that right away, mind you; I'm living at home while I obtain my first master's degree in secondary social studies education, and though my mother is a very pleasant woman to reside with I don't much favor the notion of imposing upon her until I'm thirty-two. I'll obtain my current degree in about a year's time (May 2016) and will then commence teaching at the high school level, obtaining my second master's degree while working. This path has a couple of advantages. For one thing, it will allow me to stand on my own feet financially and manage what is sure to be a demanding work-load in my own home and by my own rules. For another, it will provide me the time to acquire Russian language skills, which are a prerequisite to the program I wish to pursue. In my first year of teaching, when I'm adjusting to a new career and locale, I won't bother with any master's work, but I will be sure to take intensive Russian language courses for which I'll build the foundation starting this summer. My goal, then, is to begin the second master's program in three to five years, no later, ideally, than my second year of teaching.

And then what?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, analyst jobs are quite lucrative and securing one would amply reward my study. Were I to encounter difficulty on that front, I'd still have teaching, and I'd also have a master's degree in Russian history. Don't tell any Defense Department contractors, but I'd honestly do that just for the fun of it, so even the possibility of a rewarding career in the field is more than enough motivation. The eventual goal, quite a ways down the road, is to, either after serving as an analyst for a number of years or after teaching for a while, obtain my PhD in the subject and teach it at the university level. And I am so damn excited about this.

Every time I crack open my Russian language workbook or attend Russian history lecture, I'm having a total blast. It's funny how fate works, isn't it? I've loved Russia since I was perhaps twelve or thirteen years old, then drifted away from it for a while in my undergrad years only to return to the topic and make it the centerpiece of my career.

"If you love Russia, stick with Russia," one of my wiser professors told me earlier this semester. "I've had a deep interest in geography since I was a boy, and it led me to a wonderful career. Stick with Russia."

When God hands you a jewel, wear it proudly.

In the meantime, I have to go. I stayed after school today to catch a talk on the mid-18th century crisis of the British Empire in North America, and it's starting in about twenty minutes. After that, it's back to my house and a slumber party with Pie. She's eleven now, by the way, and with our mother headed out of town it's going to be just the two of us tonight. We're going out for sushi and then I'm going to bribe her into watching a Disney classic or two.

I'd like all of you to know that I'm not going anywhere. I'm not able to write as frequently as I did before--grad school will do that--but I am and always have been in it for the long haul. I've so valued the experiences I've had here in the last seven years. I hope you have, too.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Thus Far in the New Year

Underneath everything, I'm still the same person I was when we first met. Sure, some things have changed. Some plans have been rearranged, some goals reassessed, some ideals cast aside and new ones taken on, all to, at least by my thinking, positive effect. But I'm still me. And that's why it's so nice to be in the position I am now, because in carrying the little boy I used to be inside me I've come the closest I can to going back in time and letting him know that eventually, down the road, he'd manage to find a path.

I'm one of those rare whack-jobs who makes New Year's resolutions and then sticks to them with fanatical purpose. In 2009 that brought me a social life. In 2010 it brought me a record deal. In 2014 it got me into graduate school. And this year, as I walk forward with a perspective sharpened by the twin crucibles of trauma and achievement, it's brought me a realization: a great deal of my life is within my power to influence. Some things, granted, are outside of my or anyone else's control. Other things, however, can very much be turned to one's advantage if one simply endeavors to turn them, if one decides upon a goal and refuses to conduct themselves in any fashion that falls short of what is required to meet that goal. That's become my mantra: I decide. 

Look at where I was a year ago: lost, devastated, unsure of my place in the world, hiding in my house and piling on weight as I tried to pretend away what had happened to me. Then look at me now: fresh off finishing my first semester of graduate school with a 3.5 GPA, embarked on a second semester with a clear career path ahead of me, and building positive relationships and a positive conception of self-worth. That happened in a year, and it was because I decided it would. So why not decide upon some other things?

This year I decide to return to my university weight. This semester I decide to do well academically. This year I decide to do what must be done to accomplish several other ambitions that are dear to my heart. The knowledge that there is no secret, that all I need is to do what must be done, has been immensely empowering.

Yesterday was the first day of spring semester classes, and by noon I'd reached a critical decision: the inner conflict I'd felt, between obtaining a PhD in either Russian history or Southern U.S. history, was resolved in favor of the Russian field. The reason is pretty straightforward; both subjects interest me, but those holding degrees in Russian studies can serve the U.S. government in lucrative analyst positions.

"I did that in the '80s," Russian History Professor confided. "I got out of school and went to work for the CIA, although you can work for State or any other number of places. It was a tremendous amount of money. With things heating up over there again, they're looking for good people, and you only need a master's to start."

Academia is nice and I see myself there eventually. But the opportunity to reap handsome financial rewards for immersing myself in a subject I love is too good to pass up. The upshot is, of course, that I'll have to learn to speak Russian before commencing my second master's program in several years' time. The thing is, though, that I decide to do it. I will learn Russian, I will earn a master's degree in Russian studies, and I will go on to analyst or consulting work. And that's that. It helps that I already know the alphabet and have at least a rudimentary background in the language.

In the nearer present, I was pleased to be baptized into the Episcopal Church on January 4. I was raised in an irreligious household yet nonetheless always felt a connection to God, and from the time of my early adolescence I searched for the church that was right for me. When I came across the American branch of the Anglican faith and learned of their commitment to accepting and loving all people, including the hellbound gays, I knew I'd found my spiritual home. As far back as 2009 there was no question in my mind that I'd never encounter a more compatible religion, but for various reasons I put off making it official for another five years. Why wait, though? I think in my head I'd wanted baptism to come once a number of other things were in order, but I can only be stronger in pursuing those things with my faith and the community of that faith behind me.

Selecting a church and publicly committing myself to it has been a major step in recovering from the false virtues that were imposed upon me by outside oppressors. In choosing to join such an organization, I am in a very real way proclaiming that I at least nominally hold its values to be my own. I'm pledging myself to something greater than I am, but I'm also declaring just the kind of person I intend to be. Another thing I've decided to do this year? Wipe away the legacy of those who wronged me and deny them their emotional power over me any longer. Given my sensitivity, understandable in light of the history, to aggression or perceived aggression, this has been one of the more difficult things to stick to, but when I need to I remind myself that my worth is independent of others' opinion of or conduct towards me, and that that worth doesn't need validation from, well, anybody. The only being fit to judge my value has "created the Universe" at the top of His CV, and He doesn't care if my tennis shoes don't fit with the latest trends.

In the vein of establishing myself and rejecting anyone else's definitions of me, I will either this year or next be exchanging the common name my father chose for me from a 1980s sitcom for the meaningful one my mother took from the annals of Roman history. To all of you, I'll still be BB.

I am thankful for all of the opportunities and revelations that have come my way recently, and for the path they have paved for my 2015. I'm thankful that you guys have hung around through some black days and some long absences. I'm thankful for my growing circle of acquaintances and my group of really great close friends. You'll notice the glittery plastic monstrosity above. Black Dress Girl and I, bored on New Year's Eve, could not figure a way to stream CNN's coverage of the Times Square celebrations, and so to compensate we wrapped a yoga ball in garland and threw it off the balcony at midnight before immediately taking shots. That seems an auspicious beginning to me.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Halfway Through the Decade

This seemed an appropriate way to begin 2015.


I will shatter every wall
I come a titan, soaring tall
The mountains break before my scream
The sky's my lighted purple dream

The oceans quake and shorelines fall
I'll have nothing or have all
The very core shakes with my thrust
I rise in dazzling beauteous lust

The Earth can't hope to bear my wrath
And so must yield before my path
I command the ground to bend
My reign will roar until my end