A Stream of consciousness essay from a Florida Escapee
Please note: I refuse to edit this.
Georgia wasn’t our first option. Our original plan, after a few months of research, was to go to Ruidoso. But I’ll circle back to that later.
We knew from the moment we moved into our current apartment it would be temporary. In the beginning, it was just me and my partner, Eury. We originally were leasing a house together with a bunch of our coworkers and a member of our polycule, but they scammed us unsuccessfully (which I will also explain later), and now we were living in a dusty two-bedroom.
Scamming is a part of life in Florida. The price you pay for having a bar within walking distance or a beach within an hour or more of driving is that the very infrastructure of this state is built on the backs of exploited people. Nobody was truly meant to live in Florida. The combination of the horrible climate and lack of any real natural resources outside of tourism meant that the focus of development was on the things tourists or snowbirds would experience. Holding together the infrastructure to support the people who worked to keep that white-glove experience going was secondary.
I’m part of the underclass of the scammed. But I always had one trick.
“I’m friends with Michelle Obama.”
I leaned up against the counter at my retail job. I looked down at my Instagram messages again, as if I had simply misunderstood what I had just read. The midsummer sun was beating down through the display window. I checked, unconsciously as I did whenever I got a message, to see if my bike was still locked out front. The regular rush had stopped for the day. There was still probably one or two more people that should show up today, but they were running late.
$50 for a term paper was reasonable. I had my policies in regards to how I helped students. I wouldn’t help you cheat. If we worked on a paper together, you would have to learn that paper better than I knew it, even if I typed it out for you. Writing a paper with me is a custom-tailored experience in which I gently extract the knowledge from your brain, handle the sensory-processing tasks of organizing your thoughts for you, and the result is a product that forces you to not cheat, even if you wanted to. At least, that’s what I told myself. I had standards. I was worth more than $50.
“I’m friends with Michelle Obama” was probably the most ridiculous reason anyone had ever provided for not paying me. It wasn’t the only thing in the message, but it stuck out the most to me. I tumble-dried that sentence in my brain over and over, in the course of a minute, not even thinking about getting back to the person who wrote it. This was a twenty-three year old twink from a private university. Who does he think he is? Who does he think I am?
“I feel like if you were genuinely friends with Michelle Obama, she would have an issue with you buying term papers.”
He stopped typing.
I called out to my partner at the time, who worked the lounge in the other room. He had a perfectly smooth, level voice for answering the phones. Mine crackled and flailed like a broken whip in the space between our two posts. “Do you remember the kid who came in that one time, and who didn’t seem to have the money on him to pay? He’s bragging about going to Lynn and knowing Michelle Obama, and that’s why he doesn’t think I should be paid for tutoring him.”
“Huh, weird,” replied ████. “Didn’t one of your folks go there? Who would be stupid enough to lie to you about that?”
He walked into the space between our two rooms. The ends of his jeans trailed on the floor and the collar of his shirt hung loosely around his neck. He had lost some weight in the time that I had known him, but we still couldn’t afford to replace his clothes. We were both fortunate in that regard that there was no dress code at our work.
I worked a far more front-facing job. I still woke up early and spent time preening myself. What few clothes I managed to save after I was disowned for being transgender a few years back had been preserved through rigorous handwashing, but nobody had taught my partner.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure.” I was still reeling. $50 was five hours of work at my standard job. It was a 1/6th of the rent I was paying per month to share a twin-sized bed with my partner in our half-garage. I didn’t care who thought badly of me. If Michelle Obama had a problem with me collecting what I was due on this kid’s term paper, she could tell me herself.
I had graduated with a degree in English literature less than a year ago. My last semester was spent renting a couch in someone’s apartment living room for $300 a month.
I was worth more than $50.
“You fight in the mud with the pigs.”
My beautiful, insightful wife. Right, as always. We were doing one of our exercises where we talk about something. I circle the drain, processing some event or situation, and they ground me. It was usually after they rolled me a joint, but not always – managing my pain made it easier for me to think in the moment.
This was not a joint day. But I was still very tired. I had been wrangling with a particular social engineering issue for months now. How was I supposed to motivate people who aren’t interested in self-preservation? How do you convince people to invest in their own self-interests? It was the oldest marketing trick in the book, but in the past five years I had watched that pitch fall flat time and time again. I had eventually given up and decided that I would focus on the interests of myself and my wife. Now, with a pandemic fully raging, I was faced with the realization that there was still a vacuum in leadership in our community. But there was nothing I could do about that.
When I feel like I’m up against the wall, I have one strategy. I find an introvert I respect, and they become my rubber duck.
My wife is one of my favorite introverts. They can’t talk very much, but they’ve experienced so many different things. They are one of the most observant people I know. When I point things out to them, they know to start paying attention — and a lot of times they’re paying attention to things that I happen to overlook, due to our difference in experiences.
“That’s what happened with our old roommates. They weren’t expecting you to know what an HOA fee was or why their lie didn’t make sense.”
Our old roommates consisted of a couple I knew from working in the school system (one of whom helped me get my job as a substitute teacher), my now-wife (who I was dating at the time), our former partner (who was more my boyfriend, but who adored my wife) and a single guy I knew from my old job.
Through navigating the tangled, expansive web of our collective social and business connections, I had managed to get us a four bedroom McMansion in the nicer side of Boca. Each of us would be responsible for $500 worth of rent a month — an amount that I assumed someone at all of our income levels could reasonably meet. It was nicer than anywhere any of us had ever lived, and I ensured that it lived up to the standards of everyone in the house. We were able to adopt dogs.
Living with these people was grating simply because it was impossible to convince them to do any of the things that needed to be done. They refused to pick up after themselves, so I would have to clean the downstairs every morning in addition to my other work. My now-wife and I were the only ones who worked on any of the projects in the house, which included basics like “setting up the Wi-Fi” in a house with six millennials living in it. I had to set up the entertainment system for everyone else. When my now-wife cooked, our roommates expected them to clean up the dishes, too.
I pushed myself to a breaking point. Unknown to me, I had an autoimmune disorder that was slowly damaging my mind and body. I was able to push past how it made me feel, but the damage it took on my body eventually overwhelmed me. Within two months of living there, I collapsed in the shower and had to be brought to the hospital. After my now-wife and I insisted on a series of tests, it was discovered that I had celiac.
Outside of my now-wife, nobody came to visit me. My now-wife bought me a cane so that we could go out on a date together, and one of my roommates threw it, angrily suggesting I don’t need it. I existed in a fugue, where the only validation that I received was through my work.
Within a month, the couple who helped me get a job in the school system called us all together. The wife told us that the HOA of our neighborhood had given her a call. I had given her responsibility of managing the lease and making sure rent was paid, genuinely believing that she would act in her own self-interest. The HOA was fining us for things like dishes in the sink, some sunflowers I had planted out back, and the water bottles that my partner had left in our bedroom. The couple claimed that the total fine was $1,000.
I looked over to my now-wife. They had spent all day working in the weapons manufacturing warehouse and had just come home from work when this meeting was called. I could see them tapping their foot against the floor from their chair as they took all of this in.
I refused to take all of it in. All I could think of was one thing.
“Dishes in the sink? That sounds like a college dorm sort of thing, not a thing that an HOA would do. We haven’t even had a flier for our HOA meeting yet! Not that I could go to one in my condition.”
But I didn’t say a word. Part of me felt like I knew better.
If there is one thing that anyone can tell you about me, no matter when they met me or how long ago it was, it’s that I can be relied upon for huge, honest reactions. Even if I don’t want to react. I was confused, and hurt, and furious, and all I could do was stare at my now-wife tapping their feet. I could tell they were pissed, and it grounded me. Eventually the meeting dissolved around us.
I went upstairs and turned on the speaker system in my room before collapsing into my bed. I was very lucky. My roommates didn’t realize this – all they saw was a receiver and a speaker system – but the receiver itself was way older than it looked. It had been a gift from the head of the HOA of my neighborhood, and he had been one of the last people in my old life that I called before I decided to leave my old life behind me forever.
I thought about what he might say.
Her husband took out his anger at the concept of paying the fine by destroying every single one of my dishes. The one thing my former coworker had done right was not involved anyone else in on the truth behind her lie. Her mistake was the same – by not collaborating withe her partner beforehand, she didn’t give him time to save up to make up the difference of over a grand each month with two roommates gone.
Within 24 hours my now-wife and I would be gone, and we would be sharing a studio apartment with a man that we had never met before. The cops did nothing about the things they stole or the damage they did. They called leaving my wallet behind a “woman move.”
I’m glad the cops didn’t do anything. It gave our roommates time to get comfortable and neglect paying the rent. Again.
Ultimately, we were removed from the lease without an eviction by a very confused and apologetic HOA. We received a letter almost three months later in which we had been named when our roommates had been brought into court. It turned out that rent was outstanding for more than just the month they said – the couple has stopped paying rent the moment that they had been given responsibility. The four of them collectively owed the leasing agency $4,000. The letter was a simpering mess, begging for more time to pay the rent because “they really enjoyed living there,” and that the reason they kicked us out was for smoking pot out of a Pepsi bottle. But because they kicked us out, they couldn’t afford the rent. So it goes.
It took me years to understand the motivations behind that lie. Even if I wasn’t a card-carrying medical marijuana patient, at the time working for a medical marijuana company, the HOA doesn’t care about people smoking pot in the privacy of their own homes. The leasing agency cares about people paying their rent, and people who can buy pot and write nice emails asking about fines generally can pay rent. The responsibility of an HOA is to make sure that the properly values stay on the rise by enforcing things like the outside appearance of the property. They don’t care if you leave dishes in the sink as long as they aren’t visible from the outside or damaging your sink — and even then.
But we did have one issue. My partner ████ didn’t know how to change his coolant, and our driveway needed to be power-washed, which was under ████’s car. I was too disabled to do either of these things, but I knew it was possible to learn them. My now-wife was too busy attending to their own car to help, and the rest of the roommates refused to assist me despite it being in the common interest of us all to get his fucking car out of the driveway before we got fined.
My partner, through neglect and some additional poor choices, refused to change his coolant for so long that it totaled his car. We had to remove it, because it was an eyesore, but our biggest concern was being fined – especially due to the oil that was leaking down the drive.
I suppose if you’ve never lived in a neighborhood with an HOA before, you would see no difference between punishing someone for not maintaining their driveway versus punishing someone for not doing dishes left in the sink. Most people don’t understand why these rules exist in the first place.
We aren’t from Ruidoso. Neither my wife nor I had ever even been to New Mexico. But our friend Lykios is from there.
Lykios is a large, wolf-identifying masculine person. He towers almost a foot and a half over me. He doesn’t quite fit in with the people of man, but I get along with him just fine. He doesn’t care much about what other people think about what he looks or acts like, and I suppose being so large makes it hard for to hide that, anyway. He will absolutely say what he thinks, and even if it doesn’t initially make sense, he’ll do his best to explain it.
Lykios is one of the few people living in Florida who have given me hope, and that’s probably because he’s not originally from there. He’s originally from Texas, but he’s traveled far more than me, despite being younger than me. He has very similar negative opinions of Florida, which crop up naturally from living here. The three of us roughly bonded over a period of a few years. We would exchange mutual aid – Lykios became a frequent guest in our apartment, and eventually took over the spare bedroom.
Right now, he’s the same age as I was when I first came out as transgender. I immediately bonded with him over a mutual shared experience – he had a furry character that he had been working on for ten years. I could draw furries. At the time, Lykios didn’t know how to draw.
There’s nothing that amuses me more than Lykios’ character design. Originally, I thought the issue would be simple. His fursona was a grey werewolf with his exact body type. He loved it when I drew him with jet-black sclera that made his blue eyes pop, but that was the only design element that I could come up with that seemed to make him happy. I kept running into creative roadblocks and setbacks trying to draw him. I became more and more frustrated.
He has a girlfriend he designed for his fursona, based on a combination of all of his favorite character traits that he liked. She was short and stocky, with an obvious pouch on her stomach, and aside from a streak of purple in her hair she looks like any other realistically proportioned wolf furry character. She has a cropped, swooshy haircut like a Midwestern mom. She likes to boss him around and gently tease him. Lykios will often imagine them going on dates together and playing games like Magic: The Gathering. I’m never out of good prompts from him for drawing new pieces, but depicting them properly was a challenge.
Lykios isn’t one of my precious introverts — but he was still very shy then, and getting details about things that might be negative was like pulling teeth. It was worse when I tried to draw him with other characters. He never thought the interactions seemed right. One day we were out running errands. I would always offer to draw him art as a way of thanking him for helping me as my aide. But I was sicker then and art came few and far between. He was gently chiding me for my last piece this time, because he insisted that it wasn’t quite him.
“What if I —” he paused for dramatic effect, “was a wolf?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s just me. It’s just me as a wolf,” he insisted.
“But that’s true for all furries,” I said, mostly to myself. I don’t remember if he heard me.
But it wasn’t, I realized. In an ideal world with endless possibilities, that unassuming grey wolf was what Lykios wanted to be. That meant in an ideal world, his girlfriend was essentially the Platonic image of what he wanted out of a relationship. He didn’t want someone who looked like a flawless ten even in his own fantasy, in a social world where designing flawless tens was the status quo. To him, having someone in his life who cared about his interests enough to play Magic with him was what was important, and it was more important that there was a chance that person could be real.
It was at that point that I began to get an idea of Lykios’ personal character, and I decided that I liked it better than most of the people I had ever met.
He remembers Riudoso fondly. He told me about his family’s cabin in the woods, about the bears and the deer he saw. And even though moving there would be expensive and dangerous, it seemed like our best option. We would be moving from one tourist trap town to another, but it was all that we had ever known, and at least we had someone from there that guaranteed us it was safe. Lykios was our family.
I wanted to take him back to Ruidoso. I wanted him to have the same opportunities I did growing up before transitioning destroyed my social privilege. I wanted to send him to school so that he would have the opportunity to get an education. I wanted him to find his
There’s very few people who can successfully call me out on my shit. I find I can dodge other extroverts pretty easily via an assortment of parlor tricks. As an entertainer, a lot of my skill comes from controlling what I say and do. Most people will take me at face value – much like I first took what my roommates said at face value, despite it conflicting with reality.
When you have a disability that isn’t visible to the outside, hiding it becomes a way of acquiring safety and security. If my roommates never found out I had celiac, perhaps they wouldn’t have been so quick to try to trick me into paying $1,000 of their rent. It’s hard for me to hide it from my partner, but when they’re distracted, I have a habit of going off on my own.
The first half of 2021 had been a particularly disappointing year and an emotional roller coaster for me. The majority of the folks I had worked with decided that it wasn’t worth the time and energy it took to wear a mask around me, even if I was the one providing the masks for free. They would be fine supporting the concept of me handing out masks and mask accessories to help curb the spread, but they saw no point in doing anything to curb the spread themselves. I had to constantly fight to convince people to take basic steps for my own safety.
I’m a self-described extreme extrovert. I thrive off the collective energy and experiences of a crowd. Nothing makes me feel happier or more relaxed to be in a bustling group of people, especially if I was the one who brought them together. When I was recovering in bed and working on my first non-existent novel, I went by name that was a pun of the “Great Gatsby” – in itself a sarcastic reference to where I came from. To me, being in a crowd means being safe. It’s really my proudest skill, and what had happened with the house was heartbreaking to me.
COVID made being in a crowd the exact opposite in the most hurtful way possible. Visiting people was dangerous now. It was very clear who cared if you lived or died. I now had undeniable proof that people only cared about what I could produce.
I retreated into Twitch, quickly scoring Affiliate status long before the average at the time, and started indexing other transgender streamers to also help them get to Affiliate. That spreadsheet became the only meaningful work to me. I wanted to make sure that other people could have a job where they could work independently and sever their attachments to other people in their lives. I became more and more annoyed as I noticed other prominent influencers refuse to engage with me. Once again, the very people I was trying to help didn’t care.
On approximately the year anniversary of the announcement of COVID, one of my college friends who now lives in Georgia reached out to me — to find me indexing over 250 people I had personally harvested from Tweetdeck into an Excel sheet, weighing two pounds lighter than I was the last time I was admitted to the hospital. My wife had been working overtime for the past month to help save up for the move, and I didn’t ask for help from neither them nor Lykios – I simply latched myself to the plow and worked every day.
If I ended up in the hospital, at the time, I was unvaccinated. My immune system was compromised. I would be dead. I keep reminding myself of this because I made a horrible mistake, and if it wasn’t for someone checking on me, I didn’t think of that at the time, or what it would do to my partner to watch me die across a broken iPad screen. I didn’t think about what Lykios would do if I was sick and wasn’t there to help him go to college. I was firmly marching myself straight towards potential death without a thought for the consequences.
Being a good rubber duck (for the purposes of my social engineering, other engineers may vary) isn’t a matter of being especially capable or wise. Lykios and my wife have both been wonderful ducks to me about things they don’t have any experience dealing with before. The strength of a rubber duck comes from their ability to see through the overlying layer of conversation to the actual problem at hand. An extrovert like myself learns how to take control of a conversation and direct it to where they want it to go. In real life, a rubber duck will not dance along with every clever or witty thing you say. It doesn’t help solve your problems the easy way. It simply stares at you until you fix it.
All I wanted to do was complain. I felt overwhelmed by everything. I desperately wanted someone to tell me that the people I worked with were unprofessional and incompetent. The key was just to work a little harder.
That college friend is one of my favorite rubber ducks.
“You know, you sound a little cynical,” he said, in a very particular sort of tone.
I hadn’t really cared about that before.
Well, yeah. Maybe a little. I have a reason to be.
In that moment, I wondered what it felt like for Arthur to be lead away from the bulldozers preparing to destroy his home to the pub by Ford Prefect.
Ultimately nothing Arthur could do would stop the bulldozers, but it didn’t matter. The things that Arthur was willing to give up his life to protect would have been inevitably destroyed along with Earth. It was Arthur’s ability to know when to step away and take an opportunity that was in front of him that allowed him to survive. Ford Prefect presented an opportunity to relax and have a drink, and he took it.
As I was working on indexing those trans streamers, within a few months, Twitch would release a tag that allowed any streamer to self-identify. My index was ultimately meaningless — in hindsight, it was certainly not worth risking my life and my future with my partner to maintain it. But I had absolutely no way of knowing that.
I dropped the project without the reassurance that the problem would eventually be solved by someone other than me, and metaphorically took my five drinks.
In a way, the metaphor was a little too accurate.
“Did I do anything wrong today,” [Arthur] said, “or has the world always been like this and I’ve been too
wrapped up in myself to notice?”
“Alright,” said Ford, “I’ll try to explain. How long have we known each other?”
“How long?” Arthur thought. “er, about five years, maybe six. “most of it seemed to make some sense at the time.”
Unbeknownst to most everyone, I had been hiding how much I really needed my cane. I could easily get away with indexing streamers by working on my phone and lying on my back. Working on my back allowed me to work through the burnout, until I eventually collapsed from exhaustion. When I reached 103 pounds, even my muscles had started to waste away, so sitting up was even harder.
My college friend was learning to paint on a tablet. I had always enjoyed his sketches and covers. Now, I could not only see him make more art but compete with him. In order to do that, I had to be strong enough to sit up for multiple hours at a time like I used to do. Which meant taking care of myself, and remembering to eat. It meant using my cane when I went out so that I wasn’t exhausted when I came home. It meant publicly showing my weakness.
I was forced to choose between two worlds in which I wanted to build my future. There was one world in which my social value was measured expressly by my secretarial work in ways that could be independently quantified, measured, and compared. No one would have to tell me I was doing my best – not even me – because the numbers wouldn’t lie. The numbers were always a safe measure of my worth. My home was already there.
There was another that wasn’t a world at all, but more of an existential concept. If the first world was the pre-destruction Earth, the second one amounted to a self-published guide and a towel. There would be no safety in numbers. It was a world in which I focused on my art. I would be forced to rely on the writing that I produced and the things that I found important, even if they seemed nonsensical to an outsider. Especially if those outsiders included my family and friends. It was the mentality I had when I didn’t have a fixed address, where home would always have to be a place I made myself without help.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my problem didn’t come from hiding my weakness. My problem was entirely derived from hiding my weakness from everyone I loved because I didn’t have faith in my own self-published guide and towel. I refused to go to my wife and Lykios for validation because I felt like I didn’t deserve it. But I wouldn’t have bothered writing the guide if it wasn’t important to me, and it’s unfair for me to ignore the fact that people are metaphorically reading it.
Besides, some people like reading it.
That poor bastard also had to hear me describe the Little Red Hen story to him, and now so do you.
“The Little Red Hen” is an elementary-level children’s fable about a chicken who lives in a village. She has a farm all to herself, and one day in the spring she realizes it’s time to prepare for winter. She knows that she has to start growing the food in the spring, so she goes around to all of her smaller and more vulnerable friends and ask for help. Her friends don’t see any point.
The Hen herself is powerful enough that she doesn’t need her friend’s help to survive on her own, but she desperately wants to make sure that they’re at least comfortable and safe, so she goes and prepares the fields by herself anyway. Nobody else is going to do it if she doesn’t do it. So she plows the fields by herself, and sows the corn. All the while, her friends tell her that there’s no reason to be concerned. Winter will come, as it always does, and they will survive.
But the winter is especially harsh that year.
The story ends in two ways. The common fable, the one that you’ll often find if you pick the story off a shelf at a children’s library. Her friends smell her baking bread through the window, and they stumble into her cottage, shivering in cold. They ask her for her bread, and she breaks some off for them, chiding them all the while about how they weren’t prepared and how worried she was about them. She finally gets validated for all of the hard work she did in the way she really wanted, through the respect of her friends.
But like most fables, there’s a darker ending, and in that one, her friends refuse to ask for help. All of her friends freeze to death.
One of the things that stuck to me in the back of my mind is that the story has the same ending if, by some chance, the harvest didn’t pull through. The Red Hen would starve along with her friends. There was always reason to spend the time to prepare even if other people didn’t respect you for it.
I had allowed my own trauma to affect my interpretation of that fable.
“So what you’re telling me is that there are also deer here.” I gestured, generally, at the map of Georgia.
“Yes.” Lykios was incredibly amused by this. Deer were a novelty to me, but in the places he lived, as common as our mockingbirds to him.
Most of my childhood had been spent living like a dumped animal outside of my home, dodging attention through the more feral areas of the surburbs. As construction advanced on our community I would find myself wandering farther and farther. I never wanted to be inside. I would climb deep into the crown of our family’s mango tree with a book and stay there for hours. I would allow the gusts of wind to rock me, gently. My brother would later try the same trick on a lower branch when I wasn’t around. It snapped in half, almost piercing his spine.
My college friend had sent me plenty of pictures of the woods in Georgia. In comparison to Florida, it looked like you were walking through a campground at all times. The Florida that I knew was a wet-rimmed dustbowl, a theme park of inadequately tamed terrain sealed under pavement. The most natural resource in my community, the Everglades, was a landsea of reeds and dangerous reptiles. You needed a special boat just to explore it.
After I was disowned, and I was forced to live on a couch while completing my education, I also hated being inside. The woods then weren’t the canal-lined suburbs but the thick patches of natural wilderness preserved by my university. I would bring new friends back there, because it wasn’t safe for me to exist in the place I was renting. The place itself had its own particular history with its own local cryptids, including a naked guitarist that I fortunately can say I never encountered.
I rarely talked about my childhood with him when I was in college. I was as focused on my work back then as I was years later. But I had always loved the woods. The state was a shorter distance away than New Mexico, which meant that our car had less of a chance of breaking down. My wife’s family was from that town. The environment would make it easier for me to exercise, which would help control my medical symptoms. Weed is legal there, to an extent, and the cards are reciprocal with the medical marijuana cards in Florida. The school system is better than Florida, if I decided to teach again.
Did it necessarily make sense to anyone else? No. I remember arguing with my father about it. He insisted that my college friend was lying to me about how much money he was making. He insisted that the school system in Florida provided better pay and benefits for teachers, both of which turned out to be horrifically inaccurate. He insisted that I was better off working in the school system down here. My wife refused to let me go back – they had watched their mother barely scrape by as a public school teacher and they insisted that they would rather work overtime than risk losing me.
When the school districts opened back up for the fall, within a week, three elementary school teachers and one aide in my district were dead of COVID. I specifically substituted at an elementary school level, working with kids in the ESE program.
This time, I made the right choice without needing to be lead by the ear by someone else, and it probably saved my life.
There’s a comfort in numbers. You can’t argue with them.
Lykios and I decided to go up to Georgia to look for houses.
We rented a hotel room at the University of Georgia out of season, scoring an absolutely incredible deal. I rightly assumed that renting a room at the university in the middle of the summer would mean we would be left pretty much alone, no matter what we encountered. Most people were kind enough to wear a mask.
I was very disappointed that the first deer I saw on our trip up was dead. Lykios assured me we would see more.
Due to COVID, we had no luck actually finding houses. Despite being reassured there were many openings, there were no showings available. We realized early that we were fighting a losing battle and instead focused on a different goal. We would get to know the community in Athens, Georgia.
I was pleasantly surprised. Everyone was nice to us there. The card shop was better than anything I or Lykios had ever seen. We met a variety of people our age. We even got to drive a young man home who had walked there, and he gave us advice as to what parts of town we should avoid and which places we should look.
On paper, everything was perfect. I found myself staring deep into the woods as we rushed around town. I desperately wanted to walk straight into them, and never return.
On our final day, I had given up on seeing deer. We were doing our last joyride around town. I had a fear of cars, but I was working on getting over it. Lykios had sat me down before the trip and insisted that he genuinely enjoyed driving me around. I really, really wanted to see a deer.
As we were headed back to the college in the late afternoon, we got lost. I stared out the window into the woods as Lykios focused on getting us home. I saw a patch of brown out of the corner of my eye and slammed the side of my face into the window, almost knocking my glasses off my face. Tucked in the path behind a transformer was a full grown female deer. Half of her was hidden by the shadows of the leaves she was eating, but her ass jutted out from under the shade and stuck out towards the street.
It was absolutely worth it.
The first time I saw a deer was when I was up visiting my cousin in Connecticut. I was very young, and didn’t even know that I was sick, never mind how I was sick. I simply existed for participation credit and nothing else.
Their house was ringed a huge forest. I was less impressed by the house than the woods. There are no woods like the woods up north. I had snuck away with my copy of Redwall. I heard Redwall was a very interesting book with a lot of North American wildlife unlike the ones I had grown up with in Florida. I was very young, and didn’t have control over much in my life. But I knew that when I wanted to feel better, I left the house and went outside.
There are many that compare a covered forest to an endless sea. My family has a deep love for the sea that I never inherited. For me, it felt different. The ocean in Florida is barren along most of the public beaches – you might occasionally see some fish or a shark but seeing most of the real wildlife involves going deep away from shore. The water becomes crushing. You are entombed by certain death, and your time in this space is always spent in part constantly combating its desire to kill you.
The forest, in a way, felt like the very opposite of that. The fresh air made me feel stronger than I had ever felt before, even with my sad asthmatic lungs. It felt clean in comparison to the Florida humidity. I would occasionally stumble over something interesting, like a patch of moss or fresh white bones. I wondered if there were wolves in the woods, in the way that a child does.
The space between the trees was filled with light. I forgot that I even brought a book with me. I remember seeing her go by in a flash – white tail up. In comparison to how small I was, it was huge, and it moved through the treeline with stunning accuracy. I stumbled over my own feet in a pathetic attempt to keep up but she was gone almost as quickly.
I think that was when I lost my copy of Redwall.
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