Just another Manic Wednesday

Just Another Manic Wednesday

I’ve spent all day in a sad/happy loop.

That’s life with manic depression. One minute, you’re unresponsively morose, the next you’re riding a rainbow unicorn through a Venezuelan rainforest, killing vampire Nazi’s with Deadpool (okay, so maybe that’s just MY happy place). The point is, when you’re bipolar, anything can ruin your day at the drop of a hat, but anything can also trigger the opposite. It’s a rather disquieting rollercoaster.

The last few weeks have been the lowest point of the ride. I haven’t been eating right, I skipped exercise for six days in a row. I haven’t been able to focus on my homework. Thank heavens for accounting (I can’t believe I’m saying that) which gives me numbers to get lost in for a few hours (which is why I can’t believe I’m saying that). Otherwise I’d have probably ripped all my hair out. I’ve already destroyed my nails.

But these last couple of days? I’ve struggled against my obsession disorder. I’ve wanted to message Jewelwing so bad it was to the point where my health was beginning to suffer. I messaged her today and haven’t heard back. I’m thankful for that, truly. I hope I don’t. I need to close that door forever. I’ll never heal if I don’t.

But the last few days have been absolute Hell. I had so much time to work on my blog, but what did I do instead of preparing entries? Cried my eyes out to Liz Phair, played an absolutely unhealthy amount of Destiny 2, and stared off into space. I didn’t even stay up long enough to watch Rick & Morty on Sunday. That was my moment where I said to myself:

My God…what have I become.

The reason I needed to engage my brain in such mind-numbing distractions was simple. All I was doing was staring at my phone. Waiting for the sound of a message. Every time an email would come in, my heart rate would skyrocket. My stomach would flip. Then I’d open the phone and see it was just spam and my heart would go from effervescing to exploding. The cycle was endless (I get so much spam my gmail is almost a Monty Python bit). It was driving me insane.

So I had to shut my brain off. I didn’t want to think. I didn’t want to do anything that would allow my brain time to think. To realize what had happened. To know that even if she really believed she loved me, she only loved the idea of me. I didn’t want to process the fact that even though she didn’t lie to me, what she said just wasn’t true. We always used to say, “I love you.” And I would say, “I love you more.” Then she would say, “I love you most.” And I would say, “I love you mostest.”

Well, eventually she got tired of losing that game. So when that day came she said, “I love you more. So shuttup.” So I rolled with it. I knew then it wasn’t true. She loved two people. I was only in love with one. It wasn’t possible for her to love me more. But it made her happy. So whenever I said, “I love you.” She would say:

“I love you more.”

And I would shut up.

And trying to process that, in conjunction with everything else…it’s been hard. Don’t be misconstrued however. I don’t hate her. I’m not even mad at her. I’ll always love her just as much as I said I did. But it’s time. I need to stop telling myself I’m Job, and I’m just losing a bet between God and Satan. I need to stop pretending I’m Sisyphus. Or that my valiant sacrifices will be rewarded, or appreciated, or even noted. I’m only hurting myself. So I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time for me to leave.

I have to let her go.

So today is a really short entry, but it contains what I consider to be a breakthrough. I’ve spent 5 years being in love with someone, and holding that torch was just burning me. I can’t promise this will be my last entry about her. In our short time together, she really did do a lot to shape me in positive ways. I wish I could have done the same for her, but I have to move on. I’ve already hurt us both enough. So yay for revelations! Bye now!

Oh, wait, I almost forgot.

Ha! Mania, amiright?

I’m in a good mood now because along with this breakthrough, my friend shared this picture with me (Remember? Little things can set off both ends of the spectrum). I apologize for the crude language, but O-M-Cheesecakes guys. I cackled like a witch on laughing gas.

Just Another Manic Wednesday 2

This is the manic side of my personality. It makes me unpredictably weird. I laugh at everything, there’s a spring in my step, and I can never explain why I’m happy when people ask me in public (because how do you charades that meme without looking like a psycho?). I just roll with it.

All day at school I was mopey and miserable. The whole drive home I was mopey and miserable. Then I got home, chased my cats around, sat down, saw a meme, and suddenly I felt great. But unfortunately, these eccentric moments of extreme happiness don’t last very long. It’s like cocaine. A sudden burst and then it’s fleeting.

I know today’s entry was all over the place. And sometimes they’re going to be like that. Especially since I’m trying to write every day. That means not every thought is going to be award winning. But it’s like I keep saying, it’s not about what I write at the moment, it’s keeping to my routine. Because without my routine, I go into a spiral.

So while I have no idea what tomorrow holds, tonight I’m feeling a lot better than I have been the past few weeks. The fog clearing allowed me to come to some pretty harsh realizations, but for once, I think I’m processing them in a somewhat normal manner (as normal as I can anyway). It’s also given me another thing to add to my list of goals for therapy.

I want to break the sad/happy loop.

I just want to control my own emotions. I don’t want them to control me. Even when they’re manic. I mean, everyone likes a little spontaneity, but not the level I bring to the party. This may be a medication only fixer though, which scares me. I plan on talking about why in a later entry. I just haven’t found the right words for it yet.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m going to go ride this mania out.

And this unicorn.

Wade Wilson gets so impatient.


  • Ryan Sanders

More Than My Illness

My wall of action figures. Yes. There’s a lot of them.

I just realized, you guys don’t know anything about me.

I mean, you know I’m quirky, have anger issues, OCD, there’s a voice in my head that sounds like an Academy Award winning actor whose kind of a dick in my imagination, and I suffer from severe depression, anxiety, and extreme run-on sentences.

But other than that. Not really a thing.

Part of that is by subconscious design I think. I don’t like talking about myself. I never have. I like talking about the here and now. But while I was working on my entry for today, I found myself thinking, this is crap. And I scrapped two hours’ worth of writing and coffee immediately. I don’t want to talk about the things that make me miserable today.

Today, I want to talk about the things that make me happy.

I’m more than my illnesses. I need to constantly remind myself of that fact. I pick up obscure hobbies and collect all sorts of action figures (call them dolls. I friggin’ dare you). Comic books have been life since long before people thought they were cool (which may amaze anyone under 16 to know that there was a time when enjoying Spider-Man got you wedgied). I watch far more cartoons than any adult should. And I once danced on a pole in a gay bar for free drinks.

So let’s start with comics. When I was a baby, my dad had a huge comic collection that my grandmother just kept in a box under the crib. She’d let all the grandkids and neighborhood riffraff rifle through them when they came over. Naturally, over time, their grubby little mitts ruined the collector’s value even more than storing them in the box did. So I figured, hey, why not do dad a favor and finish them off?

So I did what any good toddler would do. I broke out of my crib Rugrats style, dove into the box, and that’s where I was found sometime later. Eating the comics. I can’t imagine how my dad felt in that moment. Can you guess what I was eating? If you guessed Spider-Man go get yourself a cookie (tell the lady at Kroger it’s on some crazy dude with a blog on the Internet. She’ll be totes cool with it).

With a diaper full of totally unfriendly neighborhood spider-poops, it was no surprise I would grow up to love comics. After all, you are what you eat, right? You can imagine my surprise when I got into high school only to discover that people were into girls. Not colorful super soldiers in onesies with unrealistically aerodynamic shields.

Even more surprising that no one was into anime as much as I was. Yep. Believe it or not, once upon a time, anime wasn’t cool. Then it was cool for a little bit. Then white supremacist furries started using it for their profile pictures on Facebook. So now I have no idea where anime stands on the cool radar anymore. Although, I’m not going to lie, I love Dragonball Super (Kamehame hell yeah!).

Which brings me to my next great love affair. Cartoons. I still watch Spongebob all the time. I quote the show. I’ve actually used themes and lines from it to comfort people after losing a loved one. I once used the clever pacing of their jokes to explain the unwritten “Rule of 3’s” to a budding author. My favorite episode is Dying For Pie, and at one point, I could tell you what time of day it was just by how old the episode of Spongebob playing that moment was. That bubbly little yellow bugger has taught me more about life than anything else on this planet.

But it’s not just kid’s cartoons. While I can rattle off a laundry list of amazing children’s programming (on both Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network) so long people would think this was a plug, I also love the newer adult shows too. While I’ve never been a big fan of the Seth McFarlene shows (Family Guy, Cleveland Show, American Dad), I’ve always loved South Park. And Rick & Morty? I can’t believe I resisted that show for so long.

I do that all the time. I always say no to things and then come to find out they’re super fun later. That’s how I developed my love for the Playstation. I used to be a strict Xbox gamer. I am an achievement whore. I was so reticent to leave the platform just because of that score alone. But everything just runs smoother on Playstation (don’t tell Guido that, he’ll never let me live it down).

I’m not really outgoing, but I love hanging out somewhere I’m familiar or comfortable. I can talk for hours if there’s some kind of distraction in the background for me to make color commentary on. I mentioned my buddy Guido a second ago (He’s a six and half foot tall Italian ogre who makes Willie Nelson’s smoking habits look mild). I hang out over there all the time and crack jokes about his kids’ gaming skills (they like to suicide all over GTA), whatever article he’s reading about our lazy government, or my personal favorite, a crappy movie.

I still don’t know what movie it was and he doesn’t remember the title. But it had Arnold Schwarzenegger in it. Now…Arnold’s a big dude. And he’s cruising along in this tiny little sports car looking like a foot tall GI Joe in a Hot Wheel. Normally, I wouldn’t take issue with this, but during his chase (or whatever it was that was happening) he took the car under the blades of a tractor combine.

Somehow the car slides into the corn, smoke and dust roiling behind it, and from under the dashboard of a car a midget could reach the gas pedal in he just…POOF! Pops up out of nowhere. Like an angry 400 pound mountain of man meat. I just yell out in my best Arnold-From-Predator-Days accent (which is pretty good honestly), “Lau! Thank God I am so tiiiiiiny.

I do that. All. The. Time.

Not in movie theaters. I’m not rude.

My reading habits are almost as variated as my pop culture references. The last three books I read were P.J. Proudhon’s “On Property”, Lawrence Packer’s “Keeping the Bees”, and Jack Diamond’s “Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed”. All three of them very niche, all three of them on very different subjects. Most of my reading interests align with sociological literature. But I’m not opposed to some good fiction now and again.

Obviously I love Disney movies. But I also love Sci-Fi. The best movie ever is Serentiy. The best show ever is Firefly. If you’ve never heard of either of those, get to the movie store now. Like, stop reading this. What are you doing with your life? Fill your eye holes with lovable rogue Nathan Fillion. Come back when you’re finished. We’ll wait for you.

Okay, so I’m assuming you’re back, and those of you that never left, get yourself another cookie (hopefully you got more than one the first time at Kroger). Speaking of cookies, I love baking. In the winter I make ginger snaps all the time. In the early spring I love to make sugar cookies and experiment with new stuff. Fall calls for no-bakes and sugar cookies with pumpkin frosting (also ginger snaps. Ginger snaps are amazing).

I love baking. It’s relaxing. I haven’t done it for the last few years, but I’m going to start again this winter. I even recently dusted out my old recipe book (I used to write them by hand #OldSchool). I once made chocolate chip cookies from this thing so good a girl offered to sleep with me for a batch. If you’re wondering, no, I didn’t sleep with her. But I did make her the cookies. Just because that was the oddest proposition I’d ever received (to that point in life).

But all that baking makes me fat. And I have body image issues. So naturally, I have to kick that fat’s ass. When I was younger, this wasn’t an issue. I was always walking everywhere, riding my bike, running. I used to lift weights regularly and have generally worked manual labor jobs my whole life. But…exercise? Yeah…

I’m not really into labels.

I’ve never really liked exercise, but I love most of the activities that qualify. I’d love to learn how to dance. I just don’t like sitting on a stationary bike in the gym. It’s hard to accept that I’m getting older, and having been so hard on my body for so long, it’s even harder to get back to where I was. But one day I hope to be kayaking, backpacking, and hiking again.

The outdoors will forever be my favorite place.

There’s a lot more to my identity. I’m a songwriter, I love LEGOs, my two cats (Nathan Furrion and Cindy Clawford) are my whole world. I’ve been with more women than I can remember (I was a slut. I accept that), but I’ve only said “I love you” to 6 of them. And I only ever called one of them my soulmate. I’ve picked up dozens of hobbies over the years but don’t stick with many. I stuck with the guitar and shooting though. I can hit a squirrel in the eye from 300 yards with iron sights (sorry PETA).

But the biggest takeaway from this should be my sense of humor. Because I refuse to let my illness destroy that. I’ve worked too hard all of my life to hone this funny bone. I won’t let my depression choke that out of me. I feel like it’s the only light I have left, and if there’s one thing about my identity I never want to lose, it’s that. Because laughter is the best part of me. So I hope I made you chuckle at least once.

If so, I’ll go get myself a cookie.



  • Ryan Sanders

Ice Cream and Rainbows

Ice Cream and Rainbows

I am an amazing date night planner.

Unfortunately, most of the time those dates either never happen, or go wrong due to circumstances out of my control. While I can’t control the weather, or a botulism outbreak at our favorite sushi bar, there are other areas in which I can take the reins. Those areas, are learning your partner’s interests. In my opinion, there are three key components to any great date. Number one, food. Food is life. If you can find out her favorite food and scout a restaurant that serves it, or even better, her favorite place, you’re well on your way to a wonderful evening.

The second key component is an activity. Any schmuck can find a place to eat, but finding something to do? That’s a little harder. You have to discover her interests first, that can be a daunting challenge. There are some safe bets though. If she’s an outgoing extrovert, dancing is always a good one. Maybe she’s a bibliophile. Find a nice café and bookshop (not a Barnes & Noble. Find something unique) and take her there. Or maybe she’s heavy into music. There’s always a concert somewhere.

The final feature, and the most important one, is cultivating an environment where conversation can blossom. That can be tricky, especially if you’re like me and lack verbal communication skills. However, if you can pull off all three of these feats in one date, you’re probably going to create one of the most memorable experiences of her life. And yours.

Which is why it hurts so bad when they fall apart.

At the beginning of August, Jewelwing and I had been talking for a few weeks. We were making plans to see each other. To hold each other. We both wanted to be together so desperately at that point. Her from longing for emotional connection, me to put an end to my loneliness. It’s no wonder we were drawn back to each other’s orbits. There was just one problem. It’s difficult to take a married woman on a date, no matter how unhappy her marriage is.

You have to be careful where you go. You need to leave a wide berth between her life with her husband and the life you’re trying to create for her. This came in the form of a regional shift. I didn’t want to go anywhere she could be spotted by her husband or one of his friends. So I chose a location an hour and half north of me (two hours for her). We would meet at my house, and I would drive us there and back. Now I just had to set it up.

Jewelwing had told me a while back during one of our many late night conversations that, “Pizza is life.” I had responded with that was an untruth, because Marvel is life, to which she rebuked, “Yeah, Marvel is good. But you can’t eat them.”

Touché, Jewelwing.

So I had to find a pizza joint in one of the larger metropolitan areas within my state. Piece of cake (erm…slice of pie?). I did a quick web search of pizza joints in that town and came up with a dozen results. Never take your girl to a franchised establishment for your first date, guys. Lesson numero uno. Little Caesar’s may be alright in a pinch when you’re starved for time and your stomach is howling, but it’s no way to treat a lady.

I sifted through reviews until I found two that I liked. The first one was out of the way from anything else we would have found interesting. I made a note of the address to try their pizza and compare it to the other joint, but it seemed unreasonable to go the extra 15 miles, especially once I discovered the second part of our date.

Now bear in mind, I had no idea what I was going to put together for an activity while I was out researching pizza places. I only knew I didn’t want something simple or cliché like a movie. Or a walk in the park. Or a stroll down the bay. I wanted to create a memory. One that was going to make her think of me every time her husband was being a jerk. One that would make her want to be with me even more than she already claimed she did.

Which is why I had to make this day extra special. I remembered something else she had told me during a separate conversation. While I couldn’t research it online, I made a note to seek out a place that served ice cream sandwiches as well. Jewelwing loves those things. She could probably eat a whole box an hour if her delicate stomach would allow it. Anyone can go to the store and get some chocolate wafer-shaped, vanilla ice cream sandwiches. I wanted something extraordinary.

So now it was time to head out. I left around 10am on a sunny Sunday and I wouldn’t get back till around 6pm. What started off as a fun activity to plan a wonderful evening for the girl I loved, ended as a case study in compulsion disorders. The drive there was pleasant. Very little traffic, great tunes on the radio, I was bubbly and effervescing joy. While I had a good idea of where to eat, I still needed a plan for something to do. So my first stop would be the mall.

The reason for this is they usually have pamphlets for what’s going on around town tucked away in malls if you know where to look. I was unfamiliar with the area we were going. As such, I had no idea where to take Jewelwing for some fun and games. I knew she loved dancing, but we were going on an afternoon date on a Wednesday. It was her only day off, and to make matters worse at the time, it was the only day I had class during summer. So there was just a brief window for us to share that day together.

After wandering around the mall, I grabbed a quick bite to eat at the food court, then went and scoped out a few stores. It was a nicer one than any out near me, but considering I live in a small town, 30 minutes in every direction from a slum, that made sense. Even though our date never happened, some good did come out of it. I found a store that presses shirts and sweaters. Guess whose winning the ugly sweater competition this Christmas?

But I digress.

I didn’t find any pamphlets for anything that would be interesting to us, so I decided to go check out the farthest pizza joint. Remember that pleasant drive on the way in? Turns out, country roads are quiet on a Sunday. But city roads are busy as the dickens (heathens). After almost being hit by teenagers half a dozen times, I finally pulled into the pizza place.

Only to find out they were closed for renovations.


So I hopped back in my car, found some side streets to avoid main road mayhem, and maneuvered toward the pizza place with only slightly lower reviews. On my way there, I passed by a BBQ joint attached to a meat market. On a big blue and white sign above the store, printed in large black and gold lettering was, “Best Ice Cream Sandwiches in the Region.”

Friggin’ jackpot.

I knew I wanted to test that boast, but since I’d already had my GPS keyed in with the pizza shop’s address, and I didn’t want to confuse the poor thing (which is surprisingly easy to do for a phone which claims dominant intelligence over me), I decided to keep on toward the parlor. It was on the same road, and I didn’t mind backtracking a little bit. It would certainly be preferable to listening as my GPS entered existential crisis mode.

I arrived at the pizza place, aptly named, “The Pizza Factory,” 10 minutes later and discovered it was a small brick building sitting on a large lot. A few teenagers dressed as Marilyn Manson music video extras prowled a corner of the parking lot passing a cigarette back and forth, but all in all, it didn’t look like a bad place to have a date. I didn’t swing in yet, I just wanted to know where it was. Now I had to go taste test ice cream.

Headed back toward the BBQ joint, I managed to retrace my steps (which is hard to do for someone as directionally challenged as me), and pulled into a space outside the meat market. A light drizzle was rolling in off the bay and misted my car softly through the sun’s rays. I ended up seeing a double rainbow as I exited my car. I actually went home and wrote a song about it. Jewelwing really was the rainbow of my otherwise colorless life. I’ll always miss the joy she brought me. I’ll never forgive myself for destroying that in her.

I walked in and was greeted by Eminem’s likely less talented cousin sweeping the floor in a butcher’s smock. I shoved my hands in my pockets, standing in the entranceway, taking in the whole establishment. Wooden panel walls, cedar, not the cheap stuff, filled my nostrils with memories of my log cabin. Knowing that Jewelwing used to have a cabin which once burned down, I thought that maybe this place might trigger a bad memory in her (I think about things like that). So immediately I was on the fence.

The guy must have seen me just staring at all of the glass compartments housing various meats because he asked if there was anything he could get for me. I shook my head and said I’d seen the sign about ice cream sandwiches. He laughed uncomfortably and replied, “Yeah, turns out we aren’t serving them this year. Which I’m starting to think was kind of dumb considering how many people come in asking about them.”

First the best pizza joint is closed, now the best ice cream sandwiches are gone. IS NOTHING SACRED ANYMORE?!?!?! My inner voice screamed. Not Morgan Freeman. The one I can control. I let out a sigh and asked if there was anywhere else. He thought for a moment, rattled off a couple places which I took mental note of, and then for some reason or another, went and got his boss. I still don’t know why, but after he already called the man out, it felt rude to just turn around and leave.

His boss was a big burly man who looked as if he were born into the butcher’s life. If it wasn’t that, he was going to be a biker gang’s enforcer. He stepped out of the backroom covered in a bloodstained smock which had seen far too many pitiless cattle and began talking about The Right to Farm Act. After listening to how it was killing small meat shop businesses and farmers alike for 20 minutes, I left thinking, what the hell did any of that have to do with ice cream?

So remember how I mentioned my compulsion disorder? Now that I couldn’t have the perfect ice cream sandwiches that were advertised, I had to find a substitute. Jewelwing demanded the best, and I was going to give it to her. I drove to the first place on the list. Mama Lupo’s. It looked like a quaint diner which had been built in the 50’s, and only remodeled so as to keep it up to building codes. The parking accommodations however…

I don’t even know how to begin describing the lot. In what one would assume is the front of the building there is a small 16 square foot blacktop. There are no yellow lines indicating vehicles can park there, and anywhere you park obscures the entrance. I had to look like a complete idiot as I pulled in, decided this is not where we’re supposed to park, and then turned the wrong way on a one-way exiting. I drove around the block, found the correct lot (which was really just a skinny stretch of concrete), and pulled up next to a big truck.

Once I saw the sign on the door though, my heart dropped. They opened at 2:30. I would need to be back in the car and headed home by then. The plan was to leave my house by 9am, eat ice cream sandwiches (always do dessert first), go get some food, then go have some fun. But I needed to be home that day by 4 in order to make it to class on time. So Mama Lupo’s, no matter how good their homemade cookies and hand churned ice cream was, was officially out.

There was one last place on my list, and it turned out it would have been my saving grace had this date happened. The last place suggested to me by the kid at the meat shop was a miniature golf course down by the marina. I keyed in Buoy 18 to my GPS, hopped in the car, and prayed for a miracle. Fortunately, for once, it seemed like God was listening.

I didn’t know what to expect when I pulled in, but it certainly wasn’t what I saw. The small golf course looked adorable. Both kids and adults alike were laughing as they attempted to batter colorful balls around cleverly designed obstacles. In that moment, I realized, I’d take Jewelwing here. Why not? The weather for our date was supposed to be sunny and 80. She loved children. It would be perfect.

When I stepped inside, a few college girls that were too cute to have been hired in by coincidence alone, were standing behind the counter. Their white-brimmed hats and sky-blue smocks, coupled with their blonde hair and perfectly round eyes, gave them the appearance of having come off an assembly line. Despite the Stepford Wives vibe, I smiled when I looked up at the menu. They weren’t your standard bar-shaped ice cream sandwiches. These were real cookies, with ice cream smashed between them, and rolled in the topping of your choice. Jewelwing was going to love it.

I priced out the cookies and the golf course, told the girls I’d be back on Wednesday (which turned out to be a lie) and headed back toward my car. On the way there I peeked over the fence to take one last look at the course. It was going to be a blast. Simple, not at all challenging, but it would be the perfect environment in which to focus on part three of my perfect date itinerary. Conversation.

The final stop was the pizza place. I headed there now, with fresh confidence that this was going to be the best date ever, and pulled into a parking space across from the goth lot lizards. As I exited the vehicle there was an odd smell I couldn’t pin down. Like, burning tires mixed with sulfur. I realize now I was near the foundry.

While the odor was a mild inconvenience, I didn’t think it would be enough to sully the rest of the date. I walked inside, looked around, and grabbed a menu. The place was minimalistic. White tables and black steel chairs filled out a huge dining space. Only one couple was sitting near the back eating, giving the empty hall a much larger sense than what it actually was. The back was completely visible to the public, and the best part? A brick fired oven. You know that pizza is going to be good.

So I got back in my car and I headed home. I told Jewelwing about the pizza place and told her there were a couple more surprises. I never told her about how much of an ordeal it was though. It only would have served to make her feel guilty, and I don’t want that anymore. We were both so excited for this to happen. We only had to wait a few days.

But on Tuesday, the walls came tumbling down. Jewelwing had been spending a lot of time on her phone talking to me. Clearly, this hadn’t gone unnoticed by her husband. For a while, he had just seemed to be letting it slide. It was almost as though he was looking for an out from his marriage just as much as Jewelwing. But that morning, he confronted her.

I don’t know the full details of the conversation, I only know what I was told. He’d asked her if there was someone else. She didn’t say yes, she didn’t say no. She’s a horrible liar. So when that question came forth, I know she panicked. She hesitated. And that was perhaps even worse than a lie or the truth.

I marked that as the official death knell of any relationship that could have sprung forth from these events. After that instance he became more possessive. He began frightening her. He was convinced she was sleeping with one of his friends. He said he would start coming home to perform random checks on her days off, or send someone else to do it, just to make sure she was there. So that morning, when Jewelwing texted me as she did every morning just a short while ago, she sank my heart to the bottom of the sea:

“I can’t go with you on Wednesday. I’m sorry.”

I wanted to cry. All that effort for naught. I should have known it would happen. She had been getting careless with her phone lately. Blatantly leaving it out in the open, practically daring him to go through it. I had been begging her to delete our messages for a while. I knew if he found out it would be the end of us, and here it was. He didn’t know who she was talking to, but he knew it was someone.

The end had come.

I didn’t explode on her like I expected I would. I didn’t try to guilt her either. I simply told her I understood. She said, “No, I don’t think you do.”

To which I responded, “You still love him, and you’re not ready for a divorce yet, but you love me too, and it’s confusing. So you need time to figure things out.”

“Okay…so maybe you DO understand. I’m so sorry, Bug.”

That was her nickname for me by the way. Bug. Probably why I’m so easy to squish. We’d never get that date. Our dalliance would be over several weeks from that day, all because I couldn’t control my emotions. But things like this always happen to me. It adds up over time. Still, I shouldn’t have taken all of that out on her. I just didn’t know how to communicate what I was feeling in a way that didn’t feel like I was trying to manipulate her.

I tread a fine line everyday with my disorders. Every word I say to someone can be viewed as a form of emotional manipulation. It’s stressful to have to concern oneself with such matters, but I do. If we were to ever have gotten together, I wanted it to be because she loved me. Because she wanted me. Because I fulfilled her every desire and she couldn’t picture being happier with anyone else.

Not because she pitied me.

It’s all ashes to the wind now I suppose. But I am an amazing date planner. Even if they don’t happen. Sometimes I have to remind myself of the things I’m good at. It’s too easy for me to lose sight of that. I have a lot of love to give in this old soul. I guess I just need to find the right person to give it to. I still wish that could have been Jewelwing, but let’s be fair. I was betting against the house. The casino never lets you walk away with their payroll.

Maybe someday I’ll find someone else, plan another date like this one, and maybe it won’t fall through. I’m doubtful though. I don’t know that I can face rejection too many more times. Honestly, I don’t think I can face it one more time. But I’ll never take a different girl on this date. Because every time I eat pizza and ice cream I’ll think of Jewelwing. I’ll think of how amazing that date could have been. And I’ll think about how she said to me:

“You’re so thoughtful. No one’s ever driven that far to plan a date with me before.”

And I know I won’t be bitter.

Because I understand, Jewelwing. I really, really do.

  • Ryan Sanders

Suicide Is Not Painless

Suicide Is Not Painless

I thought about suicide a lot yesterday.

Relax, dear reader, I have no interest in self-termination. It is only my illness which does. I resist these urges on a regular basis, but after a tragedy, or a loss, I sometimes lose the ability to shut those voices out. It doesn’t mean I’d ever listen to them, it just means I have no will to silence them.

It’s like, being in a room full of screaming kids, praying for tranquility, but you’re just too exhausted to tell them to shut up. So instead of telling them to be quiet, you put a pillow over your ears and bury your face in the couch. You can still hear their murmurs, but it’s at least softer now. And you didn’t have to spend any excess energy hollering at them.

That’s how I feel. Perpetually exhausted to the point where I can barely function. I’m too busy wrestling with my demons, trying to ignore them. It makes it difficult to pay attention in class, pulls me out of conversations, and tortures me in the twilight hours by stealing rest from me.

Case in point.

Last night, sleep tauntingly danced around my bed, laughing at my inability to grasp it. I laid there in the stillness, listening to the churning of my fan, watching the LEDs from various sources flicker on like the blink of a distant lighthouse. Counting sheep doesn’t work for me in such a state, nor does turning the TV on. I can merely toss and turn until the sandman checks me off his nightly route. That’s when he creeps in and takes over control of my thoughts.

Once I was good and frustrated, once I was exhausted, the voices started in. My first thought was how many pillows I could put over my head in order to completely muffle a gunshot. After some debate with myself, I settled on around 5. At least, no one would hear the gunshot. No one would come running to discover my body right then. It could wait till morning. But there would be a morning for everyone else. Someone would have to find the body. I can’t do it in my own bed.

There’s plenty of chain hanging on the wall of the garage. I could easily take a length of that down to the woods. There are plenty of sturdy oaks where I would only be a bother to squirrels. No help would be able to come in time, even if they knew where I was. There are miles to lose a hanging corpse in. I’d just be another missing person on the board at Walmart. But that would destroy my family. And what if it took years to find my body? I couldn’t imagine them holding onto hope that long, but if they did? I’d be a monster…

There’s always a “fishing accident”. There are plenty of places right here, nearby, where one slip on a rock could lead to instant death. If not, there are dams aplenty where the undertow would assure I never take another gasp of air again. I hear drowning is pleasant. It’s somewhat quick. I’ll just need to overcome the panic. Then no one will know of my cowardice but the fishes and me.

My mind ran a dozen more simulations like those before I exploded in despair. I cried out to God, begging him, why would he let me suffer like this? Why would he put such monstrous creatures in control of my head? How did I offend him so? I begged him to make it stop, clawing at my head, gouging into flesh. I pounded against the wall, as if the sound would drown out his incessant prattling, but he only chants louder. Like a circle of bullies on the playground, a fiendish chorus lampooning my pain.

I curled up into a ball, whimpered into my pillow, and eventually, the sandman took pity on me. Because I awoke this morning despite not remembering falling asleep. But the voice was gone when I opened my eyes. And he’s been in hiding for most of today. So maybe I’ll get lucky tonight.

Now, I want to make something perfectly clear. They aren’t auditory hallucinations, I’m not schizophrenic. Schizophrenia which presents with auditory hallucinations are typically indistinguishable from reality to the afflicted. In my case, it’s simply my inner voice running havoc in a mind I’ve long lost control over.

In short, Captain Monkey’s in charge of the banana boat.

I wish I could unequivocally state that I wasn’t suicidal, but that would be a lie. Clearly, if there are thoughts like these running rampant in my mind on a regular basis there’s something going on there. However, the question everyone always asks is, would you ever act on those thoughts?

The answer is no. Never again. I’ve attempted suicide twice in my life and failed miserably both times. All I did was succeed in straining my relationship with my parents, crashing a really nice SUV, and scared a friend to death who drove 100 miles an hour to the hospital to get my stomach pumped. Those days are long behind me. I don’t want to put anyone through that again. When I die, I want to go out like everyone else. From cancer after the EPA repeals groundwater regulations.

Okay, that was half a joke (honestly I wouldn’t put it past this EPA to do that though). I don’t seriously want to die of cancer, but I want it to be external causes. Not my hand. I don’t want that to be my legacy. Because that’s what it is once you step off that platform. You’re saying goodbye to everything else you ever did in your life. Unless of course you were lucky enough to leave something of significant cultural value behind. If not? That’s all she wrote.

The only thing you’re remembered for thereafter, is the guy who took his life.

I’m not ready to go into detail about either of my suicide attempts yet. Just know, I’m ashamed of who that person was. He tried to steal something away from the world he had no right to. I may not have asked to live this life. But who am I to take it away from myself? To hurt the people who care about me like that, just because, what? I’m in pain? Boo hoo, right?

Except it’s not just “pain”. It’s not only what’s going on right now. I have these thoughts all the time. On the way to see my therapist on Friday I had to go over a drawbridge. There were no ships coming, but I thought to myself, what if the bridge were to open up while I was in the middle? Some kind of, bizarre malfunction. I wouldn’t be responsible. I’d have an out.

I actually started asking God to drop me off a bridge.

Yes I brought this up to my therapist.

It’ll happen on my way to school. I’ll think, wouldn’t it be sweet if my tie rod went out right around this bend? If I hit that tree at 60, it’s bye-bye birdy. You’d be blameless. But that’s what you want isn’t it? You think you’re entitled to everything. Sorry. The universe doesn’t work like that. You want out? Do it yourself.

You see what happened at the end there? The inner voice, the one who is supposed to be my conscience? He takes over. He tells me I’m more of a coward to let the world kill me than I would be to just take a razor to my own throat. Spill yourself. When I pick up a knife. Put it to your temple. Bang. When I go to the rifle range. Down the hatch. While I’m pouring Drain-O in the sink. He’s a thunderous bastard. And I’m so tired from resisting him, I have no power left to shut him out.

I have to hear him call me worthless. Slime. A burden. Scum. A fool and thief. He tells me Jewelwing never loved me. That my parents hate me. He tells me I have no friends, the ones who say they’re my friends are only here out of pity. I’m a loser who will never amount to anything. Finish a book? Ha! I can barely finish a blog. My writing is as weak as my spirit.

The words cut like knives. They soften me up. They’re the opening salvo in a protracted battle with my own mind. Once he’s lowered my guard, once he has me on my own defense, that’s when he strikes hard. Going in for the kill. And I’m not speaking hyperbolically.

Toaster in the bath. Go out Groundhog Day style.

You have cinderblocks and rope. Why not go for a swim?

It’s twenty below. Who needs a jacket?

He’s always there. He’s always mocking. And I’m always fighting him. In my finest hours, he cuts me down a peg. About to receive an award? You don’t deserve that. Going on a first date? She’s going to hate you, just like the rest of them. Trying to decide what I want for dinner? How about a salad you fat f***ing cow? He’s always trying to batter down my doors. I’m constantly reinforcing barriers which only exist in the confines of my own head. I wish I could visualize putting him in a box, or shoving him out the door, but my imagination, while vivid, doesn’t allow me that kind of focus. My anxiety makes certain of that.

So do you see why I’m always exhausted now, dear reader? Do you understand? I wake up doing battle with this demon who (literally) has adopted the voice of Morgan Freeman. I think it’s because it wanted to defile a voice I trusted, my therapist didn’t disagree. When sleep fights you, when your mind fights you, when you feel like the world is against you, and your own head is a constant warzone, it wears a man down. Physically. Mentally. In every way shape and form. I just got really good at hiding it.

But I don’t want to hide it anymore. I want to talk about it. I think there are a lot of other people out there too. People who are quietly suffering in the darkness of stigma with these thoughts. I don’t ask you to talk about them with me. I have no right to invade your privacy in such intimate ways, but I do ask you talk about it with someone. I’ve fought these voices for over 20 years now. Even I can’t do it alone anymore.

Because I wouldn’t wish this lack of inhibition over my inner voices upon my worst enemy. I know my thoughts would devour someone of weaker constitution. And sometimes, I don’t think I give myself enough credit for that. I just wish I knew how to strap a leash on this creature and drag him down into submission, but I can’t. It’s possible this voice, whether the sweet pipes of Movie God, or any other persona it adopts, will be with me until the day I die of natural causes.

Because I will die of natural causes.

Or murder. I do drive a lot of people batty…

The point is, I’m not going to kill myself. That is a solemn vow to everyone reading this, and everyone who loves me. I’ve made my peace with God. We have a strained relationship. But I know we’ll never get the chance to work out our differences if I off myself. It’s my understanding that’s a one way ticket down a hot shaft (okay…I probably could have phrased that better). And it’s kind of hard to have a conversation if one of the participants is out of cell range.

So I’ll be here for a while, blogging my crazy thoughts. I’m going to talk about this more in depth in future sessions with my therapist. In fact, getting a handle on my inner voice is going to be a key focus of my therapy. He contributes to my anxiety by distracting me with his presence. He incentivizes my depression with his volatile antithesis to sweet nothings. He is my rage. My fears. My insecurities. And everything that is hampering my recovery.

Which is why I need you to know, dear reader. I do not romanticize this aspect of my illness. Suicide is not beautiful. It is never painless. You may only leave one body behind, but you destroy the spirits of so many people along with it. People will question whether or not they could have helped you. Some will blame themselves. Others, may feel so guilty afterwards they follow in your footsteps. You do not want that to be your legacy, nor do I.

So please, again. If you struggle with thoughts like these, or anything similar, talk to someone. If you’re in a crisis, call 1-800-273-8255. Please don’t wait until it’s too late. I’ve buried too many desperate souls. It leaves a malodorous stain upon the memories. It raises more questions than any note left behind could ever possibly answer.

It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Don’t ever forget that. Everything is temporary.

Even the pain.


  • Ryan Sanders

My Devil’s in the Details


My Devil's In The Details
© Jim Davis, 2015. https://garfield.com/

I have an obsessive personality disorder.

No, I’m not the guy who has to wash his hands eight times before leaving the restroom. I’m not the girl who turns the lights on and off three times before leaving every room. I don’t have any of those tics (that I’m aware of anyway), I have different quirks. I make lists that are so specific they’re impossible to execute. My attention to detail consumes every thought, turning the crystal clear waters of my vision into a cloudy, murky, retention pond. I outline my novels to the point where, if I were to actually sit down and reread my notes (which for some reason I never do), I already have a book. Yet, it doesn’t seem to be the writing I find satisfying when it comes to my books, so much as the story-boarding.

It’s because I’m a perfectionist. I feel the minute I transfer those words from my notes into a linear story, it’s going to fall apart. That readers will hate these characters I fell absolutely in love with. I make those ultra-specific to-do lists because I’m not confident enough to actually complete the task, so I have to over-analyze every possible thing that could go wrong. I focus on the details so intensely I lose sight of the bigger picture. Sometimes I think I do this as a form of self-sabotage (I’m really good at blowing things up).

But this obsessive behavior creeps into other aspects of my life as well. I’m no longer certain that such a thing as “an addictive personality” type exists anymore. When I was younger, I believed that I was predisposed to addictive behavior. I think I may have been trying to use this as a deflection technique. As an excuse. But now? I think my addictive tendencies are symptomatic of an obsession disorder.

And when I say addictive personality type, I’m not talking about drugs (well…I mean…those too), I’m talking about people. About “collecting” (hoarding) things. Diving so deep into video games I neglect my health, my family, my hygiene, and most importantly, sacrifice sleep (I played God of War 2 when I was a teenager for 25 hours. Achievement Unlocked: Neurotically Stupid). But possibly, the most terrible addiction of all…I get hooked on the way people make me feel.

It’s like heroin to me (ironically one of the few drugs I’ve never done). When someone makes me feel good, I want to latch onto them. Like a leech. I just want to seethe that joy, usually to the detriment of the host. It’s one of the many reasons I’m a toxic person. Also one of the many reasons I’ve chosen to quarantine myself from the majority of society for so long.

The most extreme example of this phenomenon was with Voldemort. I’d been working at the thrift store for a few months before she was hired back in. Turned out, she’d worked at that same store before, but for some reason or another she left to work at another one for a while. I had a full beard, I looked like a fat woodsman sweeping that dusty backroom floor, but I guess, when she walked by, she noticed me.

I know this, because she was an extreme extrovert. Voldemort yelled, “Oh my God!” when she saw me, ran over, whipped out her phone, squished her face against mine (starting the trend of violating my comfort zone), and selfie raped me (there was zero consent). When the flashbulbs cleared my eyes, I asked what the hell was going on. She replied:

“I’ve never seen a hot guy working here. I had to document this.”

I have to admit, I got a pretty good chuckle from that response. For two reasons. Number one: She called me hot. I don’t care who you are, or how sad you feel. When a gorgeous brunette with forest green eyes tells you you’re cute, it makes a bad day better. The second reason: I didn’t think I was hot, so my brain was telling me to respond with, I think you need to get your eyes checked.

I can’t remember if I ignored that voice, or if I spewed his lines, but I do remember her laugh. It was loud, but it came from her heart. And her entire face laughed with her. Her eyes would smile, her nose would scrunch up and little lines would striate across the bridge. I loved hearing her laugh. I wish I hadn’t taken that away toward the end.

That night, when I went home, I obsessed over it. What did she mean by I’m hot? Was she hitting on me? (Yes) Was she just trying to break the ice? (Also yes) Does she have a boyfriend? (Also, also yes) I laid awake that night asking a billion questions. Then after deciding which outcomes would make me the happiest, I began running scenarios for those as well.

What would our kids look like? Would she marry me? I hope I’m not too messed up for her. Can we afford a house on our thrift store budget? Not in this market. Crap. What’s going to happen when she sees me naked? Uh-oh. Panic attack. Okay. That’s over now. But seriously…I’m not a Shakira song. Underneath these clothes it’s a horror story.

The only line I actually remember from all of that thinking is the Shakira joke. Everything else is just highly likely. I’ve jogged down this psycho path before. The things I obsess over are always what she’ll think of me naked, what our wedding would be like, what we’d name our kids. That stuff is pretty standard right?

But what about:

Wondering what kind of drapes or curtains you’d buy. Would she be willing to shop at Target? (I heart Target) What about bargain shampoos. Women are pretty serious about their haircare regimen. We might end up strapped for cash. I wonder if she’d be willing to honeymoon in France. We’d have to learn the language. French people hate when you don’t know the language…

Do normal people mentally furnish an apartment with someone they just met? Do normal people lay awake at night thinking about playing catch with the son they’ll never have? Do normal people wonder if she’d like Corn Flakes or Frosted Flakes? Futurama or Rick & Morty? Star Wars or Star Trek? (Okay…so everyone asks that last question) The answer is no. Normal people don’t obsess to those kinds of extremes.

Because when I say furnish an apartment, I literally mean go over the entire square footage analysis. What we could put where. What would be from IKEA and what furniture we’d own that wouldn’t make us hate ourselves. I think of the plants in the windows, the pictures on the walls, the candles on the mantle. Her shoes by the door and a towel on the bath hook. I think of kissing her every morning and cooking her bacon while she wears my favorite Disturbed T-Shirt (which looks like a gown on her slender figure). Carrying her up to bed when she’s had too much to drink, and dancing like a lunatic when we’ve both had just enough.

I think of pizza and wine. Drinks with friends at the bar. Schooling accomplishments and career ladder climbing. I picture growing old with her. Vacationing in Amsterdam and getting so high on pot brownies we forget where we parked our hotel. I dream of the dogs and the cats, killing spiders in the shower, making love when we’re supposed to be getting ready for work. I think of all that and more in the span of an hour. Imagine what I can do in twelve.

I created a whole illusory life from the shadows of one selfie.

So when that world came crashing down, I felt like I lost a million things I never had. My obsessive tendencies switched directions. I lashed out at her (just like I did Jewelwing, except way worse), and I became fixated on making her hate me. Eventually, it worked. Too well. To the point where I lost my job, wrecked a car, and ruined half a dozen relationships, as well as put a permanent black mark on my work record.

After something like that, I throw myself headfirst into something else. I don’t come up for air until I forget why I was even there in the first place. This process can take months. When you only have a short time on this Earth, you don’t have time to waste on such frivolously stupid pursuits. If you take one thing away from this entry today, dear reader, please let it be that.

It took me far too long to learn that driving myself toward the bottle, just to mimic a feeling, only to replace that feeling with self-loathing when I’d realized why I’d done it in the first place, then to turn that self-loathing into bitter resentment of the catalyst which triggered the behavior at the outset…

It’s quite a devilish carousel with no end.

My list-making tangents are even worse sometimes. As a most recent example, I went through all of these blogs, took the word count, wrote them down, added them up by hand, then added them up by calculator, found out I was off, added them up by hand again, got the same result, added them up on the calculator again, only to discover that I’d keyed a wrong number the first time, and got so furious with myself that I’d wasted an hour of my time with this stupid exercise I wanted to punch the floor.

Although, I’d probably make an amazing forensic accountant if my math skills were sharper.

But this begs the question, why did I do this in the first place? Yes. I plan on writing a memoir someday, and word counts are important to publishers. But I’m not copying my blogs verbatim into a book. Some of them will be used as a guide, sure, but not word for word. That’s a rip-off to people who both read my blog and buy the book. I’m not looking to cash in, I just want to tell my story, and tell it right.

The answer is, I was curious how much I’d written. It started off as an exercise to make myself feel good, and ended, as is typical with me and any mole hill which can be blasted into a mountain, as a complete disaster.

I was angry with myself. I could have used that hour in a far more productive manner. Because it isn’t just that one hour I’ve lost to this saboteur comportment. It’s hundreds of them. Thousands of them. I’ve destroyed more trees with pro/con lists than America did in South America with bulldozers. I’ve edited more Notepad documents into oblivion than a programmer on a college kid’s budget. I’ve handwritten playlists for a 120 gig iPod. LET THAT SINK IN!

That’s like…a billion golram songs folks. Okay. So like 60,000 or so. But that’s almost 1900 pages of notebook paper. Do you have any idea how long it takes to fill up 1900 pages of Notebook paper with almost every song you’ve ever heard in your life? I still have that iPod. It’s dead as a doornail. But I never once changed the playlist around after putting that all together.

I also never listened to the whole thing either.

I have tamped down the list making a bit, not as much as I’d like. But it still hasn’t dampened the obsessive tendencies I experience daily. I still can’t think about anything but Jewelwing and how badly I hurt her. I’m afraid to play Destiny 2 (despite having waited over a year for it on pre-order) because I know how easily I’m drawn into virtual worlds to escape the wrath of my real one. I’m also afraid to sit down and make a list out of goals for my therapy, which was one of two questions I stumbled on yesterday during my first session in over 10 years. I know that list could spiral out of control like one of Trump’s 3am Tweets to a world leader after the Huffington Post gets ahold of it.

I think I need to somehow figure out a way to decouple how a person makes me feel, from the way I’m capable of feeling naturally. The reality is, while something may trigger a negatively impassioned response, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the cause of my reaction. The actual cause has a physiological origin within my own body. Some of us can control that simply by refusing to let our id take the reins of our mind. Others, require medication.

I may fall into the latter group.

If I do, I’ll work with my doctor to find a psychiatrist with my best interests in mind. I don’t want to go to another shrink who just wants to shove pills down my throat to see what they do (I’m still not convinced I wasn’t a case study…or that he wasn’t born a Mengele), but personally, I hope I can find a way to control this naturally. It’s going to be hard knowing full well what my emotional rollercoaster is like. But I always say, the first step to healing is recognizing the problem and developing a willingness to overcome it. So for once at least, it feels like my coaster is on the right track.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t loop back into crazy town.

Because I’ve had enough of that ride.


  • Ryan Sanders

Growing Hunger Pains

Growing Hunger Pains

I’m having trouble eating again.

I always do this when I get depressed. I think it’s because I love food, and like everything someone loves, depression wants to take that feeling away. Whenever I’m living under my radioactive raincloud, food is just unappealing. I could look at a burger (I heart burgers) and say, “no, I’m good.” Steak and potatoes? Sorry, pass. Desserts and sweets make me nauseous when I get like this. So on the plus side, at least I drink less soda in these states.

The starving of myself isn’t the only problematic aspect of this behavior. When I finally snap out of my funk, I realize how terrible I feel because I haven’t been eating. So I gorge. To the point where I make myself sick. Then I’m throwing up for days, irritating my stomach ulcers, and generally making myself miserable. This disturbing cycle of self-targeting malnourishment, followed by overeating and purges, has played hell with not only my psyche, but my body as well.

While I’m starving myself, I typically also torture my body in other ways. I’ll run for miles, ignoring the pain in my legs and stomach. Anyone who’s ever exercised knows you shouldn’t do that on an empty stomach. While I don’t go to such extremes anymore (nowadays I at least force myself to eat a granola bar before embarking on my quest toward bodily destruction), that still isn’t healthy.

And for the life of me, I can’t recall what initially triggered this behavior. I do however, remember when it started. It was summertime. I was around 12 years old. I must have been feeling particularly self-conscious about my weight that day. Maybe someone made fun of me for it. Maybe I spent too long watching TV shows with ripped dudes and hearing teenage girls wish they could marry Christian Slater. Whatever it was, this destructive behavior began on a summer morning.

Neglecting my water bottle, I hopped on my bicycle. My parents used to say I could ride my bike in town without a helmet, but if I left the village, I had to have one on. That day, I either couldn’t find it, or I didn’t care, but I left my helmet somewhere in the garage too. Pedaling away from the house as fast as I could, I remember a grumbling and a tight pinch in my stomach, I hadn’t eaten that morning, but it was too late now. I was already on my way. Besides, food was for fatties.

I left via the route with the most hills. Steep inclines that make muscles burn and lungs swear that you’re a horrible person. Standing up on my pedals, against the wind, I violently jerked the bike side to side as I forced my way upward. At the crest of the first hill I was already out of breath, but I didn’t care. I told my body to keep pushing, keep moving forward. It was the only way to get skinny.

It was the only way to fit in.

Fat kids don’t fit in, Ryan. Nobody likes fat kids. I know that mantra well. I still say it sometimes today following rejection, albeit instead of “kids” I say “men”, but I think you get the point. I was trying to whip my body into shape, incite it to conform. It needed to be angry to burn all this fat (I wasn’t really that fat, just pudgy), and I knew how to make things hate me. Time to put it to good use.

Down the slope of the first hill, across the bridge past the horses, up the second hill. I did all this still standing up. In ten minutes I’d forced my weakened, mildly obese adolescent body half a mile, and I was hardly done there. I don’t think I had any particular direction in mind that day. If I had, I wouldn’t have been going with the wind on my way out. Any cyclist knows you start out against the wind so you have it at your back on the way home.

By the time I hit the first stop sign my legs were screaming “Uncle!” but I was hardly ready to quit. I cut right—onto the dirt road. I had to keep my momentum up. Rocks and gravel churned beneath my tires, firing behind me, the sounds of marbles as they collided once more with the earth. I tried to focus on this noise, on the sounds of birds, the distant chittering of squirrels (before iPods we listened to nature. I know, that sounds awful right?), the rumble of distant cars, but my stomach would not be ignored.

He was howling, furious at my neglect, I remember stopping briefly at the next stop sign (the two mile mark) and dry heaving for about five minutes. Some bile ejected from the back of my throat. It tasted like crushed aspirin and copper. I remember that taste well, it’s assaulted my mouth many times since then. Just as I’ve assaulted my body many times in this manner since then as well.

Getting back on my bicycle, I was determined to keep up this Tour-d’-Ruination, but with a little less determination than before. I still pedaled against the wind, my body still screamed indignantly at me, but now, I zoned out. For the next several miles, my head wasn’t with the rest of my body. I know this, because no matter how hard I try then and now, I have no recollection of the next dozen miles I went. Either they were particularly uneventful, or I was in another one of my stupors.

When I finally snapped out of it, it wasn’t a gentle nudge back to the real world, it was the violent honk of a truck horn. I must have been riding too close to the center lane around a series of curves on that same dirt road, because a truck couldn’t get around me. As soon as that horn went off I lurched, the front wheel of my bike wobbled, control escaped me, and I crashed into a tree along the right-hand median.

As the mountain bike flew over the ditch, I hovered, suspended above it in midair. Like a spirit decoupling from his vessel. The bike hit the ground with both wheels, used the remainder of its momentum to roll forward into a tree, then the bike flopped over on its side. All in all, it was a pretty harmless landing for my bike. Were it a competition, he definitely would have taken the gold for sticking that landing.

Me on the other hand…

Remember how I said I didn’t have a helmet? Those are kind of important. I hit the dirt, rolling forward into the ditch (it wasn’t very deep) and collided skull first with a rock. It wasn’t enough to knock me unconscious, but it did bring tears to my eyes. For a few seconds, I just laid there moaning and groaning. Finally I rolled over onto my side, sat up, and reached to touch the pulsating spot on my head.

I immediately winced when my fingers grazed ground zero. A huge goose egg was already forming and my fingers came away wet with blood. I felt dizzy, dehydrated, tired, starving, and utterly confused as to where I was. So I did what I always did when I was defeated. I curled up into a ball with my head in between my knees and tried to think of what to do. My head was fuzzy though. I can’t remember what I was thinking in those moments, but I do remember not being able to pull my thoughts together (a head injury will do that).

That’s when I heard a voice call out, “Hey kid, you alright?”

It was the truck driver. He’d (clearly) seen me spin out into the ditch and stopped to see if I was alright. I suppose that’s one of the benefits to living in a rural area. People actually stop to see if people are okay, at least, they used to anyway. He was maybe mid-50 with a long grey and white beard. With his flannel shirt and torn jeans he almost looked like a bizarre cross between Gandalf and Kurt Cobain.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I think.”

He asked where I was headed in such a hurry. I told him I wasn’t sure, that I was dizzy, and really thirsty. He asked where I lived, and when I told him in the village he was almost amazed.

“You’re a long way from home, kiddo. Grab your bike. I’ll give you a lift back so your folks can get a look at that bump.”

I obliged. Back then, and out here, we didn’t have the same fears most parents have now. I had no concern that this kindly stranger was going to sell me into the sex trade. Or lock me in his trailer and keep me as a pet. Or even deliver me to a reclusive family suffering hereditary sterility, due to incestuous activity, and are forced to adopt through kidnapping. I just knew he was going to take me home.

I never showed my folks the goose egg. Despite the pain, I wore a hat over it until the swelling went down, icing it every few hours. I did eat when I got home that day, not much, but enough to rebuild my strength. Then I slept for almost thirteen hours. My dad thought I’d gone into a coma. The scary thing is, with that head injury, I could have. And I’m glad I didn’t.

I’d lose almost twenty pounds before I was done, but I didn’t look attractive. I was almost skeletal. So I gorged in the following weeks. At first, it tore apart my stomach. It almost felt like it was ripping in half I filled it up so much. I puked all the time, but I didn’t care. I had to refill myself. I had to undo the damage I’d done.

Except, I was just doing a different kind of damage at that point wasn’t I? The constant vomiting was wearing down the enamel on my teeth. Not to mention what it was doing to my esophageal tract. Cycles of starvation and gluttony aren’t good for the delicate stomach muscle. It weakens the tissue, allowing ulcers to form. This behavior years later, coupled with my experimental medicine regimen, and still later my abusive drinking, would create the foundation for much of my digestive misery.

And I can feel it happening all over again. I haven’t eaten anything today. Yesterday I couldn’t eat either. I feel like my body wants me to starve. Like my mind just wishes I’d waste away this time. I know it’s unhealthy, and I know I can’t do it anymore.

But I don’t know how to stop it. I don’t know how to look at something and not feel repulsed by it if it disgusts me. And that’s exactly how I feel when I’m like this. I’m disgusted by food. Because my depression steals my happiness, and food makes me happy, so it has to take it away.

I don’t know if it’s an eating disorder all by itself or just a facet of my depression, but I wish I could make it go away. Sometimes I think it’s more than just symptomatic of my other illnesses. It happens when I’m anxious, my stomach fills itself up with dread and at those times, while food isn’t unappealing, the thought of it simply doesn’t even enter my mind. It also happens when I’m angry (which is a lot). I can’t even think about eating because my fury makes me nauseous.

Someday, I hope to get to the root of this behavior. Or even just give a name to this beast so I can fight it. If it’s a part of my depression, then I have to work on overcoming it. If it’s an aspect of my anxiety, anger, OCD, or even something else I don’t know about yet, I’ll have to fight it as well. But for now? I just want to know what’s wrong with me. And I think that’s going to start with talking.

I’ve started a list of things I want to talk about with my therapist. While this isn’t at the top, it’s going on there. Maybe she, or if she doesn’t work out a different therapist, can help me overcome this tormenting misery. Who knows, maybe finally just talking about my problems will clear up most of this.

Usually I try to be insightful, and I’m sorry I haven’t been able to do that lately. All I can say to you right now is, if you suffer from an eating disorder, whether anorexia, bulimia, or any other number of afflictions, talk to someone. If you know your eating habits are killing you, talk to someone. We all need help figuring things out sometimes. Don’t be embarrassed about the way you feel. I let that devour me, and I’m telling you from a point of experience, you don’t want to learn this lesson the hard way. Because you’ll destroy so many other parts of your body in the process.

Don’t do what I did. Don’t let yourself be consumed by your illness. If I can find the strength to fight it, you can too.

And remember, I’ll be rooting for you.



  • Ryan Sanders

Alchemy: From Love to Hate

Alchemy - From Love To Hate

I am an emotional alchemist.

For those unaware to alchemy’s origins, it’s the ancient belief that, by using “science” (better known as “sorcery” back then) one can convert an element into another. A-la lead to gold for example. What I mean by emotional alchemy is that I have the ability to turn one feeling into another at the drop of a hat. Usually it’s turning love into pure hatred.

My ability to transmute those two feelings is legendary. This is probably why I don’t process the end of things very well. Typically, when a relationship ends, be it personal, intimate, or business, things don’t conclude on great terms. Especially if I feel like the person wronged me. I have a subconscious desire to hurt people in the same way they hurt me. Call me Old Testament, because I seem to believe in an eye for an eye.

The problem is, my actions are more often than not disproportionate to the actions of others. Yes. Voldemort ran around on me with everything that had a pulse. Yes she had a boyfriend the entire time we were together. No, she never told me she loved me (except one time when she was super drunk and recanted it when she sobered up). But that didn’t give me an excuse to threateningly text her that I hope she died with a dick in her yeast infected throat (there’s totally a story there. And no. There wasn’t a yeast infection)

…I’m oddly specific when I’m vitriolic.

Or how about Red? We were only together for just over a month. I knew we weren’t going to last. She didn’t even believe in dinosaurs (literally thought they were a hoax) and couldn’t carry on a conversation about anything that interested me. Despite that, I treated her good. That is, until I came home from work one day to have her mom break up with me for her. She’d been screwing everyone in the trailer park (seriously. Everyone), and had decided in the end, she wanted to go back to her physically abusive baby daddy.

Yay! I’m less appealing than a woman beater!

Yeah, that sucks. But it didn’t give me a right to text the vile names to her I did. It didn’t give me a right to threaten her ex-ex-ex-husband (three divorces) with physical violence. I knew the kind of person she was. Hell, I’d known her since high school. She’d dated several of my friends. But I still loved her in a little way, so it really hurt. So I had to use that hurt to turn that love into hate.

I wish I knew why I did this. I’ve always behaved this way. Sometimes I wonder if it’s merely because I have so many bats in my belfry. Although, most of the time, I think it may be something else entirely. Something more sinister which has slowly dawned on me during the events of the last few days.

I don’t think I ever really loved those girls.

I’m not going to lie, that is really hard to admit to myself, let alone you, but think about it. When someone you love hurts you, you cry, right? At the very least you retreat from them until you find a way to process that pain. Once you’ve both come to the realization you said stupid things you didn’t mean, you sit down and talk about it. The idea behind that is it makes your relationship stronger, and stronger individually as well.

I don’t do that.

I stop right around the first step.

When something ends, I make a dramatic exit. Most people just slowly walk out the door. Maybe turn and look over their shoulder. Me? I make a scene. I’m that girl at the restaurant who honks like a goose when you say, “it’s not you, it’s me.” I’m that guy who gets drunk and storms onto your porch at three in the morning and punches your new boyfriend in the cherries (I’ve never done that, but who knows what the future holds). It’s because I don’t grieve like everyone else.

Almost everyone agrees there are 5 stages to grief that people experience to a degree. They don’t necessarily happen in any particular order. One cycles through Depression, Bargaining, Anger, Denial, and finally, if one is fortunate, Acceptance. I go through the same cycles, albeit, more intensely than others.  I spend a lot of time in the depression stage first. At least a day or two, but sometimes weeks or even months. That’s almost always followed by denial, then bargaining. The final stage for me, is always anger.

I always stop there. I never seem to move on to acceptance.

Which is why this phase is most poisonous to me I think. I use that anger as a Nobleman uses a sculptor. Taking the clay of my love in his furious hands he molds a monster. An effigy of animosity is all that remains when the sculptor has finished. The final creature which people will use to remember me for all eternity.

I take that hatred, and I use it to convince myself they never loved me. With Voldemort, that was easy. Like I said, when someone literally never says “I love you” despite YOU saying it to THEM all the time, it’s not just frustrating, it’s infuriating. It always felt like she was stringing me along. She loved the thought that there was always going to be someone there to dote on her, no matter how badly she treated them. That made it simplistic to convince myself I had only been a toy in her sandbox.

With Red it was harder, and Angel even harder still. While both women cheated on me, and both went back to their abusive exes (Angel at least left hers again), I was with Angel a lot longer than I was with Red. Red and I had almost no real memories together. We went on one date, which was just dinner, and it was only up the road. I took her and her kids to work with me once and bought them clothes (which drove Voldemort insane by the way). Yet, other than that, we didn’t build much of a life together in the month or two we shared.

Angel on the hand, well, I was with her for six months. Then off and on again for another three months. All in all, Angel and I had built somewhat of a tapestry of life together. We’d had multiple dates (your standards. Movies, dinner, trips to the park, etc.), both of us had established a report with the other’s parents. We had dreams of getting married, and honeymooning in Florida (we weren’t big dreamers as teens). Things were going to be perfect.

So when I went away for a few months to work for a horse carriage service (to pay for our wedding by the way), and I came back to find out she’d been sleeping with her abusive ex the whole time, naturally, I lost my mind. That was the first time I spent two weeks in the depression phase from a relationship. I remember going to Hollywood Video, buying almost $200 in used movies, and watching all of them from my bed in succession. I was a wreck. I mean…I even watched the Miami Vice reboot… (I still hate myself for that)

But when the depression ended, holy cow did things get brutal. I turned into an absolute monster. Going back to her house to fistfight her ex. Although, to be fair, I had just stopped by to tell her to kick rocks. I had no idea I’d walk in on her making out with the kid voted most likely to hack his wife into tiny pieces someday (her ex). Things got heated, I called him a name, he stormed up the stairs, and I turned to walk away.

Then he spit in my face.

I went ballistic. If you’re a man, you don’t spit in another man’s face. There had been two of her male friends down in the living room, plus her stepdad. Who was basically a polar bear in a skin-suit. It took all of them to pull me off of him. I remember the old man holding me down and one of them screaming in my face that I’d hit Angel (which I didn’t), and if Andre the Giant Stepdad hadn’t put me in a full nelson I might’ve broken his jaw. As it was, I stormed off that night, never to return.

After that incident, my melancholy became a madness. I destroyed nearly everything we had ever made together, including a really cute Polaroid of us. Luckily, I missed one photo album, so I still have something my unjustifiable rage was unable to locate. But it didn’t matter how many things I destroyed, I couldn’t seem to curb that rage. No matter how much I screamed, I couldn’t get it all out of me. I had to destroy her memory too.

It took a while but I convinced myself she hated me the whole time. We were only together because she pitied me. And I wrote her pretty songs. I convinced myself she had been screwing around with her ex the entire time (completely unsubstantiated, but not out of the realm of plausibility). It was only a matter of time before I decided, I hated her too. She’d reach out to me many years later, but that time, I would be the one wielding the destructive force. Needless to say, she hasn’t reached out to me now in almost a decade. And that’s probably for the best.

So why am I talking about this? Well because I’m worried, dear reader.

I don’t want to hate Jewelwing.

To be honest, I don’t think I’m capable of hating her. I tried to do this all five years ago and I couldn’t. She never lied to me. She always told me she was seeing someone else too. There’s no law against keeping your options open. I couldn’t hate her for deciding he was a better choice than me. I was a drunk, and a petty person. I can’t blame her for not wanting to be with me. I didn’t want to be with me either.

So instead of hating her, I spent months in isolation. I cut ties with almost everyone that was a mutual friend to her. At first I started drinking heavier (soon after I would quit, but we’ll talk about that in another entry), but that wasn’t working. I couldn’t convince myself she didn’t love me. I couldn’t convince myself I didn’t love her. So in time, since I couldn’t bring myself to be angry at Jewelwing, since I couldn’t hate her, I turned that scorn upon my own soul.

I don’t think I need to tell anyone with depression what self-loathing feels like. To say the least, it’s an unpleasant experience to look in the mirror every morning and think, why can’t you just die? These are what I call irrational emotions. There was no reason to hate myself, the flame just died. It didn’t mean we never felt anything for each other at all, it simply meant it wasn’t enough.

I was worried that after this time however, that I would finally hate her. After all, I’d abandoned hope for five years and lived in a stoic bubble of solitude. She reached out to me. She’d destroyed my world this time. But then I realized.

All she did was love me.

Is that really such a crime?

In most cases no, but loving me hurts. Again, I felt those feelings of self-loathing creep in. I lashed out at her, telling her I hated her, only to immediately recant that statement an hour later. But you can’t take words back can you? You can apologize, you can forgive, and you can try to pretend they were never said, but you can never reload that arrow in the quiver. Everything I said and did is going to echo with her always. And I have to live with that too.

We cleared the air the next day, but by then, I’d already sent a snail mail letter to her husband (which was extremely rotten and uncalled for) merely to provoke him. It worked too. Now he wants to kill me. And I can’t really say I blame him.

All because, I couldn’t process my anger.

But once again I find myself in the same boat. I can’t hate her. Once again I’m the one who cracked the glass whip and dropped this atom bomb onto her homestead. If my letter and our fling didn’t destroy her marriage, he’s going to use it the rest of her life as a weapon against her. I just know how men are. Especially men like him. So once again…there’s no one left to hate.

Nobody but little old me.

So that’s why I say I don’t think I ever really loved Red, or Angel, or Voldemort. I just thought I did. That’s the only reason I was able to haul out my alchemical apothecary kit and whip up a batch of “Bugger Off” spray for them. Just not for Jewelwing. Well, not my usual brand anyway. Although, I’m pretty much convinced she’ll never speak to me again.

Unlike the others, I really loved her. And that makes it all the worse. Because I truly hurt someone I loved.

So, dear reader, I leave you with a cliché: What is said, cannot be unspoken. Choose your words wisely. People may be able to forgive; or learn to live with your actions and the things you’ve said, but seldom do people forget the truly atrocious. And those are the memories I leave behind. The seeds that I plant on my way out of the garden.

I need to learn to allow myself to process these emotions in a healthy way. I can’t focus on the irrational aspects. If I ever want to get a handle on my emotions, I have to figure out why I let myself feel toxic ones but not wholesome ones. I focus on depression, anger, bargaining, and denial, but I never move on to acceptance.

I guess I need to learn how to let it go.

Maybe I should go watch Frozen again.


  • Ryan Sanders

A Toxic Bubble

A Toxic Bubble

Being an introvert is hard.

Well, at least, being a chronically depressed introverted empath with obsessive tendencies is. I’ve always had a certain degree of self-awareness I think, I just didn’t really know how to express it. When I was 12, I burst into tears randomly during a rendition of “Carol of the Bells” during choir class. When asked by P. Diddy (No, not that one) why I was wailing like a banshee, all I could reply with was, “My grandfather died on Christmas!”

Which was totally untrue.

But I had no idea how to express why I was sad. To this day, I still don’t. I don’t even know what triggered me in that exact moment. I’ve heard Carol of the Bells a thousand times and never once did it send me into a spiraling darkness. But on that day, for some reason, the music broke my soul in just the right way. I simply had no way to articulate this pain. I knew that I was sad. I knew it didn’t make it any sense, and it all just drove me madder than a hatter.

That’s the rub isn’t it? Knowing you’re hurting but not knowing why? You start to feel like you’re the problem. You feel like you’re a painter, with a brilliant masterpiece on the forefront of your mind. Yet, as soon as your brush touches the canvas, the paint dries up. It never leaves the brush. There it is. The components of your Magnum Opus are there, dancing across your fingertips. You can see them. You can practically taste their astringent malignancy on the roof of your mouth.

But they just. Won’t. Come. Out.

You dip the brush again, trying to take another shot at it. But every time you move from the paint, the brush dries once more. You can see the canvas staring back at you. It’s laughing now. A meanness distorts its creative potential, morphing it into a beast which threatens to devour you. Again, you dip the brush. Again, it comes back dry. Over and over you run around the briar, never able to find the entry to your burrow.

So you stab the parchment barbarically, cursing its very existence. You become furious. The world’s rage pales in comparison to your own, just because you can’t tell them how the f*** you feel! The brush forces its way through the surface, destroying everything in its path. In your rage, you decimate the very foundation upon which your life’s work could have stood.

This is what I do. When I can’t elucidate the way I’m feeling, I strike out. I can be monstrous, so when I lash, I’m going for kill shots. Because I can never seem to make my brush tell the world what’s going on inside my head. So I turn that tool into a weapon, and I use it to cripple the people who would rather be my saviors.

One of the more terrible aspects of that behavior is, I know what I’m doing the whole time. I know this person is trying to help me. I’m fully aware that biting their head off is counterproductive. But I’m a passenger in my own mind. If my brain were a train, Denzel Washington would be trying to wrestle control back from the terrorists. I’m just a hostage on Pelham 123. My emotions keep me prisoner, because I can’t control them. I’ve tried. God help me, I’ve tried. But I now realize I can’t do it alone.

I’ve reached out to a therapist. I said before that if this was a blog about healing I need to start trying to heal. Even if I don’t want to. Because my brain is always going to tell me it doesn’t want to get better. It’s comfortable in this place. It knows all the nooks and crannies. There are no surprises under the cloud of depression. So of course the voices in my head are going to do everything they can to impede my progress. Just like they’ve always done.

That’s how I forced myself into what I call my “Toxic Bubble.” When I can’t handle the world anymore, when I’m tired of trying to being an extrovert that finally fits in, once I’ve been pushed beyond my threshold of pain, I seal myself off. It’s an emotional catacomb. The only ghosts that haunt me are familiar ones. No more spirits enter these tombs because I refuse to kill anything else.

Because that’s what I’ve always done. I destroy what’s beautiful in other people’s lives. I don’t think I do this on purpose. I think it’s just my toxicity of inexpressiveness which drives people away eventually. And it always sends them packing on less than desirable terms.

So long ago I realized, if I can’t articulate my feelings, I just won’t talk about them. It worked for a time, but trying to bottle up your emotions is like trying to hold the ocean in a Dixie cup. It’s going to overflow, and when it does, people are going to get hurt. Even worse still, I knew this would happen, and for a period I alienated almost everyone who ever loved me.

So since I couldn’t talk about my feelings, and bottling them up just made me a miserable dick to be around, there was only one other option. I had to force myself into self-imposed exile and work on me. The problem is, when you don’t like yourself, and all you do is spend time with someone you don’t like, you just make yourself more miserable.

I’ve learned some really hard lessons these last few days. I’m still trying to wrap my head around most of the events which have transpired. I do know that I can’t keep going this way. My toxic bubble burst. And once again, I hurt one of the few people I never would have dreamed of hurting in a billion years. What’s worse, the pain I caused her is nothing to the misery I caused myself.

So naturally, my response immediately after was:

I need to reflate my bubble.

But I won’t. Not this time. I used to firmly believe I was beyond saving. But now I believe that I only believed that because my sickness wanted me to believe that. I can’t repair the damage I’ve done to Jewelwing, or her life. But I can make certain that I sink this trend. I won’t keep riding this endless cycle of wretchedness and pain. I can’t keep inflicting this on the people I love.

Sorry this post was short (and horribly sporadic) but I’m having trouble unpacking the baggage in my mind right now. Originally I intended for this to be another humorously oriented story from my childhood (involving babysitters, witches, summoned vampires, and a small child crying in a shower clutching a butcher knife) but my head is swimming. With so much deep water, I see my thoughts floating away.

Over the next few days, I’m sure my sensibilities will return. I’ll be able to put these last few weeks into linear perspective and perhaps even write about them. Some of it though I have to save for the memoir (#CapitalistSellout), so it won’t be the full details. I just hope I can stop this fire before it burns my subconscious town to the ground.

My therapy starts, Friday. Wish me luck, dear reader.

Because the voices in my head refuse to.

And I don’t want to live in this toxic bubble anymore.


  • Ryan Sanders

Real Dads Help Dismember Corpses

Real Dads Help Dismember Corpses 2

“Dad! How do you take the spine out of a deer??”

If that line sounds confusing to you, you’re not alone. On that 103 degree summer day, 17 years ago, I stood in the foyer of my dad’s home. I was covered in muck and mud, drenched in sweat and detritus, and enthusiastically inquiring on the proper methodology to dismember a deer corpse. He probably had a million and a half questions swimming through his head. Weren’t you supposed to be looking for your bicycle? Didn’t I tell you not to get muddy? Did I remember to set the VCR? But there was only one important question going through his mind at that exact moment:

“What’s that smell?”

“Dead deer. Keep up. Help me cut the spine off!”

I don’t know how long he stared at me trying to wrap his head around the whole situation, but it had to have been no less than a minute. I was a weird little kid. My behavior was entirely erratic and unpredictable. For all he knew, the deer wasn’t even really there. And if it was there, where did I get it? Did I kill it? If so, how the hell did I kill the deer? There’s no way there’s a deer corpse on my lawn. He thought. So my dad, God bless him, rose from his chair, walked to the door, stepped outside, and abruptly recoiled at the stench which invaded his nostrils.

“Jesus Christ, Ryan…”

Alright. So now it’s time to back this story up a little bit. I was a strange young man. We pretty well covered that back in Aggressively Weird, but now it’s time to elaborate on just how weird I was. I mentioned before I’m an Eagle Scout. So naturally, I love the outdoors. Hiking used to be my go-to stress reliever before I discovered marijuana (like all good acoustic guitarists eventually do). I live in a rural area, so there’s no shortage of woods. Therapy abounded.

On this particular day, I had apparently told my dad I needed to go look for my bike. I vaguely remember using this as an excuse, and I do recall my bike actually being missing around that time, but obviously I didn’t really care. I just wanted to be outside. So as I was leaving the house in my new sneakers and the nicest pair of jeans I owned, my dad called out to me:

“Just don’t get muddy, and be back in a couple hours.”

I waved him off, probably said something like, okay, or sure. Then I headed out. Now I want to be perfectly clear, I had no intention of getting muddy that day. I had a different route planned out that I wanted to investigate. One I’d been mapping out for a while in my head because I hadn’t fully explored that area yet.

Typically I would hike around some of the larger swathes of land nearby my house, but that day I decided to follow the creek. I had to have walked along it for a couple of miles, I was easily gone for four hours by the time I snapped out of my trance. I’d rolled up my pant legs and had been carrying my sneakers and socks. The water though was starting to shrivel my feet and the rocks were beginning to hurt, so I hopped up on a rotted stump to smoke a cigarette.

I lit a cigarette and dried my feet off with my shirt. As I was slipping my socks and shoes on, I caught a glint of light reflecting off my forearm. Looking up I scanned around for the source. That was when I spotted something protruding from the ground. Several beams of sunlight had broken through the canopy, like an ethereal spotlight, and as a crow to a nickel my curiosity piqued. I moved toward it. The glimmer grew brighter, and I saw it was the shaft of an arrow. The tip had sunk deep into the upper right flank of what was once a huge 9-point buck.

I say, “What was once” because scavengers had long since picked all but the gristle and bone away from most of the midsection. The legs were still there, despite having started giving over to rot. But without the organs and the gaseous buildup, the insects were taking their sweet time rending the saccharine remains the ravens and coyotes so kindly gifted them. As I surveyed this creature, a small twinge of pity fell over me.

I remember thinking to myself, don’t the Native Americans, like, say a prayer or something when an animal dies and goes to waste? So I said a little prayer for this super-dead deer I’d never met, nor ever even seen until this moment, but somehow felt connected to enough to eulogize. It was truly a moment of reverence.

One I immediately shattered by getting weird.

Oh, you thought saying a few words over a rotted deer corpse was the weird part?

Well strap the frick in, because this ride’s about to get wild.

When I was done with my prayer, I looked the deer over. I decided that not all of it should go to waste. After all, that would be rude to the Native Americans I may or not have just summoned, right? (I had no idea how prayers worked back then) And the head and neck were in pretty good shape. Taxidermy had come a long way, I’m sure there’s something that can be done. And the smell? I’m sorry, but haven’t you heard of Febreeze?

So throwing away all the quiet veneration I’d just given this deer, I firmly planted my foot down on the middle of its spine. Grabbing the horns on either side I wrenched its head free, twisting it around as I did so. I remember making eye contact with the deer at one point and saying, “You’re gonna love it on my wall. It’s totally the bee’s knees.” Not only is that 100% true, I meant every word of it then just as much as I do now.

After a few rotations, the bones snapped and I had half a deer carcass from the antlers down to around the T4 vertebrae. I was sweating like crazy. I looked down at my wrist to check the time and forgot I’d left my watch on my bookshelf. So I channeled my Boy Scout training instead. Early navigators used the sky to tell time and geolocation. It was one of the cool things we learned at survival camp.

I retraced my morning. When I’d left it’d been eight, now the sun’s position told me it was noon. I was thirsty, and I somehow had to figure out how I was going to drag 40 pounds of animal carcass, at least four miles back through woods. It wasn’t the distance, it was the terrain.

There was no way I was going back the way I came. The deer smelled bad enough. And I had dreams of mounting the whole head on my wall (nothing says conversational piece like soulless ant-chewed eyes and a lolling tongue. So majestic). There was no way I was going to drag it through the creek and get it sopping wet. The only other option was to take it over several miles of forest, up a steep embankment, across half a dozen farm fields, through a gorge, and then walk down a cul-de-sac dragging a decomposing deer head.

Pretty much a normal Tuesday.

That was when everything hit me. My dad had said be home in a few hours. Didn’t he need my help with something? Crap, what was it? I think it was important. Uh-oh, he said don’t get muddy too. Yeah. Totally screwed that up. Dumb deer. Why’d you have to die in a pile of mud? Oh dear, deer. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I’m just frustrated. Wait…why am I apologizing to a dead deer? Is this the moment where I break? I’m pretty sure this is how The Shining started.

Okay, so I didn’t think all of those things at the time. To be honest, I don’t remember half of what goes through my head on a daily basis, let alone what was going through it over a decade ago. But I know my personality, and I remember panicking in that moment. I had to get this deer home, and I had to get it home like, yesterday.

So I grabbed it by the antlers and began dragging it through the woods like Leatherface with a drunk sorority girl. In order to go my route I had to cross the creek. To get to the meadow (because there was no way I was dragging this thing through the briar) without looping through several deep thickets of stinging brambles, flinging it over the twelve foot stream was the only option I had left.

So I shimmied up to the edge of the riverbank, leaned back on my haunches, and began swinging this deer head around by the antlers. Channeling my inner Discus Olympian, I spun several times, and released it. The deer head hurled through the air like a Hail Mary from half court. It hit the ground on the other side of the creek with a sickening thud, bouncing a few times before settling in amongst the clover.

After apologizing again to the ghosts of the Native Americans I may, or may not, have summoned, I crossed the creek to retrieve my prize. Grabbing it loosely by one of the horns I began dragging it at a running pace through the open field. By now it was almost a hundred degrees outside. My chest was heaving and my shirt was drenched in sweat. It clung to me almost as uncomfortably as the stench of the deer. But by the time I reached my first embankment, I didn’t even notice it anymore.

Now, anyone can say they climbed a steep embankment, but this was an eighty degree angle. That is just ten degrees shy of completely vertical. Loose dirt and gravel were all you had to contend with (so no big deal), which would have been easy had I not been wearing these stupid new sneakers that weren’t supposed to get muddy (fail). Staring upward through the maple and oak saplings gently rooting into the dirt, one got the sensation they were in a pinball machine. Each tiny tree dotting the landscape, just a pin waiting to deflect a small silver marble.

But today, they weren’t trees to me. Or pins in a pinball machine.

They were climbing pitons.

I wish digital videography had existed back then, dear reader. Because the retrospective laughter from watching my plight as I scaled that unsteady, loose soil and rock face, dragging half of a deer corpse behind me, would probably have been the first viral YouTube video. Grunting and groaning, slipping and sliding, I jumped from sapling to sapling. I felt like Spider-Man, albeit with less important things to do than patrol Midtown.

Several times I almost tumbled back down. The first time I grabbed hold of a maple which hadn’t quite rooted. I’d underestimated how far I had to jump between the two sprigs and once my full weight came down on it, the roots tore free. Flailing and falling, I lurched forward, biting my chin into the dirt and scraping my right knee across a rock. Pain seared through my entire body and a small pool of crimson appeared beneath my jeans. When I got home I would super glue the cut closed (Stitches? You mean sissy laces?).

Exhausted, broken, bruised, bleeding, sweating, dehydrated, and smelling like a Frenchman’s studio apartment bedroom, I clambered over the edge of what felt like my Hill 40. Taking refuge in the sweet shade on the edge of the field for a moment I caught my breath. It wasn’t long though until I remembered that I was supposed to be home forever ago. And now I was starving. Which was weird considering I was traveling with a decomposing companion. One would think I would have lost my appetite. Not me though.

So I pushed myself up from the ground, granted, with less enthusiasm than before, and started the trek through the first five fields. Everything was pretty uneventful from there. Just a lot of walking. I kept to the edge of the farmland. Every step I took hurt my knee, so I had to slow down to a brisk walk instead of a choppy jog.

The change of pace wouldn’t have been a big issue. The pain in my knee wouldn’t have been a big issue. There was one issue that I was beginning to have though. One that I’ve had my entire life, but now it was only intensified by the stench of rotting meat. Most people can go years without this ever happening. I’ve had one friend who’s never experienced this. But I swear to you…

I could get stung in Antarctica.

That’s right. Yellow Jackets. I could hear them before I saw them. At first I thought I was being chased by horseflies, which made sense because, you know, farmland. But when I turned around and saw what was gathering on the hair clumped at the base of its severed neck? I wanted to cry. My first instinct was to cut and run, then I remembered the hellacious trip I’d taken up the hill.

F*** you bees. This is my corpse.

Forgetting all about my knee, ignoring the fact that this forty pound sack of meat now felt like an eighty pound one due to my exhaustion, I broke into a dead run. The yellow jackets were furious with me. One of them managed to work its way in between my sweat clogged shirt and my hip. It stung me at least four times before I managed to pinch it to death. I was caught once in the neck, twice in the ear, both of my hands were ripped to shreds, I was an absolute mess.

By the time I reached my final Rubicon I just wanted to die. Most of the yellow jackets were either dead or disinterested now, leaving only a few staunch zealots to contend with. Which was good, because I was at the hardest part of my journey. The Gorge.

I don’t know how this glacial ravine formed, but it was at least thirty to forty feet deep with sides that sloped at a 45 degree angle. Both sides were jagged rock which would tear my (extremely nice, new) jeans to ribbons on my way down with my deer head. When I was around ten, a group of neighborhood kids had actually assembled a jerry-rigged zipline across it (which I almost died on, but that’s a story for another time). While it wasn’t massive it was still quite imposing.

Still swatting at hornets, I decided the fastest route to the bottom was straight down. So hugging the deer carcass to my chest (yeah…you read that right) I hopped over the side and attempted to slide down to the bottom. What I was hoping for was Tony Hawk Pro-Skater, what I got was drunk guy on a waterslide.

The deer threw me off balance, my footing slid out from my under me, and my butt collided with the jagged rocks. I heard my jeans rip and I could feel slivers of gravel cheese-grating my cheeks, but in that moment, I was only concerned with keeping any more hair from falling off the deer’s pelt. Miraculously, I somehow made it to the bottom without the deer touching the rocks once (or breaking my neck). But now I had another problem.

How in the hell am I going to scale a rock face one handed?

I couldn’t do the discus trick again, the top was way too high up, and I was hardly Hercules. There were no saplings like before. But there were handholds. And I did have one tool at my disposal. I quickly removed my belt, cinched it around the base of the antlers, and looped the leather back through so I had a small strap big enough to pull my arm through. Pulling off one of my shoelaces, I threaded the string through one of the belt holes and tied my makeshift tie wrap off to the buckle.

Careful not to either trip, or lose my one laceless sneaker, I began the climb. It was grueling. I’m not going to pretend like it was worth it. If I hadn’t been so beaten up by that point I wouldn’t have even bothered, but I was so determined I no longer cared how stupid it was. I was going to take this deer home. I was going to chop off the rest of its spine. And God help me I will mount it on my wall.

Hunched over, I scaled the rock wall. The whole way up I had to have looked like a ghoulish hermit crab. My fingertips were bleeding, and near the top I almost lost my grip and tumbled back down, but I made it up The Gorge. When I reached the top, I screamed my glory to the Heavens. But in reality, I probably just looked like a lobotomized serial killer waking up from a nightmare.

I untied my treasure and redid my belt, but I was too tired to care about the shoelace, I’d worry about that later. I slogged straight across the last field and broke through the weeds into the subdivision which is only a block away from my house. Even though the only separation is a stop sign and newer homes, the neighborhood still reeks of gentrification. In my mind, me dragging a dead deer past their little white picket fences was penance for invading my neighborhood with their white collar snobbery.

As luck would have it (my luck anyway) a family was out in their front yard having an impromptu picnic. My clothes stained dark with sweat, mud, and deer gristle; my ears swollen purple from angry wasps; limping on a bloodied knee with shredded pants. I can’t even imagine what those people were thinking. If I were them, I’d have thought the guy was a werewolf who turned back into a human midway through a kill and decided to save the rest for later.

Luckily for me they just knew it was, “that weird Sanders boy.”

I dragged the carrion of triumph behind me, it’s spine shrieking across the pavement like a rusted hook across a chalkboard. I didn’t even care. I could see my house up ahead now. The end was in sight. Almost hobbling now, I walked up to the pine tree which towered in the front yard back then, and dropped the deer on the grass. Taking a deep breath, I heaved out a sigh of exhaustion.

Then I heard the TV inside and the shadow of my dad passed in front of the window.

All of a sudden my strength was renewed. Like a Chihuahua on six gallons of Starbucks, I bounded into the house, tracking mud and corpse debris in my wake. I can’t remember what my dad had been watching as I bounced up and down, but I stared right at him as he sat on the couch and screamed with hysterical excitement:

“Dad! How do you take the spine out of a deer?”

After stepping outside and finally overcoming the stench, my dad stared at this rotting piece of meat resting eerily beneath the pine tree. It couldn’t have looked more out of place were it a holy man in a whore house. After staring at this horrible thing I’d dragged home for a few moments my dad, without looking up at me, said: “So what exactly is your plan.”

“I want to mount it!”

“To what?” He’d said, “A road sign outside of your castle moat to ward off wary travelers?”

“To my wall…”

“Oh, mother of pearl, Ryan! It’s rotted!” He said pointing down at its snout. He was right. I hadn’t noticed it in my fervor to get it home, but the entire left side of its face, the side that had been laying down in the soil, was nothing but a skeletal sneer. The jostling from his ride home had caused one of its dead, black eyes to roll from the socket. It swung lackadaisically like a gruesome pendulum.

“Well…” I paused, “We can fix it? Right?”

“No. Ryan. Number 5 disassembled this one good.” (We make a lot of movie references)

“What about the horns?”

“What about them?”

“They’re in good shape.”

“Yeah.” He said rubbing his chin and taking a deep breath from beneath his hand. “It does have a nice spread, I’ll give you that.”

“So let’s grab a chainsaw and crack this sucker open!”

“That’s not how it works, son.”

Naturally, after this conversation I was really disappointed. I was Sisyphus, and for the first time ever, I’d reached the crest of my hill. I was Alexander who found there was yet another land to conquer. Pliny the Elder who found another ship to sail with. Aristotle with a pen. I had been flying so high, put myself through hell to bring this back, only to find out it was all for naught. My emotional EQ plummeted to rock bottom. In short, I was devastated.

My dad saw this. He knew the day was already shot. I’d already lost my bike, failed to search for it for whatever reason, gotten filthy dirty and beaten up, and drug this carcass home in the hopes I’d get to tell this story one day. So he did what any good father would do. He went to the garage, grabbed a hacksaw, and set about his grisly task. A dad will help you dismantle an engine block and put it back together.

A real dad helps you dismember a corpse and bury the evidence.

Back then, I’d had no idea what went into removing a rack of antlers and the skull cap. I never would have guessed you could do it with something I’d once built around a campfire during a Scout jamboree. Now, having years as a hunter under my belt, I realize the relative simplicity of this task. But it wasn’t the difficulty of the task that mattered. It was the gesture.

Although my dad didn’t necessarily agree with my decision to drag home a putrefying buck, the reality was, he understood I’d put myself through the ringer to do it. Anyone with eyes could have looked at me and seen from the layers of grime coating me I had a story buried under it. So over the course of the next week, he cleaned the skull cap, cut a piece of maple into a fleur-de-lis, shaped some red felt, and mounted my 9-point rack for me.

Real Dads Help Dismember Corpses
The original backplate he made broke. The replacement is just a cheap Walmart one. But I still love ol’ 9-Point.

All in all, it came out pretty nice. When he brought it to me, I was ecstatic. It still hangs on my wall today. And yes, it’s started quite a few conversations. In fact, I’ve even used it as an icebreaker once or twice.

So while I never achieved my dream of mounting the whole thing on my wall, that’s alright. I gave him a purpose. I think that’s all everything is searching for, even after we’re gone. Purpose. Like we left something behind of value. Maybe that’s why the Native Americans used to pray over resources which went to waste. Because they realized that everything had value, and they respected it.

And maybe ol’ 9-point’s trip back from his resting place wasn’t the most pleasantly sacrosanct experience I could have provided. But it certainly wasn’t boring. I do have to admit though, it was weird, and grotesquely enlightening. So while I don’t recommend becoming a roadkill retrieval specialist, I do recommend trying to see the value beyond the face of what’s in front of you.

More often than not, things are more than they first appear. There can be value in almost everything that is said to us. Everything we read. Maybe reading that article about making a tourniquet will save your life one day. Perhaps you remember something said in passing that saves someone from doing something stupid. Or, maybe you’ll need to cobble together a makeshift tow-rope to drag a deer cadaver up a small cliff (I realize that’s a niche example, but if you’ve read this far, you’re technically certified now). We need to open our eyes and absorb what is happening around us, process it, and then turn that knowledge into wisdom.

Because there is something to be taught all around us.

A frog leaping from lily to lily, only to be gobbled up by a hungry pike teaches us to watch our step. A small mouse evading the razor-sharp talons of an owl shows us to always remain vigilant. As trees grow around powerlines, and up through sidewalks, it shows us that all life can persevere with a bit of gumption.

There is value in everything.

All you have to do is look for it.


  • Ryan Sanders

Amidst the Fields of Dragonflies

A Walk Amidst The Dragonflies

She loved me when I was broken.

As I walked through the fallow field, a small whirlwind of leaves formed in front of me. It split the reeds and violently slapped them to and fro. From each stalk, small black wings caught the sunlight and reflected them back into my eyes. Flashes of morning stars amidst the dew covered weeds. They’re dragonflies. In the spring, they dart among the wildflowers like tiny jeweled rainbows. Since 2013, I make it a habit to at least get out once or twice to walk with them.

As I watched the dragonflies continue their morning undertakings, I kept replaying her memories in my mind. They’ve been on a loop since the last text message we sent each other 4 years ago. I’ve loved many people in my life, but rarely did I feel like any of them loved me. But with her? Not even once did I question it. I felt her love in my bones, my soul, and every cell of my body. She moved through me like the Holy Spirit.

But most of all, she didn’t just love me. She loved me when I was broken.

I think that’s what hurts the most about letting go of Jewelwing. By the way, if you’re wondering where the nickname came from, her favorite thing ever is the dragonfly. I’ll never forget the tattoo on her left hip. Entomologists came to the consensus a long time ago that the Ebony Jewelwing Dragonfly is the most beautiful of the species. So it only seemed fitting to bestow the title on the most beautiful girl of the human race.

I really loved her, when she was whole, when she was in pieces. I still do. I know if she begged me to come crawling back tomorrow I’d get on my knees, light the coals, and drag myself across them if that’s what it took to get back to her. I desperately seek her approval. Her opinion is honestly the only one that’s ever mattered to me. Unfortunately, I took way too long to tell her that. But she says she still loves me. So that’s really something. It’s far more comforting than I thought it would be anyway.

But you can only love something that’s broken for so long before holding its jagged edges begins to hurt you. I thought I was healed. This experience, however, has shown me I was still chasing a shadow. I’ve made progress, sure. Have I taken an active stance against my alcoholism? Affirmative. Am I aware of my tendencies to manipulate people to get what I want, and am I trying to curb that behavior? Yes. Exercise and breathing regulation to mediate my depression and anxiety?


I’m halfway there. I’m exercising on a regular basis now, despite the pain. The breathing exercises I plan to learn through Yoga. Yoga will happen eventually. But Jewelwing told me she was going to teach it to me. At the moment, were I to take a Yoga class, I’d probably have an emotional breakdown in the middle of the studio. I’d associate it with her, and I don’t think I’m ready to move on that far yet (plus I have a hideous cry face).

I wish I could blame her. Even in just some small way. But I can’t. It’s really my fault this time. I own my mistakes. That’s just a part of proper adulting. This one is still hard to swallow though. I keep checking my email every hour, praying she sent me one while simultaneously praying she didn’t. I keep going through all the photos, from both now and five years ago. I can feel it killing me. Crushing my chest. But I do it anyway.

I masochistically swipe through each picture until I remember the exact moment I received it. How I felt right then. How I feel right now. Tears well up over the levy and I blink away the memories. It’s not long though until they’re right back on the surface. Her smile, her laugh, her unceasingly good nature. I’m watching through the clouds as my hands disappear beneath a quicksand of monitors, each blue screen highlighting a different moment frozen in time.

I stare into her blue eyes and I think to myself, why did she ever love me? I’m so f***ed up. But she did. Despite my best efforts it doesn’t seem like there’s anything I can do about that. I wanted to destroy any hope of contact ever again, but in the end, I couldn’t do it this time. She wasn’t Voldemort (Not the Harry Potter villain. Just another ex we will most assuredly get to in due time). She didn’t do everything in her power to emotionally cripple the little boy who lived under the stairs. Quite the opposite really.

While others like Voldemort, Angel, and Red (all pseudonyms for exes) did everything they could to tear me down, Jewelwing did everything she could to build me up. Since I’ve spent so much time lately lamenting about the bad times, I thought it might be time to talk about some of the good. Because I promise, dear reader. The light she brought into my life far overshadowed any of the darkness in my soul.

We met near the end of 2012. I was working as an assistant manager at a Halloween store. I loved it there. Halloween is the most amazing time of year. There’s candy and cheers as children jump from automated spiders. The cheesy slasher flicks are on every channel. Everyone is dressed up as their favorite characters from that year. Plus my favorite color is orange, and I love stabbing things that can’t feel pain (it sounds really messed up if I didn’t add the “without pain” qualifier), so carving pumpkins is a win/win for my aggression issues.

We were setting up the store when the most beautiful young woman I’d ever seen in my short 25 years breezed past me. I still remember the scent of watermelon that lingered in the air behind her. She was a career cheerleader and an assistant dance coach, so smelling good was probably part of the job description. Regardless of why she smelled so intoxicatingly wonderful, I was immediately intrigued by her.

I had no idea I’d caught her eye at that point. So I went about my day clumsily assembling the display stands. I was notorious for assembling the displays backwards (the directions were &*#$@% crap!!!!! I stand by that assessment) and that day was no exception. While the district manager was laughing at my misery, (and quietly helping me break down four hours of work in the form of insidiously designed cardboard decorations) Jewelwing came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder.

Crouched down still, I turned around and was eye level with her waist. The tiniest bit of her perfectly flat stomach was showing, and I could see her belly button ring poking out from beneath a tight, black, Baby Gap shirt. Smeared all across the front were the impressions of paint slathered fingers. When I looked up into her face, splotches of eggshell white adorned both cheeks, and a pair of eyes so blue hypnotized as they stared into me. If they were the ocean, heaven help me, I could have sailed in them forever.

“You’re a guy. Can you get some bugs out of the window?”

I must have stared too long because she began tapping her foot impatiently. Finally I said, “Yeah, sure. I guess. Why do you need me to get the bugs out of the window?”

“Because I’m painting it.” She said.

“Uh…why are you painting the window?”

“Because, Wrenny (our boss) told me to.”

I tilted my head and gave a mental, fair enough look as I stood up. Grabbing a couple of paper towels, I walked over to the window, and looked down into the track. Dozens of flies and the curled legs of spider’s littered a dusty web graveyard next to the glass. Scooping out the bugs with a tawdry English accent I said: “There you are m’lady. Your window is officially bug free.” With a slight sashay and an exaggerated bow I stepped to the side and let her pick up her roller.

She giggled. My heart grew ten sizes. But back then I was really good at not showing it. In fact, if emotional repression were an in-demand super power, I’d be fending off invitations from both the Justice League and The Avengers. I vaguely recall talking to Wrenny, someone who at the time I trusted and was good friends with (not anymore) about how Jewelwing made me feel. Next thing you know, we’re on the schedule together all the time.

The reality is, I was shy. And I was used to being hurt. So I took too long to pull the trigger. She was going on dates with someone else by the time I got my nerve. She’d told him she was just getting out of a bad relationship and didn’t want a boyfriend. While even then I would have died to date her, because of her previous relationship, I wanted to give her space. So all day at work, when the store was dead and there was nothing to do, we’d talk about this other fellow. But one day I finally muscled up the courage to ask her on a date. Much to my surprise, she said yes.

We went to a Haunted House. It was the most memorable experience of my life. She wore these white, tattered jeans that showed just the right amount of skin to make your heart skip and leave you wanting, but not send your sex drive into 5th gear. It was a long drive, and surprise, surprise, I was drinking on the way there. I couldn’t go a whole day without beer, I did however, manage to go the entire two-hour long drive without a cigarette. Which was insanely hard to do back then.

When we got there, we stood in a long queue of people. In groups of around 10 or 15 we would be ushered into this Haunted House which would, quote, “test our limits” and “haunt us for eternity.” I was neither over nor underwhelmed by their claims. Just…whelmed, I guess (Which is surprisingly a word). The Haunted House wasn’t my interest anyway. I just wanted to spend that time with Jewelwing.

The queue line was lit by an overhead array of black-lights. Her white pants glowed purple, casting a bright luminosity I couldn’t take my eyes off. The chill of the night air was getting to her though, her perceptible shivers gave it away despite her assurances to the contrary. I removed my green army jacket and put it around her shoulders. She smiled from ear to ear and nuzzled her face into my torso. Every breath she took wicked through my shirt, leaving tiny droplets of condensation on my chest. I wrapped my arms around her shoulders and we stood like that, moving only every ten minutes or so as the line progressed.

I could have stayed like that forever.

Finally we got inside. It was your standard fair. Hands reached out forcing you to one side of a narrow hallway. Periodically someone would pop out from behind a cloth wall and try to spook the bejeezus out of you. Strobes and fog were tastefully over-done, and of course, there was a mad scientist’s laboratory (nothing says cheesy Haunted House like Jell-O brains in a mason jar), but certainly nothing that tested mine or Jewelwing’s limits. To be fair though, we worked in the place that sold most of their props.

However, I didn’t realize what was coming next.

There was one room where both Jewelwing and I almost had panic attacks at the same time. It was the moment where I knew I would love her forever, because she was broken like me. Maybe not broken as bad, certainly broken in different ways, but we were kindred spirits. Two lost ships searching for their shore, vanished in a calamitous sea.

As we stepped off a rickety dumbwaiter into a room perhaps 10 x 10 wide, we knew we were nearing the end of the house. It was completely black inside. The room smelled like old foam rubber and sweaty prosthetic devices. I reached out for Jewelwing’s hand and accidentally clasped a hold of one of the random guy’s in our party (who was strangely comfortable with it). Once we were off the elevator, everything was quiet. I firmly believed a group of underpaid teenagers was going to break out from the walls in gossamer robes shrieking, “Boo!” I could have totally handled that.

But I don’t do well with claustrophobia, and one of my two biggest death fears is being buried alive.

Can you guess what was about to f***ing happen?

The room was a tight fit with our whole party of strangers inside. There were a few quiet murmurs among us as we waited for the inevitable cheap scare. But soon a minute and a half had passed. Everyone was getting antsy. One guy started to say, “see honey, told you this place was a rip-o–” when it happened.

Suddenly the walls began closing in. Thoughts of Han, Chewie, Luke, and Leia trapped in the trash compactor all at once flashed through my mind. I started to freak out, my heart was racing. I thought, so this is how I die. Well alrighty then. Later, I would feel really stupid for thinking that. You can’t exactly run a business if you squish your patrons to death. But in the moment, my anxiety was on high alert. Irrational thought was at the helm, and he was chasing down his Krakken.

Brown plastic balls, like ones you’d find in a play pit at Chuck E’ Cheese’s began raining down from the ceiling and flooding in through wall vents. They might as well have been poisonous sea urchins dipped in hydrochloric acid. It wouldn’t have mattered. The horror settled in quickly when my brain realized what was happening.

We were being buried alive.

Soon the balls were at our ankles. Then our knees. Suddenly we were waist deep in balls (which means something way different on a porn set) when Jewelwing snatched my hand. Her nails dug into my palm as she squeezed it tightly. I could feel her pulse racing through her wrist. I pulled her in as close as the balls and walls allowed.

Now, I have to admit, while I hated the claustrophobia room, Jewelwing had to have hated it a lot more. I’m 6’1” and she’s 5’3”. The balls were up to my neck. They were well over her head. After a few moments which felt like an eternity, the room vented, the plastic balls fell through the floor, and I pulled her in close to me. We walked as an almost inseparable unit for the rest of the Haunted House.

So I have to admit, it managed to test our limits.

And sure enough, that night would haunt me for eternity.

It was a two hour drive back to her car. We talked about what we would do on our next date. We talked about what it would be like to spend the night together. She spoke about her family, her adopted sister (whom her love for makes me love Jewelwing even more), and some of the emotional and physical abuses she’d endured at a younger age. She would go into greater detail many years later, but back then, in that moment, it was amazing to me she even opened up as much as she did. We barely knew each other.

And unfortunately that was the way it would always be.

I dropped her off at her car and she opened the door. For a moment she hesitated, then turned around and planted a kiss on my cheek. I would rub that spot all the way home, I didn’t even smoke I was so gosh darned enamored with what had just happened. She smiled right into my heart and said, “I can’t wait until our next date!” She hopped out, got in her yellow slug bug (appropriately nicknamed “Red”) and headed home. I remember thinking how we had something in common then, because I couldn’t wait for the next date either. As she rolled away, I reached into the pocket of my jacket and my hand clasped around one of the plastic balls. I said I would keep it forever as a reminder. I still have it. Although age has weathered it to a much darker hue, it proudly rests on a corner shelf above my bed.

But sadly, our train would never roll into the station. There wasn’t another actual date. We would hang out again. Twice. But it wasn’t enough to compete with the other guy. He occupied all of her time, and she was too nice to say no. In fairness, he hadn’t been as timid as me. He wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger. I wish I’d have had even an ounce of his courage. But that’s about all I admire about the man who would eventually become her husband.

So that’s some of the story surrounding Jewelwing. There’s more to it. Wonderful moments we shared at the store, late night conversations from our two nights we spent together. Lunches at the store and bad jokes. Trying on costumes together. I could ramble on for pages and still never feel like I told the story right. Certainly not well enough to do justice to how truly marvelous this planet is just for her existence. We saw a world of stories unfolding in each other’s eyes, but neither of us knew how to turn the page. Maybe if we’d have seen the whole picture from the start, I could have avoided all this pain.

But that would mean I would have avoided all of her beauty as well.

And to have missed out on the chance to feel a love like the piece of herself she gave to me? That would have been a crime against nature.

So come spring, I’ll walk the fields just as I’ve done every year since I met her. I used to search forlornly for answers among the flitting of the dragonflies I stirred into the air. Now, when I walk amidst them, I’ll search for the Ebony Jewelwing. I’ll find a little piece of her in its beautiful flight, and maybe someday, I’ll find the peace I so badly long for in my soul.

I pray you find the same, dear reader.



  • Ryan Sanders