The Hope Paradox, Epilogue

Hope is a silver ring, spotted and snatched up on the side of a cliff in Brandywine State Park, with the word emblazoned on it by an artist, hand-stamped, by a too-wise cynic named Greg.

There’s a part of that story I’ve never told.

It’s that years later, I found out that a murder victim — an optimistic girl in high school or college, I forget which now — was found in that very spot long before Greg ever found that ring.

While I will never know — and it’s so unlikely — if these things are related?

I can never forget that footnote.

I can never stop wondering if the girl that believed in HOPE was the same girl found torn apart in those leaves.

I never have.

I wish I could; it’s one of those thoughts that keeps me up some nights.


Smart people can truly excel at many things, and being a complete idiot is perhaps surprisingly high on the list.

No need to ask me how I know.

There are a great many terrible things that have happened to me that I didn’t in any way deserve.

The scent of ozone in the metaphorical air at the moment, indicative of a coming storm, is not one of them.

Singing Their Merry Song

I often say that I don’t have an inner voice; instead, I have a full Greek Chorus of inner voices.

No, I don’t have MPD.

No, these aren’t real people.

They’re aspects of my personality, characterized with a great deal of poetic license, just so we’re completely clear about what I’m saying from here out.

They bicker amongst themselves endlessly.

I have an inner child, an inner crusader, an inner den mother. They love. They exist to love, I sometimes think.

An inner brat, and an inner slut, neither of which needs further elaboration.

An inner idealist, cynic, and realist eternally frustrated with the other two. They share a mental lunch table, I think, talking in perpetual circles.

There is an inner venomous self-loather that is hyperactive and, since she exists inside of me, knows just which buttons to push to cut me to the bone. Her innate mien is harmless, of course, and only ever speaks in a whisper. She doesn’t have to raise her voice, and she always sounds so very gentle, like she’s telling me the terrible truths about how wretched I am and always will be because she loves me, and I need to remember these things and keep them at the forefront of my mind always, so I don’t overreach or make the mistake of thinking I’m worthwhile. The worst part about her is she can look like any of the others at any given moment, and I fall for it nearly every time.

Make no mistake; I can and do hurt myself more efficiently than anyone else ever has, or could.

My inner smartass truly never shuts up. Somehow, I picture her as Janeane Garofalo’s character from Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, chain-smoking and throwing snark like shrapnel from a massive explosion.

And people wonder why I empathize so much with Jane from Doom Patrol.

There is a girl who doesn’t let anyone see her very often, me included. There’s no simple adjective or descriptor for her. I’d thought her dead for decades, if you want the truth. She hopes. She believes in people. She believes life can be good, and worthwhile. Life hasn’t managed to wring that out of her. It can’t, but it surely explains why I thought her long gone for ages.

There is Ms. Bootstrap, reminding me to pick myself up and dust myself off and even if I don’t try that thing I failed or destroyed again. I’m reasonably sure she’s Lucy Liu as the efficiency expert from one of the Charlie’s Angels flicks, because while she’s helpful now and again, she tolerates exactly none of my shit. She slices through both excuses and genuine reasons with the same riding crop, and she doesn’t care if she breaks the skin and leaves me bleeding for it. I’m more grateful for her than I probably should be, all things considered.

Writing about her at all reminds me of something else I need to get to, and sketch out in words.

Ms. “DAMMIT YOU SHOULD FEEL YOUR FEELINGS DAMMIT!” is self-explanatory. That’s all she says, she always yells it, and 99% of the time I completely ignore her anyway because that advice is inconvenient to carrying on with life in any way, shape, or form. If I listened to her, I would start crying this very moment and not stop until some time in 2037 due to the backlog of tragedy and pain I’ve declared resolved because it wasn’t rational, or it wasn’t going to be productive to mourn because it wouldn’t change a damned thing.

The Bomb Disposal Technician, as one might expect, collects those pains to lock away in her bomb-proof, lead-lined chest.

Lead is still incredibly toxic to the body and the brain. Well, fuck.

Elaine, the Lady of Shalott. She got a name, partly due to a long-standing joke that was too eerily apt.

She pretends it’s fine.

It’s all fine.

Watching the world from a distance instead of living life in it, it’s fine. It’s better. It’s safer. It’s the right idea.

She tells herself that over and over and knows it’s all a lie, because she is longing. She wants to live.

She’s drawn to beauty like a moth to a flame, but it isn’t pretty things she sees as beautiful — it’s the beauty of real things, true connections.

She never says a single word; she never has. She doesn’t have to.

Bitch sure does sigh expressively a lot, though.

All the fucking time.


I was just talking about it a little more than an hour ago. It was easy. The words fell in a neat and sensible enough line off the tip of my tongue, so it doesn’t seem to make any sense at all that when I sit down to write about it now, the blank space on the page looms ominously.

Let’s start here. This works. It’s a place to start, anyway.

The first time I heard this song, years ago, it burrowed its way into my bones the way almost nothing has before or since. Maybe only I saw the glimmer of solace in it, sad as it is.

I was going to die when I was 46. I had known this all my life the same way I’d known when family members would pass; if I knew, I was right.

At every funeral, I was the quiet, stoic one — not strong and silent, but small and lumpy and stoic all the same — there to be the shoulder, the calm hand, the gentle squeeze, with no tears of my own for the person who had left us, but only the rest of us, left behind. They thought it was strange I didn’t grieve the same; maybe I just didn’t feel. Maybe that was just one more way I was broken.

It may be just another way I’m broken, but it isn’t the one they think. It’s that I knew, often around a year out, and I had time to do my mourning in advance and spend time as I could before it was too late.

I have to, I think; my emotions move in geological time.

They always have. Rarely, if ever, does something break the pattern.

46 tried its very best to kill me.

It didn’t even wait eight hours to throw an absurd potential end in my direction, in which my husband might have accidentally killed me with a cranky cone snail.

I’d picked up that very shell days earlier with my bare hand, and thrown it back into the sea, just in case it was still alive then. Not so the next time. Carefully collected with a rake, set aside, watched. Watched more, and properly squinted at. Segregated for further scrutiny before we left. No sign of life at all until my husband was waggling its angry stinger too near my face and calling over small children to come look at the ‘wonder of nature’ that could have quickly killed anyone it hit with neurotoxin while I screamed at him to stop.

He didn’t listen, but no one ever does. No one ever did. Not to any of it.

46 tried to kill me over and again. It even sent a pandemic, in 2020, the year that broke the world. It sent riots, it sent rage, it sent an endless stream of lies, and it sent throngs of would-be door-kickers giddy to torture and kill people like me.

Sometimes I think it’s only because the whole paradigm cracked open that I slipped through one of those cracks — or maybe the world and I were broken in the same way enough that something changed, and I fit too well now to let go of just yet.

Maybe it’s been bullshit the whole time, but it was bullshit I believed. Everyone believes bullshit, sometimes.

I had enough reason to.

There were times it felt like punishment.

Over the period of a year, I tried to kill myself seven times. Each attempt failed more improbably than the last, ending with the world’s least intelligent cat attacking the bag on my head and tearing a hole in it.

I almost died from organ failure, but didn’t due in large part to an uncannily well-timed moment of sheer stubborn ‘fuck that’. I couldn’t tell you why; I don’t know. It was right in the middle of that same year.

Even my terrors and tragedies have something in them I can laugh about. Sometimes, I think it’s the thing I’m most grateful for in all my life; I would have lived it as mostly tears, otherwise. I have been given the gifts of my bizarre perspective and circumstances, and cry rarely, all things considered.

(When the winds have blown things ’round and back again, what was once your pain will be your home.)

I was too broken to repair, and I wasn’t being given an early out. For a few months, I hated the world with such venom that I despised anyone who so much as prompted me to speak on any given day. I spent days in silence, when I wasn’t wailing pointlessly at the ceiling.

“Just let me go. Please.”

I didn’t want to have to wait it out to 46, and then, it was still a year or two away, over which time I lost more and more pieces of myself I didn’t know that someone could ever truly lose.

I spent almost two years watching it all go, apologizing to everyone and the universe itself for the burden of my continued existence. The tiny reservoir of self-esteem I’d built up ran dry and crazed as if it had been baked in the desert sun. Sex drive? What didn’t recoil from itself was shamed the rest of the way out.

Then I really couldn’t speak, either. The living cartoon, full of voices and impressions and accents and camp, could barely form comprehensible words. I wasn’t prepared, and no one warned me. I thought once that losing the ability to sing had been a blow — and it was — but it didn’t compare.

Piece by piece, it was all going away, and I could do nothing but watch it go. Fighting it, fighting for it, nothing made a difference; it was as useful as kicking a wave to turn it away from crashing against my legs.

When the creativity went, I wasn’t me any more.

I didn’t know it could go.

It was, to the best of my understanding of such things, me.

Not any one thing — no item, no craft in particular — but the wellspring from whence they came, because they had always come. Too many to count, to ever keep up with. They were a torrent of images and ideas and words and concepts and stories, and they had blasted like a firehose unceasingly throughout my life until then.

They would keep me up at night if I didn’t make up stories to tell myself in my head to fall asleep to, but now there were no stories, just the quiet and the dark: empty.

My creativity isn’t me.

Or at least it isn’t all of me.

It’s a substantial enough portion that the scraps remaining may as well have been stranded sailors, screaming and terrified as they scrambled up the mast of a ship that was most certainly going down in a once-in-a-hundred-years storm.

“Not this. Please, just let me go.”


More than once over the past year, my humble part in the fight against disinformation and the conspiracy cults that have risen to prominence rapidly through the course of the pandemic, I have remarked that, as an artist — as I was, at least in a very small way again by that time — and a driven creative, I never expected to find myself on the side of reality in any given cultural fight.

It isn’t just that I feel strongly that imagination and creativity and creative efforts should be encouraged provided they aren’t harmful, or that they are beneficial to individuals and society as a whole.

It’s that completely raw, base, inescapable-even-within-my-own-head-for-an-instant reality was a horror that left me physically cold and shaking for months.

Because it is, particularly as it was.

Because it is, particularly as the world is today. I can’t pretend I don’t see it.

Beneath the declaration of implausibility is something else I don’t say: it will never not feel cruel in some way. It doesn’t matter how ugly the world they choose to believe in is.

I don’t say it because it would be easy enough for those who need to hear the message most to ascribe the motive to a desire to be cruel.

There is little I could I desire less.

I still don’t know how or why I made it to 47. I truly don’t. I just know I did.

Most of my pieces were still missing.

Most of them still are.

I spent years sincerely believing the time to 46 and whatever of it persisted were hell, and would be the worst of it, with a promise of rest thereafter, or at least no more of the struggle to spackle my remnants together with hope and busywork and idle daydreams, because it was painful and exhausting.

It isn’t as though more fucked up things didn’t happen in that time; the previous entry is an example of one of them. (Another loss to grieve.)

It isn’t as though more fucked up things didn’t happen after 47, either.

They don’t stop, of course. They won’t. I don’t expect them to.

I sat up through that night. I don’t even know why I wanted every minute all of a sudden, but I did.

It was 2020, the world was imploding, and I still wanted to show up for it.

No, I can’t explain that shit, either. Maybe you strangers on the internet can tell me.

The most daunting question I have ever faced?

“Well, what now?”

Things have wheeled around dramatically more than once over the past few days — let alone weeks and months — and I have no idea what I’m doing, what to think, or how to feel.

I am a train wreck with good intentions even with all the time and effort I’ve put in to unfucking my head over the past two years.

I don’t know how to fix that, or if I can.

I have the chance to try.

The part that chokes me up and terrifies me at the same time? Is also the reason I’m just the tiniest bit proud of myself in a real way for the first time:

I’ve decided I want to try to fix my shit.

It doesn’t sound like much.

It doesn’t sound like it requires any courage at all, does it?

Hope actually does require at least a scrap of it, especially when fixing my life in any measurable way is likely a doomed prospect.

(But this poverty is our greatest gift, the weightlessness of us as things begin to shift.)

I spent years waiting to die, often enough wanting to.

Maybe this is take two. Maybe it’s an encore, extended engagement, or there never was any sort of deadline at all.

Either way, I want to live, and a life worth more than waiting for it to be over.

Archiving this here, too.

This was not The Rant (Chapter II) I was planning, but it’s leapt to the fore over the past few days.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have been a coward.

It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s the truth, and I will not deny it.

That I know more now, and more things have happened to demonstrate the reasons I was initially uneasy before, doesn’t change that. I’m ashamed that I didn’t speak up sooner, and it’s why I’m not going to back down now.

This is going to be a long thread; there is no tl;dr summary, save for that above this point. That’s because from here on out, I’m going to talk about why.

People who follow along with what I talk about likely have a basic understanding that I’ve been through some shit over the years. This is one of those things.

I’m a pretty solitary person, an only-child introvert, grew up in a neighborhood with almost no other children, small and bullied at school into isolation until high school. You probably didn’t know me, but you knew a me, or maybe you even were a me.

Even if you didn’t, and that’s all as alien to you as something from Star Wars, it isn’t hard to understand why it would be rare and precious to find a community in which it was possible to be comfortable, to make good friends, and co-create pointless things with like-minded oddballs.

And to do it for over 20 years.

It’s hard to write this out. It is easier to dive into the proverbial bunker after freaking all the way out than it is to tell the story, because there’s no not crying about it, and I’m already beyond frustrated with myself about the number of tears spent to that end.

I’m just not that person to cry, either. I learned not to when I was very small, because it brings sincere pleasure to the absolute worst people.

So, this is hard, but hard or not, it’s also important.

Someone I had trusted — and believed in, and missed a lot of red flags of paranoia and narcissism and cruelty in — decided I was the bad guy the moment she saw me as something other than a yes-person who would never question her.

All it took was one disagreement, after about three years. That’s it.

It wasn’t hostile in any way. I tripped blindly over a well-hidden landmine, immediately apologized, asked what I could do to fix it. Didn’t matter.

She pretended it was fine. Everything was perfectly normal! S’all good!

Except it wasn’t.

People I’d been friendly with stopped saying hello, at first. Found reasons to avoid me. I didn’t even notice at first that it began with the other people closest to her, but it was too late by the time I did.

I started to think about the things she’d said about others over the time I’d known her — things I had blindly believed about the people she talked about, since she knew so many more people than I did. It didn’t seem like salacious gossip at the time, because every bit of it was couched in concerns about their ethics, their motives, what odd connections they might have and what influence they might be attempting to exert on me or others.

By the time word started to filter back, slowly, of the claims being made about me all of a sudden, I was horrified.

It hurt.

I had trusted her.

It hurt to know she’d not only share private things that also impacted other innocent people, but beyond that, make up entirely new ones, along with the kind of nasty assertions she’d made about so many others to me over time about why this, why that.

It hurt, but that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was realizing that — just as people who didn’t really know me believed the things she was saying about me — I had believed her when she told me similar things about people I didn’t really know.

And I had acted on it. I had internalized those nasty whispers as the truth about those people, and it took the same being weaponized against me to wake up to the actual truth: that was all bullshit, too.

The guilt was much worse than the hurt.

I had a lot of atoning to do, and a hell of a lot of apologies to make.

I made a public statement to the community without naming the person who had filled my head with poison, and listed the people I had wronged, letting them know I was sincerely sorry, and they could contact me privately if they wanted to know what was up, but I wasn’t going to name the person, though some folks guessed anyway.

Some did reach out, and I’m still grateful for that. I had no reason to expect a moment of their time or patience, and especially not their forgiveness.

Plenty of people still believed her nonsense anyway, because a tasty, exciting story is always more fun and memorable than a blandly sad reality. No fixing that universal truth, I guess.

And instead of playing the same game she had back at her, which I gather she’d expected, I had fallen on my sword.

Instead of ending it, it just got worse.

It was invisible at first. About three months before the outlandish accusations started.

I’d gone on with my life, having learned one hell of a lesson about saying anything about anyone to anybody else ever, and was keeping my head down in a very small circle of friends, trying to stay out of everybody’s way and be a good community citizen, so it seemed like it came from out of nowhere.

The lies had already taken hold before I knew anything about them. The claims made? It would have been impossible for me to do.

Other things — like asking a friend if I was being unreasonable feeling uncomfortable that someone seemed to be exploiting a kink of theirs at my expense without consent — was suddenly ‘slut-shaming’ and ‘trying to humiliate some innocent stranger’. (An innocent stranger who had never been named, and could never be identified.)

The same long time friend who had asked me to go easy on him in debate due to a personal struggle suddenly turned and insisted I spread around everyone’s personal business not a week later on her word so viciously I spent a lot of time in tears, all the while hoping he’d realize that if I was the person he kept screaming to the world I was, everyone would know about that personal struggle. I’ve never told a soul, to this day.

There are endless examples like this. Things people should be able to simply think about for just a moment and realize: “How could it even be like that at all?” (Nobody really does.)

It became increasingly impossible to do or say anything, or engage in any way with the community, the longer this went on, until I ultimately left.

It’s been about a year since then. It’s still raw. It had been an enormous part of my life for almost half of it, and I’m not young.

The loss is real, attempting to fight it would make Sisyphus flip a whole flock of birds and go back to his rock, and the bad guys won.

And that’s that.

Lessons learned.

The two friends I have still in that community miss me. I love them like family. They can’t ask me to come back without triggering a full-blown panic attack even so. I feel guilty about that, too. It’s not their fault.

I am terrified of it happening again.

There is a reason I encourage people to communicate openly and honestly, especially if they have concerns, and this is why. Head this shit off at the pass, folks; I’m literally begging you.

I am terrified because I absolutely see it happening again, with a newer group of newer friends, a newer community, but people I’ve come to care about all the same.

I am seeing a number of her. I am seeing a number of me.

It hurts.

I’ve had a wretched case of Cassandra Syndrome since it began; I see where this is going far too clearly, and no one is listening when I ask them to turn back, stop, or even pause to really think.

That’s why I’m scared. It’s the same reason I’m not running, this time.

Second Rate

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Provided the above has any grain of truth to it, I need to found the equivalent of MENSA for emotional intelligence. (Just with significantly less wank.)

Time to return to my regularly scheduled giddy joy-crushing depression-hope-regret-wonder-exhausted powercycle.

Part Time

With all that’s going on, and the massive backlog of things to write about, it’s this instead, anyway.

In the autumn of 1991, I had a part time job at the college I was attending: FIDM Los Angeles. $5/hr, unpacking new arrivals destined for review for the costume library.

It was without a doubt the best job I have ever been fortunate enough to have. I would have worked the terrible one I had before it and paid 50x as much instead, if I’d had to, for the same experiences.

It was in its second(?) year, then, and already outgrowing the sprawling vault behind the library counter at that time.

It’s a full-fledged, acknowledged-throughout-the-world museum now, and it legitimately deserves it.

I wish I recalled the name of the woman I worked under at the time. She wasn’t the librarian, but the director of the collection and — if I am remembering correctly — the head of the visual display department.

Her other designated minion was quite possibly the most stunningly beautiful man I have ever seen in the whole of my life, and we were quite the contrast. Luckily for me, he was also one of the most lovely people one could imagine; funny and universally friendly and the sort of positive person that’s such a joy to be around that you entirely forget about the first bit more often than you’d ever imagine you might. (Especially true if you’re a swoony and awkward 18-year-old girl at the time.)

(We will adopt the polite pretense that I’m not a swoony and awkward 47-year-old woman even now. If nothing else, I have at least refined my absurdity, letting it ferment in the dusty cellar of passing years.)

Not Atoms

I actually had a plan for what I’d aimed to write next, which never happens beyond, “Maybe I should write about that some day.” While it even came up today, and thinking about it has started to excavate the flagstones of an old, shouldn’t-have-been-forgotten path, it’s the previous entry — that I kept looking back at as an embarrassingly pointless ramble until I woke — that demands my focus.

(And even between the above and what comes next, a pause in which it happened again.)

It took days to finish, which you’d be tempted to think explains the way it wanders, but it isn’t that. That’s how my thoughts flow from moment to moment, too, not just with days and sleep between them. There typically are several at once I need to untangle before I can say anything even remotely straightforward, and so I write in tangles more often than not.

I remember why I started writing it.

I’ve been listening to music more lately than I have been for years, and it’s starting to stick.

When the quiet settled in, and I was going to process through some more pieces I’d started and needed to let run, I scanned through the list of music I’ve collected over time and nothing was right.




…and then it was sitting there and it was the right song.

It’s almost never the right song because of the things it is tied to in my head.

I couldn’t have told you when I clicked on it why, but as I started writing about that middle of the night singing out in the street, it was clear as could be. Psst, look over here. It’s in this box somewhere.

It had always been a sad thing, that song. Fragments of optimism, hope tossed out into the universe that I might stumble on another moment like it again, but relatively certain all the while I’d be wandering down that metaphorical street with melancholy fondness for that moment, and a dash of humble gratitude that it ever happened at all.

The longer I listened, the less it fit the mental file it had lived in for so long. Repetition after repetition, it began to transform as I realized why it clicked, and why I did.

It wasn’t the song’s old meaning, but what else it conjured.

Because it was there again in something other than a memory, unexpected and sudden and overwhelming and staring me right in the face. It has a few other tints and shades this time, but the core is the same, is paramount, and something of breathless quiet wonder.

I’ve stared at this empty space for over an hour now, unable to find the words to explain it. There aren’t words, and there isn’t a song I could sing even then; I can’t draw it or paint it or fractal it out.

The gratitude isn’t humble now, it’s more akin to awe — for the friend I tumbled into this with, for the universe setting things just so, and for that girl singing in the street for somehow remaining alive after being locked away inside for 32 too-long years.

I never thought I’d see her again, let alone be her.

There are no words for it.

There’s a lot more to this, but having slept on it once over the separator, it’ll have to wait for a part two.

Up, Down, Turn around, Please don’t let me hit the ground

I love every version of this song I’ve ever heard, but it’s this one that’s haunting me this week.

It isn’t even my favorite.

It hits me at every age, but it reminds me of one short span of hours, one night. It feels like another life entirely.

I can’t sing any more.

It isn’t a matter of trying, or wanting to. It’s a matter of can’t. It’s a matter of loss, and a loss I still grieve enough I barely let myself think about it.

But that night, I was singing. I was fifteen.

That night, it was Becky’s birthday. Our basement band piled together — Bill had snatched me up from school a class before the day was out, and it was the first time I’d cut class.

I waited for the crowd to go, knowing the Vice Principal would chase them down. I walked right out to Bill’s car while he ran after them along the football field, toward the park. It was just that easy, the last few hours of what I’d never thought to think of before as a charmed life.

Beth was furious that I’d be the one singing; especially singing one of her songs.

She’d trained, formally. She had worked for it in ways I hadn’t, not really.

A friend of my mother’s had offered tips here and there, but ultimately even she knew that my voice was a strangely untamed thing that did whatever it damned well pleased based on whatever was in me at the time. Meanings mutated and impact shifted; it was never the same twice. No matter how carefully I practiced, my voice was always naked. (Maybe that’s why it’s broken, now. I know it isn’t, but escaping that thought is harder than I like.)

Bill was the boss, and Bill said I would be singing. We piled from his basement to Beth’s, Bill, Beth, Dave and me.

Becky had been through so much — too much — and we did what we could to make that birthday something better.

As much cruelty as we had all managed to get through at that point in our lives —

It was all of us. The theater kids, the art kids, the gay kids, the funny-looking ones and the ones that didn’t fit the square holes our round shapes were being slammed into, or vice versa.

— her life was different, and we all understood it intuitively.

No one had to tell us.

In these days of performative, crusading empathy, I struggle inside when I think of fifteen-year-old me, and how we all simply knew.

The night we became a trio instead of their duo was on the back stairs of the Drama League — such an amusingly appropriate name, in retrospect — on the way up to the costume loft. Something had hit a nerve with Becky, and she couldn’t speak. She sat on the steps shaking, and in the quiet backstage, we held on to her tightly from either side.

She didn’t have to speak.

Our cues came and went, and we ignored them.

We heard them. We just didn’t care.

I don’t know how long we were there, but we got the lecture from Suzy — the director — when we finally made it out again, about how the performance was paramount, and we could never do that again.

I think that might have been the moment I learned to embrace the calm ‘fuck you’ of personal bearing.

Try me, bitch.

I’d do the same again, every time. It’s not even a question.

We did everything fifteen-year-olds could: the band, pizza, a sleepover of all the theater crowd (which warrants an entry of its own, some day), ridiculous horror movies, and all of us laughing and crying like no one was watching, even in the grip of teenage too-aware-of-the-audience-ness.

All of us loved her. We didn’t have the words for it, so we fashioned an awkward embrace out of all of those things that made childhood idealism out of the simple pleasure joys we understood, in hopes she would understand the meaning behind it all.

I like to think she did.

(I can feel the thrum of the music through my cup on the desk.)

I almost never slept, back then. Maybe that’s why Dave and I went walking impossibly late through Beth’s upper middle class neighborhood, tentatively breaking the quiet as we sang favorite things the other hadn’t known before back and forth for hours.

You’d think it was romantic, that it was flirting, but it wasn’t.

It was just human, and it was fucking beautiful.

I don’t have words for it beyond that.

In the years since, I’ve had to learn to see things in such a different way than I did that night.

I never wanted to.

He did a stunning rendition of REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”, which I’d never heard before, and it’s been one of my favorite songs ever since. It’s also never been as good as — what to me was — the original. I sang one of Eponine’s bits from Les Mis, though I can’t recall which any more.

We laughed. We talked about how much we loved to sing, and how almost no one ever heard us do it. How neither of us knew why the band brought us out with any of it. It didn’t matter, and there was no need to overanalyze any of it to try to puzzle it through.

That was the world, then.

It was beautiful, and I had no idea how fragile or fleeting it was.

I don’t know how many laps we made back and forth along her street, or how long it took us to lose track of time, only that it simply was precisely what it was all the while, with no pressure or want for more, or lack for some hope that it was less than.

It took less than a week for the world to crack after that, and two for it to break completely.

A few years later and Dave was Ryan’s room mate in a turn of purely random chance, the two of them working at the same suburban wasteland pizzeria.

It was three mutually oblivious passings-by before he caught my arm, and a dazed Dave caught my arm, asking, “Eponine?”

So much had happened between then and that middle of the night that it didn’t feel like a few years, but dozens.

It’s been dozens now, but I remember that strange sense of time twisting into a knot like it was yesterday.