The Time and the Thought

I don’t know how to use Tumblr, really. I go on, I follow some pages I like (usually art and poetry), and that’s about it. Most of my original stuttering is posted to Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram. A few nights back, I was browsing Tumblr, though, when someone simply asked people to message them what time it was and what we were thinking about. I was in a mood, so I obliged:

“It’s 1AM here. There is the remnant of a rum and coke in front of me and a filled reinforcement sitting just behind it, biding its time, waiting its turn.

What am I thinking about? I’m thinking about how erratic my emotions are. How quickly and deeply I fall in love and when it fails, how harshly I hurt and how desperately I try to move on to the next person to make me feel valued and handsome and sexual and creative.

I’m thinking about a woman who was so sweet and so brilliant and so beautiful, and how something as seemingly trivial as distance has left a chasm between us now. It’s difficult to be intimate and then go back to being friends when whatever spark is between two people erupts into a full-blown electrocution.

I’m thinking about how I’m dissatisfied with my job and how I wish my writing paid the bills. How I wish someone important would take a chance on what I know is good, what thousands of people have enjoyed and what I have no idea how to market.

I’m thinking about love and isolation and how the snow glitters under the street light and how I wish I could battle the cold by pulling someone close into my ribs.

I’m thinking about life and death and how I’m terrified of both, and how the first is still so beautiful and the latter so definitive, and how they hold each other’s hand like strained but dedicated lovers.

I’m thinking I wish I had more people I could talk to that might understand. Instead, I have this dying rum and coke, and its twin I’ll murder after.”

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New Year, Old Habits

A year ago, I was writing about being celibate and ringing in the new year sober. I saw a wide range of reactions as 2014 drew to a close, including romance, ambivalence and desperation. I watched, alone, as people clutched to their loves and lovers, as others desperately turned in circles trying to find a physical connection as the clock wound down, as others contententedly gulped their drinks, finishing off the year with the same liquid courage that got them through most of it.

A month later, I wrote at length about my views on sex and sexuality, on promiscuity, on having fun on a physical  level. It was a post that carried over from New Year’s Day, one that touched back on the reasons I stopped sleeping around and why I was cutting back on drinking: because as much fun as casual sex was and is, I’m starting to reach an age where finding a genuine connection was more important to me. I even tried – briefly and hardly enthusiastically – trying online dating. It didn’t really pan out.

I went through the most of the year is this perpetual state of “lonely but determined” up through May. When I went to Montana to visit my grandparent’s old home and began clearing through their old things and began reliving old memories, it began to trigger a manic break. Which of course meant it was perfect timing to come back and use that break to help ruin a relationship and friendship with someone I trusted implicitly and had been close with the better part of two years.

And if 2014 taught me that I was finding solace in sex in an emotionally unhealthy way, I guess 2015 taught me I’m just emotionally unhealthy in general. I feel things in extremes and I’ve barely managed to figure out a way to manage it. I can actively choose not to engage with someone! That’s the fucking easy part. I can walk away from anyone and just not give a shit about the conversation. Or the friendship, really. I’m close with a very select few people that have really weathered a lot of intense periods of my life, things that most people would or even have run away from.

Even when it comes to sex, though I’d say 95% of the women I’ve been with I’ve cared about, that affection is usually limited to a friendly minimum. Don’t get me wrong: I would bend over backwards and do tricks and do anything for any friend that needed something or someone. I do my best to be strong for someone when they can’t be strong for themselves. And sometimes that means a physical connection. And sometimes a physical connection is just born of it. But for the most part, as much as I care and/or worry about them, however the sex turns out, I can still just write it off as one of those nights. You know? Maybe not. I mean, it’s an intimate act. More intimate than pretty much anything. But there’s an understanding going in that the act is limited to physicality involving two people who trust each other but don’t necessarily need to rely on each other. There’s no need for real attachment.

And that’s good for me, I thought, because when I find someone I want to attach myself to, it typically goes poorly, for any number of reasons. In 2015, I ended my whole “save yourself, find a healthy connection” at a time when I was – albeit mostly unaware – at my unhealthiest. I was in the middle of a manic break. It ruined that friendship and it left me hurt and feeling damaged and pathetic. And there were deeper, unrelated, more intensive and intimate reasons for all of that, but I still felt low.

So I got into my head that I just genuinely cannot make a relationship work. I’m not good enough to take a chance on or not to cheat on or to take seriously. And if I am good enough for those things, I find a way to screw it up somewhere down the line just by being myself. That wouldn’t be a problem if I just didn’t give a shit, but I do.

Here’s the thing: I can detach myself from people. I can avoid investing large chunks of myself in people. But it isn’t because I want to, it’s because I’m used to being used and being left and being hurt, and I’m used to being disappointing and to letting people down and to hurting others unintentionally. I always try to keep a shoulder open to lean on and an ear to talk to, but there are days when I can hardly keep myself going, much less anyone else.

I am a hard person to be a close friend to, and I’m even harder to be in a relationship with. I’m a lot of work and that embarrasses me, especially in light of what I learned about myself. So I shut a good part of myself away and keep it out of harm’s distance from people, and I thought that was a good idea. And when I start catching feelings for someone, I tend to just ignore it or turn away from it, and let it pass me by.

And when I don’t ignore it, I’m fucked. Because everything I’ve refused to let myself fear gives way to hope and love and an enjoyment of affection and romance and feeling valued, and I let myself feel it so intensely because I feel it so rarely. I soak up every bit of it because I never know how long it will last and I put stock in every. Single. Second of it.

It bleeds into every aspect of things. The sex is more passionate, the dates more romantic, my writing is better, my patience is higher. And because I’m a writer and because I’m in love with love, I make huge, sweeping gestures. I don’t give a little. I give it all. I pour my heart all over the table and let it spill onto the floor.

And when it doesn’t work out, I’m crushed. All those old insecurities come back to gnaw on my tired bones. And if I’m the one responsible, I hate myself as passionately as I’ve loved the other person. And if there is a goodbye, it has to be another sweeping gesture. As memorable and (hopefully) positive and (hopefully) passionate a moment as any other during the relationship. I have to get all of my feeeelings and wooorrrds out there because there will never be another chance, and if she thinks of me, I want her to think of those good moments and those last thoughts because the same things will fucking haunt my entire life.

Of course, it never works out that way. I have plans and I imagine conversations, the final things I want to say, the way a conversation or encounter may pan out. That’s delusional. I am literally mentally ill.

And the funny thing about it all, if there is something that can be quantified as funny, is that when it comes to the things I’m passionate about outside of writing – love, romance, sex, intimacy – I am completely ineffective as a writer. When I’m disengaged, I can speak smoothly, act confidently. I can charm. When I’m really interested, when I’m nervous, when I’m in love, I overthink everything. I run something over in my mind so many times that whatever I actually say or write is usually a mangled mess of the original intent and comes out as something horrible and easily misinterpreted. I am easily overwhelmed and become tremendously overwhelming.

I sat in a bar last night packed with happy revelers, cavorting about, kissing and touching each other. A former passionate love of mine (one of the handful that I didn’t screw up) was around. We were able to have a conversation in person for the first time in three years. I saw new relationships and new passion around me. I sat, alone again, with a glowing blue tiara I stole from a different bar crowned upon my brow. I didn’t feel like drinking but someone was buying shots and I don’t like to turn down free things and that always leads to trouble quickly.

And I’m sitting. And I’m thinking. And I’m lonely. And I’m stressing. What did I do? Did I say something wrong? Why couldn’t I just have let everything ride? Why do I always fucking feel so much? Why can’t I stop wishing for more? And I’m drinking. And it’s 2016.

I don’t start my new year on the first of January. I start my new year on my birthday. Those are my years of life in which to consider the things I’ve accomplished during 12 more months of being here. But January 1st is at least an event that reminds me I have five more months before my year is over.

In those five months, I need to seriously begin to evaluate my emotions and reactions and try to find a healthy method of regulating them. I don’t know how to do that. I have a hard time asking for help. But I’ll figure it out. Right? Of course I will.

I’m always okay, even when I’m not.

The City of Angels Part Six: Ruin

After eight months trying to eke out a life in California, I found myself back in Alaska trying to get my feet back under me. I didn’t really tell anyone what I had gone through, what my struggles were, and if I told them why I was back up, it was typically vague and one thing was clear: it was temporary. My goal was clear to me. I transferred up with Best Buy. I was living back at home with my grandparents. I was going to work hard, get a good chunk of savings under my belt, move back, get back together with the love of my life and get back on a path to a happy future.

Part One: Departure
Part Two: A Perilous Journey
Part Three: The First Month
Part Four: Love and Tribulation
Part Five: Awry

I was in Alaska a grand total of four months. The middle of May until September 19th. My interview with the front lanes manager was a grand total of five minutes and ended with her shaking my hand and welcoming me to the team. I think she and I had a grand total of four conversations in the front four months I was there, which was a stark contrast to the ever-present oversight of my manager Stephanie in El Segundo. Stephanie wanted us to know what our numbers were at, what  our goals were. She wanted to know what we needed and she also loved us all to death. My manager in Anchorage was cold and detached and impersonal. Frankly, most of the management at my store in Alaska didn’t know what they fuck they were doing, much less what they wanted out of anybody.

There was a different department up north, though, one that required sitting in the back and taking phone and online orders for deliveries by plane out to the Bush  (rural areas of Alaska). It was a steadily growing side venture that Best Buy was taking a chance on and it grew in business every day. I worked that area every chance I got, using my downtime to learn about the other departments and get certified to cover for and work in those areas every time we were short staffed. I wanted to be the most valuable, versatile member of the team. It was a lot of work.

I also brought up the idea of the Black Tie Protection competition we had down in Los Angeles. The rewards weren’t as high (a $5 gift card instead of $25), but it took our store from being absolute shit to being one of the highest BTP selling stores in the district. It was fun, sort of, in the way a competition is when you can never really lose. One girl consistently outsold the hell out of me. She was good. I vowed never to let it happen once I moved back.

My grandparents never asked me why I moved back, and I never told them anything beyond I just needed to get stable again. They knew I’d be leaving again in the fall and I think they just wanted to make the most of the time I was back with them. I had missed them. I miss them now.

I lived about an hour, hour and a half from work and it was the summer, so I walked often. I would carry a book to read as I walked, and on umbrella as well, on rainy days. I lost a lot of weight (which, in five years, I’ve regained) and looked maybe the best I had since high school.

That’s what I did that summer: I fucking walked and worked and learned. I drank a lot and ate a lot, frequenting the karaoke bar I loved so much and which is now a weird bar/sandwich hybrid shop.

Somewhere around 4th of July weekend, I think, my friend Sam took me out to his uncle’s cabin. Sam is a great guy – he and I get lunch every time we’re both in town – so I leapt at the chance to have a quiet, earnest get-away somewhere outside of the city. The cabin was beautiful and rustic and sat on a piece of land with an expansive backyard that had been turned into a 9-hole golf course. To this day, it remains the one and only time I’ve ever played golf. I lost badly, but I enjoyed myself okay.

I was set up in the guest room, which was a separate house that overlooked a lake and the sun kissed it nicely and I was removed from myself via natural beauty. I took a picture of the sunrise over the water and sent it to my ex. We weren’t talking much at the time. “Wish you were here,” I said.

“I wish I were, too,” she replied.

And I thought I was good. I thought I was on track, working hard, being a better man, a better person. I focused on the job that was waiting for me to come back to, waiting on the arms of my beautiful woman to fall into.

But dreams and life are not always the best of friends.

It was late July. I was making a sandwich in my grandparents’ kitchen when my phone buzzed on the counter top. My ex had texted me and said that after a great deal of consideration, we wouldn’t be getting back together upon my return. Our relationship was irrevocably ended. I was crushed. I thought things were slowly getting better. I thought she would be proud of me for becoming better. And of course there were so many other reasons for her decision, but I was blind to them at the time. I was just so hurt and lost. I begged. I pleaded. It didn’t change her mind.

So I kind of lost mine? I definitely went a bit mad.

I had been celibate for three months. I was technically single. I had flirted. I’d even kissed a time or two, but my heart was with my lady in Los Angeles and so I slept with no one. But now?  Definitively single, no room for argument? Alone in Alaska? Hurt and lonely? I reacted by being a little bit of a slut.

I hooked up with a friend from high school. She was working through some things and so was I, and there was sort of a desperate tinge to the night, and it was good and it was fine, and it never happened again, but I think we became closer friends for it.

I hooked up with a woman I used to work with that I always thought hated me. She picked me up from a bar to give me a ride home and argued with herself over whether or not she should sleep with me, and I calmed her down and took the pressure off and told her if she didn’t feel comfortable, we absolutely shouldn’t, but if she genuinely wanted to, we could, with no expectations or attachments or anything like that. It was an interesting not, and I think both of us felt good about having someone there to make the other feel valued. We didn’t speak much in the days after and we haven’t spoken at all in five years.

And then I fell into a steady casual relationship with a woman I met in a bar. I finally had the balls to ask her for her number, and she gave it to me, and we went on a couple dates, and I went home with her and met her mom and we all got on well and it started a thing.

That last month, month and a half I spent primarily with her. I was still going out too much. I was drinking too much, trying to quench the pain I was feeling, and I would go home to this girl and she would make me feel handsome and funny and valued. It was incredibly selfish of me. I did care about her a lot. I care about her still, and we’re always easy around each other. That being said, that casual relationship was still birthed out of heartbreak and very much felt like a rebound solely because I felt like a piece of shit and she made me feel worthwhile.

I could feel my life sort of crumbling around me. I didn’t give a shit about anything. My dreams to be an actor/writer were a distant memory. I was still putting money away because the bartenders at the karaoke bar essentially let me drink for free. I was learning more about my job, but I stopped really giving a fuck.

And then something inside me broke.

The store in Anchorage that I worked at had one large difference from the one I worked at in El Segundo: they kept the new, popular video games up in the front lanes, where the check-out registers were, instead of back in the gaming department. The camera in the front lanes was poorly positioned as well. Sometimes the front lanes were lightly staffed. It made it incredibly easy to steal video games, and I did. I took two or three games over the course of two or three weeks. I didn’t sell them, they were for me, but they were most certainly obtained illegally.

Why? Fucking why did I take those games? I played them, but I don’t know that I even enjoyed them. I spent most of my free time with this woman. If I had to guess, it’s that I was lashing out in every unhealthy way I could just because I wanted to feel something. Or maybe I felt that I was a garbage human being, so to hell with it, why not do garbage, self-destructive things?

I didn’t got caught, though. Not then, not for that. I did get certified in every department in the store and provided coverage anytime an area was understaffed. I made myself useful. I was well-liked.

September rolled around and I was about to move back to Los Angeles. The transfer request was in and approved. I had my old room back in Jenny’s family’s place. I decided to spend my last weekend in town with my friends.

And promptly got alcohol poisoning.

I blacked out somewhere around midnight. Apparently we had a few more drinks and then I wound up at my friend Steven’s place with him and some girl. The girl I was dating lived right up the road, so despite my friend’s insistence that I stay, I left. He let me borrow a coat. Instead of going straight up the road, I walked about five miles to the right. I came out of the blackout around 4 in the morning, early September, with no coat, in the rain, in the middle of the goddamn woods with no idea how I got to where I was.

I vomited and staggered in a direction, hoping against hope that it would lead me to civilization. I slipped and fell and the battery in my cell phone – I had a flip phone at the time; this was five years ago and I was stubborn – spun into the underbrush. I sprained my right elbow trying to catch myself as I fell and I spent ten or fifteen pained, stressed, confused, drunk minutes trying to find the battery before giving up and hoping for the best.

I walked for another ten or fifteen minutes before finding a road. It was on the completely opposite side of town from where I last remembered being. I didn’t even know anyone who lived near there. With how early it was and looking the way I looked, drenched and dirty, haggard and still drunk, I couldn’t just knock on someone’s door to ask to use their phone. All the businesses had yet to open. Shit, did I even know anyone’s phone number by heart? I did, in fact, not, except for the cab company that I had no phone to call for and no money on hand to pay with.

So I set out to the house of the girl I was dating. When I found out I had walked the same distance to the woods and back, I realized I must have trekked a total of ten miles or so. My legs and feet were killing me. I felt so sick. My arm throbbed. I couldn’t stop shaking. When I got to her house, it was nearly six in the morning.

I went around back to see if the back door was open. It wasn’t uncommon for me to just show up at her place and spend the night, so I thought that was a good idea. The door was not open. I think I sob-moaned and curled up in the fetal position on the back porch, hoping to sleep until someone woke up. About twenty minutes later, her mom found me and let me in. I mumbled out an explanation and she told me to go upstairs and crawl into bed. I surprised the girl, and I really pissed her off when I crawled my damp, dirty, freezing body in next to her. She wasn’t very impressed with me. I wasn’t very impressed by myself.

It took me a few days to fully recover from that hangover. I bought a sling for my arm that I wore for almost two months. A few days later, she drove me to the airport, we kissed goodbye and I left to try and fix things in Los Angeles.

At first, everything was working out great. Everyone remarked on how great I looked. Kevin, my friend and one of the managers put me in for a full dollar raise. I moved around the store, still selling more Black Tie than anyone, still winning those  $25 gift cards. We had a new general manager and I impressed him quickly.

But my ex was still dead set on not renewing our relationship. I tried everything. Gifts. Compliments. We still hung out occasionally, I could still make her laugh, but it wasn’t enough. It was hard working with her and not having her look at me lovingly anymore. It was hard seeing others flirt with her.

I started drinking. Daily. A lot. I was still sort of broke, so I’d buy these ridiculously cheap, ridiculously huge bottles of wine and/or vodka from the CVS down the road and I’d drink most of it that night and go into work smelling like liquor the next day. Jenny told me I couldn’t be doing that. What if a customer complained. I said something about half the customers being fucking morons and that even if every customer could smell the liquor, it apparently was doing nothing to stop the sheer fucking magnitude of insurance I was selling. “There’s a reason you have all the seasonal hires train with me.”

I was a bit of a smug asshole, but Jenny still loved and worried about me, and my friends would still invite me over and try to help me get over my ex. I smiled and nodded. “You’re right. I know.” I couldn’t do it.

I tried! God help me. My friend Angie and I hung out a few times, and I think there could have been something there, but even if there was, “You dated my friend,” she told me. “I can’t do that to her. It would make things too awkward.” That’s fair. In my mindset and with my emotional instability, I don’t think I would have made much of a boyfriend for her, either.

I started hanging out with other friends more. Marisol and I went and donated blood at Universal Studios during a Saw marathon. We got some free swag afterwards. Thanks night or a couple nights later was Halloween. She introduced me to her friend, a pretty Mexican woman. She and I swapped numbers and had sex not long after. It was nice, and passionate, but I just didn’t have the energy to pursue anything more. I still had my heart set on my ex.

November rolled around and I went to Temple with her and her family. Her sister invited me to Thanksgiving again and I asked my ex if she would be okay with that. She was, but I think a little reluctant. The dinner was nice. We laughed a lot. We got along as easily as ever.

And it still wasn’t enough. We got into a discussion about it in the car which quickly turned into a full-blown argument. “What is it?” I asked desperately. “We have fun. We get along. We make each other laugh.”

“Because you’re not the person I thought you were.” And that broke my heart completely. And I think I just gave up on everything then.

The next day was Black Friday. Black Friday in the front lanes of Best Buy in El Segundo is a fucking nigtmare. I got given charge of the registers. My job was to direct traffic to available registers, radio back to the warehouse to bring up the correct big ticket items, unfuck any mistakes the new kids made, and sell Black Tie any time I found myself at at a register. I did this for 12 hours on two hours of sleep and a hangover, and I was fucking great at it. I was supposed to work 14 hours that day, but the general manager sent me home a couple hours early because I looked like I was going to collapse at any moment.

“You’re maybe the only reason the front lanes didn’t completely fall apart,” he told me, before giving me my second dollar raise in a month. I was on track to move from the front lanes to the computer section and expected to get promoted to a supervisor somewhere within the next 6-12 months. Professionally, I had my ducks in a row. Mentally and emotionally, I alternated between being on the verge of tears, vomiting from full blown panic attacks, or feeling absolutely nothing at all.

Christmas season comes around. I’m still winning $25 gift cards. A new promotion comes out where if you bought a video game system, you automatically also received a gift card for $50 or $75 dollars (depending on which console was purchased). The thing is, not everyone knew about those cards. So I pocketed a few. No real reason why. I thought I was just being greedy back then. Nowadays I think I just wanted to do something risky just to feel something. And it was fucked up! I know that. That’s cards those people could have used for Christmas gifts. I just didn’t… care. I was so emotionally drained and self-loathing and hurt and lost. I stole those gift cards. I felt like a scumbag. I made a poor judgment choice. And because my head was in a constant maelstrom of grief and alcohol and loneliness and self-hate, I slipped up.

Using the gift cards, that’s when I got greedy. I would use my employee code to shave off a few more dollars from whatever product (usually movies or energy drinks) I was buying. And one of those customers that didn’t know about the gift card? He sure as shit found out about it, and when he came back to ask what happened to it, a little research tracked the usage back to me. And I was done for.

I got called into the office during a busy afternoon in a tone that very much indicated I had fucked up. I thought it was a transaction or something. When I saw my general manager and a stern-looking stranger, I knew exactly what had happened.

I had a weird mix of feelings wash over me then. Relief, weirdly, at finally just coming face to face with my self-sabotage and not having this guilty weight in the pit of my stomach. Resounding shame. Embarrassment. I didn’t want the people I had grown close with to know I was a thief on top of being an emotional wreck and a drunk.

This guy was the loss prevention manager for the entire west coast, and a former cop. He told me the easy was just to admit everything because they had tape, which may or may not have been true. The hard way would be to cuff me, parade me through the store and take me to jail. So I came clean immediately. I came clean on the gift cards, all of them, and the video games in Alaska.

“But there’s still something you’re not telling us. We know there’s more, just say it.” Oh, he was good. I knew another employee who got caught for stealing and then, when pressured, copped to taking money as well, sonething they hadn’t known. But I had admitted it all. I denied stealing anything else, like ipods. I didn’t need anything else. I didn’t even need the shit I actually took, but I warned them about how easy it would have been and suggested more thorough checks before leaving. I denied using my discount on behalf of friends except one time for a birthday (which was allowed). “I don’t know anyone in Los Angeles. All my other friends are Best Buy employees.” My manager told the guy he believed me. I had been a stellar, model employee other than this incident.

We tallied up the cost of the games and the gift cards. It came out to $350, I think. I agreed to pay it immediately. I had just paid rent, and I had been blowing money on booze, so I had to use what remained on my credit card to take care of it. I went on the floor to do it, and I looked at my direct manager and friend and said, “I’m sorry I let you down. Please don’t think I’m a bad person.” She told me she didn’t.

The LP manager still wanted to cuff and parade me. My general manager convinced him not to. “He’s been honest and upfront, he’s been a great employee, and he paid his restitution without any problem. Just let him leave.” I had only known the guy for four months and he cut me a break he had every right to shit all over. He walked me back to get my stuff, walked me to the front door and shook my hand. “I’ve had to do a lot of these walks over the years. This is one of the few I truly regret. Take care of yourself.”

I walked out in a bit of a daze. I barely had any money. I had no job. I couldn’t stay in Los Angeles. I called up RJ in Seattle and told him I was probably going to move up there with him. “What’s changed?” he asked.
“I got fired.”
“What? For what?” To the side, he told our friend Isaac, “He got fired.”
“Uh… theft. And embezzlement, they said.”
RJ cackled. “Embezzlement?!” Isaac cackled in the background. “What the fuck can you even embezzle from Best Buy?”
“Uh…gift cards?”
Gift cards? You couldn’t embezzle actual fucking currency? You went with gift cards?”
“Look, can I move up or what?”
“Hahaha yeah, man. See you soon.”

Jenny was on maternity leave at the time, so she hadn’t heard the news. She was visiting her family for Christmas and I dreaded telling her. But I sucked it up. “I have something I need to tell you. I’m moving this week. I got fired.” And I told her why and I told her I felt terrible about it, and she was disappointed, but she was so supportive and understanding. And her family gave me unexpected Christmas gifts because they are lovely people.

The fallout was interesting. I became a bit of a pariah, and I was somewhat flabbergasted by who stayed and who didn’t. Kevin, one of my best friends in the store, never spoke to me again. I didn’t blame him. He stuck his neck out for me multiple times and I betrayed him. Stephanie wishes me a Merry Christmas every year. Jason and Angie didn’t really give a shit. Some people I wasn’t that close with at all stayed friends with me for years. Others that I had been extremely close with, people I helped through hard times, people who could tell me anything because I wouldn’t say shit, pretended I never existed. I guess they felt like I betrayed them. The real me was a criminal and a fuck-up.

The loss of those friendships hurt; I didn’t take the gift cards from them. I paid back every cent I took. I lost my job. I lost my home. I had to move out of the fucking state! And California’s shoplifting laws allows for an additional restitution charge of  $50-$500. They got me for another $450, more than the original amount I took, and I paid that, too. I went into debt. And I didn’t complain about any of it because I broke the law. I took my punishment. But how much more did I have to give up? I lost everything, had to start from scratch all over again after everything I went through to get to where I was, and I fucked my own life up. The loss of those friendships hurt because I knew, knew that nobody hated me more I hated myself.

Brittni, one of my closest friends, took me out for milkshakes a day or two before I was set to fly out. We talked about what happened. She told me how hurt she was that I could betray her trust. She drove me home. She hugged me. She never spoke to me again.

And of course, my ex. Her words about never being anybody rang in my fucking soul. Her words about not being the man she thought I was were hooks in my heart. And now I knew this woman who loved me once, who I still loved so fiercely, would always view me as this tainted fuck-up. It killed me to think she would regret me. She didn’t speak to me for five years. Only recently did we reconnect and become friends again, and it brought closure to a demon weight that had been breaking me down for years.

I flew out of the city of angels a few days before the new year began to kick off most of a year in Seattle and Redmond, and some pretty life-defining things happened there. But Los Angeles changed me. It opened my eyes to so many amazing and terrible things. I met so many incredible people. I fell in love. I broke my heart. I built something good. I burned it all down.

Los Angeles changed me, for better and for worse. I’ll always love it, for better and for worse.

The City of Angels Part Five: Awry

The hostel was in my rear view and I was keeping my head down. To my bosses’ credit, when I told them a couple of angry Tongans might come around looking for me and to tell them I transferred to Alaska, they agreed without asking any questions. My friends were gone, I was homeless, I was broke, I was sort of on the run, and I was still excited to live and work and love in Los Angeles.

Part One: Departure
Part Two: A Perilous Journey
Part Three: The First Month
Part Four: Love and Tribulation

Everything I owned was in two suitcases and a box or two. I moved those, with the help of my girlfriend, to my friend Jaime’s place, to crash on his couch. Jaime was good people, nine or ten years older than me, and we had frequent beer pong parties at his place. That was a tense couple weeks because he lived in Inglewood and to get to work, I had to pass the hostel I abandoned on an almost daily basis.

Side-note: across the street from that place was a Louisiana’s Fried Chicken which not only sold, uh, fried chicken, but also Chinese food and it was fucking excellent. They were all over Los Angeles, but that’s the only one I ever popped into, and it’s one of the things I genuinely miss the most.

Anyway, my assistant manager Jenny told me that her family had an empty room they were wanting to rent. I jumped on the opportunity. The house was nice, very homey, and full of people and animals. There was a beautiful, friendly old dog, and something like four or five cats. Jenny’s parents lived there, as did her aunt, grandmother, and brother. We shared the washer and dryer. There was a mini-fridge and television in my room, as well as a desk from which I wrote. Her brother, a couple years older than I and a really cool guy, kept mostly to his room adjacent to mine; we shared the bathroom.

My room had two twin beds in it that I pushed together. The frames pressed against each other, leaving a small gap between the beds that I filled with blankets. Now it was a queen. Fuck yeah.

There were two doors in my room. One opened into the house. I almost never used it save to use the restroom, the washer/dryer, or to talk to Hector. He and I hit it off pretty quickly and would talk about sports or grabbing a drink or  (later) girls. The other door opened up to outside. The house had a gated concrete patio of sorts. I would use that entrance to come in late and to leave for work in the morning without disturbing anyone.

My entire time in Los Angeles the first time around, lasted a total of eight months. The first five were in the Adventurer. Close to three were spent in this house. I loved that family very much, but I liked to keep to myself, you know? I partied a lot and I was so stressed out all the time. I was broke and my girlfriend and I would argue sometimes and love each other other times and I just had so much going on, I didn’t want to bother the family much. But there would be days that I’d hear a knock on the door and Jenny’s mom or her aunt would be there with a plate of homemade Columbian food for me and it was so good.

See, when I say I was broke, I meant it. I may have been even more broke than when I was at the hostel. Pat the Pirate would hook me up with some food sometimes. I had that free buffet full of terrible food. I could charge shit to the room. Living at Jenny’s family’s house, I stretched every dollar out as far as I could. One day I was coming home from work and it was pouring rain. I tried to book it back to the house, but it was pouring rain and I ducked into a business about half way there just to warm up some. That business was a Dollar Store. Alaska doesn’t have those. Did you know Dollar Stores sell food? Hell yes, they do.

I’d use 20-30 bucks to buy two weeks worth of food. My routine was a cup of noodles at work for lunch and a can of ravioli or something at work for dinner. You can get cans of pork and beans two for a dollar. It’s fucking terrible but that’s two meals for a dollar. That’s the situation I was in. And I’m trying to take my girl on dates and trying to do things with my coworkers. I spent more on bus rides to work than I fucking did on food a month.

Nothing too terribly interesting happened during those three months. I worked, I partied with my work friends, I tried to make ends meet. My girlfriend introduced me to a fucking phenomenal comic book shop because she knew how big a nerd I was/am.

At work, a competition was implemented. I mentioned in one of the previous entries that I was really good at selling Black Tie Protection at work. To motivate everyone else, whenever someone sold a BTP, they would print out the receipt and put it in a box for a weekly drawing. At the end of the week, whoever had the most receipts would win a $25 gift card. Whoever’s receipt was drawn would win a $50 gift card or an iPod Touch. The first weekend I won both gift cards. Every weekend I won the $25 for having the most.

And still, I began to grow increasingly stressed and as I stressed, my emotions began to spiral out of control. I became sullen and insecure. I still had my girlfriend’s minor indiscretion in the back of my head and I began to feel I wasn’t good enough for her and because of that, because of the fights, it was only a matter of time before I lost her.

Let me be absolutely clear: outside of that one night and one other instance, she was an incredible woman who supported me and loved me as much as I let her, and I didn’t as much as I should have. She took me to Temple with her and her family, and I genuinely enjoyed it. Everyone there was welcoming and kind. There were food buffets afterwards, sometimes. Bagels with lox and spreads, salads. And liquor. And then we’d go to Pinkberry.

She would stay over at my place regularly. We broke the bed frame once doing boyfriend-girlfriend stuff, something I had always sort of secretly wanted to do until it became a little uncomfortable to sleep in a certain spot.

And what’s funny is one of my favorite memories and one of my worst happened probably within a week of each other. The worst came when we were….drinking or arguing or both. I just remember her saying once that she didn’t believe I would ever be somebody if I didn’t go to college. That fucked me up. Badly. I wrote about it in The Six Year Shadow. Considering where my head was at and how much I was in love with her and how desperate I was for validation and a clean break and a bright spot in my life, that may have been the most devastating, defining thing anyone’s ever said to me.

And despite that, I also remember laying in bed one late afternoon/early evening, her tucked under my arm, her head on my shoulder, her hand on my chest. “I can see us being together for a long, long time.” And yeah… when I wasn’t being manic, I saw that, too.

I was head over heels for her and I was not a great boyfriend at all. She and I recently rediscovered our friendship, and I’m so grateful. I don’t have any delusions about our future. I may never even see her again, but I really wish I hadn’t put her through so much shit. She deserved a better guy than me. I wrote a thing for us recently: “And when they argued, they were brutal and scathing and cut to the core. They wept for each other, for the mislaid lines and frayed edges. They were perfect and terrible.”

I reached a point in late April where I had completely reached my limit. I decided the best decision was to transfer back up to Alaska for the summer, live back at home, and get myself in a better financial state before moving back to Los Angeles. By then I was in a full-blown bipolar episode. I hated myself and I was so anxious and i overthought everything. I broke up with my girlfriend over text. I told her something like I was going through a bunch of shit, I was teaching severely, I was being emotional, it wasn’t fair to her, she deserved better. I drove her away because I felt so poorly about myself. She was pissed. She was so mad that I would break up with her over something as dumb as my being broke. We argued a bunch but she was such a great girlfriend. Jesus, she loved me while I lived in a hostel. I didn’t have a car. I could barely afford to eat. And I broke up with her over my own insecurities. She had every right to be pissed. I expected us to get back together when I got my shit together. Haha, well.

My birthday was right around the corner. I was going to celebrate in Anchorage, but before I left, I wanted to make the most of things. She was tired of my wishy-washy bullshit, and I can’t blame her. Not only was this probably the third time I tried to break up and the first time over reasons that had literally nothing to do with her and 100% about my inability to cope with my living situation, but I was also planning on leaving for four months to a state across the continent.

We saw Iron Man 2 together. We went to a party together. She was super distant with me, even though I was leaving the next morning. I was hurt. She was hurt, too, and she was done with my shit, and she shut me down effectively. And that’s fair! God, it hurt so bad.

And I came home to Alaska for four months to kick off fucking my entire life up. I guess if I do shit, I don’t do it in half-measures.

Part Six: Ruin

The City of Angels Part Four: Love and Tribulation

I’m just going to jump into this fucker: with DJ gone, RJ and I were more stressed than ever on how to make ends meet. I was working the front desk at minimum wage. RJ was doing desk and shuttle driving and going to school to become an EMT. With my funds rapidly diminishing, I even considered becoming an escort. Not caught up?

Part One: Departure
Part Two: A Perilous Journey
Part Three: The First Month

Yeah, so I wasn’t hearing anything back on auditions. I did get an audition for As the World Turns, but despite being obviously located in Los Angeles, the audition was in New Orleans. Too bad. I would have done a soap opera. I’m good at acting bad.

So with few jobs in the pipeline, one caught my eye, and I swear to God this is true and I’m not necessarily proud: male escort. I submitted pictures and some information about me and had the arrangement explained to me like this: your profile goes up on a website. Someone can select you to be their date to an event, a gala, a red carpet thing, a dinner, whatever. $400 for a three hour commitment, $150 for each hour after that. Company only, sex optional. And honestly, I’d even fake being gay in public for three hours for $400. You want to know how close I was to doing this? The only thing that stopped me was that there was a $100 surcharge for them to build my page, and I was so broke, I didn’t want to throw $100 at a maybe.

Luckily for me, not long after that, I had an interview for a job with Best Buy. I got a haircut, and it wasn’t exactly professional (it was a Mr. T level Mohawk honestly. It looked dumb as hell on me), but I interviewed well. There was a second interview and I think I benefitted from the hiring manager being a fellow Dallas Cowboy fan. I got hired full-time, provisionally for the holidays, at $10.50 an hour. I still maintained my job at the hostel, and worked that schedule around my existing schedule with Best Buy.

The hostel situation got interesting, though: turns out for 2/3 of the year, the owner would rent out fully half of the available rooms to oil and gas workers that would come in – usually from the mid-south to south-east- to work on the refineries. Which meant that we had a lot of hard-drinking burly hicks to deal with on a regular basis. As employees of the hostel, it also meant we had to deal with them whenever they started acting unruly.

RJ and I did the smartest thing we could: we made friends with the biggest of them and the boss as fast as we could. Johnny Ray was a fucking massive man, soft-spoken but quick to defend his friends. If one of his crewmates began to act aggressive and get in my face, Johnny would simply put a hand on my shoulder, stand up behind me and say, “He’s with me. Listen to him.” That ended shit really quick.

Mike Jones, mind you, was the complete opposite of Johnny. He was a lightning-quick-witted man, generous, who had suffered a stroke that had rendered the left side of his body largely useless. And as goofy as he acted, as quickly as he got drunk, everyone respected Mike. When he spoke, they listened. That’s huge weight for a guy who, when he got too fucked up, we would sit him down on a luggage trolly and wheel his ass to his room. I tucked Mike into his own bed many times.

Johnny, meanwhile, skipped out to his own private bungalow early on. He threw a handful of parties out there and if we weren’t working, he would have us work the door for entry fees. We’d receive a cut at the end of the night.

At some point during all of this, I recall asking Zhana’s ridiculous struggling actor boyfriend for audition tips. He said a lot without saying anything and then I overheard him telling her he was always talking to “nobody’s” like me. I was blackout drunk the next time Robbie went in. Johnny told me I threatened to “smack the shit” out of him if he insisted “on talking all that shit”, until Robbie apologized profusely and bought me a drink. I took the drink, but man, fuck that guy.

There were plenty of other amazing people passing through, though. The Russian New Yorker whose name I couldn’t recall, so we all called him Niko Bellic, after the Eastern European protagonist of Grand Theft Auto 4. His last night in town, he asked Selma how much she would charge for a pitcher of Long Island Ice Tea. I think she charged him $13. Fucking ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is how she would only charge me $6 when I asked her to do it again on other nights when I wanted to sit and drink and right.

There was Irish Tommy. He had these ridiculous glasses with fake Elvis chops on them. I remember I made the mistake once of promising RJ I would DD for him and some of the others at the hostel and take them down to Hermosa Beach after I got off work. I was so tired and so grumpy by the time I got back to the hostel that I tried to renege, but he wasn’t having it. So I’m driving. There’s someone sitting in the middle of the front (not a seat), someone in the passenger side, and four people crammed into the 3-person back seat, including RJ, Tommy, and this absolute knockout named Dale.

We’re about halfway to the beach when I pull up alongside a police officer. She glances over, sees how many people are in the car, and I immediately know I’m fucked. The light turns green, the cop pulls back behind me, flips the blue and reds, and I pull over. Now, the driver’s side window on the HMS DB didn’t roll down, and I opened the door to try and explain that. The cop immediately put her hand on her gun and shouted for me to stay in the car; I realized this was the kind of dumb shit that got people killed on accident, so I closed the door and kept my hands on the wheel and begged everyone to shut up. They didn’t listen.

Everything got resolved pretty quickly after. We weren’t far from the beach, so she let us off with a warning and insisted a couple people cab it on the way back. That didn’t happen, of course, but we promised anyway.

There was Becky, the British surfer, and Kirsty, a Scottish beauty who sent me a calendar of her beautiful country once she returned home. There was Guy, a British actor/writer with some bold ideas and no idea how to string them together into something coherent. There was Nick McDonald, nephew of Christopher McDonald (you may know him better as Shooter McGavin), and colossal asshole. Chris, the Australian, who told us a delightful story about playing with his puppy and saying, “Come here, ya little cunt”, and asking RJ if he needed his girlfriend to help him when he was working on the car.

But the best by far was probably Pat the Pirate. A Canadian man in his late 40s or early 50s, he was one of the most genuinely nice guys I’ve ever met. He always bought rounds for people, always had a smile on his face, always video chatted with his daughter. When he talked about her, he just beamed. Hell, there were days I was so broke I couldn’t afford to eat. He’d give me a few bucks to head down to Jack in the Box and get something, and he never made me feel ashamed about it.

The most interesting thing about Pat, though, is that he worked as a lighting tech for concerts and events. He set up stages for a massive variety of people. “I remember shaking hands with George Carlin and smoking dope with Snoop Dogg,” he told me once. “And the craziest party I’ve ever been to was one where Motley Crue did $40,000 worth of damage to a hotel floor.”

When he finally left, it was to go work on a tour with Kiss. We kept in touch for a while because I genuinely wanted to write his biography. He never got me the notes, though, and we drifted apart over the years. I hope he’s doing well. He helped me out a lot.

The point is that there was a revolving circus of diverse people, not all of them savory, but all worth a story. It kept things busy at home while we were trying to get our feet under us with work. RJ was finishing up EMT school with a new friend, Phil, and beginning ridealongs.

And I started at Best Buy. We lived in Inglewood and I worked in El Segundo, but there were a couple of buses that took me directly there. That’s one thing that surprised me about Los Angeles: the transit system is surprisingly clear and easy to navigate.

I went in a day or two before I was officially supposed to start and met a good amount of the people I’d be directly working with. My assistant manager, Jenny, was a tremendous sweetheart who became a lifesaver for me later. The other assistant manager, Brittni, was a very close friend. My direct manager, Stephanie, is one of the best bosses I’ve ever ad, and the fact that we’re still friends after the way things turned out is incredible to me. The hiring manager, Kevin, became one of my best friends in the store and turned me on to some video games and movies I’d have no idea about otherwise. Jason and I used to go dsy drinking down to the beach. Jaime saved my ass. And Angie became my rock when everything started to fall apart.

I worked in the front lanes, where most of the registers are at. Now, there are several different departments throughout the store (Gaming, Digital Imaging, Home Theater, etc.) and those departments have reps trained specifically to sell those things as sort of certified experts. And once they close a sale in their department, they’re expected also to try and sell Black Tie Protection (insurance) on applicable devices. That means, of course, that a proper sales rep would know exactly what it covers and what it doesn’t and how to personalize and leverage the benefits for the customer.

But not every sale is closed out in that department. Most are actually grab and gos, so in the front lanes, we’d see just about every product except maybe home appliances. We had to get to know what BTP covered for every department. There was no compensation for selling the stuff, but there was still an expected percentage of attachment, so whenever I had a spare ten minutes, I’d go to each department and learn, and I got very, very good at selling it.

Besides becoming sales oriented, I also met a woman I would come to love very much. I had met her when I’d gone in a day early, but it was a couple days more before I saw her again. Caramel skin. Thick, dark, curly hair. A dazzling smile that came easily, a laugh usually ready behind it. She always made my heart skip a beat, mi boricua princesa.

We got along great early on. We made each other laugh. We spent a lot of time together. She made me feel welcome and being so far away from home and with so much stress going on and only one of my two friends still around, I clung to that. I was lonely, and she was kind and beautiful and funny.

She invited me early on to Jaime’s place for beer pong, and RJ and I went. Turns out he didn’t live too far from where we were staying, so it was convenient for everyone involved. Her and my friendship grew stronger, and Jaime and I became closer buddies as well. He gave me a lot of shit, but I gave as good as I got and I think he respected that.

Thanksgiving came soon after. Knowing I had no one to spend it with, she invited me to spend it with her and her family. RJ had to work and I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could, so I eagerly accepted. To this day, it ranks as maybe my favorite Thanksgiving. I got along great with her family, played around with her dog and stole every soft smile and caring glance I could from her. And man, her mom would not let me stop eating. When you have spent months borrowing money to eat off the dollar menu, a home-cooked Puerto Rican Thanksgiving dinner is like seeing God. And when I literally couldn’t eat anymore for fear of getting sick, of course they made up a plate for me to take home.

On the drive home, we held hands. I don’t think we kissed that night. She made me nervous. I know I couldn’t stop grinning.

It was that weekend or the weekend after that we went to a party, probably at Jaime’s, probably to play beer pong, and she and I both wound up drunk. I don’t think she wanted to go home like that and risk upsetting her parents, so she asked to come home with me. That was the first night we slept together. I don’t know if she had gone in expecting just a hook-up, but I fell for her even more and afterwards, holding her in my arms, I asked her if she would go out with me. “You want me to be your girlfriend?” she asked,  and I responded, “I really, really do.”

She didn’t respond until morning. When she did, she said yes.

December was more or less perfect. We didn’t really go out of our way to tell anyone we were together, but we didn’t exactly keep it a secret, either. Any time we were away from work, we were all over each other. It was fast, it was passionate, it was horribly naive and going 100 miles per hour because it was a love born of youth.

And love it was. I don’t remember what the place was called. It was a sports bar with high ceilings, booths and pool tables. She was sitting on the side of one the tables and I was standing between her legs, about to leave to pick up RJ and bring him out. I told her I’d be back in a few, and she responded with, “Okay. I love you.” And there was a pause as we both realized what she had said.
“Do you?” I asked.
She thought for a minute, nodded and said yes. So I kissed her and said, “I love you, too. I’ll be right back.”

And December was nice and December was good, and I helped celebrate Hanukkah with her and RJ’s mom sent us a care package for Christmas.

Then New Year’s rolled around and the first real hint of how bad things were going to turn out rolled through.

RJ had to work that night, so she and I went together to a party at this guy Jesus’ house. I’m still pretty new around these people. It’s only been a couple months at this point. It wasn’t a huge party, but there was ton of liquor. We started playing beer pong and I was getting tipsy. She was decently drunk and dancing and being flirty. I got jealous. She liked to dance and I didn’t. I still don’t. But she was the kind of oblivious who thought guys were just being sweet instead of blatantly hitting on her in front of me. So I got jealous, and I handled it by doing the absolute last thing I should have: grab a bottle of Jack Daniels and just start swigging from the bottle. A group of friends pulled me into a room and asked if I wanted to do some cocaine. I had done blow a couple times before, I was drunk and in a bad mood, so I figured, fuck it. Let’s go all in.

She found out somehow. Maybe she saw me do it, or I told her. She was pissed, and figured if I was going to do I it, she might as well, too. That pissed me off. She had never done it before, and as far as I know, she’s never done it since. She didn’t know how she would handle it. I was worried about her, and part of me felt she was doing it to get back at me, which – while there are no good reasons to do drugs – may be one of the worst reasons to do drugs.

We got into it. I blacked out and stormed out of the house. Apparently I slammed the door on the way out, something I had to apologize profusely to Jesus for. Not that Jesus. The other one. I stumbled through the road and called RJ to come pick me up. She came out right after and wanted to come home with me. Neither of us were in any condition to give appropriate directions, so it took him some time to find us. It had to have been 3 or 4 in the morning. I blacked out. RJ told me he blared Depeche Mode while she and I argued nonstop.

Nonstop. I came out of the blackout to see her sitting at the foot of my bed. I was standing in front of her, yelling, and I realized I no longer had any idea what we were arguing about. I shook my head to clear it and mumbled an apology. I realized it was now morning, neither of us had slept a wink, and I had to go work a full shift. I staggered out of the room and left her to watch the Rose Bowl parade with RJ.

At some point, I managed to convince the desk manager to let me catch just two hours of sleep. I was exhausted, crashed hard off the drugs and I was still pretty drunk. I went up to the room. She followed me into my bed and we wrapped our arms around each other and she fell asleep with me. When we were good, we clicked so fucking perfectly. When we didn’t, it was usually because I was an asshole and she would bite back twice as hard.

I woke up, and we learned a few things: 1. Shawn the shuttle driver had a meth addiction.
2. Shawn the shuttle driver decided to let that addiction make him think it was okay to do meth and drive the shuttle.
3. Shawn the meth head drove that fucking shuttle over some people and parked it halfway up one of the columns at LAX, and RJ would have to cover the rest of his shift with the larger shuttle that RJ was in no way qualified to drive.

New Year’s wasn’t good for anyone.

And then things continued to be rocky. Towards the end of January, she and I were at a party. I wanted to leave because I had to wake up early for work. She wanted to stay. I walked home. I figured she would crash at Jaime’s. I got up to use the restroom around 4AM. When I came out, RJ had let her into the room and she was laying in my bed. It scared the shit out of me, to be honest, seeing a person where moments before there was nobody, but then I got curious. How did she get there? Who drove her? Which friend? And through some drunken questioning, I found out a guy friend of hers had driven her and at some point they made out. I don’t know if it was someone from work; she insisted it wasn’t, but just a guy she had known for a long time. I don’t know if she initiated it. I know she was drunk and a lot of her guy friends didn’t seem to give a fuck about her relationship status. I do know she felt tremendously, horrifically guilty.

I reacted extremely poorly. I only found out this year that I’m bipolar and anxious and depressed. At the time, I had no idea why I felt things so intensely all the time. I just knew I had a really hard time regulating my reactions. I threw the blanket against the wall. I threw my phone against the wall. I yelled and I cried because I was so hurt. That’s what I woke up to is this feeling of betrayal. Was it because I wasn’t good enough? Did she want to be single?

I scared her. She thought I was going to hurt her, I think, and that appalled me. I would never hurt her or any other woman. The realization made me sick. I sank down on the bed and she came up next to me and she apologized and we both cried and we told each other we loved each other and we made love and we fell asleep on damp pillows.

It would always eat me up, though. I never really got over it. I talked with Angie about it, and Brittni, and my girlfriend’s friend and they all told me the same thing: that she was so guilty over it and all she talked about was how much she wanted to make up for it. And I struggled to keep my jealousy and anxiety and anger and propensity for over thinking under control to middling success. We went out for dinner and a movie once, and I was still so bothered about it that I broke up with her over dinner before realizing it was Valentine’s Day. I immediately recanted and we talked about it and we had a tense movie date after.

Towards the end of February, things were getting tense amongst the employees of the hostel. I found my money was still running tight. They hired on RJ’s friend Phil as a shuttle driver to replace Shawn. The HMS DB had finally shit the bed and RJ was making preparations to move to Seattle to live with a couple of our friends from Alaska. I began to make plans of my own.

In the meantime, my girlfriend and I continued to patch things up. Her friend managed an AMC theater, so we saw a lot of movies together, often for free. One night we had a really great time together and afterward she dropped me off in front of the hostel. She couldn’t stay over that night, so I kissed her and got out. She took off and the manager of the hostel caught me in the parking lot. He wanted to take a walk and discuss how my schedule working the desk would coincide with my Best Buy schedule.

As we walked and talked, I heard a loud shot from behind me. Something moved so close to my cheek, just under my eye, that it tugged at my skin. It cracked into the wall in front of me. I turned and saw a white car with tinted windows suddenly tear through a red light away from me. A half inch of difference is all it would have taken. I hardly left my room for three days.

And even after all of that, the Adventurer still had one good story left for us. RJ was working the desk night shift. Phil was working the shuttle. I was behind the desk with a drink. RJ pulls out a pair of letters a customer had dropped off. Both were similar in content but contained such ramblings as, “I am a man vacationing from San Francisco and am interested in your rooms. I would like to purchase [specific] room at [specific rate] from [this date] to [that date] which comes out to [total].” (He included a handrawn calendar). He also said “I am familiar with both the insides and outside of the closet” and some inanity about his occupation. One was signed “John Rockefeller”, while the other, “John Rockefella”. On one envelope, he had written “Enclosed is a $10 tip.”

“Was there a $10 tip in there?” I asked.
“There sure as shit was,” RJ said.

They’re trying to explain to me what this guy looks like and Phil gets the bright idea to call this guy’s room and pretend to want to meet him for a good time in the shuttle bay, causing him to walk directly by the office. Well, Phil calls and comes on to the guy in a low voice, but he hangs up and cackles when the guy seems receptive. RJ called bullshit, so Phil called again with me listening in. I heard him sound receptive and Phil broke and hung up again. RJ insists we call one more time and I tell him it’s probably a bad idea, that I doubted anyone else knew the guy’s room number and so he probably thought it was RJ. RJ laughed that off and Phil calls again. Before he can say a fucking word, ol’ John asks, “Are you coming or should I go to the office?”

Phil slams the phone into the receiver and he and I double over in laughter. RJ is aghast, repeating “No. No.” over and over, stopping only when a heavyset lady came to check in to a room. While RJ checks her in, a short man in his late thirties or forties steps into the office. Parted brown hair, thick glasses, wispy mustache. Holy shit, of course this was him. He set an envelope and a bottle of orange juice down on the counter. Phil is sitting on the couch across the room, bright red from holding his laughter in. I’m sitting on awe, aware I’m about to witness something beautiful. The lady leaves with her room key.

“I brought you orange juice.”
“I do not want your orange juice.”
“Know what’s in here?” *taps envelope*
“I do not.”
“Male pornography.”
“THAT’S weird. AND uncomfortable.”
John’s eyes turn into dinner plates and he stammers, “OH! OH! SORRY!” before darting from the room. I have rarely laughed harder.

Anyway, as RJ’s departure neared, I arranged to sleep on Jaime’s couch for a month or two until I could get situated. My girlfriend helped me smuggle my things out of the room and over to his place. The morning RJ was set to fly out, we had one last breakfast that we charged to the room. We shook hands, he took the shuttle to the airport. I took the bus to work at Best Buy and never went back. I left behind a bill of $2,000-$3,000; Phil told them I snuck off to Seattle as well, and they tried to hire someone to track me down. Whoops.

A week or so later, Phil called us to let us know John Rockafeller/Rockafella had moved to a dorm room. The cops were called when everyone else woke up to find him in the center of the room, buck naked and masturbating furiously. That’s some vacation.

Part Five: Awry
Part Six: Ruin

The Bedroom Is a Powerful Place

A powerful place is the bedroom.

There is a space where your most valued possessions lie; the things you can’t forget in the morning and want to remember before shutting your eyes for the final time that day. It’s a place of comfort. A place where you can shed your clothes and any masks you may have used to brave the world through morning and afternoon.

The bedroom is where the rest of the world ends and you convalesce. Where you can get the silence you’ve wanted all day. Where you can scream at the walls and blast music that shakes the window looking out to the patch of yard you share with the neighbor you never talk to. Or it’s a place soft notes coax the tears that have been fighting their way out for hours, letting them free, finally, to find a home in the pillowcase softly caressing your cheek.

The bedroom was a place one could feel vulnerable or powerful or free. There was a release in a bedroom. There was an intimacy there.

He was all too familiar with intimacy, release, and soft caresses. He was all too familiar with bedrooms.

And vulnerability.

He traced the rim of the shot glass with his index finger and stared into the amber liquid within. It didn’t reflect as well as he, and he saw nothing in it but the worn wood of the bar beneath it. He was a man so familiar with cold that he had fallen in love with the fire for the way it danced in his chest and made him feel… something. Finally. When it wasnt women, it was whiskey. There hadn’t been a woman in a while.

But he thought of them, often, every one. He thought about how each person he had taken to bed had taught him something about himself he never would have discovered otherwise. Most of those things were good. Not all of them, but most.

Despite all odds, he recalled vividly the drunken nights of stumbling down stairs, one arm wrapped around a woman, their hands running over clothes, craving intimacy and too impatient to wait for the articles to be discarded. A careless hand pushes into a pocket, the apartment key is dropped, picked up, fumbled around the lock until it finds purchase. The door falls open and the lovers fall in and the door slams closed and the lovers bob and weave to the bedroom. Shirts are tossed, pants are kicked away. A sock or two might stay on and the next morning they would both thing too much about it and roll their eyes.

The sex would be frantic and desperate, both eager to please and eager to feel something. Both primed to be vulnerable and be wanted in the midst of it. There were nights when it meant nothing but sharing a moment with someone who needed him as much as he needed them, and that was okay.

That was okay. And it was nice. And it was soft pecks in the morning and an agreement to get lunch soon and six months of sporadic texts and an occasional short, happy conversation when they ran into each other in a restaurant or a bar.

Comfort.
Companionship.
Release.
Acceptance.

Sometimes it worked better than others. There were always other things in play. The mind is distracted. The body doesn’t cooperate. Both participants had their distinct ways to communicate. Even when it meant nothing in the grander scheme, it was an intimate arrangement, an exposure of body and interest, a reveal of arousal and preferences. But it was temporary, an act of validation, an acknowledgement that one could be desired in this world, that one could cause pleasure or serve as an escape from worse things.

It doesn’t always work like that, does it?

He recalls a woman he had had his eye on for some years. A chance meeting. The first kiss. Rhythmic sex interrupted by a call into work and texts that promised repeats of a performance she “couldn’t stop thinking about”. But he had provided nothing special and there was no second encounter and she began dating someone a scant few weeks later. She was married now, years after, and happy.

He recalled a passionate affair. Neither of them could keep their hands off of each other the minute the door snapped shut. There was a desperate craving, a need to be wrapped around each other an irresistible urge to be as close as possible. They were flint and tinder and together created a wildfire.

That wasn’t how it started. It started in a quiet bedroom lit by a tiny lamp in the corner. It started with sitting next to each other and asking if each little touch was alright, assuring each other that nothing was crossing the line. Innocence was found among the guilty and it released a flood upon good judgment.

He remembered being on the phone with his brother when a t-shirt fell into his lap. He remembered looking up to see a naked back retreating to the bedroom. There wasn’t even a cheeky glance back. There didn’t need to be; that call had ended with a quickness.

He remembered an ex-lover that he had reconnected with while mourning the loss of his mother. They had a need for each other that transcended the physical, and they felt comfort in being weak with each other, and they took turns keeping their souls in, holding each other when the world threatened to break them down to ash.

That relationship hadn’t ended well, but it had ended with as much raw emotion as had breathed life into it.

There was a woman who was everything right and everything wrong for him all at once. When they clicked, the world was wide open. They loved each other and took every moment in every place to express it. The sex came easily, naturally, two parts to a whole. They knew what the other wanted and gave it and afterwards collapsed together contentedly.

And when they argued, they were brutal and scathing and cut to the core. They wept for each other, for the mislaid lines and frayed edges. They were perfect and terrible.

He remembered a woman he never expected to love. He remembered the first night together and the panic attack he had because he was so terrified to let her down, and how she patiently worked him through it. He remembered laying next to her, on their sides, looking at each other and forgetting there were lives outside of the sheets he had bought just to impress her. He remembered hours spent, naked, beside her, both reading, both touching enough to reassure reassure the other that they were still there.

He remembered desperately clinging to her because he knew she would slip away. And with a long, lingering kiss, she did. He found her hair on his pillow the next morning. He could trace his hands over the silhouette her body haunted his bed with. Of all of them, he thought he might miss her the most, for her patience, for her passion.

He traced that goddamn shot glass with his finger. He searched for answers in the liquor he knew would light his belly. He longed for connection and recalled fondly every one, every drunk, desperate, passionate, awkward, loving, awful, perfect one.

The bedroom is a powerful place.

The Six Year Shadow

I was 21 years old when I moved to Los Angeles and I believed I had the world at my fingertips. It didn’t matter that I moved down with a couple of friends with one unreliable car between us, or that none of us had jobs lined up or a place to live, that none of us knew anyone in a city of almost 4 million people, that none of us had a ton of money lined up. I believed I could work it out, and I did, for a lot longer than I had any right to. I had dreams of success, of being some kind of actor/writer phenom. Instead, I was taking $20-30 and using it buy two weeks worth of canned food from the dollar store.

I fell in love down there, deeply. I was too scared to say it first. She let it slip one night, sitting on a pool table in a bar whose name I can’t remember and we paused for a moment. I asked her if she meant it. She said she did, and maybe she lied or maybe she thought she did at the time, or maybe she really did, but whatever the case, that “Yeah” opened the floodgates for me. This woman took me in for the holidays. Both of my friends moved away and I was alone in L.A. with my job, my co-worker friends and this woman I adored.

We weren’t great for each other sometimes. We were perfect for each other other times. I didn’t realize at the time that I had emotional and mental issues that would roll through me like waves and because of that, I didn’t know how to prepare or cope with it. I got angry easily, spiteful, distrusting. I stressed and overthought everything. I was scared and far from home with hardly any money, no car, and the beautiful woman I was with that dudes often hit on right in front of me… I panicked.

And she wasn’t emotionally there all the time. I don’t think she would even understand how to deal with some of the things I was going through. I went into that relationship with a lot of baggage neither of us knew about and we handled it and communication with each other poorly a lot of the time. Goddammit if we didn’t stick up for and support each other a lot of the time, too. There was love there, but I wasn’t prepared to handle it properly.

I broke up with her to focus on me and fix my financial woes by coming back to Alaska for four months. I was trying to give us distance. What it did was hurt her and render our relationship unreconcilable. Because I was so desperate to fix things and get her back, I gradually lost my mind and found ways to sabotage everything. I lost my job, all of my money, I had to move from the place I lived, from the whole state. I lost a lot of close friends who, to this day, have not spoken to me since. And of course I lost her and her respect.

Deservedly. I committed a crime at work, unrelated to everyone and totally self-serving. I got caught, I admitted everything immediately, I paid back more than double the value of what I took, and I lost everything in return and I was fine with that. I own my mistakes. Whatever disorders I’m diagnosed with don’t give me a free pass to act like an asshole. Nobody was more pissed off or hated me for betraying their trust or throwing the life I was building away more than I hated myself.

So I moved to Seattle at the lowest point in my life I had ever been, and this one situation kept playing out in my mind. See, my girlfriend was going to college for social work, which is amazing and noble as all hell. College wasn’t in my future. I was a hair’s breadth away from going to Reno for a while, to be a History or an English teacher, but ultimately I wanted to MAKE IT. I was going to be a star, a famous actor or a famous poet or a famous novelist. And one night – I can’t recall if we were drunk, or arguing, or both – she told me that she didn’t believe that if I never went to college that I could ever be somebody. That I was basically destined to fail at life.

And I fucked my life up! Like, not even half a year after that, I lost my goddamn mind and I ruined everything I possibly could, doing things I would never normally do, acting in ways that would normally horrify me. I spent a year of literal blood, sweat and tears building up something great and with so much promise, and I shit on it.

So I’m in Seattle with almost nothing to my name. Starting from scratch again. Heartbroken, ashamed, self-loathing and again in a large city in which I knew four people. I felt hopeless, both in that I had no hope and that there was no hope for me to rise up from the ashes, or whatever. Then I took a trip up to Alaska to see my best friend’s newborn baby, and while I was up there, I met someone who would change my life.

When I returned to Seattle, I began to pursue writing seriously. I was going to write a novel and it was going to be good. It was going to sell. I was going to show my ex that I could be somebody on my own merit and that I, personally, didn’t need to spend $60,000 for someone to tell me how to string words together in an exciting fashion.

I wrote that motherfucker in six months. I’ve never worked harder and more consistently on something before or since, and when I self-published it, it got good reviews. People loved to read it. I pumped out new installments as fast as I could because people wanted to talk to me about. People were excited about it.

Cut to five years later. My books still sell here and there. They don’t pay my bills. They haven’t taken off. I work a job I hate to pay for a life I kind of shuffle through. I’m not where I want to be. My goals are still high. I’m not rich. My books aren’t on shelves. I don’t have a publishing deal. I can pack my life up into the same two suitcases I took with me to Los Angeles six years ago.

I never went to college and I haven’t – to my standards – become somebody.

Then I had a really, really weird day.

It started with me waking up from a nightmare, one of those hyper-realistic ones you could swear actually happened, where I was at some pool party  (complete with DJ, natch) and I ran into a woman I was deeply in love – I fall in love a lot; it’s a mess – and the guy she left me for when my grandfather passed. Now, I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in at least a year, and she hadn’t been with him for even longer than that. The event had happened three years previous and she had left me with barely a word or a bat of the eye. Due to how realistic the dream was, though, I woke up feeling crushed all over again.

Two hours later, out of nowhere, she messages me. We have a conversation that started off tense because honestly, it gave me anxiety to even hear from her, but gradually it grew into an honest discussion about how hurt I was and what she was going through back then and it struck me that she basically did what I had done. And then she apologized profusely to me, the only thing I really needed to hear to finally, finally get closure and find solid ground with her again. We agreed distance was still probably best for the foreseeable future, but that if either of us needed someone to reach out to, we could always, now, again, finally, reach out to each other.

That was a weight, man. Three years of grief and hurt alleviated with an “I’m so sorry.”

And then two hours after that, my ex from Los Angeles messaged me. I haven’t spoken to her in five years, outside of a message about some stuff I left behind or a Happy Hanukkah. She tells me she’s thought long and hard about it, and would understand if I said no, but she wanted help writing something that would help her get into a college program she needed.

The first thing I thought was that it was fucking hilarious. Now my writing is good enough? Now you trust that I know enough about this thing I sort of assed myself into doing?

But I said “Absolutely. Of course I’ll help you.” I’m proud of her. I still have so much love and gratitude for the things she did for me and the great moments we did have. I want to do whatever I can to help her get where she wants to be. I had spent years trying to find a way to be friends with her again that I felt she would accept or that I deserved, so it meant a lot to me that she would reach out. We talked a little over Thanksgiving, because it was six years ago from then that I went to her home for the first time and met her family, and it was immediately after that we decided to date. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” she said. “We had so much fun.”

Yeah. We did.

I’ve been feeling a little heartbroken lately, so I’ve gone back to drinking a little too much and bleeding my emotions out a little too dramatically and clinging to someone I desperately wanted to work towards a potential future with, so yesterday morning, I woke up, still drunk from a bad Sunday night, and called that person and told them I wanted them to have a safe trip to Japan. She flew out today. I’m hoping that’ll keep me from texting her in the wee hours of the morning compliments she’s probably tired of hearing. We didn’t talk long, probably for the best, and she told me to try and get some more sleep before I had to go into work.

I couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t coming to me, so in the fading haze of intoxication, I decided I finally, genuinely needed to be honest about something. I messaged my ex.

I told her about finally going in this year and being diagnosed with a few disorders that made me feel things erratically and severely and how for a long time, I had just assumed I would occasionally get fed up with things and I would lash out. I told her that six years ago, I fell in love with her and her family for what they gave me and that when she reached out to me, I didn’t do it out of a delusion that we’d get back together or out of infatuation, but because I still cared and wanted to help. But I wanted her to know something.

“If you never go to college, I don’t believe you’ll ever be somebody.” To hear that from someone whose opinion I cared so much about and whose affection and acceptance I craved more than anything during a time where I was broke and had nothing and hardly anyone else… it broke me. And when I didn’t go and when I fucked so many things up, I just kept telling myself, “Maybe she was right. Maybe I won’t be.”

And as I was typing this out to her, to let her know that one sentence has been this haunting, horrible weight on me for so long, something finally clicked in my head…

I’ve spent six years trying to be somebody because I thought she thought I couldn’t be, when I should have been doing it because I thought I could be. When I first moved down, I thought I could do anything. When it became increasingly difficult and I became increasingly emotional, I began to have doubts. When she said that to me, I stopped believing in myself entirely.

I was trying to prove her wrong these last years. I wasn’t trying to prove to myself that I was always right about what I was capable of.

She wrote back to me, aghast. She apologized profusely and told me she hoped I could forgive her words. “When I get angry, I try to hurt whoever I think is hurting me.” She told me she had never thought I was lesser, that she was proud of me when she found I had written books, and a few other complimentary things. “Why do you think I’d even consider you to read my personal statement? Because if anyone knew… it would be you.”

The world is yours if you want it. Not because someone said you can’t have it. I lost sight of that a long time ago, and I’ve felt like a shadow of myself since.

Fourteen hours later, I realized something else: I’ve been insecure about my writing because I feel like a fraud when I do it. Kerouac, Hemingway, Bukowski, Thompson… they wrote about love, life, loss, lust, pain and so much else with authority. Love is this. Heartbreak is that. They wrote with conviction and years later, their quotes are passed around social media and hung up on walls and in offices because the things they wrote resonate with people.

But there was always something holding me back. I think it’s because when I posted it on Facebook, my friends would take the piss out of it. They would see me as being over emotional or narcissistic or dramatic. Who the fuck am I to put myself in the footsteps of those men? Who the fuck am I to know what life is supposed to be about? What it is? When people have known me for years, they’ve created an image of who I am, and I’m no authority on anything to them.

In the same way that someone who tells a few jokes every other week on a stage wouldn’t consider themselves a comedian, I felt like writing a few poems, a few introspective posts, it didn’t make me a writer.

But why not? I remember the fucking mountain of private messages I got after my post about having been raped. I remember the messages I got when I wrote about being suicidally depressed. The people who have shared my poems. The people who knew my family members and reached out to tell me what I wrote meant to them, or because it reminded them of their own families. I remember the messages from people who were dealing with loss, or heartbreak, or budding love.

You know what I remembered? Finally remembered? I’m not fucking writing for people who don’t see me as a writer. I’m writing to put how I see and feel things out there for people to know they aren’t alone in their feelings. I’m doing it to reach out to others the way the writing greats once reached and continue to reach out to me.

If nobody else will say it, I’m going to. I have a voice that I’ve kept hushed and shyly uttered for too long. And frankly? I’m not good at anything else, except for eating and occasionally sex if their standards are low, so I better get goddamn good at this.

I need to do this because I believe I can. And I’m starting to again.