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Exactly one year ago I wrote this:

Today is my birthday. I'm 23 now. Every time I think about it I feel old. It's the same feeling I had when I just turned 22, but after a while I told myself I was only 22, so I felt young again. I hope to get that feeling back soon.

Well, another year has passed, so today is my 24th birthday, and once again when I think about it, I feel old.

One year ago I had a beautiful girlfriend, with who I was madly in love. I was working on a boring job, with boring people. I had my own crappy car (an old Volkswagen), and a company car (a Peugeot). I was still living with my parents. I had quite a few people who I thought were my friends.

A lot has changed since my last birthday. Somewhere down the line I discovered that some of those friends couldn't be called friends at all. Especially when you're going through a hard time, you really find out who you can count on and who you are better off without. I moved to a new town, into my own apartment, about 50 miles from my old hometown. I sold my Volkswagen, since I had no use for it anyway. I still have the Peugeot though. I have a different job, in a different town, which isn't boring, and neither are my colleagues.

As for the girl, we broke up last spring. She probably has a new boyfriend now. We haven't spoken to each other in months. Last time I saw her was a few weeks back. She didn't see me though. I looked at her for a few minutes, before she went out of sight. Damn, she still is beautiful...

I'm dying here folks. Not literally, of course.

I write this from school, where I made the unfortunate mistake of forgetting extra batteries at home, rendering my CD player useless. Whereas I would usually be listening to music, I'm now forced to listen to ambient noise. I have a feeling of vulnerability, of nakedness. In retrospect, it probably wasn't a good idea to choose to work on the second floor. "Second" is a very chaotic and immature floor, where the wardens vainly struggle to keep the animals in order while still managing their own duties. "Third" is much more orderly and quiet. The North learning center is almost always dead, but their computers are outdated. I can't work in these conditions; I need my music. It probably doesn't help that my nemesis is sitting behind me, blabbering with his ex-girlfriend about silly little teenage quarrels. Even worse is the other guy sitting behind me who has his headphones blaring loud enough that I can clearly identify that he's listening to Blink 182's "Take Off Your Pants and Jacket"

((turns around))

Correction, the Nemesis and Mr. Blink are the same guy. I'm contemplating going upstairs, thought I know that the feeling of vulnerability will still remain. Arrgh, this is going to be a long morning.

Greg later did move, but didn't manage to get a whole lot of work done due to some disk failures. He now lives in a room, in a house, in a city, with a computer and big speakers.
Gosh, it's been almost ten years...

For some reason the picture sticks in my mind. We are lying in our bathing suits on the warm volcanic shores of the Sea of Galilee. I am not well and you have been making the sharp angular black rocks balance on top of each other on impossibly sharp corners. All around us is an eerie landscape of these stable but fragile crags, the sunlight is hazy and yellow and the water of the placid lake lap viscously at our feet. It looks like a holiday brochure photograph for another planet.

I made you turn the date stamp function in your camera on, to show your friends in Vermont how warm it is in Israel on Saturday, the first of December.

As we sat last night, Will and Houston had gone inside
to listen to some song. Julio and I stayed outside. We
began to talk, and on thing led to another. Pretty soon,
we were both talking about things that had happened to
us. I told him about the time I held a loaded gun to my
head, I couldn't help it and I started crying, he
comforted me as I cried.I had never cried in front of one
of my peers in my life, and i cried in front of him. I
told him about the way my parents left me on the side of
the road and how my aunt was the only one that actually
cared enough to pick me up. He seemed to understand all
that I told him. I told him so much, and he as well told
me much of the same. A lot of what he said, I already knew,
but then he opened up more and started telling me more. I
was astonished at what he told me. Yet, everything that he
told me, just helped me respect him more. I've realized
that he and one other person are the only to people I
could ever trust enough with my secrets. Those dark
thoughts
that reside in the back of my head. Those of
which had consumed my life, which remained as a fear of
mine.
We sat quietly for a while, and then our conversation
resumed. He stated, "This shit right here, that the both
of us have put up with, will make us so much stronger than
Will or alot of these other people could ever understand.
It's all Darwinian man, survival of the fucking fittest,
and you and me are going to be the fucking fittest."
Those words have seemed to stick in my head more so than
any other. The way he worded it, the moment he said it,
made it so fucking profound that, I doubt i will ever be
able to get those words to leave my head.

A long December
And there's reason to believe
Maybe this year
Will be better than the last

Bryan and Ken and I were sitting around last night at my place. They had taken a bike ride together and stopped by. I like that people just stop by now; it makes me feel less alone when I'm at home. Eventually we got to talking about the upcoming year. For each of us, this last year has been pretty crazy, lots of drama and relocation, several revelations about love. Still, I can't say we have collectively gained much ground.

Ken is one of the few people that I care about that I don't really worry about. He laughs when I say this, and I'm not sure why, if maybe he wished he were someone to wonder about. He is still looking for jobs aggressively, which is how Ken approaches many things in his life, a determination and tenacity I envy. Ken didn't really comment on the question about the year. I imagine he can't really see the future unless there's a job in it, and I can completely understand that.

Bryan has more, I think, to look for, but like me he's not really sure what that is. He has a blank canvas and seems to care less about love, about having someone to share it with. Unlike me, he's been much more fatalistic about relationships. He will soon be between apartments, looking for work, trying to see if he will make the attempt to stay here. I'm not sure how long either of them will last, simply because I never know who will last around here.

One thing that Bryan said that make me think was, "In all the time you've been here, Laura, have things ever been easy for you?" Well, that's a simple question to answer. But again, most of the struggle has been my choices, the decisions that have hemmed me in. When I first got here, all I wanted to do was survive, so I had countless roommates, numerous thankless and low paying jobs. If that had been enough, I could likely have had it much easier. But I was running away from loan officers, debt collectors, and my past. In order to face them, I had to own up to things. People may say that is wise, but really it's just what you should do. If I didn't feel things looming over me, if I didn't firmly believe there is more in store for me, I could just get a nowhere job and live for the weekend. I've seen it in everyone's lives here, people who are content to be where they are or seeming so.

I tell him the brief synopsis of my 6 years here. Byran's eye widened. Before all the drama started to unfold here, Bryan and I seldom got to talk. He was always working and Suzy was always more available. I remember the night Suzy and Bryan got here and how we talked till almost 5am, and that I was mostly talking to Bryan. Now the circle has shifted. It used to be just me on the periphery, with Ken hanging out with Suzy and Bryan and Carson, not knowing how long any of them would be here, wanting to see as much of them as possible. Now Ken and Bryan keep tabs on me, now that Carson is finally gone and Suzy, well, being a bit separated for obvious reasons. I am surprised to find she's decided to stay in town but not surprised that she will be staying at Carson's place for the time being. We are still postulating where Bryan will go.

It's funny. When we were 2 couples, it always felt like a struggle to hang out together, whether it was schedules or whether things were being said in confidence from one SO to another. Once the breakups began, everyone began to speak and hang out more freely. Perhaps seeing another couple caused people to think about what they'd ended up in and how they felt about it. In many ways, I was oblivious to it. I was happy, and I thought I had a right to be.

I look at my own year ahead of me, my plans. So far, my goals are to get that stupid gym membership I've been whining about, quit smoking, and attend my high school reunion. During that six months, I will try to see Ted as much as I can. Depending on where I am once the summer starts, I'm hoping to set some money aside and get into some classes to finalize my certification so that I can look for teaching postions. In some ways I want to run right out and do it now, but I don't think I'm in the right state of mind to do it at this point. I am willing to coast in my job, get whatever promotions and experience I can, and walk out this new relationship, for the first half of the year. I used to think half a year was a long time, but I am slowly realizing that time is what you make of it. You can either spend it working to build things in your life or coasting off instant gratification. I think I've seen a bit of both, and both can bite you on the ass.

It's December and still only 60 outside. I have all the windows open. It's hard to look back on the year, to reflect in view of so many changes. I made many changes and many changes made me. I can't say what of it I regret, really. I also can't say if I invite drama by attaching myself to whirlwind people. To a point, I want stability, I want to be able to rely on certain things; if anything, I know I can rely on myself to hang in there. I am one of those who figure love into everything, the warmth of friends, having someone special to share my life with. I realized that in view of the breakup that I really wasn't going to get what I wanted in the relationship, and that that was no one's fault, really. I look at being with Ted, albiet long distance for the time being, and I have hope. He is willing, already, to do what it takes to make this happen, and already I believe he will. It is nice to not have to wonder what the other person is thinking, where I stand in their minds, whether I am counted among things of value. No one likes guessing those things or wants to need them so much as to overtake everything else. No one likes to be found wanting.

Gah.

I don't know whether to lose my faith completely, or to have more faith than ever. Because someone down there either really has it in for me, or someone up there really likes me.

I got into another accident today, not two hours ago. This, after the first accident (on July 2, 2001) finally got settled (I had to pay $69 for failure to exhibit ID/proof of insurance) just two days ago. It'd have to be me.

Let me back up a bit:

I had to go in to school today to help my boss set up a practical exam. I called my fiance when I was about to leave, and we decided on fast food for dinner. We went out together when I got home. The Checkers was about 15 minutes away, and I thought the White Castle was on the way. As it turns out, it wasn't, and I wound up making Jersey lefts to turn around on Route 9 about 6 times before we finally got near the White Castle. I missed the first turn off for the parking lot, but I noticed another one, and put my turn signal on, slowed down, and started getting onto the shoulder. I was almost on the shoulder, not 20 feet from the parking lot, when BAM! and I got shoved forward onto the curb, across the entrance to the parking lot, and onto the grass adjacent. I put the car in park and just sat there for a few minutes. Chris, on the other hand, jumped right out of the car. People came running over from the florist's next door.

By the time I got myself out of the car, the cops had been called, and the other driver was outside his car (parked straddling the curb), huddled on the ground. His front end on the passenger side was crumpled, and there was shrapnel everywhere. Only then did I look at our car, which I'd been driving. The rear taillight on the driver's side was destroyed, and the quarter panel was mangled.

The police arrived, and we gave them all of the car information and my driver's license, and they called for tow trucks and an ambulance. I looked up to see that the other guy was wearing an oxygen mask; he must've hit his chest on the steering wheel and had the air knocked out of him. (The cop overheard him telling his friend that he hadn't been wearing a seat belt, but he didn't tell the cops that.) And simultaneously, we wondered why we needed a tow; the cop pointed out to us that the front passenger tire had been blown out, probably on impact with the curb.

Frantic phone calls were made to everyone we knew who had a car and whose phone number we had; Chris's aunt was too far away, our friends in Queens couldn't have gotten there in any decent amount of time, and our friend in Staten Island couldn't be reached.

The ambulance arrived, and no one wanted to go. Not even the guy on the oxygen wanted to take a ride, and he looked pretty hurt. I didn't want to pay for it, and Chris doesn't have insurance, and while we were both shaken, we weren't injured obviously, and we didn't want to leave each other, so we declined. I kept thinking that the other guy should have gone, but they couldn't force him, so he didn't go.

They towed the cars, and the police finished up with Chris while I went in and got the White Castles we had gone to get in the first place. When I reemerged with a Crave Case, Chris told me that he'd gotten a case number from the police, and that the police had told him that it was probably the other guy's fault, given our respective speeds and the fact that I had my signal on AND had the right-of-way AND was almost on the shoulder (the tire marks showed that).

We went over to the florist's next door, and they were nice enough to let us use their phone (they'd seen everything and ran out of the store when it happened). We tried to call a cab to get us at least to the train station; the only company that even answered the damn phone wanted us to wait for 45 minutes at least.

We got to talking with one of the people that was working in the store in the meantime, and she offered to give us a ride if we could wait until the store closed in 20 minutes; we readily agreed. While we were standing around, chatting, she mentioned that some guy who was in the store at the time and had come running over had been an off-duty EMT and had given the other driver some minor treatment. While he had been over there, he noticed "something very interesting" in the car. What that meant, I don't know, but it certainly explained why the guy declined a hospital visit.

So the woman from the florist's shop took us to the train station, and we came home. Thank you, Diane.

I know that I am grateful that nothing worse happened. So far, I've been in two accidents, and both times, I think I got extremely lucky. Last time, very briefly, I was at a stop sign, and a guy came flying down the cross street and turned left directly into my driver's side quarter panel, breaking the headlight and crushing the bumper. If I had been six feet further into the intersection, I'd be dead. I'd have had an engine block for a lower torso. This time, if I'd not decided to pull over, or if I'd decelerated more quickly, we both could have been seriously injured or worse, or more people could have been involved or both.

I suppose I should be thankful. I should be glad I'm alive. I know I'm glad everyone else is alive. I should be thankful. Instead I feel guilty. I feel guilty for not having tried harder to prevent the accident. I feel guilty for not having gone by myself before I came home, in which case this never would have happened. I feel guilty because I still feel like it's my fault, even though it was out of my control.

I'm alive, though.

I suppose that makes me lucky.

Somehow, it doesn't seem like luck.

QXZ's London Invasion, Part Two

go to Part One


One Step Beyond
or
It's the single most popular cheese in the world

Sleep wasn't all that terrible after all. Woke up at 10:00, out of the hostel by 10:30. Went over to the TESCO (supermarket) to buy a Traveller's London A-Z (£3.45) and breakfast on a packaged ham & cheddar sandwich with a bottle of "cranberry juice drink" (£1.94 total).

Decided to rock the obvious tourist look, with camera slung over shoulder. Time to eat up, then get to Whitechapel, I think.

Auspicious: the sun has come out.

Managed to get on the wrong train and had to backtrack one station from "High Street/Ken" (as described by the woman behind me on the cell phone). Even the surveillance cameras have the Underground logo on them.

Mr. Ripper didn't heed the signs: "Commit No Nuisance" is (or once was) clearly printed on the Fournier St. side of Christ Church, Spitalfields. The stone of Christ Church is so acid-eaten that the whole building has taken on the texture of a river cobble. The wind started gusting as I walked around the church.

There's an obelisk just south of the church. An engraving at the base reads ERECTED BY THE METROPOLITAN FREE DRINKING FOUNTAINS ASSOCIATION 1860. It forms part of the fence around Christ Church Gardens.

Spitalfields appears to be heavily Bangladeshi these days.

Walked the length of Hanbury Street, but no clues as to exactly where Annie Chapman was murdered. (Note: Turns out it was the yard of No. 29) The other sites of the Ripper killings are further away and/or too ill-defined for me to go find, and I don't feel like doing the guided tour.

Stopped in at the Ten Bells (right next door to Christ Church) for a half pint of cider. You can't say the Ten Bells isn't aware of it's history; Ripper merchandise is for sale, a listing of the murdered prostitutes names and places of death is painted on the west interior wall, and newspaper clippings are attached to the wall underneath. One of the articles, from the May 24, 1992 edition of the Sunday Express, is about the possible "Royal connection" to Jack the Ripper. Maybe Mr. Moore wasn't reaching too far.

Otherwise, the place is smaller than the bulk of it's history lead me to expect. There's some nice tilework (original?) and lots of aged wood. Hard to know what actually dates to 1753.

Left the Ten Bells at 2:30 to the appropriate sound of Christ Church's pealing. Planning on walking to The City.

Stumbled across the Roman city wall while trying to find the Barbican. There is a wall walk, apparently, that goes from the Tower to the Museum of London; two places I plan on visiting. Cool.

Made my way to St. Paul's Cathedral just as it closed to tourists for the remainder of the weekend. Stunning, though; even in the settling gloom. I'll be back on Monday.

Decided to cross the Thames on the Millennium Bridge but found it closed for re-engineering. Apparently it swayed a bit too much under pedestrian loads, so tuned mass dampers and support cabling are being added. I guess I'll walk along the river, then.

Crossed the Thames on Blackfriars Bridge. Odd sight before crossing: the piers and landing of a bridge that's been removed. Once across, walked to the OXO Tower complex to figure out what I'm going to do with the rest of my evening. Current plans are eating and picking up a copy of Time Out. St. Paul's, floodlit, is visible across the river. Beautiful. I may have to revisit it several times.

5:55 PM, GMT - back at home base: TESCO. Bought a Time Out (great scam. spend money to discover ways to spend more money) and yet another ham and cheddar sandwich for sustenance. Also, one hour of Internet time so's I can sends some emails! Yee haw!

Leaving your hot chocolate until after your meal allows you to watch the whipped cream slowly collapse.

Arrive back at the hostel a bit before 8:00 PM. There is an actual Australian in the room. After all the talk about Earl's Court being overrun with 'em, he's the first one I've encountered.

Just heard passing description of one of the roommates as "the huge guy? about six-three? with the drugs? he's dangerous". Sounds fun. We've got some long-term folks here. From what I've gathered, a good amount of people are staying here until they find a job and somewhere permanent to live. New Londoners are forming before my eyes.

Overheard in r.e. U2: "Great band, ennit? Makes you proud to be Irish. One of the greatest bands in the world."

Went to Leicester Square to see Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, but arrived too late. Got a ticket for Heist instead. £10.00! That's about $14.00! NYC movies seem cheapish now.

Observation on the Men's room at the WarnerVillageWest End: it's narrow, just like everything else in London.

Londoners appear to be nearly incapable of navigating crowds. People, chronically, will stop in the middle of crowded sidewalks. Or have no idea how to avoid upcoming congestion. Any attempt on my part to avoid collisions usually fails. It's conversely possible that I'm incapable of navigating London crowds. Maybe I haven't got a feel for the flow yet.

Back at the hostel the ever-present French guy is drinking his constant companion, whiskey, with a semi-crazy Spaniard. I, myself, wouldn't label him crazy but he says all Spaniards are crazy. "People from Valencia," he says, Castillian-lisping the 's' sound, "are the craziest of all."

Bringing a pillowcase wasn't useless after all. I've improvised a (rather hard) pillow by stuffing my towel, my unused sleep sack and my hoodie into it. Good night.


Excerpted from QXZ's travel journal, 12/1/01. QXZ endorses nothing.

Back to Part One
Forward to Part Three

A beautiful, idyllic warm December day at Rehobeth Beach, Delaware. Angela and I had driven up the night before. Warm and sunny outside - we had every intention of hitting the beach, window shopping, walking around, enjoying the weather.

We had a leisurely breakfast at our adorable and comfy Bed and Breakfast, then went back up into our room. Made love, talked, made love, talked... you get the idea.

We did finally make it outside when the sun started setting! I feel so much calmer, secure, in whatever is happening between her and me I can deal with anything today. There's a hell of a lot of turmoil in her life, too, to deal with.

She's divorcing her husband; she's pulling away from her girlfriend of a year because I came into her life and we started falling in love. I'm finishing up a year of completeness after integrating this past January-February; and coming to terms with my bisexuality only since March. So neither one of us is a paragon of stability. So - taking it slow, taking it easy, enjoying the moment and not freaking out when she is not available cause of her current situation is the way to go.

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