Somehow, 50

I felt the blood drain from my face, my mind. It’s a strange feeling, like submersing your head in a pool of nearly frozen water, but not as cold.

“What?”

Now I was finding it difficult to stand. There wasn’t anything to sit on so I leaned against the racks of VHS videos behind the counter.
The voice on the other end of the line repeated what it said, a little slower, each point a sentence like he was trying to teach a five year old quantum physics.

“This is Dr. Thomas. Your test results have come back. You have tested positive. For the HIV antibody. The virus that causes AIDS.

  1. I was 19 years old, and a single two minute call was all it took rip away everything I thought I knew.

I had run away from home at 17 for the third and final time, and after living with my meth dealer for a while, *not* sleeping in his unfurnished living room on the floor, I decided to leave, go somewhere besides San Diego. I didn’t know a single person in the Bay Area. It seemed like good a place as any to try and figure out who I was.

When I was finally able to think, I realized that I must have been tested on a recent trip to visit my adopted parents. They asked if I wanted a physical while I was there, and I agreed. I wanted to show them I was fine, healthy. That there was no reason to worry about me. That I didn’t need them. I figured out that they had also requested an HIV test from the doctor, and getting my approval wasn’t important. The call on that day was kind of a shock.

I had never used needles, had slept with maybe five men. I was exempt from AIDS, I was mostly straight and I was safe. I guess all it took was one of those men being positive, and everything working just right to infect me. Talk about rotten luck.

But that didn’t matter now. Nothing mattered. Across the Bay the City was dying, the plague was killing people and no one had any answers. I’d heard the treatments they had weren’t that much better than the disease.
That’s all I knew. That’s all I chose to know.

I figured I had about 18 months, maybe two years left to live if I was lucky, but much of that time would be spent in horrible pain, my body shutting down, my own shit and blood and fluids pouring out of me. All the sudden my self-imposed rule of never using needles for recreational drugs and never using heroin went to shit. When I started to get sick, I would handle it my own way. I wasn’t going to be a burden on anyone – just slide away and disappear.

Time passed. A year, two, five, and the sickness never came. Still, bordering the line between conscious and subconscious, I kept waiting for the day everything turned around. I knew it was coming.

As much as I wanted to go back to school, to learn something I could use, I couldn’t commit to the time. I didn’t have a future.

 

 

I destroyed the best relationships & deepest loves I have ever known, selfishly afraid to ever force anyone to feel like they needed to be loyal, faithful, as they stood by, helpless, watching me die. For the same reason I never allowed myself to have what I perhaps wanted more than anything in life – a child.

I took each day as it came, tried to make the best out of it. I studied myself and my beliefs, did all I could to learn about me and what life was. I taught myself to see the beauty in everything, every day. I tried to help, I learned from others, I read & continue to read feverishly, so at least I might have some wisdom, some inspiration, something to offer another. Maybe something clever & profound to say in my final breath. Only up until the past 15 or so years, every moment of my life has been spent expecting to die. It’s the only thing I’ve known.

It sure did fuck up my credit score.

Now, somehow, I’m only a few weeks away from 50 years old, and wondering how it is that I got here. I’ve spent years looking for an answer as to why. Why, of all people, me?

I’ve only been able to come up with one answer that makes any sense at all.
 

 

Book Excerpt – Dungeons & a Dragon

It was no surprise when I walked up the stairs & found the eviction papers taped to my apartment door. I was just surprised that they took so long to appear. When my new house-mates first rent check bounced however, I knew it was time to start packing.  In a strange way it was exciting – I imagined the papers as a passport to a new life, like a baby bird kicked out of the nest and into a tornado.

Having a feeling that this was coming I had already began to prepare, and now my entire life was portable, fitting into two duffel bags and a backpack. I put the books I couldn’t bear to part with and a few sentimental things into boxes to be stored at a friend’s house, and after I had sold or given away everything I could, I set the rest out on the sidewalk and went back inside to clean.

San Francisco has a wonderful system – many people I know have furnished their entire apartments with treasures found on the street, and much of mine was as well – from the gorgeously ornate wrought-iron wall sconce the size of a semi-truck tire to the beautiful hand-blown glass bowl which I kept on the coffee table, filled with the soft glow of blue Christmas lights that I bought at a post-Halloween sale. They were cheap, so I stocked up. A person can never have enough tiny lights to practice their patience – or failing that – their cursing, as they tried to untangle them.
I put the remainder of my things in front of my apartment and went back upstairs to do some cleaning. After about an hour I glanced out the window & what was a somewhat sizeable pile before, with chairs, a couch, various lamps, clothes & random other things that had found their way into my apartment had almost entirely disappeared. It was as if I had missed the middle part of the sped-up video where the maggots clean a dead rat down to bone.
Curious about this phenomenon, I wanted to gather more of my things and set them out there, then peek out from behind a curtain with a video camera and watch what happened. I imagined that there was a network of scavengers who prowled the neighborhoods in cars & on foot, looking for piles such as the one I had put outside, and when they found one the alarm went out. They got on their phones or cupped their hands around their mouth & made strange animal calls, alerting the rest of the foragers to the booty. Of course, in my head, they weren’t normal  people – they were some post-apocalyptic dystopian creatures, some with mechanical limbs, dressed in dusty black leather with wild hair & eyes, who had trailers made of steel & lethal stabby-things hooked to their flat-black Prius’s, and worked with lightning fast efficiency.
Unfortunately I didn’t have a video camera or anything else to set outside and lure them, so the mystery still remains unsolved.

I had previously announced on a social network my imminent eviction, and was offered a few places where I could rest my head by the wonderful community of freaks I called friends. Bean made it more difficult, as most were apologetically not able to host a tragic, homeless Klown as well as an 85 pound dog.

All except one, offered by a person named Bob who I had met only once before. It was a home in the middle of the Mission District of San Francisco, Bob spent five days of the week at work in New Jersey, flying back on the weekends on his employer’s dime, and the only other person who lived there was the woman who owned the house.
There was just one catch. Bob’s dog already called it home, and while to most humans he was the sweetest, most loving beast – he had been trained by a former owner to joyfully rip the throats out of any other animal he came within destroying distance of. Bean was welcome though, and that was the most important thing.

Bob picked me up a few days after we talked, and when we arrived at the house I couldn’t believe where I would be living. It was a beautiful two-story Edwardian house with an enormous beauganvilla draped over the entry gate, as if it were a portal to a different world. Shortly after, I realized how fitting that observation was as I met the owner (a woman who was perhaps in her late forties who had the look of someone who rated daily personal upkeep pretty low on the chart) & she told me about what the 2nd floor was primarily used for in this quiet, seemingly ordinary house, then took me on a tour.

“I’m going to give you some chores to do while you’re staying here.” She said as we started walking up the stairs.
“Sure, of course. No problem.”
“If a certain room is booked twice in a day it’s the girls job to clean it for the next, but I want you to come up here when it’s empty at least once a day and make certain things are in their place and the room is clean. Don’t worry – the girls are responsible for anything that gets soiled with any kind of body fluids, you just need to take the bags of towels down to the wash room & straighten up.”
Girls? Body fluids? Vague, seedy images started coming to my mind, but I couldn’t have expected what I was led into.

She led me from room to room, each room designed perfectly for its use. I thought that I wasn’t naïve, already being a part of the BDSM scene pretty heavily for a few years at that time, but this was another level. I’d heard about it, of course – but I could have never before then imagined them on the second floor of a house that looked just like any other nice place when you first walked inside. Living room, kitchen, laundry room, nice looking but nothing at all hinting at what was found at the top of the stairs.
I tried to keep my jaw from dropping open and looking like an idiot as she opened the doors to the various rooms and led me inside of each. A medical fetish room complete with steel trays with various strange implements and a surgery table, a baby fetish room with a crib, flowery wallpaper, drawers full of pacifiers & diapers, and of course, the BDSM room. Walls lined with hanging floggers, canes, cats, paddles & so much more, a beautiful St Andew’s Cross, a cage – it was elegant. Exquisite. I was in complete awe, feeling like a kid in a candy store… and this is the house I would be living in, at least temporarily.

From sleeping on beaches, in abandoned warehouses, and living with my meth dealer as a teenager, I’d felt I’d really stepped up my homeless game. What I didn’t know at the time was that the woman who had just taken me in would end up being quite a challenge to live with. While at first she seemed stable and at least tolerably balanced, I would soon start to understand that she was pretty far from sane…

 

 

 

 

Accidental becoming

In the years that I’ve been contemplating, organizing, printing out reams of old blog posts and ripping them apart for the words that might matter, in all the years of such meticulous procrastination that I even impressed myself, I think that now, at long last, I am actually doing it, word by word.

I’m writing my damned book. From page one this time, instead of from any and all of the 600 or so pages of stories that I’ve compiled over this life, bouncing around in the absurdity of it with the intention of re-writing all the stories and them putting them together into some sort of intelligible masterpiece. This time, I’m starting at the beginning – and it seems to be working. It is working.

One thing I’ve realized though – there is no way that this could possibly be only one book.

I’ll write more in here later, as I’ve done my morning book-writing and need to get my ass in gear since I got a bit caught up in not wanting to stop, but seeing as that feeling – the feeling of not wanting to stop instead of trying to hook and rip every word out of my heart like they were swallowed by a fish – that’s a welcome sign.

I think I’m back.

Outside of Comfort

(Old Dog, New Tricks)

As I turned from O’Farrell St. onto Polk I knew that my chances of making a valid excuse to get out of this were deteriorating. Of course I could show up and *not* tell a story, forging some absurd reason that I couldn’t make it fit into the five minutes we were given, or I could simply tell David the truth; I was terrified of all that could go wrong.

I thought back to the few storytelling events I had been a guest at, and remembered that during each one there were times where I said to myself “Hell – I could do this, and I might even be able to do it better.” Then I would think about what stories I could tell, and the self-doubt inside of me was such a powerful presence that I couldn’t come up with any. I mean sure – I could come up with the *middle* of a story, maybe even the beginning – but the a good ending has always been elusive.

I thought of my life and all the amazing tales in it, but it seemed as if they all bled into the previous and the next, with nothing I could truly call an ending. I mean hell – what happens when our stories end? Maybe it’s a psychological thing – the story of my life has come so dangerously close to ending so many times that I blocked the completion of any of them, choosing instead to keep writing “and then this happened…”.

As I got closer to the venue, I slowed down & lit a cigarette, taking three deep drags in hopes of calming my nerves. I’ve wanted to do this for months just to see if I could, but fear has always gotten the better of me. Now, here was my chance & I wanted to turn around & run home. I dug deeper than the doubt in my mind & after a bit of moving things around, found my courage tucked away in back. I dusted it off, shined it up a little, and set it inside my heart. If I failed, so be it – but at least I would have tried.
As I opened the door to The Hemlock Tavern & walked in, this became my silent mantra. It’s been countless years since my last “First Time” doing anything – at least where I could and would be judged by others. I did my best not to think about it as the friend I was meeting caught my eye.

David, a storytelling veteran who had once won first place on The Moth Story-Slam, had put his name down early, second on the list. I was number five.

He offered me his drink ticket, one of the perks of telling a story, and said that when I get mine I could give it to him since the Porchlight Storytelling organizers weren’t around at the time. I looked at it as a promise – if I didn’t get up there, I would morally have to forfeit my drink ticket and not be able to pay his kindness back. I find it amusing how my mind creates little back-ups to ensure I don’t back out – and even more amusing that I actually honor them. Hell – whatever works.

I had finally written my story out in longhand (due to my rapidly dying laptop) about an hour before I had to leave, doing my best to commit the main points to a loose memory, something like writing them down on index cards then throwing them up in the air to see what order they landed in. I knew from long-ago experience that if I tried to memorize it word for word it would be a disaster.

Though we had planned on going to this small event over a month before, neither of us were even nearly ready until that day. He had a story that was 20 minutes longer than the five minutes we were given, and mine simply didn’t exist yet. Still recovering from an amazing weekend at The Edwardian Ball, I had completely forgotten that tonight was the night until I got his text in the morning. Shit.

The theme was “Stories of the Gig Economy”, and yesterday morning I racked my brain thinking of all the strange jobs I’ve had, all the things I have done to be able to eat – and all the odd stories that came from them. When I put my mind to it I found out that I had plenty – from being homeless & staying up all night at Denny’s frying on mushrooms so I could stay awake & get to work on time, to spending four months in Federal Prison due to a pot deal that went bad at a Harley shop I worked at, to finding myself standing under the world’s deepest diving diesel-electric submarine & needing to commemorate it by dancing the Charleston, to working as a mover & finding that my helper was into primal scream therapy only after he startled the crap out of me with a blood curdling screech while we were loading the truck – yeah, the stories were there, but I wanted more than a story. I wanted beauty, laughter & maybe even a lesson.

Then I found one – or more appropriately, it found me. One of the stories from when I was busking in New Orleans. It was more-or-less perfect, but still – I didn’t know how to end it. I decided to figure it out when I was on stage. What could possibly go wrong?

David’s story was fantastic, of course, with an ending that completed the story yet still hinted at the madness that came after. Then, two more storytellers, and thankfully, though their stories were good, I had the “I think mine might be better” sense of relief that thankfully boosted my courage just enough to quiet the demons in my head – because I was next up.
No turning back now…

I walked up onto the stage, and was instantly blinded by the lights. Good. Just me & the microphone. I raised the mic so I didn’t have to hunch over (noting that the guy before me was hunched, and it simply didn’t look good) – and began my story.

I don’t remember much of what I said, but I recall that people laughed at the right times, that words & sentences I hadn’t even though of appeared in my story to describe things that much better, and that somehow, my story found an ending to itself.
I did it. I fucking DID it, and instead of hisses and boo’s there was applause. Real applause, not just people being polite.
Crossing in front of a few people on my way to my seat in the back row, the woman sitting next to me said that the ending of my story made her cry a little in a good way. I had to refrain from asking her how it ended.

When the rest of the stories were told & it was time to determine who earned the prizes, I felt confident that I would probably get one. The difference in how I felt as I walked in the door just hoping to get through it did not go unnoticed. I closed my eyes and silently thanked the storytelling gods for reminding me of my courage.
Third place received a pound of coffee, which I certainly could have used but went to a woman & her lovely story. Second place was a crisp $50 bill, which I *definitely* could have used, but that, very deservingly, went to David. Cheers & applause echoed in the small room – but there was still one more prize left.
First place, the “grand prize”, is being invited to tell another story on February 23rd at some “Secret Location” in San Francisco – but it comes with dinner & the winner can bring a “date”.
They called my name. In a way I expected it, but I also TOTALLY didn’t, because I’m not good at telling stories.
I guess it’s time to change that way of thinking.
Great. Though I’m amazingly honored, now I get to go through all of this again, except most likely with people who have been telling stories & honing their skill for years – or at least more than a day. No pressure.

When I think about it, it’s really just telling a story – something that we do every day, and have been doing since the dawn of language – but although I’ve been writing the stories of my life for around 37 years, I have never felt that I was good at telling them. Hells, for the first 17 years of my life I was as close to silent as I could get away with, a tragically insecure & self-doubting child, choosing to listen & watch instead of talking.

But this is something new. A new way to make people happy, to make them laugh, think, and perhaps even cry – in a good way.

And I enjoyed it immensely, which, when it comes down to the nuts & bolts, is more important than *any* prize.

A Warrior Awakened

There was a time that I was called, by many, a warrior.
I have fought for the life I dreamed of and found it, I have fought through what most thought what was the inevitability of death and rose above.

For a long time, I looked for a different word than “fight” – but truly, nothing fits this better.

I will always fight for something better – whether it be myself or others – but it’s usually me, usually the things that have been ingrained in me that I battle.
Eventually, I always win – for now.

A warrior is not your everyday ignorant fighter – there is discipline involved, knowing the good from the bad, knowing the battles that you’re above, knowing the battles you can’t win and walking away.

When the person you battle is yourself, the same rules apply. The same discipline. The same grace.

This is my life right now, looking over my past and yearning for a better future because of it. I fight. I learn. I battle the ghosts and old bones inside of me.

I’m learning again, teaching myself, climbing up to grace.

Eighteen months in  a hospital and all that went with it crushed me…

But I will be that warrior again – and I will bring you with me – if you desire.

Do you?

Digging up the bones

Only a couple short but full months into my memoir I find that it’s far from as simple as I thought it would be. I knew it wouldn’t be easy by any means, but as I go through my past writing, my past life, I can’t help but be taken back to that time. The words again become my near-reality, and each carries a blade that slices a small part of my heart.

As if I don’t already have enough scar tissue there.

I have been outed, hated and vilified for keeping my HIV & Hep-C status from public knowledge in the highly sex positive community  I was in, my dog & I are a few days away from being homeless, I’m barely surviving, simple things such as eating are a luxury, and I’m terrified – but I still refuse to give up on my dreams, even though I have little idea what they are.

I just went to my first Dresden Dolls show at Cafe du Nord, a tiny basement bar that kept the air of its past, with deep red walls and thick velvet curtains draped opulently around the room. ANd ten foot ceilings, foot high stage. In the prohibition era, they did what they could, where they could – and du Nord kept that…
That was the first time I performed with the Dolls, getting a corset piercing in front of the small stage before they went on.

Whitney is just about to email me, treating me to lunch and telling me about a “proposal”. She also just told me that Amanda has a crush on me, in the shortened time of the memoir.

My life is simultaneously falling apart and coming together, but all I can see is the former. I had little idea what the next few months would hold – a life that had meanst nothing to me or anyone else becoming something I finally wanted to keep living in, a life that made a difference, a life… of value.

I didn’t know that then. I was just trying to find something I loved to do. Something I was good at somehow, something that gave me a reason.
And I did.

The places I decay into while writing this book are no one else’s business, but I’ll try to keep up here, try to write about it. Writing is what I know, deep inside of me, that can bring me peace. The only thing. I’ve been doing it for 33 years – and I’m still, somehow, alive.

It was writing that took my pistol out of my mouth, it was writing that washed away all the other times I decided it was time to end. This is what I do. I just need to remember how – how to keep my mind out of it, listen to the words that blow on the wind through my heart.

I think I do have something to offer… but the challenge is trying to write without worrying about how I’m going to afford to feed my dog and me. Everything was going so well, things were coming together, people were buying ad space on CultureFlux.com – and then my life stopped, was almost gone.

Coming so close to death changes a person. I still feel it, still wear the spiritual and physical scars – but gods, I learned more than I could eve have imagined.

= = = = =

I’m still a couple months from my attempted move to Boston, still a couple months from volunteering at the private refugee camp in Austin, still a few months…
Still a few months from Bean being killed by a train.

I wonder who I am now. I have my past. I have what I’ve been through… but what do I have now?

I frequently think that we live through things just to say “That happened to me.” to me, not someone else. I live in the same world as all of you – I’ve just seen more of it. As I’m certain some of you have, as well.

Sometimes, life can only begin with the understanding of death. Of dying. Sometimes it ends – not physically, but in spirit.
I was told that I was dead when I was 19 years old. A call from a doctor telling me I had the AIDS virus. Back then, over 95% of people who contracted it died miserably, painfully within 18 months.

Think about that.

I lived a good part of my life afraid to try anything that took more than a month to learn, afraid to go back to school and feel like I, again, didn’t finish what I set out to do – and terrified of loving anyone. More terrified of them loving me.

but here I am and how? WHY me?

Here’s a little secret: I felt that the Universe kept me alive so I could finally find my birth-mother. When I was writing my first letter to her, asking if she was – I felt, i KNEW that the moment I met her the one purpose I had been allowed to live for would be achieved, and I would come as close to dying on the spot as possible.
Rational? There is no logic in this, no logic why I am STILL alive. But I am.

And maybe that’s why it so difficult to get this book done.

Somewhere in my life there is that last thing I need to do, and that last thing will take it away.

Now that I think about it – I have had a good life. I am not afraid of death in the least – I’m incredibly intimate with it. We’re buddies.

TIme to get writing this fucking book again.

 

Stubborn as f*ck.

Hey everybody!

I’d like to thank you all again, while I have you here in such rapt attention, for your support those few short months ago. You guys taught me a lot – or more accurately said, reminded me of something: The book is the most important thing. Getting it written, sharing a story that will be crazy enough for someone else to read and most likely say something akin of “All of the sudden, my life doesn’t doesn’t seem so bad!” or, of course “Okay, screw this miserable life. I’m going to follow my dreams like this guy!”

(I’m going to need to put a legal disclaimer on this book, aren’t I?)

So yeah, the book. That’s what I’ve come to talk to you about. Dig this:
In 5 days, on November 1st, I begin an incredibly optimistic endeavor. Y’see, I’ve joined a thing called NaNoWriMo, which is short-ish for National Novel Writing Month. Yeah, it’s a thing.
While “they” encourage you to write 50,000 words in 30 days, I did the math and that’s, like – 126 pages, or something. Half a novel.

SO, me being who I am (which is somewhere between a damned fool and a very ambitious dreamer) I’ve decided to shoot for 120,000 words in 30 days. Because maybe I work better with an impossible challenge. Or maybe I’m a godsdamned genius. Or maybe I’m a friggin’ moron.  I still haven’t figured that one out.

But what will I do with an entire novel, an earth-shattering, life changing, epic opus of literature sitting around on my computer? What good is THAT?  No good at all, that’s what good it is.

So this is the plan: Somewhere around the 13th of November (if I’m not catatonic from trying to write 4000 words/day) I’m going to launch an IndieGoGo campaign. It’s like Kickstarter, except you get to keep the pledges of support – which is a fancy way of saying “the cash”. This time, instead of reaching for the stars, I’m only going for the moon. Enough for good editing, publishing, promotion & marketing, and paying the artist who helped me in the original campaign. Not in that order, The artists time comes first. Maybe some so I don’t have to eat my shoes or dog. (This “starving artist” thing is SO not as cool as it sounds.)

Yeah. 120,000 words in 30 days without going completely insane, just mostly. Then edit the crap out of it, and get the book published. And as an afterthought, not die.

Wish me luck! And hey – if by some strange chance you want to support my eating AND getting the book out to the world, you can feed me through Paypal! Not actually food as it’s not one of those rat-maze reward trigger things (which is the official scientific name), but a way to get some. Gods, I love this modern world. Sometimes. My Paypal address is Casey@kseaflux.com. That’s also my email address. Cool, huh? TECHNOLOGY! (Accepting food help starting now. See “Starving Artist” reference above.)

NOW, I need to go prepare more for this insanity. Currently I’m hiding sharp things and padding the walls & my laptop (which might or might not get thrown across the room). And giving anything that could be considered poison to the nice family in the apartment next door to hold. And figuring out chapter titles to kind-of keep me on track so the book doesn’t explode.

I’ll be talking to you all again soon, and again – thank you! (If you DON’T hear from me, please send help. Coffee or whiskey. Or new fingertips. )

LOVE YOU ALL!
~ Casey