In the Dark Brightly

​When I was a kid, the snowmachines would plow the roads in my neighborhood and leave the snow in a large pile in the middle of a cul-de-sac. The neighborhood boys would go out and mess with it and turn it into half a fortress and half a King of the Hill battleground.
The winters in Alaska are long and deep and often clear, and I was lucky in that my grandmother would often give me a little more time to spend outside after the street lights came on.
I’d find myself out on that snow hill alone a lot. In my snow pants and my snow jacket and my gloves and thick hat, I would lay down on top and stare up at the pearls that sat atop a clean black silk blanket. I must have been ten, twelve years old.
I didn’t think about love then, or at least not in the same way I do now. I didn’t think about death, or success, or what it meant to be happy. I was a troubled kid. I grew up in a healthy household but parental addiction and strife were always in the periphery and I was bullied a lot.  So a lot of who I am now was there then. Maybe even the purest, most enduring part: I just wanted to be. I wanted to… I don’t know, experience. Something. Anything of value. I was a kid staring into the cosmos, for a brief moment away from my loving but sometimes overbearing grandparents, away from my dad smelling like sweat and cheap beer, away from my mom asking me for cab money on my birthday. I didn’t know what happy was supposed to be, or sad, or normal. I was just a kid looking out into a deepness I couldn’t quantify and wanting to step out from where I was into somewhere autumn, somewhere with street musicians, somewhere paupers got to share a short conversation with princesses.
I read a lot then, as I’ve written about, in order to escape. And with a mind full of stories and an open sky above me, a quiet night holding me and with the straw colored glow haunting the snow around me… it was still. It was all so still. My wild mind could find a moment of peace to just hope for something different down the line. I didn’t know what I wanted then, and what I’ve actually wanted has changed over the years, but I knew I wasn’t fulfilled. Something in the night sky, this unfathomable depth beyond the stars, spoke to me of fulfillment. That it would be there somewhere.
I’m much older now. I view the same sky with more critical eyes, and more tired ones, and eyes more prone to tearing up for no reason. But that stillness still steps beside me. That calm still takes the coat from my shoulders and the hat from my head. I see the same stars I ever did, and they still tell me that they’re waiting for me to join them out on the patio with a decent beer, but not a fancy one. That high-end, blue-collar shit.
Nearly two decades later, I’m still that kid on the hill. A little more bruised. A little more scared. As home as ever in the dark brightly.

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Close Enough to Fall

Autumn is my favorite season.

For most people, autumn signifies the beginning of the end, the harbinger of winter, the last hurrah before the year ends and begins anew, the year itself being a phoenix that, at least where I’m from, rises not from ashes but from a fresh ivory powder, cold and wet and long. For most people, autumn is the bed news bear they women up to after a long night of drinking and having fun with summer.

For most people, their year ends on December 31st and begins on January 1st. Not for me, though. Those are just days.

My year begins and ends in Spring, May 10th, the day I was brought into this world covered in blood and greeted by a string of pained profanities. I calculate my years by a full 365 days on earth to accomplish  (or fail) in whatever tasks I’ve set ahead of myself. It doesn’t seem fair to me to give up 129 days just because I wasn’t around to see them (if you’re wondering, I didn’t accomplish a lot that first year I was around. Walking, maybe. A couple lazy words, perhaps. My second year was far more productive: I ruined an entire marriage).

So my year starts when the flowers begin to boom, under the handful of showers slinking away from April, somewhere behind the dirty caked patches of snow struggling to survive on the sides of the road. Spring is messy, as is birth, and beautiful, and full of life, but fledgling. Summer is full of sunshine and brightness and long days (good long, not hours of being screamed at by customers long). And then autumn.

For many, the fall season is full of melancholy. Resignation. Hell, there are even those who love winter and so want to skip through autumn as quickly as possible to get to the skiing and snowboarding and snowmachining.

Me, I like the colors. Alaska in fall is gorgeous, especially out in the wilderness and on the hiking trails. I don’t get out there much. I grew up watching films set in places like Seattle and New York and Paris: bigger cities with long stretches of neighborhood with trees that towered over the streets, awash in shades and hues once August hits, a song by sight through October.

I’ve never been to New York City. I’ve only driven through it in places like Kentucky and Tennessee and, yes, Seattle. But the first time I got to walk through a long stretch like that, like I had seen in the movies, I was 18 years old. It was a park somewhere in London. Steve Irwin had just been killed by one of the last animals anyone would have guessed, and though I was never much an avid watcher of his show, he was well known enough that it was jarring news to wake up to. So I was there, young, the furthest from home I had ever been, with only one person with me that I knew, contemplating mortality while the trees all died around me.

It was sad, and it was beautiful.

I go for long walks often, and when it isn’t autumn here, I pull that memory of London from the tail end of September and set it right behind my eyes. I walk a lot, I think a lot, and as the year begins to slip into a long, dark difficult period (but not the end! Not the end of my year), I reflect on what I’ve done since my birthday. Where I stand with the goals I had set for myself that year. What I plan to do or change to reach them once snow begins to fall and I have to dig my heels in.

This year, it’s a weird one. I hit my three year mark in a job I enjoy sometimes but don’t want to turn into a career. I’m still living in a place that doesn’t seem to satisfy me on an emotional or mental level, a place that doesn’t seem to offer me many opportunities to grow as a person and as an artist. I’m sitting on a novel that should have taken me three months to write and is now a nearly ten month endeavor, because… why? I don’t want to close the door on a chapter of my life that was always supposed to be fleeting? Because I wanted to believe a certain kind of love could work out and I’m using art to work through why it can’t?

These are things that often trouble me and, I suspect, will trouble me deeply this winter, as it troubles me every winter, but for some reason always seem to get compartmentalized in the fall.

Autumn is my favorite season. My season. When death is beautiful and everywhere, and presents itself as a farewell with a gentle promise to see you again soon. It’s an opening number to winter’s main event, a deep and broad beauty in its own way, stark and simple and clean. It’s the season I think. The season I am the closest I can be to peace. The season I reevaluate and walk down long paths, even if sometimes only in my mind, even if sometimes a decade ago on another continent.

I would very much like to die some day, far down the line, perhaps the end of August, perhaps the beginning of September, surrounded by reds and yellows, the odd greens, the warm browns, head tilted back against a shedding trunk, a good book open in my lap.

After all, autumn is a season of death, and beauty, a companion to walk you into darkness to new life beyond. That seems peaceful to me. That seems perfect to me.

Yellow

She wore dandelions in her hair. I told her, “You know, people eat that” and she spent ten minutes explaining how unhealthy it is to chew on hair before she realized I was talking about the weed instead. She had a cute little button nose that she scrunched up then, and she asked, “Why would anyone eat dandelions?” and I asked, “Why would anyone eat snails?” right back. She didn’t answer. She liked escargot.

I asked her once, a month or two later, why she chose dandelions. It was always dandelions. She said it was a personal preference, just because they were everywhere and nobody was doing anything with them but complaining. Girls wanted posies and lilies and daffodils. Well, she liked yellow and sunflowers were too big, so dandelions it was.

“It’s a weed,” I told her. “It’s bad for gardens.”

“We’re bad for the planet,” she said, and though I wasn’t a hippie (and she wasn’t exactly, either), I couldn’t disagree.

She liked things that were a little different, a little off the beaten path. She didn’t mind flinging a little mud around when we tramped through the woods and found a dying riverbed. She always ordered a hot chocolate at the coffee shop and pushed down all of the little plastic tabs on her soda lids except the kind she was drinking, which is the exact opposite of what is supposed to be done (and which is exactly what nobody does anyway).

She liked long walks and longer drives down trails and roads where the trees lined up like soldiers and the businesses, if there were any, were all locally owned. She liked to hear the birds sing and she wondered out loud to me once if birds named their children like humans did, and if those names were sometimes just as stupid as ours.

She liked me. She liked sitting next to me on the couch, sitting upright in a fetal position, knees tucked up against her chest, her back against my chest, a bowl of popcorn in my lap that she used to reach back and grab from and spill from, and she would tell me not to worry, the Roomba would get it, and we’d both laugh because we didn’t own a Roomba and we never would. Call it a misplaced fear of robots if you want, but we valued our feet and refused to let them be the first casualties when the uprising began.

She liked watching those horror movies that are a special kind of bad, full of schlock and dialogue so cardboard an action figure should have come packaged with it. We would pick a character just to see how long “we” survived and whoever lasted the longest had to do the dishes. She was good. I lost a lot.

She liked me and I liked her and we had a good thing for two winters and two summers. We met in the snowpants section of a chain store and I muttered something disparaging about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and she piped up an agreement, and we went out for coffee. Well, I got a coffee. She got a hot chocolate.

We curled up in front of a space heater and pretended it was a fireplace until the next winter when I moved into a bigger place with a real fireplace. She insisted I cut my own wood. I bought wood and pantomimed and she rolled her eyes, but she liked that, too.

She never got mad. I did. Never at her, but I could get mad. I could get moody and lethargic and sullen. She would go on her walk and I’d stay and I’d sleep and I’d wait and when she came back, I would smile a wistful little smile because it was all I could muster, but I loved her and she deserved something from me.

I could hold grudges. I was really good at losing. Losing friends, losing jobs, losing arguments, and I would be resentful because I felt there was something else I could do, some words I could have said that would have changed everything. Did I hold grudges against them or myself? I couldn’t be sure. She would ask me to let it go and I’d nod and I’d smile and I would hug her and stare at the wall behind her, a pit in my stomach turning over.

She loved to travel, to meet new people, to taste new foods. She liked culture and history, and the way the cars were small in France and the “medusa” warnings on Spanish beaches when the jellyfish clusters grew large.

I used to like that, too, but I grew tired and restless and grumpy and conflicted, and it’s difficult to plan an itinerary around a mood swing like that.

We liked to talk to each other. It was easy, too easy, too funny, too real. It was easy for two winters and two summers, from inside our snowpants in that first café to inside my arms that last night in bed. But that third winter started around and I couldn’t be happy for her, and it wasn’t as easy to talk about it, and I didn’t want to bring her energy down. I shut her out, and she didn’t like that. I didn’t either. It wasn’t a game for two, anymore, but the sky trying to carry on with a wall, and the door that led through it stayed locked.

I came home one day, close to spring, the snow melting on the sidewalk and me slipping through it because the sneakers I bought had no treads on the bottom for traction. There had been signs for weeks. I knew that. I had seen them and looked through them and practiced smiling in the mirror.

I saw this sign, though, the purple pair of lips pressed against the outside wall of my apartment, just next to the door. The door would have been easier to hold it. I don’t know why she chose the wall or how hard she would have had to press her lips into the scratchy wood to keep the prints there. I hoped she hadn’t hurt her lips.

There was no note inside. Her stuff wasn’t there, either. She cleaned before she left, though. Did the dishes even though my character had died first in the last film we watched and did my clothes, because…because she was sweet, and she liked me once.

She left one thing behind, though. I found a dandelion on the kitchen counter, next to the stove we took turns cooking each other breakfast on. I don’t know where she found a fresh dandelion. I just know she liked to wear them in her hair.