a year on, still beating

February 18

Dear Les,

I’m housesitting for my sister, and found some photos on her coffee table. She’s a photographer and actually just said bye to years in the service industry to really give things a go so it was extra special to discover some film prints lying around.

I found this one and was a little confused. I didn’t recognize the setting, didn’t remember ever sitting in a chair like that or why I would. I wondered why she’d use film on me when I was full on cowlickin’ and carrying large bags under my eyes. When I was so quiet, and probably struggling with my thermos.

It took me several minutes to realize that this photo was from March 1, 2016, and we were waiting together with my mom at Providence for my dad to get out of cardiac surgery. I had stayed up late the night before, and wakened early to at least see my parents off to the hospital. I didn’t know if I’d see my dad again. I don’t take much for granted.

We all got to see my dad again. We had him for Father’s Day in June, our summer birthdays, and his birthday in October, when I treated him, my mom, and Elizabeth to pizza and Hunt for the Wilderpeople at the Academy Theater, where we all laughed louder than anyone else in the theater, and Elizabeth and I cried.

And I got to come out as nonbinary to both of my parents together in June the night before I turned 24. I had waited weeks for my mom to return from the east coast so they’d have each other when I told them. I couldn’t begin another year of life with the wrong nouns attached to me.

Just today I got to confirm that he didn’t subscribe me to the mysterious copy of Seventeen I found on my bed with my name this afternoon (I’m not their target audience, the mystery continues).

The thing about life is that it’s precious. It’s discarded McDonald’s wrappers on the sidewalk and sunsets that pull stranger neighbors outside to admire together. It’s friends losing parents and you carrying them letters with stickers and doodles or editing their grad school applications or helping them pick out a cardigan for a funeral. Not because someone precious to them has died and you feel pity but because goddamn you are tied together by tiny threads, colorful, translucent, there’s love, and simple decisions to be there. They will not be alone, even if you cannot share everything they are feeling.

It’s chronic illness, and watching inaugural season soccer games with your buddy’s mom in a bed across town from where they’re happening because it’s better to watch the games together, even if on a computer screen.

It’s even forgetting that a day is the five year anniversary of a day you decided not to write down your assignment’s due date if you weren’t going to live to see it—and not remembering until you see a reminder on Facebook, of that, and your promise to live.

It’s a friend coming out to you as queer from over a thousand miles away, because they feel safe enough to share their truth with you.

Life is not giving anyone the permission to take your fire, not even you. It’s jumping across puddles and still sloshing water on your shoes. It’s screaming with joy at the mess of storms and thunder during a downpour with your friend after you didn’t receive the Fulbright you applied for and her mother woke her up at 0700 with news of a divorce.

Life’s not a wide open plain, but maybe it is. It’s broken glass glittering in the sunshine, shards that could so easily slice us open, beautiful against gritty pavement. It’s mosaics. It’s what you have to say of it, love, some gummy bears, stale croutons, and more.

I’ve got some doubts about life sometime, but I think it’s something to lean into. In the waiting rooms, in the downpours, or on top of hills in the Gorge with wind ripping through your hair.

I show up, and I’m an average student with perfect attendance until it isn’t. I hope you keep showing up, too. What a ride, bumpy and smooth. What a gift to have so many options and stars in the sky, even when we can’t see them.

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On the Boulder

August 11

Les,

This summer of devastating shootings and this tumultuous election season have been enough to throw a person off balance, and after a full year of adulthood post-college living (the most expensive, purpose offering security blanket I’ve ever had), I find myself floundering in both the way I live my life (how does one do it?) and digest the world around me.

This has been a summer of heavy sorrow and celebrations—I’ve seen whales, porpoises, an octopus, prairie dogs, crawled through caves, slept in multiple states, waded in the pool of a waterfall, canoed to hot springs, and walked on pumice and obsidian. Gifts of living.

But outside of those moments or days of vacation, I wonder where and when I’ll unpack my suitcase. I wonder when I will feel free of this suspension. Free from the not yets, maybe laters, shoulds, and if onlys. I wonder when I’ll lean in, and say, “I’m here.”

Life is extra dark chocolate. Sweet, but bitter. Near liquid in hot sunshine, and a rock in the winter. Meant for eating.

I posted the following on Facebook tonight. I think it’s important to acknowledge struggles with mental health. Our great love for life, but also, sometimes, the work it takes to hold onto it.

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Love, I’ve worked a variety of jobs. Refereed soccer, cleaned toilets, changed linens, put mail in mailboxes, scooped ice cream, tutored writers, taken calls for a bookstore and a senator, researched markets, organized events, and opened packages. I can say with confidence the hardest work and best job I’ve ever done has been keeping myself on this planet.

Rainshowered, Rejected, Celebrating: On not getting a Fulbright but still laughing at this beautiful mess of life

January 21

Dear Les,

In October, I applied for a Fulbright grant to pursue a master’s in creative writing at University College Cork in Ireland. After learning of the opportunity on Fulbright’s website in September, I spent a month working on my application with extra attention to my three statements for my UCC and Fulbright applications. I compiled about twenty pages of notes for my one-page Fulbright personal statement as well as twenty minutes of voice memos on my phone. A mental block existed, but I completed the statement on 4 am the day it was due. I submitted my applications and prepared myself for the three month wait for Fulbright’s decision. Just two weeks later, University College Cork offered me a spot in their program, but the wait for Fulbright’s decision continued. While waiting for my bus to take me to the train station where I was to board an Amtrak bus to visit my friend Z in Salem last Friday, Fulbright informed I had not been chosen for the grant. Before reading the email on my phone, I had been smiling at the bus stop. Afterwards, I simply stood still wondering what this decision meant for me. While a long shot, the grant had been my only potential plan so far for next year. Now I was still a young, underemployed, living-at-home college grad, but without any clear potential plans for next year. Not interested in mourning, I nodded my head, accepted the decision, and put my phone away. When the bus wheezed alongside the curb minutes later, I boarded.

I had an excellent weekend in Salem. As soon as I arrived in Salem, Z and I got tacos with her girlfriend, were joined by her brother at a fancy cake place, then went to bars and a cafe downtown. In all of it was laughter, conversation, and room for thought. Back in her apartment that night, Z and I sat on her couch and talked about adulting and dating. I told her about the Fulbright. The next morning, Z was woken by her mother calling to say she and Z’s father were getting divorced. I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. We made tea, miso, danced to T Swift, and went to Minto Park along the Willamette River where we were caught in a huge downpour far from her car. On our way back to the parking lot, dancing carefully through mud and puddles, I threw myself into the wet— lowering my hood and feeling my head get soaked. I stamped my feet up and down, and with Z and I the only humans along the muddy river, called “Goddamn, goddamn!” savoring the profanity and savoring life—the rejections, splits, laughter, and soaked clothing.

And maybe that’s life:

stomping, laughing, screaming, drooling, and snotting, giggling at too wet jeans and sloshy shoes, watching the water meet water in a river dreaming of flooding, giving bad hugs (awkward and bony) and good hugs, straining your arm during air hockey and foosball and laughing about it for the next two days, flirting in a nickel arcade, knowing you didn’t get the grant you applied for—your one maybe plan for next year—or lying on your friend’s couch when she gets the call her parents are divorcing, drinking tea, making miso, dancing to TSwift even though your muscles are tight and joints are stiff, unconsciously slipping into a drawl, racing alone on the bank with feet slapping mud, with fists clenched yelling “Goddamn, goddamn!” and shaking your head “This is a great time to be alive!” knowing this: that we enjoy life, turn the flavors on our tongue, let it cascade yet still pull ourselves forward. Knowing I cannot truly say I am pleased I did not die years ago, perhaps because death is no enemy, yet also do not regret staying alive. This, this is life.

After the Memorial Service

September 20

Dear Leslie,

Two days ago, I attended a memorial service for someone my age for the first time. I am twenty-three so I have at least twenty-three reasons I am fortunate. I’ve known people my age who have died, including a 9th grade P.E. classmate who was shot dead the night before my first day of college—a death with considerable impact on my heart despite the limited nature of our interactions. But while my brain anxiously scans archives out of fear there are faces I have forgotten–peers I might have already said bye to at the grave then let their memories recede like their bones into earth–I cannot think of anyone else I shared childhood years with  before they flew from life.

It was Jane who died.

Unexpectedly, my first reaction upon receiving my sister’s text that Jane had died earlier that day was excitement. I was so pleased to read Jane’s name and think about what it would be like to catch up with her that I couldn’t process her not being alive. My mind looped between joy and confusion, settling closer and closer towards grief like a maple’s double-samara fluttering toward pavement. Neither my sister nor I had been close to Jane, but she had been an important part of my childhood as a player on a sister Mt. Tabor soccer team, and we had greeted each other in the halls at Mt. Tabor Middle School. She had teased me on the size of my backpack.

Whereas I was a small child with shoulder blades like wings, often likened to a pixie, Jane was a giant. She was tall, muscular, and vibrant with confidence.

Jane was alive.

How did you enter rooms, Leslie? How did you leave? Did you dress your heart in kevlar for all new faces, or did you manage to maintain some kind of open heart policy? As a human, as a white butch lesbian, as a transgender warrior, did you greet people with optimism, or did you, regardless of your outward demeanor, expect and plan for the worst? My best times are when I walk beaming into a room, enthusiastically shake hands with new-to-me souls, or casually joke and converse with folks, but this is not my everyday. I think I’ve always carried some fear and insecurity with me—false or prophetic certainty that I am inferior to others and will be rejected. I tiptoe in my own life and don’t ask many favors because I’m certain I’m asking too much.

Every person who spoke at Jane’s funeral shared how warm, gregarious, and sincere she was. She also invited herself into people’s houses and helped herself to what was in the fridge! She was shamelessly herself. The auditorium overflowed with individuals from her childhood neighborhood, Nordstrom, elementary school, middle school, high school, sports teams, and even Alaska. They walked easily or carefully with canes, or rolled wheelchairs. I recognized some faces and wondered which chapters we shared.

 Her service taught me many lessons.

I still believe that one of these days we will have a soccer reunion and we will crack up with laughter on Upper Clinton while shooting goals. The ground will be cracked with grass straining upwards or a hive of holes in mud from cleats and showers. Dirt will fleck our knees as it did when we were kids. Our shorts and jerseys will stain as we laugh breathless, our muscles tightening from exertion of our kicks and the joy of still being kids after all this time. Jane reminds me of what it is to love and be loved. And what it is to live.

Rest in peace, Jane. Rest in peace, Leslie. The world keeps spinning, but I think a great many of us are richer in life and braver than we would have been had you not once been here.

I began this letter on September 20. I will keep the date for that reason.

balancing act

October 2, 2015

Dear Leslie,

I haven’t forgotten about you. On the contrary, I’ve started and stopped multiple letters—some of them lengthy. But I haven’t been sure what to post, or even what is appropriate. A childhood friend, or rather, someone who was undoubtedly stitched onto the same quilt as I, another patch, on a greater design, died last month. She crashed her car in southeast Portland two miles from my house and died after three days in the hospital. I wanted to write about her. I did scribble in my journal and on the floral paper at her memorial service. I wanted to write about this person who was just so ALIVE I couldn’t fathom her being gone. She was so alive, it’s almost difficult to mourn. I know that if there is any afterlife, I will see her again. But I was just a childhood acquaintance friend. We played on sister soccer teams. We passed each other in the hall in middle school. Who am I to say these things? Life is fleeting. Her sudden death reminds me of this. Perhaps I will write more later. Maybe not. Jane, if you are out there listening, know that you are so loved and missed.

My radio silence is also embarrassing because I should probably be able to balance multiple projects as a writer, but I’ve instead been tied up with a Fulbright application. Which requires multiple pieces of writing! I found a grant for a master’s in creative writing and have been working around the clock to complete solid applications for both the university and Fulbright. Because I want to be admitted to this program so badly, I’m hesitant to share more.

Also, I read the first pages of Transgender Warriors. Once again, your words ensnared me. Thank you for that beautiful preface.