Beyond the Void

I come from the land of the Void. The land of no substance. There were once orange groves and people loved it for its proximity to the mountains, the desert and the beach. Now it is a dust bowl of empty thoughts and empty souls. I escaped early. I knew I had to. There was a vacuum there and if you stayed too long, you inevitably got sucked into it.

The drinking, the partying, the escaping. It will consume you, though there are few that somehow find their way into a remote corner where nothing can touch them. Staring at the wall with their backs to the world, this is where they find Jesus. This is where they find their ability to speak in tongues and their spiritual gift of healing through prayer. Like dust bunnies, they flock to this one untouchable corner and hold each other to their corner’s rule book- no sex, no drugs, no alcohol, no thinking, no questioning: Here is your spouse, God chose them for you. Get married. Have children. Teach those children to mind their corner, face the wall, soak in the rules you’ve set for them.

I escaped the vacuum and the corner, to a world that was bigger and fuller than I could take in. I’d heard glimpses of this world in the music I submerged myself into as a kid. The desperation, the frustration in the Shins, the quirkiness of being fascinated by neighbors without curtains in Ben Kweller, the suicidal depression that took Elliot Smith. I had seen these glimpses in books like Lord of the Flies or Death of a Salesman. I knew there were others like me- feeling the world in a raw and unfiltered way.

When I arrived at the doorstep of a huge city at 18, I felt it. Somehow it felt like integrity. It gave me friction and conflict to work through and resolve, stepping stones to understanding how much of the world I didn’t understand. The city’s grit made me realize I didn’t have to gloss over everything. I didn’t have to numb myself. I was allowed to grieve with the city’s homeless, contemplate the height of the buildings and the grime of the ground. I could take in the beauty of the changing leaves and breathe the exhaust of the city buses. Outside my bedroom window the bus ran with wire cables, half electric and half gas. When these wires got wet, they sparked as the bus went by. I would lie awake in the attic room of a huge house I shared with 10 other people, listening to the hum of the bus and the inevitable sparking sound and the bolt of lightening flashing through my dark and silent room.

Beauty and Darkness coexist. There is a line between what we can hold on our shoulders and what we have to forget to stay happy and feel like we are okay to keep living. To say it’s all beauty is ignorant. To say it’s all darkness is the fastest way to death.

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Sisters

My sister used to be a decent human. But then she turned into a teenager, sending me emails that claim that she “knows everything that has happened between our parents” and me. She even ended that email with a quote saying something about how at the end of your life you the only thing you know is that your family will surround you. Her naivete is almost adorable and I’m sure if there were even just five degrees more separation between us I could see that she is just a teenager who thinks she has a grasp on the world.

She’s fifteen with long flowing red hair that has natural blond highlights throughout. Her braces came off a few years ago and her smile is perfect. Her blue eyes glisten and sparkle when she talks to you excitedly about the boys she likes and how they’re seniors and they’re asking her out.

Our mother was a beauty queen. Miss Glendora 1989. Gorgeous, tall, dark flowing permed hair and big round brushed bangs. She wore a dark lipstick all the time that brought out her creamy complexion and the blueness of her eyes. She’s always been thin and always cared deeply about what the world saw when they saw her.

My sister wasn’t always beautiful. She used to be a pudgy little ten year old and that’s when I loved her the most. She had this adorable round face and awkward buck teeth. Her eyelashes and her eyebrows were too blond for her face and a too-thick-for-a-ten-year-old layer of blond hair coated her arms and legs. She was bright eyed and wanted to know about everything and everyone. She was excited about softball and making friends at school. So it’s no surprise that our mother encouraged her to be conscious about her weight and her appearance.

When Jenna expressed interest in a beauty pageant, my mom took her to the store where they sell gowns for weddings and for prom and Jenna tried on everything. She looked stunning and she knew it. She posted pictures on her Instagram of her in a body hugging white gown and instantly had hundreds of “likes”. People love her. People bow down at her beauty and her charisma.

I am eight years older than my sister. I left home when she was 10 years old. I often wonder if I did a disservice to her by leaving before her teenage years. I remember her crying because our dad made some snide comment about her weight. She whisper-sobbed and let me hold her in my arms. I told her she was beautiful and she didn’t need to listen to him.

Maybe if I had been around to hold her down to the Earth and remind her that looks are not everything, maybe she would care about something other than her hair or the number on the scale. Perhaps if I had stayed, she would still have something in common with her average looking sister. Then when I called her to ask how she’s doing, maybe she would give me a real answer instead of the high tinny voice telling me in her valley girl drawl, “Yeaaaaah!!! Everything is great! School is good, volleyball is great…. we’re just hangin’ out!”

What about the friction of it all? What about the beauty in the grime and dirt, the struggle between the pure and the corrupted? What about literature and art and the struggle with science and God? What about your soul, my love? What do you have to say about that? Let’s stop the petty nonsense. I just want to know how you’re doing.