My favorite color is purple.

I have a vivid memory from probably the age of 5 or 6. I was sitting at the kitchen table of my grandparents’ house with my parents and I said confidently “When I grow up, I want a purple Corvette!” My favorite color was purple and I’ve been given a little toy car that I was playing with as I sat at the table waiting for dinner. I had asked my aunt earlier what kind of car it was and she’d told me it was a Corvette. I don’t remember what color the toy was, but I do remember wishing it were purple.

Without pause, my dad shut down this ridiculous aspiration with vehement opinions about the kind of person who would drive such a car. I never understood why adults need to batter their children’s idle chatter with real-world logic. Reason doesn’t apply to imagination and we all learn reality soon enough. And in his “reason” was so much racism and homophobia that I internalized for a very long time.

“What’s your favorite color?” This ubiquitous ice-breaker we learn from the moment we understand what colors are haunts us throughout our lifetimes. Adults ask us when we’re little. “What’s your favorite color?” Then we go to school and the other kids ask us. The teachers ask us. Strangers ask us. “What’s your favorite color?” Then we grow up and people are still asking us, if only ironically. “I’m not really great at ice breakers so why don’t we just go around the room and everyone say your name and your favorite color.”

It seems a silly thing to fixate on but I spent decades “trying on” different colors. I’m young and I say my favorite color because boys like blue and I want everyone to believe that I am a boy just like all the other boys are boys. If I say my favorite color is purple maybe they’ll know that I go to sleep fantasizing about romantic scenes in movies I watched with my family, picturing myself as the girl. If I say my favorite color is purple they’ll know I’m not like them. So my favorite color is blue.

Then I am a teen and beauty is everywhere. Everyone is trying to wear the right clothes and shades and shapes to be as close to the ideal as we can get and I get the idea that green eyes are especially attractive and wearing green highlights that shade in my hazel eyes so my favorite color is green. I start wearing as much green as I can stomach. Then the movie “Meet the Parents” comes out and Robert De Niro tells Ben Stiller that geniuses choose green cars so I double down. Green is my favorite color. My first car that I finance myself (and isn’t some used heap of junk my dad saw on someone’s lawn and rang the bell to ask if he could have it) is a green Jeep.

Then I’m in my 20s and trying on my identity as a gay male. My favorite color is pink. I start buying pink t-shirts from Swish Embassy with cheeky gay sayings and nice references on them. I buy a pair of pink-rimmed glasses but they sort of disappear into my pinkish complexion in an unflattering way I don’t like so I return them and get a pair that’s striped rainbow that I have yet to wear in public. I’m here. I’m queer. My favorite color is pink.

Now I’m in my 30s. Someone just asked me the other day what my favorite color was and I told them I didn’t know. Most of my t-shirts are blue or red. My primary footwear includes two pair of sneakers: a red pair and a blue pair. But I still said my favorite color was green because it’s the color of growth and my favorite pair of glasses is green. But I was very noncommittal.

When I was in high school, there was a science teacher whose name I cannot recall because everyone called her “The Purple Lady.” She may have been my first exposure to queer representation (if indeed she was queer) but she had a reputation for her complete obsession with purple. She only wore purple clothing. She had somehow gotten the school to allow her to paint the entire inside of her classroom, including the desks and lab stations, in various shades of purple. And most perplexing of all, to me, was that she wore prescription glasses with purple-tinted lenses. What might the world look like in all purple?

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with family and there was a kid who was playing with their Amazon Echo. He kept telling Alexa to change the colors of the lights in the room where we were all hanging out. This was a jarring experience. I have been in rooms with colored lighting, certainly, but this was a party and I was already overwhelmed and somehow the colors of the lights (and the fact that they were changing so quickly) really had an impact on my mood. The mellow orange was ok but then he did bright blue and green and I wanted to stand up and yell at everyone to shut the hell up. Red made me feel like I was in some kind of drug den and the bright pink felt like an ocular migraine. But then he switched it to purple and everything felt better. The noise wasn’t so noisy. I found myself relaxing into conversation in a comfortable living room and not on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Anyway. I don’t really know that it matters much at this point. But, if anyone asks, I think my favorite color might be purple.

I feel like nothing.

I left my water bottle at my parents’ house. They live about an hour away and I think about driving out to get it every single day but I can’t justify the money on gas in my current financial situation when I know there will be another family dinner in a couple of weeks or so when I can get my water bottle. I feel dehydrated. I possibly am dehydrated since I haven’t really been drinking water since I lost track of my water bottle last weekend. I have been drinking soda. I have drunk water mixed with Liquid IV. I’ve had a lot more iced coffee than I normally drink. And while I technically have an abundance of drinking glasses, cups, tumblers, and mugs that would technically hold water, I do not have my water bottle and therefore I cannot drink water.

I was thinking about this a few minutes ago when I noticed my seltzer cup. It’s a giant tumbler that I use for seltzer. I actually haven’t used it in a while because I haven’t been drinking seltzer. When I was working with a psychiatrist last summer to find the right ADHD medication, anything with bubbles was really bothering my stomach. But I lost my insurance when I lost my job so I lost my psychiatrist and—despite weeks of phone calls, voicemails, and emails—I have been unable to see someone new. I was finally able to, today, get an appointment for Tuesday with the NP that I intentionally stopped seeing last year. I don’t think she listens to or believes me based on the limited information in my chart that I have access to and how she has made me feel in prior sessions.

So, anyway, the seltzer cup caught my eye and, since I don’t have my water bottle, I decided to have a big cup of seltzer with lots of ice. I have six straws that I use with this cup. I did not buy them as a set and they’re not related at all but, for me, they go together. The straws match my mood and when I was scanning the straws just now I found the one that matched today and I thought to myself “You look like nothing and I feel like nothing.”

It’s completely bizarre behavior to have rules for which straw I can drink from depending on what my mood is and only when I’m using a particular cup but those are the rules. I don’t actually use the pale pink straw very often. There’s a one with light blue stripes on it that wrap around like a barber’s pole that I use when I’m feeling kind of low and a dark but translucent blue one that I use when I’m feeling really depressed. When I’m super happy, there’s one with bright magenta stripes and then the solid magenta one that I use when I’m feeling wild. The one with light pink stripes is for when I’m feeling content physically ill and trying to perk myself back up but the light pink one where the pink is so pale it could almost not be there, it looks like nothing.

The first time I fully truly thought that I could be on the autism spectrum was in therapy when my therapist told me he thought I might actually meet the criteria for Asperger’s (which I think we don’t really say anymore due to its association with like WW2 Nazis and whatnot, but I digress.) He didn’t say it in the context of suggesting I be tested or seek accommodations or anything. It was a throwaway observation that wounded me, at the time. Autism was something that had been in the back of my head since I was made to watch the film Rain Man. Even through Dustin Hoffman’s painfully stereotypical and stigmatized portrayal of an autistic character, I saw myself. I didn’t want to. I especially didn’t want to in the years that followed when my father would continuously repeat “yeah, definitely yeah” and “I’m an excellent driver” in his own poor impression of Hoffman’s character in the movie as not unlike possible echolalia associated his own undiagnosed autism. But it seemed derisive and I learned that autism was bad and certainly not me who was put in honor’s classes in school. I struggled with projects and homework but tested well so even though I wasn’t getting great greats, they labeled me “smart but lazy” and kept pushing me right along. But having my therapist say this to my face brought it front and center.

As I told various people in my life what had been said to me, the responses varied from “What? You?? Never!” to “Yeah, I could see that.” And I put it away and didn’t think about it except to pull it out again from time to time to explain away awkward situations. “How could you not know what he was trying to say to you?” Oops! I must be autistic. Ha. Ha. It’s probably this flippant attitude that has some of my friends pushing back or not believing me when I talk about my self-diagnosis.

Reflecting back on that therapist, I remember him catching me not picking up on social cues almost like he was playing a game. In particular, I remember a conflict I was having with a roommate at the time. I’d read him some text messaged I’d exchanged with her and I remember him kind of smiling like he thought it was funny. He said, “you don’t understand why she’s mad, do you?” and I really didn’t. He made me guess before finally telling me that how I had phrased something was probably what upset her. He would do this all the time. I remember his stupid smirk that I came to understand meant that he saw something I missed. I felt stupid. Now here I am, ruining every relationship I get in (romantic and otherwise) because I am constantly trying to interpret cues that aren’t there and sometimes they are there and sometimes I’m right but even when I’m right, the other person only admits it about half the time so how am I ever supposed to know? Maybe the trick is to not care. But I hate feeling stupid.

I honestly don’t know if the straw thing could be related to possible autism. I really only know what I’ve read in the DSM and what I’ve seen on TikTok, which doesn’t quite seem credible. So, today, I spent the afternoon going through free autism assessments on I downloaded pages and pages of information about what each assessment means, what the scores mean, how they’re assessed, and even possible flaws in the assessments themselves or certain questions. But I figured I’d share them here because that’s honestly why I started writing here in the first place. Ultimately I want community and belonging. I want to find relationships with people who understand me. I want to stop feeling so misunderstood. A lot of the work is within me, and I guess that means understanding really who I am. I am not sure if these scores are even part of that but I love me some hard data that I can then present to a professional… say a nurse practitioner that has, in the past, made me offer proof of my suspected diagnoses rather than just assessing me herself, for example. Here we go:

So… Maybe I’m feeling like nothing… really lonely, kind of lost and misunderstood, not sure where to go next… but at least the Internet is affirming my self-diagnosis. There could always be some confirmation bias happening when I took the tests but, also, some of these are really blowing my mind. There were a lot of things I didn’t associate with autism and I’m kind of stunned by the scoring. Sort of like an Does everyone not do this? kind of feeling…

I almost forgot! I also took The Aspie Quiz which generated this cute lil thing (I actually hate these colors a lot):

Your broader autism cluster (Aspie) score: 160 of 200
Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 43 of 200
You are very likely on the broader autism cluster (Aspie)

Bojack Horseman.

I have a friend who has been hosting monthly writing workshops and I want to share what I wrote today. I’ve shared the past ones here as well (On perception. & “Do not drink your chocolate with your fingers”) but today felt a little different. I’m typically inspired by the prompts and the writing comes easily but today I struggled. I didn’t actually want to write anything. The prompt was a series of quotes from the Netflix series “Bojack Horseman” that I wish I could remember. One was something like “If you’re wearing rose colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags” and another was something like “How can I be responsible for my own happiness? I can’t even be responsible for my own breakfast.” …real existential shit. In any case, as much as I wanted to be inspired to write, the prompts inspired me to think about the pain I’m experiencing right now: unemployed, lonely, struggling financially, in a major depressive episode, trying to finish my education, struggling with self worth and suicidal ideation, etc. etc. etc. I stared at the screen and nothing happened. I started to type some things but nothing was making sense and then I decided to just type what I was feeling. I ran out of time before I could really get going but I think this is a good start:

Fire. He has to set something on fire. He sits cross-legged on the hard wood floor and turns this thought over and over in his head. Fire. Fire. Fire. Something has to burn. He has to light something up and watch it burn. Burn. Burn. Burn. Fire. The thoughts get hotter and brighter the more he thinks, each thought like kindling, the fire burning itself and consuming. Hot. Bright. Fire.

He unfolds his legs and gets to his feet. He walks to the door. He opens the door. Or, he thinks about opening the door. He doesn’t open the door. He grabs the cool brass knob with his left hand. He grips the knob tight. He can’t turn it. It doesn’t turn. It won’t turn. The fire in his head is blazing. He has to set something on fire. The thoughts are hot. It hurts. It burns. In one quick motion, he butts his head forward and his forehead smacks against the wood of the door. He rests there for a second and feels the relief. The fire is blazing still but he sees some of the flames start to flicker and the smoke gets thicker. He bangs his head against the door again. The smoke is getting thicker and it’s so dark he almost doesn’t see the fire anymore so he does it again. Bang. And again. Bang. Skin against wood. Bang. Fire. Bang. Light something up. Bang. Bang. Bang. He hits his head against the door until the feeling is like the chemical foam blasting out of a fire extinguisher. Bang. Bang. Bang. Until there’s nothing left but cinder and ash. Cool. Cooling. Steady.

He is small. He is a tiny speck of dust in an unfathomable universe, a meaningless blip in eternity. He sees how little he matters. And yet there is no other option than to continue to exist. He pulls on his backpack and trudges past his sleeping mother. He skips the kiss on her forehead this morning. He does not say goodbye. He pulls open the front door and lets himself out into the morning. The day is bright though the sun seems not to have entirely risen yet. The season is spring and the cacophony of birdsong is so loud he can’t think. He has to push his palms against his ears until the overwhelming roar of morning is dampened enough for him to remember where he is going. School. Like every other morning of first grade. He wakes up. He puts on his clothes. He goes to the kitchen and fixes himself a bowl of bran flakes. He kisses his mother goodbye. He takes a left out of his house and another left at the end of the street. He walks one block to the intersection. The crossing guard wears a bright yellow vest in the autumn and in the spring but she wears a bright yellow jacket in the winter. He likes her jacket better than the vest. She helps him diagonally across the busy intersection. He walks all the way down the street. He goes to school. This is the routine. He does it every day but today he has to make himself remember.

He still wants to set something on fire. The thought is like a burning ember still soldiering on from the fire he fought earlier, emanating heat from its survival in the back of his mind but not enough heat that he can’t ignore it.

Money is my thirteenth reason.

I think about suicide every day. The past couple of days I have been thinking it might be helpful to write out my suicide notes. Anger is such a huge part of my depression and as much as my suicidal ideation represents an end to all the pain I’m in, I also fantasize about it being the final “gotcha” for everyone by whom I feel so let down. So much of what overwhelms me feels simultaneously insurmountable and avoidable, like I’m stuck in a giant pit that is only getting deeper and deeper. It’s like I can see who is doing the digging and how I got into the pit in the first place but it doesn’t matter because I am here and I’m never getting out. But it does matter. We all just keep participating in this system that is oppressing and hurting people as though that isn’t its intent in the first place. We are throwing people into these pits and then judging them for not being able to get themselves out somehow. And the people in the pits are like crabs in a bucket, pulling anyone back down who has the temerity to try to get out.

Take, for example, my gas bill. National Grid just sent me a bill for $1,200. I have not been able to afford this utility for a while but when I have called to try to get help or go on a payment plant or literally anything I can do to make sure I have heat and am able to cook and shower and all that, I have been told that the company will not accept payment from me over the phone or online because I’ve had trouble paying in the past. So… because I have trouble paying my bill, they’ve opted to punish me by making the payment process even more difficult.

Take, for example, my car. I live in a state that requires our vehicles to have annual inspections. I failed my inspection once because of some damage to my car’s exterior that I sustained several years ago. So, despite having passed previously, I now have a sticker on my windshield indicating a failed inspection. I got a quote to fix my car and it’s going to cost an amount I’ve never seen in my bank account all at once. I also live in a city where I have to park my car on the street outside my house. I have received several parking tickets for being parked on the street with an expired inspection sticker, all of which I have not been able to afford to pay, so they keep adding on interest and late fees that I’ll need to pay in order to renew my vehicle’s registration next year. And the amount keeps going up. This is how we keep in poverty.

Take, for example, my medical bills. In 2021 my depression was so bad, (though not nearly as bad as it is now,) that I asked my doctor about electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). She referred me to a hospital where I underwent treatment for three months. My depression did not get better and it turns out the hospital was not “in network” with my insurance so now I have $15,000 of medical bills I can’t afford to pay for a traumatic treatment that didn’t help me. And I’m pretty sure supporting me through ECT is one of the reasons my boyfriend broke up with me.

These are just a few of the financial obligations hanging over my head and making me want to end my own life. It’s untenable and there’s no solution. I am unemployed now but say I get a job making even more than I was making before… how long do I have to work and how much do I have to save in order to even make a dent in the debt that’s strangling me right now?

How many people kill themselves because of oppression under late stage capitalism?

It’s not fair. I don’t want to feel this hopeless. I look around and I see happy people going on vacations and falling in love and eating out and experiencing joy. I guess only rich people get that shit.

Now I create my own traumas.

Do you ever wonder what would happen if you just didn’t get out of bed? What would it look like if instead of getting up and showering and getting dressed and walking the dog and getting on the train to go to work, you just didn’t do any of that and stayed in bed all day? Or how about two days? A week? A month?

A couple weeks ago, I was telling my therapist how I tried to kill myself once. It wasn’t necessarily a feeling of depression or hopelessness, though I felt those things. It was the feeling that I didn’t belong, that my friends are better friends with each other, that I’m not one to be chosen for anything by anyone. It was a lot of the feelings I’ve come to recognize in myself as rejection sensitive dysphoria. It’s kind of amazing how being rejected by one person or opportunity can make me feel like I’m unwanted by any one or any thing, how I don’t deserve to be alive or take up space.

I had been out with my friends and when the bar bill came, I didn’t have enough and two of my friends were upset because they each had to put so much in. Remembering it now, it seems like such an innocuous thing. I could have apologized and promised to pay them back. In fact, it seems like I had a lot more options than silently going home and eating an entire bottle of pills. I cried when I told my therapist about swallowing one dry pill after another, not making the decision to end my life once, but over and over again with each swallow. I want to die. Swallow. I want to die. Swallow. I want to die. I want to die. I want to die.

The pain I felt telling this story to my therapist was by far more intense than the pain of actually living it. It’s like I carry around all this pain from living through trauma. I have the poverty, the neglect, the religious indoctrination and subsequent rejection. And now I also have the traumas that I’ve made for myself.

I joined a 12 step program when I was 29. I was sober for 7 years. I went to meetings, and the “meetings after the meetings,” and I did step work and I held nothing back. They kept saying that once you stop drinking, your life gets better. And around me, everyone’s lives were indeed getting better. But not mine. Which meant I was doing something wrong right? Because they say if you quit drinking and do the work, things get better.

A couple years into my sobriety, my depression was so bad that I stopped getting out of bed. I remember that first morning I felt so anxious, going back and forth between feeling like there was no way I could physically extricate myself from the mattress and feeling like the consequences of not getting up would be even worse. I lay there debating with myself until it was too late, wondering if I should get up and go to work after all until the time for work came and went. I spent the rest of the day under the covers, powerless to turn on the TV or distract myself with my phone. I wondered if people at work even noticed I was gone. Night fell and somehow I was able to sleep through the night, even though I’d spent the entire day in bed, and on the second day, it was slightly easier to stay in bed because I had already done it once. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” as it were. So I stayed in bed again. And again the next day, and also the day after that, and so on until I hadn’t left my bed for two weeks.

I was able to keep my job thanks to a boss that I didn’t respect but for whom I’m incredibly grateful. But those feelings.

Every day, I wake up with nowhere to go. I wake up regretting that I didn’t die in my sleep. I wake up wishing I could go back to sleep. I’ve been sleeping for 10–12 hours a night and though my body doesn’t need more sleep, I still wake up exhausted and all I want to do is escape consciousness for just a little while longer, and then just a few more minutes, and then just a little more until I’ve slept away my whole life. Every morning I wake up feeling that familiar feeling of anxiety, of being in between, of trying to talk myself into extricating my body from the bed to wash it and dress it and take it somewhere we’ll find meaning, and of knowing that it doesn’t matter, that life will continue on whether I stay in my bed or leave it. Nothing matters.

I can’t help but feel like this is an overreaction. Cue the self-judgment and feelings about feelings. I lost my job in November. People lose jobs all the time. People stop paying their credit card bills all the time. People struggle to buy food, and maintain relationships, and participate in routine self-care. Are all those people also depressed and suicidal, or is it just me? Am I the only one that can’t seem to manage what life throws at them? Am I the only one with the tendency to just crumple when things get hard? If getting laid off can send me into such a tailspin, I’d venture to guess my mental health was pretty tenuous to begin with. Every day is full of opportunities, but instead of making me feel hopeful and optimistic, I’m even more depressed because of all the opportunities I can’t make myself take every single day. And so every day is the same because I don’t ever do anything different. I lie in bed and think about my trauma. I think about the things in my early life I couldn’t control and I think about escaping those patterns but I don’t know how. And I re-live all the depressive episodes I’ve had before, drowning in anxiety with the covers above my head wondering if anyone will notice I’m gone but too afraid to find out.

My therapist asked me last week about my suicidal ideation and asked if maybe it’s time to check myself into a hospital. I told him that wouldn’t help because at least now I’m showing up for my classes three times a week, I’m claiming my unemployment and sending my resume out into the void, I’m feeding and walking my dog and paying my rent. I hate my life and I wish it would be over but sitting in a hospital where they don’t care about my quality of life just that I have one, racking up more medical debt I’ll never be able to pay, and missing school and my other day-to-day responsibilities doesn’t seem like very much of a solution. I have also thought about this at length and I’m not stupid. The people in my life care about me even though I can’t really understand why. I know acting on the SI would be traumatic for them, too. It occurred to me that when someone dies, their birthday is always a hard day for their loved ones, as is the day that they died. If my birthday is already going to be difficult, I am not going to add a second hard day, especially when it might coincide with another day of celebration, so if I were to act on it and make an attempt on my own life, it probably won’t be until the summer. I’m not sure how comforting he found that, but at least he didn’t bring up checking myself into a hospital again.

On perception.

I was young when I noticed how someone’s face changes as you get to know them. I was studying my friend’s face for some reason and remembering how it had looked to me at the beginning of the school year. It had changed. Why do people look different when you get to know them? It’s like there’s a newness or freshness when you first meet that wears away and never comes back. It’s like people who are strangers wear a mask that only strangers wear. Strangers become acquaintances become friends become relationships become seeing someone, really seeing someone, what they look like under the Stranger mask. I think we all have a Stranger mask.

I have a mask.

I’ve never seen it.

I have a mask I’m always wearing that I can never see. I can’t ever see it because it’s the Stranger mask and I’ll never be a stranger to myself. Sometimes I stare at my eyes in the mirror and try to see what everyone else sees, I try to picture my Stranger mask. Sometimes I stare at my own eyes in the bathroom mirror until the shower’s steam covers my reflection with fog. Sometimes I stare so hard at my own eyes in the mirror over the sink, leaning uncomfortably, nose almost touching, staring so hard until I’m not seeing eyes or a face or myself but amorphous shapes that have lost all meaning.

One time I was in treatment because I was so depressed that I wanted to kill myself and I didn’t get out of bed for two weeks and in the group we shared our names and pronouns only one person said “no pronouns please” and it was so silly that I had to stifle the disrespectful chuckle and the clinician/moderator/babysitter/teacher/Stranger asked “then how shall we refer to you?” to which this person answered “please don’t refer to me.” I told this story to someone who said they felt the same way and followed up with: “please don’t perceive me.”

And that’s silly. I can’t control perception. I can’t control what I see and what I can’t see. I wear a mask that I can’t see. It’s a Stranger mask that only strangers see.

Please don’t perceive me.

I remember staring at my friend and wondering when her face started to change. When did she take off the Stranger mask and put on the face I saw then, at the end of the school year waiting for summer, and then onto fall where I would be sure to see so many new faces for the first and last time as they shifted from Strangers to something slightly less strange but not quite friend because I never really had friends.

Please don’t perceive me.

I wish I could see my Stranger mask. Sometimes I think it just makes me invisible, unable to be seen until we’re already friends. But other times I wonder about this Stranger mask. Is it handsome? Does it look empathetic and sincere? Does it have kind eyes and a warm smile? Is it attractive? Not attractive like handsome but I mean magnetic. Some people’s faces are attractive in a magnetic way. You look at them and you want to keep looking at them. You want to know them. You see their smile and you want that smile to be directed at you. Is it possible my Stranger mask can be that? I know it’s not. I know the face I wear, the one I stare at in the mirror, bent over the bathroom sink waiting for the water to be warm enough to make me feel something close to clean, staring until the face disappears behind the steam, I know that face isn’t magnetic. I know it’s not the kind of face you stick around for because they never stick around.

I was young when I noticed how someone’s face shifts and settles into place the more times you look at it. I have not stopped thinking about that since. Every new person I meet, I know they’ll look different. I try to take a picture with my mind so I can remember this moment and how they looked in it because you only get that moment once and then they change.

Ichigo Ichie.

I remember hearing that phrase first as the name of a restaurant my parents like going to on special occasions where they do tricks with spatulas and shoot sake into your mouth, and then I heard the phrase in the perfect Japanese accent of a naked boy as he lay beside me in his bed. Ichigo ichie. He said it doesn’t have a direct translation to English and though he tried to explain, I could tell that I didn’t really get it from how he reacted when I tried to say it back in my own words. But I think it means we all wear a Stranger mask that everyone we meet only gets to see once. The gradations between stranger and acquaintance is vast. Even the mailman, whom I might not recognize outside of his blue uniform, has a face that looks different now than the first time we met.

Please don’t perceive me.

Maybe we have a lot of masks. Have you ever noticed how someone’s face looks different after the first time you meet them? Have you ever noticed how someone’s face looks different after you fall in love with them?

Have you ever noticed how someone’s face looks different after they break your heart?

Maybe we all have masks, but we all have faces. Maybe I’m the only one who’s ever seen my face, what I really look like underneath all these masks. What would it be to see that mask I wear that only people I’ve never met get to see? What would it be for someone to see the face I have under here that only I get to see.

Please don’t perceive me.

I want to be seen.

Not my circus.

“YOU WANT ME TO CALL THE POLICE?” a male voice shouted. I looked around for the source of the commotion from where I stood waiting for my dog to finish sniffing the same spot he’d been sniffing for the past five minutes or so.

Across the street from where I stood, a side street branched off and a man and woman were standing on opposite sides of a car stopped shortly after the intersection. There were other vehicles parked around and I struggled to see what was happening, exactly, as the man continued to yell. The car was running and the driver’s side door was open so I thought perhaps this woman had rear-ended him and thrown him into a rage. I couldn’t make out all of what he was saying but I heard “YOU HAVE YOUR OWN CAR” and then the man started to walk toward the back of the car.

My dog finished smelling and finally decided to add his own urine to the small patch of neighbor’s grass and as we started to continue down the road, I could see that there was only one car parked in the middle of the side-street, engine still running, and exhaust clouding from the tail pipe. The man backed away from the car and I noticed he was holding a messenger back. Suddenly, he started to run away from the car and down the same street and direction my dog and I were walking, but on the opposite site. I think I might have chuckled at the odd sight of this young man, perhaps in his early or mid twenties with short dark curly hair and a mustache dressed in jeans and a camel-colored denim jacket, suddenly break into a run. The woman, a blonde of around the same age bundled in a scarf and winter coat and wearing big-framed glasses, had not said anything this whole time and as the man bolted away from her, she started after him but a much slower pace, perhaps not wanting to stray too far from the running vehicle.

I was openly watching the two at this point. I am kind of always on high alert when there’s potential violence and a perceived power differential and I felt a little rush of panic when the man stopped, spun around, and started running back the way he’d come, straight toward the woman. At first I thought he was running at her and I was ready to drop my dog’s leash and run over to intervene. I could see the woman tense up as well, but the man continued sprinting past her and got into the driver’s seat. As soon as she realized he wasn’t coming toward her, the woman rounded on her heel and got herself into the back seat of the passenger side before he could leave and as she started to close her door, I could hear him screaming “GET OUT” holding out the vowels of “out” in a high-pitched ragged shriek that had the quality of holding nothing back, of expelling extreme emotion. I watched as the car sped away from me down the side-street and I thought I could still hear him yelling even after the car was out of view.

I have been on the verge of tears constantly, lately. My suicidal ideation is through the roof, to where I’m starting to think about which specific date would have the least emotional impact with regard to holidays and the birthdays and anniversaries of my loved ones. Yesterday I was listening to an audiobook and I had to stop it because I started crying during the epilogue because it was set in the fall and I love the fall but when I think about the future and this coming fall, I only see darkness; my unemployment income will have run out by then and between trying to finish school and looking for a full-time job that will presumably be OK with me taking classes in the middle of the day, and between that and the calls I’m getting from my credit card companies because I haven’t paid any of them in months because I’m at the point where I can’t even afford groceries and it’s all just too much. I tried to sit down and write a paper that’s due tomorrow and I couldn’t focus because my mind would not stop distracting me: “How am I going to get dog food for my dog? He’s almost out!”; “My checking account is overdrawn by $500. How much food can I get from the grocery store with the $60 in my pocket and how can I make that last?”; “My roommate/ex is packing a bag… sounds like he’s getting ready for another weekend at his new boyfriend’s… the one he left me for that he started seeing while we were still together… I could ask him but it seems like he’s not talking to me… again… and also it’s going to hurt, no matter what the answer is…”; “Why doesn’t anyone want me?”

But watching this car speed away, I felt lighter. I don’t even know what they were fighting about, if you could call it a fight. I wondered about this woman’s resolve to withstand being screamed at and still get back in the car. I wondered if maybe she’d done something to hurt this man and that’s why he was so upset. It sounded like rage but it also sounded like pain. And I don’t know if it was a sense of camaraderie or schadenfreude but, though things still feel bad, they somehow don’t feel as bad. There’s something stabilizing about seeing someone else lose their shit. idk

“Do not drink your chocolate with your fingers.”

I recently attended a really wonderful writing workshop hosted by a dear friend over Zoom. They shared a powerpoint slide with a list of titles and talked about Erik Satie and his bizarre naming convention. We had thirty minutes to let one of Satie’s title’s to inspire us into unedited train-of-thought style writing. I thought of free-writing, journal style, and then of poetry, but I ended up writing a short story based on the piece L’Enfance de Ko-Quo, roughly translated to “Do not drink your chocolate with your fingers.” I thought I would share it with you:


Erik has always known he is different from the other kids.

“Do not drink your chocolate with your fingers,” his mother always says, “You must fit in! They cannot know you are different.”

But part of Erik wants them to know he is different. He is in the sixth grade and by this time he has seen the other children and how they interact with one another. They kick balls with their feet and wield jump ropes with their hands. They use their voices to sing songs and, strangest of all, they drink their chocolate with their mouths. Erik has no desire to fit in with such strange creatures but he wants to please his mother more than anything and so he plays their odd games and uses his mouth for drinking and his fingers for typing and his feet for running.

Erik knows his mother only wants to keep him safe. He doesn’t remember much about his father because was so small when they came for him, leaving his sobbing mother clutching baby Erik tightly to her breast. When she tells him this story, which she is wont to do every now and then, particularly when the weather is bad or when she is feeling especially lonely, she tells him how he didn’t cry. Erik thinks he didn’t cry because he was too young to understand what was happening, too small for there to be anything left of his father for him to miss. But when his mother tells him this story, she calls him her brave boy. She tells him how strong he is and elaborates on the tribulations through which her brave strong boy can survive. Erik doesn’t feel brave or strong. He is weak and scared all the time and he doesn’t know what tribulations are, but he certainly doesn’t want to face any and he also, even so young, desires more for his life than to simply survive. But whether it is bravery or compliance, Erik does what his mother says. He uses his eyes for reading and he sings with his mouth, and he never ever ever drinks his chocolate with his fingers.

Erik knows he is different from the other kids because his mother always tells him he has to fit in, but his mother never told him that he isn’t just different. He is special. Despite the frequency of her reminders that he keep the other children from finding out that he’s different, Erik’s mother is surprisingly vague about the nature of his difference. He understands that the other children might not have the ability to drink their chocolate with their fingers, but beyond that specific activity, he isn’t sure what else he should or should not be doing. Do other children use their eyes to lace up their sneakers? Do other children use a remote control to turn on the TV and change the channels? Do other children eat their breakfast with their toes or use their lips to kiss their mothers’ cheeks as they tuck them into bed each night? Since Erik is not privy to these and other private moments in the other lives of any other children, he really has no way of knowing what specifically makes him different, and so has no choice but to watch. He studies the other children intently at every opportunity he gets. He watches them in classes. He sneaks peaks at them in the cafeteria line as the load their lunch trays with square slices of cheese pizza or lasagna or American chop suey and the little brown and white cartons of chocolate milk that Erik does not drink with his fingers. Outdoors at recess, he sits on the grass with his back against the ancient willow trees and watches the children play hop scotch and kickball and climb the jungle gym and any other of a variety of alien behaviors. He studies them and he pictures himself one day doing the things they do, of being not invisible, of fitting in like his mother always tells him he must do.

Despite his best efforts to keep the other children from realizing he is different, the kids at school know Erik is different and they generally avoided him. They do not know precisely how he is different but they know from his awkward staring and inappropriate responses and militant avoidance of eye contact and his curious inability to decide what to do with his hands that he is definitively unlike them and he does not fit in. Thus, Erik has plenty of time to watch undisturbed in this wide berth they give him, of which none of them is consciously aware.

One spring day when the weather is beginning to warm, when wildflowers are springing up in the grass around the willow tree and its long flexible branches have started flowering little lavender fuzzies, the kids’ lunch period is extended into recess and the children are allowed to take their lunches outdoors. Erik stands in line with the rest of his class for a dry slice of pizza and a small brown and white carton of chocolate milk, which he carries on the red tray to the trunk of the willow tree.

Erik sits cross-legged and settles the red tray on his lap and notices a mousy pale third-grader with long braids that has caught his attention before. He can tell from her furtive movements that she is unaware she’s being observed and as he watches, she pries open her brown and white cardboard carton of chocolate milk, slyly dips her finger into the mouth of the container, and takes a slow satisfying sip.

Please consider this your trigger warning.

When I was between 12 and 14, I tried to kill myself by drinking floor cleaner in the bathroom of my church. While I don’t remember the specific incident that led to my decision to excuse myself from the church sanctuary where I, and the other children of the church, were rehearsing for an Easter performance, to go to the restroom, where I did go after a quick detour to the church’s kitchen to grab a toxic substance from under the sink.

What I remember is looking into my own eyes in the mirror over the bathroom sink and telling myself I was different and that I didn’t fit in. I remember studying my face and wondering how everyone else saw my face and wondering what about me and my face made me so invisible. I felt completely alone and hopeless and I blamed myself. I poured the floor cleaner into an eight ounce paper coffee cup and told myself, “I hate you.” over and over until the cup was empty.

I swallowed, and I felt the thick toxic liquid go down, all the while masking all of the pain and loneliness and unmet needs to be loved, seen, included, and taken care of in anger at and hatred of myself, my fourteen-year-old-self, too young and naïve to understand and process complex emotions, too dependent on the caretakers and religious leaders to direct my anger at them, too innocent to understand that the things I was blamed for were not my fault at all.

The self-hatred was quickly replaced with shame as the would-be poison forced its way out in a putrid vomit that spewed from my guts and into the sink. Now there was a mess I didn’t know how to clean up. I turned on the water and hoped everything would dilute enough to get down the drain and hide my sick regret. Then I slipped out of the bathroom and into the church sanctuary again like nothing happened.

Around the time I was 15 or 16, my church hired a new youth pastor and I immediately trusted him enough to share the deepest darkest part of myself I could recognize at the time. I exchanged emails with both him and his wife in which I talked through struggles with my religion, my self-hatred, my depression. I articulated as best I could the need to belong somewhere and also the frustration of never quite fitting in.

I remember what was intended to be a compliment at a cookout at the youth pastor’s house to celebrate the few of us who’d recently graduated from high school, when the youth pastor told me how far I had matured from the needy teenager who used to send such lengthy emails of petty complaints and tiresome whining.

I remember the sudden and destructive realization that someone I loved and trusted implicitly could tell me they were there for me and everything was going to be okay while secretly thinking of me all the things I was secretly fearing everyone was thinking.

This is the pattern that repeats for me. In my last relationship, I felt safe enough to ask for reassurance in my insecurities. I experienced some severe depression over the course of this relationship and I was constantly asking if I was annoying or exhausting or needy or too much and he told me he loved and I wasn’t and everything was okay. Then we broke up and he told me that loving me was too much work for him, implying I was too much, that I was needy, and exhausting, and annoying.

Logically, how can I ever believe that I am loved? How can I trust that I’m enough, that someone is taking care of me? How do I trust anyone?

I guess the takeaway is that I can trust myself when I’m feeling like I’m too much, even if that knowledge isn’t enough to change.

My executives are not functioning.

When I initially got laid off almost exactly two months ago, I thought of all the free time I’d have. Of course I was hopeful that I’d have another job within a few weeks, but I was also grateful for the amount of free time in front of me. Without any obligation to be anywhere, I thought this would be my opportunity to finally create something, to write, to sit down and let the words out, unfettered. I imagined myself finally putting figurative pen to paper and letting loose the boundless narratives that’ve been knocking around in here for most of my life. With so much to say, I thought surely this would be my chance. I don’t know why I thought things would be any different now. They are not.

Just like those moments where organizing words into a comprehensible sentence and then speaking that sentence aloud feels like an overwhelming amount of work, the fantasy of sitting at a keyboard and just letting the story unfold before me has been eroded by reality. Writing is hard work. Everything feels like hard work right now. In fact, I’ve had this page open in my browser for the last eight hours, distracting myself into doing other things and then coming back to stare impotently at the space where my words should go. I have so much to say but simultaneously can think of nothing to write.

My job search has been exactly as successful as this novel I’m writing. I have written exactly one chapter but I have done a lot of thinking about characters and plot points. I’ve also done a lot of thinking about what kind of work I want to do and what types of jobs I’m qualified for. I’ve applied for several jobs (23 at this point) with zero response. The further I get from my last date of employment, the less I see myself being qualified to do anything. I was making six figures and now I’m trying to figure out if I can pay all of my bills and still afford to eat. Spoiler alert: I cannot.

The most frustrating part is that I am watching myself lose value in my own eyes, as though I carry no worth outside of my role in capitalism. It’s all well and good to believe that capitalism is evil, to believe that things like food and education should be afforded to all people regardless of how much money they have, to believe that the individualism created by capitalism keeps us from joining together in community to create the world we want… but do I really believe those things if simply losing a job makes me feel worthless? Can I really say I believe all of those things when having that six-figure job made me feel like my life could finally be different? Capitalism needs oppression to survive. The “haves” aren’t special or distinguished if there are no “have nots.” And if I really hated capitalism as much as I say I do, why do I want so badly to be one of the “haves” for once? The lie is that I could be. I won’t. The mountain of debt is only getting bigger and now that I am not working…

What is wrong with me?

I had one really good week back in September. I felt on top of the world. My ADHD meds were working and I felt like my brain had undergone some intense spring cleaning. I had taken out a loan and paid off all my credit cards. I was showing up with my whole self to my relationships. I just felt good. Maybe that one week is all I get.