Category Archives: Stories

The Crawler

Months after the fall, she crawled out of the abyss. Like a mutating slug, evolving from the muck.  The last time she had seen the surface her eyes had been searching for the stars, gazing up  at the ceiling of amassed, burning gas. Reaching out over millions of miles, the fire of the ember lights had inflamed her desire to grasp them, and she had done, but only to miss her footing  in her attempt and fall fathomless depths into the suctioning ooze.

For an eternal moment she had fought and struggled with the dark, until, unable to break free of the clawing goo, she surrendered her soul to the suffocating nothing that held her; a sensation-less grip that sunk into her bones and began to mutate her. Finally, on the very day she had become content with the abyss, she was freed to crawl out of it.

Onto the surface of the earth, once more she was. But so consumed and transmuted by her fall that, though she had longed to see the sky in its haze of heavenly lights, she could not stand it. The plush soil and foamy grasses cut into her skin like knives, for the gelatinous ooze had so weakened her flesh. Although she tried to cleanse herself of the dark, the smell clung to her, and her morphed shape would not but show her plight to the world. No longer could she reach out to the stars that laughed above her head; taunting her and beckoning to her to join them in their romantic home above the mortals. No longer was their light a glory, but rather, they burned her head with shame. So she no longer looked up, but crawled, crown bowed low; deformity’s crooked gate bending her like a reed. Until she became like the earth, and was once more enveloped by the night of the abyss.

For she had reached to the heavens, but in doing so saw not where she stepped.

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Shy Eyes: Part 3

8pm
Mindy’s throws herself luxuriously upon the futon, her body drenched in burgundy lace. The silky haze of sandalwood incense permeates my apartment. We’ve dampened the room with deep noir and lit candles like the sexy single ladies we are. Vintage WHAM seduces the acoustics of the room. I pull the cork out of the bottle of muscato d’asti and pour two glasses. Molly steals the bottle from me and puts it immediately to her lips like the lush she is.
Mmmmm! She lets out a solid “ah” and makes like Alex Owens in Flashdance, arching her back and pretending to pour the rest of the bottle on top of her head.

“Long week?” I smile foolishly and kick at her protruding leg, knocking her balance slightly.
“God!” Molly laughs even as a frown mars her narrow face.
“What are you even wearing tonight?” my eyes run over her slim- trim-ready- to-win body.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Did I call an escort service?”
Molly’s a total hard body. She takes care of herself. At least in the ways she can control, which unfortunately excludes her alcoholism and face. We’ve been friends for five years. I could say she’s just another stain of generation Y society, but it wouldn’t be fair to say she was one I wanted to get rid of. Time with Molly always lead to excitement and folly, without which, I’d be the most self contained human being on the planet. She was the one who initiated our bi-weekly drink-a-thons.  She knocks back another large glass in one gulp, allowing the fizzy liquid to bloat her cheeks before almost spewing out with laughter.
“Ah! Ha! You couldn’t work up the nerve for that if you tried,” she leaned back and eyed me lazily, “I am seductive though, aren’t I.”
“Yeah. Maybe if you wore a cool mask,” I wrinkle my nose.
“Hey!”
“What. You know there’s nothing more shocking than reality. Besides, it’s served you well so far.”
I was right, and Molly knew it. It had been her lack of facial perfection in an otherwise lovely body that kept her continuously in pursuit of improving all other assets she had. Thus, Molly was a great conversationalist, masking her insecurities with confident vibrato and an appetite for any opportunity to remain interesting. She was always the life of the party, having so many personal anecdotes, without which, she was simply your typical “but-her-face” in the eyes of the anonymous mass, to be ogled at from the neck down. It was cruel, but it was accurate. And it was drinking night, so I could blame it on the alcohol.
Molly raised her glass in toast to my little platitude, submitting in mock defeat to her already accepted circumstance. Raising my glass too, I took my first sip. Molly finished her first bottle and began uncorking the next, a liver’s-blood Merlot.
“So – no I know you’re not gonna drink any of this. I KNOW – how is life at the press? How’s the Rick meister doing?” Molly giggled. Tonight was gonna be rowdy, I could tell by her flush.
“Well. Again, Smalls, it’s not anything. Oh, but Mindy is boinking Curby,” I pause, following the awkward way that all sounded, “…finally.”
Molly fluttered her fingers, “Big surprise, there.”
I let her disinterest lead the conversation else where, not wanting to dredge up the circumstances of how I knew. Remembering my own sneaking about made my flesh crawl. What the hell was I becoming?
Molly doesn’t catch my expression, already laid out in her bed of libated stupor. I sit watching her, somewhat sadly, wondering what happened to her today. She was hitting the bottle harder than usual.
“Smalls?” I lean towards her, concerned.
Suddenly, the walls begin to tremble as heavy bass ignites next door. George Michael is affronted and I’m on his side. Molly startles up kicking her legs as she does so. The bottle she was holding twirls out of her hands, the lovely red Merlot spouting a cascade of juice into the air and inevitably onto the futon.
“Oh god! Oh god! What the hell?!” she screeches.
“Shit! Grab the wine! Grab it! Seriously, this guy is out of control!” Molly looks up as I stand. I brush past her. She grabs my arm.
“Wait I’m coming too.”
“Coming where? I’m just going to pound on the wall.”
Molly grins so wide her eyes squinch into little slits. Aw, no, that look is the beginning of a long night.
“Huh, uh! That’s frat boy’s place, right? We’re going over. I got to get a look at this prick. You said he was a fox.”
I cry pathetically, but she is unnervingly eager.
“It’s only natural we go over. And I’m curious, anyways. Ren! Seriously? He surfs porn on your wi-fi, bangs loudly and plays his music like he’s deaf as hell. He sounds like fun.
“To you.”
“For us both!” Molly bounces her shoulders like a little tramp and then roles her eyes, “Shut up, let’s go.”
I let her drag me out the door, full wine glass still in hand. My palms are clamming up and I’m wishing I had some of Molly’s heady fluidity.  Clutching my glass like the holy grail, I think a prayer and swallow the rest of the moscato. Molly pounds the door like Xena warrior princess. She’s all out, and I’m still an anxious mess. My hair is flopping in my face and the tunic I’m wearing is barely covering my rear. How do I know? The wind is telling me.
“Smalls! Oh god! I’m not even dressed!”
“SHhh! Neither am I! You’re a sexy single lady, remember. No problems here.”
Admittedly that was the most unhelpful pep talk of my life. It was sexiness that freaked me out the most. If you’re sexy, people look at you –  pay attention. Granted, if you’re a total dog it’s the same deal. I just wanted to live in the shadows of peripheral human interest. A shapeless, blandly normal human. Still, part of me, maybe even the terrified part, was enjoying the excitement.
Finally, the door swings open to reveal a massive party underway. But we aren’t being greeted by Ryan. It’s some guy named Chuck, with a heavy surfer accent and incredible auburn mutton chops. Oh hell yeah, girls, come in! Guys there here!
Oh, yeah. This is happening. We literally are living the quintessential frat pack/ 80’s bro-bachelor party moment…from the surprise strippers’ perspectives. Mutton chops notices my empty wine glass.
“Hey cutie. What are you gonna do with that?”
I think of trying to break it against the wall and pull one of those bar fight weapon deals, but think better and hustle Molly along.
“Not what you’re thinking,”  I call back over my shoulder.

We weave through the entourage of men until we find the bathroom. I shove her inside and lock the door.
“What are we doing?” I’m pressing my hands to my eyes.
Molly has hit her high, I can tell, and she’s bouncing to the music. “Oh, man, Renea. This is awesome! It’s like we stumbled into a movie.”
“Yeah,” I agree. Then with intense sarcasm, “I just hope this isn’t one of those date rape scenarios.”
Molly slapped my face and then kissed me hard on the mouth. Her lips bitter with the remains of Merlot.
“Babe! I made it through four years of college without getting into a situation I didn’t want, I think we can handle it. This music is awesome! Come with me! I’m gonna find Ryan man.”
“I’ll just stay here for now. I think I have to pee.”

I sit down on the toilet. Molly, says whatever and dashes out the door, completely taken over by the need to dance to the beat and apparently “find Ryan”. I lock the door and just sit tight. It’s debatable. I could stay here until the shenanigans die away, or just make the mad dash out, buns flapping in the open for all eyes to see. I take this adventure to heart and make friends with the linoleum.

Much Later. . .
My god, they’re inhuman! My eyeballs are falling out. So tired.

Still later. . .
I must have passed out hard. What time was it? I had no watch. Argh! The ache in my hip was telling me I must have been laid out for a couple hours.
Silence.
No sounds. My heart starts jogging a bit and I stand up and look, red eyed, in the mirror. What I observe is a predictable mess; dead-weight hair, dry chapped lips, and a tired, sunken complexion. Aw, whatever. I press the door, listening, and gently twist the nob. I’ve forgotten to unlock it and an angry metallic noise threatens to reveal my position. Crap. Trying again, I unlock then turn and the door mercifully swings open without a sound. Before me lays the devastation caused by wanton, human indulgence. Empty beer bottles, sprawled sleepers, nasty food crud, and etc. There’s already too many pictures painted of this scenario for me to need to lay out the details.
Snoring comes from the two sofas in the living room where three guys have strewn themselves. I eye them warily as I head toward the front door. Then stop. Oh man, where’s Molly? I feel disgusting from the bathroom floor and the built up beer-breath atmosphere that is settling into my clothes. The air is heavy as I scuttle around the apartment, not finding any sign of Molly until I come to where I deduce is the bedroom. I cross my arms, shivering and feeling now like I do actually need to pee. Why did everything with people always lead to this? The bedroom. I feel like an underage child walking into a rated R movie. Half of me wants to dart.
I press my ear. Nothing. I just need to make sure she isn’t in here; make sure she’s okay. I unhinge the door, coming unhinged myself, and silently step in.
But there she is. Molly, the ultimate “make it happen” girl, had made it happen for herself. She lay on the bed, half covered beside my neighbor. Both asleep.
“Oh my god”, I can’t help mouthing.
I look around, the hint of dawn casting a delicate blue glow into the room. I’d always thought his bed would have been right on the other side of the wall from mine, but now I realized that his headboard lay against the opposite wall. Strangely this unnerves me. I wonder if he sits and stares through the wall at me, too. There are posters on the wall, two of them;The Beatles and Jimmy Hendrix. His space isn’t what I’d anticipated. It’s kind of awesome. Instead of the frat stereotype, Ryan seems to be more of an artistic spirit with respect for the old school. He loves his music. Piles of vintage records line the bottom of his walls. Also, a fan of Hayo Miyazaki. Ok. That’s a surprise. There is no personal work of his own, to prove himself an artist, but his fandom is apparent.
I stand entranced for a moment by the space that was once a mystery to me, some of the magic falling away. But then there’s reality again, shocking my brain. My eyes rotate towards the two warm occupants and horrible hook controls me once more. It’s like a mime in my head, frightening as hell, it’s pseudo expression painted like a clown over it’s pervasively knowing face. I’m a mask of myself. A voyeur in the guise of shy disinterest. Because I must…
I stand and watch them do nothing but sleep. Witnessing the remains of a private moment. Invading the space not meant for a conscious mind. I suppose I am feeling more intimacy now in this silent moment of private espionage, than probably even existed between them to begin with. How unaware they remain while sleeping, a moment of true innocence. People are so much more vulnerable when they can’t see themselves. I hide this moment away; it is mine now. It no longer belongs to the two slumbering subjects.

I’m back in my own bed. What a mess. I’m such a creep. But I can’t stop thinking about those two, still sleeping together. There’s something wrong with me and I think it’s manifesting in these bizarre moments I’ve been having. I must have looked like one of those home invaders, standing over their prey ready to take from them what their victim isn’t willing to give.
I just want to sleep it off, but now I’m suddenly frightened.

Thank god tomorrow is Saturday.

“Shy Eyes”- Part 2

It’s cold out today. I can’t feel my toes. I’m running into door jams and blackening my nails as I wonder aimlessly through the apartment. Molly bailed on our drinking night. I honestly don’t know why I drink, but it’s just red wine. I do it for my heart, you know – all that resveratrol – I actually hate the flavor. I’ve never been drunk, I just pretend I am so my acquaintances will stop harassing me about getting wasted. You know – to “try it”. I’m a tight wad, apparently. I don’t poison my liver or stick my hand down my pants. I guess that makes sense.

The hardwood floor is making my teeth chatter and so I’m crawling, shaking, into the corner of the futon. Throwing a large pillow over myself, I settle into another riveting episode of the obviously scripted “Naked and Deformed”. Actually, I believe that guy’s prosthetic nose is falling down a bit. It’s okay, the audience won’t know. This Naked series is just another in the list of other similarly named reality shows, but if one is the best, this is definitely it. Why I like it in comparison to the others is because these people are really freaky. I mean, physically freaky. It’s easy in the others, where the participants are all pretty normal, there demons hidden away until they get pushed to a certain point. And that’s always fun – seeing all that mold blossoming to the surface. The dirty little realizations, the hidden person within, shared with us, the private eyes. No, that’s easy. That’s cliché. What I like about this deformed series, is that there is that strange outer shell, that already apparent, subconscious disgust by the audience towards the contestants. And it’s all about how we come out of our hate to sympathize with them. It’s fresh, a bit. It’s not to say they are devoid of inward gross,  it’s more or less that the audience learns to – instead of diverting their eyes –  truly look at the deformed contestant straight on, so they don’t miss their humanity. All those obstacles their bodies create for them. They no longer remain a voiceless, enigmatic inanimate being. This version encourages us to do the opposite from the others. It makes us identify with their humanity through overcoming obstacles their deformity creates. We sympathize with their resilience, rather than being jackals and laughing when they fall apart. We rise to the occasion.  A person’s physicality gives you the starting point for your judgment. What’s inside either takes them down a notch or elevates them, depending on if what you see is appealing or not. If it’s good they start higher, if it’s bad they start lower. I guess that’s why I tend to victimize the beautiful people. Mindy’s a 10, but when you get to know her, she drops down to about a 6.

But I guess, when you think about it, a person’s physical beauty can be as blinding as deformity. Most people resent both extremes, probably because they make others feel uncomfortable. You know, if they’re too pretty we realize how obsolete we feel in comparison. If they are totally weird looking, well, we feel pity, maybe? Thank god I’m average. I don’t extend myself beyond myself.

Anyways, it’s a pretty good show if you’re willing to coax something out of it.

Goiter girl is shaking her head to emphasize how crawling down hill head first is a bad idea, and as I watch her jiggling flesh I find myself drifting away. My attention is drawn to the strange sound of silence seeping through the walls. Neighbor’s not doing much next door. It’s quiet. I’m quiet…I’m wondering what has caused this break at the thunder dome. The time is 9ish. I’ve got the coffee pot heating up some water for my cup o noodles. Nostalgia for college days again. And like obvious plot point there’s a rap at the door. My eyes dart about, I feel my mouth tilt downward at the corner. I open the door and….
“Um. Hi. Ryan. Next door,” he points next door.

I lift my fingers that wrest on the door, I peer through the gap at him. “Hey.”
“Yeah, so. Curious. Uh…how do I ask this without sounding like a total creep.”
“Look it’s late.”
“Yeah, I know, sorry. Basically, I’m streaming and my internet is down, suddenly. Are we on the same network? Or if not…”
Mhm. I shake my head. I have a hot spot. Password is my name…Reneamonroe85. No, you’re totally welcome. What are you watching….oh…oh! Okay, well don’t we all? Haha. Sure, enjoy. Goodnight to you as well.
The door clips shut. Clutching my waist I meander back across the floor to my throne. The futon sucks me in. At least he’s honest. But now I know why the room was so quiet. I listen harder….

Nope. Nothing.

Damn! But why? What’s so great about listening in on his porn fest. I don’t even like that stuff. It’s fantastic nonsense. It’s like licking the stickiness from a lollipop off the floor. I suppose I’m less interested in his porn than I am why he’s watching it…Adult entertainment. Man, the things adults are entertained by sometimes makes me think kids are further along in creative intelligence. At least, kids when I was a kid.

Porn, sex, office affairs. Man, I’m obsolete.
The water is making the coffee pot grumble and I silence it’s misery by softening my Americanized Asian cuisine. The vegetables float to the top and I watch them sputter about. I rub my eyes, set the cup on the coffee table and doze.

2AM

My noodles are cold and soggy. Not thinking about the waste, I crawl silently into bed, listening, even in my weak, sleepy haze what my neighbor “Ryan” must be doing. Sleeping? We’re sleeping together…we are. He on one side of the wall, I on the other. Making contact through the connection our bodies have with the physical matter that separates us. I lean my fingers against it, imagining him doing the same,  the coolness chilling my spine. Shuddering once, I close my eyes and dream of both Ryan and Mindy having and office affair. Both deformed, while I look straight on saying something like, “It’s they’re humanity, I guess.”

NEXT DAY
Monotony, monotony, monogamy. The only romantic relationship I have is with my job, it seems.  We’re always together, and no one or thing comes before. Oh god! I’m a mindless drone. How pitiful. I’m practically falling asleep while I type in Adobe. What is it I do? Who knows, who cares, really. I’m so comfortably bored most of the time that the answer is fuzzy.
Mindy flickers by. My peripherals catch her garters peeping out from under a tiny velvet black skirt. Classy. Who the hell wears garters anymore, anyways? Or velvet?
“Yo.” Rick’s stands in front of the opening to my cube.
I glance at him. Hm.
“So…What are we doing tonight?” His black eyebrow is cocked and ready for seduction.
“Um, too familiar, there Ricky Martin. I have a date with work, tonight.”
“I wish you’d give up on that marriage. Or at least be a little unfaithful and have a fling with me.”
I laugh. How corny.
“Come on Babe.”
“We’re not even remotely there, yet.” I sing
His retaliation is smug and claustrophobic. He swings my chair around, drops down, putting his face close enough to mine that our noses are almost touching. His breath is clean and soft, and it carries his words like smoke.
“Then let’s get there.”
“I have work!”  My adamancy makes my cheeks glow.
Rick smiles at this, and as I lower my face, he tips it back up with his forefinger.
“Dinner.”
“God, Rick, weren’t you at the harassment meeting this month?” I shove my chair back and smack the corner of my little office space.
“Oh come on, Renea! We work in entertainment. What the hell does harassment even mean here. I’m not asking you to pose nude for me, I just wanted to eat some food and talk with you outside of this little box of yours.”
I admit, Rick is some sight, standing there, arms thrown exasperated at his side, palms up his hair a black thundercloud casting intense shadow over his distressed eyebrows. It’s rather charming how much he seems to want. I can’t help but suppress a chuckle with my hand. How girlish of me.
“What!”
“It’s not a box, Rick.”
“I’m done.”
“It’s a cube!” I call out after him.

NIGHT

It’s 8 o’clock. I’m seemingly alone. I’ve got the spread for the gossip column coming together in front of me; violated people staring questioningly back at me from out of the Mac screen. I’m somewhat sorry for this invasion of privacy and beginning to ineffectually apologize, when I here some shuffling from the end of the hall. Ceasing the progress on my horrible masterpiece, I listen again.
A laugh. A very characteristic laugh. A Mindy laugh. Oh, yeah…this is happening. I picture myself in third person narrative, the glow of the tinted lights hazy and warm, my body clutched by shadow as I tip toe down the hall towards the noise. Something has taken over my sense of self, my vision floats in a soft fog as I’m drawn stealthily along. I have become that sad little creature that haunts the outskirts of others’ experiences. I’m siphoning the air for a taste, a touch, through sound. I stop at the door, it’s closed, but not sound proof. The words muttered are muffled and slurred with the heat of the moment. Mindy has most definitely acquired her latest infatuation. Her hot breath pumping the air, I can almost feel her desire for release from her body. From the beautiful capsule which holds her spirit captive.  To have it broken, tossed aside, forgotten. An equalizing moment when sight and beauty become the lesser gods of desire.

I linger till the sound stops, then relinquish my hidden post. My guilt, I know,  transfixed in my expression. Thank god no one is here to see my messy fingerprint. But a part of me almost wishes someone would.

I close up shop.  Touch the keyboard, savoring the sensation. I shut off my dirty layouts of guilt and debauchery and as the monitor fades to black, my own face reflects out of the dark screen.

Bystander Effect

Last night my friend and I were on an 11pm bus from Westwood to Santa Monica. We’d just finished up at an LA pre-fashion week event, invitation by my coworker, Jenny. It was at the W Hotel, lounging poolside and munching cupcakes as fashion models strutted past. It was nice to see a show again as it’s been months since my last, and even better to see creativity still blossoming in a place so stagnated in the past by the denim and t-shirt industry. But the moral of the story remains yet on that 11pm Blue bus ($1 rides by the way). As we sat near the back exit we watched, dazed by the evening’s hour and previously consumed Diddy Riese ice cream sandwiches, as a woman in a stained, deep blue T-shirt and shaved head boarded the bus. She sat down and as  we continued vaguely gazing, I realized and began to wonder why we were not pulling off again. Before I was fully aware of what was transpiring, the bus man began telling the woman to get off. Just as she stepped out, I realized the situation; the woman had not paid the $1 fare.

What consumed me for the remainder of the ride was that I had not acted on the instantaneous reaction to getup and chase her back onto the bus after paying for her fare. It was a dollar, and I’d paid more than that for an ice cream. Because here’s the thing, this momentary laps of initiative alluded to a pattern I have found myself in for the past month.

There are A TON of homeless vagabonds chilling out in LA, Santa Monica especially, as it is a great place to be homeless, if ever there was a place. Southern California is decently clean (okay, smog is bad), temperate, close to the beach, and to be honest there are always full dumpsters or people rich and laid back enough to dole out a couple cents. And the homeless aren’t very confrontational, they just kinda hang out.

Well, the pattern I was speaking of earlier was this nagging little problem of self conscious do-gooding or “Bystander Effect”. See, when I witness someone in poverty, whether monetary or other, I have a genuine desire to help them out, but I hate if others see. I don’t like just giving change to pan handlers, but I don’t mind buying them some food. On my walks from work to get lunch there is a particular fellow who has obviously lived his life wild and sits under shaded awnings or by the local coffee shop, head down, quietly living, as I pass by. I have a desire to give him my lunch or a drink, because it’s been hot, but something stays my action. In this instance I believe it is a fear of his rejection or of the public eye watching me. Another occasion was at a 7-eleven last week. I went in to get some food and when I came out, this homeless man asked for a hot dog. I said, “Yeah, sure.”  He asked to come in too, and I said yes, of course. He was nice, not looking for anything besides a hot foodie and I had him order what hot dog he wanted.  The weird thing was that I knew everyone was looking at us, perhaps judging him for his need and lack of ability to self sustain,  and observing me like I was perpetuating the problem of homeless neediness. That old adage “feed the dog your scraps from the table and he’ll never stop begging”. But it was probably just me in all my self consciousness. The closest reasoning I can come to is that I can’t stand if people think it is a superficial act of derived kindness, because it’s not. I also just don’t like being stared at by strangers.

Today, as I scrolled through some online art forums (www.textileartist.org) I found a great piece of fiber art work by June Lee dealing with this “Bystander effect” as she calls it:

“Korean artist June Lee’s haunting mixed media installations deal with uncompromising subjects such as isolation and alienation. Her brightly colored sculptures are created by wrapping plaster casts in thread and fabric. These unique patterns and colors represent individuality and estrangement from society. Through her work June explores the phenomena of the Bystander effect, in which individuals do not offer help to a victim when in the presence of others”.

bystander effect

Back to the girl on the bus.

See, that woman on the bus that I didn’t help out because of a societal fear might have walked around all night. If she had no way of getting home, or whatever her circumstance was, she may have even been brutalized. Our actions or lack of actions have an affect on those we do or do not interact with. Mine may still be perpetuating an old man’s thirst or have cost a woman her safety one night.

“Shy Eyes”- A Peeping Serial

And he moved in. My neighbor. I don’t know if I’m happy about it or not. I like having been left alone for so long. My own little corner of the world. My personal space. I can be uninhibited, walk around naked all day if I want. Grab my mail in my panties and turn my stereo way up. No thrashing against my wall at 2am because I’m being too loud or whatever. Those walls are so thin I swear I could see through them.
I got a glimpse of him though. Short hair- black- olive skin. Total post-haze frat type with an ego that could eclipse the sun. I mean, he’s hot. He moved in about a week ago and I can here him bringing in women every night. And I mean women, plural, per night. Supposedly, according to neighbor community law, this gives me late night hollering privileges too, but I don’t think I’ll do anything about it. He’ll just have to deal when the time comes. Next time Molly comes over we’ll drink loudly.
I feel a little strange, for having to listen to them all night, like I’m intruding on them or something. But in the morning when all is so quiet, I can’t help but wonder if he’s the only one left in bed. I find myself standing there, in front of the sink, staring at the cheap plaster walls, wondering if that wall wasn’t there, if I could see him. I like to think  that he and I are the only ones waking up next to each other in the morning. In separate rooms, obviously. My breakfast toast has been burned all week because of it. Damn it. I need to get out more. I can’t even engage with my baristas. It’s been like a year and I don’t think they even realize I come through just about every evening. I’m a friggin hermit. I’m a night owl too, and I spend it like a total nun, watching infomercials and spotty films. What else am I gonna do.
I’m standing here, in front of my mirror. The strands of my hair fall lifelessly around my shoulders as my blouse sags over my drooping skirt. My shoes are stained and I look something like a total catastrophe. Everything about me is out of place and I don’t know why. I always feel like my body doesn’t fit with the clothes I want to wear, so I just throw on drapes and walk around like I don’t care. We all care. Especially the people looking at you.

9am.

I’m out the door and walking along the sidewalk, glancing shyly at my reflection each time I pass a tinted building window. People look at me through the glass as I look into it. Even though we observe the same thing, I wonder if our perception matches. Either way, I troll along, mumbling to music and avoiding eye contact. No need to mention what the day is like ; I’m inside the office most of it anyways. I work for —— magazine doing layout work. It’s an alright job. Pays cool. As I enter the office and maneuver through the corporate cafes and etc. toward my “cube” I catch eyes with the closest thing to my personal, office affair. Rick throws a grin, I throw the finger. We part before we approach. I figure we’re progressing pretty well. My coworker, Mindy, catches the interaction as she exits the bathroom and rolls her eyes so hard I think she might be seizing.
“The sex is that bad? Huh?”
I shrug, pinch her bum and snicker coyly as she jumps.
“Oh! How could I forget. You’re gay,” she pouts, fixing her skirt.
“It’s a spectrum, Min,” I assure her.
“People say that, if they just don’t want to commit.”
“No, it’s a complicated human thing. People don’t pursue anything past awkward office affairs if they don’t want to commit.”
“Right,” she catches the pointed comment.
I look at her. Mindy is a total office catch. Blond hair, legs for miles, blah, blah, blah… You get the picture. She’s had such good luck with guys, sexually, that she’d never known a situation left open to question her orientation, taking for granted, daily, what some women only ever feel the blunt end of. To be honest, I don’t think she’s every really thought past the outfield, and she may have more home runs than Barry Bonds, sans the steroids. She catches my eye.

“Fine,” pushes out her chest, “Asexual.”
I close my eyes in annoyance.
“Why do you have to label it? It’s like committing to a title before finishing a book. My sexuality happens to be complicated.”

By now we’ve reached our adjacent cubical and my hands are doing all the talking. Mindy leans over the top of the wall separating us.
“Well your sexuality might be complicated,” her hair falls provocatively over her flushed cheek,
“But mine isn’t.”
My gaze follows her “pause for emphasis”, which is pointing, bated breath, in the direction of the striding figure of Marlon P. Curby, our project head.
“Oh, god,” I vomit, “He’s a total prick.”
“Mmm. But a fine one,” Mindy is practically salivating.
And I wonder. How in the world have I gotten to be friends with this girl? She’s a nymphomaniac, practically. She opens her legs for every guy that walks by, I can hardly open my mouth to say “hi”. Where’s the common ground?
Suddenly, I’m flashing back to my neighbor. I wonder if he’d like Mindy. I finalize that thought with a “Yes” he would. He’d prefer her to me. I’d prefer her to me. Half the time I can’t stand me.

All this introspection makes me feel creepy. Like I’m observing my insides before a shower and realizing it’s a lost cause. Maybe I’ll just get into work. Yeah, get into the groove. Mindy just turned on the radio…to Barry White.

To Be Continued….

How to Lose your Clothes in Europe

Okay. So this must sound like someone was going for the whole nudist travel thing (wait…is that a thing?) but I honestly wasn’t. Heck, I slept near a nudist beach in Zandvoort and was in Amsterdam on 4/20; I didn’t strip down or smoke pot. But I was running out of clothes. Very slowly, very methodically, and for all the right (and wrong) reasons.

So how does one go about losing clothes, correctly? Well, as a minimalist traveler, that meaning that I pack only what I’ll need to survive my time without looking like  a crazy, hippie vagabond, I was already a bit dis attached to the frivolities of clothing, but who knew I could become even more so. Basically, as I traveled from one place to the next my needs shifted and changed. While in Switzerland, living with the same good people day after day, my desire for change was awakened by the sameness of my surroundings, and so variety in any form was more of a psychological necessity. At this point I was glad I had brought everything I had. But once I tripped to London and the weight of my pack began to communicate with my shoulders, I desired less and less. The constant change in my scenery and the fear of an overstuffed carry-on on picky airlines brought me to leave behind what I thought were necessary pieces.

So I gifted two long sleeved shirts, in Cambridge, to my lovely friend (no need to bother with birthday presents!) figuring Spain would be a bit warmer anyways. Once in Spain I grew even less attached to any idea of “clean clothes” so long as my pack grew lighter and lighter. After walking eight hours every day on the El Camino,  through mud, rain and dusty roads, a shower and fresh four-day-dirty clothes felt downy soft and clean.  I learned to walk in the same outfits and sleep in my relatively clean ones. Honestly, the only person who knew was me…that I’m aware of. However, I did wash what I had in sinks as often as possible, especially the socks and intimates, and dried them on the heaters inside the pilgrim hostels/albergues. The one time I tried to simply air dry them I failed. So when I left the albergue the next morning, I left two pairs of wet socks as well.

In Santiago, Spain, I completely forgot one bra and a shirt hanging on the balcony (it was an amazing hostel right by the cathedral for only 12 euro a night) so maybe they’re still out there, traveling on another pilgrim. By this point I was starting to feel confident that I’d dropped all the possible baggage I could. As well as what I’d mentioned, I was down one sweater, my snow boots, and pair of leggings after lending my extra pair to a friend  in Switzerland and never getting it back, and I’d exchanged three foreign language books for a Spanish to English pocket dictionary all before leaving L’Abri. I was beginning to feel like a true survivor. But wait, there’s a cliff hanger…1438

My last drop off of my three month stint in Europe happened on the Galacian coast, somewhere between Muxia and Finisterre, the alternate last leg of the El Camino. Attempting to traverse the coastal route directed by my guide book, I wondered about, making wrong turns until I found myself precariously stuck on the edge, literally the edge, of the coastal cliffs. To give you a picture, the path was  overgrown by thorny shrubs and about six-eight inches wide.  Wait…I’ll just give you a picture(s):

Oh you misleading path...
Oh you misleading path…you can see the rest of the “coastal route” to the top right of the image.
This is the widest point. It halved in width just after this photo was taken.
This is the widest point. It halved in width just after this photo was taken.
Do you SEE a path?
Do you SEE a path?

 

 Do you SEE a path, yet?
Do you SEE a path, yet?
And then I turned around.
…And then I turned around.

But man it was beautiful. Somewhere up there, amongst my panic, the thorny bushes, and strange thoughts of cliff jumping, I lost my trusty and warm alpaca sweater. The thorny shrubs had claimed it and I had no nerves left to fight back for it.  I knew cliff hanging and 40L back packs on a 5’1″ girl just didn’t mix well.  The whole ordeal caused me to start stress eating my empanada and Santiago tarte, which was a bad idea since I’d just lost my fat-day sweater. Truly, by now I could count all my articles of clothing (excluding my undies and socks) on eight fingers. Nature sure shows you necessity best.

That was the last article of clothing I lost and the only piece I actually regretted losing. Strange that it was the only loss not of my choosing. So for the last week of my trip I was naked armed. Nudity wouldn’t have worked in Zandvoort anyways, since the beach was freezingly windy.  So I never stripped down, really, although I did, in many ways, strip down.

Travel Shock and Isolation

It comes on like a cold. Symptom by symptom, sometimes suddenly, sometimes unnoticeable until you are in the throws of the worst of it. And how it’s handled is dependent, person to person. It’s what I call nomadic loneliness. Solo travelers may attest that traveling in foreign lands (especially in places where the entire language is different) can breed intense loneliness.

This loneliness stems from the  isolation that comes from stepping outside your own cultural context and into another. Conversations change, inherently,  and the realities of camaraderie bred by lingual connection between peoples becomes very apparent. In fact a conversation or, simply, human interaction becomes a priority and necessity. It’s easy, within your own comfortable group at home, to forget how quiet you can be among people, how much you can recede into yourself  when others around you are talking and interacting. But being the constant, wordless observer takes a toll on a body. It can also take a lot of the fun out of travel.

Never having struggled with loneliness in my life at home, I figured I’d be a perfect candidate for solo travel. But a three month stint over seas in countries where English is most definitely a second language, gave me my first taste of it. The fact that the first nine weeks were spent in a close knit community based environment, with almost constant discussions definitely caused  the solitariness of the rest of my trip to be more acutely felt.  Having spent the time at L’Abri (the commune-like place) being enlightened to the importance of language and how it shapes so much of our lives, cultures, and thoughts, gave me an interesting perspective during the rest of my trip. But to give you some of an idea of what one might go through during their first solo back-packing trip, what  follows are some mini- chapters on my traveler’s shock and the isolation that lead to it.