“Is anybody here a doctor?”

I’m sitting alone at the bar.

Everybody else is rushing around, panicking, shouting for help. A man has collapsed three stools to my left, spilling his vodka club. It’s a shame, really, to waste a drink like that. All the chaos is beginning to distract me from my glass.

“Is anybody here a doctor?!”

I’m no doctor — I am a writer. I’m tired of seeing these people fly in like they’re Superman or Wonder Woman, saving the day and shit. I want to be needed like that, by someone. I want to be the hero. Just one time.

Fuck it. I down my bourbon, throw some cash on the bar, and bounce.

On my walk home, I hear sirens. An ambulance whizzes by, I can only assume transporting Vodka Club Guy. He’s saved.

I flip on the TV when I get into my apartment. The news is on.

On a brighter note, Mittens the Kitten finally made her way down from that tree after 37 hours. The hero: a retired firefighter… “Every time someone tried to climb toward it slowly, the poor thing went higher. So I said, ‘Screw it — I can out-climb this tiny cat.’”


Bar again. Minding my own business, enjoying my drink.

*BOOM*

Something crashes to the floor. I don’t even turn to see what’s going on this time. Probably: Oh no, blah blah, someone’s hurt, blah, please help, doctor, blah, save him. Obviously, nothing I do will help.

A crowd gathers behind me, everybody panicking like the, uh, panickers they are. (I do this for a living — I should be able to come up with something better than that.)

“Is there a writer in the house?!”

My eyes shoot up from my bourbon. Did I hear that right, or have I had one too many? I tilt my head, waiting for confirmation.

“Is anyone here a writer?”

My ears did not deceive me. I spring into action, fighting through the crowd to see what’s up.

“I’m a, uh, writer.”

“Oh my gosh, great. So glad you’re here to help.”

When I look down, I see an iPhone on the floor. Next to the phone is a man, fallen to his knees. He’s upset.

“I just can’t do it anymore. It’s so frustrating!”

I look to the person who called me over to help.

“What can you do? He doesn’t know what to say to this girl…”

“What?”

“You said you’re a writer, right? Quick, help him!”

I smile bigger than I’d care to admit. I crouch down and pick up the phone without saying a word. After scanning the previous texts between the victim and the girl, I begin typing like a man possessed — thumbs moving at twelve-times the speed of their surroundings.

I stand up like a boss, flip the phone to the dude, and start walking away before he even catches it. As he looks down at the conversation, the girl responds:

The bar folk erupt— this time not in panic but in celebration. I reclaim my seat at the bar and finish my drink as the crowd cheers behind me.

*Originally published in The Coffeelicious on Medium.

Advertisements

Songs You’ll Never Hear

Awhile back, I wrote a fairly in-depth article about art. I wrote about art as an outward expression of our deepest emotions, as well as the various other roles it plays. I explored the idea of “unshared” art — that is, art that the artist keeps to him/herself. I posed questions like What makes something I create valuable to me? and Does that value increase if my art affects others in the same way?

I also discussed the ways I “judge” my own art:

a. How does this help me?

b. How does this help others?

For my art to help others, I need to share it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to judge my art based on both criteria mentioned above. Sure, something I create might help me, but for it to have any affect on another person, I can’t keep it to myself.

I conclude in the article that perhaps it’s time for me to reconsider my hesitance to share things I’ve created, so that I can share that same value with other people.

Clearly, sitting here writing this post makes me hypocritical. If you continue reading below, you’ll see that I directly mention things I’ve created but neglect to actually show them. So, for what it’s worth, I’d like to share my ten favorite lyrics from songs I’ve written because that’s the best I can do right now.¹

 My favorite lyrics of songs you’ll (probably) never hear

10.

I like the way you move

And I can’t shake the feeling

That I could fit into every groove your body has to offer

I accept.

from a song called “Blacklisted”

9.

Objects in mirror are more regretful than they appear.

from a song called “Take One for the Team”

8.

Every word that escapes my lips is met with confusion and amazement,

That glazed look upon your face.

-from a song called “Above the Influence”

7.

Do you think I’m funny?

I don’t know if I’m crying or laughing

All I know is I’m hysterical.

-from a song called “Hysterical”

6.

And if you happen to get cold feet,

Don’t worry — you can keep your socks on.

from a song called “Friend of the Year”

5.

This town’s a museum and you’re every exhibit.

from a song called “The Artist”

4.

Hate leaves bruises, but love leaves scars.

from a song called “The Win-You-Back Song”

3.

The storm will eventually pass

Then I can comprehend her influence on the forecast.

from a song called “Click”

2.

Let’s bury this town in the ash of our homes.

from a song called “Cigarettes”

1.

I’m a paper airplane in the wind, and you’re the wind

Because you can blow me.

-from a song called “Blow Me (Away)”


Footnote:

¹The hesitance is still there because I care about what people think, but I’m running out of fucks.

Point A to Point B

Stories about my first car

My dad drives with both feet. He uses his right for the gas and his left for the brake. I’ve seen him do it for years, and he’s the best driver I know. But you can’t pass the road test using two feet, so he didn’t teach me to drive like that. He didn’t teach me much of anything when it comes to cars. I never really wanted to learn.

I’ve picked up a few things about batteries and tire pressure along the way, and I get my oil changed every five-thousand miles. But I always just wanted something that would get me from Point A to Point B.

The car I deserved but not the one I needed

I got my license in December of 2007. Because of my black 1999 Hyundai Tiburon’s appearance, I named it the Batmobile, even if it couldn’t handle conditions like snow, heavy rain, or strong gusts. My whip sported a black cover on the front-end (sometimes called a bra, or more appropriately a mask) and sweet silver pinstripes across the sides. These, of course, came with the vehicle I’d “inherited” from my father (for the price of $2000).

Once I got more comfortable driving, I took full advantage of my sporty, all-black coupe. Late at night, when nobody else was on the roads, I used to turn the lights off and reenact that chase scene from Batman Begins. I have always been against texting while driving and I realize the hypocrisy here, but this type of danger was a rush for me. Cops and deer aside, I considered this a calculated risk and it made me feel cool as hell.

Train tracks and tow trucks

On the way back from a sweet sixteen party, I got into my first accident. Thankfully, it didn’t involve any other cars — just myself, my passenger, and the Batmobile.

I pulled up to a five-way intersection, on a road that I’d never driven at night. At this point, I had only been licensed for about four months. A few streetlights were out, making it difficult to see the road in front of us. The street forked ahead, split by railroad tracks that ran through the center of town.

As the driver, all I had to do was choose either left or right of the tracks, but apparently I couldn’t make that decision. The Batmobile wound up directly on the train tracks, wedged in a spot I had originally suspected to be asphalt.

My car had to be towed, suffering two flat tires and a bowed front axle. My dad arrived about five minutes after my passenger’s mom left and about ten minutes after the cops showed up.

RRtracksThe police stayed until the tow truck guy hooked up my car to his winch. They didn’t even ask me if I had been drinking — I guess my face told the whole story.

“You’re probably the 40th or 50th person I’ve towed from this spot. They should put more lights around here,” the tow truck guy offered some reassurance. “But then I’d probably go out of business.”

The commotion attracted one intoxicated man from the corner bar, located less than fifty steps from where my vehicle was stuck. “I hope you’re not drunk, man. You’re in a lot of trouble if you are.” I wasn’t. Just young and stupid.

Camera phones and blue balls

We pulled over to a stretch with no streetlights, in between two houses. There were no lights on in the house in front of us, and the one behind us appeared void of life.

This wasn’t the first time she said “I love you,” and it wasn’t the last time I said it back. But it was the first time I’ve tried to have sex in a car—and perhaps the last.

Sliding over the center console, my pocket caught on the E-brake (maybe a sign of things to come). We were veiled in the shadows of the darkest road in town, yet in such a secluded place, I felt anything but alone. She ran her fingers up my leg and undid the button on my shorts. I returned the favor because I’m fair like that. As we began to slip out of our skin, a flash went off outside the car.

“What the fuck was that?!” We panicked.

I jumped into the driver’s seat and turned the key, shorts barely on. The headlights shined on a woman walking a tiny dog. She squinted to see who was in the car, but I sped off before she could make us out. My girlfriend worried that we had almost hit the woman; I worried that we’d almost hit the dog. Then we both wondered if the woman had photographed my license plate.

Low gear

Fresh off a breakup, I was driving around with my best friend. On our way home, I slowed down at the top of a hill. It was one of those nights I wished I could just hit the gas and take flight, to hover over my moonlit town.

My friend looked down at the gear shift. “Dude, what’s L?”

L? I don’t know, I’ve never noticed it before.”

“Maybe it’s levitate…”

Suburban_night_skyWe were both pretty sure it stood for low gear, but neither of us said it out loud. That type of negativity wasn’t welcome in the Batmobile. You know when you’re aware something’s not possible, but you want it to happen so badly that you kind of hope you’re dead wrong?

I took one last look at my friend before shifting into L and gunning it towards the hill.

When we reached the bottom of the slope, tires still on the ground, we shared a laugh and a shrug. He opened the glove box and checked my car’s owners manual to see what L really stood for.

“Is it low gear?”

“Yeah.”

***

I’ve driven two cars since I traded in the Batmobile — an SUV named Sophia and a sedan I call Nancy. The names change, the passengers change, the ways I tell the stories change, but the habits don’t. Things I used to double check, like the positions of my mirrors or making sure my lights are off, have become second nature. Mindless rituals, instilled in me since that first car, force me to think that maybe I’ve learned more than I wanted to. Sometimes I’ll look down and notice I’m driving with both feet.

Do you remember your first car? Tell me a story about it.


A different version of this piece appears in the Medium publication Human Parts.

I Wear Tighter Pants Now

“Something’s different about you,” she says, breaking eye contact. She doesn’t think people change. I agree.

“I just got a haircut the other day.” I step up onto a bench we’re passing.

“No, that’s not it.”

I jump down and stick the landing. “I wear tighter pants now.”

“Why do you do that?” Her eyes roll.

“Because they’re comfortable and more stylish.”

“No. You focus on the physical.” We continue to walk, with each other but not together.

I used to wear baggier pants, the kind that would drag behind my sneakers and rip, the kind whose bottom hems would wear away like a memory. Or a scar. I used to wear jeans that would get wet halfway up the leg just from stepping in a tiny rain puddle. My old pants had crotches that hung down much lower than a proper inseam.

I can barely fit both of my balls into some of my new pants. They’re snug. They aren’t too tight, but some pairs toe the line of skinnies. I can’t fit into real skinny jeans because they’re not made for guys with any type of muscle on their calves or thighs. But “slims” I can do. Slims make my butt look good, and I like that.

“Has it ever occurred to you that maybe people don’t care what you’re wearing?”

It’s funny how things like this work. When I was younger, clothes always had to be loose. Tight was bad, tight was uncomfortable, tight was gay. Then suddenly I wanted everything tight. Not too tight, but fitted. I basically woke up one morning and knew that none of my clothes fit me right. I’d like to think it was the morning after I watched Daniel Craig as James Bond for the first time. The man wears his suits better than most people wear their skin.

“You were always obsessed with appearance,” she continues.

I’m not sure if it’s just one of those things that comes with age, like I’ll fall back into the Loose Pants Club again when I reach my forties, or if it’s something more. Or less. They say “beauty is pain” or “pain is beauty” or something like that. Now, I don’t know if I agree with all of it, but I do know that comfort is overrated.

She reasons, “Just because you’ve changed your clothes or because you look different doesn’t mean you’re a different person.”

Pain is temporary. It either goes away or you can deal with it long enough to make it seem like it has. You get used to it — you get accustomed to it — so you stop noticing it’s there. But the same thing happens with beauty.

“You’ve always been concerned with what’s on the surface, and maybe that’s all you are. A surface encounter.”

Depth is definitely an issue. With tighter pants come smaller pockets. Jeez, baggy jeans used to have such deep pockets. Now, I’m lucky if I can slip my wallet into my front pocket. And don’t even get me started on my phone. Phones are strange, too. First, they were huge and inconvenient to carry around. Then the trend was to make them as small as possible, so brands made them smaller. Now, the trend is larger screens and companies are following suit. I imagine my pant preference will follow this type of viciously circular path.

“You’ve always refused to acknowledge your true feelings and communicate with people. That’s how you alienate yourself.”

I look her in the eyes and say, “Funny how things like this work, huh?”

She shakes her head. “Nice pants,” she says, turning away.

“Do you think people choose not to change, or that they’re just not capable of it altogether?” I don’t say this out loud, of course. But I think it.


Originally published in The Bigger Picture on Medium.

 

On Detours

According to Merriam-Websterdetour is defined as “a deviation from a direct course or the usual procedure.” Most people — myself included, until recently — consider detours a major inconvenience. A detour is often deemed a hindrance, viewed purely as an obstacle we must overcome on our way to work, school, or wherever we may be traveling.

About a month ago, construction started on a road I take to work in the morning, leaving it open only to local traffic. This construction has forced me to take a detour every morning, adding anywhere between five and ten minutes to my daily commute. To arrive at work on time, I should probably be leaving my house a little bit earlier, which would mean waking up five to ten minutes earlier on most days. As one might predict, I’ve been 5-10 minutes late to work almost every day since the construction began. (Whoops.)

Though seemingly unfortunate, I now consider this detour my favorite part of the day.

These moments I’m referring to occur between 7:55 and 8:05 each morning, and they rarely last for more than a minute, depending on how fast traffic is moving. If I time it right, I have the pleasure of passing a specific house at what is probably its most genuine moment of the day — and in many ways, mine as well.

As I approach the end of my morning commute, I get to witness a mother and her two daughters waiting for the school bus. On most mornings, they play games. They laugh. They smile. The older daughter assures her mother that she did all of her homework as the younger one gets her hair fixed for the school day. I never get to watch the entire scene play out, and I certainly can’t claim to know anything more than the fact that I see them and that they are real.

I don’t know their situation. I don’t know if there’s a father and/or husband in the picture. I don’t know if I’m the only one who sees them; I assume I share this sight with at least dozens of other drivers each morning, though I’m unsure they appreciate these experiences the same way I do.

Some mornings, I pass that house before 7:55am. I get to work on time on these days, but I miss out on everything I’ve described above. I don’t enjoy these days as much.

And sure, it sounds like nothing. When reading those first two paragraphs, people may have suspected I was writing about something extraordinary, something mind-blowing. And while I believe I am writing about something extraordinary, I do understand the criticism of my sentimentality. People have every right to ask, “Ryan, what’s so special about two kids waiting for a school bus?”

But I have every right to counter that it’s something we need to see to understand.

So, while I used to groan when I heard the word detour or saw a ROAD CLOSED sign, I now know it’s not always such a bad thing. There’s a reason it’s often referred to as the “scenic route.”

Borealis

The following is a short story I wrote recently:

 

The funny thing about time is that when you think about it, you’re wasting it. I am a photographer. I enjoy taking pictures. The concept of locking a moment in time appeals to me for some reason. Things are always moving so fast, so it’s nice to be able to keep something still for a while. Photographs are reminders of the good times and the bad; they capture moments that you may not remember otherwise. They document emotions and relationships, and they catalog change – the way people change, the way circumstances change. But while we and everything around us are constantly changing, it’s important to pause and acknowledge our progress every so often.

I hang these moments up on my wall. I look at them every day, and I understand everything I’ve gone through to get where I am. I have a picture of when I broke my arm playing football when I was twelve. I have a picture of the first Christmas after my parents got divorced. The first fish I caught after my father passed away. The first time my brother shaved his head. And I have a picture of when I found Jesus.

A few months ago, my brother Tyler was diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer. His oncologist told us that he had less than a year to live. On good days, Tyler was the funniest person in the world. On bad days, he was still funny – just a bit sicker. He never understood why I took pictures of everything, and he always urged me to live for the moment rather than live for the memory of the moment.

Tyler and I used to make plans to see the world and experience all of the beautiful sights people write about in books. We wanted to visit the pyramids of Egypt and the Coliseum. We wanted to take pictures of the Grand Canyon – well, I wanted to take pictures. We hoped we’d one day be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. But once his chemo started, we worried we would never get the chance to do any of it.

*          *          *

“We’re gonna have to let you go, Evan.” That’s what my boss said to me when he called me into his office one morning. I thought he was going to offer me a promotion or a new assignment, but apparently, I was mistaken.

“Did I do anything wrong?” I replied.

“No, not at all. You’re a good kid and a damn good photographer.”

“Then why are you firing me?”

“Not firing – letting go,” he corrected. I couldn’t seem to comprehend the difference between the two, nor could I understand why the newspaper was making this move after I had been working there for almost two years.

“Well, Evan, we can’t keep you forever. There are other options we need to explore that are more financially efficient for us. These college kids will freelance for almost nothing.”

After accepting the fact that I was losing my main source of income, my boss explained to me that “firing” insinuated that I had done something to warrant losing my job, and that “letting go” implied that it was simply because of budgetary reasons. Either way, I was unemployed – and to top it all off, my apartment had a termite infestation.

“We’re going to let you keep the camera, though.”

Confused, I responded, “But… this is my camera.”

My boss nodded his head. “Oh…” He shook my hand and walked me out. “Good luck with everything. And keep taking pictures.”

I tried to avoid going home for as long as I could. I took photographs of everything that caught my attention. Birds perching. Children laughing. A couple arguing. Asian tourists. A homeless man sleeping.

I walked into a bookstore to kill some time. I found two books about cancer. One about helping a loved one cope with the thought of dying. Another about coping with it yourself. On my way out of the store, I came across a book filled with pictures of the Northern Lights. I bought all three.

When I returned home, something was off. I placed the books down on my kitchen table and peeked into my bedroom to see a man in the corner. Quietly, I backtracked and grabbed a baseball bat out of the closet in the hall. As I tiptoed toward my room, the man stepped out and looked at me. He shook his head.

“Who the fuck are you?!” I panicked.

“Easy, buddy,” he replied as he stepped toward me. I stepped back and wound up to take a swing. “Josh from pest control,” he said, pointing to his nametag. “Your landlord let me in.”

I realized all of the extermination equipment he had with him. “Oh.”

“You’ve got yourself a major problem here.”

I misunderstood the man. “Excuse me?”

“The termites. They’re pretty bad in here.”

“Yeah… Yeah, I know.”

Josh from pest control must have noticed the books I had left on the table. “Light reading?”

“I guess you could say that,” I replied.

The man walked back into my bedroom and continued to spray whatever it was he was spraying. I followed him to see how it worked. After a few seconds, he turned to me and said, “You religious?”

“What?” I was taken aback. I had never been asked that question before, and I guess I never even really thought about it. I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as “religious,” but does that mean I don’t believe in anything? I don’t know. I feel like I’ve experienced more suffering in my life than joy, and that’s evident to anyone who looks at the pictures on my wall. But is that because the moments of pain and anguish truly outnumber those of happiness? Or is it just because those are the moments I choose to highlight?

“The cross on the wall,” Josh said, as he motioned toward the crucifix in my bedroom. “It was the first thing I noticed when I got in here.”

To be honest, I had forgotten that thing was even there. My mother had hung it up on my wall when I first moved in – for good luck or something. So much for that.

Josh nodded as he probed, “So, you don’t believe in God then?”

I didn’t know what this guy was getting at.

“Well, you’re not religious, so that must mean that you don’t believe in God,” clarified Josh from pest control.

“I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works.”

The man put down his equipment. “Then how does it work?”

“I have no idea how it works. I don’t think anyone does.”

Somebody has to know,” Josh claimed confidently.

“Maybe this isn’t the most appropriate conversation to be having right now.” I wasn’t looking to have a spiritual debate with my pest control guy, and questioning my beliefs was not something that was on my agenda for the day. I just had my doubts. I walked out of my room.

“Sorry if I made you uncomfortable,” apologized Josh as he followed me. “But does that mean you don’t believe in Jesus either?”

“I believe that Jesus existed. He was a man – an extraordinary man, probably. But nothing more than that. The Jesus we hear about today is just the earliest version of Dos Equis’ ‘Most Interesting Man in the World.’ Just a bunch of exaggerated stories his friends came up with that naïve people misconstrued as fact.”

Josh chuckled, “I don’t always laugh at religious jokes, but when I do, I prefer them to be about me.”

I laughed, even though I didn’t understand what he meant.

“Sorry, Evan. Allow me to introduce myself.” He reached out his hand.

“You already did,” I responded, perplexed. “You’re Josh… from pest control.”

The man stepped back into my room, and since I was intrigued at this point, I followed. “I am not Josh from pest control, Evan.” He looked up at the crucifix on my wall and asserted, “I am Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.”

I couldn’t control myself and began laughing hysterically. “You’re nuts, dude.” I turned around and walked back into the kitchen.

From my bedroom, Josh shouted, “You can choose to believe or not believe anything. That’s the beauty of it all.”

I didn’t really want this lunatic in my apartment, especially with all types of chemicals and equipment. But as I looked down at the cancer books I had purchased earlier, I knew I couldn’t let this opportunity pass. What if this guy was actually the Son of God? I mean, he probably wasn’t, but if he was, I would regret not having the patience to find out. I had so many questions about life that needed answering, so why not start there? Worst-case scenario, I’d just be humoring Josh from pest control.

“If you suffered for everybody’s sins, then why is there still so much suffering in the world?”

He stepped out into the kitchen. “You think you suffer?”

“I think I know what suffering is. Everybody does. My point is that Jesus was supposed to be our savior, and religion kills more people than it saves.”

The man took a deep breath. “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, Evan. But can you prove that?”

“Can you disprove it?”

Most of us only believe what we can see. We require evidence – something we can experience and hold onto. That’s why I take photographs; they are visual proof that a moment occurred. You can look at a picture and immediately know for a fact that it happened. These moments become part of history, part of a story – a story that tracks the progress of every living thing on this planet. Things we can see, hear, taste, touch, smell – we know they’re real. That’s what separates them from fiction. Because if a story isn’t true, what’s the point of telling it?

I picked up one of the cancer help books off the table. “See, this right here. The fact that I had to buy this is proof.”

“But the fact that you had to show it to me proves that you don’t truly believe it yourself,” Josh retorted. “If you are passionate enough about something, you can convince others to believe it without showing them any proof.”

“But what if you’re wrong?” I responded. “What if you are very passionate about something and very persuasive, but just plain wrong?”

“If there is no proof for either side, how do you know what is right and wrong? The important thing is that you believe in something and stand behind it.” Josh from pest control picked up the other cancer help book from the table.

“My brother…”

The man began flipping through the book. “I’m very sorry to hear that, Evan.”

“Doctors give him less than a year,” I said, as I flung my book back onto the table. “But if you’re really who you say you are… You can cure him, right?”

Josh closed the book and placed it next to the other books. “Evan…”

Jesus would cure him. The real Son of God was a miracle worker, supposedly. When people didn’t believe him, he turned water into wine, resurrected the dead, and cured the sick. The man walked on water, for Christ’s sake. He gave the blind the ability to see, both literally and figuratively. So, what was this exterminator doing talking about needing no proof to believe something? The real Jesus Christ provided all kinds of proof to skeptics.

Josh from pest control gathered his equipment and left my apartment. He told me he’d be back in a few days to make sure he fixed my termite problem. When he left, I felt cheated. I felt like I used to feel back in Sunday school. If Jesus was so righteous and powerful, then why were there holy wars? If he died for our sins, why were we still suffering? Why was there murder? And hatred? And cancer?

I stayed up most of the night thinking about this. I realized that the man I spoke to was just a delusional guy from pest control. He was not Jesus Christ. There was no Jesus Christ. Nobody was going to perform a miracle and cure my brother’s brain cancer, so I had to enjoy my time with him while I still could.

I woke up the next morning and began reading one of the cancer books I bought. It was called I Woke Up Tomorrow. In the book, a man tells the story of the way his relationship with his wife changed after her breast cancer metastasized to her lungs. He became obsessed with the future and wanted to do everything in his power to fix her. He took her to countless doctors, trying to find a cure for her disease, but ultimately to no avail. Before she died, she told him that he had to let go. They loved each other more than anything, but the man’s wife knew that he would regret spending his final moments with her trying to fix her cancer. She would rather him just worry about the present and appreciate the time they still had together.

The title of the book was in reference to a dream the man had while his wife was still alive: “I woke up tomorrow, and she wasn’t there. I remember thinking how scared I felt, now that I had to face reality alone. But when I awoke for real, I realized that this was exactly how my wife was feeling. She was basically facing the inevitable alone because I was still convinced I could fix the unfixable. I was in denial, and I knew this was something I was going to regret when tomorrow came.”

I put the cancer books aside and began flipping through the book about the Northern Lights. The pictures were incredible.  My father always used to tell Tyler and me stories about them. He was an amateur astronomer and traveled to see the sight several times, claiming that there was nothing quite like it. I couldn’t let my brother die without seeing them.

When I researched the Aurora Borealis on the Internet, it seemed like we were in luck. The Northern Lights were expected to be visible as far south as Maine in the next month.

“But we live in the Bronx,” contested Tyler, as I explained this to him on the phone.

My plan was to take a little trip up to Maine to see the spectacle for ourselves. I didn’t have a job to worry about and I had some money saved up, so it was the perfect time.

My brother refused to buy into the idea. “I’ve been on enough adventures, Ev. Chemo, radiation – I’ve had it. And the last thing I do before I die is not going to be driving up to Maine.”

“You don’t understand. It’s the Northern Lights, Tyler.”

“I do understand.”

After an awkward silence, I changed the subject. “I met Jesus yesterday.”

“What are you talking about?”

“He’s an exterminator, apparently.” I realized how silly it sounded.

Tyler laughed at me. “I’ll believe it when I see it.” He was not the religious type, either. We were raised Catholic and received Confirmation and all that, but neither of us had faith in a higher being. And ever since Tyler received his terminal diagnosis, he didn’t have much faith in anything. “Why don’t you take a picture of him?” he said to me sarcastically. That wasn’t such a bad idea. I just had to wait for Josh from pest control to come back.

Two days passed, and I felt like I had been waiting forever. I wondered if he was actually coming again. I felt like it’d been so long since I saw Josh the first time, and I began to question whether or not that was real. I remembered there being a man in my apartment, and I remembered having a discussion with that man. But I could not remember what his face looked like or how the conversation began.

I finished reading the cancer book I had started, along with the other one. It was called What Was I Like? Written by a woman with terminal cancer, the book expressed how the terminally ill want their loved ones to remember them for who they were before they got sick, and how they don’t want their illnesses to define them as people.

Maybe that’s why my brother didn’t want me taking pictures of him. He didn’t want me to remember him the way he was with the cancer. He didn’t want me to perceive the last year of his life through a lens – he wanted me to appreciate it for what it was, and leave it at that. The memories that mattered to him were the times before we knew his hourglass was bottom-heavy. The vacations we took, the laughs we shared, the pranks we played on Mom. The fights we had over stupid things, the bruises, and the bloody noses. But why did it have to be like that?

I developed my photographs from the other day and hung them up on my wall. As I was hanging the last one up, there was a knock at my door.

“I didn’t think you were coming back.”

“I get that a lot,” replied Josh from pest control, as he carried his equipment into my bedroom and examined the room for termites.

I grabbed my camera and followed him into my room. “Josh,” I said, to get his attention. I snapped a photograph of him just as he looked over to me.

“What was that about?”

“Proof,” I responded. “For my brother, and for myself.”

Josh nodded his head and continued looking around my room. “Fair enough.”

Why didn’t he have a problem with it? Why wasn’t he mad at me for taking his picture? The real Jesus wouldn’t want somebody plastering his face out there for everyone to see.

“Some people are going to believe, and some aren’t,” Josh stated. “That’s just how it goes.”

“What about all that ‘believing without proof’ shit?” I inquired.

He put his equipment down and stepped towards me. “You obviously have your reservations about me, so if this is what you need, then so be it.” Josh saw that I was uncomfortable again and took a step back. “Who am I to deny you your necessary proof?”

I took a quick look at the cross on my wall. “It’s just that… You haven’t answered any of the questions I have.” The man didn’t respond and resumed checking for termites.

We all have questions. About faith, about life, about what comes next. We all want to know why things happen the way they do. But we can’t expect some exterminator to come into our lives one day and give us all of the answers to these questions. Even if he does claim that he is Jesus Christ.

“What, are you going to give me that ‘salvation lies within’ nonsense?” Josh took a long look at me, but didn’t say anything. “What about my brother?”

“What about him?”

“Are you going to save him? Cure him?”

The man took a deep breath before answering, “Evan, I can’t do that.” I turned and walked out of the room. Josh followed me into the kitchen.

“Why can’t you?” I pleaded with him. “I don’t understand.”

“And you may never understand. You may hate me for it.” He picked up the Northern Lights book I had left on the table. “You may even give up on faith altogether.”

“Maybe I have already,” I muttered.

Josh wore a faint smile on his face and put the book down. “Why do you like taking photographs?”

“Because they are proof that something is real. They mark our progress. They allow us to press the pause button on life and freeze a moment in time.”

“But wouldn’t a pause in time impede progress?” Josh contended. “Progress is not something you can take a snapshot of and hold onto. It’s a process; it’s intangible by nature.”

If this man standing in my apartment was the Jesus Christ, why would he choose to reveal himself to me? Why me, of all people? “Tell me how you know that you’re Jesus.”

“I just look up into the sky and I know,” the man responded. “I know that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, and that I was brought into this world to help people.”

“Then help my brother Tyler,” I implored him.

The man turned away and walked back into my bedroom. He collected his equipment and came out of the room. “You’re all set here,” said Josh from pest control.

“So, that’s it?”

“Yep, termites are taken care of,” he assured me.

“You’re not going to help my brother, are you?” I solicited once more, as Josh stepped out of my apartment.

The man turned back towards me and uttered, “Orchard Beach, ten o’clock tomorrow night. Bring Tyler.” I closed the door behind him as he walked away.

The next night, I picked my brother up and drove to the beach. All I told him was that he was going to meet Josh from pest control, who had claimed he was Jesus Christ. Tyler thought the whole thing was dumb.

“He’s probably going to kill us,” he theorized. “Here we are, thinking I’m going to die of this awful disease, and then some maniac just slaughters us both after luring us to the beach.”

“This is important, Tyler.” I tried to get him to take this man seriously, but he needed some convincing. I showed him the picture I took of Josh the day before.

“Just because he has a beard doesn’t mean he’s Jesus,” my brother reasoned. Perhaps I needed some convincing as well.

We arrived at Orchard Beach around 9:56pm. The wind and the waves symphonized, creating sounds of organized chaos. I removed my shoes so I wouldn’t get sand in them; Tyler didn’t care. We walked up and down the beach, but there wasn’t a person in sight.

“So, where is this guy?” wondered Tyler. It was 10:08pm.

“Maybe he’s late,” I suggested. “He said ten o’clock.”

Tyler laughed at me. “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is running late?” I shrugged my shoulders, without a response. “Alright, Evan, I played along. But it’s late and it’s cold, and I just want to go home.”

I begged him to stay a few more minutes, hoping that Josh from pest control would finally show up. Tyler turned and began walking back to the car. “I’ve waited long enough for him,” he said.

Frustrated, I took a seat in the sand and looked up into the sky. I felt like I swallowed my throat as my eyes captured an image of something I thought I’d never see. I called for Tyler, but I was certain not to let my eyes wander from the spectacle.

My brother turned around to witness the wonder our father had described to us so many times. Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights. The closest thing to a miracle I had ever seen.

“Jesus,” Tyler whispered, marveling at the sight. He walked over and sat down next to me. We sat on that beach all night, gazing into the green brushstroked sky our father had painted for us years ago.

Taking a picture is a way of remembering that something happened. These photographs are not necessarily for the moments you want to remember, but the ones you are afraid you might forget. I looked up that night in astonishment, and as I turned and saw the smile on my brother’s face, I knew this was not one of those times.

Snowman Attack

This is a sestina I wrote a few years ago for a creative writing class:

 

“Being attacked by a snowman really blows, doesn’t it?

It makes you question your whole being

What’s even worse is that he’s a snowman

You live to see next week, but he usually doesn’t

I love watching those bastards get attacked

When the wind is relentless with its blows

 

The snowman would say the wind blows

But that can mean two things, can’t it?

When you’re thinking is when you get attacked

One major flaw of the human being

Is letting your guard down when your opponent doesn’t

Round 1, advantage: snowman

 

But don’t think too highly of the snowman

Like the wind, his endurance also blows

You’d think the cold would help him, but it doesn’t

He may throw his gloves off to seem tough, but he hates it

His shriveling carrot makes him question his whole being

This is when he is vulnerable to being attacked

 

One thing that’s never fun is being attacked

Unpleasant for everyone, man or snowman

It makes you question your whole being

Everyone shivers when the wind blows

The cold really blows, doesn’t it?

You sit by a warm fire, but the snowman doesn’t

 

You refuel with hot cocoa, but the snowman doesn’t

The wind blows, relentless; the snowman’s always being attacked

But that can mean two things, can’t it?

It probably blows being a snowman

Facing the wind, then taking your blows

Round 2, advantage: human being

 

It makes you question your whole being

You live to see next week, but the snowman doesn’t

The impermanence of life really blows

Now you see you’re constantly being attacked

Your demeanor becomes cold, like the snowman

Life really blows, doesn’t it?

 

The impermanence of life – think about it

It makes you question your whole being

You wish you could just melt like the snowman.”

I’m Counting Down the Days

I’m counting down the days until that one day comes. When everything I want is mine. When time stops. When I’m me, and my toes move free like flip-flops.

I’m counting down the days until I find what I’m looking for. I’m counting down until I know what that is – when doubts are loud like pimples, and I can simply silence a room of kids like a pop quiz.

I’m counting down the days until I’m no longer starving. When thoughts are food and I’m always full. When there’s push and pull, and give and take. When I make things that give people motivation and push them to pull themselves out of their caves and take what’s rightfully theirs.

I’m counting down the days until I reach my goals. When time is money and money flows free, when life is funny and laughs are my currency. When I’m rich, bitch. When everybody knows me, or knows of me. When everybody wants to slap or hug me, whether they hate me or love me.

I’m counting down the days until the storm passes. When “whether” isn’t conditional, when my skies are clear of fear like glasses. When I realize I’m hiding more here above the mattress. When my ideas are solid rock, and I skip stones like college classes.

I’m counting down the days until I learn from my mistakes. When failure flows through my body like water, provides no nutrition yet quenches my thirst away. When knowing my worst keeps me showing my best. When hurdles keep me alive. When I strive for more, even when I have enough. When success is buried, and I dig holes like Shia LaBeouf.

I’m counting down the days until I get what I deserve. I’m counting them down until I don’t have to anymore.

On Priorities

Things that matter:

  • humanity
  • love
  • family

Things that don’t matter:

  • feelings
  • meaningless sex
  • the past

Things that matter:

  • learning from experience
  • success
  • how you deal with failure

Things that don’t matter:

  • appearance*

Things that matter:

  • personality
  • doing what you love

Things that don’t matter:

  • material possessions
  • outcomes of professional sporting events
  • promises

Things that matter:

  • memories
  • actions
  • broken promises

Things that don’t matter:

  • statistics
  • political correctness

Things that matter:

  • spelling/grammar
  • laughter

Things that don’t matter:

  • words like “always” and “never”
  • things you can’t control

Things that matter:

  • things you can control
  • progress

Things that don’t matter:

  • opinions
  • being perceived as “cool”

Things that matter:

  • being understanding
  • intelligence

Things that don’t matter:

  • plans
  • expectations

Things that matter:

  • answers

Things that don’t matter:

  • questions
  • fears
  • doubts

Things that matter:

  • self-expression
  • reasons
  • meanings
  • connections

Things that don’t matter:

  • money
  • size
  • talent

Things that matter:

  • how you use it (applicable to all three bullet points directly above)
  • decisions
  • life

Things that don’t matter:

  • lists

*Upon further contemplation, this actually does matter.