Anger

When I was 19, I drove my college boyfriend home from school, and we kissed at a red light. Looking in the rearview mirror, I saw a police car stopped behind us.

“Uh oh.” I’d said.

My boyfriend laughed it off and said, “It’s not like we were sodomizing.”

At the time sodomy was still illegal in Texas, though only for gay people. After I dropped my boyfriend off and continued on my way, I noticed the police car was still behind me. The car followed me for several blocks, and then finally pulled me over.

When I asked why he’d stopped me, the swaggering, white cop had said, “Just a routine check to make sure your license and registration are in order.”

He made me get out of my car and hand him the aforementioned license and registration. After making me wait while he took my paperwork back to his car, he eventually came back and said that I was free to go.

He followed me the rest of the way home.

I understood he’d only stopped me to intimidate me. To exercise the power of his authority over me. To put me in my place.

I was just a kid then, and afraid of what someone in his position could do to me. If something like that happened now, I’d get a name and badge number. At the very least I’d file a complaint and at best sue for discrimination. I would not have any fear that a cop might murder me.

Having the luxury of not having to feel terrorized by the people who are supposed to protect and serve us should not be a privilege afforded only to straight, white people.

I have no idea what it must be like for people of color who have the legitimate fear that a routine traffic stop could kill them. I don’t know how the repeated headlines of yet another black person being murdered by police must affect their psyche. I can’t imagine the trauma that must cause.

But I think I have an inkling. The barest sliver of an inkling. Coming from a deeply racist small town in Texas, I have witnessed overt racism my entire life, but I’ve never understood it. The concept of it has never made sense to me. Human life began in Africa. We are all part of the same family tree. The idea of assigning value based on the amount of melanin in one’s skin is insane.

The times we are living through are insane.

I don’t know why the murder of George Floyd by police was the watershed for what I hope is radical reform of a deeply racist, authoritarian institution. It seems like every other week for as long as I can remember there has been a news story of someone meeting a similar fate. There’d be a flash of anger. A Facebook furor. But nothing ever changed.

This time feels different. Maybe the heightened anxiety of dealing with a global pandemic already had everyone on edge. Maybe outrage accumulates. Maybe enough was just finally fucking enough.

Even my mother back in Texas was angry. “They should round up all of those police that did that and shoot them.” She’d said. Of course, she’d also suggested that the people looting should be shot as well. True to her Texan heritage, her solution to most of life’s problems is to shoot them.

I get the anger.

I feel like I’ve been angry every day for nearly four years. I walk through town with my shoulders hunched. I clench and unclench fists. I’m angry at work. I’m angry at home. I go to sleep angry and wake up angry. My anger is a giant, red ball. A flashing police siren. Red. A splash of graffiti over the boarded window of a closed shop. Red. The spilled blood of another murdered black man. Red.

I do not know what to do with it.

I anxiously watch other people go to protests. Anxiety is an easy excuse when there is a deadly virus still rampant. But probably not the whole truth. If there was no virus, would I be out marching in the streets, adding my voice to the angry masses? Or would I still be curled up on the couch watching the last season of Supernatural, “liking” my friends’ posts to defund the police on Facebook?

In Seattle parts of the city look like a war zone. At 4:00am in my neighborhood, streets were fogged with teargas. The police station has been boarded up and abandoned. Tonight in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone people are calmly watching documentaries on a cordoned off street outside the empty station.

At 8:00pm the neighborhood cheers to support our healthcare workers.

I am at home, watching Sam and Dean battle wayward Angels. I respond to posts on social media with the red faced anger emoji.

I am angry in a general sense at the society that voted for the current white supremacist in chief who has used his platform to normalize bigotry.

I am angry at the machinery of institutionalized inequality.

I am angry about gerrymandering and marginalizing.

I am angry that the people who are supposed to protect us are often the biggest threat to our safety.

Then there are the little angers.

I am angry that having a middle aged body means that turning over in my sleep can screw up my back for two weeks.

I am irrationally angry at people who litter.

I am angry at people who don’t seem to know how to walk down a sidewalk.

I am angry at guys on gay dating apps who describe themselves as “chill.”

I am angry that my ceilings are so high in my living room that I can’t hang my mini blinds.

At any given moment, one or more of these big or little angers (or any number of greater or lesser angers in between) is fighting for dominance in my selfish, middle aged, white mind.

Most of all, I’m angry at myself. I’m angry that I have lived for nearly 44 years just accepting the status quo. Of allowing these atrocities and saying nothing. I may not know what to do with my anger or my anxiety. But I know the very least I can do is say something.

Sorrow

IMG_9699She died on the last day of March.

My best friend from high school told me that morning via messenger. I was “working” from home which translated to sporadically checking emails between bursts of packing up cardboard boxes for my move.

I sat on the edge of my bed, staring at my phone, waiting for details. At first I assumed it was due to Covid-19, because that was the monster on everybody’s mind, but it wasn’t. She’d passed from complications of a long suffered illness which I’d known about, but hadn’t thought was all that serious.

“I’m just shocked.” My friend had said.

That made two of us. It didn’t seem real that someone my age, a member of our tight little high school group, could possibly be gone.

“I’m just…shocked.” My friend said again.

And really, what else could be said? I hadn’t even known she wasn’t doing well. I tried to remember the last time she and I had spoken. The last time I remembered I’d been living in New York City, which had to be five or six years ago. We’d exchanged a few messages, and she talked about some day visiting, though she never did, and now never will.

The last time I saw her in person was probably eighteen years ago. She’d come to a party at my apartment in Austin with some friends. Back then I was a person who threw parties. I was getting ready to move to Los Angeles. It was strange to see her in the city, so far removed from the tiny, farm town that we’d grown up in. I remember standing outside with glasses of wine and feeling so sophisticated even though some unruly guests were trying to set fire to a bag of Cheetos on the sidewalk.

It didn’t occur to me that that time would be the last time I’d ever see her. When we were kids, I’d stupidly thought that our little group, the Deadbeat Club, would be close forever. How could any five people who loved each other so much, who went through adolescence in the Bible Belt together ever drift so far apart?

But drift we had, and it hadn’t even taken very long. Three of them were a year ahead of my friend and I. After they graduated, the last year in high-school had been a long, lonely one for the two of us left behind. Three of us lived together in college for a while, but the drift, once it had begun, was irreversible.

I remember being in Kindergarten when she was in first grade. My older cousin Josh had told me that during recess I was supposed to call a girl a name so that the girl would chase me. I didn’t question the reasoning behind this, but I distinctly remember going up to her and calling her “chicken legs” and running away squealing in delight while she chased after me.

We spent our high-school classes passing obscene notes back and forth which, had they ever been read, would have gotten us suspended at the very least. Because she and I were neither a cheerleader, nor a football player, respectively, it somehow fell to us to raise the flag during Friday night football games. I remember standing on the edge of the field, slowly raising the flag while the National Anthem blared squeakily through the loud speakers. She stood with her hand over her heart, and when people cheered, she and I would yell, “Hail Satan!”

I remember a group of us driving the two lane farm roads one weekend night, stealing the flashing lights from construction signs. My best friend saying, “We’ve hit the motherlode,” her eyes moon big as we drove up to a row of ten or so signs all flashing yellowly together.

Other memories. Backstage at one act plays. School field trips. The time in her bedroom where I saw her birth control pills, and she panicked, not realizing that I had absolutely no idea what they were.

The summers back then seemed so long. The school year, endless.

The years since graduation are a blur.

She married. Got her PhD. Had three (four?) boys. I had a string of boyfriends, and lived in a string of cities, worked a string of dead-end jobs. We “liked” the occasional post on one another’s Facebook.

Several people from high school got in touch with me the day she died. People I hadn’t spoken to or thought about in twenty-five years. People I had never been friends with, and had barely known messaged me. Even her husband took time out from his own grief to send me a message. That was the most surreal part. That anyone would think of notifying me when I hadn’t seen her in nearly two decades.

Even if there hadn’t been a global pandemic, I wouldn’t have flown to Texas for her memorial. I couldn’t imagine what I might say to her family or her friends. Part of me was glad to have the ready excuse to avoid it altogether.

Because I’m a self-centered asshole, it was impossible to think about her death without also thinking of my own mortality. In the God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy called 31 a viable, dieable age. If that’s true, then 43 must be even more viable and dieable. I’ve reached a point in life where it isn’t unheard of for someone my age to die.

I was sad for her, for her life that had been cut short, and sad for her husband, her parents, and her boys. But mostly I found myself grieving a time in my life that exists only in memory. There are now fewer than a handful of people that really knew me when I was young. When they’re gone, then that boy will not have existed at all.

I packed my things into cardboard boxes. My condo closed early, and in mid-April, I moved into my new place. Things were so hectic that there were days I didn’t think of her at all. Then suddenly, while unpacking glasses, or struggling to hang curtains, I’d remember she was gone and feel guilty that I’d been happy.

Weeks later, I’m mostly settled into my new place. Sometimes I just stand in the middle of my living room, marveling that this place is mine. I never thought I’d be able to afford a place in this neighborhood and this city. Teenage me had dreamed of owning an apartment in a city, but the adult me who’d spent years struggling just to make ends meet had never really thought that it could happen. I remember sharing that dream with her, back in the days when anything seemed possible, and things like death, and middle-age were as far removed as the stars in a small town, Texas sky.

 

An Apocalypse of Inconvenience

IMG_9580Then things got worse. Shelves in the stores were empty. The bars and restaurants all shut down. No one was out on the streets. The stock market was crashing. There were terrible people who hoarded toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and even worse people who stockpiled it so they could re-sell it at trumped up prices for a profit.

But there were good people too. Healthcare workers who put themselves at risk, working long hours to help others. Strangers who bought groceries for the elderly, and volunteers who got together to make sure that poor kids got enough to eat outside of school.

As usual, I fell squarely in the middle. Of course I don’t want anyone to get sick (well, maybe old, straight, white, male republicans), and I recognize that social distancing can at least slow things down enough so that our hospitals don’t get overwhelmed, and the most vulnerable people can be protected. But mostly I’m just annoyed that I can’t get Thai food when I feel like it, and concerned that with the gym closed, my chest is going to deflate.

On Sunday I met with the Co-op board about my condo. The president (a self described drag queen real estate agent) held out his hand for me to shake. I was mortified, but I shook it anyway, because I wanted to seem friendly and agreeable…and I really wanted the apartment. I was relieved when the other board members bumped elbows with me in greeting, and spent the whole meeting reminding myself not to touch my face until I could go home and douse my offending hand in bleach.

Afterward, I went to the grocery store to pick up some frozen dinners for the week ahead. Standing in front of an empty aisle of cleaning supplies, a fellow shopper caught my eye and said, “This is crazy!”

“Yeah.” I agreed.

It is crazy.

It is absolutely insane.

My mother called from Texas and told me to stock up on bottled water and canned soup. To not leave my apartment.

“Don’t go to brunch.” She said. “Talk to your friends online.”

I did not explain to her that I’m already basically a shut-in, and that social distancing is par for the course for me.

At work things were getting really tense. Employees who were at risk were justifiably angry about having to take public transportation and go into an office when they could just as easily work from home. They were worried about themselves, and about their families. I didn’t blame them. I was worried too.

When management finally gave us the go ahead to work from home yesterday, the team was still ready to riot. I think the anxiety of not knowing what’s going to happen just has everyone on edge, and it burst out during a shouted and incredibly awkward meeting that left everybody dazed and uncomfortable, but which I voyeuristically enjoyed.

Today I worked from home, cozy in fuzzy slippers. I watched videos on YouTube and wept a little at clips of Italian and Spanish people playing music and singing together from the balconies of apartment buildings. It was endearing, but I couldn’t help but acknowledge that if my own neighbors started doing that, I’d yell at them to knock it off.

The one great thing about being home was that I’d be there to accept a package I was expecting from FedEx. Or so I thought.

I watched the tracking all morning, and then half past noon it said my package had been delivered. Supposedly someone named R. Barnes had signed for it. I’d been home the entire day. My buzzer never rang. There isn’t even anyone named Barnes in my building. I looked outside and there was no package to be found.

While I recognize that there are people with real problems. People in the service industry who can’t work from home, and others who have lost their jobs altogether. People who are struggling to make ends meet. People who are literally dying…for me personally, this has all just been an apocalypse of inconvenience.

Packages not delivered. Brunches canceled. The gym closed.

I try to remind myself that this is only temporary. New cases are already going down drastically in the regions that were first hit. People are recovering. But I worry that things are going to get worse before they get better, and that many of the businesses that have had to temporarily close down may never be able to recover. I wonder what the long term effects are going to be.

For the time being, I’m glad that I’m still gainfully employed. That my apartment purchase is going along smoothly. That my family and friends are healthy. That there are people in the world who are kind. That FedEx is still delivering…just not to me.

 

 

 

Safe as Houses

eUzl8ji1TMCnje0aRkRbbA“I saw on the news that Seattle is the epicenter of this thing,” my mom said during one of my thrice weekly phone calls home.

“This thing” was cases of the novel coronavirus in the United States. For about the billionth time, I wished my mom didn’t have access to a television or the internet. Now she’s going to spend every waking moment in a state of anxiety over what must surely be my imminent death from the plague.

Because I’ve inherited her temperament, I will also spend every waking moment in a perpetual state of panic. Though my anxiety has less to do with the global pandemic, and more to do with the purchase of my first home.

I’d first started toying with the idea of buying a condo last year. I was finally earning a decent living and not just struggling to survive. A friend had told me about a program to help first time home buyers in Washington state. After looking at a couple of studios that were each too small to fit my bed into that were both going for more than $300,000, I’d surrendered the fantasy and resigned myself to the fact that I was just going to have to be a renter forever.

I still looked at real estate apps longingly, not really expecting to find anything I could possibly afford. I get by, but I’m not making tech industry bucks. So when I saw an open house for a one bedroom in my neighborhood, I popped in for a look more as a lark than any serious expectation that I might end up actually being able to buy the place.

The place was adorable. A historical building. Hardwood floors. Twice the space of my tiny apartment. I immediately started imaging my life there. Movie nights with friends. Chopping vegetables for wine bottle dinners with Nina Simone playing. Dancing in socked feet and working away at my supposed novel.

After that tings began happening at a disconcertingly rapid pace. A bank pre-approved me. An offer was made. An offer was accepted. Earnest money was provided. An escrow was opened. Forms to complete and sign and initial were emailed to me and emailed back.

Now I’m faced with the near certainty of home ownership. I say near, because it’s a co-op, and I still have to go through a process of being vetted by strangers who’ll decide if I’m financially sound and a good fit for the community.

Because of the worldwide panic over the virus, and the tanking economy, I ended up with a rather obscene interest rate, and for the first time think I may be able to actually afford this place without falling into abject poverty.

For the time being, I’m just waiting for the closing so that I can finally relax and breathe again. As the virus impacts more and more aspects of my daily life, I try to decide how much panic I should allot to home buying and how much I should divest to the disease. The best I can do is continue to wash my hands obsessively and hope that the next 30-45 days pass by quickly and painlessly, and hope that the grocery store gets a shipment of toilet paper sometime soon.

The Promise

The other day C texted me saying, “Remember how I said if I ever became fat I would need you to kill me?”

I said, “That sounds vaguely familiar.”

He said, “The time has come to fulfill your promise.”

Sleepless in Seattle

004-5The other night I was awakened by a loud, booming sound. I wasn’t sure if it had been a gunshot, an explosion, or maybe a car crash on the street outside. I lie there, stock still in bed, my heart thudding in my chest, listening for further sounds that could clue me in on whether or not I was in any immediate danger. There’d been a number of shootings recently downtown, and I was imaging my parents having to clean out my apartment after I was taken out by a stray bullet. Imaging my mother wondering aloud at the possible purpose of the clear Fleshlight on my bedside nightstand. It’s always out, partly out of convenience, and partly because it’s too big to fit into the nightstand’s drawer. What can I say? I’m a single man who lives alone and is too ashamed to ever have someone visit his apartment. Anyway, compared to what’s actually inside the drawer, the owner of a mere Fleshlight would seem like a paragon of virtue.

I heard someone on the sidewalk outside say, “Hey buddy, are you okay?”

The response was just a loud moan emanating from much too close to my window for comfort.

I slipped out of bed with the lights still off and peeked outside through the narrow slit of a slightly raised blind. Beneath the unnaturally bright light of a security lamp, the reality of the situation revealed itself to me. A man, who had the appearance of a homeless man, had climbed over the chain link fence surrounding the parking lot of my building, and had fallen gracelessly onto the fiberglass roof of the carport outside my window.

He was now trapped in the parking garage, possibly injured from the fall. The police were there in no time, and for the next 45 minutes or more red lights flashed outside my window. I tried to listen to the muffled conversation of a police officer who was attempting to calm the homeless man who was now pacing back and forth in the parking garage like a trapped animal.

I went back to bed, but couldn’t sleep for a long time. At 5:00 am, two hours before my own alarm was set to go off, I could hear the alarm of my upstairs neighbor begin to chime. It went on and on until another neighbor banged on her wall, prompting her to turn down the volume of the alarm (though I could still hear it going for at least another hour). I spent the hour imagining dropping a grand piano on my neighbor’s head over and over. After that, falling back to sleep was impossible.

At this point in my life, it’s impossible for me to know whether I have some kind of sleep disorder, or if living in a city renders the recommended eight hours of snoozing a night an impossibility.

I grew up in the country, and during my formative years, we lived in a little house out in the woods. At night it was pitch black, and the only sounds I heard were the occasional barking of dogs, a distant train whistle, or the hum of cicadas in late summer.

As an adult, I’ve lived in a string of cities where sleeplessness is the only constant. I’ve been awaked by fist fights, marathon neighbor sex, yelling crackheads, sirens, bowling elephants, and terrible music. I’ve been awakened to the sound of a drag queen singing, “Sunday Kind of Love,” and to a gay couple arguing about the fact that one had left the other unconscious in a bar…to go to another bar.

During the daytime, I love living in the city. Mostly for the nearness and diversity of restaurants, but also for the art, the culture, the diversity of people and experiences. But at night, I can’t help wishing I lived in a little cabin in the middle of nowhere. Someplace quaint and quiet where crackheads fear to tread. I don’t know whether androids dream of electric sheep, but I dream of an entire night of uninterrupted sleep.

 

The Shortest Month

fullsizeoutput_a7bOne of my New Year’s Resolutions (I generally make about 20-30 a year and immediately break them in quick succession) was to stop eating sugary sweets, snacking at work, and to basically starve myself until I’d lost about 10 lbs and no longer felt ashamed to shower with the lights on.

To my credit, for the first few weeks of this year, I actually did all of those things, only to discover by the third week I’d GAINED five pounds. So I immediately reverted back to a diet consisting almost entirely of Diet Coke and chocolate chip cookies.

Concerned about my thickening waistline, I recommitted myself to adopting a healthier diet for at least the month of February. February being the shortest month, I figured if I could go any month without added sugar, it would be this one. I admonished all of my enablers at work, and rallied behind the mantra, “New month, new me.”

Prior to deleting it…again…a man on the gay dating app, Scruff, had unironically called me “Papa Bear.” This only solidified my resolve to try to get back down to my birth weight before the coming swimsuit season.

Then February 1st rolled around and I immediately scarfed down not one, but three jelly donuts. Now I’m torn between wanting to try to be healthy, or better yet, skinny again, or surrendering to destiny and auditioning for My 600lb Life. I guess there’s always next month.

Fitness for the Middle Aged

IMG_4720Tonight the gym was more crowded than usual, which is saying something, because it’s usually so filled to capacity that I wonder that the fire marshall doesn’t shut it down for public safety concerns.

Apparently the bulk of the New Year’s Resolutioners haven’t given up and dropped back into their old routines yet. While I support anyone’s desire to take control of their health and well-being, I’m still selfish and narcissistic enough to wish they’d just do it somewhere else.

I’ve noticed that the older I get, the more angry I get about things that I know don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Minutiae that in the moment make my blood boil, teeth grind together, and the veins in my neck to throb with unconsummated rage.

Aside from overcrowding, my biggest gym pet peeve is people on cell phones. I’ve had to physically restrain myself from pushing someone down a flight of stairs who is staring into their phone and suddenly stops in the stairway in front of me. I see people, mostly younger than me, who sit on machines that I never see them use, staring into screens, and feel my hands clench into fists.

Since I’m a weirdo who listens to audio-books while working out, I almost never look at my own phone. So tonight, when, between sets of bicep curls, I took out my phone to check the time, I was completely surprised when a fellow middle-aged crank yelled at me to get off my phone or get off the machine. I put my phone away immediately, and sped through my final set, wondering to myself in horror, Is this who I’m becoming?

In addition to my burgeoning anger management issues, there are other disheartening aspects to working out in middle age. In my forties I have to work out a lot harder than I did in my twenties with diminished results. The body of forty-something me is just not the body of twenty or thirty-something me. It is hairier and thicker. In my mind I still have the body of a twink, and it’s always a shock when I see myself reflected in the locker room mirrors and see some muscle daddy staring back at me.

As a young guy, I always marveled at the old men in the locker room and how nonchalant they were about nudity. The dangling scrotums of those manatees always engendered in me a strange mixture of embarrassment and dread. As I’ve gotten older, I understand more where they are coming from. When you’ve seen it all before, you just harbor fewer hangups about letting it all hang out. Who cares?

In other ways, I’m much more relaxed about working out than I used to be. Fitness is still an important part of my life, but I’m not going to get bent out of shape if I miss a day now and then. I’m less attached to the idea of abs that I’ll likely never see again, and happy just to feel healthy. I may have to pop Ibuprofen like Pez in order to move my back without doubling over in pain, but at least I’ve got a nice rack.

 

 

 

 

Online Dating for the Middle Aged

IMG_8628On the way to work this morning, a bird took the initiative to evacuate the contents of its cloaca in a thick, white and brown splatter on the sleeve of my black hoodie. I tried not to think of this as a harbinger for the day to come, but it was impossible not to. For the second day in a row I’d been awakened two hours early by my upstairs neighbor’s alarm which she refuses to shut off after waking. I trudged to work in the typical gray Seattle drizzle, scowling at every passerby and mentally exploding their oversized heads  as I walked past.

I posted a picture of the bird poo on FaceBook and my friend Gitai cleverly commented, “Quit experiencing metaphors for your life!”

It was a great line, and I approve, but it wasn’t exactly accurate. My life, upstairs neighbor notwithstanding, is generally pretty good. I’m healthy, in decent shape, working on advancing my career, shopping for real estate. I feel like in my forties, my metaphorical shit is basically together.

Then I think of the one area of my life that has been, and continues to be, an absolute disaster. Namely, my love life. Most of the time even the thought of having to have a conversation about where to eat and how to divvy up an evening is exhausting and I thank the universe for my continued singledom. Then there are the weeks of rain, the endless evenings that stretch into one gray line of film stills. A man sitting on a couch alone. Eating teriyaki alone. Walking to a movie alone…and back alone. In these moments, I think, maybe a boyfriend wouldn’t be so terrible.

The problem is, I no longer have any idea where to find one. In my twenties, it seemed like I could make a boyfriend coalesce from the ether through sheer power of will. In my forties, I could maybe get a guy to look at me by punching him.

I’ve tried classy apps like Okay Cupid, and sleazy ones like Grindr, with much the same results. The only interest I arouse comes from men already coupled or throupled in polyamorous relationships of which I have no interest in partaking, or guys that I’m literally old enough to have fathered who message me with declarations of my apparent paternity.

What I want to know is, where is the online dating for the middle-aged?

 

 

 

The Insomniac

Sleep doesn’t come.

Sometimes I lie awake on a bed of dinosaur bones, staring at the purple gray of my apartment’s ceiling. Mind racing. There are Mexican children in cages. Children that have been separated from their parents, and no one is doing anything. I personally am not doing anything. Another angry white man has gunned down another dozen people. Thoughts and prayers. And climate change is rapidly making our planet uninhabitable. And the rainforest is literally on fire.

I toss. I turn. I throw off the blanket because it’s too hot. I pull it back up to my neck because it’s too cold. I lie with one leg uncovered as a compromise. I toss and turn some more.

Other nights the lyrics to Taylor Dayne’s 1988 hit, “Tell it to My Heart” replay in my head on an endless loop, and I somehow know every single word.

Some nights the sun comes up and I am still awake.

Some nights I’ll fall asleep for two or three hours, only to wake up with my heart racing. I’ll get up and drink some water. Practice deep breathing. After that I’ll doze off for thirty or forty minutes and then wake up again. This will repeat until my alarm goes off and I have to get up to get dressed for work.

I feel like I slept better when I was sleeping with somebody. But I’ve been an insomniac for so long that it’s difficult to recall if I’ve ever actually gotten a full night’s sleep. It’s probably only nostalgia.

During the hottest part of summer I flew back home to Texas. My mother and I sat on opposite ends of her couch, watching reality TV in her pristine living room that somehow always manages to look unlived in.

I thought, “Now I can finally catch up on my sleep.” A week free from the stress of work. The crisp, cool breeze of air conditioning and the ceiling fan of my teenage bedroom. The pitch black, country dark. The still, quiet nights, disrupted only by a passing train or the lonesome howl of a neighbor’s dog.

But I couldn’t sleep there either.

I chatted with men on apps on my phone, my limbs heavy with unspent desire.

“We have to do something.” My mother said, as we were sitting at the 50’s style soda fountain breakfast table in her kitchen.

Our options within a comfortable driving distance of their rural, Texas town were limited. We ended up going to a flea market in a town about an hour or so away with my aunt and younger cousin. At the entrance there was a booth sporting a giant oversized TRUMP flag on one side, and a confederate flag on the other.

When I stopped to take a picture of the Trump flag, my aunt nodded her approval, not realizing I was taking the picture ironically to post on Facebook to the horror of my liberal friends back on the West Coast.

We walked past stalls selling rusty, old junk. Pot bellied denizens walked by in camouflaged shorts and sports jerseys with confederate flags on ball caps. I felt unsettled and unsafe, but my mother and aunt and cousin were unfazed. I was further disturbed by the fact that no one else was disturbed.

I wonder what they, or any of the people at the flea market, would think if they found themselves suddenly in my neighborhood in Seattle. Would the multi-pierced and polyamorous hipsters, the men holding hands, and the drag queens on unicycles (I have actually seen more than one), disturb them as profoundly as Trump supporters disturb me?

I realized the extent of the liberal bubble I exist in back in Seattle. The extent that social media has allowed us to divide ourselves into these self-selected groups and create filtered realities of the world around us. Alternate facts. Fake news.

I walked from stall to stall, trailing behind my mother, aware of my surroundings, half expecting some General Lee Neo-Nazi to shout, “faggot” as I passed. Of course this didn’t happen. My aunt bought her dog a collar. I talked my mother out of buying another racist “mammy” figurine. We ate cheeseburgers at a picnic table beside a booth where a man made delicious, sweet smelling kettle corn. Then we went back home.

Later that day, my best friend from high-school stopped by on her way from Dallas to Houston.

When we were kids, she’d come by and pick me up in her old, brown pickup truck, and we’d drive to cemeteries and talk about Interview with the Vampire, and poetry, and…more than anything, escape.

Twenty-five years later she came and picked me up again for old time’s sake. Now we talk about equity, jobs, motherhood. There were wisps of gray in her dark hair, and laugh lines beside her cheeks. I have no hair, and my beard is going gray.

I told her about the horrors of the flea market, and she commiserated.

“I have to live here!” She said. Houston, not the small town where we grew up, but still…Texas. “If it weren’t for our group of friends,” she said. “I don’t think I’d have made it.”

She drove me back to my parents’ house. We vowed to stay better in touch, but of course we didn’t.

“What did y’all talk about?” My mother asked, when I got back home.

“About how we’re middle aged now.” I said, rooting through cookie jars for the candy my father is no longer allowed to eat.

“You are not middle aged!” My mother said. “Because that would make me elderly, and I’m in the prime of my life!”

My father asked how my house hunt was going.

“It isn’t.” I’d told him. The condos in my neighborhood are all out of my price range. The ones that aren’t are tiny and overpriced. The places I can afford are so far away that I’d spend hours of my day commuting.

My only hope, aside from my parents finally winning the lottery, is that the supposed coming recession tanks the housing market, and I can take advantage of some desperate seller’s misfortune.

They are selling my grandmother’s house, and we stop by so that my mother can check the mail. The little house that used to be full of memories stands empty. Linoleum worn bare where her couch used to be.

“It’s sad to see it like this.” My mother said, and I agree.

When they drove me to the airport, I tried not to seem too eager to get back to Seattle. They hugged me goodbye, told me they loved me. “Just stay here.” My mother always says with tears in her eyes. This never ceases to gut me.

In the tiny, two plane airport, a young man chatted me up on one of my aforementioned apps. I saw him walk by, checking me out, and instead of speaking to me, he sent me a message telling me he thought that I was cute.

He sat behind me on the plane to Dallas, and when we landed, he suggested we get together for a quickie. That our connecting flights were in different terminals provided me an easy out. While being propositioned by a cute guy in his twenties did wonders for my self esteem, I’m way too big a prude to engage in an airport “quickie.”

I bid him a safe trip to Miami where he was going to spend his birthday. Then I headed back to Seattle.

When I got back home it was late, and I was exhausted from a day of layovers and flying. But Ducky messaged me to meet him out, and since it was his birthday, I found myself splashing some water on my face, brushing my teeth, and heading back out again to spend a few hours in a crowded bar with he and Gar-Bear.

At the local bar, no one hit on me. I stood between the muscle twins in their short shorts, ignored.

Months passed. The summer ended. I got promoted at work. I finished my supposed novel, which is absolutely dreadful, and began a new one. I go out less and less often. Aside from my weekly brunch group, when I hang out with friends, it is because I’ve run into them on accident.

Most recently I had lunch with a friend, his husband, and their six year old son. He and I talked about books, and his husband and I talked about an upcoming event in a particular fetish community. I offered to buy raffle tickets. Because it is Seattle, the six year old asked me my preferred pronouns.

Still, night falls and I cannot sleep.

I go to bed the same time every night. I put blackout curtains over the window to make it dark, though my apartment is never really dark with the varied glows of speakers, surge protectors, game consoles.

Outside there are city noises, randomly yelling homeless men, police sirens, a party in the building next door, the loud bass of a car in the parking lot, a motorcycle revving its engine.

I try earplugs. White noise. But whether there is silence or not, I cannot sleep.

I stop looking at screens an hour before bed. Read. Take melatonin like it’s candy.

I do relaxation exercises.

I try meditation.

Now I think about not falling asleep. I look at the clock to see another hour has passed. I count the hours left that I might sleep if I fall asleep immediately. I absolutely cannot get comfortable until about thirty minutes before the alarm is set to go off. Then my bed is perfectly soft and comfortable. The air is the perfect temperature. My pillow is a fluffy cloud, and I am drifting into the cool sky of a dream.

Then the alarm rings.