Alexandria

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.

-Nelson Mandela

In May of 2001, my then-girlfriend, Kathleen, graduated from University of Houston. She interviewed with several companies, and chose the Global Information Systems department at ExxonMobil. They gave her the choice of starting in Houston or in Fairfax, Virginia. To this day I’m not sure how much Kathleen wanted to leave Texas and how much I did. I don’t know if she was excited or if I convinced her, but off we went to the suburbs of the nation’s capital. We chose to live in the city of Alexandria (as opposed to Fairfax County) because it was roughly halfway between downtown and Kathleen’s office. I didn’t know where I’d end up in terms of school, so I wanted easy access in both directions. We found a great little townhouse between the Blue and Yellow Metro lines, not too far from The Pentagon……..

The plan was solid in theory. I’d had a full-time job for the last two years, making enough to support both of us. Because I’d done that, Kat said that she’d work and I could go to school. What we didn’t factor in was the cost of living increase. Even with both of us making more than I had in Houston, we still couldn’t seem to get ahead. In retrospect, I think we just aimed too high, too fast. We wanted to live a middle-class existence, not thinking ahead that a savings account might be a nice thing. The conversation in my head runs thusly:

Me: What the hell did you and Kat do with all that money?
Me to me: We ate it.

It takes money to be around people with money and we were too stupid to realize we didn’t have any. Most of the memories I have of that time in my life involve going out with various coworkers to restaurants where the food was forgettable and the tab was expensive. If you are looking for advice on how to spend over fifty grand a year on absolutely nothing, I am an expert. It starts with caring way too much about what other people think if you turn down an invitation. There. The first lesson’s free.

My dreams of finishing school and going on to my Master’s started drying slowly and then the last bit evaporated overnight. Kathleen wanted out of the relationship, exiting in the ugliest way possible. She slept with mutual coworkers so that coming to work was excruciatingly awkward, and then I lost my job and went back to Texas as broken as I’d ever been up to that point.

I attended a grief support group, where I mourned the past and the future I thought I would have. Eight weeks later, I went to visit my friends in Oregon. Two weeks after I got back, I packed up my car and called Portland home. It wasn’t enough to put 1800 miles of distance between Kat and me. I needed the full 3,000 for good measure.

I ran as far from Alexandria as I could get without dropping into the Pacific.

I didn’t remember the good things about Virginia until the day I moved to Oregon. Because I already had friends and a church there, I ditched my stuff at my house and went to the church to socialize as we were stuffing envelopes for some campaign or another. This annoying blonde woman was wearing a George Mason University sweatshirt, the college down the street from Kathleen’s office…. because of course she was.

Eventually, the blonde wasn’t so annoying. I married her…. and had to make my peace with Virginia because her parents’ house was about 30 miles from my old one… because of course it was.

Dana and I talked about moving to Virginia sporadically over the years, Dana worrying that her parents were older than mine and would therefore, need more help. So, moving back to the DC area has been a faint spot on my radar for over a decade. By 2012, it was in the three to five year plan.

Three years, almost to the day, I arrived in Maryland alone. In the beginning, it was a severe emotional handicap. I had imagined everything about DC from our viewpoint, not mine. I couldn’t even cross the Potomac without wincing in pain, so I just didn’t. Dana didn’t have many stories about DC, because she lived far enough out that she didn’t come downtown much. So, I reasoned that DC and Maryland were my area. Anything across the river belonged to Dana and Kat. It was neat and tidy until I went and made a friend…. in Alexandria.

Walking around Old Town brought it all back. I felt joy, but it was quickly drowned in tears. Everything was familiar and, in turn, scary because of the reason it was familiar. I saw the tapas restaurant where Kathleen took me for my birthday on September 10th, 2001, where I ate bad mussels and projectile vomited so much that I had to call in sick to work the next morning, the only reason I heard the plane hit. In fact, I saw all our old hangouts… or the buildings where they used to be, anyway.

What I realized is that looking for the familiar was bringing up emotions for which I was not prepared. Up until reality hit, I’d been genuinely excited. “Alex” had felt like home when I was dreaming about it. I didn’t recognize myself in its reflection anymore. I just saw shards of a twenty-something yuppie douchebag.

Luckily, my cousin Nathan also lives in Alexandria, so after about a year, the desensitization process was complete. The only reason it took that long is that I didn’t have a reason to cross the river very often. It was easier to meet both Dan and Nathan halfway.

Over the years, though, I’ve been coming to Alexandria more and more, because context and I have both changed. It’s not where I used to live. It’s where Dan lives now…. and get this… she lives on Leslie Avenue.

The real plot twist, though, is in fact just character development. I walk everywhere I go unless it’s what I consider “too far” and take the bus or train. I spend less in a week than I used to spend on some days. I am just not impressed with clothes, cars, fancy restaurants, any of it. The Washington of my twenties was a pretty soulless place, because I was not tapped into activism on social justice issues. I was driven to be upwardly mobile without any other purpose but serving myself.

The me of 2001 would have laughed and called me a hippy. The me of now wouldn’t spend time on a retort.

So Much Better

I got feedback on the rough draft of my book review from my editor, and both agreed it was a piece of crap on the first pass (The first draft of everything is shit. -Ernest Hemingway). There was a specific format that they needed to follow, and in general, rule following gets you nowhere in my line of work. I wasn’t trying to be obstinate, of course. I just have a loose grip on what directions actually mean, because I often interpret them to be the exact opposite of what they actually mean…. which is why in formal writing I should never be trusted without an editor. It was actually pretty funny, because it didn’t occur to me until later that I was talking to a schoolteacher as I reread everything she sent over after the second draft.

1. Oh yes. So much better.

Thirty seconds later…

2. NOW I KNOW WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT.

I must’ve laughed for three solid minutes over that one. Sufficed to say, the review has been turned in, and the process for getting approved to be a professional takes about a week. Just for my own curiosity, I looked at some of the other paid reviews, and there were typos and grammatical errors in them… AND I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THE BOOK WAS ABOUT. 😛 So, if their reviews are any indication, I’ll probably do ok. I don’t feel superior to any other writer out there, I just wanted to see what the gold standard was for this web site, and whether I was capable of that level.

If the review is scheduled for publication, one of the things that gets my reviewer score higher, and therefore, my rate per review, is sharing it. I’ll be posting it here, on my Facebook page, on Twitter, etc. Apparently, you can go right to the top of the list if you have 25,000 followers. I passed that long ago in terms of the number of times this web site has been read, including individual visitors. However, not all of them follow me via my author page or WordPress. I had a lot more followers when my web site was connected via my personal Facebook page, because I have so many friends. I thought it was better to separate everything out, but I still post a link on my personal page because it’s just easier for people to find me that way. I’ve also gotten a lot more readers through WordPress by tagging my entries, something I didn’t know was so incredibly important. It puts me higher in page rankings for a particular topic, rather than just being lost at sea among millions of excellent writers.

My heart is in my stomach waiting to see what will happen, so it was nice that I already had something planned for last night to get my mind off things. My friend Jaime met me at Sticky Fingers and took me to a mutual friend’s baby shower, and then came over to my house for a little bit to eat the cupcakes I’d bought earlier. Jaime is only the second friend that’s been to my house, and not because I don’t want my friends to come over- it’s just that since I take the Metro everywhere, there really hasn’t been a reason for people to come by. Prianka drove me home from the airport when I came in after my mother’s funeral, and now you have the grand total. I realized that I should have friends over more often, although Jaime is probably the only one that would actually want to come. This is because most of my friends live in Alexandria, and Jaime lives on the side of DC that’s closer to me. Because of the traffic, anywhere in VA is quite the hike…. much easier for us both to Metro and meet in DC, or I’ll take the Metro to Alexandria because I don’t get to hang out there very often. I was jazzed because the shower was held very close to my old neighborhood- even the same freeway exit!

My one #dumbassattack was that I spent so much time trying to secure the book I wanted to give the twins, only to rush out of the house without it…. even though I told myself to grab it at least fifty times and still forgot. I’ll just have to give it to them another time. Books keep.

In other news, I was wearing wool socks when I slipped down the stairs yesterday, and I thought I broke my ass. I, in fact, did not. After many rounds of Tylenol and ibuprofen, though, I am at least down to a small whimper when I sit. As I was getting into the bathtub, I also noticed that I am a hot mess back there- the biggest and best bruise I think I’ve ever achieved. #goals

I think that’s where we’ll stop for right now- if I think of anything else pressing, I’ll pick it back up later. Right now I just want some hot coffee and a bath. Maybe I will even drink the hot coffee while taking a bath…. something soothing inside and out for my poor little purple ass.

Surprise!

Last night I went to Dan & Autumn’s White Elephant Holiday Party. It was great to be back on Leslie Ave., and don’t think I haven’t thought about stealing a street sign more than once. If I win the lottery (it would help if I played), I’m buying that house right from under them (watch your backs, dear hearts……). The only thing that would keep me from doing so, and this is big, is that I love Maryland so much. It’s a bit more liberal without Richmond to deal with…….. but Del Rey is just so damn cool.

25438828_10155716438840272_5761970691560350761_oNot only is it a funky neighborhood reminiscent of Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon, Dan, Autumn, and my cousins, Nathan and Emily, all live there. It’s nice to have so many people I adore at one Metro stop (Braddock, in case you’re wondering… one past National Airport on the Yellow Line…. as if I will ever get used to calling it “Reagan” instead). I took this picture at about 12:30 AM as I was on my way home, and the lights just spoke to me. I remembered my first day in DC, when Dana and I patched our relationship up just enough that I called her just to laugh about the fact that I’d gotten on the train going the wrong way and ended up at Braddock instead of Ft. Totten, where I generally transfer to the Red Line, even though it’s faster at other stops. This is because I am just lazy enough to want a longer trip on one line…. Don’t make me get up…. I’m playing Zen Koi here, man……. WMATA is changing things up a bit, though. You can’t transfer to the Red Line right now because it’s closed for maintenance from Rhode Island all the way to Silver Spring. You either have to take a shuttle bus, or Uber when you’re running short on time. The shuttle buses take twice to three times as long. By the time I got to Silver Spring station, the bus home had stopped running. I got an Uber, and then my phone died. My driver couldn’t find me, and canceled the trip. I ended up at Dave & Buster’s, where the bar has USB plugs, and after about ten minutes, tried for another ride home. This time, it worked. I didn’t get home until after 2:00, but it was completely worth it.

25438879_10155716165570272_5618868711594337185_oHere’s a picture of what I brought to the White Elephant party, which got a big response. I picked it out weeks ago, and the excitement was killing me. It was so hard not to just blab all over everywhere what I was taking, but I didn’t until after it was opened. I am generally not very good at keeping secrets. One of the funniest things that happened between Kathleen and me is that when we lived in Alexandria, for our third anniversary I booked us one of those cruises down the Potomac where you can look at all the monuments at night. I kept the secret for three months, and then, the day we were supposed to go, Kathleen asked me if there was anything she needed to bring, having no idea where we were going. I said, well, you might want to bring a jacket. It’s going to be cold on the boat. I clapped my hand over my mouth and we both fell out laughing. Since that particular dumbass attack, I have had to try a lot harder to hide my nefarious-yet-generous activities, because it just slipped out. I didn’t mean to spoil the surprise, I was just on the “think it, say it” plan, which often leads to very heavy face palms. Although I did spill to my dad and Lindsay, because there was no way it would make it back to DC. Friends and family that are so far away come in handy.

So, I open the present I picked, and tears came to my eyes. From the moment I opened it, I knew it was the perfect present for me. I valiantly tried to stay neutral because the reality was that it could have gotten stolen at any point. I did, however, hide the bag behind my back, hoping that everyone would forget it was there. I don’t know whether it was the tears that did it, or whether my plan worked, but after the gift exchange I told the people who brought the gift why it meant so much to me. Busboys & Poets is my favorite restaurant here, and one of the last meals I shared with my mother was at the Takoma Park location, where I am fairly sure the gift was bought because that’s where they live. In addition, the restaurant gets its name from one of the most famous writers in American history, Langston Hughes, who was the busboy poet.25398107_10155716200820272_144966618721340104_o

As you can see, not only is the gift a coffee mug with the logo, it came with a Langston Hughes finger puppet with a magnet in his hat so you can hang it on the refrigerator, or in my case, the mirror above my dresser. My stepsister, Caitlin, will be happy to know that it holds much less coffee than the Doctor Who tankard she gave me a couple of years ago. I told her that I loved that mug because it holds four cups of coffee at once, and she said, isn’t that a bit much? Well, probably, but between the depression and ADHD, coffee acts as the right amount of stimulant to get me out into the world and give me some modicum of concentration without having to resort to Ritalin, Adderall, Stratera, et al. If I accidentally drink too much, too late, I just take a Tylenol PM. However, I rarely have to resort to that, because in a person with ADHD, stimulants have the opposite effect. They actually make me calmer…. well, as long as it’s just plain cups of coffee and not a Starbucks monstrosity of shots. I don’t need those kinds of highs and lows…. I just have to keep the bus from going under 50 (wow, that reference just aged me). It does not, however, stop the stream-of-consciousness in my head where tangents lead to tangents which lead to tangents and possibly the loss of the original point… but I’ll get back there eventually.

With presents like this, it feels like the universe is telling me that my mother is still right here, with her own nefarious generosity. Who knew that a White Elephant gift would tap into my emotions so deeply? I went to the party expecting to surprise everyone else, but the real surprise was mine alone.

But one more surprise before I go. Dan’s birthday is coming up, and I asked for a minute alone with her to give her a present. When it happened, before I took out the gift, I said, because you travel a lot, I’m giving you jewelry appropriate for a friend. I figure that wherever you go, when you look at it, you’ll think about where you got it and smile… and for that moment, I’ll be with you on your journey. If that sounds too practiced to be off the cuff, it’s because I made the exact same speech to Argo years ago, because was also one of my “dames on a plane.” But just because it was the same speech, that doesn’t mean that the sentiment was any less heartfelt. I don’t know if Argo still wears hers because of our blowouts, but I’d like to think so. I won’t tell you what hers was, only because it might identify her in some way. But I will tell you that Dan’s is a beaded bracelet that looks too fancy for an old school “friendship bracelet,” but it’s the same idea. They’re Tibetan prayer beads, which, to me, represented prayers without wax…. and as I joked with her, “no homo.”

In Michelangelo’s day, sculptors who made mistakes often filled them with wax to cover the impurities. A complete sculpture without doing so were called “sin cera,” Latin for without wax. It is the origin of the word sincere. “Prayers without wax” is code for the deeply felt message of thanks for being that friend who understands me the most since we’ve both lost our mothers, which are different conversations than the ones I have with people who haven’t. It has been amazing to have someone who knows how to catch me when I pitch forward in the haze of loss.

It is just as miraculous to have a gift I will look at every day in order to smile through pain… a sign to me that God moments happen in the most unexpected places.

A surprise, as it were.