Nerves Ahoy

I was on the phone with a dear friend yesterday and the subject of the various romance cons came up. He asked me how long it was until I fly to England to participate in the UK Meet. I was shocked to realize it’s a mere six weeks away.

What’s more shocking is I’m less afraid than I expected to be at this point in time. I’m honest-to-god looking forward to it.

It’s no secret I have anxiety, which manifests in many ways but never more quickly and more ferociously than in social settings. The very day I signed up for the con, I went to take my ruffians trick-or-treating, thinking it would be the usual family affair it had been in years past, only to unknowingly walk into a costume party with a potluck dinner, for which I wore no costume, nor did I have a dish to contribute. After taking the kids to get their candy on, I got out as soon as I could so no one could see me hyperventilating and near tears, almost too panicked to drive.

I had no idea what I was walking into that night, so it blindsided me, and while I knew everyone at the party, I stood out like a sore thumb without a costume. (Not to mention the small fact that it was among a group of people who were related to my ex, so while we’re amicable, it was still incredibly awkward with people I hadn’t seen in a long time.) I didn’t feel it fair to partake in the food everyone brought when I brought nothing, and so at 9 at night, I drove through a Sonic drive through for a giant ass strawberry limeade (my comfort drink) and a late dinner I could barely stomach. It was hours until I felt reasonable again, and stopped berating myself for being so woefully unprepared.

Why can’t I function normally around people I know?

Why was it so hard to talk to people who told me more than once it was good to see me again?

Why can’t I be like everyone else?

The answer is simple: I have social anxiety.

So what the fuck am I doing going to a con??

Two things in particular trigger my social anxiety: hugs and the possibility of my face being put online.

If someone comes at me with their arms out, suddenly, my heart is in my throat. I know I’m not being threatened, but it feels that way. Several things flit through my mind. 1.) I’m short, so most hugs put me at chest level to others. Women, I’m faceplanted in their boobs. Men, I’m nose-to-armpit. Unless I crane my neck awkwardly, it’s uncomfortable, and I FAIL AT HUGGING. 2.) I can’t breathe. Whether that’s physical or psychological, I don’t know. I have only been diagnosed with asthma in the last year, but who knows how long I’ve had it? 3.) I’m always worried I smell, or that I’m not in my best shape and someone will feel that and judge me. All of these (plus more if my brain is being particularly cruel) make me shaky and nervous, which intensifies the stupidity I feel. There are definitely wrong ways to give a hug. I suck at hugs.

My friend on the phone gives the best hugs ever. Why? Because I feel safe when he hugs me. How would I find that level of safety with someone I’ve just met, or have only talked to online? It’s a question I can’t answer. Which is why hugs scare me. Literally scare me.

My photo being put online is becoming less of a trigger, but still a concern. I see people happily put themselves out there, and even though I like being able to put a face with a name myself, the thought of doing so with my mug makes me freak. Anybody can see it. Set aside my self-criticism, I can’t control who sees me if my face is online. Given my active imagination, I spiral into worry about predators trolling the internets for their next victim and well… I know it’s stupid. But anxiety is not logical.

I am proud to say, however, that in the months since I signed up that Halloween for the UK Meet, I’ve managed tricks to ratchet down the irrational fears. It helps the UK Meet organizers are conscientious of these things, and I will wear a lanyard color coded to let people know without asking whether or not taking my picture is okay (I haven’t decided if I’m going to brave this one yet). And there are badges that can be worn to let people know if it’s okay to hug the wearer. Two awkward conversations handled smoothly with non-verbal cues, and I tell you what, I can actually relax that these things don’t rest on my shoulders. I have also gone over and over with Kate ways to extricate myself from awkward situations should they arise. Having a contingency plan for every scenario makes me feel more in control.

My friend on the phone told me the story of his first romance con as a writer, and he said when he first arrived, he was literally mobbed by people wanting to talk to him. It took him half an hour to reach the registration desk. He’s not as severe as me with anxiety, but even he barely managed to keep from walking out and never looking back.

We had a good laugh. And I realized, as I was talking about the round-table discussion I’m leading with Kate, and how I’m looking forward to the gala dinner and the people I have on my list that I absolutely must say hello to, that I’m not scared right now, six weeks out. My heart isn’t beating hard at the thought. My eyes are dry. My hands are steady.

Could that change in the coming weeks? Sure. But the best part is, I really, honestly think I can do this. If someone asked me last year if I’d really make it, I’d have said the chance was iffy. It’s not the flight, being in another country, or even speaking to a crowd (strangely, I only get as nervous as the average person when giving a speech, go figure) that gets to me. It was knowing my specific triggers not only were possible, but probable, just because that’s what people do at cons. They hug their friends and favorite authors and take pictures with them. The fact that those things are already handled, significantly reducing my chances of panicking, is really giving me some hope. Maybe even enough confidence to challenge one of the triggers. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to put up a photo of me with one or two of my favorite authors, who I’m dying to meet, and say, “Look! I have proof that I met x                            and they are awesome!”

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Rant: Marginalization for Profit

Some of you, but not all, know I’m engaged to Kate Aaron, and because she’s English and I’m American, we have to go through the immigration process. I haven’t posted on it much because frankly, it’s a lot of handwringing, asking why the hell the government needs to know that, and a hell of a lot of loneliness. I don’t want to be a drag, so I don’t talk about it much. However, we’re nearing the end of all the requirements, and only one step remains: Kate’s interview at the US Consulate in London sometime in the coming weeks. Just thinking about it makes my heart pound in anticipation.

One of the discussions we’ve had centers around the question of the best place for her to fly in to the country once her visa is approved (because I cannot allow myself to think of what would happen if we get denied). Despite the possibility that Atlanta may have more flight options, that Delta, whose largest hub and HQ is located at Hartsfield-Jackson International in ATL,  is a better airline than American for those long hauls over the ocean in terms of comfort, and that the cost of the ticket might be cheaper, we’ve decided it would be best for Kate to fly in through Chicago, which likely means American Airlines. Why?

Because marriage equality wasn’t legal in Georgia until SCOTUS ruled it’s legal in all 50 states last month. And because even with a federally recognized marriage visa approval in her hands, she might not have made it through Atlanta’s customs checkpoint with such paperwork. Georgians didn’t have to recognize same sex marriages or any related paperwork.

Now? It doesn’t matter what airport she comes through with her approved marriage visa to make an honest woman out of me.

For obvious reasons, this elates me. But are our equality struggles over? Far from it. There’ve been a slew of articles discussing how we can’t let our momentum slow on helping keep LGBT students from getting bullied, how while the EEOC recently ruled sexual orientation is already a protected class in their handbook, it’s not federally mandated that LGBT people cannot be fired in all states for our orientation. There’s still a MASSIVE homeless problem for LGBT youth. We are nowhere near done with the equality fight.

So when I saw a couple discussions in the last few days from m/m authors asking if sales were likely to suffer (or already have been) because marriage equality renders the coming out rejection angst less of a struggle for gay people, and therefore less of interest to readers who might think such a plot line is now passé, I saw red.

(Warning: stop here if you aren’t ready for a rant of epic proportions, because I’m not going to censor myself this time.)

M/M has exploded in the last few years, going from 50 or so authors to hundreds, going from hundreds or thousands of readers to tens of thousands. (I can’t speak for F/F because I know nothing about that market, but if the acceptance of same sex relationships has a foothold in the growth of readership, it’s not a stretch to assume F/F is comparable.) We’re helping people see the struggles, and yes, one of the biggest in m/m fiction is coming out. To family, friends, coworkers, etc….

I’ve seen so many memes stating how people can’t wait until it’s not gay marriage, it’s just marriage. That there’ll be no need to come out anymore because a guy can casually mention his boyfriend or husband without people falling all over themselves to scream that he’s no longer human, the fucking sodomite! That the girl growing up thinking her fellow teammate on her softball team is hot and that maybe she’ll ask her to the homecoming dance won’t be so worried about getting beat up for doing so.

Will these idealistic ideas ever fully happen? Probably not in total. There will always be people who think two men together is upsetting. Or parents who don’t want their daughter doing more with a girl than being friends. Fine, as long as they’re not allowed to tell those individuals they can’t be with who they love in every way they want to be, including marriage, adoption or other ways to achieve parenthood, when both are in the end stages of life and in need of medical care that accepts their relationship, and finally, death benefits.

The whole point has been to end the marginalization.

So for someone to theorize the lack of marginalization makes LGBT characters no longer interesting, and worse, hits the writer personally in the pocketbook, strips us of our humanity once again. As if our only purpose is to come out in a fiery argument of bible verses and tears (and maybe some physical blows) so the readership can pop their popcorn and watch the trainwreck unfold.

 

So suppressing my rights as a human being if it jeopardizes your plot line wherein you make money off telling a facet of my story is okay? I don’t fucking think so. We need allies who are happy for us right now. Be glad future generations will be more likely to think same sex couples are no big deal when they see us on the street holding hands. Or when Kate gets here and I rush her at the airport to lay a kiss on her lips when I’ve spent the last six months without her, we won’t get scoffed at or called dykes. Be proud that the stories we all tell about LGBT struggles have possibly done good to make those struggles a little less necessary.

Don’t be sad your bank account is emptier because we are now more free.

As long as human beings have strong feelings both for and against each other, there are plenty of plot lines to explore. I’m an angst hoor, so I am a huge fan of plot lines involving inner turmoil, sexual tension, and pining for an unrequited/broken love. I know plot lines exist besides coming out, that LGBT people can be characters in books without the main premise being that they’re gay, and those books are still interesting. LGBT people aren’t one dimensional, and our only struggle isn’t our orientation. We have hidden depths, like bills to pay, and favorite foods and TV shows, and things everyone worries about, like the safety of our loved ones and the direction our careers take. Yes, we’re LGBT, but we’re human first.

Explore plots without relying on coming out rejection angst rather than lament the coming out plots are dying. But don’t you dare say it’s bad that we’re becoming more equal if it makes your bottom line suffer, because all I hear when you say that is my oppression is okay to you as long as you’re making money off my struggles. If you’re not creative enough to come up with something more to write about and move with the times, then shut down your computer and go find a different job. Society is evolving for the better, so either get on the train or get left behind. But don’t you dare say such evolution should slow down or stop so you don’t get stuck on the train platform with your head stuck up your ass.

Getting to Know Ash Caine, Part 2

What’s your favorite book?
I’m not much for reading books, mainly because when I had time, I couldn’t find a lot about people like me. A few years ago, I found this one fanfic writer, Ewinfic, who wrote Star Trek real person fiction about the actors behind the 2009 JJ Abrams reboot. She wasn’t afraid to push boundaries, either, and I learned some kinky shit from her stories. I also liked the Shannara series by Terry Brooks, but after reading a dozen of those, I got kind of sick of it. If I had to pick a book, it would be something sci-fi, but I can’t think of one off the top of my head.

What’s your most embarrassing memory?
Second grade. Kid named Jeremy Hicks. My mom told me all the kids in my class were supposed to get a Valentine card, and I had a crush on him. Put a heart next to his name on the front, and when they realized I hadn’t done that to any of my other Valentines, I learned real quick what homophobia was. When Charlotte ratted me out, I played it off to our parents like I’d meant to put hearts on all of them, and his was just the first, but that after Jeremy’s was done, I changed my mind. I don’t know if they bought the lie, but they didn’t act like it was a big deal.

If you could go anywhere on vacation where would you go and what would you do there? Is your answer now different from what it was before the shit hit the fan?
Vancouver. It’s beautiful, not incredibly hot or cold one way or another, and has a really eclectic culture. Frankly, moving to Canada now seems like a good option, so yeah, that’s still my destination of choice.

What places have you been on vacations and what was your favorite?
I’ve been to San Francisco, Orlando, and Olympic National Park in Washington. Uncle Marvin lives on the edge of it. If I had to pick one, it’d be San Francisco. That was the first place I ever saw two men holding hands, and knew I wasn’t alone in the world. Not that I was going to learn more about San Francisco’s gay community when I was ten, but it was sort of a confirmation I hadn’t known I was waiting for. The wharf was cool, too, and I could have watched the seals on the pier all day.

Tell me about your Mom and Dad. What do you remember most about them?
My dad was fierce, but he was a pretty reserved, self-contained guy. He wasn’t the kind to swagger or brag about what he could do. He knew what he was capable of, and didn’t give a shit if anyone else believed it or not. He also wasn’t the kind of dad to leave all but the playing with us to my mom. He read as many bedtime stories and gave as many baths as she did. But I remember his smell, most. Head & Shoulders shampoo, whatever soap was cheapest, and sweat.

Mom was a little more outspoken than Dad. She was a skinny thing, and tall. She was taller than Dad, and I remember him laughing and saying if he ever needed an ego check, he just had to look up at her to remember there were bigger things than him. He meant her heart, but he teased her about her height. Anyway, she was always smiling, but she was smart. Fantastic poker player. She taught me about body language and tells. Then she promised that for every outdoorsy thing Dad taught us, she had a housekeeping lesson. I don’t like cooking but I can do it. Ironing is the devil, so I do it as little as necessary, but I know how. I learned how to handle debit and credit cards by the time I was fourteen, not that they were in my name. It’s kind of morbid, but she told us how much our monthly income was and used the incoming hospital bills for her cancer treatment to illustrate what happens when you have to juggle payments. But she was fun. She’s the one who let us cover the living room in chairs draped in blankets and call them tents. She’d make kitchen-s’mores—carefully roasting the marshmallows in the gas flame of the stove burners—and let us have them in our tents while crawling in with us to have ghost stories around a flashlight we pretended was a campfire. She’d randomly start singing and dancing in the kitchen, and she helped us set up little skits. Charlotte was the dramatic one, but I liked building the “sets” for her skits, and my parents indulged us both. Mom was the spontaneous one. I can’t pick a single memory I remember most about her.

Have you ever been betrayed by someone you trusted? If yes would you ever forgive them? If not how do you think you’d react if it happened?
When I was in high school, I was Chip Wilkinson’s piece on the side. He was the baseball team’s captain and was “dating” a cheerleader, but I was the one whose bedroom he snuck into in the small hours of the night. My room was in the basement, and he couldn’t climb through a window, so I gave him a key to the back door. Given how far he went to convince his parents he was straight, I shouldn’t have been so surprised when it ended badly. I was “tutoring” him in biology, not that he needed much help from me. He wasn’t a dumb jock, just a bored one and he had a passing grade, but not a great one. Anyway, one afternoon, we were supposed to be studying for a test on the nervous system or something, and instead, we were on the couch with our hands down each other’s pants.
Charlotte walked in on us, home early from work because Riley was sick. She stopped and blinked at us, then took Riley into the bathroom for a cool bath to lower his fever. She never said a word. Chip freaked out. I told him it was no big deal, that Charlotte didn’t think sexual orientation was gossip fodder, but he wasn’t even hearing the words coming out of my mouth. He left and the next morning, he’d spread rumors that I’d come onto him during a study session. A couple guys from his team were waiting to “escort” me to my first class. I never made it. When I could stand again, I walked home and spent the rest of the week at home, trying to convince Charlotte not to go after him, or take me to the hospital. We couldn’t afford the bills, and Mom was gone by then. It was a couple of bruised kidneys, and some bad bruises. One of them tweaked my knee. They were careful enough not to get my face, so when I came back to school, people just assumed I’d been embarrassed by the rumors and stayed away.

I didn’t care what other people thought of me, but Chip… that hurt. He got caught a year later with his catcher in the school showers, and neither of them couldn’t save face, so he was out whether he wanted to be or not. Last I knew, he got a scholarship to play ball at University of Maryland, and didn’t need his parents’ blessing anymore.

Would I forgive him if he apologized? I already have. He was scared. My parents’ deaths were far worse than the fishbowl that was high school, but I had a better support system with my sister and her out-of-wedlock baby than Chip did with his perfect nuclear family, so I understood his reaction. I don’t know if he set up my greeting party that next day. Even if he did, in the long run, he did me a favor. Because of that beating, I learned how to defend myself, to fight back. I also learned to be more careful with my trust.

What’s your Myers-Briggs type? Or, as is my preference, your D&D alignment (and you don’t have to have played the game to answer these – I tried it)? http://www.helloquizzy.com/tests/the-d-d-alignment-test

Your result for The D&D Alignment Test …

True Neutral

You scored 57% Law vs Chaos and 50% Good vs Evil!

Keep this in mind, before you read this and take it too seriously…
This test is based on a system of moral absolutes. There is no subjectivity in D&D, as it is based on a fantasy world of heroes and villains. That is why their alignment system is so simple and polar. So naturally, if I were to apply this simple morality to modern day life, things would look very “black and white”. That is why I watered down the concept of evil and good. It is very unlikely that anyone who takes this test is a mass murderer or a superhero, so Mean vs. Nice will have to take the place of good vs. evil.

Neutrality in a nutshell:
-In regard to Law vs. Chaos, neutral characters are fairly well balanced. They believe that their morality, or lack thereof, is more important than what is legal or illegal.
-In regard to good vs. evil, neutral characters tend to be somewhat selfish. They do not have a strong will to do the right thing, but they do have a conscience.
Your Alignment:
“Undecided”
This alignment is suprisingly common. Even I fall into this category.
Most people assume that they are good. They follow the rules and they are nice to people most of the time. But what do we really DO to benefit society? The answer for most of us is… not much. We just play our part, and do our own thing.
Don’t feel bad though. It’s better than being evil.

Scenarios:

If you walked into your favorite store to find they had rearranged everything how would you feel and react?
I’d probably get annoyed and grumble about it, but find what I needed anyway and get out. Not really big on shopping.

You just found out you need a good bit of money very quickly. How do you go about getting it?
I mentioned my mother played poker, right? I’d probably hit up a high stakes game and see what I could do. I can hold my own at counting cards. If I needed more than a few hundred or a few thousand, I’d probably talk to my uncle. It would depend on what it was for, though. I’d rather not pop up on anyone’s radar, so illegal means wouldn’t be too helpful.

Answer these as though the catastrophe hasn’t happened yet:

What is in your refrigerator? On your nightstand?
Gatorade, fruit and vegetables, lunchmeat. Nothing exciting. On my nightstand, there’s a lamp, a couple books, my cell phone charger, and a picture of my parents. Maybe a handful of change, unless my asshole roommates stole it.

Time for a typical night out. Where are you going? What are you wearing? What are your plans when you get there? Are you meeting anyone specific?
Probably hit up a club. I’d wear jeans, a t-shirt, and depending on the weather, my leather jacket. Boots. When I got there, I’d have a couple beers, and check out the crowd, see if there are any takers. No one specific. Anonymous would be fine, although I kind of stopped going to clubs in the last several months.

What’s your roommate like? How long have you been roomies?
I have three roommates, and they’re all assholes. The one who shares my room, Jared, I’m pretty sure is fucking his girlfriend in my bed so he doesn’t have to wash his own sheets that often. The other two are kind of obnoxious, but I guess they’re just typical guys. At least they’re all serious about school, though, so I can study without tuning out wild parties and a parade of girls in and out.

If you knew you wouldn’t get caught would you commit a crime? If so, what crime?
Depends on the reason. If I was stuck in a situation where the only solution was to break the law, then yeah. Let’s take your earlier question about what I’d do if I needed a lot of money quickly. Say it was because Charlotte had some kind of problem, like her van got totaled and she needed a car, or something she needed for Riley, like expensive medicine. If I knew I wasn’t going to get caught, I’d probably get a guy I know to hack a bank. I’d try to stay away from stealing from a person, but some of those banks are full of criminals in suits. That would be easier for me to stomach than stealing debit cards or identities. But I don’t think I’d commit a crime without damn good reason, and only if I had no other option.

Do you have any hobbies?
Kickboxing. Building shit. I like to tinker.

What chore do you hate the most? Any you actually enjoy doing?
Housecleaning. Laundry. If I ever have a house, I’m going to have a house cleaner for all that. I don’t mind yard work, though, or even gardening. I prefer fresh veggies not tainted by pesticides, and we didn’t have much of a yard growing up, but we always had a few tomato plants and some other basic vegetables. Useful, good for the environment, and better for our health. Cheaper, too.

What’s your favorite restaurant?
When we were in Orlando, we spent a day at Disney World. There’s this place in the MGM, or whatever they’re calling that park now, called the 50s Prime Time Café. It’s set up like a 1950s diner and the wait staff treat you like they’re your family. What I mean by that is when you sit at your table, they dump the silverware in a pile in the middle and ask you to set the table for them. When you order, they make you get vegetables and they tell you they won’t let you have dessert unless you clean your plate. My dad wanted a beer and it was in the middle of the day. Our waitress gave him the biggest raft of shit for drinking before 5 o’clock. I can remember a couple at a table a few spots over and the guy didn’t want to eat his green beans, so he’d hidden them beneath his chicken and mashed potatoes. The waitress found them when she went to clear their plates and she made a show of making him eat three green beans. She even fed them to him. The whole dining room was laughing, the guy included, and he eventually got his pie or whatever he tried to order. But that stuck with me. The food was good, and it was entertaining. While I have only been there once, it was the most memorable restaurant I’ve ever been to. I was only eight, so I’d like to go back some time and see if it’s really how I remember it.

Getting to Know Ash Caine, Part 1

From time to time, I like a more extensive study, in order to get used to being in my characters’ heads, particularly if they’re stubborn and being quiet in my head. This way, I force them to talk when their image isn’t enough to spark my imagination. The other day, my PA sent me a long list of questions for Ash Caine from The Long Fall of Night, and I’ve decided to share some of the answers. There are a lot of questions, though, and more for a single post, so I’ll probably have another post or more depending on the length of the answers. Here’s the first few.

Describe a summer day with Uncle Marvin from when you were growing up.
Well, he’s not my biological uncle, so I don’t have memories of him at 4th of July picnics or Christmases, and he wasn’t a greater fixture in our lives until after Dad died. Charlotte wanted nothing to do with him at first, so it was just him and me. I’d take him around the Lakes and he taught me things about surviving in a forest setting, how to trap, how to live off the land. I refused to fish though. He once tried to talk me into noodling, but if I couldn’t make myself unhook a catfish from a line, he wasn’t getting me to stick my whole forearm down a fish’s throat. No fucking way.

We know Elliot’s music tastes; what are yours?
The harder the better, though Elliot’s tastes are refining mine, I guess. I can appreciate how good some of his symphony stuff is. Before that, it was mostly Black Veil Brides, Fall Out Boy, Three Days Grace, Shinedown, Seether, Rise Against, Placebo, DeVotchKa, Paper Route, Kidneythieves. Mostly dark stuff and some old school. Metallica, Skid Row, Guns n Roses, that kind of thing, though not as much of the glam shit from the 80s.

What superpower would you want and why?
Definitely not invincibility. I don’t want to watch my loved ones die around me for eternity. Flying seems cool, but it doesn’t do all that much for anyone but me. Invisibility would be cool, but so would shapeshifting, or… Oh, I know. I’d like to be able to manipulate matter, so I could turn one object into another. Like if I need a knife and don’t have one, I could turn a flashlight into a knife just by thinking about it. No, just by touching it. I don’t want to wish for a burrito only to have the book I’m reading turn into one.

Who is your biggest role model?
Most people would expect me to say my dad, because of how much he’s influenced me, but there’s someone who’s done more: Charlotte. She taught me about keeping my chin up, that it’s okay to be human and have flaws as long as I stand up and be responsible for my actions, and that there’s nothing more important than my word. Family is a close second, and I can tell you why it’s not the other way around. I would die for her and Riley and even Uncle Marvin in a heartbeat, but my word has an effect on more than just my family. Other people can become family based on my word, and how much I stand behind it. Take Elliot for instance. When I stopped pretending the words out of my mouth about keeping my distance matched the words in my heart, he became family. I have influence over more than a small sphere of people, and each of those influenced deserve my best, too. It sounds idealistic, but if more people stuck by that rule, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten into the blackout mess to start with.

When have you been most satisfied?
The day I got my scholarship offers for NYU. It was the first time someone with real power to enable me to change my future took an interest. Sure, my science teacher in high school, Mr. Libby, wanted to help, but there was only so much he could do. I know I don’t exactly help myself looking like I do, with the long hair and tattoos, but those things shouldn’t matter. I have a brain and someone finally recognized that fact outside my family.

What would your former teachers say about you?
The majority of them would say I didn’t care or that I was a smart ass. They’re not wrong, but most of them didn’t recognize I acted out because I was so fucking bored. The shit they taught in high school were things I’d already learned on my own during middle school. Mr. Libby was the only one who recognized that I wasn’t some scab just trying to ooze trouble, but that I needed more from my education. He tried to do his best, and if he hadn’t, I don’t know what would have happened with NYU. He’s the one who wrote the recommendation for the scholarship board, told them about our extra credit work, and assured them I wasn’t a mess, but a kid who needed a challenge. Mrs. Kostova would probably say she’s surprised I’m not dead yet. Then again, she might be dead now, for all I know.

Any scars? From what?
I have a couple. There’s a through-and-through scar on my left foot from a nail I stepped on at a construction site when I was eleven. I wanted to study how they wired a building, and one side was ready for the plumbing and electricity while another part was still in the interior framing stage. Security guards saw my flashlight and chased me out, thinking I was there to steal copper piping or some shit. At least the nail wasn’t rusty. I have another one above my eye from falling off the roof when I was seven. I had an idea for a drone, but there was something wrong with the controller handling pitch and yaw, and it landed on the roof. I didn’t plan on the climb down being one-handed, and when I slipped, I tried to catch myself on the gutter. Landed okay, but the gutter fell with me and cut my face. Then there’s this one on my left middle finger. Drawer front on the silverware drawer came off and I accidentally glued it on upside down. Tried to pry it off with a chisel, but the glue I used had already set. Chisel slipped and cut to the bone. I think I was seventeen? It was after Mom died, I remember that much.

How do you work out aggression or anger? What calms you?
Loud, in your face music pumped straight into my brain and either a session at the gym with a body bag or a good long run pounding the pavement. Given my new living arrangements, I’ve had to adapt somewhat. I saved my phone, and the camp has a couple communal chargers that are hoarded worse than gas and water, but I can still listen when I need to. Hiking helps, I’m learning. I never hunt when angry. Handling weapons while my judgment isn’t the best is a bad idea. Though to relieve stress, I’ve been going to the camp shooting range with the bow and arrow they let us keep in the arms locker. It’s repetitive, useful, and the sound does something to break my tension far more than firing a gun.

Have you ever had your heart broken?
Yes. When my dad died, and then later, my mom. But if you mean romantically, no. I haven’t put myself out there enough to get my heart involved… until now anyway. God, that’s kind of an uncomfortable thought.

We all develop bad habits; what are yours?
I’ve started biting my fingernails. I’m also really paranoid of new people now. My trust in humanity took a big hit, given all that’s happened. Yeah, I know I said people outside my family deserve better from me, but I find it really hard to expect them to reciprocate. I waffle back and forth between thinking fuck it, I’m going to start a compound and keep me and mine safe and everyone else is on their own, and thinking if we’re going to get society back on track, let’s reinvent ourselves to be better.

Has anyone ever said anything that has stuck with you? If so who was it and what did they say?
My dad, when he told us he wasn’t retiring from the marines after 9/11 and why. He and Charlotte got in a huge fight about it. His exact words were, “Who’s going to fight for you when you can no longer fight for yourself? The military, that’s who.”
Then she said she’d be dead before she stopped fighting for herself, because she was the only one she could trust, since even her daddy was leaving her to go it alone. She was so convinced we’d never see him again. And we didn’t.
But I decided then and there she’d never go it alone, whether Dad came back or not. She was an idiot, thinking she’d never be vulnerable, but if I had her back, and she had mine, we’d be a lot less vulnerable.

to be continued…