Then and Now

April 13, 2019

Dear Darlene,

I’m writing this letter to you a month after hearing that you had died. I stumbled across something on Facebook saying you were ill a while back and meant to reach out, but I became distracted with a million other things, and missed my chance. When I received the invite to your memorial I was floored. Feelings of regret for not contacting you have haunted me ever since. I have reread our last message several times and I am so grateful that we had the opportunity to catch up after losing each other for two decades.

Kids these days (see what I did there) will never understand what life was like before social media and the internet. I moved away less than a year after we graduated from high school, and although we corresponded via snail mail, eventually we lost touch. I thought of you often, and whenever I ran across someone from our hometown, I would always try to find you, to no avail. I was over the moon when you tracked me down on Facebook in 2013! After so many years apart, it was amazing to speak to you, if only through a message.

I stumbled across a letter you wrote me back in 1995 yesterday. I was sorting through a box of stuff from my days living in Austin, and there it was, just sitting on top. Before I even read the envelope, I thought to myself, “How cool it would be if this was from Darlene”. It was. You were unapologetically yourself in this letter and I couldn’t help but smile the whole time I was reading. You complained about feeling old at the age of nineteen and how being grown up was putting distance between all of us who were so close in high school. It’s funny to read those words now knowing how things change and the many years that would end up separating us.

You were always fierce, but extremely kind. I don’t recall us ever having an argument and I trusted you more than anyone else during those horrible last three years of high school Hell. I miss dancing outside of the taco stand in Compton after we narrowly escaped being arrested for somehow ending up in a riot. I miss listening to Black Flag in your room and hearing you talk about your new boyfriend. To my delight, you two remained together all of these years. I find myself wanting to track him down and tell him how fucking much you always loved him, but I don’t know if that’s weird. I miss wandering around Redlands at night looking for ghosts while everyone else we knew was getting drunk. I miss hanging out with Nole, who lived in the park and collected books. I loved that the three of us would talk about whatever we were reading and it didn’t matter where we came from, only that we had stories to tell.

I watched your memorial service through live streaming on my lunch break at work. I wanted to be there, but wasn’t able to make the trip to California on short notice. Listening to your friends speak about what a genuine person you were made my heart practically burst. I was so happy to know that you only got better with age and that other people had the opportunity to experience who you were. I followed my dream of living all over the country and becoming a fashion designer. You became a force of nature, dedicating your life to working with the homeless, primarily veterans. In our last message, you spoke of mentoring at risk youth because you remembered how hard things were for us at that age and understood “bratty” kids, even when other adults couldn’t. This didn’t surprise me at all and I hate the fact that I never realized the extent of the work you did and missed the opportunity to tell you how much you mattered. Since we were always honest with each other and never held back, I’m going to tell the truth right now; so many people on this planet are dicks and the world is darker without you in it. You did so much in the short time you were here and I have no doubt that you were only getting started.

The last page of your letter was just a pasted quote, “You already know how it ends”. I thought I knew, but I was wrong. I expected to be dead by thirty-five, because my mother only made it that far, and I assumed everyone I knew would outlast me. Here I am, celebrating my forty-third birthday just two weeks after hearing that you are gone. It’s moments like these where people ponder the meaning of life as they face their mortality, but I don’t have time for that tired bullshit. Instead, I find myself remembering the girls we were and being so damn proud of the women we became.

Thank you for all of the lessons you taught me. Thank you for always having my back when I needed it most. Thank you for finding me again and giving me that one last conversation between two old friends trying to catch up after twenty years apart. Thank you for proving everyone wrong by showing that strange looking teenagers can grow up to be badasses and society should stop underestimating people just because they don’t fit the status quo.

Well, I guess that’s it. I don’t know how to say goodbye because I don’t want to. I’m going to look for more of your old letters, but in the meantime, here’s one last letter to you.

Love always,


The Beauty of Spontaneous Order

Artwork by Think Outside the State.

A couple of nights ago, something horrifying happened. I was on my way to see the play that I just costumed when my companion and I became involved in a hit-and-run collision. A vehicle was driving the wrong way down the street which resulted in another car being struck and spiraling out of control. As luck would have it, we narrowly avoided being hit, although the incident showered our car with quite a bit of debris. The driver who was at fault took off, leaving witnesses confused and a severely damaged vehicle containing two passengers stranded in the middle of the road.

When incidents like this happen, everyone reacts differently. When you’re dealing with a group of individuals, there’s no surefire way to predict every behavior. This is especially true when reacting to new or uncommon situations. There were several people who saw what happened and numerous others who stopped to help. I was in awe as complete strangers took the time to check for anyone who might have been injured, stuck around as witnesses, and did everything within their power to assist. The division of labor unfolded naturally and it was quite a sight to behold. I was amazed by the open communication that ensued between numerous people who had no relation to each other, yet worked diligently to improve a horrible situation. I can’t speak as to what everyone else walked away from that incident feeling, but for me, it was a jumble of emotions along with one glaring observation.

The most profound feeling I experienced was an overwhelming sense of appreciation. It also became apparent to me how effortless it can be to interact with others when we see them simply as humans. Nobody on the scene of that collision had any sort of criteria that had to be met before they cared about the others. There was no discussion of who voted for Trump or who voted for Hillary. Nobody based their concern on religious affiliation or race. All that mattered to this group of people was that everyone was safe and that the situation got handled in the most respectful and efficient way possible. This is the beauty of spontaneous order. This is the beauty of humanity.

If you distance yourself from the divisiveness of politics and internet fighting, it becomes easier to spot these incredible acts when they occur. I’ve seen situations where people have refused to accept responsibility for their actions, thus complicating the lives of others. I have also witnessed occurrences where people truly care about their neighbors, oftentimes at their own expense. I am in no way suggesting that one should ignore the current political climate, but merely pointing out how tempting it is to be consumed by all that is distasteful without acknowledging the areas that are flourishing.

I’ve been extremely disgusted by the behavior exhibited by so many over this last election cycle. As a libertarian, I’m consistently disappointed in government, so perhaps my expectations are lower than most. Even so, it has been shocking to witness how grotesque the current political discourse has become. I’ve watched as people I know have ended friendships over a ballot box, or held fast to ideas that they know are wrong, even in the face of overwhelming evidence just to maintain an ideology.

I have rather strong opinions about many things. Truth be told, there are very few people in my life who agree with me on most political issues that I hold in very high regard. There have been times when I have felt separated from the people I love because of things like disagreements over public policy and opinions about religion or lack thereof. It’s easy to fall into the trap of defining people in such a narrow terms, but humans are more complicated than that. As a seeker of truth, one of the greatest things you can do for yourself is to be exposed to ideas that you disagree with, to interact with people who make you apprehensive, and to actually listen when they speak. If your goal is to understand the world and approach it from a scientific standpoint, then you must swiftly escape your comfort zone. An echo chamber does wonders for ego, but will not encourage growth.

It’s undeniable that terrible things happen in this world and there are people who perpetrate unspeakable deeds. There are also people who will step up when they’re called upon, not because they are being ordered, but because it is the right thing to do.

Someone wise once pointed out to me that it’s easy to take inventory on everybody else, but the real effort begins when we acknowledge our own flaws and then work to correct them. By only focusing on negativity, individuals fall prey to an endless cycle of cynicism and fear. I have lived this way before and refuse to return to that place. By favoring constructive discussion over angry debate, it’s possible to develop a better understanding of others, and consequently, ourselves.