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Just like Alexander

Today was a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day. I swear work is making me ill. I can’t stand it. I’m so done. And plus, it was a Monday.

Let’s try and focus on the good that happened. I finished a book, my first one in forever, that was an accomplishment. I discovered I actually could sit still and use my brain to retain information.

I started writing a little but without real focus. I have been working on my resume and looking at jobs. I just need a break.

My dad wants me to find a roommate and I sorta agree, though I have gotten used to living by myself. One girl is looking for someone to live with but I’m not sure I could stand her. That is something to think about.

I have to start saving for when I’m home in December, and when Katie’s wedding happens.

I don’t know. I feel very up in the air. I thought getting a therapist would help and miraculously solve all my problems. I realize that is not how it works but geez, can something go right?



Karaoke to No One

I’m feeling down tonight. I don’t know why, exactly. But silly things are getting to me, like why haven’t I been nominated for the ice bucket challenge? It just seems like a popularity contest at this point. And then I love all the LA people (friends included) try to be above it all and are like “we’re in a drought so I won’t be dumping water on my head…” Bitch, then don’t make a video. Am I supposed to bow down to you for your Eco-friendliness? I bet you didn’t turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth.

Tonight I feel all alone in the world. My friends out here, are they really my friends? I can’t tell anymore. I’m so down on everything that it’s hard to think positive. I hate my job. It’s painful to go to work every day. I feel trapped, with no way out. I’ve started to do a little more writing but I am so out of practice. I just don’t know how to change things around.

I worked on my resume, and instead of feeling accomplished I felt depressed and anxious. I looked up job opportunities and felt sick to my stomach. Part of me truly believes this is it: I’m doomed to lead a life of unfulfilled monotony.

There are good things. I’ve worked for two major movie studios, more or less. I get to go to Disneyland for free. I get to see movies first, etc.

Why aren’t I happy? Why do I always feel like I am not good enough, and that I never will be? No amount of medication or therapy in the world seems to do the trick.

I’ve been here three years, and something needs to change. I’m tired of meaningless jobs. I’m tired of feeling fat, unattractive, worthless and undervalued.

The next few months are gonna be crucial to my life path. I don’t see it getting any easier.

I sang karaoke to myself tonight, frustrated that my allergies and post nasal drip and California dryness has messed with my vocal chords. Also, my confidence is shot. I feel like a timid blob of flesh.

I guess I’ll try to sleep now. Can’t wait to wake up and go to work. Ughhhhhh…..



The Cat, the Coach, and the Creature of Habit

I accomplished a lot of things that are out of my comfort zone today. I am continuing my quest to commit to things I don’t prefer or that make me uncomfortable. Today, I mowed the lawn and completed overdue paperwork. Of course, nothing is ever good enough for my mother so the lawn went unnoticed and either criticized or minimized due to my many other failings.

After my long day of completing non-preferred tasks I prepared to go meet Katie for coaching. Before leaving the house, though, I couldn’t find Luna. I spent 15 minutes if which I could have been driving to meet Katie searching for my lost kitten. I panicked. My eyes welled up and my heart became heavy and filled with hopelessness. I finally found her locked in a room in the basement; I am assuming my mom wasn’t paying attention and shut her inside. For a moment, though, I had to imagine my life without her. I wouldn’t want to live to see that day. Luna is my best friend. Without her there is no joy and nothing to look forward to at the end of my day.

Needless to say, I was late for Katie. Parts of me is pleased to utilize her devices but other parts of me feel very uncomfortable talking to her. The most troublesome part is that she gets at things that are very raw—things that I do not like to think about nor work through. Things that Seth doesn’t really touch on. Ultimately, I acknowledged today that I don’t trust my body and I lack self-with. I also acknowledged I don’t want to connect to my body and this I don’t care to treat it well.

Katie suggests I eliminate sugar altogether for an extended period of time. The panic I felt when she suggested it is possibly irrational, but I became so anxious that I got shaky and had to use my stress ball from Seth at te end of my session. Sugar is my safety blanket. It’s what I eat when I need comfort. It’s bad for me and I could shed the weight easily if I never ate it. Katie thinks it’s good that I am making commitments to do things for myself so I can show my body that I keep my promises to it. I wish I was innately different than I am.

I am sleepy. I will write more about my social and body issues tomorrow.

Challenges of Being an Introvert

I’m glad you made an effort to go out of your comfort zone and make a small commitment to yourself — even if you earned some insomnia and gassiness along the way. Nothing majorly negative happened, you can look at it that way.

I have been trying to do more, to get out, and socialize. I failed at it today — though I am not completely torn up about it. Last night I went to the movies to see “Love is Strange,” about an older gay couple who decide to get married, only to have one of the men, a music teacher at a Catholic school, lose his job over it. They spend much of the film having to live apart as they search for affordable housing in NYC, which isn’t easy.

The film is quiet, poignant and razor sharp in its portrayal of love and relationships of all kinds. I recommend it if the film comes to your area.

I usually go to movies myself - not because I don’t want company so much as I would rather go on my schedule, and not have to drive anywhere. I’m trying to break out of that rigid schedule. But going out means socializing, and I don’t always like to socialize.

I also am out of shape and don’t feel attractive and don’t really dress in clothes that are fancy. Shorts and t-shirts make up my wardrobe, and I know I am not in fashion with going out and mingling, but I just can’t bring myself to buy a pair of nice jeans or pants, knowing that I am not my ideal weight.

And today I wanted to hang out with a friend, but she was with another friend of ours for most of the day. She asked if I wanted to go see a couple of film noirs with her at a theater this evening. At first I said yes, because it sounded fun, but when I learned I would have to drive there, to a place I’d never been, and later in the evening with traffic, I bailed. My introverted nature got the better of me. I hate driving, and I get anxiety with new places and I didn’t really want to watch two movies back to back — but I should have gone.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a good day — I mostly napped and read a book, and frivolously wrote a little — but I could have done with more human interaction.

I realize how little friends I do have here — and now little I go out of my way to reach out to them, and vice versa. If I didn’t have my writer’s group, I doubt I’d have any friends. That’s a troublesome thought.

So I am going to make more of an effort not to let my nature and anxiety get in the way of social engagements. It’s really a shame.



The Sad Couch

It’s gone.
The couch is gone.
There is an empty space
on the street corner where it used to
loiter like a prostitute on Rodeo Drive.
The couch was a symbol of ageism
and this society’s drive to throw away
what could be repaired.
But now it is gone.
I wonder if someone found a way to make use of it.
Or, perhaps it was thrown away
like dreams, money and freedom on Rodeo Drive.
The couch,
not fancy,
blue, wrinkled, and stained by
grape juice and sunlight
is a keeper of secrets.
The couch,
previously a young and beautiful
resting place and source of comfort,
holds memories
of children’s laughter,
the love of a dog and a cat,
the support of family,
sweat and tears.
We shall no longer see it on the old dirt road where it lingered listlessly briefly.
It is no longer a vehicle
of worldly exploration
Through mediums such as the television and the internet.
It’s gone.
It’s somewhere.
It has gone somewhere.
Perhaps it got tired of feeling used,
or maybe the pain of being left behind
was enough to make it lose hope while
standing slumped on the street corner,
undervalued and forgotten.
It’s gone.
The couch is gone,
but is it still sad?

Taking Healthy Risks?

I am sitting upright at 4 AM with little hope for sleep. My nose is running, which only feels worse when i lie down, I am gassy, and I have acid in my stomach that is creeping up to my esophagus from having eaten too many feelings in the form of chocolate, ice cream, chips, and roughly 11 ounces of Peach beer. I am at a friend’s house—a former coworker that recently left the agency due to job related stress.

Still wearing my gray hoodie and my socks for comfort and slumped over on an air mattress that is only slightly more supportive than my mother, I am hovering over my phone, seeking comfort in cyberspace—the only place other than home where I have been able to commit to going consistently for the last several years.

I decided over the phone with you on Thursday night to make at least one commitment to myself every day to show myself that commitments are not so scary or uncomfortable as I imagine. Yesterday, I committed to having dinner with and sleeping over my friend’s house. That is how I got into this mess.

She said we could have a movie night and I could stay over. She is a new friend seeing as we only knew each other through work and we have only hung out twice since she left the agency.

My friend lives in Buxton, ME; it’s a small, rural town with one grocery store, many fields, and beautiful colonial homes filled with families who have been around for years. Only one hour away from where I live, but Buxton feels like a different world. My friend lives in the same house where she grew up. Her mother still owns it and my friend pays nothing to live in it. Her mother lives in her second home nearby.

The house and my friend are warm. The house is filled with antiques, Longerbergewr baskets, plants, and dog hair, which I think accounts for my allergies. The dog is excited to accept love from any and all humans and even does party tricks for guests, but he unwittingly leaves dander in his wake.

The evening was relaxed. I don’t relax often. It’s nice to eat in with friends and spend the rest of the evening watching movies about dancing and singing. Many of my friends at home are not satisfied unless they are out. I was happy to stay in and that I actually made a choice, for once, to sleep over.

After a long evening of overeating, probably triggered by the discomfort of the unknown, I fell asleep on the couch. I awoke when my friend got up to go to bed, and I followed her upstairs to my air mattress. I crashed immediately but awoke only three hours later triggered by tummy issues and allergies.

As I sit here thinking about whether I took a healthy risk after all I have to say that I am not sure. To an extent, yes. It was good to be with my friend and expose myself to a new environment. On the other hand, my restlessness from not being home on top of my poor life decision to ingest my emotions has now caused some insomnia that is sure to throw me off later today.

I guess the next step in making commitments is learning to manage my anxiety when I am uncomfortable with my choice. Like, next time I won’t buy the beer or the chips. I brought my allergy medicine, of course, but it is too early to take it since it is supposed to last 24 hours. Clearly it is a totally ineffective pill.

Since I can’t change what already happened I can only assume it may be a long night. For now, I will continue to sit here, slumped over technology, sneezing, blowing my nose, and farting in a percussive symphony of bodily functions as a reminder of how uncomfortable it is to try new things and how important it is to choose healthy coping skills rather than giving in to food cravings.



Dreams and Pancakes

Sleep isn’t coming easy
It’s hard to close my eyes
And think of nothing

I feel wide awake
But exhausted
Two things that should
Not coexist
But do,
And on a regular basis

I want to relax
And give in
And see what the dream world
Has in store
If I could only get a moment
To gain control of my thoughts
My body, my breath

Then I would dream the most
Wonderful dreams
About love and friends
Falling leaves and picking apples
Standing feet-deep in the Atlantic
Warmed by the rays of August

I would dream of castles
And Australia
And pancakes
With maple syrup and butter

Maybe if I close one eye
The other will follow

Now I’m hungry for pancakes



The Parking Space

Trying to stay positive and curb the negative thoughts is a tough ask. I’ve never been good at it, but lately the negative voice has been loud and clear, while my positive voice is hoarse and out of practice.

I waited over an hour for a parking space. I could have parked on another street, but I had groceries and I didn’t want to. I waited, and waited. I watched your Cabaret videos, which were great. I wish I could’ve been there.

I waited, and waited, and the sun went down. And still no parking space. I hit the steering wheel of my car in frustration. I ran my hands through my hair and cursed Hollywood, cursed Los Angeles, cursed the too many people on this earth. The parking space became something more - it was my being shut out of my career path personified.

I’ve never been truly happy — I don’t even know what that is. But I have been fulfilled before, even for an instant. And I know what I’m missing.

There’s a quote from “The Alchemist” that goes: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

And I have to think, is this really true, or some gobbledygook cooked up to make the less than fortunate feel better about themselves. The universe isn’t an entity. It doesn’t have feelings. It can’t help me conspire to achieve anything, right? If it did possess those qualities, you’d think that by now, wanting something so hard, it would have happened.

I don’t know about the universe. Right now I feel pretty much alone.

I’m off to try and meditate and go through the motions of leading a positive life. I’ll let you know how it goes.

When Justin Met Katie, and Then Some

Editor’s Note: This was my “assignment” from Katie, and I thought I’d share it here for posterity and hopeful general amusement.


I first crossed paths with Katie while on an outing to the Fox Run mall in Newington, NH. I was with my friend Jacquie at the time (more on her later), and Katie and another friend, Josh, had decided to tag along. Or we ran into them, I don’t remember all the particulars. I do remember the streaks of red in Katie’s hair, her dark clothing, and her ever-present laughter. She and Josh strolled ahead of us as we passed by Macy’s and Hot Topic, dodging other mall-goers, in their own world. I wouldn’t really speak to Katie as more than acquaintances until a couple years later, but she was always around when Jacquie threw board game parties at her parent’s house in Stratham, which ultimately turned into a sing-songs-by-the-piano party. 

Jacquie seems to be Patient X in this friendship scenario, so it’s only fitting to describe how we met. I was good friends with her ex-boyfriend, Phil, who, at the time, was never truly over her. Phil and I were hanging out in his apartment, a small domicile on Main Street in Durham, past Breaking New Grounds and Young’s Restaurant and Libby’s Bar and Grill. Anyway, I scrolled around on Phil’s computer, listening to music, as he trimmed his beard and got ready for the night. A knock at the door revealed Jacquie, wearing a forest green pea coat which complimented her red hair. Jacquie sat on Phil’s futon, which doubled as a bed, as I surreptitiously clicked on the “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack. I had recently become a convert of the film, and obsessed with the soundtrack, and played it any chance I got. Tonight was no different, until I started to sing quietly along with Ewan as he began “Your Song,” and Jacquie looked up from the futon and said:

"You have a great voice!" She said it matter-of-factly, not surprised in any way. I retreated, however, because I realized that no one had ever complimented me on my voice before. It wasn’t that I sought accolades out, but my singing ability had never really been appreciated by my peers or my parents. 

"I’m okay."

"No, you’re really good." She got up from the futon and leaned over me as "Your Song" finished, and Phil’s Napster player shuffled to "Come What May." I sang Ewan’s part, Jacquie sang Nicole’s, and we came together in perfect harmony. Phil wandered out of his bathroom, rubbing his newly-trimmed beard, not knowing what he had just set in motion.

"You guys ready to go bowling?" he asked. Jacquie clasped my hand and a new friendship was born.

After that night, she and I were inseparable. We drove around Portsmouth late into the evening, hung out at Rye Beach, listening to the waves crash upon the shore. We walked through old cemeteries, played imaginary baseball on a moonlit field. I think I understood at that time that she may have had romantic feelings towards me, and I brushed them off with the excuse that I was Phil’s friend first, and couldn’t date his ex. But there was another reason I ignored any attempts from her on that level. And that reason was a lifelong struggle with having an attraction to men. 

But Jacquie invited me into her inner circle, and it’s where I found some lifelong friendships, and some short-lived romances. It’s how I also met Carly, when Jacquie brought me to her friend Skyler’s house, and we walked the beach and stood on driftwood and sang Broadway songs at the top of our lungs. 

Jacquie held an annual Halloween party at her house, and I attended with my friends Hayley, Rachel, Kelsey and Caitlin, who called themselves “The Quad” as they lived together in the Hubbard dorm on the UNH Campus. Hayley was as gregarious and outgoing as her unruly red hair; Rachel was quiet, a scientist who loved nothing more than to do her homework while watching “Daria” episodes off of Limewire. Kelsey was the delicate balance of the group, and observer with a great taste in music, and over the years she gave me some A-plus mix Cds. Caitlin was bright-eyed and shy, still unsure of who she was, and wanted to be. But on this night, she was dressed up as Boy George. Rachel was a vampire, Kelsey a witch, Hayley was a dead tap dancer, and I was dressed up as Indiana Jones. 

Katie was there, once again, and we didn’t speak much at this get-together. Josh was there, and Carly, and a few others sprinkled through. And then there was Ryan Cahill. I don’t remember what he was dressed as, just that he wore these tight leather pants (David Bowie, maybe?), and when he laughed I just wanted to be near him, at all times. 

I still hadn’t figured out my sexuality, or what I really wanted. I had dated a guy, Tom, for a few months before it got too serious and I retreated. Tom was my first foray into any real relationship — and I had felt with him what I now had felt around Ryan — a raw, magnetic and almost animalistic want and desire. The air crackled with electricity. I was in their respective paths, and they were in mine. 

Jacquie declared it was time to play a game. I made sure to sit next to Ryan. I got a little shock every time my knee touched his leather-clad one. We were both feeling the energy now, I knew it. When everyone had left for the night, I asked Jacquie to find out if Ryan were interested in me. She cautioned me. She knew that I had retreated with Tom, and most likely she was also hurt that I wasn’t romantically interested in her. 

"Make sure this is really what you want," she said, as we hugged goodbye. I promised her it was.

Ryan and i chatted and flirted through AIM, and eventually we hung out again. Jacquie and I visited him at his dorm in Boston, his artwork displayed around the room. I think he wanted to further the relationship, but he was perceptive enough to pick up on my hesitance, and the fact that I wasn’t out, or had even really explored what that would mean. 

Also, to make things more complicated, I knew Caitlin was interested in me romantically, and I kept putting off having a conversation with her. I was so afraid of the reality of being out, and dating a boy, that I would have rather stayed completely still. That’s what my brain wanted. My heart pursued Ryan, but there’s the rub. We could have been totally right for each other, but met at exactly the wrong time. 

Hayley and the other girls loved Ryan. When I picked him up from the train station in Revere and drove him up to New Hampshire, we stayed at the Quad’s dorm. I slept apart from him, knowing Caitlin was in the other room. He wanted to move closer, I moved further apart. 

I cried to Hayley the next morning, sitting outside the dorm. “Why can’t I just be normal?” 

"Honey, you are normal." She rubbed my shoulder. "But you’re torturing yourself. And Caitlin. If you want to be with Ryan, then be with him."

"I don’t know how!" I threw the remnant of a tree branch across the lawn. It skidded across the grass, then rolled out of sight.

"Yes, you do," she said. "The only person making this harder on yourself, is you."

I couldn’t argue with that. The trip back to the Revere train station was quiet. We listened to Jump, Little Children and Ryan took my hand, squeezed it. I knew he was saying hello, and goodbye in that one gesture. I wasn’t ready to be with him; and to this day, I consider him the one that got away. The potential that was missed. 

It was these types of relationships that I remember as bittersweet, and used that emotion to pour into my writing. And here we come back to my friendship with Katie. I was looking for an actress to fill a role in a TV show I had created with Phil called “Academic Failures.” The original actress had bailed, and I was trying to put the pieces together so the story would make sense.

Katie and I met at Breaking New Grounds. The red streaks were gone from her hair, and I explained the role to her, and I’m sure she asked questions, and I answered. I will always be grateful to her for taking on the part, as she probably didn’t really know what she was getting into, nor what she really wanted out of life, school, etc. I know she was in the Musical Theater program, but wasn’t enjoying it that much. 

Her role required her to play a stiff, upper East-Side trust-fund girl named Tiffany, who was slowly learning how to rely on herself, and not her parent’s money. She was also falling for a boy named Shawn, who had a blue-collar upbringing and not that much money in his wallet. Shawn was played by a boy named Ellis, who was Hayley’s ex-boyfriend and we won’t get into the logistics of that part of the story. He was big into crew and didn’t wear socks and had massive sideburn game. My first faux-pas with Katie was telling her that she only needed to give Ellis (as Shawn) a peck on the lips, while telling Ellis to just kiss her. That combination erupted in a weird lips-to-tongue ratio that no one was happy with. I learned to be more specific in my direction after that.

"Academic Failures," the show, had become an important part of  my college career. In many ways, it WAS my college career. I enrolled at UNH as an Occupational Therapy major, but commuting to school and other issues made it hard to go to class, and the program wasn’t at all how I imagined it. I wanted to write, and to pursue film, but didn’t have the knowledge or encouragement to do so at the college-level. I found the Student Cable Access Network on campus and made a movie. That’s how I met Phil, in retrospect. We then developed this show about college life that I could devote all my time to (since I wasn’t going to class), and Phil retreated from, having found a new girlfriend named Mandy who engulfed his life and later tried to slit her wrists with his car keys when he attempted to break up with her. 

Anyway, the show was a way for me to explore many themes, and I spent my nights typing away in my parent’s basement. My mother and father didn’t understand this dedication at the time. They had a completely different idea of what they viewed as success, and what they wanted for me out of life. It wasn’t a bad plan, just misguided. The universe had blessed them with a gay son who wanted to enter the Hollywood machine. Nothing could have prepared them for that seemingly foreign concept. Now, living in Los Angeles, I see how common my aspirations are, but it doesn’t make me feel less alone. 

After her stint on the show, Katie and I developed a friendship that surpassed my relationship with Jacquie. Jacquie was fun, but not always truthful. Katie was honest, to a point, and I liked that. We got along that way. We still do. And I think it’s those qualities that keep us friends to this day, while Jacquie has faded into the pantheon of relationships past. In fact, it was Jacquie who descended further into a concocted web of personalities and lies, and outright defiant obstructions of friendship code. It was she who told Katie that I was gay, before I was ready to. I don’t think I ever forgave her for that, and from that day forward we were on rocky ground. We would come together, and break apart. We were like Bonnie and Clyde, Sid and Nancy, Brad and Jennifer. 

My coming out process wasn’t easy, but whose is? I had started seeing a guy named Jon, who was a few years younger than me, but had been out much longer and had slightly more experience in the relationship department. It was a big step for me, and our trajectory was very fast. We had been dating a few months, and I would come up to visit him at his apartment in Concord, and leave late in the evening to head home. I kept not wanting to leave, laying beside him in bed, as he pulled me closer, wrapped his arm around me. “Why don’t you just move in?” he asked, and no sooner had he said that, then it became a reality. 

Katie was studying abroad at this time, but she sent postcards and letters, and I did the same. She was there for me when I struggled with the idea of loving someone, and not trusting them. She was there for me when Jon and I broke up, and her wisdom and guidance to this day is something I value and treasure greatly. 

Katie, to me, has always exemplified taking calculated risks, being authentic, trying things out to see what works, and what doesn’t. In my mind, she could temper her emotional state and separate the pros and cons and make a decision. But who knows what really goes on inside her head — she could be as anxiety-prone and angst-ridden as I am, as most of us are. I’m just telling you how I see her, and admire her. 

I loved visiting her when she moved to New York. We went to the best sushi places and restaurants, and stayed far away from Times Square, except that one time when we had awesome Orchestra seats to “Wicked.” 

She took me to this piano bar in the Village, where the waiters and waitresses all sang beautifully, and it was magical. I remember stepping out of the club at one point, not able to handle all the emotion. I was probably struggling with my unrequited feelings for Eric at the time (another story for another day), and didn’t want to face the truth. Katie never pushed me in situations like these — she always guided, asked the right questions, handled everything with care. 

After Jon, I had semi-dated a few individuals, nothing serious. I don’t know how this one came about, but I had begun to hang out a lot more with Josh, mostly at the Player’s Ring, and the curiosity of him as a romantic interest was intriguing. Josh was not a guy I would normally go for — not that he was undesirable, but personality-wise, not completely a match. I think I was lonely, and he was, too. Josh is probably one of the loneliest people I have ever met. But at Katie and other’s insistence we hung out, which led to us making out in my car in Carly’s driveway for about an hour. This was another relationship I didn’t really understand until I went back with him to his apartment, and after another serious make-out session a wave of emotion and anxiety hit me square across the chest. It was too much. Too much like being in a relationship again, too much of someone needing me, when I didn’t even know I wanted or could be needed again. I felt bad as I put on my shirt, and Josh curled up on the edge of his bed. I just looked around his room and had to get away. Jon had thrust a knife into my heart it was going to take a long time to recover any semblance of intimacy with another. I don’t know if I’ve reached that point yet, almost five years later. Has it really been that long?

So much of my past seems so present, and my present doesn’t always feel as real or tangible. I know I’ve gotten off the beaten path a bit here in Los Angeles, and I’m not really sure how to recover my muse. I know I’m being lazy and upset and depressed and it’s going to take a lot of work and I thought I had done most of the work already. 

I’ve always recognized and realized it, but writing out this whirlwind account of friendships and bygone days has given me a re-lit appreciation for those people in my life, the ones I keep close and have continued to keep a major part of my existence. Writing this has illuminated the potential of stories I can still tell, and the possibility or rediscovering my creative self. I know this was a sly exercise dedicated to this fact, and I for the most part followed the rules.

Although I didn’t include the unicorn, but there’s always next time. 



The Troll Bridge

I came across a bridge
While on a walk through
The woods
The day was calm
It had rained the night before
So the ground beneath was wet
And it smelled like mud and moss

The bridge was made of stone
And poorly put together
It lay across a stream
That was almost overflowing
On the bank
A couple of sparrows
Swooped down to whet their beaks
But a grumbling noise shooed them away

I thought nothing of it
And had one foot on the stone bridge
When I heard the grumble noise speak
“Who goes there?” A voice like gravel and nightfall demanded.

I looked around, confused.

"Yeah, you," the voice intoned. "What gives you the right to cross my bridge?"

"Your bridge?" I asked. "I didn’t think it belonged to anybody."

"Typical," said the voice. "Always assuming, taking for granted."

"I’m sorry, but what have I done to offend you? And who are you?"

I waited. One foot still on the bridge.

Then, a rock I thought was just a rock began to move, and stood up on its gnarled and knobby legs and turned to face me. Its face was lumpy and distorted, one eye open, the other permanently shut. The teeth inside its mouth were green and cracked, and its nose was a bulbous protuberance. Decaying leaves made up its hair.

The thing attempted to smile. “Well,” it said. “First time you’ve seen a troll before?”

"Y-yes, indeed," I found my voice.

"Hopefully it’s the last time," the troll said, as it picked a snail off its cheek. "We don’t take kindly to strangers." And with that the troll chucked the snail, shell and all, into its mouth. The crunching noise was sickening.

"Well," I said. "I could just be on my way, and we can both forget this chance meeting — "

"Who says I’d want to forget it?"

"You just said you don’t take kindly to strangers — "

"I know what I said." The troll dug through its hair, perhaps looking for more snacks. "Where are you headed, anyway?"

I had to think about my answer. “I’m not sure, exactly.”

"Not sure? So not only are you attempting to use my bridge, you don’t even know your destination?"

The troll had a point. “I thought I’d figure it out along the way.”

"You thought. You think. You waste. You ruin," the troll lamented, as it sloshed through the stream to get a closer look at me. "Humans are all the same: in a hurry, but with no real purpose."

"Have you met every human on this planet, trying to cross your bridge?"

The troll harumphed at this. “I’ve seen enough, boy. Enough to know that if you can’t settle on a destination, you’ll end up lost and reckless, like the rest of ‘em.”

I grew angry at this insinuation. “I was just out for a walk!” I exclaimed. “I didn’t ask for a lecture from, from a creature!”

This caused the troll to train his one good eye on me. It moved closer on the bank, so that we were inches apart. I could smell the wet and the rotting earth that permeated the mineraled skin.

"We’re all God’s creatures, boy. You and I are not so different. I once tried to cross this bridge, on my way to a wedding, my wedding…" The troll stopped, as if sharing this information had not been part of the plan.

"You weren’t always like this?" I asked. "You weren’t always a troll?"

"I am what I am. I look on the outside the same that I feel on the inside. We’re all God’s creatures. We’re all made in His image."

"So you say."

"Believe what you want, but believe in something. A walk in the wood isn’t just a walk in the wood. This bridge that binds and bonds us both is more than sand and stone. It’s a tributary to freedom, to enlightenment. But you must be sure of your step. Absolutely sure that you can pay the toll."

"And what’s the toll?"

"Risk. The chance you might receive all the riches, or all the losses in a lifetime. I couldn’t meet my beloved, too afraid to be sure-footed, so here I am: molded and sculpted by the wind and rains of indecision."

I looked at the troll just then, seeing beyond the craggy exterior. I saw pain in its eyes, his eyes, and regret. I knew him as deeply as I knew myself, knew that I had to cross that bridge. It was as if all my life had led up to that moment.

The troll averted his gaze. “I can tell you’re determined, so I won’t keep you from passing.”

"I can do this," I found myself saying. "I can take the risk. Whatever’s on the other end." I placed both feet on the bridge, feeling strength rush through my limbs.

"That’s what they all say," said the troll, but he made no move to stop me as I made my way, inch by inch, across the bridge. I felt no different on the other side, but I knew that I was different.

I looked back at the troll. I had an urge to call out to it: “Come with me. There’s still time for you!”

The troll nodded, as if it had heard it all before. “If I go, who will be here to watch the bridge? Everything has a purpose, boy. This is mine. I just didn’t know it yet. Now begone, before I change my mind.”

With one last hesitation, I turned and walked up the path, and never looked back. And that is the story of a walk that became more than a walk, more than a moment. It’s a story of how I found courage, beside a stream in the woods, by a bridge guarded by a snail-eating used-to-be human troll.

If you ever get the chance to meet this troll, and you will meet, remember there is potential even in the darkest of things. When he asks you who goes there, have an answer. Trolls don’t like to be kept waiting. Answer him with, I went there.

And then, step on that bridge and move along. Move along.