Sometimes, though, I paint everything in buttery yellow. Golden vanilla curls, childhood mac and cheese, chocolate chip cookies with sprinkles on top, card games by the flickering fire. Punk chords echo past the empty cupboards designed for women who had more time and less freedom. The first light switch from the door is in the back of the kitchen, for starters, because why would the heart of the home be dark? Late night glow above the oven, wool socks on the time capsule tile. Outside the world is cold, and yes, we have all seen so much lately. But in this place, I can keep us warm.
When I was fifteen, I lived alone. My mother worked second shift at a fast food restaurant, and spent her days off with a boyfriend. My dad would pick me up from school downtown in his construction van, and maybe we would get McDonald’s before he dropped me off down the block. My little brother lived with him, because he was too much to handle, but it was better than the summer before when we slept on the floor. Sometimes I would order pizza, or if I had walked to the grocery store with the food stamp card, I would cook. In a rented kitchen with handwritten recipes and all the books that broke my back, and stories in my head about the old couple that lived upstairs, I lived mostly in my head. I made believe, with my chamomile tea and roughly chopped celery, that my home was full of laughter and little feet and most of all love.
I still hate being alone.
The idea probably came from a book I had read, but when the bedroom began to feel cold, I decided to paint it. Entirely unsupervised on a ladder, I sang along with Norah Jones for an entire weekend, until cheap Walmart dandelion latex was dried under every single one of my nails. In the bubble bath, I scrubbed them with a fancy manicure brush and thought, this must be what it will be like, when I am an adult and I have my own apartment.
(Sidenote: I was wrong, because millennials will never be able to buy a damn thing.)
But I learned the capabilities of color and music, and how we can be okay in dark places if we let in a little light.
This is the part where I am supposed to reassure you I have not lost my mind, although I suspect we both know twenty nine is a tough year. Add that to the tightlipped turmoil of two thousand seventeen, and the fact that over summer (in a series of narrowly missed disasters) we sold the tv and everything else in a trailer park yard sale and traveled sixty five hundred miles, and I tied the knot in a teenage dream come true, two months prior to the deadliest shooting in the country. The roads I traveled literally caught on fire in the rearview mirror, and the city I divorced two years ago nearly drowned in the ocean, and the ashy sun turned blood orange like the crescent moon off the coast of California.
Things have been strange, to say the least.
The truth though, is that I have never been able to think so clearly. It cost all this time to see that the clock is a liar, and chaos will never slow. The pacific cradled me in the wing of a phoenix and here we stay, so here I am.
“What hole are you trying to fill by calling yourself a blogger? Quit now before you get burnt out and feel guilty. Quit before you feel like a failure instead of finding the intersection of happy and fulfilled.”
My words, last year and a lifetime ago.
The critics knew first, of course. She will be back, they cut me up and brushed me off. But they usually do. So much has changed though, and the world is a different place. And all day long, drums dance around my messy mind and now I don’t hear all the noise that I used to. Erasing myself was never the goal, only identifying the problem. When you unravel a life down to the essentials, and remove all the distractions that hold you back in a day, you too might discover more than you wanted to find.
There is no one to blame, don’t worry. When the static is too loud, it can be difficult to distinguish which relationships and habits we have that still serve us, and which are actually toxic. When you are tangled in a toxic relationship, especially if your entire life is built around that connection, you will understand the accuracy of the word, because that is what most of us feel these days. Poisoned, and it just isn’t fair. Nobody willingly drinks poison. It’s hidden inside of something sweet, or something that appears to be good for us. And once it’s inside, it eats away at everything, but you might not even notice anything is wrong. By the time you figure out what hurts and why, it’s too late, and it’s already soaked through all of your cells. And all you can do is watch the damage work dark magic and hope you will remember how to heal, and try to distance yourself from more exposure to the toxicity. Nothing else you can do in the meantime, just wait, and forgive yourself. This is not your fault, just poison burning it’s way out, and spoiling every good thing it touches.
But we have to let it burn to feel better. Otherwise, it lingers in your bones and drains every last resource of body and mind. It spreads to every positive thing left in this world and suffocates the senses and sends us crawling inside to keep to ourselves and tend to our own wounds. The symptoms fade, time ticks in a miserable state of detox, no sleep. It scares us because we never see it coming. I don’t think it is something inside of you, or me, or that we want to poison ourselves. Just some chemistry experiment gone wrong where we all want more all the time and no one will ever be satisfied, but we hold on to things to calm our fears and never quiet our minds enough again to wake up from our nightmares.
After we recognize that something in our life is toxic, and it no longer serves us, then our true thoughts (even the warm fuzzy kind you had as a child) become reality.
I am done burning. And when I let go of all the guilt, I found freedom in my newfound ability to glow like the embers. If we accept the world for what it is, we are not afraid of the cold, because we know how to keep each other warm. Creativity can be a curse, true, but oh honey, art can heal. Not that any of this is a choice. It just comes out, you know. The filters are the problem, and our fucked up idea of perfection, and the fear that someone might finally admit how poisoned we are. I will let you know when I figure out how to fix all that.
For now though, we can only offer what we have. If we accept ourselves for what we are, we are not afraid of the dark, because we trust the stars.
Something brought us here, and you to me, as the moon brings the tide.
You might find what you need, in my words, or in the way the wires in my nerves string thoughts together. I want you to analyze this messy mind and tell me about all the impossible things. You might find yourself, somewhere in the spill, or the way I lullaby the letters. I want you to take my stories to bed with you, when the monsters come. And I want you to laugh. My god how I want us to laugh.
Remember? The way we did, at 2am on the telephone when the music stopped playing, and still we never wanted to hang up.
Most of all, I want you to know you are not alone.