FitChip

FeaturedFitChip

            Aaron shuddered against the cool touch of the antibacterial wipe on the back of his neck. 

            “Sorry. I should’ve warned you it’d be cold,” the nurse said. Her voice was light and airy in a way that reminded Aaron of his mom. It made him a little sad. 

            “It’s fine.” Aaron tensed in anticipation because he knew the needle would penetrate his skin at any moment.

            The nurse rested her hand on his shoulder. “Hey. You know you can still back out. You’d still get a full refund.” 

            For the briefest of seconds, Aaron considered this. He could save the money, maybe buy a new car instead or pay off some of his student loans. It would probably be a better use of the money his mom had left for him in her will. Would she even approve of this decision? She’d nearly had a heart attack over the tattoo he’d gotten on his left forearm two years ago. What he was doing now was insane—a literal body modification lifted from the pages of one of the science-fiction novels Aaron spent most of his time reading. 

            It’s probably why he was in this room. He was always sitting around. Reading. Gaming. Snacking. Chugging copious amounts of Mountain Dew and alcohol to escape from his feelings. It was no wonder he weighed over three-hundred pounds. But this? This would change everything. Helix Industries, Bay Rock’s high-tech corporation, would be seeing to that with a small needle in the back of his neck. 

            Well, he hoped it was small. He refused to look back at the nurse in the off chance he’d see the needle. Instead, he nodded his head. “I’m ready.” 

            “Okay. You’ll feel a little pinch…” Her voice trailed off and the needle bit into the back of his neck.

            A cool sensation rippled through his chest, almost instantly replaced by a blanket of warmth. Aaron swore he could feel the FitChip grate into his neckbone. He almost screamed but then all the sensations ended. 

            “There. Not so bad, right?” the nurse said. 

            “Not really, no.” Aaron eyed the machine that rested next to his right arm. An arm-sized maw filtered out an array of blue lights. “But I’m worried about that.” 

            The nurse walked around the chair Aaron was in and began fidgeting with the machine. “It’s not as bad as you’d think. It’ll be a little more painful, but what is it they say at the gym? No pain, no gain!” 

            “Right.” Aaron was certain people at the gym would be very insulted at what he was about to do. 

            The nurse rolled the machine toward him, the glowing blue hole encompassing his arm. She spent a few minutes checking an LCD screen hanging above the device, typing in a few things here and there, and then flicked a button on the side of the machine. It whirred to life with a loud thrum

            Aaron’s anxiety seeped out of his body, heart pounding against his chest like machine gun bullets. He braced himself against the pain he knew was coming. No pain, no gain and all that, right? 

            Searing heat burned around his wrist and it felt like thousands of needles tore in this his flesh, shredding and flaying. He gritted his teeth against the pain, his muscles tensing. The nurse’s voices was distant as she reassured him he was doing great and that it was almost over. He was about to scream when the blue light of the machine turned green. All the pain ceased, leaving a dull throb in his right wrist. 

            “Congratulations, Aaron.” The nurse pulled the machine away from him. “It appears the FitChip integration was successful.” 

            Aaron brought his arm before his face. A ring of black wrapped around his wrist, seamlessly fused with his flesh. He gingerly ran a finger along the grafted bracelet. It was smooth to the touch, almost spongy. But there was a gentle thrum emanating from it.

            The nurse handed Aaron a folder and pulled out a pamphlet. “You need to let the FitChip fully acclimate to your body for the next 24 hours. This means you should not, under any circumstances, program your body until then. It could cause irreversible damage to you. I will remind you that you did acknowledge this on the consent from you signed upon arriving today. Helix Industries cannot be held viable if you disregard this.” 

            “How often does that happen?”

            The nurse snorted. “Oh, more than I’d care to admit. People are so impatient these days.” 

            Aaron was silent. He knew the FitChip app he’d downloaded on his phone would connect to the chips in his body within seconds if he pulled his phone out. And he really wanted to. He was tired of his weight and chubby form being a deal ender for the guys he talked to on the gay-hookup app, Talon. Nobody wanted anything to do with him once they saw how fat he was. If you didn’t have a six-pack or look like the latest Hollywood actor, you were cut off from a chance of something more. Frankly, Aaron didn’t want anything to do with himself either. 

            A day later, after hours of apprehension and agonizing that the procedure wouldn’t work, Aaron stood naked in front of his body-length bedroom mirror. His chubby, scruffy face stared back, taking in the heavy rolls and thick legs. If it weren’t for the mirror, he wouldn’t even be able to see his average-sized dick between his legs. The fat made sure to hide that. 

            But that was all about to change, wasn’t it?

He held up his phone, opening the FitChip app, and programmed the job for the nanites to carry out in his body. With a sigh to reassure himself, Aaron hit the button. There was no going back.

            Fire raged through his body, extending through every fiber. Both his neck and right wrist tingled—no doubt the nanites doing their job. He stumbled forward, bracing himself against the wall. Muscles spasmed and tensed and chills raced down his spine. What felt like an eternity was only mere minutes. The flash of sensation and pain ceased and Aaron felt… different. 

            He stepped away from the wall to study himself in the mirror. There was a stranger staring back at him. Lean, chiseled, and somewhat gangly. Abs had been carved into his abdomen like he was some sort of Greek deity. He had a perfect V-line that seemed to highlight the appendage between his legs. His high cheekbones were more prominent. He ran a hand through his sweaty blonde hair—a surreal feeling considering he barely recognized the person staring back at him. 

            Of course, it was Aaron without all the fat and rolls. This is what he would probably look like without the throes of depression and anxiety that had taken over him the past few years. This would’ve been him if his brother hadn’t been killed in a drunk driving accident three years ago. It would’ve been him before his boyfriend had cheated on him with his best friend. This would’ve been Aaron before life it hard.

            But it wouldn’t have been him when his mom died of cancer six months ago. No, that was Fat Aaron. His mom had died knowing Fat Aaron.

            And now? Fat Aaron was gone. Replaced with a gay man’s fantasy. 

            But why didn’t he feel happy?  

            Why did he hate himself even more?

Cloud

FeaturedCloud

(Trigger Warning: Depression/Anxiety and suicidal elements)

Justin watched the drop of water on the windowpane make its erratic descent. He was that drop of water. Falling. Descending. Taking everything down with him in his wake. Anybody who dared to get close to him were pulled deep into the pits with him. He was a cloud, dark and grey. 

            “Did you hear me?” 

            Justin jerked his head away from the window and looked at his best friend Charlie who sat across the table. The low light of the coffee shop was warm and sharpened Charlie’s narrow face. Between them were two ceramic mugs. Charlie had already downed most of his latte. Justin’s was mostly untouched. It was probably cold. Why had he even ordered it?

            “So, you didn’t hear me?” Charlie’s scratchy voice took an edge. 

            Justin resisted the urge to look back out the window and simply stared at the mottled latte art in his mug. What could he really say at this point? That Charlie was wrong? Or right? Either way it would hurt, and Justin wasn’t entirely sure which statement would be the truth. 

            “I don’t know how to respond,” Justin muttered, hating how weak his voice sounded.

            “That’s half the problem, man. You’re in this spot because you can’t figure out how to move forward.” Charlie paused. “You been seeing your therapist?”

            Justin nodded. “My parents take me every week.” 

            “And?”

            “And what?”
            “I thought therapists were supposed to help.” 

            Justin gnawed at his tongue, trying to decipher which words to roll out. “You do know a therapist isn’t like a genie or something, right?” 

            “Not what I meant.” Charlie leaned forward. “But you’ve been seeing this lady for weeks and you’re still…”

            Justin tore his eyes away from his cold latte and looked at Charlie. His friend’s green eyes were full of concern but also, it seemed, resignation. “I’m still what?” 

            Charlie shook his head. 

            “No, say it. I’m still what?” 

            Charlie pinched the bridge of his wide nose. 

            “Fucking say it,” Justin growled, feeding into the angry bubble rising in his chest. 

            “Like this!” Charlie gestured at Justin as if that should say it all. “Combative. Stubborn. People try to help you, to listen to you, but you go deep inside your mind and shut everybody out. I mean do you even want to be better? Because, man, you are pushing everybody away. Don’t you see that?” 

            “Right. Okay. So, I’m a burden, is that it? My depression is just too much for you to handle?” 

            Charlie sighed and rolled his eyes. “That is not what I meant, Justin. You’re not a burden, but I’m burned out. This is a cycle. You do good for a month or two. And then? You descend into the pits. And I’ve told you before how hard it is to talk to you when you’re like this. It’s like you surround yourself with eggshells. I say or do one wrong thing and you erupt. You throw things in my face. You attack our friendship, you attack me. Your words can be so harsh. And I don’t think I have it in me to care anymore. It’s exhausting. It sucks. Are you taking your meds?” 

            Justin recoiled and hated the way his surroundings blurred. How could Charlie say this? Yeah, he struggled with major depression. It didn’t help he had high anxiety on top of it. The anxiety fed off his depression. Justin couldn’t help but analyze comments or texts or actions for a deeper meaning as if they were clues to a treasure chest of dark emotions. He questioned his place in the world, questioned who would really be there for him, and he’d make assumptions based off his surroundings. He knew it wasn’t fair or right, but he didn’t know how to process his internal battles any other way. Maybe he was just born to be broken. To be enslaved to mental illness, cursed to push others away from him.

            And, no, he stopped taking his medicine two weeks ago after Maya, a girl in their senior class, hung herself from her ceiling fan because, according to her final note, the meds she was taking robbed her of feeling anything. Justin didn’t want to end up like Maya. 

            But maybe Maya had been right. Maybe that was the only way to escape from these curses. 

            “Justin. Jesus Christ. Did you hear me?” 

            Justin blinked back his tears, set his jaw, and said, “I fucking heard you. I’m exhausting. I burn people out, right? You just said you don’t care anymore. We’ve been friends since elementary school. And now? It doesn’t matter.” 

            Charlie shook his head. “Dude, I’ve been trying. I’ve been there for you. But our friendship is not the same as it once was. You’re different.” He leaned back. “We’re different. We have three months of high school left. College is on the horizon, and I have a lot going for me. I can’t… I can’t keep going down this path with you, Justin.” 

            Justin wanted to scream. To curl into the fetal position. To throw his mocha through the window. How could any friend, any true friend, say stuff like that? How was it possible for people to just flip a switch and not care anymore? To say, “Fuck it. This person is no longer worth it.” It wasn’t fair. He was trying. It was just taking time. That’s all. He didn’t want to be like this, to be a devastating cloud. He wanted to be better. But how could he be better if there was nobody left to support him? 

            Justin swallowed the lump in his throat, grabbed his keys and wallet, and stood up. 

            “Justin, where are you going?” 

            He ignored Charlie. Charlie didn’t care anymore, so why tell him anything? Feeling alone and abandoned, Justin left Shasta Beans, his favorite spot in town. He stepped out into the rain and knew it would be the last time he ever left this place. 

            Maya had been right. 

Cloud

Battlefield of the Mind

Weeks ago, I wrote a phrase that said something like “Sometimes some of the nicest people can also be the most terrible.”

But what happens when the person you’re talking about is yourself?

If you’ve followed my blog, you’ve known I’ve gone through ups and downs the past couple of months. I haven’t exactly been shy about my struggles and my internalizations of the world around me. Writing through it helps me process and digest. But it can be a double-edged sword in certain situations. It can build up but also destroy. Words can create a picture within the mind and sometimes that picture isn’t good. Sometimes it destroys.

When you think the way I do, when you see the world as I tend to, it’s easy to get lost within your own thoughts. It’s easy to jump to extremes. It’s far too easy to let the shadows of the mind twist and turn your perception into weapons that hurt others. You have all these anxieties and fears of isolation and abandonment and can’t quite see how harboring those emotions and feelings can often lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.

When you struggle with depression and anxiety and couple that with a childhood where manipulation and conditional love was made normal, it can twist situations in your mind into something it’s not. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but maybe there’s somebody out there who can resonate with what I’m saying–who understands exactly what I’m putting out there.

I grew up with a mother who was always around. She was the one who would tell me and my siblings how much she loved us. She’d take us shopping, out to eat, to the movies, and would actively spend time with us. Growing up, and for a solid portion of my adult life, my mom has always been a foundation. Well, at least until she found out I was gay but that’s another story.

On the flip side, my father was a man who was distant. He’d linger in the shadows quite literally. He worked night shifts. He’d sleep all day, locked in the darkness of his room until late evening. If we were to accidentally wake him up when he was resting for work, there’d be hell to pay. Hell came in many forms, but the worst was the belt. I can still feel the sting of leather on my bare skin.

We would constantly be walking on eggshells around him because if we did or said the wrong thing at the wrong time, he’d get angry and freak out. He was the type who would slam doors and throw things when he’d get angry. He’d ground us for getting Cs on report cards, calling us dumb.He’d freak out if he tried to help us with homework and we were confused. He taught me to hate the subject I struggled with the most: Math.

We learned to survive it best we could. He’d treat my mom like SHIT when he was in his moods, often going weeks without speaking to her. The tension was suffocating and traumatic. It broke us and my mom. Then one day he’d act as if everything was normal. There was no consistency with him. It was bizarre and confusing. We feared him and his wrath growing up. He’d get this wild look in his eyes and he’d be downright nasty during his freak-out sessions. When I became a teenager, I’d yell back at him. I’d argue. I was a rebellious teenager, deciding to go against authority–his authority. I know now that it was because I didn’t respect him–not after all he’d put us through. But, even still, I’d be slapped with the belt. Exiled to my room. One day, in my frustration, I said, “I hate you!” while washing my hands in the bathroom. He tilted his head, eyes wild. I knew it wasn’t good, but I repeated it. He shoved me into the wall so hard that the impact of my body knocked the towel rack off the wall. To this day, I’ve never received an apology about that. Nor would I expect it. Hell, he never told me “I love you” as a kid or teenager. He just didn’t. No, he was more interested in tearing me down with his words. When I got my ears pierced when I was 18 his first words were, “Now you look like a faggot.” I’m sure you can imagine how my closeted ass felt when hearing that. He was conditional in his parenting approach. As long as you stayed out of his way and did as you were told, you’d be fine. My younger sister was good at that. I never was.

So what happens when you have a parent who is mostly consistent with their emotions and one who is far removed and unpredictable? Lots of anxiety and fear of saying/doing the wrong things in your daily life. Always questioning your actions, always analyzing what is said or done to you–you become paranoid and friendships and relationships you make are haunted by this sense of paranoia. You fear that you’re always one wrong word or action from blowing everything up. You suffer through a minefield of questions in your head.

What if I’m not a good friend? Do they really care? Am I too much? Can I take people at their word? Are they saying one thing but mean the other? What if people feel obligated to be friends? What if what if what if what if WHAT IFWHATIFWHATIF—it’s a chorus in my head, day and night. I observe the world around me. I analyze. I try to decipher what’s safe and what’s not. But I do this to a mother-fucking fault! Analyzing and questioning everything everywhere all the time turns me into a terrible person because I assume the worst in what is said or done to me. I weaponize words and scenarios against those who consistently support me and love me. I internalize situations and things get twisted in my head. I should know better, right? I should be able to trust others and not jump to paranoid conclusions which leads me to do stupid shit that blows things up and makes them worse in the end.

I become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s my superpower.

Or curse.

The good thing is that I’m starting to realize this better. I’ve been working with my therapist on this. We seem to be unlocking quite a bit about myself and it seems to tie directly to my childhood. I’m recognizing a lot of moments of conditional love and emotional manipulation and gaslighting I endured growing up. We won’t talk about how the evangelical church setting I was raised in only compounded this. I’ve been able to think about some of my past actions and words as an adult and see how such an environment shaped me. Some of the behaviors I watched growing up? Some of the toxic aspects? I’ve mirrored those in my own life. It’s what I say, what I learned. My entire family operates like that. Toxic. Manipulative. Never owning up to mistakes. Going for the jugular with angry words. NO MERCY. Avoidance. Clamming up and not talking. You want to talk about embracing the dark side? That’s how my family handles conflict. Darkness and brutality and nastiness.

Did it start with my parents? Or did they learn it from theirs? How far back does this go? I’ll never know. Here’s what I do know. I’ve fallen down some of those exact some traps and paths over the course of the past couple of months. I was made vulnerable. I struggled. I didn’t think clearly. I didn’t process actions. And it hurt people. It hurt me. It betrayed trust. It smothered reasoning. Now what am I supposed to do with that? What do you do when you realize you’ve become the terrible person? When you weren’t strong enough to handle your emotions? When you processed them the wrong way? When you don’t consider the consequences of words spoken? When you hurt the people you love?

There is no simple answer for that, this I know. That might be the only thing I know right now. The path ahead is long and full of potholes. It’s not like a light switch that you can flip on and off to erase what’s been done. But perhaps the difference this time is that I’m starting to see those potholes before I stumble in them. I’m recognizing what they look like, and I’m trying to change course. I’m trying to break the lingering imprint of my experiences growing up. I’m trying to rinse off the lens with which I see the world and the relationships I have in my life. I’m not perfect. I never will be. But I am aware. I own that much. I own my mistakes and shortcomings despite the pain they’ve caused. I own them and step out onto the battlefield of the mind.

And when you’re in a battlefield… when shit is flying in every direction… when fear and paranoia can be the very thing that kills you–doesn’t it pay off to slow down and become intentionally aware of what you do and say? Isn’t that the key to survival? To become better?

My mind is a battlefield. That cannot be denied.

I am who I am. That cannot be denied.

But I can be better. I will be better. I will rise. I will grow.

And I will develop a new legacy to be known by.

I will not fall into the traps of my past. I will not let the mistakes of my family define me. I will not let my OWN mistakes dictate who I really am deep within. But when mistakes are made, I will take ownership.

I will strive to be the best version of myself I can be. And when I fall, I will get back up.

That cannot be denied.

May Rambles

Nothing is ever final, I suppose. A few weeks ago I had made a swift post declaring I was done blogging. In hindsight, it was probably melodramatic. But it was my raw feeling at the time.

There was a lot going on when I rushed into that THE END post. My headspace was in the dark. I’d just found out career-shattering news that really upset me. It was news that will definitely change my teaching job moving forward in both good and challenging ways. My career will begin a new chapter in the fall, but the reason behind it is still frustrating.

Beyond that, I’ve been trying to navigate feelings of isolation and turbulent friendship issues. You see writing is a form of therapy for me. I helps me to think through things, analyze things, and sometimes heal. My raw emotions will go out into the cyber-world because that’s part of who I am. Sadly, a person I know had access to my blog and felt the need to take what I thought of as a safe space and broadcast it to multiple people. They cast judgements on my content, made assumptions, and took it to others. It crossed so many boundaries and caused irrevocable damage with one of my relationships. Yes, I know they are probably reading this right now. And I’m denying them the power of taking away my safe space where I channel my thoughts and feelings. And I hope, if they are reading this, they stay out of my business and they refrain from bringing my personal life and blog to others that simply doesn’t concern them. It was invasive and ethically wrong on their part and their meddling caused permanent damage. It’s unforgivable. I write this simply to show that it’s okay to take power back for yourself and to speak out against people who would try to make it theirs.

So, I’m back. Navigating. Trying to figure things out. I’m sorry if my absence scared anybody. I did get a message from somebody. I’m going to continue writing.

I figured today was a good day to get back into the swing of things because this month tends to be a heavy-hitter for me. Today is Mother’s Day and I’ve been trying to stay off social media because, while I’m glad people are lifting up their moms, it’s tough for me because I don’t speak to mine. It’s a pain that will always haunt me on this capitalist-fueled holiday. I can’t help but think back to the time where I drove all the way from PA to Michigan to surprise my mom for Mother’s Day four or five years ago. I still have the video where I showed up and she bawled her eyes out with joy. It was a fond memory. I don’t think she knew I was gay at that time. I wonder how that would’ve changed things now that I look back on it. Obviously, it’s made its impact now.

Beyond that, May is also my mother’s birthday, my own birthday, and my brother’s birthday. Layers on layers of triggers, if you ask me. This birthday is going to be especially challenging for me given all that’s been happening since I jumpstarted my blogging journey a few months ago. I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m fairly introverted and don’t like making a big deal of my birthday at all. I have enjoyed the past seven years spending it with some people who were important to me. But this year I’m unsure if I”ll be able to do that. I’m hoping, but, as I said, somebody caused some severe damage in their meddling. I do, however, look forward to buying a single slice of cake wherein I douse the cake in milk and eat it. It’s my birthday dessert tradition that I’ve been doing the past few years.

Maybe that’s the theme of May: the firsts of doing things alone.

I saw the new Dr. Strange movie a few nights ago. It was the first time I’ve seen a Marvel movie on opening night by myself. I sat between two strangers, huddled with my popcorn and drink. I was excited to see Wanda Maximoff AKA The Scarlet Witch unleash. For that, I was not disappointed. It was epic. Brutal. I was actively cheering her one, despite her villain status. I was urging her to burn it all to the ground, no matter the cost. There were moments I wish I had people with me to react alongside of. After all, this movie had some insane moments that still keep playing in my head. But I enjoyed the movie, regardless. And it made me like and relate to Wanda even more than I already had.

It’s probably a good thing I don’t have her powers because I would probably embrace my inner villain.

Who knows what this month will hold as I move forward. Maybe some unexpected things will occur. Maybe I’ll continue to grow into my lone wolf status, just me and my dog against the world. Maybe I’ll eat a whole cake this year.

Regardless of what this month holds, I’ll be here exploring my thoughts in wordy ramblings because this space is mine to do that with.

As Wanda says, “I have what I want and nobody will ever take it from me again.”

The Karens

Sometimes life becomes a thing you do. You find yourself in bed before 9PM, scrolling through Tik Tok videos and instead of all the thirst traps of shirtless men in gray sweatpants coming up on my FYP, I stumble across crazed Karen videos where these people stick their nose into the business of other people and cause huge scenes in public. Or they are racist. Or homophobic. Or, pretty much, all of the above. There is really no limit to their vitriol.

As I watched those videos, it just made me think “God, it must be so miserable to be a Karen.” Like do they have anything better to to do with their lives? Or is that what their life has become? Something so boring and fruitless that they pick fights with people in public and meddle. Stir. Create shit storms. They are the under-developed villains in the world.

Back in the days where I was attending church–the same church I attended where the cult was run–I knew a Karen. No, her name was not actually Karen. For the purpose of storytelling, we will call her Stacy.

Stacy was an older woman in the church. And boy was she a nosy woman. She was always sniffing for details, trying to live other people’s lives, and her tongue would be the common denominator in destroyed relationships because somehow Stacy got involved and stirred shit up.

I won’t forget a time where I was in a fight with a friend of mine in the church. I honestly don’t remember what the fight was over. Probably something silly and dumb or something that involved a lack of proper communication. I remember my friend didn’t have Facebook. I did have Facebook at that time and I did what anybody in their early 20s did would do with social media: the dreaded subpost. Basically, I was venting about things without mentioning names and putting it on Facebook because… Facebook.

Well, Stacy was your typical social media junkie. She liked my status, one of few people who did. But she didn’t stop there. She seemed to keep an eye on us younger folk in the church. Maybe she had a lonely life beyond church and needed to live vicariously through us. I don’t know. I just know she tried to play detective as if she were Sherlock Holmes in the flesh.

So she took my status. And she started asking questions among mutual friends. She played the whole “I feel like God wants me to intervene and I’m worried” card with one of my friends. Anyway, she eventually took my status posts to the friend I was currently having tension with and pretty much blew open an entire can of worms in the process. See, as I said, my friend wasn’t on Facebook. For me, I felt it a safe space to vent/write. I mean writing is my healing process, even then. I just needed to learn Facebook was a dangerous place to do it.

My friend did not take kindly to it. While my words were vague, Stacy had inserted herself into business she had no right inserting herself into. She thrived on it like some twisted parasite.

And she single-handedly dismantled any chance I had of rekindling the friendship I had with the friend I was at odds with. Sure, it could be argued me posting led to that. But Stacy had a role in that. She instigated and manipulated and threw herself into the midst of something she had business being involved in. She was a vile creature, one I wish I still could dropkick into the sun if I had such abilities.

My friend and I ended up in another fight all over the posts and Stacy’s string-pulling. Things were said. And that was the end of a friendship. I will forever blame that horrible woman.

I think when I see Karen videos come across my phone, I can’t help but think of Stacy. She’d be the very person demanding to see a manager or pitching a fit because two guys were kissing in public. Stacy was a disease within that church–okay that whole church was a disease but she was the rot within the disease. I always wondered what things would’ve been like if Stacy never inserted herself into my personal business. Of course, I’ll never know.

What I do know is that Stacy and people like her are horrible people who thrive on chaos and destruction and don’t consider the damage they do to others. They are the gossiping neighbors, the ones slicing through people with their tongues and casting judgments on people for being who they are.

Can you imagine if Stacy knew I was gay at the time? She’d probably self-combust. That would’ve been a sight. However, given the cult that church often is, it’s good Stacy didn’t know I was gay because then EVERYBODY would know and she’d find a way to twist it into something it wasn’t.

So, why do I watch “Karen” videos when they pop up? I don’t know. Tik Tok needs to be more aware of the triggers it thrusts in my face. But then again I do enjoy seeing “Karens” or should I say “Stacys” being put in their place.

Thankfully, Stacy is irrelevant now, states away. She’s probably still destroying people’s lives by gossiping and spreading shit she shouldn’t be under the guise of “concern” and “God’s will.”

Bleh.

Beyond that horrible aspect of that woman, it’s a testament to the pure hypocrisy within people who attend church. Churches are filled with Stacys and Karens and people who spew hatred and judgment.

But that is certainly a topic for another day.

For now, I’m going to continue laying here in bed, scrolling through my phone, and probably watch Karens get owned because this is what life has become.

That One Friend

Lately, a friend of mine has been heavy on my mind. I don’t know why that is. I haven’t talked to this friend in awhile or seen him or anything of the sort. About a decade ago, he took his own life. I’ll never forget that, the pain of losing somebody to suicide.

Just to respect his privacy, let’s simply call him Ben. That’s not his real name, but I don’t want to cause any problems by using his real name. I was honored to have known his real name. You see, Ben was the guy in high school who had it all: the ladies, the popularity, the good looks. Ben wasn’t a jock, no. He was able to get along with most people and, on the side, he had his dealings with some drugs and alcohol. But what can I say? His charisma was alluring and, to be fair, my closeted ass may have had a crush on him.

I remember we talked a little during high school, but we really developed a friendship a year out of high school. I ran into him at a video store, an ancient place where one would rent their movies. We connected, exchanged numbers, and we would talk on the phone about life and all it had to offer. I remember he asked me to go with him to a AA meeting and I agreed.

I was stood up while listening to the All American Rejects hit song “Move Along.” After waiting for Ben for a half hour, I decided to do just that–move along. Though, we connected later. He wanted to hang out and considering my need to forgive people and, well, move along, I agreed. He came over to watch movies and we had sleepover because that was still fairly acceptable. Because I only had one bed, we ended up sleeping in the same bed together. Nothing scandalous happened, but we did give each other back massages at his insistence.

What? I wasn’t going to say no. It was his idea!

Our friendship developed from there. We would chat on instant messenger, he’d come over a few more times, and then there was the last time we would hang out. He asked me to pick him up and for me to take him downtown so he could drop something off to his cousin. Being a good friend, I agreed. I remember he had me park on the side of the street in some unfamiliar neighborhood. He said he’d be back, got out of my car, and climbed into a tinted vehicle. He was there for a solid ten or so minutes before he came back.

Yes, in hindsight I realize I was too innocent to realize that he had asked me to drive him to a drug deal. It must’ve been successful for him; he was pretty happy.

Anyway, we went back to my place and watched some movies. Then it was time for bed because at that time he had agreed to go to church with me the next day. Brace yourself for the irony about to follow.

We slept in the same bed, but we didn’t sleep. It was massage time again but this time while he was laying on his stomach, he asked me to massage his butt and proceeded to pull down his pants. I was too stunned to decline and my closeted gay ass was not about to complain. We proceeded to have conversation while this went on. I remember thinking it was probably not typical for a heterosexual guy to be okay with another guy massaging his bare butt. It almost became something else but he was tired and we went to sleep. After all, we had church in the morning.

Months would go by after that. Within that time, Ben would lose his father. I remember we chatted online about how much he missed his dad. He was broken. I told him I’d always be there for him, he just needed to call. Sadly, at that time I didn’t realize that the cult I was in at the local church would discipline me for admitting to a church friend I watched porn. (Joke is on them! I wasn’t watching straight porn!) However, my punishment via the cult I was in was for them to take away my phone. It was messed up, I know. Even more messed up is that I agreed to this lunacy.

Months later, Ben took a shotgun to his head. I found out about it while I was at a church service, and I was devastated. Absolutely broken.

And I couldn’t help but wonder if in his last moments he had tried to reach out to me, to ask for help, but couldn’t get ahold of me because some cultists thought it necessary to keep my cell phone because I’d looked at porn.

To top it off, I had to ask permission to attend Ben’s funeral because the cult program I was in said I couldn’t be trusted to go anywhere alone. Luckily, another friend of mine in the church knew Ben and went with me. Trust me. I now look back and wish I could tell the fools at that church how messed up they were to make me ask permission to go to a funeral of a friend of mine. I have lots of messed up church/cult stories. But that’s not the focus here.

I miss Ben.

Deeply.

I think about him every so often, wondering where he would be today. Successful? Family? Wife? Or maybe it would be a husband? I feel like he was curious, so maybe he was bisexual. Maybe he was gay. Maybe he wasn’t either of those things. We’ll never know, but I wonder if he was a prisoner of his own mind in that realm. Afraid to be his true self. I know he was in pain. He felt alone and was hurting. His circle of friends, to him, was shrinking (though a lot attended his funeral). I often wonder if he and I still would still be friends? Or would we have a fallout?

I don’t know. I like to think that there is a universe out there in the great multiverse where Ben is still alive and well, where he never pulled that trigger.

You may ask, “Josh, why is Ben on your mind so heavily lately?”

I really don’t know. It’s been intense. Last night, I couldn’t fall asleep because I could only think of Ben which made me thing of the younger version of myself. And I wish I could go back in time. While I was hiding my sexuality from everybody, I feel like some of those moments where easier than the ones I find myself in now. And in some ways, not.

I’d like to think Ben and I would still be friends today.

I wish I could have an hour to talk to him one last time. To ask him why he did it and how he made the decision and whether or not he tired to reach out for help. I wish I could reverse it so it never happened.

Again, I don’t know why he’s on my mind so much. Maybe it’s because I feel alone and hurt with some of my current situations and it’s causing me to long for nostalgia because then I don’t have to worry about the here-and-now. Instead, I can romanticize a life prior to all this current shit. A time with less complications and a dash of more innocence.

And no, don’t panic. I’m not taking a Ben route. That’s not what my blog posts indicate. I’m just finding it helpful to write down what I’m feeling and everything, to throw it out into the cyber-world and see what happens. I’m shouting into an echo chamber, I’m sure. This blog is just a way for me to understand and cope an try to make sense of what doesn’t make sense now. It’s a way for me to write down my pain and explore it. And for some reason my pain is time-traveling.

The pain of Ben’s death is gnawing away inside my chest as I type.

I wish I could go back.

I wish Ben were still here.

I wish things were better.

Fragmented Identity

Fragmented Identity

Identity.

It’s what everybody strives to figure out about themselves. It’s what we see characters struggle with in books, TV, movies, and video games. This idea of facing your own personal demons in order to figure out just who you are. It’s something we hear about in various songs and poetry. It’s elusive. Other times, it’s concrete.

This past year has been one where the idea of identity has been weighing heavily on me. I used to think that when I was in my 30s–a so called adult–that I would know who I am and what I wanted. When I was a teenager it seemed like all the adults had their lives figured out, that they knew who they were and what they wanted.

How naive I was! Still am?

A lot has changed over the course of the past four years for me. I earned a Master’s in English and Creative Writing. I’ve been changing my philosophy on education and grades. I came out to everyone as gay despite my lifelong fear of rejection.

And it did cost me a lot.

My biological family sees me as mentally ill, screwed up, and a heathen for being gay. I haven’t spoken to my parents since July of 2020. A man I once called “dad” apparently said he’d always known I was gay (I mean they did discover gay porn on the computer when I was a teenager after all) but he’d said he hoped my mom would die before every finding out I was gay. Literally wished her to be dead so she would never know about my sexuality. My mom has repeatedly declared she never gave birth to THAT (referring to a homosexual person as myself) and that I am screwed up and sick for being gay. My sister, who just had a baby in September–my nephew–won’t speak to me and has made it clear I won’t get to know my nephew because I’m gay. And people wonder why I struggle with anxiety and depression…

For my whole life, I was rooted in my biological family. I was raised in the church, taught to believe in God and not question anything. I was encouraged to deny scientific fact in exchange for faith. I was led to believe in White Jesus (who is totally not White). I was told gay people would burn in hell and there was no hope, which led me to deny my sexuality for years and live unhappily. Hell, it even had me contemplate suicide a few times and carry out half-assed attempts.

I was encouraged to offend people in the name of “tough love.” I wish I were making this up. If a BIPOC community member claimed something said/done was racist, I was told the race card was being played and that people made big deals out of nothing. I was taught to say “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter.” I didn’t realize how racist that was at the time. Keep in mind that I’m a cis white male. Talk about white privilege, right?

Over the years, I’ve come to see that a lot of what I was told to think and believe has flaws and, well, is pretty destructive. I’m not perfect by any means nor will I ever be. However, I’ve learned to listen to people, especially BIPOC community members when they speak up about something that’s harmful to them. I take notes and work to be better. I’ve read countless books on social justice, marched in Black Lives Matter events, and work as an equity advocate in my school district.

The response of my family? “You’re going against your own race by supporting BLM.”

Think about that. Because I work to fight for racial equity, I’m going against my own race. I was floored. This was one of the last things said to me by my mom. It was a pretty disgusting moment.

Having been, essentially, disowned by my family I’ve really been able to take a step back and think about who I am. I no longer have to pretend to be somebody else. I question. I research. I read. I accept.

After conducting research on many things, reading a lot of history, and looking at scientific evidence, well, I’m not sure what I believe in the religious sense of things. There are some major flaws in what I was told growing up. There are a ton of inconsistencies, and I can now see why I was told to never question anything–to blindly accept and believe what I was preached and read. But after some research I realize that a lot of the Bible is cherry-picked and the justifications for homophobia, racism, and misogyny is utterly flawed and cherry-picked.

I’m not necessarily saying I don’t believe in a God, but I’m also keeping on open-mind because I’m noticing a lot of ugly in what I was raised in. I would be lying if I said that these past four years hasn’t led me to this place. For example, how can the Church claim to love all people unconditionally yet support a man like Trump who was constantly bullying and insulting people? Who displayed his misogyny and racism blatantly? People who literally used the motto “Fuck your feelings” as a foundation to stand upon. Isn’t that going against the very teachings of Jesus?

It actually pushed me further away because I didn’t want to be associated with any of that. Not one bit.

So, looking over all that has transpired, I find myself in a quest for my own identity. Who even am I?

I know I’m a teacher (even though I’ve been told by family I’m part of the “liberal” brainwashing agenda by teaching students to research, think critically, and fact-check). I know I’m gay (despite the condemnation people I know have spewed at me). I know I’m a writer and a nerd (despite the struggles writing brings and people thinking I’m too extreme with my love of stories).

There’s so much more of me that I’m trying to figure out and discover. It may take a few weeks. It will probably take years.

And you know what? That’s okay.

Why?

Well, because, it means I will never grow stagnant. My identity, on some levels, will remain fresh. On other levels, it will be strengthened.

I can’t say I’ll be the same person a few years from now. Don’t get me wrong some things about me will never change. I’ll always be a writer, a nerd, and I’m 100% gay even if I can’t find myself a man! Ugh.

But I’m open to this journey. And it’s okay to be roaming the forest… sometimes the desert… of identity. It’s okay to seek because if you don’t seek and ask questions, how will you ever discover your truth?

But for now? Well, I’m in the field of fragmented identity.

Mental Health is not Social Media

FeaturedMental Health is not Social Media

2020 has been a weird year so far. To be fair, every year feels like that. However, this year feels… uncertain… bleak… long. But not necessarily bad. It’s just… there.

These past few weeks, I’ve been ruminating on words to type onto the screen, debating what needs said and how to say it. There’s a lot to say given the world we currently live in. I’m not sure I can even put all my thoughts into words; after all, some things cannot be captured in syllables and consonants. Some things are better off existing in the in-between, where we know what it is even if we can’t exactly put letters to it. Maybe that sounds crazy, but also… I can’t put it into words.

Like everybody else, I wanted to start 2020 with a bang. I wanted to do ALL the things, conquer ALL the goals. I wanted to continue bettering myself mentally, physically, and spiritually. Some of those things I am doing.

My mental health is much better this year than it was last year, but I still need to be careful of what I let in–more on that later. Physically? Well, if you were to ask me where the nearest gym was in State College, I’ll simply pretend I didn’t hear you as I watch the next new show on Netflix. Not to mention my newfound addiction of zebra cakes of which I bought eight boxes to use as an in-class demonstration—a demonstration I never did, which resulted in me (and my zebra cake BFF) to sneak in sugary snacks throughout the school day as if they were little rolls of crack. Spoiler alert: they are; we’re down to one box in less than a week. And spiritually? I do feel I’m better in tune with my surroundings, finding my own zen, if you will.

I’m writing more, reading more, and focusing on my students more. I’ve been taking small steps such as walking to work vs. driving the .2 miles there, cooking meals at home, and actually paying attention to the things I buy–not that I don’t buy things. I do. Target is a magical place.

However, I’ve noticed that one place that has no magic, despite all its promises of social sorcery, is that of social media.

Okay, fine. Maybe it does have magic, but it’s the dark kind, one that boils in pits of tar and swallows reason and logic as if it were a parasitic slug.

Up until December, I’d taken a two year break from Facebook and a six-month hiatus from Twitter. Why? Well, it’s full of fake news being touted as facts, narcissistic personalities reigning free all for a like or a hundred, and endless debates on morality that never actually does anything but irritate people and cause divides. Oh, and to be fair, I’m guilty of some of these things myself. I am, after all, human.

I did enjoy my first few weeks back on Facebook: I publicly came out as gay and received much support from friends even if I didn’t get much support from family members because, in their misunderstood interpretations of the Bible, they feel I’m an abomination for loving men, for my biological attraction to them. But it’s okay. They still love me–they just don’t love what I am. Oh well. I’m finally free being out. I enjoyed calling out social injustices. I spent an hour or so purging my friends list because why not?

Then I found myself getting into little debates here and there. Some with friends/family and others with strangers, both on Twitter and on Facebook. I started finding myself devoting considerable time each day to these feeds, procrastinating from doing things more deserving of my time. I’d scroll and scroll and scroll, laughing at Baby Yoda memes until I cried, watching dog videos until they morphed into videos of people talking to their pet cactus (it’s real), and becoming depressed at how terrible and deadly ignorance, racism, sexism, and Trumpism is in the digital world. My time and mental health were being assaulted.

Sure, I can keep up on the news easier this way. I can keep in touch with awesome people through these platforms. But… do I really need to know what Jane Doe is eating for Sunday Funday? Is it necessary to read how John Doe is drooling over Jon Snow on Game of Thrones? What purpose does it serve for me to see memes, comedic or political when all it does is either waste away time or make me upset at the degrading morality of our nation?

The answer is: no, it’s not necessary. No, there’s no purpose except to get sucked into the vortex of self-important posts and cat videos.

I try to justify keeping these platforms to use my voice, to speak up, to stay connected. But really all I’m doing is opening myself up to mental attacks and judgment on others and from others. I’m sitting behind a screen, feeding some strange appetite while I’m really starving myself from the beauty life has to offer.

Remember my adventures in California? If not, feel free to check those out, but… I didn’t have social media when I was in CA. I had my phone, yes. But no Facebook–no Twitter. It was just me and the world–connections with strangers, embracing the beauty and wonder of nature, feeding my creativity with experiences outside of a digital screen. God, I LOVED THOSE DAYS! They were energizing, fresh, invigorating. My soul has been longing for that magic to return. Friends, if I told you how many times I’ve looked at Air BnBs and flights and wonderful places to see in the past month, you’d probably think me crazy. I want another adventure. Hell, I want to return to Mt. Shasta so bad it hurts. Alas, money is a wicked and limiting thing.

But so is social media when you consider all it keeps you from.

The reason why I enjoyed life so much in those two weeks was because I was free from the burden social media holds over the lives of so many people. I was free from the negativity in the world. I was free from the baggage of feeling like I had to post something or like a status or comment on Suzie’s post about how sinful and wrong a Super Bowl half-time show was but yet blindly praise a man who treats people poorly daily with terrible names and intentional lies, a man who breaks up families and fuels an “us vs. them” mindset with human beings.

All of that noise was gone, and I was better for it. So, as 2020 starts picking up steam, what’s the point in keeping the two platforms that cause me so much anxiety, depression, and unproductiveness? I can’t come up with many reasons.

Therefore, the best thing I can do is delete both accounts. Entirely. In this way, I won’t have any accounts to return to. There will be no temptation to hop on and see what’s up with people or get into debates. It will be deleted along with my accounts.

You might say, “But Josh! This won’t shield you from the horrible things in the world!”

That is true. I’ll still follow the news. It will continue to make me sad, to make me cry. It’s my duty, however, to be informed without exposing myself to what I see on social media. Folks, our democracy is dying. Some of you will not agree with me. Some of you see it just as I do. We live in uncertain times where a president can commit a crime and get away with it. People of his own party admits to his wrong doing but won’t vote him out. We are seeing the death of democracy and justice and the rise of an authoritarian system. I only wish I was exaggerating. I only wish my family didn’t so eagerly support and love a liar, a racist, and a man who contradicts all their religious morals on a daily basis. It hurts to see people I love and care about become so easily manipulated by lies and the degradation of human beings. I can’t tolerate it on social media any longer, as it does nothing good for me.

I’ll get my news through the internet, but in this way I’ll avoid the comments and responses. I’ll use my voice, not on social media platforms, but in my community. I’ll speak up against the injustices in the world by writing my stories and posting on here. I’ll help raise an intellectual army in my students, encouraging them to research and explore and form their own opinions–to love, to forgive, to continue being the awesome human beings they already are. That’s where using your voice makes the most impact–in the real world. Not in the social media world.

We are in strange times. 2020 is uncertain at this point. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of year it’ll be and who it’ll make me at the end.

I refuse to let Facebook and Twitter be the things that shape me.

So, with that, I’ll leave you. You will not find me on either platform anymore. You can find me on here where I’ll write when I can. You can reach out to my cell phone. Should you find me outside the digital walls, hopefully you’ll join me in the wilderness of real-life, enjoying nature and making connections.

This is the way.

2020: The Year of the Metal Rat

Featured2020: The Year of the Metal Rat

No, you didn’t read that wrong. 2020 is the year of the Metal Rat. I was doing some reading on the Chinese Zodiac signs. The rat is the first animal in the Chinese calendar cycle and, in Chinese culture, rats are actually considered a sign of good luck.

As this is the first animal in the cycle, the Year of the Rat is a sign of renewal that indicates new experiences. The attachment of metal to this particular year is said to symbolize success.

We are entering a new decade. That in itself seems symbolic enough to me of a year of renewal and new experiences.

And it’s something I want to take to heart.

If you’ve been following my sporadic posts and adventures throughout the year, you know I’ve been dealing with a lot of changes. I’ve been speaking my truth. I’ve laid everything out on the sand while also drawing lines where necessary. I’m going to enter 2020 free.

And I’m yearning for more adventures, desperate for them. My favorite memory of this past year was definitely my adventure in California. I adored that time and I passionately miss it. I wish I could afford to go back, but finances aren’t looking promising in that regard. It’s simply an experience I’ll never ever forget. I hope it is a preview of what’s to manifest in 2020.

Interestingly enough, 2020 is the target for perfect vision. So we have clear vision, success, and new experiences attached to kickoff of a new decade.

Ten years ago, I was a terrible person. I was close-minded, said I was “color-blind” which is a highly racist thing to say, I was intolerant, fighting my true self, and didn’t think about my opinions–only went with what my family said.

Ten years later, and education has taught me a lot about the world. My perspective (2020) has changed. I’m more open-minded. I’m openly gay. I see race so I can help fight against racism, but also appreciate the diverse cultures in the world. I’ve learned the power of research. I’m not the “cookie-cutter” person I was told to be my whole life.

I’m entering 2020 hoping to still grow and learn, as there is much to still uncover.

I’m entering 2020, a year where I will gain my Master’s in English and Creative Writing and, hopefully, be accepted in another Master’s or Doctorate program for Equity and Diversity in Education.

I’m entering 2020 with a clear vision and momentum for the novel I’m working on–the foundation of my California trip.

I’m entering 2020 with a goal to disconnect more, to reconnect with nature, to make a difference where I can.

I’m entering 2020 proud of what I’ve become, eternally grateful I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago. That guy was awful!

This is the Year of the Metal Rat, the year of new experiences and success.

How will it define you? Or how will you define it?