some small attempt

Many thanks to those of you that have sent messages of condolences about Chaucer.

It's been three months and I still don't really know how to talk about him. What he meant to me and the ways in which he truly saved my life. I originally had this idea that I would create something about him, write a story or make a video or something--anything that would get all of my feelings funneled into one place so that I could let go and move on.

But I know now that's impossible. I'll always have more to say and think and feel about him.

The visuals have been the hardest; it took me ages to sit down and attempt even this short video. And it could have been an hour long, easily. But it's something. Some small attempt at cathartic expression.

I can't tell you how much it has meant to me to share his funny, sweet, goofy, amazingly loving self with you, all these years. Thank you.

beauty school

In the sixth story Beverly Hills office where Riley awaits her injections, two waste receptacles have been built into the supply cabinet: TRASH and NOT TRASH.

TRASH and NOT TRASH, their labels announce decisively. TRASH is round. NOT TRASH is rectangular. She leans over slightly, curious as to the contents of NOT TRASH, but nothing besides a plastic bin liner can be glimpsed from this angle. Standing up would offer a better view, but staying seated feels like the more polite thing to do. The doctor has already performed his initial consultation. Explained the process. Disclaimed the fine print. All that's left is for him to return, offer another round of reassuring smiles, and shoot her face full of neurotoxic protein. She doesn't want to be caught poking around when he comes back in. Doesn't want him to think she's grown bored, waiting.

Earlier, before the doctor entered and introduced himself (impeccably poised, his own face kind but suspiciously unlined), she allowed herself a few pensive moments at the window. On the landing below, two women in casual work attire were engaged in an emotional discussion. One of the women was visibly upset, carefully wiping tears as she recounted, one inferred from her gesticulations, some intra-office drama. Something about the delicate way the woman dabbed at her lower eyelids--folding and refolding the tissue to obtain a clean, dry edge--impressed Riley deeply. Clearly the woman knew she'd have to return to her desk, after this venting session was over. Clearly she meant to retain some sense of composure.

The only way Riley knew how to cry was full-throttle and full-throated, set and setting be damned.

She watched as the upset woman eventually spent herself, and the companion who'd been listening sympathetically took over the conversation. Her response won the rapt attention of her coworker, who cocked her head as if to consider a fresh viewpoint. Nodding. Laughing. Two sets of shoulders relaxing. Heads shaking with good-natured disbelief at the tribulations of the workplace. Another day, another potential HR bomb defused.

TRASH and NOT TRASH. The stickers on the inside rims of the compartments are perfectly centered and trimmed, their simplicity and indisputable dichotomy inviting. Her old boss would have approved. Oh how he loved his labels. Needed them, desperately. For everything and everyone in his life. The simpler, the better. Winner. Loser. Rich. Poor. Beautiful. Ugly. Young. Old. She knew exactly what labels he applied to her. He never bothered to keep them secret. And sometimes, when all the dusty books full of sadness and confusion and loss and self-loathing come tumbling down--just because one has accidentally been cracked open--she let them hurt her, again.

But not today.

Today she is here, back in the old stomping grounds, on her terms. On her dime. The months and the money that have come between her and Baxter are like bricks in a wall built painstakingly, with much bleeding and bruising. He's on the far side of it, fussing and fuming his way through life as always. And she's over here, laying brick after brick on a new foundation. An independent architect, calling her own shots.

Today didn't come cheaply. This dip in the fountain of youth is costing her dearly. Digging a chunk from her wallet and her pride. But Riley doesn't feel poor today, or ugly, or even old, 21-gauge needles notwithstanding. She feels like someone who escaped and lived to tell about it.

She feels like someone who's finally learned the difference between TRASH and NOT TRASH.

manhattan tuesday


Timo and I went to Manhattan Beach last month. (He took a random Tuesday off work so we could.)
And since we're going to be a lot more adventuring now that I have reclaimed Saturdays, I'd better go ahead and dump these here, so I can stay current.

I don't really have a narrative for them. It was a lovely day, but I was wound pretty tight in myself for various reasons, and didn't really relax and observe in a way that lends itself to blogging. I hope to get back to that sort of posting again soon.

But for now, just some pretty pics.







even after

Two sweet things that happened when Chaucer died.

First thing: I came home one day to find a bouquet of flowers on my doorstep, with a note.

Deepest Sympathies On Your Loss Of Tosser. We'll Always Be Here Through The Sad Times And To Remember The Good Memories Your Furbaby Left On Your Heart. Love, Chloe and The Chewy Family.



I was nonplussed. It was easy enough to deduce someone somewhere had misheard "Chaucer", but who the fuck was Chloe and what did The Chewy Family have to do with it?

Now for context you have to know that Cameron and his mom had been sending me periodic shipments of dog food from Chewy.com. (They started doing this last year when I was broke, and insisted on continuing to help even after I'd started working.)

The night that Chaucer died, Cameron realized that the very next day a bag of food was meant to be shipped my way. Naturally he didn't want that to happen, because good grief. So he called them immediately in an attempt to intercept the package. The representative he spoke with--whose name was Chloe--apparently wasn't at all sure she could stop the shipment, so without telling Cameron she was going to do it, she arranged for flowers to be delivered to me, presumably to soften the blow.

"Tosser" must have been what she heard Cameron say. And that's just...so awesome. Tosser. So not only did I get a really pretty bouquet, I got a laugh. As did Cam.



Bailey, by the way, was Chaucer's best friend. (Bailey is Cameron's dog.) Here they are FaceTiming a few months ago:



Second thing: without telling me they were going to do it, someone at the emergency vet took it upon themselves to make a print of Chaucer's paw on a small canvas, paint around it, and send it to me anonymously.

No that's not a waffle cone to the left, it's just the wrapping.


Just, you know, your everyday, average, totally unsolicited act of incredible kindness by/for a complete stranger.

pivot

Our first Saturday together in seven months, the rain gets the better of us.

We drive to the forest, listening to music that satisfies both our tastes. Paul Kalkbrenner, CRO, Ben Howard. We joke nervously about all the defeated looking, soaked-to-the-bone hikers we see on the way up the mountain. Buy a day pass for the park. Layer on hoodies and jackets, gamely set out on the trail. But it's too wet and too cold, and the loop we have in mind is three hours long. We'd be asking for colds. We'd be stupid. So we pivot. Decide to hit one of the beach cities neither of us have ever really explored.

We stop back at my place first, to change into dry clothes. In a stroke of good luck, we snag a parking spot in front of my building. I slip my debit card into the meter, which automatically cues up two hours' worth of time. Timo punches the timer down to 45 minutes, then 30, and I laugh. "How quick are you going to be?" I tease. It's been a few days. Changing into dry clothes is only the cover story.

His dimple comes out at this--the one that deepens when he's trying to suppress a smile. The one that owns me, completely. "That's up to you," he shoots back, looking me square in the eye. He dials the meter back up to an hour, puts his hand on the back of my neck, and walks me this way inside to my apartment.

---

On the way to the coast, he calls home. An official, meet-the-parents Skype had been tentatively planned anyway, and doing it now there's less pressure. Two birds, or something. I listen to the conversation through the car's speakers, deducing enough from the occasional bit of English what they're talking about. There's a lot of laughter. Timo and his mother both laugh easily, and often. I can hear them in one another, even when I don't understand a word. She is energetic, full of plans and ideas and questions. His dad is quieter, chiming in when he wants something clarified. Something tells me he's the one I'll seek out someday, during some future visit, when the foreign, mirthful house full of siblings and cousins and babies overwhelms me.

Timo stops to explain or translate now and again, so I don't feel totally excluded. I catch some German words related to work that are identical to their English counterparts, and when I look at him pointedly he says, "Yeah that's right, I'm talking about you."

His mother asks whether we'll be coming to Germany soon, to celebrate some of the good news Timo has just shared, and I jump in. "We talked about maybe coming later this summer...?" I direct my words to them, but I'm looking at their son. He says in German then translates, smiling at me: "It's in the plan but not on the calendar."

And then we're in Long Beach.

Neither of us is crazy about the admission prices of the aquarium (which I've been to before) or the Queen Mary (which we've both been to), so we opt for aimless wandering. It's cool and windy, and downtown is more or less deserted. The streets are wide and empty, the fresh air and ample space invigorating. We walk and talk and look, admiring some of the older architecture and flat out hating on some of the new.

Massive cranes towering up from the loading docks remind Timo of the Port of Hamburg, and the nostalgia in his voice makes me jealous. Little gets closer to someone's heart than the landmarks of childhood. When we stroll past the hands-on tide pool outside the aquarium, I'm tempted to spring for the $30 ticket; I've always loved these sorts of mini aquatic petting zoos. Plunging my arms into the icy water. Carefully prying starfish from rocks. Pressing my flattened palms against the needle tips of sea urchins. 

The grassy area surrounding the lighthouse is closed off for a wedding; bridesmaids in navy blue chiffon form ranks around a bride in white satin. A photographer stations the party in front of gently bobbing boats, and it's picturesque enough, but in that casual, sunny way of California harbors. East coast harbors just feel more authentically naval to me. Saltier. Tougher.

I'm thinking about my dad today, finding excuses to bring him up. He was a sailor, having joined the Navy at sixteen. Somewhere I've got a handful of black and white snapshots of him in his crisp whites, some local doll on his arm. Cocky and grinning despite his age. April 30th marked five years ago that he died. I celebrated, in a gesture that only those who really know me would understand, by going to a Deadmau5 show. Getting high while listening to live music, and the feelings of love and gratitude that doing so always leads me to.

We sit and gaze across the water at the Queen Mary: massive, immobile, timeless. Timo reads aloud from the ship's Wikipedia page - our own DIY historical tour. We take a pic that I'll later delete, because it is awful. I do this guiltily, because more frequent documentation of our time together is a mission we have vowed to undertake. It's something I have to admit I miss about my last relationship, as annoying as it occasionally was.

Hungry, we Yelp, choosing a seafood restaurant nearby. Picking a new place for date nights, or on day trips, or even while traveling always stresses me out. It feels like such a gamble, and such a shame when it's not good. But the place we find is perfect for our mood and our appetites. On barstools at a table facing the street, we share clam chowder, ceviche, grilled yellowtail. I get buzzed and chatty on pineapple cider, flirting with my boyfriend of ten months.

Serious-faced little dogs trot past the window, leading their humans, and I laugh. "Is there any kind of dog you don't like?" Timo asks, amused, I guess, at the ease by which I am delighted.

"Sure. I can't stand Chow Chows and Shar Peis. And Cocker Spaniels. And Dalmations." This last surprises him.

"They're mean," I explain. "Inbred and blind, mostly, so they're very aggressive." Timo nods, and I go on, watching his face. "And though I really like their faces and coloring and personalities, I don't love how German Shepherds look." Surprise again. "The hunched-over legs," I say. "That skulking way they walk. And did you know that their actual name is 'German Shepherd Dog'? So dumb. Like 'PIN number.'"

"That's because in German, their name means 'the shepherd's dog'". My jaw drops, genuinely gobsmacked. I'd never realized. I make a gesture that mimes my head exploding.

Tipsy, I announce that were I to live in another century, I'd be a shepherdess. "What a gig. Just take the sheep out, chill all day reading under a tree, take them back home." Knowing pointless thought exercises like this aren't his thing, I ask anyway: "What would you want to be, if you were born in another century?"

"A rockstar in the sixties." I object, having of course meant pre-1900, but he just laughs. "That was another century."

I'm curious though. It's about the last answer I'd expect of him, and I ask: "Would you really want to be a rockstar?" I've dated a few wanna-be rockstars in my day. Timo is nothing like a wanna-be rockstar.

"No. Not really at all, actually." And I believe him.

"I read a quote from Alain de Botton the other day. 'Proof of good parenting is that your child doesn't want to be famous.'"

"What, because they'll have gotten enough attention growing up?"

"Exactly." Without saying it explicitly, I know we both agree with the theory, and that feels important for some reason.

The whole evening still open to us, we decide to catch a movie. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (we both loved the first). On the walk over to the theatre, on the pedestrian overpass bridging an outdoor mall, Timo playfully races a toddler pushing his little sister's stroller. When the boy suddenly leaves off and stumbles in another direction, Timo sets off immediately after him, until the kid's dad calls him back. It takes me a second to understand: the little boy was headed towards some stairs. I stare hard at my boyfriend's profile as we continue on, but he just keeps his eyes straight ahead, refusing to take in my wordless praise.

On the front steps of the Performing Arts Center, we come across a man walking his Golden Retriever puppy. I gasp; the dog is utterly gorgeous. The man sees my face and before I can even get out the words May I pet your... he's whirled himself and the pup around so I can kneel down and say hello. The puppy gives me a quick kiss on the face, then seats himself calmly without even having to be asked. I stroke his neck and back, stunned nearly speechless by his sweet brown eyes.

"How old?" My heart is pounding.

"Ten months." I nod, then shake my head. "He's amazing." It's all I can say. Even Timo is impressed, chiming in, "Beautiful."

Then they're gone. Ten seconds' worth of interaction at most, but I'm destroyed. Timo sees me turn away, tears forming, and pulls me into a hug. "That was stupid," I say to his chest. "I don't know why I do that to myself."

"Why wouldn't you?" he says sharply. "The dog was beautiful." I know the impatience in his voice, and what it means. It means, No, Ellie, you're not giving up on anything you love in this world, just because it sometimes hurts. It's a sentiment I've needed to hear before. It's one he's willing to offer up again and again, until I get it.

Before the movie we get ice cream. Cold Stone Creamery. He's never been. I excitedly point out the frozen slab of marble, explain the process. "You can get as many different things as you want. They'll smash it all up and mix it in." Our eyes are already bigger than our stomachs, but the portions are enormous regardless. We sit and scoop our indulgence on a bench outside the creamery, the setting sun streaking the plaza in ribbons of cold white light.

"This is obscene," he criticizes happily. "In Germany this would be a third as big."

"That's so there's room to put the sauerkraut on top." I am leveled by my own joke, and howl with laughter.

"Think you're clever much, do you?" The dimple reappears.

---

On the way home, I lean across the console, turning my face into his arm. He's wearing one of my favorite sweaters. Lightweight, loose knit, wheat-colored. I breathe in the smell of him and sigh. When I pull away so he can more easily change lanes, he objects. "No no, come back." Lays his arm over my shoulders. Strokes my elbow softly. It's gotten late and we're both tired, but the drive home goes quickly.

It's just Long Beach. Just a walk around the waterfront, some lunch, a movie, and ice cream. But holy fuck is it more than enough for me.

You're A Dinosaur: Hard Truths and Solutions for Shopoholics

HARD TRUTHS

It doesn't matter how much money you make. Addiction is addiction; it doesn't discriminate. It doesn't care where your money comes from, or how much there is of it. Whether your paycheck is $2k or $10k, it wants a piece of it. So don't kid yourself that if you just make more, that you can stop. Conversely, don't imagine that if you made less, your spending habits would naturally fall away. They won't. You will find a way to feed your compulsion, regardless if it's a twenty or a Benjamin burning a hole in your pocket.

Virtually anything you experience is better than any thing you can buy. Just think about it; you know it's true. Memories and moments with loved ones are worth far more than material possessions. The problem is that you conflate the two. You think that one requires the other. You can't go out to that amazing dinner, or feel beautiful at the music festival, unless you have the perfect outfit. Well, guess what? One has nothing to do with the other.

Malls these days are depressing as fuck, and for good reason. No one's in them. The last few times I have found myself roaming an indoor shopping mall I wanted to throw myself down the escalator, it was so bleak. For the past few years I have read an increasing number of articles about how retail is dying - and if the sparsity of Los Angeles malls is any indication, it's true. Outdoor malls with restaurants, attractions for kids, movie theaters - those are another story. There are experiences to be had at those. But good old fashioned brick-and-mortar malls? They are shells of what they once were. And the salespeople populating them are some of the most desperate, saddest sacks around.

But what does these mean? What's the hard truth in this for you? It's that your a dinosaur, of sorts. Your passion for fashion is outdated. Fashion itself will never die, and will always be an intrinsically valuable pursuit culturally...but the coolness of amassing a massive wardrobe? Gone. Kids these days aren't interested in stuff the way you and I were. Millennials, having felt first hand the pinch and sting of a shitty economy and job market, ain't got time for that. They'd rather spend money on travel, adventure, connection, creativity.

The things you own, own you. Every item of clothing you possess requires laundering. Time spent washing it, drying it, folding it, hanging it, pressing it, repairing it, altering it, ordering it, mailing it back when it doesn't fit. Every item requires space in your life, demands your energy and time to obtain maintain it. This doesn't seem like a big deal, when it's a skinny belt. But multiply a single item by 300, and suddenly you've got a mountain of stuff ready to drain your free time.

There are only so many occasions to wear what you already have. There are only 52 Saturday nights a year. Many of those will find you with obligations preventing you from even going out. Look at your closet now, as it is. How many Saturday night outfits could you already assemble? Dozens for each season, probably. Now apply the same thinking to other occasions. How many opportunities will you realistically have to wear all the clothing you already own, before it's out of season or style?

Nothing you can find in any store, anywhere, will ever buy back your youth. 'Nuff said.


SOLUTIONS

Want a reality check? Want to feel your shopping buzz harshed? Take some of your beloved wardrobe pieces to a used-clothing store. Watch them be picked up, passed over, and rejected over like rags. And I'm not talking some middle-America thrift shop. I'm talking high-end resale boutiques on Melrose Avenue. There's nothing quite like the ego gut-punch that is having your expensive, oh-so-carefully curated sartorial choices - and which you're sure are going to wow the hell out of the buyer - be declared outmoded and worthless. It'll make you think twice about going out and spending your money on a fresh round of them, that's for sure.

Make a list of what you really want. No, I mean what you really, really want. Think big. Bigger. Have you always wanted to spend the weekend in a cabin at Big Sur? I sure have. But I won't get there until I stop piddling away my petty cash on the latest sneakers. I'd also really love an awesome bed. But that's another thing that requires delayed gratification. The fact is, every single thing you spend money on, unless you are Ivanka Trump (*turns and spits*), requires you to not spend money on something else. So make a list and study it, hard. Look at it often. Meditate on the need to prioritize what will truly make you happiest in the long run, for the longest amount of time. This isn't easy for you, because you are an addict, and your addiction is an ever-present temptation. But you have to work at it.

Donate, or give to charity. I have two monthly donation subscriptions - one to Oxfam, and one to the Mental Illness Happy Hour Podcast, because it saved my life last year. And I don't know how to explain it, but something about allocating some of the limited money I do have to something other than myself helps me stay grounded. Reminds me of the bigger picture, and of those in need. I'd feel pretty stupid buying that third pair of socks after getting my weekly update from Oxfam about the Syrian refugees my (admittedly measly) $18/month is helping.

Budget, budget, budget. And get granular about it. Portion out your paychecks, every single one. Force yourself to really face your finances. It might be scary, but it's the only way to acknowledge what you can and can't afford.

house grief

When your dog dies, you will find yourself hating your home. There is nothing emptier than a house that has lost a dog. Nothing in the world as quiet, as lacking in joy. You won't want to be anywhere near it. You certainly won't want to be alone with it.

But if you can, spare a thought for that house. You think you miss your dog? How do you think the house feels? At least you get to leave each morning, be out and about in the world. Your poor house just has to sit there by itself, having lost the best friend it has ever known, wondering if it will ever have another.

Spare a thought for the walls, which kept him safe while every day he waited for you.
Spare a thought for the floor, warmed by his body and tickled by his fur.
Spare a thought for the fridge, and all the mischief the two of them caused.
Spare a thought for the bed, cold now, and entirely too clean.
Spare a thought for the bath, and all it endured for the sake of the house.
Spare a thought for the table, who taught your dog to sit as much as you did.
Spare a thought for the yard, the grass and trees and flowers who've lost a playmate.

Spare a thought for the vacuum, who probably feels really fucking shitty right about now.

das bunker at Union

Good morning! How stupid was your Friday night? Not very? Well, please to enjoy this five-part comic strip about how stupid mine was:

It was pretty fun, despite there being a few highly aggressive nerd-bros there. Nearly everyone made at least some attempt at dressing up, and many went all out. 

Didn't stay long because Timo and I have an early SATURDAY date to go hiking. SATURDAY. As in the day after Friday. AMAZING. In fact he's going to be here shortly so I'mma hit publish, slam some coffee, and go get ready.

Happy SATURDAY!!!

current struggles

For whatever reason, I feel compelled to write up a list of some of the things I'm struggling with right now. Just put them out there, see if setting them free will maybe loosen their grip on me. Worth a shot.

1. My therapist dumped me. Okay, he didn't dump me. That's completely inaccurate and unfair. It just amuses me to put it that way. The fact is he's moving in a different direction, career-wise, and therefore winding down his private practice. I don't know all the details, honestly. Once I learned he wouldn't be available to me anymore I sort of stopped listening, childishly. But it's hard. I can't help but be deeply disappointed and a little hurt. We'd only just begun, but I felt great about where we were headed. And while I know it doesn't make any sense - and again, isn't fair - I feel like my trust has been betrayed. I don't know at what point he knew he'd no longer be practicing but I suspect it had to have been while he was seeing me. I don't know.

I know I need to pick myself back up and start looking for someone new, but right now I feel too bitter about how this attempt worked out. I need a little time to get over it. 

2. I am in one of those stupid fucking neighbor feuds that I somehow always find myself in. It's a long, dumb story, but the short of it is that my neighbor's friend stole all the doormats on our floor as a prank, while my neighbor watched and didn't do anything. My own mat was a cheap one from Target. I don't give a shit about the mat, other than the annoyance of having to replace it. But I also suspect these idiots of stealing a UPS package and something from my laundry. There are security cameras trained on my door, so somewhere footage of the theft exists...but my building manager is an imbecile (albeit a very likable one, admittedly), so I doubt I'll ever find out anything. 

3. I feel shut off (shut out?) from the creative parts of myself. I blame this on lack of time, and lack of inspiration. To that end I'm trying to schedule in writing and reading sessions, and I'm even thinking about picking Instagram back up. More than anything, though, I need to get out and about in the world again. Be sparked. All I do is work, go home, go to back work, go home, maybe tool around running errands on my days off, then go back home. Before going back to work. 

It's untenable, terrible for my soul, and has to stop.

There is of course my relationship with Timo and all that is wonderful about that. But I am a bit gun shy when it comes to blogging about boyfriends. Those have historically been some of the sharpest daggers thrown at me, fairly or not. 

4. I need community, very badly. I'm lonely. My whole mess of shitty, shitty choices last year left many of my friendships in shreds. I'm not sure they're repairable, though every once in a while I get brave enough to try again. I dunno. It's hard to think about, or write about. 

FEEL THE SUNNY VIBES RADIATING OFF THE PAGE. FEEL THEM.

and now a boring one

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago that I pulled a day after I published it. I pulled it because when I re-read it, it struck me as a little smug. I hate when I sound self-satisfied. I am rarely, if ever, satisfied with myself.

I also really dislike writing general update posts. They strike me as terribly uncreative and boring. Then again, it feels elliptic to skate past so much time without a word about how things have been going.

So I'm going to try again. Some of this might be repetitive, and for that I apologize.

In February, I was granted a promotion and a raise, and my hours were extended to full-time. I'm now "floor lead," which just means that I'm the face of management, when management isn't there. Discounts, voids, comps, and any customer service issues are my responsibility. None of that is ever a problem, because I genuinely love dealing with people. The crowd that visits my work is generally awesome and very friendly. Lots of regulars, lots of wide-eyed and enthusiastic tourists.

My hourly wage is low, but after tips I earn more than I actually would at an admin job. That sounds crazy, I know, but it's true. The place where I work offers dine-in and take out options, and the menu is pricy. Factor in the cost of drinks and checks add up fast. We also use iPad registers which prompt guests to tip at the end of transactions. Plus, the small size of the place allows me to work alone for most of my shifts, eliminating the need to share tips. Bottom line: it's a very, very good gig and I feel extremely lucky to have it.

Recently my manager has been giving me even more responsibility. I'm doing some invoicing, some purchase journaling, and when she's on vacation I'll handle a bit of product ordering as well. Whether this will result in another raise I don't know. The additional tasks are brand new, so we'll see. I do know that my GM is swamped with work, and not having an assistant GM makes it nearly impossible for her to get everything done. Which I suppose is why she and the kitchen manager have begun delegating to me some of their office work. It feels awesome to be trusted and relied upon, in this way.

The increase to full-time kicked my ass a little bit, and I spent several weeks adjusting. That's most of the reason I wasn't blogging. I'd come home and just fall on my bed, stare at my phone, and be incapable of much more than feeding myself before dozing off to a podcast. My days off were Tuesday and Wednesday, and on most days I worked, I wouldn't be home until 9, 10, or even 11pm.

Timo was incredibly patient and understanding during this time. Like...unbelievably so.

I started the job last fall, and as the restaurant's busiest days are on the weekend, immediately lost my Saturdays and Sundays to work. So the fact is, I haven't had a Saturday or Sunday off to spend with Timo since October. 

Back then I was working part-time, and we had four other servers on staff - so at any point I could have requested one of those weekend days off. But they were the money shifts. The post-election protest days were huge for us. I'd make over $300 on those days, in just tips. I didn't want to give them up. Just the pure exhilaration of earning my own money again - I couldn't get enough of it. I took as many shifts as I could pick up, covering for coworkers on a moment's notice, taking any overtime I could get. There was a stretch in December that I worked something like nine days in a row, took one off to move, then worked another seven. And I fucking loved it.

Then Timo came back from his holiday travels, we got back together, and started wanting to see one another more often. Only I wasn't exactly available. I still had no weekend time to share with him, and only a few hours late at night, on most weekdays. But rather than settle for next to nothing, he started working even harder to see me. He'd immediately put my work schedule into his calendar the day I got it. He'd take a change of clothes to work with him and then come to my place after he was finished at the office, going straight back to work in the morning. Or he'd stay up late in the middle of the week, waiting for me to get off and take the train to his house. He'd have food ready for me, candles in the shower, candy - whatever he thought would relax me and cheer me up, because most nights I was burned the fuck out. He'd juggle his own schedule and his own needs so we could start having mid-week date nights. He'd occasionally just take a day off in the middle of the week so we could see one another in daylight. In short he was an amazing boyfriend.

When I got the raise and the bump to full-time, I was able to relax a little, financially. Still I kept the same schedule, for next three months. During this time I felt extremely frustrated. Like my life was passing me by. I'd gotten away from everything that was important to me. I barely had any quality time with Timo, I wasn't writing or reading, I was hardly working out -- I really didn't feel connected to myself at all.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I finally spoke to my manager about making a change. She was completely understanding, as were my coworkers (there are only three of us servers, so we really have to cooperate and support one another). My coworkers agreed to small changes in their own schedules so that I could have Saturdays off, along with Thursdays. Plus I'm off early on Fridays and don't go in until the afternoon on Sunday. My "weekend" is split up, which isn't ideal in terms of recovery/relaxation...but it's a compromise I'm willing to make. My hours and days are more or less consistent, and I'm very happy with the shifts I have.

Today is my first Thursday off, on the new schedule. Saturday will be my first Saturday off in seven months. Timo and I are over the moon. We have a Google doc filled with things we want to do, places we want to go. Restaurants and events and overnights and day trips. I feel optimistic about my ability to start building back into my life the things that have gone missing from it.

Like this.

Soooo...hello again.

the clouds themselves

The 24-hour Korean spa that I visit a few days after it happens--my eyes puffy from lack of sleep, my shoulders sore from body-racking sobs--requires nudity.

I know this going in. I've read the reviews, I understand the etiquette. Still, it takes a few laps around the labyrinthian locker room to work up enough nerve to shed the uniform issued to me upon check-in: mustard yellow t-shirt, baggy khaki shorts, brown rubber flip flops so thin my ankle bones crackle on the hardwood floor. I'm pretty sure the ensemble is purposefully designed to be as ugly as possible, so patrons will want to ditch it.

A wall of paneled glass, closed off with curtains except for double doors on which are etched the rules, leads into the main spa area. Jacuzzi. Cold-water dipping pool. Sauna and steam room. These facilities are bookended by a series of standard showers on one side, and on the other, three rows of some other kind of bathing stalls that I don't quite understand. Short, tiled booths with detachable shower hoses and plastic stools for sitting. Something ritualistic and exotic about them intimidates me, makes me feel like a prudish outsider. As I walk past these washing stations with averted eyes, I expect to catch glimpses of grey hair, loose skin. Instead they are occupied by lithe young bodies and heads full of sleek black hair.

It's 1:00 am on a Saturday morning, and there are easily three or four dozen other women here. We're all naked. We're not all Korean.

He isn't with me here. There's no reason he ever would be in a place like this, so it's easier to forget him for a few minutes. Heartbreak doesn't exactly leave, but it abates, lessens to a dull throb. I press my shoulders hard against the dry wooden beams of the sauna. Sink my fingers as deeply as I can into warmed-up muscles. Breathe in, then out. Life goes on. You've been here before. There's no holding onto anything, or anyone.

A heavily-accented woman's voice pierces my thoughts and I realize I'm being summoned. The numbers she's calling out match the ones on the plastic, waterproof bracelet around my wrist. The bracelet serves as identification, and also syncs with the locker I've been assigned.

"Seven forty-tooo? Seven forty-tooooo?"

I emerge from the sauna with my hand raised, feeling sheepish and extraordinarily exposed. "Here! I'm here." Glances shoot my way which feel disdainful, though I'm probably imagining that.

The woman who leads me to the separate area where services such as massages, facials, and other treatments are administered is not naked. She is in fact wearing lingerie, or some approximation of it. Tiny black tap pants. A lacy black triangle bra. She's sixty if she's a day.

With a few impatient gestures I am directed to lay facedown on a vinyl massage table sheathed in clear plastic. My skin, hot from the sauna, sticks awkwardly to the plastic as I try to shift into a more comfortable, more dignified position. But I'll understand soon enough the reason for this prophylactic measure: the entire treatment area is tiled, with drains underneath each low-walled cubicle. When things get messy (which they will; I've opted for an oil-based massage), guests can simply be hosed off like elephants at the zoo. After a massage the acrobatics and detached intimacy of which confirm all my presuppositions, bucketfuls of warm water are dumped over me, washing away the oil, and with it the last of my worries. Or such is the idea. Alas.

Alas.

I don't linger long after the massage. One more quick round of the sauna and steam room, then I walk to the wall where I've stashed my t-shirt and shorts in a plastic bin At this point I'm no longer fazed by my own nudity. I don't face the wall as I dress. The place seems to have cleared out anyway. It's time to go home. There is no more putting it off. I remind myself that it will hurt a tiny little bit less every day, until it becomes bearable. But already my throat is thickening and my fingertips tingling. I think of his face and the pain makes me gasp.

Outfitted once more in my own clothes, I trudge up the stairs to turn in my wristband and check out. The cold night air is bracing and black and joyless I have a twenty minute walk ahead of me. My hair is wet and tangled, but I don't much care.

As I round the side of the building, I hear male voices and laughter issue from somewhere along the curbside, where every inch of precious Koreatown parking has been utilized. It's dark though, so I don't see the source until I'm directly next to it: two men sitting in the front seat of a beat-up mid-90s Nissan, the windows rolled down and passenger-side door swung wide open. The engine is off, as are the car's lights. I'm almost past the vehicle when one of them calls out.

"Hey, how's it going? How was the spa?"

Out of surprise more than friendliness, I stop, bending over to better see the strangers while still maintaining my distance. The faces that peer back at me are grinning and guileless. Both thirty-ish. One fair, one dark. Casually dressed. Well-groomed. Neither particularly bad-looking.

"Great," I reply. "First time. Place is a trip."

"Isn't it, though? Did you check out the rooftop?"

"No. I didn't even realize there was one."

"Oh yeah, and it's awesome. Co-ed floor is crazy, too."

"Co-ed floor? I didn't even know about the co-ed floor." Hearing this news, I feel I've failed somehow.

"Yeah, but you have to wear the uniform."

"Ah, okay," I say, as if consoled. I'm about to dismiss myself and press on when the two introduce themselves. Brian and Zack. We wave polite hellos in the moonlight.

"You seem nice. Do you want to smoke a joint with us, before we go in?"

There is no reason to say yes to this absurd invitation. Two strange men sitting in a beat-up car, in the middle of the night, on the fringes of Macarthur Park - a place I don't want to be even in daylight. But the thought of the alternative - that is, returning home and facing a fresh round of the shattering grief that awaits me there - eclipses my better judgment. And anyway, nothing about these guys reads predatory. My gut says go for it.

And so with a shrug at how fucking weird and wonderful the universe can be, I accept.

The three of us walk around to the front of the building, ambling and talking for another half block until we reach some stone benches underneath a tree. We're on Wilshire Boulevard, a busy thoroughfare. There's still a decent amount of traffic, even at this hour. I'm not concerned, though. I'm too busy trying to wrap my brain around the information I've just received: Brian and Zack are youth pastors.

At first I don't believe them. I accuse them of trolling me. But the pair is sincere. They've got stories. They've been doing it a long time. They've been friends a long time, too. They're aware of how odd a light their current behavior casts them in, and try to explain themselves more. I probe, genuinely fascinated. The more I learn, the more I suspect that neither is a true believer. It seems to be something they fell into by way of a charismatic church leader. The word "cult" floats through my brain, but I stay diplomatically silent. They've got weed, after all.

I'm not a pot smoker. It's just not my drug. It makes me dopey and slow and paranoid, and doesn't work well with my body chemistry. Leaves me feeling blah.

But blah is better than broken, so I take all three hits that are offered to me before thanking my benefactors profusely, and saying goodnight.

Okay. Well. 

The walk home is both interminable and fleeting. Once there I cast about for something to put my attention on. Can't read. Can't write. Want to talk to someone, but it's 2 am. There's always a chance Cameron's awake; he keeps crazy hours. I re-read our last few exchanges. Zero in on the message I sent a few hours after night it happened. Thursday, February 9th, at 3:02 am, when I found out that the news had been shared. My boyfriend had thoughtfully told one of my best friends, so I wouldn't have to say the words myself.

I'm sorry. I didn't know Timo was going to do that. I wanted to tell you myself.

Anyway.

It was bloat. The surgery would have been $6-8k. And he was 10. And I hadn't told you but he slipped really bad about a week ago and had been limping way worse than ever. 

I'm sorry you found out this way. 

He loved you so much. He loved Bailey, too.

I don't know what else to say right now.

It's never been so quiet. 

---

The night Chaucer died, the streets of Los Angeles were thick with fog.

LA is never foggy. The coast, sure. But never the city. In fact I'd never seen anything like it. I noticed it when I got off work: hazy streetlights and a slickness in the air. By the time Timo came over to hang out, you couldn't see twenty yards in front of you. Everything was shrouded, romantic and dramatic and mysterious. Sounds disappeared in the night.

Maybe Chaucer felt the strangeness. Maybe it tickled his senses, delighting him into being especially playful. Trotting more quickly down the dark alley beside my building, his passageway out for a walk. I don't know. Timo doesn't know, either. Both of us took him out that night, in pretty quick succession, because he hadn't gone potty after we fed him. Perhaps he was more keyed up, thanks to the weird weather, or because Timo was there.

He adored Timo.

There is no knowing exactly how or when it happened. If he jumped, or if he drank water too quickly. But it became clear pretty quickly that something was wrong. Retching. Heaving. He wouldn't settle. Wouldn't lay down. My increasing nervousness turning to panic, turning to dread in the backseat of the Uber we called when the 24-hour emergency vet said to bring him immediately.

I knew, of course. Not that it was bloat specifically but that something was very, very wrong. I just knew. And I held my sweet pup in the back of that car and stroked his shaking body, and just let silent tears pour down my face. And Timo reached back and squeezed my knee and I felt nothing, because the most beautiful part of me was dying, and I knew it.

---

It was foggy the night my best friend left the world.

Fog that wrapped itself around our car as we sped down the freeway, hiding everything from me except his perfect, sweet face. Fog that hugged the animal hospital like soft cotton, muffling cries that tore through me like fire. Fog that gently closed us in, just the two of us, him breathing heavy with sedation, strapped in a tragicomic display of last-moment silliness to a gurney, looking like some kind of spa guest in his white towel, in the room they gave us for our goodbye.

Of course it would be that way. The fog. Because how else would he get into dog heaven?

The clouds themselves had to come down to carry him up.