There used to be a time when I wasn’t the most confident person. Shocker, I know. I’m sure we can all think of a time in our lives where we were less than satisfied with who we are. Man that was a weird sentence. Not even quite sure if it’s grammatically correct. Ah, well.

This specific time was in college. I’ve always been kind of a bleeding heart in a way. Except, you know, every complex emotion I felt ended up converted to anger before it escaped from my mouth. I’m still kinda like that. Less moody.

Ever since I was a kid, it’s always felt like something has been missing in my life. Maybe you’re familiar with this feeling, too. Like there’s a tiny imp in the pit of your stomach eating away at those nerves down there. Is that a cool simile? Whatever, people always describe loneliness as having to do with their stomachs.

I used to always think that that hole needed to be filled with a girl. Um, yeah I’m gonna stick with that wording. Or with friends. I can remember never wanting to be alone. I always latched on to groups of friends that I spent exorbitant amounts of time with. And there was always some girl that I was pining for. Rarely was that girl ever pining for me.

But I was fickle. I remember that. I’d always get so infatuated, then I’d get my heart broken when I got rejected. And I’d cut that girl out of my life in typical shithead-high-schooler fashion. Though, when I actually got the girl I quickly became uninterested. I just couldn’t put in the effort to actually date the girls I was obsessing over. In retrospect, I was a real fun person. The weird thing is people liked me. I think maybe they liked me because I was kind of an asshole. I’m still kind of an asshole, but in a more sardonic-jokey way. I try really hard not to make shitty remarks at the expense of people I care about, and I do my best to humble myself and apologize when I see I’ve upset someone. Teenager me was just always right, and even if you proved I was wrong, in my opinion I was right.

I think my heart softened a little when I legitimately fell in love with a girl, who I’m so happy to say is the woman I still get to share my life with today. When I say “a little,” though, I really only mean a teeny tiny bit. I was an angry kid in high school, and I still deal with some of that anger today, and it’s not something to be discounted. It’s a thing I’m aware of, and it’s weird because I’m not so sure where it comes from.

It can be really difficult to see outside of yourself. I’m a very stubborn person. That, I’m pretty sure is genetic. It’s hard for me to let things go. I sound like I’m being hard on myself, but I’ve grown to realize that being self-aware is important. I think we all deal with aspects of our personalities that we don’t like, but it’s important to remember that our weaknesses are general also strengths. I may not be the most graceful at losing an argument, but the same stubborn attitude has kept me from giving up on what I truly want so many times. If I ever gave up my stubborn side completely, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Though I may be a lonely person, this also means I am loyal to those who call me “friend”.

It’s important to acknowledge our shortcomings, because everything can be shaped and channeled into something new. That hole in my stomach has nothing to do with companionship or feeling liked. I realize that now. That hole is there because I have demons I need to work out. Still to this day. I’m not even sure if they’ll ever go away, but the devil isn’t so intimidating when you can see his tricks.

I spent a little over a year living with my sister, three days-a-week. She was in the later stages of metastatic melanoma. As the time passed, I saw her retreat further and further into herself. She didn’t want people to look at her and see cancer. She didn’t want the world to see her. She used to be the happiest person I knew. Not a care in the world. She was afraid of what her friends would think of her. She had this idea that she’d re-emerge when we was okay, and tell everybody the harrowing story of her survival. And they’d all be shocked and surprised. But my sister would have long blonde hair again and look like she hadn’t aged a day. And everyone around her would think how amazing it was to see her standing there seemingly unchanged.
Experiencing that firsthand, sitting up night after night, listening to my sister, hearing how scared she was. It changed me. When she eventually passed, I was devastated. I wanted so badly for her fantasy to come true. Reflecting on that time, I saw so much of myself in my sister. What my sister was doing, the way she felt, was just like how I’d been my whole life. Closed off, only willing to let people see the best versions of ourselves. Stubborn, indecisive, and distant. I made a conscious decision to open myself up. I realized that if I were ever going to feel happy, and close that hole in my stomach, I had to start working on myself. I had to start listening to the people who cared about me. I had to stop sabotaging my relationships with my stubborn ego-driven attitude. I had to swallow my pride.

That was probably around four years ago. I can’t say I’m where I want to be her, but I do feel confident that I’ve changed. But most of all I just feel confident.


The Lonesome Cowboy

It all started with a Jackson 5 song, or was it The Dodos? Or maybe it was David Bowie? Regardless, it all started with a song. A song sung by little old drunken me at a karaoke bar in the middle of nowhere, a.k.a. Barstow, California. The bar, aptly named The Lonesome Cowboy, sat parallel to a highway in the middle of a desolate wasteland. When smoking a cigarette in front of the bar, it was easy to observe the eighteen-wheelers that would pass in slow-motion, following the speed limit to their distant destination.
If you don’t get the idea yet, I was in the middle of a fucking hell-hole surrounded by the dead souls that made up the majority of the bar population. As I pounded mixed drink after mixed drink on my military officer’s discount, I charted the trajectory of my life. Solemnly drunk, I sat perched in a barstool connecting the million different branches of a tree back to the tree itself. The tree was me. Unlike the common tree, my branches split outward but eventually came back to one point. They all ended at one eventual conclusion. The conclusion of death. This was a naturally occurring thought process whenever I happened to be inebriated. I had been to war twice, in two different countries. It was only logical for the idea of death to make a regular appearance in my mind.
Something was different about this night. I don’t know if there was something in my drink, or if I had simply decided to forget about my depression. Regardless of what it was, it hit me with the first sip of my fourth whiskey sour. As the night progressed into early morning, The Lonesome began its usual friday ritual. First, there was an emcee. Then, the speakers began to blare music. Then came the light show. One after another, sloshed idiots approached the mic stand and poured out raw emotion in the form of popular songs from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. My typical take on this display was generally something along the lines of: These fucking idiots, look at them making fools of themselves. But, like I said before, tonight was different. Oh yes, tonight was different.
What I had once viewed as a rite of passage designed by imbeciles transformed into a heartwarming social experience. As a particularly large white-trash woman finished a particularly sub-par performance of Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot. I came to a philosophical revelation. Or, maybe I was just trying to prove my superiority to this crowd. Either way, I stumbled out of my seat and made my way to the microphone. I squinted through my temporarily impaired vision at the glow of a small blue screen and selected a song that I knew every word to. I don’t remember what song it was, but it’s an unrelated piece of evidence because it wasn’t my performance that was important. What happened next was truly amazing.
As the tin-can, wordless rendition of a popular song began to bounce of the walls of The Lonesome Cowboy, a truly spectacular rendition of god strode gracefully through the bar’s swinging doors. It was as if someone had turned every light in the bar up to full intensity, and even added additional photo-quality lights. As she floated across the threshold, a breeze picked up to part the hair across her flawless acorn-shaped face and reveal the two cobalt eyes of the Venus herself. Her presence alone lit up the room. I knew from that second that I had to know this girl. As our eyes met, confidence welled up in my stomach and I hit the high notes with ease. I may have just been a drunkard singing tone-deaf notes with immense pride, but her gaze made me feel like I had just won the lottery.
As the song began to fade with the final chorus, I tripped over the microphone cord and exited the stage. Her legs folded perfectly over the edge of a barstool, and she sat with poise and posture. I walked boldly toward her, determined to learn her name, determined to do anything to get her to take me home with her.
“Can I buy you a drink?” I squeezed from my nervously constricted throat. She swiveled around in her seat. I don’t know if I’m biased, but it seemed like every motion she made was perfectly executed. Like she kept every one of her movements from the beginning to the end of her lifetime in a well ordered list stored inside her head. When she looked at me, she saw right through me. The glisten of her smile could blind a man from prolonged exposure.
“Why, of course!” She spoke with a voice that used every extent of her vocal chords. It was like listening to an angelic choir speaking through one person. “I’ve never had a rockstar buy me a drink before.” She smiled again, with a hint of mischief in her eyes.
I sat beside her and ordered another whiskey sour and a lemon drop for her. In retrospect, I think I should have considered that a lemon drop was too sour for a sweet girl like her. “My name’s Andrew.” I stated, trying my best to sound relaxed.
“I’m Holly.” Jesus Christ. Holly. Not only was this girl an angel, but she was Christmas, too.
As the night flew by, I got to know my enchantress intimately. She was a waitress at a truck stop diner about thirty miles up the highway. Though she was cursed with a simple life, Holly loved to read and write. She loved poetry and music. Her favorite pastime was building sitcoms inside of her head. Inside of the intricate passageways of her mind was a cornucopia of original ideas the size of the library of congress.
I felt a strong connection with Holly. We were both intellectuals exiled from society; trapped in the dead-end lifestyle of mediocrity. We agreed that we were never really given a chance to be great. That we had always been held back by one thing after another. I explained how my father died of lung cancer when I was 16, and how I was the man of the house from that day on. Holly explained how she never had a father to lose. Holly said that it was hard to see past the sight lines of a desolate nowhere when you didn’t have any sort of stability. I told her how I had never been able to articulate that exact thought the way she did.
Soon, the bartender announced that it was last call and we’d better get one last drink or get the hell out. In the neon glow of The Lonesome Cowboy’s sign, I stood with my eyes locked on Holly’s. Our breath hung in the air as we stared silently. “Well….” I was lost, I didn’t want this night to end.
“I’ll call a taxi,” Holly said with a disappointed tone. She walked to a pay phone and deposited a quarter. Soon after, she was back. “Look, you don’t have to pay for the taxi if….”
“If….” I looked at her with a confused expression.
“If you want to come home with me.” She smiled nervously.
“How could I refuse that?” I laughed, smiling back.
The first time we kissed that night was in the back of a taxi. The smell of leather filled the air, and our bodies stuck to the seats because the heat was on full blast. You know how there’s that cliché about seeing fireworks the first time you kiss the love of your life? That didn’t happen to me. Instead, I saw my future. I saw the branches of my tree expanding infinitely outward. Death became insignificant as I held Holly’s hand, stationed on a hospital gurney right next to her. Our hearts flatlined at the same moment. I saw our kids playing in a green field in front of a house with a white picket fence. I saw a pregnant Holly struggling to wash dishes in the kitchen sink, and me laughing as I kissed her playfully. There was no way this night wouldn’t go down in history as the best night of my life.
When we arrived at Holly’s single room on top of a garage, it was like we didn’t even have to take our clothes off. It was like they melted away from our bodies with the heat from our passion. I slid my fingers down her smooth legs. I examined her perfect build, and poked her belly button and chuckled. I felt her weightless body positioned on top of mine. It seemed as though we fit perfectly together like a puzzle. I brushed the blonde streaks away from her brow. Small beads of sweat glistened brilliantly on her forehead. Her lips were parted slightly, and her eyes were closed with the gentile relief of a deep sleep. After a while, we laid still and conversed into the early morning. Soon, we could talk no more.
With a night so seemingly perfect, it’s hard to think that anything could go wrong. We had gotten along incredibly. We matched and contradicted each other like a balanced scale. And yet, all good things must have an equally bad thing. I awoke to a pair of eyes. These eyes did not belong to my beloved. They didn’t even belong to a woman.
“Who the fuck are you?” spoke the man. Five o’clock shadow stained his face, and he smelled of liquor, cigarettes, and aftershave. “I’m going to ask you again, who the fuck are you?”
“I’m Andrew.” The man’s expression only grew angrier.
“Okay, Andrew. Now answer this for me please. Why the fuck are you in my house, and what are you doing in my bed?” He snarled, ready to explode.
I averted my eyes from his to see a wedding band sitting on the bedside table. Oh shit, I thought. With one hand, the man grabbed my clothes from the floor. With the other one, the one with a wedding band on the ring finger, he grabbed me by the arm. With one swift motion, I was pulled from the bed. As I stood in my underwear, the man shoved my clothes into my hands and shoved me out his front door.
“You’re lucky that I don’t beat your ass!” With that statement, he slammed the door in my face.
The loud slamming noise and the sight of the door must have knocked something loose in my head, because at that moment I had a flashback to the night before. I saw the night a little differently than I had before. When I approached Holly at the bar, she looked like a deer in the headlights. Her eyes glistened with the remnants of previous tears. Under her left eye was the slight discoloration of a fading bruise. I once again saw my hands tracing Holly’s thighs, but this time I saw that there were bruises under my finger tips. I remembered Holly’s speech about feeling held back in life, but this time there was a frog in her throat and she choked at the end of her sentence.
I knocked on the door of Holly’s home, and sure enough the asshole answered. “What, did you forget something, asshole?” He questioned, grinning with some sort of self-appreciation.
“Yeah, I forgot my–” With that, I reared my fist back with all of my might and delivered a haymaker across Holly’s abuser’s face. He stumbled backwards and took the curtains down with him. He was out cold. I spat at his feet, and began to walk down the highway.

From that point on, I returned to The Lonesome Cowboy on every Saturday night for karaoke. And no, I didn’t come for the karaoke. Each and every time I sat and stared at the doors, waiting patiently for that angel to grace me with her presence, and each and every time I left the bar disappointed. One night, I took a taxi up and down the highway and tried to remember the path to Holly’s, but I couldn’t recall it for the life of me. I must have paid that cabbie at least sixty bucks. After a while, I had given up entirely. I wish I had a number, or that I wasn’t so drunk that night, or that I knew where she worked. I longed to steal Holly away and drive at breakneck speeds towards the borders of California, to start a life with the woman of my dreams. But my wish was never granted, so Holly remained to be just that: the woman of my dreams.

Free write

The people watched as the smokestack crumbled. First, an ember which began at the base and began to wander upwards. As it moved, the surface of the stack began to crack delicately to reveal molten ember underneath. Ash rained from the top of the cylinder, a giant cigarette being flicked on the masses.

The firemen watched helplessly as the situation grew out of control. Their thick yellow jackets being flecked with black soot. A single tear rolled from the eye of a dedicated fireman as he considered the impact this disaster would have on the small factory
town that he was native to.

Before the gates of the refinery stood the entire population of the town. Men, women, and children stood in a staggered formation, awestruck at black mass forming in the skyline. A man stood at the head of the crowd, demanding answers from a police chief who stood at the perimeter of the factory. He exaggerated a shrug to display that his ignorance was equal to that of the crowd.

Plastic synthesis and distribution was the only reason that this particular town was on the map, without the factory the entire economy of the town was directed towards failure. The local politicians thought exactly this as a second smokestack fell with more ease than the first one. Feelings of dread, emptiness, and anger filled the atmosphere and suffocated the townspeople.

Enormous clouds of smoke and soot spanned across a formerly blue sky, and rained over the citizens of the town. The people were too defeated to move, and some even looked straight up. Fires broke out in the factory windows and the firefighters sprung into action, trying to contain what the could of the caustic flames. The police officers moved forward to disperse the crowd, herding them down the path that lead to the refinery.

A thin layer of ash began to settle over each and every storefront and home in the town. A young boy began to draw on the sidewalk with a stick. He drew a home with his family standing in front. Slowly, he detailed the portrait which depicted his sister, his mother, his dog, and his father. He spent extra time on his father, who had gone missing right before the smokestack crumbled.