The voices come and go as they please. Some nights, I can hear them whispering inside my head as I struggle to sleep. My thoughts are a million per minute. Images flash behind closed eyes. Houses are empty. Vacant living rooms, cobwebbed and forgotten. A city where dreams wither and die. Street addresses that only exist once a week, or at a certain time of month. Former junkies wanting to tell their side of the stories. Superhuman beings wanting a chance to shine. An empty house. An empty room. An empty mind.
Some things I learned from someone who’s been to prison:
He spends too much time watching TV. Staring at the screen of his cell phone. Sometimes, he does both at the same time. Wasting hours that he’ll never get back watching media he won’t remember the next day.
Remember that one TikTok video you watched while taking a shit? You sat there for at least five videos before you wiped and got back to whatever you were doing before nature called. Five videos worth of time after your final push. You sat on that toilet for five more videos breathing in shit particles exhumed from your shitty ass. And you saw that one video—not a thirst trap, but you do tend to like those as soon as they start—and it made you laugh?
Of course, you don’t. Nobody remembers what they watched.
Sometimes you experience Sabrina Benaim’s poem, other times you experience RJ Walker’s. I have experienced both in the same conversation. Sorta.
The subject of my depression and anxiety is tip-toed around. We know it’s there, and we acknowledge its existence from time to time, but we never talk about it. Because the emotions that swell up in both of us creates a wind vortex and billows out into a tornado – and quite frankly, I don’t know how tornadoes work.
I spent my twenties explaining to my mom that depression wasn’t caused by not going on; it’s actually the other way around. And while my mother was more understanding than the one Walker portrays in his poem, there were moments of reassurance.
This isn’t your fault. My depression wasn’t caused by something you did. My wiring was just bad. The warranty ran out before I was even born. It was in the genes before you and Dad ever met. And the two of you may have created something beautiful, but the beautiful was just a bombshell waiting to explode.
I tried to explain once that, like the X-Men, depression lay dormant in my genetic code. And like the mutant heroes, it appeared when I hit puberty. And unlike the mutant heroes, my superpower is useless. Except I can write you a story. A poem. I can describe to you the way I feel without making you feel miserable yourself. Because it’s not your fault. It’s no one’s fault. These were the cards I was dealt, and I’ll play my hand. I’ll bluff when I need to. I will fold when I have to.
But I will reshuffle them again in hopes that I will see a better hand.
I am lucky to have a mother who is understanding, even when she doesn’t understand me one hundred percent of the time. And it’s heartbreaking to learn that not everyone has that in their lives. That leaving is the only option to keep your head above the water. I try to be that for my own son. Try to tell him that it’s ok to feel sad, to cry. To not fear expressing those feelings to me.
Because I never want to be the parent who tries to explain his feelings to him.
I once said that you gave me strength. That every time I spoke out, it was in your voice. So when I left you in the past, I became lost. And this lost-ness is how I defined myself. As I gained weight, I lost the urge to dress like you. To seek out if you were still lingering somewhere inside me. I was a teenager the last time I wore a dress. It belonged to Jessica and she had left it behind in my room. And when I wore it, the comfort I felt shocked me. Scared me. I saw you smirking in the mirror. I took it off and that was that. I buried you in a chiffonier-shaped coffin.
I begin a weight loss program. My meals are timed. 10 minutes for eating. A 5 minute break. And if I’m still hungry, another 10 minutes. I slow down my chewing. I allow myself to savor the food. I begin exercising. I begin tracking my weight. It’s a slow process, but the weight begins to dip ever so slightly. It’s not a restriction of what I eat, but how much I eat. And how I eat. In the end, I will learn how to stop myself from stress eating. I will drink more water. While I miss the laughter of children, and reading to them on a weekly basis, I am happier in my new job and all the perks that come with it.
I begin to schedule walk breaks in my daily tasks at work. And I hold myself to them. Each morning at ten and in the afternoon at three. Those times are the trend, it seems. I find other library staff as I walk around the campus. And I encounter faces that become familiar as the weeks go by. My mood is elevated. I’m no longer stress eating or eating due to boredom. My weight is on a decline, slowly but surely. V and I hang out on most weekends. A sense of normality has returned to this COVID world.
And I see her face almost every day now.
Our book club prep meetings begin. We’re working closely with another department, hoping that this will build a bridge within the campus community. This may help build our collection while also giving back to the community. The man has kind eyes. His voice brings peace to my heart. An old feeling begins to resurface. And I feel young again. A schoolboy crush that’s all.
I meet S for the first time. Our camaraderie begins.
On my walks, I see her again. And the motion picture of my imagination starts churning.
During an LGBTQ+ Training, I begin to question something I haven’t thought about in years.
We host our first Get Lit! Book Club meeting. The students each get a turn to discuss a book they have read pertaining to the theme – LGBTQIA+ History. As I speak about the book I selected – Lord of the Butterflies by Andrea Gibson – I begin to question why this book mattered to me. Even as I say, “These are the poems that I so desperately needed growing up”—Why do I feel that way?
For the month, I watch a movie day. And I plan to do the same for November.
My weightloss continues. I’m exercising daily, taking walk breaks at work and walking longer distances afterward. I begin to track my water and daily activity in my bullet journal. I also look for new templates to use in the journal.
An idea forms in my head. And I see her again.
I don’t like the new bullet journal calendar template. I decide on reverting to the old one for December. I host my first program at the university. I put a pause on listening to audiobooks and return to the world of podcasts. I start The Heart from the beginning, relistening to an episode entitled “Movies in Your Head.” I remember missed connections on Craigslist.
Our bathroom is renovated. Mom gets the shower she’s always wanted.
My seasonal depression returns, but it’s easily pushed aside. My mind is focusing on everything that I can do. I’m reading more. Listening to more stories. Writing again.
And each time I see her as I walk, a little narrative begins to play in my head.
I meet a cat on my walks. Ash gray, and big. I secretly name him San Marcos because he reminds me of the blankets. He is the second cat that I encountered, but the first I approached. He allows me to pet him, which I do every chance I get.
I have lost 20lbs since July, though I am now having an issue of keeping it down. I make sure to mindfully eat, but I may have to make some alterations to my diet. Cut out the fast food. Try to focus on home cooked meals, instead.
I like the new bullet journal lay out that I have chosen. Some things will be carried over into 2022. I begin to track my mood, sleep, stress, and water intake on a graph. I keep track of the minutes I spend walking and my steps. I begin to prepare my first bullet journal volume for 2022.
The missed connection post is slowly written, but it’s not what I intended it to be. This post needs to stand apart from my previous posts.
As I pet San Marcos, he catches them in his sights and walks over to them. This is the first time that I speak to her.
I begin to question my pronouns. My gender.
I smile whenever I see you looking for me on Pinterest. When you window shop outfits I’d wear. As you read book after book trying to understand those little feelings you keep hidden so well inside you. Aren’t you a little too old to be this lost? We’ll find each other again. One day. And when I embrace you, know that I will not let go so easily this time.
I thought about you again. In those perfect empty moments past midnight as I lay in bed waiting for sleep’s arms to cradle me, a figment of memory fluttering behind my closed lids. The auditory hallucination of your voice calling me from the other side of my bedroom wall. I checked my phone for the time, the orange glow cutting through the darkness. When will sleep take me? Why do these thoughts run laps through my mind? Why are you always at the center of each of them?
I watched the Insurrection unfold as my fever finally settled at a comfortable 100 degrees. COVID made a mess of my lungs while the current president wrecked democracy with his words, motivating his blindly-allegiant followers into storming the Capitol. Chants for the deaths of the leaders of this so-called free nation echoed through the hallways. Police officers were beaten and bruised by the very people who were “backing the blue” throughout 2020, as demonstrations of “defund the police” and “Black Lives Matter” took place. These patriots, as they referred to themselves, erected a makeshift gallow to hang the Democratic leaders and the Republican vice president. They’re motivated by misinformation, fed lie after lie even before election results were tallied. “[T]he only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.” For months after the November election, calls for recounts, shouts of voter fraud, phone calls to stop the count echoed through the media. A coup d’état was the final attempt to secure an unlawful win, to overthrow our election system. In the end, no matter their attempt, democracy continued. 14 days after the Insurrection, Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president.
The lights went out as Texas froze. Ted Cruz hopped on a plane to Cancun. He left his poor dog to freeze. What sort of man does that?
My depression increases. The city has implemented a new employee evaluation system. And the aftermath of COVID still wrecks my body. My kidneys feel like boulders perched in my gut. I can’t piss, but is that a blessing? When I do, my sides tense up and the pain crawls up.
I meet M for the first time. And I am nervous around her. I’ve seen too many versions of her come in and out of this library. Talented, smart, funny and full of ambition only to be turned away. I don’t know it yet, but a change is coming. One volume has wrapping up, and a new story is on the horizon.
I’ve been down this path before, why should it feel different? Still, I filled out the application and submitted it.
The two of them sit across from me, though I no longer feel flanked. They slide the evaluation in front of me. Give me the goals that I am to achieve each month and what I’m to achieve by the mid-year. I have no plans on signing the form there. Unlike my compatriots, I will play the hand I’m dealt. Secure what little power over my own autonomy that I still cling to. It’s not if I’m willing to agree to these measures, it’s when. I eventually do.
Afterward, I apply for other jobs. I have no intention of being around by the mid-year.
I entered the meeting early, interrupting their conversation. I am still trying to navigate this new world of social norms. Before Zoom, the interviewee is expected to arrive early at the office. Is expected to wait in the lobby with no distractions. No cell phones in hand, scrolling through social media. Magazines are ok, but books might raise an eyebrow. In those days, I always carried a book or a notebook to keep my mind from reeling. Before the scheduled interview – which took place on Teams – I scribbled a list of possible questions to ask. I sign on to my work-provided Teams and click the link in my email. And there appeared four faces I’ll later come to recognize.
My only thought is how am I supposed to make eye contact. To look at my camera means to not address the person I’m responding to; to look at my screen means to appear distracted. I fiddle with my loose earbud and do my best to respond. And I’ve come to learn that online interviews are more nerve-wracking than in person ones.
I grit my teeth as she talks down at me. Maybe I’m just angry, maybe it’s my depression. Maybe I’m just sick and tired for having to deal with yes-people instead of freethinkers who stand up for the department. I had campaigned for her to take the role of supervisor of the department, but I finally delivered something the administration wanted. “Why didn’t you meet last month’s goal?” Because there is no communication between departments. Because things change on a dime. Because what is there to deliver? Because I don’t know who they expect me to network with. Because you have given me little to no guidance over this, being too busy trying to address the problem child. It takes every ounce of me not to just straight up and quit on the spot. Takes more effort to nod than it would to break the news that I won’t be here in September.
I confess to M that there are times when reading the message doesn’t hit me. Tell her that I can read every word of a passage or text aloud and still not understand the sentence. I remember that earlier conversation when a new email reaches my inbox. I turn in my letter of resignation. My time at the public library has ended.
There are days that I’m at home and days I’m in the office. I caught the first year of college bug. There is so much I want to do, so many things I want to learn. After an Ally training, I throw out the idea of building a LGBTQIA+ collection as a long term, ongoing goal. My ideas here aren’t cast aside. They’re not pocketed and kept for another day. While not all of them will pan out, they’re also not quickly reasoned away into oblivion.
My mood is elevated. I finally feel like myself again.
It’s been some time, hasn’t it? I’m always lurking in your history, though my time may have been limited. But I never went away. Never truly. There I dwelled until you remembered me. Until you picked up a picture from your high school days and smirked at the boy you once were. The boy who wore lipstick. Who borrowed his girl friend’s clothing. The skinny, life-like doll looking for some sort of validation. A chronic 15 minutes of adoration. How easily you forget an old friend. How easily my persona toss aside when it never fit your narrative. But I notice. I recognize that need in your eye. That longing for that feminine feel. I know the thoughts you push back, deep inside your mind. The ones that are aching to push through. And that’s how I slipped out after you killed your god. That’s how I remember.