So, here I am, back in Denver, one of the last places I thought I’d end up. But I honestly didn’t know where else to go.
It’s not a bad place to be, Denver. I just never felt like it fit me. But nowhere seems to fit. Paris maybe, but that’s not really an option right now.
A dear friend offered me a room in a condo she rents out until I get my feet under me. It’s cozy and I have a warm bed to sleep in, so it’s a start.
But it is a bit further removed than I’d anticipated, which wouldn’t be an issue if I had a car. Let’s just say Denver isn’t famous for its public transportation.
I actually don’t know anyone who has taken the bus by choice…and now I know why. I avoided it as long as I could, but my neighborhood has little to offer – one coffee shop a mile away in one direction and a handful of bars and stores a mile in the opposite direction. I don’t mind the walk so much, but the destinations don’t feel worth the schlep, especially when it’s freezing outside.
The bus I have to take is ‘the 0’. Fitting, since that’s pretty much where I’m starting from. I’ve tried to put a more positive spin on it, but all I came up with is it will be a hard one to forget. (Or an easy zero to remember for that ‘positive spin’).
My first experience was…interesting. A trip that used to take me 15 minutes to drive took over an hour. But it wasn’t terrible.
The way back, however, was a bit of an adventure.
The 0 was delayed by half an hour, so I hopped on the first bus headed south. This seemed like a logical choice until I realized the route ended way before my stop, which meant a transfer at “the station.”
We pulled off the main road to what was basically a huge, empty lot. It was darker than it should have been, which made it feel like we were in the middle of nowhere.
The bus drove off, leaving me with three other men, each sitting on a separate bench.
I’m not the paranoid type, probably to a fault. And yes, I have put myself in some questionable situations. But I’m not reckless either, and I know when I need to stay vigilant. I didn’t feel like this was one of those situations. However, my phone had conveniently stopped working, and I had no idea when the next bus was coming. So, not exactly ideal.
I paced back and forth, trying to stay warm. I caught the three men looking my way a few times, but they seemed harmless. And I’m sure they were curious why I was there. I don’t think I qualified as a typical passenger on this particular route.
The youngest of the three finally approached me. He wasn’t threatening at all, more concerned. He asked if I knew which bus to catch. I assured him I did.
I had no idea.
After what felt like hours, a bus finally pulled up. I didn’t care which direction it was going, as long as it was going.
My next trip after hours proved to be…I guess “animated” would be the best word to describe it.
It wasn’t that late, but the bus was almost empty. Two younger girls sat huddled in the seats lining the wall, facing toward the aisle. A very talkative, somewhat obnoxious man sat across from them. He was trying to interact with them, but they kept their heads down, doing their best to ignore him. I couldn’t help but feel protective, so I casually moved over to the seat closest to them.
We came to a stop. The driver got up to lower the ramp for a man in a wheelchair. The obnoxious man hopped up and lifted the bench to make room for him, which made me feel bad for thinking he was obnoxious. We started to pull away, then jerked to a halt when a woman began slamming her fists on the door.
The driver knew her and they began chatting as the woman made her way down the aisle. She sat in the seat directly behind me and continued to yell up to the driver. “So, did you hear that so-and-so from the center just got thrown in jail for murdering his wife?”
This abruptly transitioned into her announcing to everyone, “You know what happened to me last night? Four policemen jumped me and tried to take me to jail.” She rolled up her sleeves and came over to show me her hands. “See the marks from the handcuffs?”
The man in the wheelchair and the ‘not as obnoxious’ guy teamed up, laughing at her, saying she was crazy.
She jumped to her feet and screamed. “I am not crazy! They ran all their god damned tests on me that proved it. I am not fucking crazy!”
I pulled the cord, exhaling when I heard the words, “stop requested.” Cold and dark for a couple of miles seemed preferable to murder and abuse.
I decided to sync up my bus outings with the light of day for a spell…and never leave home without my headphones.
The next morning’s ride was a short one, no more than 15 minutes. Odds were good I could make it to my destination without incident.
I was just a few blocks away from the coffee shop when the man next to me requested a stop. He started making his way to the door but stumbled backward when the driver hit the brakes. Something fell out of his bag and I instinctively reached down to pick it up.
I did my best not to react as I handed him back his knife.
It wasn’t a menacing knife, necessarily, but it wasn’t a pocket knife either. I don’t believe this man had the slightest intention of using it on anyone. And given the direction he was coming from, I get why he had it…just in case.
I’ve never really felt like my life was in danger. Everyone, for the most part, is harmless. But I have realized I don’t exactly blend in, as I seem to be the one “the man who had a few too many” gravitates toward.
I also see the curious side glances when I sit down or the blatant scans from head to toe. Maybe I’m just paranoid, not because I think their looks are threats or advances. They feel more like judgments, as if to say, “who the hell are you?”
I usually ignore it, but sometimes I just want to look them in the eye and assure them…
I have no fucking idea. I lost her quite a ways back, and I can’t seem to find her.
That’s what I want to say. I want them to know that I don’t think for a second I am better than anyone else who takes a seat on Bus 0. We are all doing our best to navigate our circumstances.
But no, I don’t want to be here. I actually couldn’t be further away from where I want to be.
Yesterday, I missed my stop. But instead of getting off and working my way back, I just sat there, staring out the window. We headed downtown, making our way closer to where I used to live. We passed the place I used to take Biscuit to get his bath, then the place ‘E’ and I went the year I decided to like football, then the gym I used to drag him to, the place I took dance lessons, the coffee shop where I used to study during grad school…
This was my world, where I no longer belong. What used to be home, now feels like a warped cassette tape. The same song is playing, but it doesn’t make sense anymore-the words are garbled, the melody distorted. And there is no way to fix it.
I feel like I’ve been exiled, still able to roam freely, but imprisoned by boundaries I can no longer cross and memories that have been hallowed out by regret.
The bus stopped and everyone got off. It was the end of the line.
I was mad at myself for wasting the morning searching for a place I wasn’t going to find and ending up nowhere close to where I needed to be.
I finally found the bus I needed to get back and waited impatiently as everyone boarded. The driver closed the doors and headed out, then stopped abruptly to let someone else on.
I was annoyed, tired of waiting, of feeling isolated and lost in a place I used to call home.
I knew I was spiraling, so I forced myself to revisit my ‘gratitude list’.
I’m grateful for my friends, for my warm bed…that I have all of my limbs.
But it wasn’t working. I wasn’t grateful. I was angry.
The woman slowly made her way up the stairs and stopped to greet the driver who seemed genuinely happy to see her.
He smiled, “How was your day?”
Without hesitating, she responded, “Well, no one I love died today, so I’d say, all and all, it was a good day.”
That sounded much better than “I have all my limbs”, so I added it to my list.
I’m grateful that no one I love died today.
The woman sat in the seat across from me. Her face was hard and soft at the same time, her demeanor firm but gentle. She seemed familiar. Did I know her?
She caught me staring at her and I tried to smile. She nodded her head slightly and made her way to the exit, disappearing into the crowd of people waiting to get on.
She had only said a few words, but her voice lingered, filling in the words taking shape in my head.
Hold on, love. You’ll get to where you want to go. But you won’t find it back there. You’ll have to take a different route. You’re headed in the right direction, though. Just keep moving forward…one stop at a time.
I know, “I won’t be here forever”, “I am more than my circumstances”, “the further you fall, the higher you rise”…I know.
Just somewhat comical. I go so fluidly between being flown across the world on seemingly exotic adventures…to sleeping on friends’ couches.
It was a full set of teeth.
I somehow refrained from reacting and promptly looked down, pretending to be studying my distance/speed stats intensely. I definitely never saw a heavy-set man walk directly in front of me, bend down, and pick up his teeth.
That’s something I can sink my teeth into…
So I went under…because everything kind of blew up. What I mean is, I went Down Under, to Australia.
Why Australia? To visit a friend. Because he wasn’t just a friend. But now he is…or perhaps he will be someday.
So things didn’t quite go the direction I’d hoped. But onward and upward, right? Although I’m not quite sure which way that is at this point.
It seems that I haven’t gotten the whole ‘things are looking up‘ thing down.
I’ve gotten close. Painfully close. My sister was optimistic, my friends let out a sigh of relief, cheering me on to what we thought was the other side. And we did get really close.
But here we are. Except, that’s kind of the issue…
I can’t exactly say where I am? Teetering on the edge of oblivion sounds about right- still walking on the wrong side of the street, sleeping on yet another friend’s couch (who is literally why I’m at least still teetering), and my current physical address is a P.O. Box.
What I do know is my mind is reeling, my heart hurts, and my soul is most definitely bruised.
But this is my Oprah moment, right? That moment when it all seems so bad that you just have to laugh at how ridiculous it is or you will go mad. To keep your wits about you, you imagine yourself recounting that moment when you hit rock bottom and the play-by-play of your subsequent ascent.
This is mine, right?
Except I already have a solid collection of ‘rock bottoms’. I’m all set for the whole “redemption- see the gift in it all- inspire millions with my strength and resilience” part.
But apparently, we’re not quite there yet.
Not to worry, I shall forge on…or up or whichever direction is required to resist gravity and steer clear of rabbits.
In the meantime, I get to be in a beautiful place with a dear friend, do my best to walk on the ‘right’ side of the street, and switch from enjoying spring Down Under to fall a bit further up.
And really, doesn’t fall-ing up sound better than falling down?
Be clear, I’m not a germaphobe.
In the states, I probably take more liberties than most with the various bacteria lurking on doorknobs, kitchen counters and community peanut bowls. I’m sure I’ve raised a few eyebrows when I fail to skip a beat before rescuing a precious morsel from the floor that fell off my plate.
Cringe if you must, but I’ve always had a resilient immune system, which I credit to the steady flow of all things vitamins and minerals I try to consume…and the threat of having to stay in bed all day if I do get sick, which I rarely do. So why dowse myself with copious amounts of anti-bacterial gel?
So off to the Congo I went, armed with my super-human immune system and a solid supply of vitamin supplements, fully prepared to embrace any unsavory bacteria strings I might encounter in the jungles of Africa.
…Let’s just say, since my arrival, I’ve found myself a bit hesitant to ingest the contents on my plate…or breathe in, really.
The reality is, soap is a luxury item here (as is toilet paper). The only cleansing option available is a toxic-looking, soap-esque powder that’s locked up in the sanctuary office.
Each morning, Christophe scoops out a small portion on a scale, scribbles down the exact weight, and then distributes it to the workers for their daily shower. (It seems counter-intuitive to shower before you are going to do hard-core labor for 8 plus hours, but it’s to protect the chimps and monkeys from germs).
Beyond that, the only cleaning supplies I’ve spotted in the kitchen are an extremely weathered scrub brush and tap water.
That brings us to drinking water. A seemingly normal process, the water is boiled and stored in plastic bottles…that held their initial purified contents a very, very long time ago.
You know the smell- the water bottle you refilled a couple of times, left in your gym bag for too long, opened it back up, got a whiff…and decided against it. I’ve found it best just to shut off my senses and chug.
And then there is the issue of electricity. There is none.
This means our refrigerator is now more of a bug and cat deterrent than a means to preserve perishable items. I’ve refrained from trying to explain my loss of appetite when Carmen offers me leftover chicken from two nights before…I just can’t do it.
My break from my carnivorous tendencies has proven timely at this point, placating my conscience and my stomach.
Or so I thought…
I’ve just finished my first round of antibiotics. And yes, my bottle of anti-bacterial gel is my new constant companion.
In keeping with the theme this week, I’ll offer up a love story of sorts.
Okay, it’s not really a “love story”, in the traditional sense. But it is a story, and it does involve love.
In the romantic sense, love has proven itself to be a fickle companion. I’ve lost myself in it and also found myself. I’ve sworn it off completely, and then blindly plunged back in. I’ve felt it with a force as powerful as breath, and now find myself wondering if it even exists.
But I’m a romantic and seem to be incapable of giving up on it completely.
So Valentine’s Day. I admittedly get seduced by it all: a day dedicated solely to celebrating the person I love and being spoiled by the person who loves me. It’s a subject I believe worthy of its own holiday.
But I’m also acutely aware that this day can place loneliness and heartbreak at center stage, making the absence of the person we love as consuming as their presence used to be liberating.
That’s the side of it I was on, once again. There was no lover to spoil. And besides the sweet guy at the coffee shop, I wasn’t the object of anyone’s affection.
All to say, I expected to be in the same place I was last year: front and center.
I am, in fact, front and center, but not in the same place.
It feels more like equilibrium.
There was no huge revelation that occurred. I didn’t even realize anything had changed until the sweet boy at the coffee shop gave me a chocolate heart. It made me happy. And I didn’t want it to be from anyone else. And I was completely content with the fact that I had the whole day to myself. And there wasn’t anyone I was missing (not entirely true. I miss perhaps the true love of my life, my Biscuit, terribly but subject at hand.)
It seems I unknowingly declared a truce.
Despite the fact that I desperately wanted to move on, I kept looking back. I’ve recycled everything possible- memories, relationships, behaviors- all of which kept taking me back to the exact same place I was before…which was the last place I wanted to be.
This isn’t to say that my mind has completely stopped revisiting what’s lurking beneath the surface. But I finally understand its tactics. I can catch it now, reel it in and release what has clearly been sustaining my demons all along.
But there is admittedly one last relationship I’m trying to rekindle. It’s risky to be sure. It was extremely messy before and full-on destructive when we parted ways. But I really do believe it will be different this time.
I think she’s finally realized she had something special that she came really close to losing.
I’m struggling a bit with all of this.
Writing in general. sharing all of this, exposing my mess. This blog is the thing that brings me the most joy these days, but I can’t help but wonder, am I killing you? Are you so over hearing me bleed? I know I am. But shit, I’m still bleeding a little bit.
So I admittedly went into publishing mode, which I certainly don’t think is a bad thing. It makes me happy to see my words out there in a forum that can reach more people. I love seeing people’s comments, even if they aren’t positive (okay, I don’t like seeing those, but I suppose it means that I made them feel something). And I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty fucking cool to see my bio hanging out down there below an article published in the Washington Post. I’m only human.
But then I come back to this, to you: this community that has grown into something akin to a family, kindred spirits who offer me brief glances into your lives. I get to learn your beautiful stories, one post at a time. It feeds my soul on a daily basis. And your writing!! It blows my mind, and I can’t believe you actually want to read mine. But now, I have this crazy fear you’ll stop wanting to. Because goddammit, I’m tired. I’m tired of being sad. I’m tired of writing about being sad. And I can’t help but think that you have to be tired of reading about sad. But I haven’t quite arrived at happy yet, so what the hell do I write about?
On a side note, for you poor souls who think going on a second or third date is a good idea, I have discovered a full proof method to ensure that we definitely won’t. Just say something to this effect:
So I think you should write about…I don’t know, something happier, like your travels or maybe how you are getting through all of the pain…something that might inspire people, maybe give them hope…
Really? You’re joking, right? Because I seem to recall you telling me that is why you loved my writing in the first place. ‘It’s so honest, raw, engaging, bold…’.
Regardless, I’m just not quite at a place where I’m ready to conjure up my favorite memory from childhood, or from Spain or France or Colombia. I will someday, I have countless. But until I’m in the mindset to write about those memories with the same authenticity and passion I can about the not-so-happy parts, then they will remain unwritten.
In the meantime, I have a bit more bleeding to do.
But I am curious, are you requesting happy because it makes you more comfortable? Is it because, if we did actually start dating, someone you know might read what I write and question why I’m still so sad and heartbroken if we are dating? Shouldn’t I be ‘over it’? Shouldn’t I be happy because I’m with you?
Or maybe you really do just want to read something happy. I totally get it. My favorite new blog, The Incurable Dreamer, is my favorite precisely because it makes me laugh. The author’s writing is honest, raw, engaging…and it’s hilarious. I laugh out loud. And I also cry. Because parts do make my heart hurt, mainly because I can completely relate to her, and because she writes so brilliantly that I feel like am her, in the place where she is, seeing what she sees, and feeling what she feels.
I love it precisely because she does what I so want badly to make others do….she makes me feel.
So apologies if this comes across as bitter, or if it makes you uncomfortable. I want you to feel how you feel, and I want to know what that is, even if it isn’t always what I want to hear.
I won’t, however, write what you will always want to read. And in my defense, I try to set a tone, even throw out a warning in the beginning, to give you a head’s up if what I wrote is going to be especially brutal.
Summary: For those of you interested in a second date, not to worry. I stopped dating altogether, so feel free to offer up any advice you have. And for those of you who are weary of me being sad and writing about it, please know, I am too. But this present state will eventually subside and give way to the me who almost always has a smile on her face and a positive spin on shit situations. She’s still here, you’ll see glimpses of her in even the most tragic posts, but you have to look a little closer sometimes. And you might actually have to feel something…
So, you have been warned.