it's your turn.

there i was at mikuni's, this sushi place off hazel. i'd never been there before, but showed up because it was my cousin's 40th birthday party. 40. i mean, i always knew he was older than me, but for fuck's sake, 40. that's how old nate's character was when he died on six feet under. i remember hearing my aunt was turning 40 when i was a kid, and i just thought, holy shit that's old. it was so old they called it "over the hill." and my other cousin, she just turned 30. it feels like last week we were just playing lava steps at the rosemont house.

anyway, i was at this place mikuni's, and then our other cousin showed up. he had his kid with him, a girl, and she was only 7 months old or so. she was cute with dark eyes and dark curly hair. he had another kid from another woman, and that kid is like 9 or 10, but he never sees that kid. so two kids, one my cousin sees, the other he never sees. i guess that's what happens sometimes. anyway, that cousin, the one with the two kids, he says to me, "you're next." and i was like, "what are you talking about?" and he goes, "it's gonna be your turn to have kids."

i've been getting glimpses of what it's like to have kids. i took my cousin out for her 30th birthday, and her two year old just kept running around the old spaghetti factory. i'd pick her up, try to put her in the high chair, and she'd just cry and cry and throw a fit. and then my cousin told me how the little girl would wake up at 2 in the morning, and wouldn't go to sleep until about 6. and the father would just yell, "go to sleep! i've gotta be at work in two hours! go. to. sleep!" and all i could do was laugh at it, and think, jesus, how do people live like this?
after the old spaghetti factory, we went into a toy store, which was another bad idea. the older one, the 4 year-old, she didn't want to leave, even after half an hour. she just kept saying, "i want to buy something!" and i said to her, "well, what do you want?" at that point, i would've bought her anything just to get back in the car and have her stop whining. but she couldn't even answer me. she'd say, "i don't know! but i wanna buy something!" and the whole time i was thinking, for fuck's sake, just pick something out already!
i just don't get it. most parents seem to be like, yeah, yeah, i love my kids, whatever. but most of them don't even seem to have good relationships with their parents. most of them would be a lot better off financially without children. sometimes i wonder why my parents had me. they could've done a lot more things rather than overwork themselves for decades just to pay my tuition. the obvious answer is that it's love, duh. but really, is it love, or is it just some fool nudging them and saying, "hey, it's your turn?"
be a leader.

i was at the monkey bar with two old classmates and my cousin. out of nowhere, this asian girl and this white girl start playing pool. the white girl says something about the singer on tv, and my cousin tells her it's a band called my chemical romance. i'm immediately attracted to the white girl because of her posture, her bangs, and the fact that she is shooting pool and not with a guy. i don't say anything, though. i'm just an animal, but actually worse, because i suppress any and all my desires.

i meet up with an old coworker. it must be obvious by now. nobody from my past messages me or texts and asks to get together. only certain kinds of people have to stoop to that level. anyway, we meet up. if i hadn't texted her, she probably never would've said anything, even though we'd been planning it all week. i texted: still going out tonight? she texted: we're already here. so, i drove to the old tavern, some bar i'd never been to, and she's surrounded by three guys, and she doesn't even recognize me.

i say her name aloud. it's a pretty name, bronwyn. she says my name, we hug. she's trashed. she introduces me to her boyfriend, her boyfriend's friend, some other guys i don't know or even really care to meet. she gets distracted by something, and i'm left talking with the boyfriend's brother. even though i don't mind it, the whole time, i'm thinking, this isn't what i signed up for. he's a 2l at berkeley law, and i congratulate him for being young, attractive, and for having a bright future ahead of him.

i'm in the car with my cousin, and he brings up my blog. i bring up the old letters i've written to classmates, and at this point, i'm not sure exactly why i've written them. i tell him what i've been thinking for a long time, how i think it's strange that we spent all that time together, and now i never hear anything from them. i bring up the lonely american, and how it states that "falling out of touch" with people has become the norm, and why is that so? and it's not just about old classmates, coworkers, exes, friends, dead grandparents, what-have-you. it's about life and having to accept that your time is limited, and all you can do is try to enjoy it before it's over.

so i throw the football around with my cousin. i put icing on a little girl's hello kitty birthday cake. i do what i can, and i try to convince myself that it's enough.
two weeks notice.

the three women were talking about stuff. we were in room 435, the fishbowl it's called, and i was just sitting there, listening to all of it. none of it had anything to do with me. there was nothing for me to say, no reason for me to be there at all, as i never even took notes at these meetings. they talked about the upcoming pilf auction, supreme court judges, lawyer stuff. i excused myself to go to the bathroom, even though i didn't even have to go. sometimes, i'll do this on a long flight. i go into the bathroom, and i just make faces in the mirror. it reminds me of who i am, that i am just this terribly lonesome person who constantly has to find ways to entertain myself, reinvent myself, remember that i matter, even though i don't.

once the meeting ended, i chased down my boss. she held a box of office supplies, and we trekked across the gallery to the elevator. she asked if i needed to get into the office, and i told her no, that i had actually come down to see her. and then i told her that this was going to be my last semester at the law school. my voice faltered as i told her. i was scared, and i wasn't exactly sure why. maybe because my future plans still weren't official, maybe because i imagined another long stretch of unemployment and lack of health care, of feeling inadequate and doomed. but then i remembered the long meeting we had just gotten out of, and i felt good about my decision.

i thought of all the lovely young women at the law school who were working to get their careers started. i thought of my sad and empty apartment and the awful winter ahead. i thought about coach taylor always going for two, refusing to accept the tie. i thought about wanting to be well traveled and my parents getting older and how a year can go by just like that. i convinced myself that if i didn't do something, if i didn't take a risk, well, then i was just going to have another year or lifetime of looking at the computer and pretending to be interested in meetings and what was happening around me.

i'm going to miss them. mostly, i'll miss emily and how her hair color changes with the seasons. i'll miss the way she brings her face so close to the screen, like she wants to swim in her monitor. or how she keeps three pairs of shoes underneath her desk. how she wears a giant black hoodie and loves molly moon and genki sushi and can't kick a soccer ball very well. how i could quote movies, and she'd know exactly what i was talking about. i'll miss how she writes like a five year-old and slumps in her chair around 3 o'clock.

before my flight, i wondered about that moment in the airport. the one where i am coming down the escalator, and i see my parents in the waiting area. how many times have i seen this? how many flights have i taken from seattle to sacramento and back? why do i do this, keep wanting to be away? there's my mom asking me how the flight was, and there's my dad giving me an awkward one-armed hug. and then there's that moment where i step into our house, the one i grew up in, and i can smell it.

my aunt was trying to make plans to see the newest harry potter. there were a lot of phone calls, a lot of compromising. my cousin kept saying certain times and days wouldn't work for him. it took twenty minutes to half an hour to figure something out. i just sat there and watched them madly flop around. we went to the movie, and it was raining hard. seven of us were there, sitting in the dark, and i couldn't remember the last time i had been to a movie with all of these people.

so much time passes, and i don't know what to make of any of it.
wolves out there.

the last time i saw her, i was in d.c. for the annual americorps conference. she picked me up, along with my then girlfriend and another volunteer, and we drove through the snow to a restaurant downtown. i don't remember much about it. her boyfriend had those big hoops in his ears. i don't know what they were called, but i didn't like them.

mostly, i remember talking about my roommate. i told everyone at the table how he blasted classical music and how his farts were like thunder. his hair would clog the shower drain, and he never flushed his piss. on a special occasion, he even left a huge shit for me. later, my girlfriend told me, "you shouldn't talk about other people like that. it's not very attractive."

the year before that, i made mix cds around christmas time for everyone on the americorps team. my girlfriend looked at the track list i made for naomi. "you've got a crush on her, don't you?" i denied it. "yeah, you do," she said.

to ward off boredom at the office, i used to make comic strips using microsoft paint. i didn't know what to call the comic, so she came up with a name. "kathleen's coffee," she said. and so it was.

after hurricane katrina, i was sitting in the red cross office, and i was in charge of checking people in. right in front of me, melissa told our supervisor that i didn't do something right. it wasn't even a big deal, but she made it out to be, and i felt bad about it. i told naomi what happened. she reassured me that melissa was always doing things like that.

the first time i got a sense of who she was, it was on the first day of americorps. the seven of us sat in the classroom, filled out paperwork. she read aloud all the ridiculous parts. i knew then that this girl was willing to point out the obvious. she called bullshit on the first day, and i had to respect that.

we hung out tonight. it was the first time i'd seen her in over three years. it's weird, how little people change when so much time has passed. it was like when i saw toby for the first time in five years, and it felt like we were picking up on a conversation we left two minutes ago, not five years ago.

what i've come to realize is that there really are very few people i can just feel comfortable around. there are very few people who don't put me on edge, or make me feel like every thing i say has to turn into some kind of argument. i've realized the ones who put me on edge, the ones who constantly feel the need to prove something, those people usually have low self-esteem, and i've since dropped them.

i guess that's what has changed about me in the last few years. i used to be idealistic and think i could get along with just about anybody. but now i know that there are wolves out there, and sometimes it's best to just stay away.
when you find out.

a little over a year ago, i received word that she'd met someone else. the only girl i'd ever loved, and the only one who ever loved me back, had moved on. it wasn't fair. i was devastated. i drunk-dialed her. it must have been three, four o'clock where she was.

did you sleep with a married guy?
did you sleep with a married guy?
that's none of your business.

we exchanged a few more words, and then i hung up. i woke up the next morning, and something was off, but i couldn't immediately remember what it was. it was similar to those moments in college when my computer would break down, and i'd spend the entire night futilely trying to repair it myself. in the morning, i'd wake up and instinctively know there was something unpleasant i had to deal with.

even though technically we've been broken up for over three years, that night, the night i found out, solidified it. i wanted revenge. i thought of unspeakable things. how could she? after all i'd done for her. after five years together, i felt i deserved better than that. i spent the following weeks in a haze, hitting on random girls at bars to no avail. it was my turn, goddamnit. didn't these women know what i'd been through? didn't they know how creative, funny, and caring i was? what the hell was their problem, anyway?

i look back now on that particular time, and it amazes me that the word that comes to mind to describe how i really felt then is not shocked, disappointed, hurt, or heartbroken. sure, i felt all those things, but the one that really sticks out above all the rest is relief. it's amazing what one will put up with to keep the loneliness at bay. it's crazy now to think how badly i needed another person's acceptance, how important it was for me to feel needed.

and then there i was at a bar, asking a girl for her number. there i was at another bar, asking a girl if i could buy her a drink. there i was, writing heartfelt emails to girls i kind of knew. of course, these little exchanges never led to anything other than some humiliation on my part. but i did those things because i didn't want to be left behind. i didn't like waking up alone in the middle of the night and feeling anxious. i wanted to come home and tell someone about my boring day at work.

what i've learned in the last two years of living alone is this: my expectations for life have been ridiculous. just like how i thought high school was going to be zany and brightly colored as saved by the bell, i thought my mid-twenties was going to be like friends and how i met your mother - an active social life, a lot of dating, and maybe a couple of really great relationships. maybe it's that way for some people, but for most people, especially the ones i know, it's not even close.

being alone has its benefits, though. in the time that i've been alone, i've gone to new york. i've been to canada multiple times. i've gone hiking. i saw a bear in the wild. i've shaved my head. i've learned a bunch of songs on the guitar. i've gotten back into running, and i go to the gym regularly. i reach out to strangers, and i invite them out for drinks, for dinner, for karaoke. i buy clothes that i think will look good on me. i've saved money. i've caught up with old classmates and friends. i've said yes to girls who've invited me to coeur d'alene for a weekend. i've applied to the peace corps. i've unsuccessfully flirted. i'll pretty much go anywhere and do just about anything. i try to make the most out of each day.

because when you're on your own, you've gotta go at it hard. there's no other choice.
less polluted air.

i thought she was talking to her sister downstairs. i waited as long as possible to come down, as i wanted them to have some time together. i picked up my phone, played all the words with friends games i had going. after that, there was nothing left to do with my phone. i went downstairs. there was a girl there, sitting at the table, and she had her back turned to me. she wore a red sweater and her sleeves covered her hands. we introduced ourselves, and i sat at the table.

i didn't know what to say. i picked up the sunday paper, pulled out the funnies. it was already snowing in garfield. the two girls talked about some people they knew, they were catching up on things. and then my friend told her i'd applied to the peace corps. she seemed to be interested in that, so i said my piece. the conversation then went back to her, and had she ever done any traveling?

yes, she had done some traveling. she was a geologist, and she traveled to some sites where her company had mines. i thought that was very fascinating, a girl geologist who worked on mine stuff. she told me about a particular time that she went down to bolivia, and she was involved in what she called an "express kidnapping." did i know what that was? no, i didn't. she explained: a taxi picked up her and a coworker, and the driver took her to a shady part of town, and then the doors flew open, and then she had a knife pointed at her, and the hoodlums demanded she hand over her debit card.

her spanish was good enough that she could explain she only had a credit card, and therefore they could not withdraw cash with the card she had. her coworker, however, who had his debit card with him was robbed of $1,500. what went through her head, i wondered. did you totally freak out? she didn't freak out. she was too shocked to really think anything. she did think she would be raped, and that her coworker would freak out, and it would all end in a bloodbath.

but back to you, she said. she apologized, but she wanted to know more about the peace corps, and why did i want to apply? i had some answers to that. it was all very nice. we were two adults sitting at a table in a beautiful home in northern idaho, and it was sunday morning in the pinnacle of fall, and i had just eaten a blueberry waffle. i answered as honestly as i could. she said that she would like to do the program, too, but that she wanted her boyfriend of five years to marry her already, so that they could volunteer together.

at some point, the two girls started talking about whether or not teach for america was a good program. one thought it was, the other didn't. i thought it was awkward when they would both talk at the same time, and i just had to listen to this stream of voices, criss-crossing each other. i had no opinion on it. all i knew was that i once had a tough teaching job, and i didn't want to see it through. that was just irresponsible on their part, she reassured me.

later, another friend showed up, and the four of us went for a walk. there was a bit of a break in the clouds, but for the most part, it rained. we walked in the rain, me and three girls. why was it that i always ended up hanging out with girls? i took pictures of an old barn, some horses, a hillside. i didn't really like walking in the rain. i just wanted to be in a warm bed, asleep. it was a bit of good, though, breathing in the air that wasn't as polluted as city air. it was good to be in the company of people i sort of knew.

we went back in the house, and while the other two girls loaded up the car, the two of us just sat there alone in the living room. for some reason, she had put on her red-framed glasses, and she pushed them up the middle with her index finger. she told me she had to go home and study for the g.r.e. she wanted to study international studies or something like that, and maybe get a job in the foreign services, maybe one day become a diplomat. i didn't know anything about it.

but i did enjoy just sitting there, listening to her talk, while the wood stove kept me warm.
heart of an awl.

it was saturday night, and i was at this girl jessica's apartment, and she was dressed as a used car salesman: fake mustache, slicked-back hair and all. her friend, adam, wearing a sheep costume his mother made, smoked me out. to my left, princess leia, and to my right, a nurse with a dead baby hanging outside his front pocket. there was also another girl wearing something slutty, and she was running around looking for lipstick or something. per our request, jessica was singing a song of hers that may or may not have been called "bitterness," and we were just sitting there, watching her.

after she sang two songs, we were supposed to go to this halloween party at this girl corey's house. who was corey? i didn't know, but laura knew her, or else knew somebody who knew her. everybody in coeur d'alene seemed to know somebody who knew somebody else. see, there's this coffee shop called java right in coeur d'owntown, and all the cool kids in town drink there, work there, or have worked there at some point.

this girl emily currently works there, and the first thing she said to me was, "what the hell made you want to come to north idaho?" i said i had nothing better to do, and she said, "obviously!" she was a loud little one, and i thought she looked a lot like ellen page. i thought it would be a lame thing to bring up, as she probably got it a lot, but at some point, i got drunk enough to. "does anyone ever tell you that you look like ellen page?" "wait," she said, "yeah, isn't that the girl from juno?" "yeah," i said, "she was also in hard candy, and she was really creepy in that." "well, you know that i am creepy," she said.

the thing about emily was that she was a felon. as told by laura, emily was made an example of by george w. bush's felon crackdown. underage and driving drunk, she crashed her car and, in doing so, broke her friend's ankle. how that made her a felon, i wasn't sure, but she was one, and that was that. a few years after that, she fell out of her apartment window, and dropped sixteen feet to the pavement. "what the hell," i said to her, "you're like mid-twenties, and you've had every life experience already." "yeah," she said, "but i want the good life experiences."

the crazy stories didn't end there. at the party, i got talking to this other girl. she was saying stuff, and i was halfway listening, and then my ears perked up when she nonchalantly said that her parents were heroin addicts. "did you just say your parents were heroin addicts?" i asked. "yeah, they have been pretty much up until two years ago." this other guy, this older guy with a big belly, he just chimed right in. "i just got clean. have been for about five years now," he said. the girl got up, and she said, "i just need to give you a big hug right now." i watched them hug. were these people real, or was there something in that flask i sipped from that the what about bob? guy wearing an orange life-vest gave me?

this other girl, this hip-looking twenty-two year old dressed as a sexy geisha, she just pointed at me, and she said, "i took your order! raspberry italian soda!" and drunk as she was, she got that much right. she was amber, and i was raspberry italian soda. and because i'm curious about such things, because i've read that guys like me are supposed to just ask open-ended questions when approaching strange women out of our league, i asked what the hell she was doing in life. she sat sprawled out on the floor, and she told me her history.

she was orphaned, then adopted. the people who adopted her weren't very nice. her adoptive mother or father was abusive or something, but she wouldn't get into it. instead, she described it as, "fuck that." somehow, maybe or maybe not because of the abusive people who took her in, or maybe it was her stepmother (a mixture of beer and wine made it hard for me to follow the story), she inherited 40 acres of land. the land was used for timber, so she had $70,000. she needed to raise another $10,000 to buy a bigger piece of land in montana or oregon. "i'd really want it to be in oregon," she said. she said that she'd like to have a community, and anyone who wanted to help her garden could live there. i was one bottle of wine away from writing her a ten thousand dollar check and living in her future hippie garden utopia. a woman standing behind her, who may or may not have been amber's coworker, mocked her as she told me her vision.

it was halloween in coeur d'alene. the first and maybe the only time i'll ever see that place. the leaves were bursting with color: orange, yellow, green and fiery red everywhere, all over the streets, all over the hills, on the sidewalks, in the water. there were antique shops, thrift stores and bars like any other town. there was a skate plaza, a toy store called figpickels, a super one grocery store, a couple of zip's burgers, a veterinary office where laura's dad worked, and a breakfast place that served amazing duck sausage with orange liqueur.

i stayed at mariah's parents' house, which felt like a giant log cabin. her dad collected printing press stamps and marbles. her mom was really into politics. i thumbed through photo albums, trying to figure out who this family was, what they were about. they adopted a filipino boy who ended up having a mental disability, and now he lived in a group home. her older sister had gotten married, and now she had two kids. there was a wood stove and her mom made a blueberry pie. there were chickens in the yard and wild turkeys that would yelp yelp yelp in the morning. there used to be a barn but it didn't make it through last winter's snowstorm.

and then, after all that, it was time to go. we drove off in the sunlight, me falling asleep in the backseat against mariah's big bag of clothes.