To wrap up 2015 I’m giving away a signed copy of my book!
To enter, send an email to rubyabrowne[at]gmail.com with your name and address by January 5th.
I’ll select a winner randomly, but everyone who enters will get a handwritten thank you note from yours truly. It’s the best way I can think of closing 2015.
It’s been a hell of a year, y’all. Though I can’t say I’ll miss it a whole lot, I’m forever grateful for the little community we’ve grown here over the last year. I’m really excited to see what kind of strides we can all make together in 2016. I think it’s going to be one of our best years yet.
I won’t be posting again until January 4th, but when we come back we’re going to have Monday through Friday posts. That’s right. Five posts each week instead of just two. We’re also going to have an exciting new format, including guest posts from writers I love. I can’t wait to share some of their work with you over the next year.
As always, thank you so much for reading, for following, for your love and support. Your kind words and well wishes have gotten me through some of my roughest times this year. I wouldn’t have done it without you.
I was standing at the door of my apartment. Backpack on my back and another bag hanging from the crook of my left arm, keys in my right hand. While I was unlocking the door, Richard came down the stairs leading into the hall behind me. I turned and called out to him.
“Hey, dude! How you been? I haven’t seen you around here very much lately.”
Richard stopped in his tracks and stared at me. He looked like a little kid who just found out his parents wouldn’t be living together anymore. A rush of adrenaline surged through my body. I didn’t know what was happening, but I could feel it was monumental. I knew that people don’t put on faces like that for the everyday tragedies. That face is for the heartbreak moments. The ones that tear us in two.
I dropped my bags and walked toward him as fast as I could, barely catching him as his legs gave out and he crumbled to the floor. His body shook as he pulled his knees up to his chest, fumbling for words. He tried several times to start a sentence, but he didn’t have it in him. After another set of shakes and a big breath in he managed to speak. “The doctors,” he said through shutters. “The doctors say he’s not going to make it through the week.”
“Wait, what? Who? Calvin?”
He turned his face toward me and took another rattling breath, “Yes. Calvin.” Then he dissolved into my chest. Sobbing.
I held him on the floor in the hallway. Crying quietly into his hair. It’s not that I knew Calvin well, it was that I loved Richard fiercely. And sometimes that’s all it takes to mourn an impending death. I could see the slowly opening gash in my friend that Calvin used to fill.
We try to fill those voids. We try with drugs or booze or other people. We try with hobbies and new jobs and cross-country moves. But when someone we love leaves us, there is always going to be that gap. A cave that collapsed in on itself, but never closed. But I guess it’s just like Leonard Cohen said, “That’s how the light gets in.”
When Richard stopped crying I helped him to his feet and walked him to his door. I didn’t ask him what was wrong with Calvin. It didn’t matter anyway. He was either going to pull through or he wasn’t. My job wasn’t to know the details, my job was to make sure that Richard was safe.
At his door I asked, “What can I do for you right now, man?”
“Just be around this week. Like, if I come knock on your door at 11 PM, will you answer?”
“Of course. I’m here.”
“Thank you,” he said more to the ground than to me. He closed the door and I could hear his shoulder blades hit it and his body slide down the length. I held up my hand to knock again, but I knew he just needed to be heartbroken right now. And that was okay.
I put my bags into my apartment and ran up the stairs to Allen’s, banging hard on the door. When he answered I didn’t bother with any greetings, just asked, “Dude! What the fuck happened?”
“Calvin has bacterial meningitis. He’s been in the ICU for about a day and a half now and they… You know, they just don’t have any good news.”
“Yeah, kiddo. It’s rough. I don’t even know what to say to Richard. He’s just barely holding it together, of course. I mean, I would be a total wreck, too. He’s just usually such a jubilant guy, you know. It’s so hard to see him… Shit. What am I doing? Complaining about how hard it is for me to watch him hurt like that. What must be happening in his head right now? His whole world is falling apart. You know he’s not even on the lease to their apartment?”
Allen’s words started fading out. He wasn’t talking to me anymore, he wasn’t talking to anybody. He was just trying to fill the space with something that wasn’t our brains stuck on a spin cycle. Repeating over and over that our friend was lying in a hospital bed, ten minutes away, and there wasn’t anything we could do about it.
These events happened in the summer of 2010. This piece is an excerpt from my current NaNoWriMo novel.
The first apartment I ever had to myself was a tiny basement studio in Portland. The carpet was purple and the kitchen had red and white checkered linoleum. The walk-in closet had two stairs going up into it and was just big enough for a twin-sized bed and a dresser. Everything about that apartment was tiny and ridiculous. We called it The Dollhouse.
My upstairs neighbor was Kyle. I had just turned twenty-one when I moved in and he was forty-something. Fast friends. We’d hang out by the dumpster and smoke cigarettes every day. He’d come over to my place for beers. Watered my plants when I left town. When the weather was good we’d sit on the curb and drink booze until four in the morning. We talked about everything. I was his date to weddings. He met everyone I dated and my entire family. Our friendship ran deep and I loved him unconditionally.
Kyle was brash and unapologetic. One of those people who took up a ton of space without being a large person. He hugged hard and talked loud and had a ridiculous story about every situation. He’d get sloppy drunk, pick a fight, then spill his guts to me in an alley. He’d climb on top of dumpsters, get kicked out of a bar, and bring three or four guys younger than me home with him.
He had a rule that you could only tell him what he’d done while drunk if you satisfied three requirements. One, it’d been at least three days since he did whatever you were about to tell him. Two, he had a drink in his hand—preferably one you provided for him. And three, you referred to him as “this guy I know” instead of “you” or “Kyle”. He’d shake his head and belt out, “That guy is crazy! Who does stuff like that?!” Smile big and chuckle. Complete detachment from “that guy” being him. Because it wasn’t.
Once he showed up at my apartment around 11 PM with his right ring finger wrapped in a tissue. “I got a paper cut. Do you have a Band-Aid?” he asked as he walked by me, settling onto my futon. Kyle didn’t wait for invitations. He knew he was always welcome.
I dug through my medicine cabinet then sat down next to him. He removed the Kleenex from his finger and held it out. I grinned and he became tiny, fragile in front of me. Suddenly he was just a little kid. Our gaze locked as I wrapped the rubbery fabric around his fingertip, his eyes watering.
And that wasn’t Kyle either. That was a different guy entirely. That was the man who had found out a few years earlier he’s HIV positive. The guy who didn’t know if he’s was going to have someone to take care of him should the medication not be enough. Should his whole life slip away pound by pound. Should it all just fade out into nothing.
Every few months he’d disappear for a week or so. Show back up all road-worn and frazzled. I never asked where he’d been. I knew he’d lost his footing. Crawled back into some squat and started smoking crack again. I’d cook him dinner and he’d fall asleep on my shoulder watching something mindless on Netflix. My heart ached for him, but I never blamed him. It was another person inhabiting his body. It wasn’t the Kyle I called my friend.
It was so easy to be gentle with him. Simple to understand that there were lots of people who looked just like him, pulling in every direction. All trying to take care of him even if their ideas of how to do that were damaging and dangerous.
They were trying. I knew they were all trying to get his needs met.
And every so often I remember I’m different people, too. That when the depression takes hold, it’s not me it’s holding on to. It’s claws are in someone who is terrified of everything. Unsure and unstable. She is not me. That girl is shaking. She considers herself unlovable and fragile, weak and unworthy. She believes that everyone in her life would be better off if she slipped out of existence.
But that girl is not me.
I can feel sympathy for her. Understand how scary it is. But I don’t have to own that pain. I don’t have to be afraid. She’s a different girl than me. She doesn’t get to grab the wheel unless I grant her permission.
My therapists always had me name those women who inhabit my body when I’m having trouble staying on the surface. Describe them. The angry ones, the scared ones. The ones who are always panicking. The drunks. The drug addicts. The ones who pick up on girls at bars. Who go home with strangers. The ones who can’t get off the couch for weeks at a time. Women who are sure their friends, their family are only still around out of obligation or guilt. All of them are separate pieces.
Yes, we can talk about how they make up the whole. How they all need the same thing, are trying to solve the same problems, meet the same needs. They all have my best interests in mind, but different ideas of how to serve them. I know I have to listen to all of them. They all have valid voices. They all have stories, but they do not all get pens. They do not all get to decide where this is going. They don’t all get equal say in who this woman is.
Like the sixteen-year-old me who needed someone to absorb the screaming, but also needed someone to say, “No.”
“Yes. I understand you are hurting. Yes. I understand this is what you think you need. Yes. I know. I know. But no. Give me your keys.”