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Lazarus in La-La-Land

At the Griffith Observatory with Little Girl

My new life, as it were, in Los Angeles came to a crisis point a month or so after my arrival in September. My consulting-agency employer unexpectedly ended my contract with a major internet services provider due to some kind of “business model conflict,” and even though all of my colleagues assured me that I’d easily land another contract with a different client, I had no faith in that outcome.

My Chitty Chitty Bang Bang mental health contraption teetered, flipped, and crashed to earth as a soul-crushing dread consumed me in the final months of the year, as my contract end date drew closer.

Having once lost everything that mattered to me, those old wounds got scraped open again by an anxiety that I was about to lose my “new life” in LA, and I’d have to crawl back to the valley and, I don’t know, move in with Court and John till I could get myself righted again. The truth is that the job had changed my life with its salary, and I was terrified to sink back into poverty and chaos, and be forced again to leave the city of my choice for a place I’d only want to flee. I felt shame for all of the furniture I’d bought—with money I’d saved from said job—for my new apartment, sure that I deserved none of it.

The dread was deep and deadly. Everything—people, Zoom meetings, social media, my new city—felt like a threat, and I pulled back from all of it. Knowing that I needed their support couldn’t compete with the terror.

I had to isolate myself in my apartment and try to endure. Life narrowed to the same small bunker I lived in back when I was that astronaut, in the wake of the batshit stuff with my father. I spent a lot of time in my bedroom, listening to true crime podcasts and playing Candy Crush, a combination that kept my head occupied just enough to retain some sanity, with the warm weight of my life-saving chihuahua against my leg.

I developed a compulsive knuckle-rubbing kind of gesture and felt myself revert to a small kid with no confidence in his ability to navigate the adult world. Peter visited LA in the middle of all this, and though I managed to break free from my bunker a few times to see him, that kid wanted to beg him to assure me that I would be ok. That I would be taken care of. I was too embarrassed to say this out loud. And I was in a kind of shock at the depth of my old wounds, and how quickly they re-opened. Wasn’t I better than this?

But I scraped by, and did what I could to land an initial three-month contract with a new client, and spent those three months trying to prove myself in the role, and though I only got the assurance of another three-month contract recently, it’s better than nothing, and I’m learning to relax.

The dread drained away, and I’m beginning to navigate my new city, trying to find some community, or at least a friend or two. Writing, this, I’ve let my half-inch-long attention span drag me to the internet to click around, and after reading a transcript of a focus group of financially anxious Americans, I’m reminded, again, that I’m incredibly lucky to have found a way to make a decent living and save for the future. It’s taken a lot of work, but the job changed everything for me, and my new 829 credit score is about 200 points higher than it was when I first got hired and had blown through the little money I had. Maybe I’m too attached to this new standard of living, but I’m hoping I can hang onto it.

I don’t know why I decided to commit this to the blog, after so many months away, rather than in the 250-page Word doc journal that chronicles the many embarrassments of the last five years (so fucking happy I’m not obsessed anymore over some dude who won’t give me any time).

But I’m looking back on the series of bogeymen my mind created throughout my move to Los Angeles, to see that not a single one of them made it through my door. None of them did what they threatened to do. And I’m raised, again, from the dead.

This Actually Happened

“Doing this interview frightens me, but I believe that if something makes you feel that way, you should do it.” – Hilton Als

Oh, believe me, I was scared as shit.

In the wake of the release of my interview on the This Is Actually Happening podcast, I rode waves of pride, panic, shame, and reflection. An international audience now had access to my deepest (no longer) secrets and traumas, and I’d attached my name to the whole lot of them.

Although I’d written about most of them at one point or another, many times on this blog, this was a whole new level of visibility. At one point I made the mistake of reading the iTunes user reviews and although one reviewer said it was the most impactful episode she’d every heard (five stars), another said that this type of excruciating content should be left in a therapy session (um, yeah, no stars). At several times over the past week, I’ve thought the same.

Ultimately, though, I return to my belief that there’s value in sharing dark times with others, in order to make others who have endured their own dark times feel less alone. And I was overwhelmed with the hundreds of messages of support I received through various platforms from all over the world.

Though I appreciated the ones who thanked me for my bravery (at times over the last week, I’ve replaced “bravery” with “foolishness”), I was most grateful for the ones who found their experiences reflected in mine. Dark times have a way of isolating us from others. It was good to hear that a few people found some level of connection.

The episode is a weird, dark, at times bleak series of events, edited into a single narrative. From childhood abuse and neglect to addiction to HIV to one parent’s terminal illness and the other parent’s betrayal via batshit stories posted to the internet, I’m aware that it’s not an easy narrative to endure for most listeners.

I didn’t really want to listen to it myself. I put it off until late one night, turning out the lights, crawling into bed with the chihuahua, and pressing “play.” But strangely, once I got past the discomfort of hearing my weird voice, I ended up not completely embarrassed by the story.

In fact, I’m hesitant to admit this, but I listened to it over a dozen times in the last week. Something about hearing the whole story in one hour was helping me in some way that I can’t yet articulate. Like I could finally find a through line through a jumbled chaos of painful events.

It’s also not the whole story. I mean, how could it be? A three-hour interview edited down into one hour can’t also contain all of the joy and moments of genuine human connection that made that narrative endurable for me. So many people, with their humor and compassion, helped make my life worth living. They help me still.

This Is Actually Happening

This Is Actually Happening is an intense podcast that shares stories by people of their darkest times, whether that be surviving trauma, terrorism, or growing up in a cult. They interviewed me last fall about a batshit series of events I went through in recent years, and the episode airs today. If you’ve been hanging around this blog for awhile, some of the story will be familiar to you.

If you find value in sharing stories of hard times in the hopes that it might help others enduring their own hard times, it’s a good podcast. It’s available wherever you get your podcasts. I still have to get up the nerve to listen to my own :). Listen to the podcast.

If you came here from the podcast, welcome, I appreciate your interest and curiosity.

Talk to Her

Literary magazine River Teeth has published a very, very short, dark little essay/prose poem I wrote about working on a virtual voiced assistant from a major online retailer. “Talk to Her” is part of their Beautiful Things column that limits all essays to 250 words or less. It’s free to read and to leave a comment, if you’re into that kind of thing. My gratitude to the editors.

Elevator Music

The other night I took a call from an editor at The New York Times to talk about an essay of mine he wanted to publish.

That’s a sentence that I can barely comprehend, in the sense that it relates to my actual life right now. I mean, it’s a sentence I think I’d hoped to write someday, but hope was another planet.

And I’m a few days away from launching myself into a new job that has the potential, paycheck-wise, to change my life in the ways I’ve wanted to change it for years.

I don’t think I’ve ever lived a day where my head wasn’t thrumming with the constant low mumble of money worries. Maybe a short time when I was married, with a double-income household more or less managed by my ex. But that was five years ago, and in the time since, I’ve cursed more times than I can count at the negative balance in my checking account.

So things could change. Or I could fail. The job is a big risk, for reasons I don’t want to go into. It could work, or I could fall short. But in any event, as these words clearly show, I’m not so skilled at celebrating. I’m better at doubting my worth, feeling, on the eve of a big publication, like a fraud.

This isn’t a cry for help. It’s just an old familiar song, Muzak-style, playing nonstop in this elevator as I rise from the burned-out bottom floor I’d long called home. It’s stuck on repeat, but it plays in the head of a dude who’s too stubborn to let it stop this ride. Let’s see where this goes.

Who Wouldn’t Want Both?

The first time I ever kissed a guy was in a stretch of woods called the Bird Sanctuary that ran along the edge of a sprawling cemetery in south Minneapolis. I used to cut through there walking home from school, though even then, age 17, I knew dudes went there to cruise and hook up. But I was always too scared to stop on the trails when one of them would give me the eye. Until the day I wasn’t.

He looked like a football coach with his cheap windbreaker and salt and pepper hair, and his tongue tasted like the cigarette he’d smoked while sizing me up. He kissed me hard and before I could figure out if I even liked it, he got down on his knees, pulled down my jeans, and took me into his mouth. I was too young to know how to relax into it. Too young to know yet the pleasure of rubbing the back of a guy’s close-cropped head in that position. So my hands maybe just hung there, and I looked out at the rows of headstones through the chain link fence and wondered if anyone could see us.

My nerves killed my hard-on, so he rose back to his feet and wrapped his thick arms around me. In a voice like sandpaper against wood he whispered in my ear, “You just want to be loved, don’t you?” He rubbed my arms, then turned and walked away.

I stood there like some kind of bug stuck in sap, with the wind blowing through the trees and against my bare ass. I pulled my jeans up as he disappeared down the trail. My face felt red and hot. I was pissed that he’d left me, that I’d failed at what a guy was supposed to do in that kind of situation. That he’d seen me in a way I thought that nobody could.

Back then I thought what he’d said was something of a put-down. What I wanted made me less of a man, maybe, is what he thought. A softie, in every sense. But now I know he said what he’d said because he wanted both, too. He knew what it was like to want both. He wanted the blow job and to be loved, and he’d seen both in me.

And nothing about any of that has changed. I still want both, and you, I see it in you, too. You can talk a good game, like me, but we all know what you want. And it’s ok, because we want it, too.