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Me, Myself, I

I’ve been talking to myself for years. Out loud, in my head, for as long as I can remember. Truth is, I can’t really tell silence apart from my thoughts when I’m alone.

I remember when social media discovered that not everyone has an internal monologue and how shocking it was (I was surprised, were you surprised? I was very surprised). I have no idea what it is like to live and not have a constant radio in my brain, peppered with dad jokes, movie quotes, and song lyrics, like hurdles for the racing of my thoughts. Even now, I can hear the words as they want to be written down. It’s so hard to keep up, even though I know I have good typing speed. The red lines indicating misspellings are new obstacles that must be corrected and cleared before I can go on. Unless I am taking minutes and need to keep up with others, there is no way for me to not edit as I write. It takes far more energy to fight that urge than it does to simply roll with it, hit delete with my pinky a few times, and correct the spelling. Does it screw up the flow of the radio? Not really, because I’m watching the screen and if I spell something like “F-I-H-G-T,” and don’t correct it, that’s when my brain stumbles trying to figure out how the hell to say that – out loud, inside my brain, where no one else can hear it. 

This is something I have wondered about with telepathy, or the burgeoning technology that allows those who cannot speak to be able to communicate brainwaves. Do they have an internal monologue? What gets transmitted? Is it all the static, the rushing thoughts, a high-speed monorail constantly switching tracks? Or does it have to be delivered, a thought like writing, like “this is what I want to say?” Either way, unless I lose the ability to speak and write (one of my greatest fears), count me out. I don’t want to have to share this with anyone; not for their sake, but mine. Usually. 

I started reading Oliver Sacks close to ten years ago. Between us, Hawthorne and I collected and read a dozen of his titles. As a person with migraines, and with close proximity to other ways the brain can betray the body, it was fascinating. I recognized some of the stories – patients I had taken in the ambulance and the things that they had said. Some of the diagnoses with more rare characteristics I know I’ve seen on hospital drama shows. The self-care movements of late, with emphasis on how we speak to ourselves, make me want to reread those titles. (Should I add them to my GoodReads list? TBR pile? Change their spot on the bookshelf? Does it count to my year goal if I re-read something? The train rushes on without answers.)

In listening to folks like Brene Brown and KC Davis, as well as in therapy sessions and with certain friends, I accept the challenge of looking inward. I think of all the different “me’s” there are: my inner child striving for perfection, my alter-ego struggling to come to the surface. I think who I try to focus on most are more time-based than psychological, though – past, future, and present me. 

How do I take care of me today?

Past me, I can give her therapy. I pay the fee and let her lead for the 50 minutes. It is her time, to bring up whatever she needs. Parents, relationships, pain, grief. She usually tries to save the good memories for me, or just share them with friends who aren’t paid for their service. She is gracious and if she doesn’t want to use it, she gives it back to present me. 

Future me, I can give her action. I can get that thing done instead of waiting til tomorrow; I can unload the clean dishwasher, prep the coffeemaker, charge the devices. Future me is often harried and forgetful, trying to get out the door with a dog barking in the crate and a toddler insisting her shoes be on the wrong feet. It’s not that she’s not grateful, she just doesn’t usually remember to say it.

Present me. What can I do for present me? I’m still learning. I’m learning to slow down, to let present me breathe. To enjoy the moments as they’re revealed, miniscule packages wrapped in grace. I relax my shoulders, unclench my jaw.

Present me has it tough. She has to deal with the negative self-talk I still fall into (though my most common nickname for myself, dumbass, comes out less and less these days). She gets caught up in the shit; being touched-out, exhausted, and unable to do anything of substance past toddler bedtime. A mere mortal, my wife used to call me, when I wouldn’t accomplish ridiculous amounts of things on an arbitrary list. Fuck that noise. 

All of these gifts – the therapy, the action, the grace – come at costs that I’m willing to pay, if not always able. Sometimes I screw up. I rushed through watering my plants this week, a chore I always enjoy. I usually stop to stroke the leaves, and yes, talk to each plant. They get compliments and wonder, apologies if needed (add to the list: repotting some of these plants. Who can help with the old hoya? What size pot do I need for the new succulents? Why is aloe such damn challenge for me to keep alive? How much food do the violets need? The tracks are singing.) This week I was distracted with a sick kiddo and wanted to get it done. When she is sick, she’s much more snuggly, and it’s easy to let myself rest with her like that. 

If future me gets action, she also gets accountability. That’s a gift, wrapped and waiting patiently, for present me to get there, the satisfaction of checking it off a list or the time and energy saved from it already being done. 

If past me gets therapy, she also gets space. She is not shoved into corners to let everything inside build and build and build; she gets the space to release that. Another gift to present me, the cleanse of release. 

And if present me gets presence in this bonkers and beautiful life, what more could she want?

There’s a quote that has been lodged in my head, paraphrased and uncited. The part that sticks with me is where it says something to the effect of, if we were to be fully present when we did something as simple as grocery shopping, we would be utterly overwhelmed by the beauty of the colors of the produce, the smells from the bakery, the choices before us. Not that I want to spend more time in the grocery store, but I get it. The moments when I put my phone down and pay attention to the moment – good and bad, the snuggles and the puking, the books and the bills – fill my cup. Those moments, the ones saturated in color or scent or light, the ones where I feel my connection to whatever earth I’m standing on, it’s those that I can give myself over and over again.  

And if my mind whispers along the tracks of calling myself spoiled, well, it’ll find something else soon enough. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the view; after all, we’re all just passing through. 

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Safety First, or, As American as Violence

Today I discovered that the FBI released a public service announcement and website on how to attempt to survive a mass shooting. The FBI. The biggest law enforcement agency this country. It’s not even new; it was released three years ago, and just happened to hit my feed today.

Run. Fight. Hide.

If this messaging sounds familiar, there’s a reason for it. 

American politics and policies have long put the onus on the victim to protect and defend themselves. It didn’t start with active shooter drills in elementary schools. Gay folks in the armed forces were taught that they could avoid sexuality-based violence if they kept their mouth shut. Women have been taught for decades how to avoid getting sexually assaulted. Black families have taught their children how to interact with cops so they don’t end up jailed or killed. 

Systemic issues should not place the burden of safety on the individual. And yet, here we are. 

This country was built on the blood and bodies of innocents. The colonizers didn’t see indigenous people as people. Still don’t. 

This country was built on the backs and by the hands of people stolen from their homes and enslaved across oceans. The slavetraders didn’t see black people as people. Still don’t.

This country was built on the unseen labor of women and fertile wombs. The patriarchs didn’t see women as people. Still don’t. 

This country was birthed from violence, and begets, and begets, and begets. 

“It could never happen here.” It could. It has. It does. It will.

Four years ago, I was in the minority (along with my public health friends) who were aware that this country was not prepared for a pandemic. You can’t shoot a virus, so I guess there wasn’t much funding. 

Twenty years ago, I didn’t live with the weight that any day, in any public or semi-public place, I could be a victim of a mass shooting. Columbine was supposed to be a once-in-a-generation tragedy. So was the Oklahoma City Bombing. So was 9/11. 

It has been going on so long I don’t even want to say that it isn’t normal. Because now, it is. 

In my line of work, we like to use simple visual tools to convey big ideas (stay with me here). The one that comes to mind is from OSHA, the organization responsible for ensuring occupational safety. Here it the hierarchy of controls, courtesy of Wikipedia: 

Can you see where we are on the chart? Where marginalized folks have been for generations? 

We are at the personal protective equipment level. 

The hazard has not been removed. It will not be. 

The hazard has not been replaced. It will not be. 

People have not been isolated from the hazard. They won’t be. 

The way people operate their day-to-day lives has changed, it can be argued; but not for safety, not on a societal scale. 

We are at the point of the triangle, where the individual must accept that no one in power is going to do fuck-all for them, and it is their own responsibility to survive the violent actions of other individuals. 

I’m not saying it’s not an important video and message to get out; I’m not saying it won’t save lives. It will. My point is, even though it shouldn’t have to, there are not enough people with enough money and enough power who can eke out a single fuck to give.

I don’t have a solution. Well, I have some ideas, but they keep getting squashed in the hallowed halls of the government. Call this a rant, call this screaming into the void. The video tonight just made it crystal clear that, for some time now, I’ve understood that on any day, it could happen here. And you know what bothers me about that, is how matter-of-fucking-fact it was. Just like, oh, might rain on Thursday. Might cause traffic problems. Might get shot while doing the grocery shopping this week. 

And it’s coming out like this, rage pouring through my fingers, as I sit here knowing my daughter is sleeping soundly having no goddamn idea about this yet in the next room. It breaks my heart and strengthens my resolve that I know all too soon, she, too, will learn that she might be next. 

Check out the video if you have the bandwidth. My daughter will learn how to stop the bleed. How to run, hide, and fight. 

May that she, and you, only ever know the fear of it happening and not the reality. 

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En Queer Air

I just came back from my second solo writing retreat. I started last year and decided it was going to be an annual thing, but both trips have been so beneficial for me, I really want to make it twice a year.

When I started writing this, I was mostly packed. I had my laptop and notebook out; that was it. The dishes were done, the linens collected and cute retro fridge emptied. All my bags were by the front door. 

I did not want to leave Provincetown. 

I had been twice before; the first trip with my ex-husband and his boyfriend, my memory was almost nonexistent. I don’t remember anything but walking alone while they held hands and walked ahead of me. The second time, with my wife and my cousins, was much better; still a little hazy in the rearview (and likely a beer or two), and close to ten years ago. My memories are blurred on the edges, photographs taken with too much joy and laughter to be in focus. I remembered the color on the streets, in the sky, on the people. 

From the moment I first walked downtown, I could tell it hadn’t changed. I mean, sure, I didn’t remember the exact art galleries or the placement of most of the boutique shops, and there certainly weren’t at least four recreational cannabis retailers. We hadn’t left the main drag then, and weed had still been illegal.  

Staying there solo for a whole weekend has been sating the craving in my soul for community, for being queer and creative, for the space to read and to write to my heart’s abandon. 

Queer spaces are few and far between in the real world, and when I’m out and about and it’s not Pride, the absence is noticeable. I feel it in my bones, a whisper the arises with every step on pavement. You are not safe here, not really. You are not the same, and different is dangerous.

I know I exist a lot easier, safer, than a lot of folks in my community. I am protected by my femme invisibility in a way many queer and trans* folx are not; I am protected by the privilege with which I was raised, and shows on my skin. Were I to stop saying the words “wife,” “queer,” “Mexican,” almost no one would look at me and be any the wiser. There is safety in the layers of privilege and protection. Still, I know how many “other” boxes I check, and I know the risks of being “other.”

But here, there is a lightness to my step, a shedding of the fear that inherently ripples through a regular day, a tiny rock stuck in my shoe. Here, I feel I am queer until proven straight. Here, when I walk into a bookstore full of pro-choice and pro-woman and sex positivity rally posters, and I cry, those tears are understood. The woman behind the counter has to ring me up twice after we get to talking and the transaction times out. She offers me the dyke discount, and I take it, walking away with pins and canon I hadn’t previously known. She shared her publication, and invites me to call her when mine is available. 

Here, the veil of threat that hangs over all strange men is gone. I am not leered at, by anyone. Children aren’t pulled away from anyone passing; the only up-and-down looks come from the drag queens who read you in the street the hour before the performance. Here people dress in clothes from the head shop, from the boutiques, the thrift stores and tourist shops, all mingled together. The colors of the town and streets and signs aren’t diminished by the rainbow flags; rather, if anything, the kaleidoscope of the town overshadows the six classic stripes.

I take my time; I walk everywhere possible in Converse and Docs, my skirt flouncing as I step on and off curbs. The goal of this weekend is to rest, read, hike, and write: my favorite ways to make myself a priority. Happy birthday to me, I’m going to enjoy it. This is the first time in five years I have actually felt like celebrating.

My last night there, I walked the mile from my AirBnB to the restaurant at 7pm when dusk was just stealing over, before the coyotes came out. I had two drinks and walked back in my dress at 9:30pm, alert, but not afraid of walking past emptying bars and through residential neighborhoods. 

There is safety in numbers, and the ubiquitous presence of queer and trans* folk was a balm over my fight-or-flight response, still healing after Hawthorne’s death. There is so much hatred in the news, so many people in my community endangered by the insidious poison spewing forth from other states; this gay-ass heart feels constantly bruised. Being in one of the oldest historically queer communities in the US takes the weight off my heart. I drink here because I’m safe, because even at a table alone, I am held. 

The second layer of ease is the sheer artistry I am surrounded with, created by hands and by nature. My first morning, I hiked the causeway at low tide, marveling at the curves the water carved into the sand, the glittering remains of seagulls’ feasts, the grace of the cormorants as they dove. My last morning here happened to be World Book Day, and I celebrated by finishing my 3rd and 4th books of the weekend. I took one to the woods and read poetry out loud, speaking the words into the wind and hearing the trees sigh in appreciation. 

On the map I can see the acreage protected by conservation; in the streets I see the bursting expression of beauty and love in everything from the tiniest sparkle of glitter to the towering sculpture of a snarling griffon. It’s in the flowers planted in tiny gardens, the colors on the houses jam-packed into neighborhoods with streets too narrow to pass on. It is in the library, open til 8pm on weeknights, in the plate glass windows of a hundred galleries, in the crystals embedded into stone walls. It is in the queens’ makeup, and the wrinkled smile of the woman who greets us at the establishment. It is in the voice of an unknown language that sings and reminds me, this is where I belong. Somewhere I can lay down the daily weight of danger, of not belonging, and be enfolded in the loving arms of a place so steeped in creativity, community, and a not-so-subtle “fuck you” to everyone who thinks any of us are less than. 

I didn’t want to leave, and already I yearn to go back. This time, I’ll remember so much more: the causeway and the hills, the way the sand blew across the highway, the comingled scents of lobster and taffy, the sea and pitch pines.

When I did finally leave, watching the rain begin in the rearview, I left with sand in my shoes, zero leftover cake, ten new books. This time, I leave with crystalline memories with the soundtrack of the sea, and a promise that I won’t stay away so long again.

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Irrational, Inescapable Fears

Anxiety is a siren. She beckons, her voice sliding in to wind around my mind. I don’t want to hear it; I don’t want my thoughts to follow her sly whispers, but they are drawn along against my will. She does not sing of that which I most desire, but rather, she has charmed my fear into giving her my secrets. She sings of the death of my loves while I stand helpless, of my own violent end as if I am already half-ghost. 

It was stormy last night; no lashing rain or blanketing snow, but fierce winds that whipped through tight screens and rattled loose shutters, and the temperature plummeted to -10 Fahrenheit. The hundred-year old house groaned and snapped, the heat clattering in pipes that sound off in the walls. The poor dog, anxious during any storm, was practically climbing the walls. She’s mostly deaf at this point, so whatever sense she has of storms must also be confusing when she can’t hear what we can. Still, she seems more comfortable outside than she does in during a storm. She stands facing the wind, her scraggly hair blown back as if she stands on the prow of a ship. She looks fierce in her Thundershirt and her long eyebrows swept back, and has to sniff every individual leaf that has entered the yard since the last time she was out. Then she comes in, shivering, looking pitiful, and only wants to be wrapped up in blankets.

The lights flickered as I made dinner, and I swore I could hear Hawthorne’s urgent voice. “Get the candles in one place. Fill the tub so we can flush the toilet, only pee in the downstairs one! Where are the beans? WHERE ARE THE BEANS? Oh, okay. What pot can we use on the stove? I’m going to make cowboy coffee! Maybe. Where’s the Mokapot? Better grind some coffee while we still have power, I’ll get the hammer to smash more just in case.” I think they were just waiting for their once-in-a-lifetime storm, the kind they heard about from their dad, who snowshoed to his parents’ home in the blizzard of ’77. They had already been through Buffalo’s October storm of 2006, but they wanted their legacy blizzard in Vermont.

It was comforting to think of them as I ran through my mental checklist. I knew where the candles and lighters were; the external battery for the phone was charged. We had plenty of pantry items, and we were not in a situation where we would be stuck without power or heat and with no way out. The extent of my storm prep was to text my cousins and ensure they knew that they were the backup plan if we lost power. It was too cold to mess around with that, and without another heat source.

We kept power; it didn’t even flicker hard enough to disrupt the evening run of PJ Masks. It was Friday night, so the TV stayed on a little later than usual, and we read a couple of extra books. By 8:45, I was ready for Lucy to go to bed, although she wasn’t quite convinced. As she climbed in, however, the siren’s song slipped past my defenses.

I was afraid that she would freeze to death in the night, and I wouldn’t be able to save her.

I stood, watching as she bounced around her toddler bed, avoiding laying down, and I tried to tell myself that was a silly thing to worry about. Her room was warm, the heat was on; I’d wake if the power went out and various things beeped a last complaint, and I would be awake at least twice during the night to let the old lady dog out. She was in no danger.

Do you want to take that risk? Are you willing to gamble on losing again?

I gave in.

It wasn’t hard to convince her to come to my bed. By 9PM, I had the fleece blanket I’d made Hawthorne on the bed, so Ella would have a soft, warm place for her belly, and Lucy tucked up on the inside of my bed, already hogging my pillow. I brushed my teeth and laid down, mentally checking off where my sweatpants and socks were, my robe and extra blanket for letting Ella out. It took Lucy a long time to settle down – relatively, I mean, for a three year old. Within fifteen minutes, my hand was rising and falling with her steady breathing as it lay on her chest. 

At this point, I truly do not know if I could survive losing her. And so the siren sang me to sleep.

I’ve had all the standard advice about anxiety, from deep breathing exercises to medication to “just don’t think about it.” Those things can usually keep the irresistible song to a dull roar, and I can function. 

Last night was just one of those times where it reached out and wrapped around my mind, pulling me against my own volition. I didn’t even try to fight it, not more than the most cursory effort, anyway. It had been a long and difficult week for my anxiety, and I simply did not have the effort, or the fucks, to give. Twenty-four hours later, I have no judgment and no regret. It was a simple fix; she climbs into my bed most nights anyway, jolting me awake in between puppy bathroom breaks. We all slept well and warm in the refuge of my bed.

One day, giving in to the siren may be my downfall, though it’s hard to think of how. Maybe it’ll keep me from taking a trip; maybe it will tell me to not allow Lucy to go off to college alone. I’m not really worried about that.

What I am worried about is that one day, the siren will speak truth, and I won’t hear it until it’s too late. Until I am too late.

So I listen; and some nights, when the wind whips and the temperatures dive deep, I follow her song and aim willingly for the rocks, and I take no chances.

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Come at Me, Bro

The anger is closer, more accessible, than the reason for it or the details. I didn’t know anyone at Club Q. I’m learning the names slowly as the news quietly updates. It bothers me that the only updates I’m seeing are from Huff Post Queer Voices, and sites that lie inaccessible behind paywalls. 

Have we all become numb?

I felt it yesterday; I don’t know if it was the day, the news, or the season, but “numb” is a good descriptor for most of my Sunday. The way my bestie said it summed it up perfectly: “there’s so much to feel and so little space to feel it.” And so, blankness becomes survival. 

Today I woke up anxious and angry. Little things are frustrating; not the stomp-your-foot flavor of frustrating, but the take-a-match-to-it kind. It took me a while to realize why, to remember. It took until afternoon again for anything to cross my Facebook path. 

And this attack happened mere minutes before Trans Day of Remembrance. An annual day of mourning and remembering, scheduled and on a whole lot of calendars, because we know we are going to lose more of our community to violence and hatred. Not long before they died, my wife wondered if they’d make that list one day.

Today, I’m not numb; I am angry, and I am tired. 

I’m not even supposed to be writing this. I had a funny post planned, a nice short one with typos and mistakes I’ve made using talk-to-text, because it’s National Novel Writing Month. I’m about 6000 words off of my goal with just ten days to go. 

I couldn’t post that after I saw the news. And I couldn’t sit silently; not for long, at least.

There’s a tweet going around that says “If you can’t wrap your head around a bar or a club as a sanctuary, you’ve probably never been afraid to hold someone’s hand in public.” And that hit me, hard.

I’ve never seen myself as a victim; not when I was in an abusive relationship, not when I’ve been actively discriminated against. No matter what has happened to me, no matter the dizzying amount of anxiety I have, I still consider myself a fighter. 

Because yeah, I’ve been worried about what it would mean to hold my wife’s hand in public. I’ve felt my protective instincts go up when I am with another woman in public. I’ve taken stickers that I’m proud as hell to display down off my car in order to be safer travelling. I’ve used the buddy system in out-of-state gas stations, leaving the dog in the (running) car, so that my partner would be safer – or have a witness, if they weren’t.

I’ve felt the stares, directed at me, directed at my wife, and before that, other partners. I realize that not everyone knows what it’s like to feel that hot punch of hate, to feel unwelcome because of who you are and who you love. Not everyone knows what it’s like when conversation stops when you walk in, and you know what that silence means.

When Hawthorne and I were first married, there were states where we would half-jokingly say “Oh, guess we’re not married! Ok, see ya!” When we were first talking about having kids, we had to look into the legality of names on a birth certificate before we even felt safe trying. When I was preeclamptic and Lucy’s arrival was imminent, we elected to go to the in-state hospital, which was twice as far away as the out-of-state one, just to protect those rights.

We were denied wedding services by vendors because we were not a union of a man and a woman. We were not-so-subtly called out during our niece’s dedication ceremony; not by name, but it sure was uncomfortable when the message of the sermon was that Jesus can even forgive homosexuals, those that are sexually impure. 

I have been present for a couple fights at bars and clubs, and during my time on the ambulance, responded to plenty. Only two were at known queer establishments, where intolerant people went to make a point – or whatever reason they gave. Still I have felt safer in bars and clubs than I have in most churches I’ve been to. And no, I don’t expect everyone to understand that. What I want people to understand is, my experience is just as true and valid as yours.

These days, I’d love to get a night off and find a gay bar in a major metropolitan city, have a couple drinks, dance, and Uber home. However I’m increasingly afraid of doing so; I’ve got a kid I want to come home to more than I want to unwind at a bar; and truly, Starbucks is no safer from assholes with guns than a bar.

Historically, bars have been safe gathering places for people who existed outside the confines of man-and-woman, binary, and proper. They have been burned down, smoked out, condemned, and shot up. They are flagships of survival. They’ve given their bricks and mortar just as we have shed our tears and blood for our right to exist in this world.

For every person who exists outside the boundaries of the binary, for every person who loves someone they’ve been told by someone – person, organization, religion, or society – for each of you, I am angry, and I am with you.

For every person who has had their life taken by these senseless acts of violence, especially in places when you were supposed to be safe, I am remembering, and I am with you.

For every person who has been harmed, abandoned, assaulted, evicted, disowned, denied your human and civil rights, I am hurting, and I am with you.

For every person who has shed their blood and their tears just to fucking exist, every person who has fought – with cops, with protesters, with religious figures and politicians – I am thanking you, and I am with you.

For every person who has been afraid to hold someone’s hand in public, piss in a public restroom, cut or grow their hair, wear a dress or pants, have stickers on their car, travel to specific places, go out by themselves to get gas, I am raising my hand in sorrow and solidarity, and I am with you.

I’m no victim, and neither am I invincible. I’m fully aware that being a woman, and being queer, make me a target for certain bigots. I’m something to abhor, to castigate and disparage. I’m something to dispose of, teach a lesson to; someone who doesn’t match their idea of what a woman should be, and as such, deserving of scorn and derision. And as I am all of those things, I am something to be feared.

So go ahead, fear me. If you see me as a target, be damn sure that I know it, and your hateful opinion does not change me. You have come for us, and we are still here, and we will continue to be.

I am angry: for me, for my daughter, my friends and family and community. And hell hath no wrath like a woman scorned.

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This May Not Make Me More Friends

In case you haven’t heard, I am queer as fuck. Relentlessly gay with a twist, flannel and skirts, Docs and eco-friendly glitter.

I have a kid. Her papa and I named her Lucy, it seems to fit. It might not always, and that’s ok. We call her “her,” and the same applies. I tend to stick to more neutral language but for pronouns with her; she’s my sweet baby, my smart kiddo, my helpful kid.

I never really thought much about teaching her the words for “man” and “woman” until she came home from daycare last spring and I realized she called men “daddy” and women “mommy.” It made for a few interesting interactions when she’d babble at some guy walking by with his girlfriend and Lucy would point and shout “Daddy! Daddy!” 

I’m not the only solo parent at her daycare; there’s at least one other mom who is also a widow. We’ve connected on a very superficial level and I made it a point to remember her name. Other than that, If the holiday cards are any indication, the percentage of two-parent, heteronormative nuclear family units is quite high. I may be the only openly queer parent, but maybe not. It doesn’t really matter. Or it didn’t, until Today.

Her daycare, now preschool, knows I’m queer and a widow. They know I wear some sort of crystal every day, that I’m a writer, and that I don’t live in town. I doubt they know I am witchy, and I’m certain they don’t know about my late wife’s evangelical upbringing and subsequent church-induced trauma. If they had the slightest idea of what my reaction would be, Tuesday would not have gone down the same way.

It was the first time a glossy invitation came home in Lucy’s lunchbox. I know this is how they distribute birthday party invitations to the parents, because all the kids’ lunchboxes goes home at the end of the day. The parents hand the stack to the teacher, and when the kids are napping or aren’t in the room, the teacher tucks one into each lunchbox. Boom, invitations sent, no stamps or even personal interaction with other parents necessary.

My first thought, “Aww, her first invitation!” was quickly replaced by a swift kick of guilt that I hadn’t gotten her birthday invitations out yet. I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for time ahead of invitations for kids’ birthdays, but I figured around 3 weeks was sufficient. I added the task to my to-so list absently as I looked at the invitation. Something felt wrong; it took me a second to notice there was no information about a kid’s name, birthday, or anything. There was a picture of a kid, maybe 6 or 7, on a mechanical bull wearing a cowboy costume. That was my first warning bell. I flipped it over and saw some activities listed, encouraging kid-friendly Halloween costumes, games, and food options. It was a free community event, but it didn’t say who was throwing it, just that all were invited. 

Then, there it was, the mark of the beast. In the bottom right hand corner was a tiny logo for a church. The warning bells rang in triumph.

The tiny human that won’t stop growing suddenly ran in, distracting me for the moment from diving deeper. She didn’t care about the invitation at all. Seeing as she can’t read yet, it was just a picture on thick paper, and she wasn’t particularly impressed. 

We had a quiet evening; watched her favorite show, read some books, colored some pictures. It wasn’t until after I put her to bed that I remembered the invitation. The initial urge of wanting to say something to the teachers had passed. I didn’t want to create a scene, and I was sure there was no harm intended. Still, I was curious if I had been right in my initial thinking.

I looked up the church and saw familiar language and practices – dedication of infants, the distancing of baptism from salvation, the term “Christ-follower.” All the FAQ were answered carefully; too carefully, for my recovering Catholic brain. Ah, there it is: “proud members of the Covenant Church.” It wasn’t until I clicked on that link that the word “evangelical” finally came into view. It took just two more minutes for me to learn that the Covenant Church had voted to “involuntary remove” two churches from the denomination for continuing to perform and support same-sex marriages. The vote for removal had occurred in the last week. 

Four clicks. It had taken me just four clicks from the initial website to find the evidence I’d suspected; granted, I had the breadcrumbs, and I knew what I was looking for. I almost wished I hadn’t looked into it, because now, I definitely felt like I had to say something. 

This time, Lucy wasn’t affected. She is still learning her letters, and learning that they can be tumbled together into so many words; words that make stories and books and invitations – and messages. Messages that deny the full personhood of our family in multiple ways. 

What’s going to happen when she can read, and she sees this party she wants to go to? It looks like fun! There’s costumes and Halloween activities, food and friends. That will be the day she starts to figure out why we don’t eat at Chik-Fil-A, why we live in New England and always will, why calling her other parent ‘Papa’ draws quizzical looks. She will learn that the rainbow flag doesn’t hang in every house; that rainbows in general mean more than beauty; that the books on her shelf are not found in every kid’s room. She will learn that there is intolerance and hate in the world, and it directly affects her family. She will understand what she has heard many times before – the first Pride was a riot, love is love, and why when she calls other people “mommies and daddies” I correct her to “people.” 

That day is coming. As an inherently queer parent, I have to acknowledge and accept that, just as much as I do that the day will come when she no longer believes in Santa. As a single femme queer parent, she’s protected from much of what she may otherwise see, what I (and especially Hawthorne) have seen. I have a cloak of invisibility in my femininity and single womanhood. Gaydar aside, it’s very possible to look at me and see what is still taken as the norm – a tired single mom. The heteronormativity is implied and expected, which is in part why I try to live my life in a way that screams GAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY. I say this with my politics and my paycheck. I say it with my signature on petitions, with my attendance or lack thereof at events, with memes and blogs and whenever I have the chance. I say it when I take my kiddo to Pride, when I buy her rainbow princess dresses and toddler boy’s pants, when we talk about her Papa. My queerness is absolutely integral to my identity, my life, and my parenting. I love my queerness, and I’m privileged enough to be safe in celebrating it every day. I have a very real fear that this will not always be the case, so I will be as loud as I can about it for as long as I can, and I will show my daughter those ways. 

I have asked my daughter’s preschool to refrain from sending home anything else from any faith-based organization. A blanket request; I don’t think a secular preschool should be handing out anything with religious affiliation at all. Plus, in my experience (and yes, more than this one), it is the evangelical denominations of Christianity that find it acceptable to recruit through children. There are those out there reading this who may be thinking, “You’re overreacting! It’s just a free community event, it’s not recruiting! It’s just a nice thing for the community!” To them, I say that, if that were true, why would an organization go to the trouble and expense of having quality paper invitations designed, printed in bulk, and given to members to be distributed? There has to be some return on investment expected.

The teachers were both wholly accommodating and surprised; as I suspected, they weren’t aware it was from a church. One of parents had asked if they could give out invitations to this free community event. Additionally, I don’t think the parents would necessarily recognize this as I do, but who knows? I certainly don’t know any of them. Since it seems there is at least one family that aligns with not recognizing mine, I’m in no particular hurry to get to know any of them any time soon. 

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My Apologies to Anne Shirley Cuthbert

October is unpacking her bags, filling up the dark corners of my mind. She is wily; she smiles with knowing eyes and bared teeth, as she knows she is right on time. She makes herself at home, walking over victories and bright memories and turning them to dust beneath her feet. She tucks sharp, intrusive thoughts into hidden nooks and settles words that bite like vicious rats into their daytime cages. She crowds the space with self-doubt and unhappy history until there is no room left for the light to wind through. Seratonin maintains its feeble protest at the edges, still present because it has no choice, but rightfully intimidated. 

I hate October.

I used to think it was because it marked the death of my father, now sixteen years gone. It bleeds into winter, and the death anniversaries of my grandmother and my great-uncle. Our family is small, and the loss of those 3 people in a two-year span felt like a cleaver. We didn’t do holidays together anymore. My mother held hard feelings about the other family members around her perception of how much they cared; she was wrong, but the bridges had already burnt. I maintained contact with everyone; certainly no one had asked or intended, but I felt the pressure as the only thing keeping our family together at all. Now, I am keenly aware of that feeling in its new form after the losses of my father-in-law, my son, and my wife. I have almost no contact with my in-laws, and none of the wherewithal to try to span that chasm. 

I remember being afraid last year of what the dark winter would bring. I had been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder at some point, but I’m not sure I recognized it as such until last year. I would tremble on the way home and cry in the driveway, the baby sleeping in the back, at the thought of facing another night. It was less that it was another night alone, and more the unrelenting darkness. 

The first winter after Hawthorne had been so full of things to do – pack, move, find an apartment and a job, transition our whole lives to a new chapter. Seasonal symptoms were masked or obliterated by raw grief. I didn’t have the time, mental space, or energy to even think about anything else. I was still in therapy, and trying to find a therapist in my new state to move to. I had no local friends yet, and the first Covid vaccines had just been released for those at the highest risk, so most of my family was still hibernating. October’s manifestation had been silenced that year. 

I was anticipating it to be rough last year; bad, but not as bad as it was. I functioned; I took care of Lucy, I went to work. I made plans with people, had standing dates for dinner, and tried. The exhaustion felt different; it felt false and unearned. I felt robotic, and after I had gotten Lucy to sleep, could feel myself power down. I would put the TV on and tell myself I was invested in the show, pull the blanket up to my chin, and sleep. Most nights I wanted to stay there, not having the energy to get myself to bed, but the fear of withdrawal from not taking my antidepressants eventually pushed me to my room. 

One night in February, I called a help line. I wasn’t thinking of hurting myself; I already hurt enough. I did not want to kill myself, but the intrusive thoughts of simply not wanting to be alive anymore terrified me. It wasn’t the first time I’d felt this way; the last time I had, I’d gone to a peer mental health respite house. So that’s who I called. 

Just that connection, to a landline phone hundreds of miles away, tethered me back. Two things had just happened: I had called out for help in my weakest moment, and the call had been answered with love and compassion. At 11 PM on a February night, the first flicker of dawn shone gray through the deep and the dark. 

For the holiday season, I had gifted myself a solo writing retreat in a cabin in New Hampshire. That trip came less than two weeks after that phone call, and those two actions are definitely in the top 5 best things I have ever done for myself. That was when the light began to come back. The skies didn’t fully clear for another month, but hope began to grow in the frost-hard ground. 

This past week was a harsh reminder of last winter. I’d had flickers of worry over the spring and summer that this was going to be bad again, but I felt bolstered by the work I had done. I had spent five months waitlisted and am now working with a therapist who is incredibly well-suited for my needs. I have a network of friends and family, local and not-so-local. I have lists upon lists – self-care ideas, people to call, things I’m looking forward to. I’m making a tangible toolbox with these handwritten lists, colorful stones, pretty happy stickers, and my action plan, updated and yes, colorful. 

I have the tools, the supports, the plans to get through this upcoming winter as healthy as possible. I know who I can call when I’m sad, when I’m scared. I will be OK; it’s just that getting there is going to suuuuuuuck.

I don’t want to hate October. I’m not generally a pumpkin spice latte fanatic, but if not for the darkness, I’m much more L.M. Montgomery – I’m so glad to live in a world where there are Octobers. I like football, and apple picking, and fall fests and leaf peeping and all the beautiful benefits of living in New England in autumn. I try to fill my days with them, soaking as much sun in as I can before the light changes to gold, before the evening arrives earlier and earlier. 

The clocks will change soon. I’ll reset the three in the kitchen, the last I have that don’t update themselves. I’ll change the batteries in the closet lights so I can see my clothes without waking the little one who occasionally stumbles in for 2 AM snuggles. I’ll turn the heat on, weed the garden one last time for winter, and trim back the branches that have started to block the way to the trash bins. I’ll get Lucy a new heavy coat and new boots, and pack up my sundresses. Garland of leaves will be hung, costumes finished, birthday plans made. I will stand outside and stretch my arms out and lift my face to the thinning light, trying to warm myself like the cormorants on the rocks.

Spring will come, with its tulips and its birdsong. October will last exactly thirty-one days, and the following months at their prescribed intervals. Even in winter, the sun rises. 

I would have made a terrible Alaskan. 

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Reluctant Time Travel

I’m back.

Back where I don’t want to belong, or at least, I don’t want to belong. Yet I find myself here, again and again. 

Back in that cool fall room, the morning mist still rising from the recently shaded lawn. Even as the leaves fell, the shadows deepened, and the buzz of insects was slower to chorus. 

Not from exertion, but from having it stolen, I stand out of breath at the doorway. My wife lays in bed, not noticing my approach. The scene glitches, and then they lay on the floor, pale and cool, wearing only red plaid boxers and top surgery scars. We had joked so often about the near-translucent whiteness of their pale skin; now it was the brightest color in the room. 

I don’t want to belong here. I don’t want to be here. 

I don’t want to find myself here, over and over, when I am running down the sidewalk, waking up from a dream, startled by an unexpected hand on my shoulder; this is where I wake. Thanks, I hate it. 

I hate that the vision I have of the love of my life is, most often, their death.

Sometimes, the doorway is as far as I get. I stand there, frozen in time, staring, unable to move.

Sometimes I feel the bones in their chest break under my hands. 

Sometimes I am pacing in another room, begging for someone to come while the first responders push breath and electricity into someone who doesn’t need those things anymore.

Sometimes I walk out the front door, dazed, and see the volunteer firefighters in a social distance half-circle around Lucy in her stroller, too small to be strapped in that way. 

I have never been in time. 

I have never had a do-over; never got there early enough, never yelled loudly enough for them to hear, never threatened – then followed through – on calling 911 if they didn’t answer. 

They never answered. 

Sometimes, in the bright sunrises over the duplex homes on our street, I’ll remember the last time I saw them alive. The soft moments just after dawn when I had tucked them in after a bath when they’d been unable to sleep, nuzzled the recently buzzed baby duck hair, and told them I loved them. Get some good sleepies, I said, and slipped out the door while they were still asleep.

What if I hadn’t? What if I had stayed while they’d slept?

For years, I have prized my early-rising morning time. My body has never liked sleeping in. And now, that morning especially, I wanted to write. I had just started really writing again – just the week before, I had posted for public accountability that this blog would be updated every two weeks. I figured the off-weekends would be the best time for actually writing, so I was at my desk with full-octane coffee. I was no longer pumping breastmilk for the baby, so when she woke up, I’d changed and fed her, and settled in her swing next to my desk for her first morning nap. I was tapping away at the keyboard – like mice tap-dancing, according to Hawthorne – when the sound of their snoring coming through the floorboards changed. I listened, and didn’t like how long it took the next one to sound out. 

Sometimes I go back to walking up the steps, and think I remember thinking about getting the phone, unlocking the door. But I didn’t then, and like I said, I haven’t had any do-overs. 

I remember the turn of the stairs, my thick socks cushioning my steps down the hall. I couldn’t hear the creak of the swing or the tinkly music, but knew I’d hear Lucy if she cried. Then I’m back at the doorway. 

I don’t know if it was grief or parenting that made me realize what a bullshit construct time really is. The two have been intertwined for me since July 19, 2018. Some days, I look at their picture and wonder where they’ve disappeared to, since the house isn’t that big. Some days their life seems like it was too long ago to count in anything but eons. 

It’s been two years since I first walked into our bedroom and found my wife, too pale and still for this world. It’s been nearly that long since I physically stood in that bedroom. It’s been about three hours since I was last there. 

This is not what I thought time travel would be like. I mean I suppose I should have expected some pain, what with the rearranging of atoms across the time-space continuum, but this keen slicing of paper-thin sheets of my heart is a little much. The wail of grief is well imprisoned, an iron mask that no one really wants to acknowledge; if they did, they’d have to face their own certain mortality, and so many people just aren’t ready to think about that. Who is? Only those who have been given no choice, their brush with it close enough to feel her breath. 

Have you felt it? 

I live with that breath inside me, entwined in me. It has the most intimate knowledge of my lungs, my arteries and veins. I have carried life in my womb, and in my arms. I have carried death in both as well. Sometimes I feel she walks alongside me, and the touch of her hand to my shoulder is the trigger that sends me back across time and land to arrive, again, at the open bedroom doorway. I am the time traveler, but it is at her whim. 

I want to belong at home, here at my desk, tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard like mice in the walls. I want to belong with the scent of farmer’s bouquets, pungent and spicy as the world turns toward autumn. I want to belong where the laughter of my daughter is, and her increasingly clear speech.

But I don’t; at least, not only there. 

Time passes when I’m in the bedroom doorway. It starts out bright, the early morning September sun streaming through the bathroom windows and onto the floor just where I stand. It moves; the beams of light grow shorter as the sun rises higher, changing the angles. I stand, staring, as the world continues to turn around me. I don’t want to belong here. 

But I do; at least it’s not only there. 

Grief is a trickster, for all her sad smiles and damp eyes. She’ll fool you without mercy. Death is the one who makes things happen, who pushes the buttons and programs the machine. Time is a construct, a scarecrow, a nonsense creation that falls apart and gets stuck back together at odd angles. These three sisters, hair falling down in mobius curls; they are muse and master. There is no one that they have not touched, not rock nor tree nor person, let alone a displaced people. We are at their mercy, of which they have none. Always a step ahead, up around a quiet corner, waiting; waiting until you are right where they want you. 

And what do we do? We fight back, because that’s what we’ve been told. On the ambulance, we raced to the scene, sirens screaming down side streets at all hours of the night, letting everyone in earshot know that we were the front line against death. We buy cards with platitudes, console people with thoughts of being in a better place and sanitized images of angels. We buy cream after lotion after facelift in order to turn back the clock. 

For all of that, though – the bravado, the Hallmark and Oil of Olay profits – we fight back with hope, and continued solidarity, intrinsic to our corporeal bodies. We rise, and breathe in, then out. Over and over and over again. 

Time passes, smoothly or in fits and starts. Grief waxes and wanes. Death eventually takes our breath for her own.

I am standing in the bedroom door, watching the chest of my wife fail to rise and fall. I breathe in, then out, over and over as I stand, immobilized, wishing for this not to be true. Eventually I awake, and I am back. I breathe in, then out. And I rise for another day.

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Another Walk, Another Beach

We spent Labor Day weekend with family. We went to the beach, the three of us. Three generations. Lucy, for particularly toddler reasons, didn’t want to be in the water. Instead she was fascinated that we could draw on the sand, and after some coaching from Nana, she drew circle after lopsided circle. I chased her around the beach, apologizing when she would disregard all sense of personal space and run between towels and occupied chairs. Folks laughed and commented on how adorable he was, then looked slightly confused and embarrassed when I’d call out “Lucy!” Since she has a whole floaty vest thing, it’s easiest to put her in swim trunks at the beach, which increases the confusion for people. I was going to say ‘misgendering’ but hell, Lucy doesn’t even know if she’s right- or left-handed yet. Just because I’m calling using ‘she/her’ doesn’t mean I’m not the one getting it wrong. 

I had waited too long to put on the sunscreen I pulled out of Lucy’s backpack, and neglected a couple spots completely. I don’t really have pictures from the weekend to redirect the conversation, so I’m resigned to hearing multiple iterations of “oh, looks like you’ve got some sun!”

The next morning I made the beach trip that I really came for. I’d been restless the day before on the sand, heart searching for something that even the sunny time filled with Lucy’s laughter couldn’t fill. The parking lot was closed; the last weekend of the season, and dawn was minutes away from breaking. The gate was opened by someone from the town to let the sandraker in, the beach version of the Zamboni. The long metal bar swung closed, so I pulled over to the side and parked behind the only other vehicle around. Above, I could hear the young osprey calling out. They would be on their own soon, flying back south, finding their own meals as they lost the last of the soft down of their heads.

I walked through the lot and onto the shore. This particular beach faced southwest, so that the sun was coming up behind both me and the dunes. The sweep of clouds overhead, white brush strokes against jewel blue. A passing gull was lit up pink and gold. I didn’t need to see the bright face of the sun to experience the glory of its rising. I took a moment, breathing it in, feeling the wind pull at the hem of my dress to extend it behind me, pressing the fabric against my body. I tried not to think about the silhouette I made, since there was no one else to witness but the sky and the sea, and they were certainly not unhappy or judgmental over it. I hoped they were as glad of my presence as I was of theirs. The wind swirled around me a moment, a soft embrace. I was going to smell like the sea all day.

Mine were not the only footprints in the surf. My walk was preceded by two other sets, soft indentations that would be carried away when the tide returned. I didn’t follow them with any intention, but rather wondered how many of these walks I had taken, parallel in time to one another. I took them with Hawthorne, with my babies, with family and friends. Most often now I take it alone, and talk to those who left. 

I brought a bucket this time, the small green pail from Lucy’s beach toy set. I stooped here and there to pick up a shell or a rock, some detritus of the knots of seaweed. I talked a little, to the waves that carry some of my loves, but I didn’t feel like I have much to say. I couldn’t shake the restlessness. I rolled out my shoulders again and again, but could not get them to relax. It’s an itch that can’t be reached, deep in the muscle and sinew. My bucket filled very slowly. There’s not much on the sand that called to me to pick up, to hold for a moment and smile at. It’s the busiest season for the beaches, and no recent storms have left many of the shells and rocks under the waves. 

I looked toward the dunes. They are roped off, protecting the nesting grounds of the terns and piping plovers. There would be no visit to the tree today, and I was prepared for that. However, on the other side of the thin, fluorescent cord strung between wooden stakes, the sands on the edges of the dunes has been disturbed. Temper rose in me swiftly, as if called by and rode on the wind. White rocks and shells spelled out two names, flanked by “BFF” and “summer 2022” in smaller font. More shells created flat replicas of fireworks, and a few steps later, spelled out GOD BLESS AMERICA that reached from the angle of the shore all the way up to the visible roots of the dune grasses. This was no memorial, no labor of love. This was for Instagram and selfies and Facebook memories. If you need to disturb the fragile edges of the dune to get attention, you’re doing it wrong, my mind snarled. Deliberately I turned back to the water and paused to breathe it in, to let the anger flow out with my breath and be carried away.

I reached the end of the southwest side of the beach and looked out along the rocks that formed the channel for the ferries. It was quiet here, the rumble and clicks of the sandraker too far to overcome the gentle rush of waves. Gulls picked through thick mats of seaweed, reluctant to leave as I approached. I turned away from the little jetty and followed the sand around the point as a ferry glided past, taking the riders out to the islands, cars and all. 

The water on the other side, facing northeast, was as calm as I had ever seen the ocean. From the shore you could not even see the bob of the buoys and boats that were anchored in the little harbor; they had already absorbed the disturbance from the passing ferry. I stayed close to the jetty, where the expanse of sand was still damp and smooth from the tide. One by one, I pulled the ocean’s offerings from my bucket and laid them down, adjusting the lines every few placements, until I was happy with the shape of the heart. It was not as big as when Hawthorne and I made it together, but it was big enough for my purposes. I took the sable brown feather dropped by an immature gull and wrote Oscar’s name and date, Hawthorne’s. The writing was finer than it was with Hawthorne, too, as they had preferred a stick. I took my single picture, and a video of the shoreline; not for social media and attention, but for a couple friends who I knew could use a moment or two of peace in their day.

I sat back and watched the cormorants come and go, and the occasional sandpiper. The gulls preferred the other side of the beach. A couple folks walked by; good New Englanders, they kept their distance and their mouths shut. Sometimes the best acknowledgement was being ignored completely. 

From there, I lost track of time. 

The tension in my shoulders finally eased, the gentle lap of the waves lulled me. If I looked closely, I could see the buoys rise and fall, maybe a couple inches up and down. The boats beyond them looked as still as a painting.

Eventually, I felt the lightest pressure against my boot, and looked down to see the shy little wave retreat. I smiled, and let my fingers down just above the sand, greeting the water when it rolled back in. 

I took my time walking this side of the beach, noticing the different shells that collected here than the other side of the dunes. There weren’t a lot, again a nod to the lack of rain and storms that would leave the beach littered with shells. I was about to turn toward the boardwalk when I noticed that someone had made a couple of piles – one of razor clams, one of thickly layered oyster shards, and one of horseshoe crab pieces. I appreciated the organization, so when I saw a couple of crab legs between the water and the boardwalk, I reached down to pick them up and add them to the pile. But they weren’t crab legs; they weren’t anything from a crab at all. 

Bones. 

The two halves of a full jawbone of some kind of fish, with a three-inch row of short, sharp teeth; the first bones I have ever found at this particular beach. With puzzled gratitude and a strong sense of satisfaction, I placed them gently in my empty pail, and walked back to the car.

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Take A Walk With Me

I am falling asleep at my computer; the record validation I am working on is going smoothly enough, it’s just tedious and I’m tired. Lucy’s schedule does not change for September, yet I feel like she’s already trying to stretch both ends of the day in the anticipation of returning to school.

So, with no meetings on the calendar, I take myself for a walk and head across the street to the little beach. I step deliberately on the bright shards of glass, grinding them further into the rocks and sand under my thick-soled boots. The glass here is not a gift from the sea, but the recent litter of people, so I like to play a small part in smoothing their edges.

About ten feet out in still-shallow water is a worryingly large splash, with no bird near enough to associate it with. This cove is rather industrial, and my imagination runs wild with visions of mutated sea creatures that feed on the pollution, pulling down the occasional gull from the surface.

A white band circles the water’s edge, marking an earlier tide. The pale skin of dried seaweed chokes out the grasses in a narrow strip. I use this as my guide; above the line is dryer, the stones and shells paler, while below the line everything is covered with a thin veneer of still-wet sediment. 

When I walk the beach, I find no bones. Those are gifted to me, at odd moments and at odd places, and never where I think I will find them. Instead I find crab and clamshells, and rocks broken under human intervention. So many of the stones you expect to find at the beach – rounded corners, soft edges that lay smooth in your fingers – have been abruptly interrupted. Maybe they fell to just the right pressure in just the right spot as they were buffeted by construction to sheer off into a flat surface, or thrown against a sharp boulder to crack them open and reveal the darker true color of the sun-washed stone. I take my phone out and make a note: stone-crossed lovers searching for the other half to the one they hold, meeting on the beach and discovering each other. Yeah, I can work with that. 

Thunder echoes in from the direction of the wind, and I look up to thick gray clouds. There’s no rain yet, just the tease of it on the humid air. The cove is sheltered, so there really aren’t any waves to join the strengthening wind.

I approach a tide pool in direct defiance of the thunder as the gulls begin to sound their alarm. There’s no life in the pool that isn’t already strewn along the rocks; periwinkles and limpets that cling to broken shells, turning what was once the home of a single mollusk to a crowded apartment building. 

As I begin to walk back up to higher ground, I think of the starfish story, and remember Hawthorne throwing back shell after shell stacked with new inhabitants. There is nothing here that I throw back, nothing I need to save; even as I’m thinking this, a clam spits out a warning from beneath the surface. The stream just misses the toe of my boot, and I laugh. They have their own defenses that don’t include a flight from my hands. Sure, they are more likely to be caught and eaten out here on the drying shore, but they’ll survive the cyclical rise and fall of the sea. Any who do become stranded will be quickly dispatched by the gulls. Such is the natural cycle of life on the beach.

I stoop and pick up a stone; quartz, it is jagged and pocked. I am always on the lookout for hag and wishing stones. This is neither, but it is oddly warm when I pick it up – I don’t need to scan the beach to know it is empty of people, even as it teems with life below me. The skin prickles on the back of my neck, and the cracking sound in the roll of thunder demands my return to the damp cool of my basement office.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Sometimes I will pick up a stone in the forest, or a shell on the beach, and find it feeling like it has already been held, warmed by hand other than my own. I wonder who it is. I wonder who walks with me; I wonder if they bend more easily than I do, or if pain still resides in their spirit, the very atoms scarred. If so, what scars are we made of, what marks do we carry as we are conceived and borne and grow? What pock marks and holes and missing pieces are we made of? Which star bled for each of us? How can we continue to consume and consume from our world and not give back, when will the universe demand it’s due? The number of people who die in a day are replaced within minutes. What is that if not the road to catastrophe?

The first fat drops of rain hit my back at nearly a 45-degree angle. Already the rain is coming in, driving itself sideways, hurrying those like me who’ve tarried too long, breathing in the energy of the coming storm. I wonder how Lucy’s day is going; if she’s feeling it, and being a little shit. My poor dog, I’m sure, is huddling behind the front door, her recent safe spot. I wasn’t expecting a storm and neglected to put on her Thundershirt. I’ll come home to a puddle inside the house, away from all the windows, my poor old lady. She’ll get some extra cuddles tonight, which will be easy since she’ll become my shadow the moment we get home.

I don’t have pockets in this dress, so I carry the stone with me and put in on my desk. It joins a couple pieces of glass, my wind-up toys, and a curved piece of broken shell that spoke to me on the very same beach when I was first transferred to this office. It might stay right there, just north of my keyboard; or it might join the plants in the window, enjoying the turns of shade and sun. I wonder if it will be warm when I pick it up, and who will hold it in the meantime.