In Lettero 3: Reminisce With a Vengeance

I was dumb once. Well, not just once. Mostly I was dumb in my past. I’m also dumb at times now, but hopefully less so.

A while back, I wrote a pair of blog posts with a series of letters to myself (you can find them here and here, respectively…all inspired by a post from Samantha at Comic Wisdom). The basic premise of those posts was to give my past self advice, as I’ve done some stupid things before. If time travel ever happens, I’d love to be able to give my younger self advice to help me avoid stupid decisions that make my life more difficult[1].

To Tim, Age 7

This is going to sound really weird, but in early April of this year, you’re going to see something on television that’s going to be your first long-term memory. Some idiots with a truck are going to blow up a building in Oklahoma City, killing a lot of people. You won’t know or have any connection to anyone in that bombing. But your parents are going to get divorced starting later that year, and pretty much every memory prior to the divorce starting will get wiped out. Except seeing the Murrah building in shambles on TV. Memory is weird. Focus on trying to remember as much as you can growing up. You won’t have a lot of artifacts around to help you.

Sincerely,

Future Tim

To Tim, Age 12ish

For about a year, you’re going to live in a two bedroom house with ten other people[2]. You’re going to hear and see A LOT of things that are going to shape the way you form your political/societal opinions from now until you get to college. Let me clarify a few things to help you out.

  • Confederate flags don’t actually stand for someone being a good ol’ boy.
  • The majority of people do not consume tobacco, despite what you see on a daily basis.
  • 2Pac wasn’t rapping about white empowerment.
  • Just because you can hear multiple people having sex while you’re trying to sleep doesn’t mean that’s normal.
  • Not everyone who’s registered as a Democrat[3] is a bad person.

On the bright side, at least you quickly realize that someone having two kids with two separate moms less than a month apart generally isn’t a good thing.

Sincerely,

Future Tim

To Tim, Age 19

Stop growing that mustache. You look like a fucking moron.

Sincerely,

Future Tim

To Tim, Age 20

You’re going to meet a girl who you’re going to crush on. Hard. While this is not a new development for you at this stage in your life, this particular girl is going to get you heavily involved in a church. Said church has some positive points, but is full of extremely manipulative people. I’d love to tell you not to talk to this girl at all, but it’s unavoidable[4]. Instead, when she tells you she really doesn’t want a relationship with someone who doesn’t attend her church, just say okay. Drop it there. It’ll save you six months of religious confusion, people trying to control your lives, and a $600 deposit you won’t get back.

Sincerely,

Future Tim

To Tim, Age 21

You managed to get tickets to see Paramore and Gwen Stefani just a few days before your 22nd birthday. You won’t go though. Your overwhelming infatuation with Hayley Williams aside, a friend tells you it’s a great show. You should go. Don’t cancel going to the concert and waste the $80 you spent buying the tickets. It’s not worth it. The date really doesn’t go well.

Sincerely,

Future Tim

To Tim, Also Age 21

There’s a girl who is going to spend the better part of two and a half weeks trying to schedule a date with you. Don’t go on it. She used a false picture online, she’s not a nice person, and she literally punches you in the face for no reason other than “she wants to see a girl hit a guy for once”.

While this isn’t your dating low point[5], it’s damn close.

Sincerely,

Future Tim

To Tim, Age 25

In a three month span, you’re going to write six of the ten stories that become part of the book you’re going to publish in a few years[6]. This is a period of creativity that is unprecedented before and since then (at least as of writing this post). Please take advantage of it the best that you can. The stories that come out of this time are going to be dark, they’re going to be passionate, and they’re (mostly) going to be very difficult for you to write. Do continue writing. Even though you’re not going to make a ton of money off of your book, it’s still an incredibly exciting experience.

Sincerely,

Future Tim

First Podcast (w/Samantha Clarke)

I’ve got a podcast now. Sorry kids, not burying the lead this time. You can find the audio below.

Now for more of a full story. Samantha Clarke of Comic Wisdom and I have decided to start a podcast. It’s definitely a thing at this point. We don’t know exactly what kind of thing it is…but it’s a thing nevertheless. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going to go following shutting down That Tiny Vlog Series. That said, between my radio/audio editing background, Samantha’s storytelling capabilities, and still wanting to do some sort of project, this seemed like a natural landing spot.

With that said, we have questions that we’d love to have answered if possible. I’ve taken most of this list from Samantha’s post introducing the podcast, with a couple of other additions.

  1. What the hell should we call this thing?
  2. Ideas for how to get it online for free?  Soundcloud charges after a bit, like 190 minutes I think.  Should we host it on Samantha’s blog/my blog?  Do I have room[1]?  Right now we have it on archive.org which is fine but is that where boring podcasts go to die?
  3. Where should we submit it?  Google Play, iTunes…that’s all I’ve got.  Halp.
  4. Are we interesting or funny, like, at all?
  5. If it’s terrible, do you still love us?
  6. What kinds of topics do you want to hear about?
  7. Any other sage advice?  We’ll take anything you’ve got.

Samantha called you all beautiful swans and I’m sure some of you are. You know who you are. But for those of you who are not…thank you for listening and giving feedback anyway.

Can You Really Be You On the Internet Anymore?

On the internet, you are invisible and yet cannot hide from anyone. On the internet, you are both just a number and a unique entity. On the internet, everyone and no one is looking for you, all at the same time.

But are they really looking for you? And if so, are they finding the real you? Or are they merely finding the image you wish to share of yourself?

In late 2011, I lost my job. It was the first job I had out of grad school. I loved that job. I loved helping the people I got to interact with on a daily basis. I loved (most of) the people I worked with. I loved my short commute which let me drive home and eat lunch[1] if I wanted to. But between the company I worked for nearing shutting down and my relatively low “sales” numbers[2], I was an expendable cog in the machine.

I spent the better part of the next two months looking for a job. Between my own work and the help of a pair of staffing agencies, I had 8-10 interviews per month during the time I was unemployed. At the same time I was looking for a job, NaNoWriMo was going on. I took part in NaNoWriMo that year to provide myself a little bit of relief from the mental exhaustion that the job search caused me. Those two months I was unemployed was a pretty bleak time in my life — and my novel I wrote that November followed an even darker tone.

In early 2009, I was having a rough time adjusting to life out of college. I’d moved back home and started living with my grandparents. I took the first job I could find out of college[3], which meant I was working at a call center for less than a dollar an hour above the minimum wage. My then-girlfriend made it clear to me that I’d fallen much harder for her than she had for me. Couple that with some prejudices that I’d had formed in childhood that I still hadn’t moved on from[4], and that led to us breaking up quickly and extremely heatedly.

All of that combined together led to me seeing a psychologist for a few months. After our fourth or fifth appointment together, I had to tell the psychologist I couldn’t afford to keep coming to see her. Between my low paying job, working overnight hours, and not being able to afford health insurance[5], it just wasn’t realistic to keep getting professional help. The psychologist understood my plight and recommended that I try writing as a therapeutic technique. The goal was to get all of the thoughts and emotions I was struggling to cope with out of my head, if only to save myself the frustration of dealing with said thoughts.

So that’s what I did. And it worked. Writing allowed me to clear my head. It’s worked when I’ve written shitty 50 word posts online. It’s worked when I’ve turned those emotions into a much more creative endeavor. If it wasn’t for that advice — write to help my own psyche — I don’t know where I’d be in life today.

Yet as time as gone on, I’ve found myself more careful about what I write and talk about on the internet. Part of that is a natural fact of growing up and growing more mature in the process. But part of it is also this nagging feeling that somewhere, somehow, should I ever need a new job in the future, someone’s going to stumble on my work, see a post where I’m just venting off steam, and decide I’m a terrible human being. Job opportunity lost.

I know I’m not the only person that thinks this way. I follow more than a handful of people on Twitter who work as social media managers (or an equivalent role) for companies. A couple of them are actually promote themselves as their own brand. On one hand, it’s a brilliant ploy. In an increasingly digitized and interconnected world, who better than you to control the message that the media tells about you. It’s been the basis of American economics and politics for years now. Put yourself out there in the light you want other people to see you in.

On the other hand, only showing the happy, healthy, and hopeful sides of ourselves to the world is a foolish endeavor. We are complex individuals. We laugh and we cry. We do not do one or the other. To try to hide the fact that sometimes we fuck up is a failure in logic. Without mistakes, how can we learn how we need to improve ourselves?

I was asked recently when I was going to write a happy story. My short stories are generally pretty dark in nature, so why not try writing a happy one. Right? Most of me doesn’t want to. That’s not why I write. If a story ends up being happy, great. But I write in general — but especially my fiction — to help me process complex emotions, to release frustration, or just to be creative as I can be in turning an idea into something that I want to read. Generally, those stories end up being very dark.

Yet I find myself wondering if I’d be better received if I wrote happy stories. Would I be a better selling author? Would a book of upbeat stories I wrote be reviewed better than my collection of dark short stories[6]? Would a happy story enhance my brand and bring more eyes to my work?

That last question — that’s the one that frightens me. It’s the question that determines which side of the line I fall on. Am I a person or am I a commodity? That’s the power of the internet. It’s a terrifying power. Most people don’t even realize that power’s being exerted on them when it’s happening. Everyone can see everything and yet you’re all alone.

Kind of a dark idea, is it not? An entity that can completely change who you perceive yourself to be without you realizing it. It’s like you’re not even you anymore when you’re on the internet.

The Prohibition Sign

If you’re old enough to drive, I’m sure you’ve seen one of the following signs somewhere in your life before.

This thing. Image courtesy Wikimedia.
This thing. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

The sign above is known as the prohibition sign, or more colloquially, the no symbol. If you see this sign, you know not to do something. The no symbol over a left arrow means no left turn. The no symbol over a capital P means no parking. And, not shockingly, the no symbol over a bicycle means no bicycles.

Straightforward, yes? Good. I’m glad you think so.

A few weeks ago, I was driving around and saw a sign in someone’s yard. Shockingly, it wasn’t a Clinton/Trump/Johnson/local election sign. Instead, it was a sign protesting the building of an interstate off ramp in the area in question. While I generally didn’t agree with the sign’s intended message[1], I actually had a bigger issue with the sign’s misuse of the no no symbol.

The sign had written in big black capital letters NO RAMP. Which, while an opinion I would strongly disagree with, is perfectly fine. But then over the message of “no ramp”, a prohibition sign was overlayed. The sign effectively read “no no ramp”.

As anyone who has taken an English knows, not only are double negatives poor grammar, they also change the meaning of your sentence to the opposite of its intent. I know that the sign means they don’t want the ramp. Yet, every time I see the sign, I can’t help but get excited for how many people love ramps so much that they’ve put yard signs up supporting them.

Let this be a lesson to you, all of you future protestors, complainers, campaigners, and other people who may need to make a sign for any reason. If you’re going to use the prohibition symbol on your signs, don’t also use the word no on them. You’ll just make people think you’re really excited for something you don’t support.

When Kindness Gets Kicked to the Curb

About a year and a half ago, I decided I needed something — anything — to try to calm my frustration with traffic. We, as humans, suck when it comes to driving cars. Nothing frustrates me more than traffic because I realize that the reason there is traffic is almost always some inane, human-caused reason. CGP Grey put out a nice video on how traffic happens relatively recently that illustrates my point.

Music generally didn’t help my traffic frustrations. Sure, here or there music would make a specific day better, but overall it didn’t make much impact. Listening to talk radio only made me angrier, as I’d either have to hear about politics[1] or sports[2]. Talking on the phone wasn’t always a practical solution either, especially when my wife was at work. So I started digging around on the internet for podcasts and the like to listen to.

The one series that really caught my attention was a series on iTunes U called “How to Think Like A Psychologist“.  It’s a series created by the Stanford University Continuing Studies program that focuses on the mindset behind psychologists. What’s interesting about this particular series is that many of the people involved with this series (including emcee Kelly McGonigal) are part of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE).

The lectures themselves were great. I love psychology and this series of lectures is one of the best lecture series with a psychology focus I’ve had the opportunity to watch or listen to. Considering Stanford’s reputation as a university, I don’t think that particularly surprised me.

What did come out of no where though was this fact that a university — particularly one with the name recognition of Stanford — had put money behind an entire program that essentially focused on the science of being nice to people. There was science money going to a lot of things. But it had never occurred to me that someone, let alone a world-renowned institution, would want to study kindness.

So I began watching, reading, and listening to the works of people involved in compassion and altruism studies. My initial studies went to those working for Stanford like McGonigal, Emma Seppala, Phillipe Goldin, and Greg Walton (all PhDs to my knowledge). But then I started expanding my viewing/reading to others with similar ideologies, even outside of the scientific realm. Authors Dan Pink and Tony Hsieh[3] shared similar ideologies in the books they wrote. All in all, their message was resounding and it was quite clear. To succeed in business, in human interaction, and in life, you must be compassionate and altruistic towards others.

You can see some of the evolution of my own thoughts on the subject throughout blog posts I’ve done over the past couple of years. While I wasn’t calling the idea altruism or compassion then, I spoke about similar concepts in my pre-New Year’s post. It’s even come through in some of my more recent posts, both in short stories and in non-short story posts. While I’m not a perfectly compassionate or altruistic person, I’d like to think I’ve done my best to get a little bit better each day at it. I will always do my best to make sure I am putting others before myself because it’s the right thing to do. Over time, it’s also become the think that I want to do.

The problem lies in the reality that not everyone is compassionate. Not everyone is altruistic. Not everyone plays fair. I remember being taught at a relatively young age that if you’re not looking out for yourself, people are only going to take advantage of you. It’s true more often than it’s not, I think. People are so used to others only looking out for themselves that we’ve become primed as a society to do the same.

But what if we didn’t? What if instead of only looking out for ourselves, we tried to look out for others first? What if our goal every day was to make a different person’s day just a little bit better by putting their needs ahead of our own? It’s a novel concept and a beautiful idea for a world.

I realize I’m just rambling at this point. I also recognize that words can be powerful — and that kindness is a more powerful idea than most any that can exist in this world. There’s science behind why being compassionate to others is beneficial to our own well being. Perhaps the easiest way to get the larger world to buy in to the idea of treating others better than themselves is to tell them all the selfish benefits of why they should.

Until then though, I can only hope that my efforts to show compassion to others are returned in kind.

AETI: The Dry Month

Hey all.

As I talked about in the post regarding what I learned self-publishing, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do when it comes to free book deals anymore. I originally had planned to have the Kindle version of An Epilogue to Innocence be free one day a month for the next twelve months. After all, things were going great. I had managed to get to the point where I only needed 17 Kindle copies of the book to be sold for me to break even on editing costs. I even had the hubris to list how many copies of the book would need to be sold in multiple different formats just to hit that break even total.

That was on August 6th. I had sold my most recent copy of the book prior to that date on August 3rd. While the three-day gap between book sales of any kind was tied for my longest gap since launch, I figured things were bound to turn around soon. After all, I had just done my first free Kindle book day, which went really well. Sales of the book exceeded my expectations in July. Everything was grand.

The problem is that it’s currently August 27th. And since August 3rd, I’ve sold one copy of my book. Funny thing is, when I was originally writing this post (August 25th), I still hadn’t sold that copy as of then. The drought for the Kindle version has been even longer, as that date would be July 27th. Not only was this not what I expected, around the 15th of the month, it got me pretty down in the dumps. Work wasn’t going well, my neck was killing me, the weather was unbearably warm[1], a number of people who had promised book reviews still hadn’t written them (things come up, I get it), and then my book sales drying up out of nowhere made me pretty sad.

Fortunately, between a few of the people in the #MillennialTalk Twitter chat reminding me that the road to success takes time, as well as some people at work providing me encouragement, I’m not down on myself quite so much anymore. Sure, I’m still a bit saddened with how things have gone so far in August. That said, I have a plan to fix it.

How Kindle Countdown & Free Deals Work

After doing my first free book deal, I realized a few things about Amazon’s Kindle Countdown deals and free book deals that I didn’t before.

  • You can only do a Kindle Countdown deal (reduced price) OR free book deal withing a KDP Select enrollment period[2]. That eliminates the original free book/countdown schedule I was going to use.
  • You get 5 free book days via Kindle. I’m still unclear if this is per KDP Select period or ever. That said, I’ll be able to give more of an update on that in mid-October.
  • While page reads from those who check my book out through Kindle Unlimited do give me profit (albeit a VERY small amount, as I learned in July), people who get the free book do not generate that same profit.

While I should have a better plan of attack long-term as a result of knowing all this, not to mention once I find out more when I go into the second KDP Select period, it doesn’t help me out a ton in August/September/October.

So…what now?

First and foremost, now that I know (better) how Kindle’s deal options work, I can plan a little more effectively for them. I know that I’m going to do a Kindle Countdown deal some time in November. Part of me wants to do the deal around Black Friday/Cyber Monday, as I know that’s when people are most likely to open up their wallets for something that’s on sale. That said, part of me wants to find a way to raise the price on my book during that weekend, a la Cards Against Humanity. I also really want to do something charity related around Christmas time, so a Black Friday Countdown deal is probably off the table[3].

This means I’ll probably do a Countdown deal some time in late October or mid November. Unfortunately, this would only impact the price of the Kindle copy of the book. I’ve yet to find a way to uniformly lower the price of An Epilogue to Innocence across all platforms for its paperback version, so that might not be in the cards. We’ll see though.

Is there anything I can do to help?

For the 3-4 of you that are asking this, yes. Here’s how you can help.

Now: Just share the links to buy the book and encourage people to buy An Epilogue to Innocence. If you’ve written a review and you feel your review would help convince people to buy, share that. If you’ve read the book but haven’t written a review, please share a review on Amazon or Goodreads[4].

In the coming months: As we get into September/October, I’ll be writing another post talking about what the coming Kindle Countdown deal will be, as well as what I’m thinking about doing from a charity standpoint during the holiday season. Any eyes you would be willing to get on that post would be greatly appreciated.

 

So that’s where I’m at. Sorry it’s not the best (read: hey! You get a sale now!) update, but it’s as informative as I can be at the moment. Hopefully the next book-related post will be talking about the Countdown deal and a turnaround in sales leading up to that deal.

Lost in the Open

Note: The following is a fiction short story. It’s an idea I’ve been kicking around for about two years or so, but never could figure out how to tie together a couple of the subplots of the story to make it work. We’ll see how it works.


I hear them. The voices are there at all hours of the day. I have to assume they’re mostly there in the day time. That’s the logical conclusion. While I’m not sure what this hospital’s visiting hours are, every one I’ve ever been too generally has visiting hours at or around normal business hours plus evenings.

It’s hard to keep track of time. I’m occasionally told what time it is, maybe even the date or the day of the week. That said, I don’t ask for the time. I can’t. I can’t speak. My eyes won’t allow me to see who’s talking to me. All I have to go off of is the sound of those talking to me and their touch to know who’s there.

It’s unfortunate that I’m here. I never expected to be here — twenty-eight days into an unforeseen hospital stay. One turn down the wrong alley on my way to meet friends for dinner and here I am. Blinded. Muted. Trapped by my own body.

I don’t remember all of the circumstances surrounding how I got here…not on my own at least. In my early days at the hospital, police officers came and talked to my father about what caused me to be laid up like this. A trio of muggers attacked me moments after I turned down the alley. The biggest one knocked me down with a pipe, while two others came after me with baseball bats. I apparently fought for a bit, kicking and flailing at the air around me, though I was quickly subdued. The trio robbed me for everything I had, then left me in the alley to die.

The police caught my assailants about a week after my attack. Surveillance cameras from the pawn shop next to the alley picked up enough footage to help the police identify two of the three people involved. All three were small time criminals between the ages of 19 and 23. It’s a shame. My pain is going to cost all three of them a significant portion of their adulthood. I wish it didn’t have to be that way.

The doctors have told me quite a few things about my condition. I can move my hands well enough that I can give them a thumbs up if I understand, but that’s about it. My voice is severely damaged from a shot to the throat from one of the baseball bats. The doctors are optimistic I’ll be able to speak again with enough therapy, but they can’t guarantee anything. My legs are in casts, but should heal properly within the next couple of months. As for my eyesight…the doctors aren’t so optimistic there.

My dad stops by most nights to check in on me. He’ll tell me about the happenings of the day. He hates his job, though not much more than most middle managers I know. His boss is an arrogant blowhard who loves nothing more than when people suck up to her. My dad’s as good at playing office politics as the next guy, but when the boss’s boytoy gets a promotion because he’s sleeping with the boss, there’s no amount of politicking you can do to get around that.

I get to hear videos of my dad’s cat, Lemia, and his dog, Cheese, playing in his house. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen either Lemia or Cheese, my accident not withstanding. Lemia is a gray British shorthair with a tuft of white hair on the top of her head. She loves climbing up on my dad’s lap and dozing off with him as the afternoon sun hits them both on the recliner. Cheese is golden lab with far too much energy, especially for a dog his size. I never understood why Dad let the neighbor’s child name his dog. Six-year-olds aren’t exactly known for their naming skills. I really just think that Dad likes yelling “bad Cheese!” when the dog climbs on the couch or “stinky Cheese!” when the dog farts.

My dad did a lot for me, even though I didn’t always realize it. He was a single parent for the majority of my childhood. My mom left us at age 8 and we never saw her again. It’s probably for the best from all the stories I’ve heard about her. While not all addicts make poor parents, she certainly fit the mold of one that wouldn’t treat me the best.

Dad did all he could to take care of me in spite of being alone. I played numerous sports throughout school to keep me off the streets. I picked up the trombone to play in the marching band and concert band. While I think Dad secretly wanted me to play the same instrument he did (tenor saxophone), he showed up to every concert he could. My favorite memory of my younger days with him was winning the sectional wrestling meet my junior year and taking him my trophy. I broke my arm in the first match at districts, ending my run there. Even with my injury, he reminded me every day I was a champion.

I wish I could talk to him. Partly because I love talking to him and I miss that. My voice will come back, I hope, and we’ll be able to talk about the cat, the dog, work, wrestling, the past, and the future. There’s always something I kept from him though. I never thought he needed to know it until I faced my own death at the hands of someone else.

During the final two years of high school, I dated this beautiful girl by the name of Lydia. We’d known each other since childhood. Lydia and I went lived in two different school districts despite living less than a mile apart. We saw each other almost every weekend outside of marching band season, though only when our schools — fierce rivals in every sense of the word — faced each other during the fall. Like my dad, Lydia showed up at most of my extracurricular activities. She’d even ride along with Dad if she didn’t have to work that day.

Lydia was the first girl I ever had feelings for and (to my knowledge) the first person who ever had feelings for me. I remember the first time we kissed vividly, even to this day. We were having lunch at a local cafe, waiting on our food to come out. We were both single at the time, both lamenting about how we wished the circumstances would change. Lydia got to talking about how she wanted to be in a relationship where she could make the first move rather than having to wait on the guy to do so. My oblivious teenage self asked what she’d do if she were to make the first move.

I watched as her fingers walked their way up my arm, her cool, umber toned skin contrasting with my light, beige arm and my bright yellow t-shirt. Lydia talked about how she’d wrap her arms around the guy’s neck, just as she was doing so to me, then lean in for a long, soft kiss. I didn’t expect her to go for it, though I certainly didn’t complain when our lips finally did touch. The kiss couldn’t have lasted for more than a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity. A long, blissful, eternity.

Three months after beginning college together, Lydia and I began to have an incredibly rocky relationship. Her roommate insisted repeatedly that I wasn’t good enough for her, and that Lydia should use college to find out who she really was. At first, Lydia was deaf to her roommate’s pleas, but over time, things began to change. I saw Lydia less and less with each passing week. At first it was only on weekdays, though as time passed, I rarely saw her on weekends. The day before Thanksgiving break, Lydia told me that we needed to take a break.

I despise the idea of “taking a break”. It’s rare that it’s actually a break. Sure enough, the “break” that Lydia and I had is still going on to this day. I can’t imagine her husband would be particularly happy if I tried to talk her into coming back to me. It’s been nearly fourteen years anyway. I’ve been over her for a very long time.

I wasn’t over her at Christmas, just a little over a month after Lydia and I split. Her parents always treated me like a son — a fact I appreciate to this day. But that closeness only caused me to be more hurt when Lydia and I broke up. The public portion of my Christmas Eve ended with a rather loud, animated fight with Lydia’s mother. I was frustrated that my second family was drifting away from me, while she was frustrated that I wasn’t saying the kindest words about her daughter. Eventually Lydia came over and separated us. She defended me to her mom, but then asked me to leave.

That year, 2009, I had offered to take care of my buddy’s house for he and his parents while they went to Arizona for the holidays. On Christmas Eve, I dug through the medicine cabinet at someone else’s house, opened a bottle of sleeping pills prescribed to my friend’s mom, and downed the whole bottle. I woke up in the middle of the night violently vomiting all over the couch. It wasn’t until December 27th that I had the strength and energy to get off the couch and take myself to the hospital. The next day, I told my dad all about what had happened.

The problem is, that story never happened. It didn’t happen as I just stated. It’s how I told it to my dad on December 28th. But that’s not what happened. I did have a fight with Lydia’s mom on Christmas Eve. Lydia did ask me to leave. I did go over to my buddy’s house as I had promised to care for the house and their cat. But the suicide attempt never happened. I pulled a bottle of Glenlivet out of the liquor cabinet, drank three shots, then passed out on the couch while crying and listening to Fuel. Christmas morning, I woke up with puke all over my shirt and a cat pissed off that I hadn’t fed it since the 23rd. I stayed in my friend’s house in shame until the 28th, ignoring every phone call, text, and visitor that came looking for me.

I don’t know what prompted me to lie to my dad like that. Suicide was, and still is, a serious topic in our family. My cousin died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2004. His younger sister tried to follow suit in 2007, but she passed out from exhaustion before she finished loading the gun. You don’t even joke about suicide in any circumstance around anyone in my extended family. And yet, there I was, nineteen years old, lying my face off to my father about trying to take my own life.

I had self-harmed a couple of times in my teens. Couple that with a family history of suicidal tendencies and my “actions” weren’t shocking to anyone. Except they never happened. If I ever get my voice back, that’s going to be the second thing I tell Dad. Right after the fact that I love him.

I’m not just sorry for how I lied to him. Yes, he’s the biggest person that I regret lying to in my life. But he’s not the only one.

By the time late 2013 rolled around, I had moved on from Lydia and had been dating various people off and on for the better part of three years. My girlfriend at the time was a girl who went by Valorie to nearly everyone. To me, she was Vai. Vai was the first girl since Lydia I’d managed to have a semi-serious relationship with.

On one hand, the fact that I was so heavily interested in her wasn’t shocking. If I could have built the perfect woman in some futuristic laboratory that allowed you to create the partner of your dreams, Vai would have been an excellent starting point. The contrast of her iridescent crystal-blue eyes and her golden copper hair allowed me to spot her from across the bar, no matter how many people were around us on a given night. She sang in the shower with a voice bestowed upon her from on high, her melodious tones able to shift from rock to jazz to hip-hop and back to rock again with minimal effort. Vai always found a way to make our sex life exciting, even at times looking up porn videos online for us to emulate when I came to visit.

On the other hand, Vai and I weren’t destined to be together for long. There wasn’t a single one of my friends that was able to stand being in the same room with her for more than a few minutes at a time. While my family adored her, it was because her political views more closely matched theirs than my own. When Vai talked politics, it was like she was a different person from a different era — one that would have judged me for even associating with Lydia, let alone date her, just because of her skin color. Though I’d grown out of my conservative upbringing, I still held rather siloed views about drugs. Vai’s occasional use of marijuana was a huge turn off for me.

It wasn’t so much that she smoked pot that bothered me as much as the fact that she lied about it regularly for the first four months we were dating. My visits to her apartment led to questions about the weed smell, which she usually blamed on her neighbors or her roommate. Considering I only saw her roommate once (total) in the entire time Vai and I were together, it became apparent rather quickly that Vai had been lying to me. She confessed, was sad, told me to get over it because she wasn’t going to stop, then proceeded to give me great makeup sex the next three or four times we saw each other.

The other major roadblock in my relationship with Vai was our limited overlap of interests. While I did like a lot of the same things Vai liked, there was only a handful of things she could talk about regularly without going silent. At the age of seven, Vai was in a car accident that killed her younger brother and severely injured her older brother, as well as her parents. Vai received severe brain damage from the accident. The trauma limited her ability to form coherent long-term memories in the same way that most people could. Furthermore, she struggled to keep up with most people in conversation, often leading me to cover for her silences when with friends.

Talking with Vai most days wasn’t too troublesome. We’d talk about music, television shows, and sex regularly. The problem was, that’s really all we could talk about. Over and over. I know it wasn’t her fault, I really do. But it was frustrating to have the same conversation over and over again.

After Vai and I had been together just over a year, a friend of mine from high school in touch with me via Twitter. Cate and I had flirted a bit off and on throughout high school, but nothing ever came of it. One weekend, Cate sent me a text asking if I wanted to meet up for drinks. Vai was out of town visiting her parents for the weekend, so I met up with Cate at the bar. It was nice to get to reminisce with an old friend.

Cate was three courses away from getting her MBA from Vanderbilt and was already getting internships offers from some of the top companies in the Nashville area. Hearing about Cate’s life states away was a welcome break from the monotony of life with Vai. It felt like I was single again, getting the chance to chat up a brilliant, beautiful girl at the bar.

Cate and I went out separate ways at the end of the night. She flew back to Nashville two days later to start-up her next semester of grad work. I went back to work running background checks for my employers. Vai returned home from her family trip and went back to work as a clerk for the superstore near her apartment. Nothing changed in terms of how we lived our day-to-day lives. Well, almost nothing.

It was at that point that I began wondering if I would be happier with Cate than with Vai. Part of me instinctively knew I wouldn’t. Vai was compassionate, altruistic, loving, and affectionate. If Cate was any of those things, she never showed it at any point during the time we had known each other in any capacity. Vai was significantly more attractive than Cate, she adored me, and my family loved her.

I couldn’t help my thoughts to the contrary though. Being with Cate would be exciting. Cate had a bit of an edge to her. Not the kind of edge that leads you to wonder if someone is dangerous to be around. It was more of the kind of edge that led you to constantly wonder if you were going to get your head bitten off if you said one wrong word. Cate was witty, eloquent, snarky, and daring. Her tongue was as sharp as her mind and she wasn’t afraid to let you know it. Cate was everything Vai wasn’t; for better and for worse.

Across the next three months, I found myself more drawn to Cate through our digital communication. We occasionally flirted with each other, though more of our interactions resulted in repartee befitting of a sitcom.The more we spoke, the more I was caught in Cate’s spell. All the while, I became less and less attracted to Vai.

In early 2015, I broke things off with Vai. I told her that I was leaving her because I couldn’t imagine raising a family with her. I told her that it was important to me to be with someone who would keep me interested for the rest of our lives. Vai wasn’t that person for me.

My statements weren’t a lie, per say. I couldn’t see myself with Vai for the rest of our lives. I did want someone who could provide me with greater intellectual and social stimulation than Vai would ever be able to provide me. I told Vai the truth about all of that. What I didn’t tell her about was my growing infatuation for Cate. I was convinced that’s what would have broken Vai’s heart.

Later that spring, Cate and I went out on a pair of dates while she was on break from grad school. We had a fine time on both instances, but it was nothing terribly exciting. We kissed goodbye on the second date, but things were awkward from that point forward. We haven’t spoken in nearly eight years.

Vai was heartbroken that I left her. Two days after we split, I woke up to find my car’s windshield shattered and a rather vulgar note telling me how I should have let Vai down easy. The note insisted that I could have told Vai nearly anything as to why we were breaking up. Leaving her for another woman would have been fine. Coming out as a closeted homosexual would have been fine. Losing interest in her sexually would have been fine. But to admit that I had concerns about Vai’s ability to connect with me on an intellectual level broke her heart into a million pieces.

I know her brother wrote the note and smashed my windshield. I hid the note from the cops and never bothered mentioning it to my insurance company when I filed the claim. I didn’t want him to get in trouble. He was protecting his little sister. And he should. I was a shithead.

I wish Vai nothing but the best. If she were here right now, I’d apologize profusely for the way I left her without telling her the truth. A heart as pure as hers deserved the truth, as a half truth only hurt her more.

She emailed me a couple of years after we broke up telling me how she had moved on and realized that she was perfect in spite of the things I said to her. Vai was right. For someone, she was and is perfect. She wasn’t perfect for me. But I shouldn’t have hurt her in the way I did to let her know that.

A lie hurts. A half-truth can hurt as well. But the truth? The truth hurts too. Sometimes it cuts the deepest.

I’ve been single for most of the past eight years. There were a couple of women in and out of my life after I left Vai, but nothing serious ever developed out of it. It took me quite some time, but I was finally okay with being myself and being by myself.

I partially have Sylwia to thank for that. Throughout my life, I’ve had a difficult time making friends. When Lydia and I broke up, I drifted away from most of our mutual friends. We were a tight-knit group, with everyone relying on each other for emotional support. Even after moving away to college, the group of friends came together on a regular basis without fail. It was hard for me to be around Lydia, even harder for me to be around a group of friends who I felt had taken sides in our relationship split. So I slowly faded out of their lives. I haven’t talked to most of them in years.

Sylwia was the closest thing I had to a best friend since high school. She lived in the apartment beneath mine, moving in just a week after I moved in. Sylwia was new to the city and largely to America. She’d attended college on the East Coast on a track and field scholarship, then managed to get a job at a Fortune 500 company as an actuary shortly after graduating.

Sylwia and I hung out frequently her first two years in the apartment building. One of her first nights here, the two of us trudged downtown in the heavy winter snow to a bar. We bet $50 each on who could drink the most that night. The tequila shots cloud my memory as to how exactly we got home, but I do remember Sylwia dancing on my kitchen table to “Promenade” by Street Sweeper Social Club before passing out on my couch.

For as unclear as that night was as a whole, that moment of Sylwia being a drunken fool in my kitchen has never left my mind. She had stolen a large button up shirt from my closet to keep her warm at the bar. With the arms being too long, the sleeves swung around haphazardly, hitting my light more than a few times. Sylwia wore a red and white truckers cap on her head, her short sandy blonde hair peeking out from under the cap as she smiled and sang at the top of her lungs.

The next morning, I woke up to a searing headache and the sounds of my kitchen being turned upside down. I threw on the first clothes I could find and walked out to find Sylwia digging through my cabinets to find a bowl to mix up a batter for waffles. We spent the morning drinking pots — not just cups — of coffee, eating waffles and bacon, and watching shitty television.

Despite the fact that I was able to be outgoing and upbeat around Sylwia, she found out rather quickly that I didn’t have the highest opinion of myself. Most mornings I’d leave to go to work, only to find a folded piece of paper wedged into my door as I went to leave. Sylwia generally used the papers to motivate me, telling me how smart, kind, or generous I was. Occasionally though, they’d be random facts about nothing that she found on the internet. Eventually, she just started texting me a random fact each morning to go along with whatever kindness she wrote on the paper she left in my door.

In 2020, after about a year knowing each other, Sylwia told me she’d found a boyfriend. His name was Chris and he was a salesman she met while they were both working out together at the gym.The three of us would hang out together pretty regularly, usually over a bottle of tequila and some variety of greasy food. Chris was even my carpool ride to work a handful of times.

In the summer of that year, after a night of drinking and video games, the three of us were relaxing in my apartment, waiting for Chris to sober up so he could drive home. Though he regularly stayed with Sylwia, for some trivial reason that escapes me now, Chris had decided it would be easier to get to work the next morning if he went home first. Around two in the morning, Chris and Sylwia departed my apartment. A few minutes later, I heard Chris start his motorcycle. He drove off into the night, the sound of his tailpipes giving way to the tones of crickets and wind as Chris got further and further away.

About twenty minutes later, as I laid in my bed trying to doze off, I heard a loud knock at my door. I wrapped a robe around me and sauntered out, opening my door to find Sylwia laying on my welcome mat in tears. I knelt down in the ground beside her, scooping her up into my arms. I held Sylwia as she sobbed for nearly an hour without saying a word.

Once she finally did start talking, I found out that Sylwia’s grandmother had died early that morning. Her father called from Slovakia to let her know. While Sylwia’s grandmother had been sick for quite some time, it was still devastating to Sylwia to learn that her favorite family member had passed on.

I consoled Sylwia until well after the sun had come up the next morning. Over the course of the weekend, Sylwia gathered her things, then flew back to her hometown of Košice, Slovakia for three weeks. During the time she was gone, I occasionally heard from Sylwia via email and various forms of social media. She loved being able to see her family again, even if it was for a rather sad reason.

When Sylwia got back to the US, something about her changed. It started out subtle. She had a bit more of an edge when she talked. She was more aggressive in conversations and when playing games. I assumed it was a natural stage in the progression of her grief after losing her grandmother. While Sylwia was an outgoing woman, she was also calculated and planned in what she said. She was always the most tactical person in any game we played and took great pride in her ability to use her superior planning skills to act swiftly and decisively, which usually led to Chris and I losing games against her.

One of Sylwia’s first tasks when she got back to the states was to spend the next few months trying her hardest to convince me that I needed a relationship. Not only did I need a relationship, but I needed a relationship with the perfect girl…and Sylwia was just the person to set me up with the perfect girl (at least in her mind). Sylwia spent the better part of a month trying to convince me that her coworker, Kirsten, was the answer to all of my loneliness and troubles.

Truth be told, I didn’t particularly feel lonely at the time. Yes, it was a bit lonely around my apartment when Sylwia was in Slovakia for three weeks, but that was an absence for a relatively known and finite amount of time. I didn’t think that I needed someone to serve as some sort of cure for being single.

Eventually though, Sylwia’s persistence won out and I agreed to go on a double date with her and Chris in order to meet Kirsten. As Sylwia told me about Kirsten on the days leading up to the date, she sounded like a pretty good person. Kirsten was a veterinary technician who worked with Sylwia’s college roommate. Kirsten had just gotten out of a long-term relationship with her college boyfriend and was eager to find someone to help her forget about him. Though I didn’t particularly favor the idea of being someone’s rebound, Sylwia convinced me that Kirsten was more than worth my time to meet.

On the day of our double date, I spent a bit longer than usual getting ready. I was in the process of tying my tie when I heard my phone buzz from across the room. I walked over to it to find a picture from Sylwia that was clearly not intended for me. Sylwia was standing in front of the full body mirror in her bedroom, wearing nothing but a lacy blue pair of underpants and matching high heels. The caption with the picture read “Your choice. Either these…”.

Before she could send another picture to me in error, I texted Sylwia back to get her know what she had done. Her texts went silent from that point on, so I assumed she realized her error and sent that picture, as well as whatever was to follow, to Chris so that he could choose.

The four of us met for dinner at a Japanese steakhouse just down the road from Chris’ apartment. Kirsten, as Sylwia said, was a very charming lady. We chatted the majority of dinner before heading off as a group to see a movie. At the end of the evening, I walked Kirsten back to her car, where she gave me a long, lingering kiss. She then dug into her purse, scrawled her phone number on a business card for a car dealership, then said goodbye to me as we left.

I drove home that night happy with how my date with Kirsten went. She seemed like a pleasant person and under other circumstances, I would have been ecstatic to talk to her again. The problem was the nagging image that had played through my mind countless times over the course of dinner. Sylwia’s picturesque body reflected in her bedroom mirror was seared into my mind much in the same way that hieroglyphics were engraved into the Rosetta Stone. Sylwia, in a word, was breathtaking. I’d always found her to be an attractive woman. But to see her nearly in her most private sense — and the slightly forbidden feeling associated with it — elevated her to another level.

After sitting at home for a few hours, I made my way downstairs to talk to Sylwia about the text. If Chris happened to be there, I’d make up some other reason for coming by. If Sylwia didn’t want to talk about it, or didn’t realize she’d sent me the photo somehow, I’d move on with my life. I knocked on the door and waited patiently for her to answer. As the door opened, I looked up to see Sylwia in a pair of red panties similar to the blue ones I’d seen earlier, as well as the bright red heels she’d worn to dinner.

“Or these?” she said, knowing full well that her beguiling presence would leave me speechless.

Sylwia pulled me into her apartment by the collar of my shirt, kissing me passionately as she did so. She pushed me over the arm of her couch, causing me to collapse on the sofa in the process. As she pulled her high heels off and tossed them haphazardly down her hallway, I stopped her advances. This wasn’t right, I reasoned. While Sylwia was very beautiful, she was dating Chris. I wasn’t about to ruin their relationship.

It was at that point Sylwia revealed the true extent of her changes following her grandmother’s death. In the past few months, Sylwia said she realized that life was too short to not make the most out of it. On her death bed, Sylwia’s grandmother talked with her family about the concept living life to its fullest and doing what makes you happy as often as you can in every — and I do mean every — sense of the word. Shortly after her grandmother’s passing, Sylwia’s mom went on a lengthy rant about how it was inappropriate for an old lady to preach the concepts of a libertine lifestyle, let alone to take her dying breaths to do so.

To Sylwia, however, living a life that gives you exactly what you want while being devoid of life’s sexual and moral restraints, was exactly what she wanted. She had convinced Chris that their relationship should be an open relationship, so long as they told each other about their sexual activities and got regularly tested for STIs. And seeing as I had been there for Sylwia when she needed someone the most, Sylwia wanted to pay me back in a way that made me as happy as I could be.

Sylwia and I slept together regularly for the better part of a year. Though I still regularly saw Sylwia and Chris together, the topic of my escapades with Sylwia didn’t come up unless all three of us were in the bedroom together. I came to learn that threesomes with Chris and I were Sylwia’s favorite kind of sex, so I tried to help make her desires a reality the best I could as often as I could.

Those times where Sylwia and I got to be in bed alone were by far my favorite times that we were together. Part of it was because it allowed Sylwia to put the focus on me rather than me — as well as someone else — putting the focus on her. But it was also for a more selfish reason. I began to realize that Sylwia was right. I did need someone in my life to be the answer to all the loneliness. That person, however, wasn’t Kirsten or any of the other people who Sylwia tried to set me up with. It was Sylwia herself.

I spent the better part of two months mentally grappling with whether or not I should tell Sylwia how I felt about her. On one hand, I felt that it was the right thing to do to tell her, both as her friend and as someone who was romantically involved with her. On the other hand, I held a deep fear that if I were to come clean to Sylwia, it would drive her away. That was the last thing I wanted. I’d finally found someone who I had a connection with. Someone who cared about me and who trusted me enough to let me into the most intimate part of her life. That’s what I wanted most.

The turning point my decision came when I realized I was jealous of Chris still being Sylwia’s boyfriend. From a sexual standpoint, we were both with Sylwia nearly equally. If anything, she was in my bed more than Chris’. But Sylwia never fell asleep in my arms. She never told me she loved me. It was at that point that I realized that I loved Sylwia. I needed to tell her, regardless of what it did to us.

What it did to us was complicated. Sylwia confessed she had started developing some sort of feelings for me too. Whether or not it was love was something she was still unsure on. But considering I fully expected the entire thing to blow up in my face, I was happy with the result. The downside to things was that earlier that same night, Chris had proposed to Sylwia. She didn’t know what to say to Chris at that point in time. My admission of feelings to her only served to further complicate things.

A couple of weeks later, Sylwia finally gave Chris his answer. She told him no. I was overjoyed. I made the assumption this meant she had decided to choose me over him. I couldn’t believe my luck. Yet, I had to be sensitive to the fact that Sylwia had just split with her long-term boyfriend. I offered to make her dinner and drink with her to take her mind off of things. Ever the fan of solving problems with booze, Sylwia graciously accepted.

That night, as Sylwia and I ate dinner, she told me she had taken a job in Slovakia and was moving back there at the end of the month. Sylwia began telling me all about her new job — the opportunities it’d give her, how it’d allow her the chance to reconnect with her family, how it was a great step forward in her career. She also told me, however, that a major reason she took the job was because she couldn’t choose between life with Chris and life with me. She knew our situation as it was couldn’t and wouldn’t last forever. She couldn’t choose which of our hearts should be broken over the other. So she chose to break all three hearts in one fell swoop.

Sylwia and I drank that night as a celebration to her new job. The fact that she was advancing her career doing something she loved truly was exciting for me. I was incredibly happy for her success. At the same time, I was devastated that I was losing her. Sylwia knew it too. As the night wound down, she hurried down to her apartment and changed clothes, coming back upstairs wearing one of my button up shirts and her trucker’s hat, just as she had early on in our time together. She drunkenly danced on my kitchen table again, this time sans pants, and sang at the top of her lungs. The only difference was that this time, as Sylwia was smiling and singing as loud as she could, I sang along, though all I wanted to do was hold her close and never let her go again.

I took Sylwia to the airport on her final day in America. We shared a long embrace before the security line as we both tried to hold back tears. As I turned away to leave, I heard Sylwia start crying. While the sound was only a faint murmur over the noise of the surrounding crowd, it opened the floodgates for me as well.

When I got home, there was a piece of paper wedged into my door, just as Sylwia had done numerous times before. I unfolded it, stared at the note for a few moments, then tore it up as I cried. A piece of paper was not the way I wanted to hear Sylwia tell me she loved me too for the first time.

If, by some miracle, I were to regain my voice and if, by another miracle, Sylwia were to step through those hospital doors, I’d apologize to her too. Not for making up a story about a traumatic life event like I’d need to with my dad. Not for telling a half-truth to get out of a relationship that I’d lost interest in like I’d need to with Vai. My apology to Sylwia would be one where I tell her I’m sorry for not fighting harder to get her to stay.

The chatter outside my room is dying down now. Visiting hours ended a little while ago. Friends and family have gone home. Doctors and nurses have finished up their nightly rounds. This is when the routine begins.

I’ll lay here with my thoughts for a few hours. Some nights, those thoughts are relatively harmless, such as when I try to visualize what’s playing on my television. Some nights, those thoughts are darker, wondering if I’ll ever regain my sight, my speech, or my ability to walk ever again. Still other nights, like tonight, my thoughts are reflective.

I wish I could say these things I think to my dad, Vai, and Sylwia. I have confidence that one of those will happen. My dad will be back here at some point this week, perhaps even tomorrow. As my speech slowly improves, I’ll be able to tell him what I want to say. Vai is long gone. Even if I wanted to talk to her and give her the apology she deserves, it’s probably in my best interest to never, ever speak to her again.

As for Sylwia, there’s a very large part of me that wants to talk to her again. I know she’s a text, an email, a tweet, or a phone call away. Even if she doesn’t answer, I’d know she’d see it and I’d know she’s there. But it’s that same part of me that never wants to talk to her again. I don’t want hurt by her. I don’t want her to be indecisive, to ignore the paper in my door she wrote less than a year ago, or to give up all of the opportunities that she chased in Slovakia.

It’s time for me to sleep, just as it is every night around this time. As I nod off, I silently hope to regain my voice, so that I may seek out the retribution I so desperately desire. The chance to set right a lie that led my family to believe my life was much darker than it actual was. The chance to make amends with a kind soul that never deserved the pain I caused her. The chance to have a choice as to whether or not to chase down the woman I loved — and possibly still do love — and see if she feels the same way about me.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to talk. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to see. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to walk. But until then, I sleep. I’m trapped with these thoughts that haunt me. All I want is to set them free and fix the wrongs I’ve created. I just want another chance at a normal life. I’m sure I can do better this time. Lord knows I’ve had enough time to make a plan for it.