You know how you can love something so thoroughly it becomes the most important thing in the world? That’s how I felt about Benny. He was everything to me.
It was mostly physical, at first. The wrinkles around his eyes. The infectious smile you couldn’t help matching even if you tried. The way his hair curled against his neck. I couldn’t look at him without wanting to be a part of him.
But I came to love him as I grew to know him. No, that’s not right. I realized I loved him, and perhaps always had. The love, it was like it was already there, waiting to bloom. It just needed the right nourishment.
Benny was a kind person, if not always honest. He would do anything to spare someone’s feelings, which meant when he and I argued it was vicious. I wanted truth, no matter who it hurt. He wanted peace.
So it was almost ironic when he went off to war. He, who would keep secrets to preserve even the most tenuous semblance of harmony, went off to face the brutal honesty of the greatest lie of all: that we actually wanted peace. That we loved our fellow men and allowed each other the grace to fail. Failure was impossible. Failure was inevitable.
When the letter arrived, it was so expected it only took a moment for me to realize I was already heartbroken. I had already given up. The smudged ink only affirmed what I already knew. Benny’s love had nourished me for so long his absence was like the slow release of air from a balloon. By the time the letter arrived, I was already deflated.
I looked up from the novel I was only half reading. It was Gothic. Wordy. I didn’t like it.
My sister was standing in the doorway, her face arranged in the mask of pity I had come to hate. I hated it, and I had told her so, but it was inescapable. She could only tiptoe around the void, attempting to spare me pain. She was so like Benny in that way. And I couldn’t really blame her, because she was the only one who knew what Benny truly meant to me.
I sat silently as she entered the room, her skirt fluttering gently around her. It was one of our mother’s dresses. I had been surprised she kept it, let alone wore it, but I couldn’t deny it suited her perfectly. Mirasol seemed to share my surprise, yet wore it almost in defiance of its previous owner. She wore it like armor. But we both harbored an unspoken fear the dress was imbued with some of the malice and bitterness of its predecessor that would somehow affect its heir.
I avoided her eyes as Mirasol sat beside me, the cushion buckling uncomfortably. I shifted my thigh.
“You got another call from Henry.”
I declined to answer. Henry was a friend, once. Mirasol sighed.
“This isn’t productive, Patrick.” She gestured vaguely at the book in my lap, at the half-eaten apple on the plate beside me, its brown core glaring at me as though in accusation.
“I don’t need to be productive,” I replied, keeping my eyes fixed on the carpet. “Mother at least gave us that.”
Mirasol snorted, then looked into her own lap, as though the fabric of the dress reminded her of the significance of our circumstances.
“Benny wouldn’t have wanted this,” she said quietly, and anger made my head pound.
I stood quickly, the book thumping to the floor.
“You have no idea what Benny would have wanted.”
Mirasol stood in anger too, the malice in her skirt murmuring encouragingly.
“You’re wrong, but you’re too frightened to admit it. The truth is, you want to be just like him. Desperate to keep the peace. But the fact is you’re a coward. Why else do you think Benny left and you didn’t? Why else was he willing to go to war if not to get away from you and your disturbed obsession with truth-”
We both stood shocked as silence engulfed the room. I sat down, hard, the cushion relenting reluctantly, painfully. Mirasol turned away, her hand to her mouth.
The truth? Is that what I wanted?
I looked down at the book on the floor, its pages bent awkwardly, its spine towards me. The binding was broken, the title worn. I recognized it with horrifying clarity. It was Mother’s favorite.
I looked at Mirasol, whose eyes glistened above her shaking hand. Her skirt rustled.
I wasn’t sure what to write about today. I feel I am more adept at fiction, and that my editorials are sometimes labored. But my friend Rachel suggested writing about the nature of change, and I think that is a good idea. I am in a very transitional period of my life right now, so there is definitely a lot to think about.
Change can come in many different forms. There is the swift, inevitable, uncontrollable change. There is the slow, anticipated change. There is the sudden choice to encourage change, or the slow decision to change which takes years to implement. There are all sorts of circumstances in which change can occur and not all of it is unplanned or unwelcome.
I, for example, thrive when there is a certain level of change operating in my life. I like there to be some consistency, but mostly in the sorts of things that are necessary to support myself. I like to know how I’m doing financially. I like to have control over my schedule. I like my house to be the way I’ve prepared it. But too much consistency is stifling. It doesn’t always have to be major things. I like to change my hair. I like to explore new places and immerse myself in ever-changing scenery. I like to read new books in genres I may not be familiar with. I think everyone enjoys a degree of change when they can control when and where that change is taking place.
I also just recently quit my job, which was a huge change with a lot of uncertainty attached to it. I didn’t have a new job lined up. I didn’t know how much money I would get on my final paycheck (turns out, less than I was hoping). I no longer have health insurance. These changes, while a result of my own decision, come with a lot of variables that I don’t have control over. Searching for a new job is difficult, and I don’t have any control over whether or not a potential employer is interested in meeting with me. I may have an unexpected and expensive medical issue come up. It may take longer to get a job than I anticipate, forcing me to make more difficult decisions and changes to stay afloat. But although these things are scary, and leave a lot up to factors outside of my control, it comes down to the fact that I made this decision. And honestly? The change has been great. I love having time off of work to relax, catch up on some reading, play video games. I am sleeping better than I have in a long time. And I am much more motivated to work on other projects when I’m not mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted from work. So overall it has been a good change.
There is, of course, change that is not so good. Climate change skeptics insist that the earth is warming anyway, and that the impact of humans is minimal. While science supports the theory that the earth would be continuing to warm on its own without our help, humans have contributed to the acceleration of that change. And it is not good. We can see the evidence of these changes in more severe weather, melting glaciers, and species going extinct at an alarming rate. These changes are unfortunate, and while to some extent inevitable, we have the power and technology to mitigate some of that change. Just not the political interest (at least in the United States).
Perhaps what is most interesting to me is the idea of perceived change. Without getting too deep into the history of white supremacy, many white people in the United States (and likely around the world) are currently expressing surprise and despair at the so-called change of the nation’s attitudes and values. However, this country has always had a deep-seeded philosophy of fear, xenophobia, racism, and cruelty. It’s just that they didn’t see it. Or, if they saw it, they chose to ignore it. It didn’t affect them, so they turned a blind eye and are only now beginning to understand: these things have always been there. This country didn’t change; we just see it more clearly now.
Change can be good, bad, or even things out. It’s all a matter of understanding how and why the change is taking place. Sometimes it’s within our control, and sometimes it’s not. You can embrace it, or ignore it. Sometimes it’s better to let things go, and sometimes you have to fight to make things better.
You know that line about death and taxes? To quote “Avenue Q,” “everything in life is only for now.” Change is a natural part of life. Consider the way you react and relate to change. What works for you, and what doesn’t? What do you wish you could change, and where do you feel powerless? Understanding these things will help manage expectations, cultivate motivation, and ease uncertainty.
Liz is forcing me to write today. Geez. So supportive.
No, actually, it’s a good thing she is holding us accountable. I’m the one that let us off the hook last time, because she was in tech week and I forgot it was blog day until about 8pm that night. So we’re long overdue.
I haven’t had a lot of inspiration to continue any of my fiction pieces (I’m sorry, Minty! I’ll get back to you one day!) so this will be a bit random. I apologize. But it’s my last week of work before the choir trip, we have three extra rehearsals before Friday, and my freelance articles are due. So I have a lot on my mind.
Liz suggested I repost something from the old days, which I considered. It certainly would have taken some of the pressure off. But I couldn’t think of what archives I should mine for something worth sharing until I started reading through my old blog. Like, my old old blog. Like, from high school.
I’m not going to share any specific posts, although I will say it’s DEFINITELY worth exploring (if you can remember what the url is. I’m certainly not going to remind you). I started the blog when I was living in La Grande. I have some older journals that I’ve written in by hand, and I’m sure those are also worth re-reading, but these entries are interesting for some specific reasons.
I’ve struggled with depression for a long time, and I was very open about that in high school. I used “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath as a way to talk about how I would be feeling (although my actual review of the book is not great). When I felt particularly depressed and isolated from my friends and family, I would call it a “bell jar” day. I still have them, but I had forgotten that I used to describe them in that way. The way Plath describes this feeling is so specific and so true that I immediately recognized it, even as a dumb teenager. There are various ways in which I describe my depression to myself and to other people, but I may have to bring back the “bell jar” descriptor.
I also talk a lot about the days when I felt genuinely happy and how unique and unusual that is, which is kind of depressing by itself. But the way I described simple things like taking a nap, taking the dog on a walk, enjoying a rainstorm...those things are still true about me. I only now wish I could have the leisure to take the kind of naps I blog about. Blog worthy naps.
It’s also interesting to me the way I spoke about sleep. My therapist and I recently tried to pinpoint when I started having issues with insomnia, and I knew that it started sometime in middle/high school, but I couldn’t think of when. I now have written evidence that it was happening in high school, but we couldn’t come up with anything that had happened that would trigger such a huge shift in my sleep patterns. Perhaps the moves, changing schools, living in a new town. Maybe I’ve just always had trouble sleeping? I’m sure at one point I went from having energy to feeling tired all the time, but I don’t know when that was. Now it just feels like I’ve always been tired and always will be tired.
It’s strange to read through things you wrote when you were younger. I was different, for sure. I was much more religious than I am now, I was occupied with family and friends and church and homework and arbitrary gender roles, and my writing was much sloppier and less censored. But there are so many things that are the same. I love having the house to myself. I love Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (like, I weirdly reference it way more than I probably should, but I do have a tattoo of the number 42, so….....). I love chocolate. I have trouble sleeping. I love my friends. I miss California. I love baseball. There are days in which I feel sad and alone, and days in which I feel the kind of elusive elation that remains fleeting and precious.
So I guess, although my life is so much different than it was back then, essentially I am the same person. I may have different thoughts and different goals and different needs, but there are things that have remained the same. It’s comforting I suppose. The constancy. The permanence of my essence.
In another 15 years, will I be the same?
Miriam-Webster defines identity as “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual.” While I believe that a person’s essential character or personality remains the same throughout their life (unless they suffer a trauma), there are many aspects to one’s identity that can change, and often do, as they continue to learn about themselves and their relationship to the world and their communities.
I wanted to write about some of the intersections of my identity; about what has informed my personality, how things have changed, and how I describe myself.
I am white. This isn’t something I was always incredibly cognizant of, or thought about much. Before we moved to Southern Oregon, we grew up in a very diverse area. I had friends who were Black, Asian, Latino, Indian. I thought this was normal. It never occurred to me that my friends might be experiencing racism. I never saw it. But as I have grown older, I have educated myself, and have recognized the ways in which I have benefitted from white supremacy. While I may not consider myself racist, I still experience instances of unconscious bias. While my personal experience was one that allowed me to experience and witness more diversity and inclusion, there are many ways in which my life has been informed by a society that promotes white supremacy. This isn’t always obvious. It’s pervasive in the way stereotypes linger, or in the representation we see in movies and television. And while I am still learning how to combat the racism that exists and thrives today, I have a better understanding of how my race and ethnicity have given me an advantage over my childhood friends. Other sections of my identity may put me in a marginalized position, but because I am white, I will always experience the benefits of white supremacy while it remains a foundation of American society.
I am queer. This is a term not many people in older generations like to use. It used to be a derogatory term, and I can understand some people’s aversion to it. But I like it, and I like to use it to describe myself, because it is a word I can use to describe my identity more broadly. When I thought I was straight, it didn’t even occur to me that I might be anything other than straight. I enjoyed spending time with guys and it felt fine to date them in high school. For a brief time, I thought I was bisexual, before I finally came out as gay. I never liked the word “lesbian.” Then I spent many years self-identifying as gay, and because coming out can be an arduous process, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about my sexual identity outside of that. But after a few relationships that didn’t quite work out, I realized I wasn’t sure if I only wanted to date women. So now I think I’m back to identifying as bisexual. Pansexual would probably be more accurate, because I am generally attracted to people that land anywhere on the gender spectrum, but bisexual is sometimes a little easier for people to understand. But I went on a date with a guy recently, and as we were eating brunch, I had this very strange and uncomfortable feeling. I didn’t like the thought that people might look at us and assume we were straight. So while I am still interested in exploring my renewed interest in men, I will always be queer, and that’s how I like to describe myself and want to be known.
I am genderqueer. This is also a term not used often. Most people use non-binary or gender non-conforming, both of which are a little more self-explanatory. But when I was exploring both my sexual and gender identities, the term genderqueer is the first one I came across, and the first one that felt right to me. All of these terms just mean I don’t identify as either fully female or male. When I first came out as gay, my mom asked me if I thought I was supposed to be a boy instead of a girl. My answer was, and still is, it’s not that I think I should be a boy, it’s that sometimes I forget I’m a girl. And while this is a simplistic way of thinking about gender, it works for me. I don’t fit neatly into any gendered box. And it wasn’t until recently that I learned the difference between gender identity (where you might land on the gender spectrum) vs gender expression (how you present your gender to the world). I tend to present more masculine in the way I dress, but since I recently started to identify as bisexual, I have started to be more fluid with my gender expression. I even started growing out my hair (which, incidentally and strangely, at times makes me look more masculine). But I like being able to experiment and play around with my gender expression.
There are many other aspects of my identity that are constant and yet fluid. I identify as a writer, and a singer, and an introvert, and compassionate, and liberal. These are the things that help build and inform my personality and character. I enjoy that not one of these things fully define me, but all in combination. And that makes life interesting and full.
Sometimes I dream about the ocean. Sometimes I dream about the waves slipping over my feet, brushing the skin so that it almost tickles. Feeling the pull of the water at the back of my heels, leaning back so that my feet sink into the sand. Sometimes I dream about swimming just below the surface, looking down at the sand speckled with sunlight. Sometimes I dream about sharks, floating dreamily just beneath me, sliding through the water as calmly as a day without a breeze. Sometimes, oftentimes, I dream about humpback whales, mothers and young ones gazing up at me with tender dark eyes, my body vibrating with their song. Sometimes I dream about the ocean.
Sometimes I dream about the air. Sometimes I dream about the sky opening up and showing me the billions of stars just waiting beyond the atmosphere. The brilliant lights waiting above my head, shining brightly through the haze of the city skyline. Sometimes I dream about clouds drifting so slowly along the horizon it looks like they are standing still and I’m the one that’s moving. Sometimes I dream about rain, the gentle susurrus of precipitation on the roof of my car, droplets dribbling down the windows in unpredictable channels. Sometimes I dream about the sun, caressing my face with its warm and loving touch, reminding me that winter is not forever. Sometimes I dream about the air.
Sometimes I dream about the earth. Sometimes I dream about laying down on a sandy beach, one hand resting lightly on my chest, the other in yours. Sometimes I dream about the satisfying crunch of gravel as I walk along a lake, a bell tolling gaily in the distance. The smell of the soil comforting my senses as I step into the forest, tall trees lifting themselves out of the dirt as if they want to fly away, but gripping with their roots as though they might. Sometimes I dream about the desert, bare and dry and cracked like my skin in winter. And sometimes I dream about flowers, pushing their way out of the fertile ground to cloak the hills in rainbows. Sometimes I dream about the earth.
Sometimes I dream about fire. Sometimes I dream that the flames are friends, inviting me to come closer and share their warmth. They never warn you about their temper. Sometimes I dream about the fire in you, the passion that causes pain, the need to consume until all is ready to be reborn. Sometimes I dream about the skeleton that is left, the building barely held together with the sheer effort of intention, the need to represent what it was before. Sometimes I dream about another chance, the spark that promises mercy and forgiveness and hope. Sometimes I dream about fire.
Sometimes I dream about you. Sometimes I dream about the way your hair shone in any kind of light, but especially when you were feeling wary. Sometimes I dream about the way you reached out to me in anger and tore me down and left me to gasp and stutter. Sometimes I dream about your smile, your ability to make me feel safe no matter how askew my life had become. You always gave me a chance to speak while you listened, and in my dreams I never once lost my voice. Sometimes I dream that you are gone, playfully hidden in a crowd, your need to disappear stronger than your need to remain close. Sometimes I dream about you.