Colombian author Ingrid Rojas Contreras recently released a new memoir, “The Man Who Could Move Clouds.” In an interview with NPR, she discusses the fine line between fact and fiction.
Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s new memoir, The Man Who Could Move Clouds, is named for her grandfather, a curandero in her northern Colombian hometown who people would hire “to ward off rain ahead of soccer matches or to banish ghosts” (read more from WJCT News here). However, since immigrating to the United States, Contreras found that “sometimes when I would share stories of my family, I would be corrected or I would be investigated,” with others calling her lived experience “magical realism.” Contreras interprets this pushback as “a version of just trying to erase different worldviews.”
According to Contreras, “Once I realized that, I had so much energy and so much love for this story and just really wanted to do it justice.” Her book describes “that experience of living in a context where the magical feels routine and people tell you that your real life is fiction.” I can’t judge Contreras as a memoirist without reading her work first, but, The Man Who Could Move Clouds sounds like quite the conversation-starter in the realm of creative nonfiction.
Having enrolled in kindergarten the year of the Columbine High School massacre and graduated high school the year of the Aurora theater shooting, I am no stranger to these tragedies. Here are my thoughts on what happened in Texas.
When I started kindergarten out-of-district at Ralph Moody Elementary School in Littleton, Colorado, it was because my grandfather taught there. It was August or September, 1999.
Moody was fifteen minutes away from Columbine High School.
I have no memory of the massacre that killed twelve students and a teacher, but it took place on my grandmother’s birthday that same year – Tuesday, April 20, 1999. She had to spend her fifty-fifth watching the news for any updates on the lockdown and evacuation at Moody.
Lucky number thirteen years later, she would relive that same anxiety over the Aurora theater shooting. I woke up the morning after the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Sheridan to dozens of missed calls and text messages from her about the news.
Like how the post-September 11 world is… well… “worlds” apart from the pre-September 11 world, Columbine shaped the trajectory of my educational experience, whether I was aware of it or not. For example, I can remember the anti-bullying campaign that visited my class at the turn of the millennium.
I realize now it most likely came to be as a result of Columbine.
Indeed, Littleton rests an hour south of Fort Collins, where Matthew Shepard succumbed to his wounds from the hate crime he suffered in Wyoming, and an hour north of Colorado Springs, where Focus on the Family is headquartered. Since LGBTQIA+ youth are already at greater risk for bullying than their straight, cisgender counterparts, it only makes sense that one of the possibly bisexual shooters would feel isolated and marginalized from the students surrounding him at Columbine, and why that might leave him vulnerable to the other shooter’s psychopathy.
Speaking from personal experience, Littleton is crawling with white, upper-Middle Class evangelicals who hoard their resources and privileges from all “outsiders.” In many ways, it is a typical postwar American suburb, but in some ways, its history is exceptionally sadistic. After all, 2013 saw another school shooting in the area at Arapahoe High, a sister school to my own alma mater, Littleton High, as well as the high school my mother attended before she dropped out, across the street from her family’s house.
My mother’s family will someday see their story told in a memoir all its own. Suffice to say, their communal narcissism and sociopathy embodies the Littleton community.
Now, I attend the University of Denver, whose founder, Governor John Evans, oversaw the Sand Creek massacre in the Colorado Territory that killed upwards of six hundred Cheyenne and Arapaho people at the hands of the United States military – yes, Arapaho; the same nation my home county is named after.
I cannot stress enough that Adolf Hitler studied American racism for sources of inspiration behind the Holocaust, and that Columbine took place on his birthday.
Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine taught me the killers targeted one of their victims for being Black, and one can’t help but wonder if this week’s first responders in Uvalde, Texas, would have neutralized the suspect with greater urgency if the students at Robb Elementary School were majority-white instead of majority-Latino. Either way, America’s past is uniquely violent for the success with which the European race displaced all other cultures living on this continent, and these tragedies are our reckoning.
On Tuesday, May 24, I messaged my Talkspace counselor about how to combat feelings of emptiness. What I at first thought of as a symptom of my borderline personality disorder turned into something more.
Earlier this week, I texted two Millennials – an “elder Millennial” in his forties, and one more my age (late twenties). I asked them both if they ever felt “empty.”
They both answered enthusiastically and emphatically in the affirmative.
It only makes sense, doesn’t it? According to Fortune, “the average millennial carries about $28,317 in debt, not including mortgages.” If the federal minimum wage is seven twenty-five, then it would take just shy of two years of working full-time, before taxes (or any other expenses, for that matter), to pay off such a debt, which doesn’t even calculate interest.
And I use the minimum wage as the extreme example here because many Millennials – myself among them – are “underemployed,” meaning we’re working outside our educational fields (and we’re paid like it, too).
In other words, we accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in debt to pay for college based on the false promise that these graduate degrees would land us higher-paying careers. Instead, we’re working jobs we settled for like we’re indentured servants to these predatory student moneylenders.
I know I’m not the only one who struggles to get by working two jobs, and one of them is an internship paying more than twice the minimum wage. What days off I do get, I spend resting up for the following work week, when I come back in and repeat the cycle all over again of generating revenue for faceless elites who don’t even know I exist, much less that they’re effectively feeding off the best years of my life. Indeed, these individuals surround themselves with ambitious sycophants who lie about the injustices that prop up their disproportionate privileges, and it is they who make up the institutions of oppression which threaten the very future of humanity with war, climate change, and an ever-widening economic gulf between the billionaire class and the global majority.
Lady Gaga released her second full-length studio album, “Born This Way,” eleven years ago on Monday. The anniversary brought back memories of high school, and reflections of where my life has headed since then.
It rained Monday, May 23, 2011.
I remember because that was when Lady Gaga released her second LP, Born This Way. I’d become a fan in January 2010, after she reissued her debut, The Fame, under the EP, The Fame Monster. I’d watched, live, as she announced the title for Born This Way at that year’s MTV Video Music Awards while wearing that historical dress made out of raw meat. Sitting by my side was a fellow Little Monster whose birthday was also May 23.
She was born this way. She was born this day.
Eleven years ago, I’d borrowed my grandparents’ 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier so I could drive to Sheridan and buy the CD at Target in Riverpoint with their money. I played it on my way to Littleton High School, where my junior year had drawn to a close the week before. I dropped off an assignment for the International Baccalaureate program, stained with raindrops. I drove home, listening to the gay anthem on my radio.
I would go on to graduate from Littleton the following May. “The Edge of Glory” blasted on my alarm clock the morning of, when I sat down for another IB exam before the ceremony. My involvement in that program earned me the diploma which would help yours finish his four-year degree in three at Colorado State University Fort Collins. My commencement as a Bachelor of Arts in entertainment journalism took place in May 2015.
Gaga herself was the primary source of inspiration behind my critical theory.
So, with Facebook’s “Today in the Past” feature reminding me of these milestones, why is it that they leave more “bitter” a taste than “sweet” in my mouth?
Simply put, I am more nostalgic for that summer before I became a graduate than I am for anything to come after. Dancing to “Bad Romance,” first in front of the senior IB History class on my eighteenth birthday, then in front of the entire school at a pep assembly, won me “prom king.” People invited me to their grad parties not out of genuine friendship, but out of social pressure and obligation, and, as a teenager still, I couldn’t tell the difference.
Indeed, what did I have in common with the straight, rich, neurotypical kids?
Either way, this crowd would abandon me in droves by the end of the summer, catalyzing a depressive episode of my then undiagnosed bipolar I disorder which darkened my undergraduate experience like the rainclouds overcasting the sky on Monday, May 23, 2011. Too disabled with major depression to focus on much else, I graduated college to half a year of unemployment, which forced me to settle for seven years of working outside my field as of this writing.
Such a lifestyle of “fighting to survive” instead of “enjoying life” has contributed little to my mental wellness.
Now that it’s Monday, May 23 again, and I find myself working a fourteen-hour day to make ends meet as well as supplement my master’s degree with even more professional credentials than I already have, is it any wonder that my favorite song has shifted away from Lady Gaga’s pop-tastic “Hair” to Pierce the Veil’s suicide-preventative “Hold on Till May?”
On Sunday, May 22, I met a former coworker in downtown Denver for dinner and a movie. This is her appreciation post.
I hadn’t visited an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema since before the COVID-19 pandemic, and I’d never gone to the one on West Colfax before Sunday afternoon. I arrived twenty minutes early so I could find someplace to park in time for the two o’clock showing, which meant by the time I walked to the theater, it was ten ’til.
I waited for someone I hadn’t hung out with since February or March, whenever it was we saw the West Side Story remake together in Highlands Ranch. That was in the early stages of the “endemic,” when the pickings were still slim for Hollywood entertainment. (The “endemic,” of course, turned out to be short-lived, with my campus internship transitioning back from biweekly to weekly COVID tests as of this writing).
No, today, we were seeing Men, which aligned more with our shared taste. I paid this time because she paid last time, and it was to our benefit that I bought the tickets in advance online, because Men proved to be the kind of independently produced A24 horrorshow worthy of attracting a crowd of local hipsters, gentrifying the area, to indulge all the craft brews and “alternative” charm the Alamo has to offer.
By the time my friend found her own parking spot, the previews were almost finished. We met in the lobby and rushed to our seats just in time for the opening credits to roll.
In the end, Men was a surreal, subversive experience only we could appreciate together. After the year I lived, when strangers on the street ganged up on and violated me, it was refreshing to join that many people in watching Rory Kinnear and Paapa Essiedu try (and fail) to horrify unconditional love out of Jessie Buckley. It gave me hope for the future of A24 and their output in the current of a mainstream more preoccupied with selling action figures to eleven-year-old boys than testing the more “creative” waters of the filmmaking form.
And this friend, a fellow “film school” Millennial whose education landed her in retail alongside yours truly, was the right one to lament with over “Royales with Cheese” in BarFly after the movie about George Lucas (and, yes, West Side Story director Steven Spielberg) commercializing the cinematic culture beyond all pretense to the “higher” arts.
More than that, this friend called me two or three times throughout the day on Monday, February 7, when I finally told people about the date-rape and mugging I’d survived the Friday night before. She treated me to dinner that evening. She offered more support than those closest to me.
Our very friendship is a middle finger to the institutionalized oppression that Men critiques. If we still worked together, we would have been fired for “fraternization” by the capitalist leaders who expected “productivity” out of us, rather than “humanity.” We trauma-bonded over our progressive ethics. We encouraged each other through the irreconcilable differences between our own psychiatric disabilities and our employer’s losing war with Jeff Bezos.
I would like to thank this friend for the burger, and reminding me to live for our next movie together in the future.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the Class of 2022 make up “the most in-demand college graduates to enter the job market in years.” Will I be one of the lucky ones?
I pulled out my phone this morning to check the time when I saw the notification from LinkedIn. As recently as yesterday, a recruiter had messaged me with a job opportunity, only to reject me minutes after I submitted the application. Hoping for a different outcome, I opened the app and found a headline from LinkedIn News there to greet me, announcing that “new grads” are “in-demand.”
It was a “different outcome” – just not as positive as I would have hoped.
The LinkedIn News piece is excerpted from The Wall Street Journal, which reports that “sixteen percent of employers surveyed in March and April said they’d double up on new graduate hires this year compared to 2021.” What’s more, “fifty-three percent of new grads with job offers said starting salaries surpassed their expectations, reaching six figures in some industries.”
Part of me, of course, embraced this story as welcome news for the Biden Administration, still repeatedly criticized for their handling of the economy even though their progressive policies are demonstrably leading the United States away from a post-Trump COVID recession.
However, I earned my bachelor’s degree in 2015, when Joe Biden was Vice President, and I expect to earn my master’s this December. Unless I find a day job in my field by the end of the year, 2023 will mark an eight-year resume gap for this writer.
It’s not from a lack of trying. As an undergraduate student at Colorado State University Fort Collins, I worked as many as four jobs at a time to build up my portfolio. One of these positions was an editor’s role I filled in less than a year. During the three years of my Bachelor of Arts candidacy, I earned two merit-based scholarships for my journalism, and placed in a national competition as many times.
Employers took note. My clips snagged me as many interviews in 2015 as my online profiles snagged dates, but I must make a poor first impression, because it wasn’t until months after graduation that I found a job and a boyfriend, neither of which were my “type.”
Yes, I shake hands with a limp wrist, but only because I’m gay and gender-queer. No, I don’t make consistent eye contact, but only because I have five diagnosed mental illnesses, four of which are protected classes of neurodivergent disabilities. But shouldn’t a hiring manager recommend you based on your qualifications, not whether they like the cut of your jib?
Even though he’s no Bernie Sanders, I charge every writer in this community to advocate for fewer discriminatory staffing practices under Biden. Climb up on your platform like it’s a soapbox and amplify your voice like it’s a megaphone.
For as long as interviewers shuffle certain CVs to the top of the pile because their fraternity brothers and sorority sisters memorize the right secret handshakes, then “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” are just so many more buzzwords.
The world changed during my hiatus from this blog site, and not for the better. With this fresh start, I ask myself: what can I do to improve life with the posts I publish here?
Content Warning: Sexual violence; intimate partner abuse; mental illness; childhood trauma; drug and alcohol misuse
Before Friday, April 4, 2022, I had no way of knowing how much lower my life could get from where it already was. I was naive enough to believe I’d put the worst behind me with the deaths of my parents when I was twelve, or breaking up with my abusive ex-boyfriend in 2017. Tragically for me, though, the trauma from their collective narcissism and psychopathy shattered me in ways that outlived my respective relationships with them all.
And only in returning to this blog site can I rebuild my identity as a writer.
Who I am now is not the same as I was in the hours leading up to midnight (and beyond) on February 4 and Saturday, February 5, though. How do I reconcile a survivor of street crime with a film journalist? As a (now) trained memoirist, isn’t it ethically incumbent upon me to share that process of rewriting my life story with everybody else in this community, and resolve it enough to bring hope into this dying world like only creative writing can do?
As a content creator, I may lose followers for this pivot in artistic focus, but if even one reader walks away from me a more inspired and enlightened person than they were before, then I will die a successful man. For everyone who stays with me, and everyone who joins us, I promise you: I will summon all my talents and enrich you no less than the finest works of literature.
You have my word.
Other than excusing myself from work over a nail I found in my tire the night before (and then ignoring the call that it was ready to pick up from the dealership so I could raise another glass, or two, or three, to my coworker’s nineteenth birthday), nothing felt atypical about February 4 – or, at least, any more atypical than since I quit my… well… atypical antipsychotics near the end of 2021, or my antidepressants in January. Between an internship, a full-time overnight shift, and my Master of Arts program in professional creative nonfiction writing at the University of Denver, I simply didn’t have enough motivation left to split my Abilify tablets as prescribed.
As for the Prozac, I was so manic (without realizing I was manic, since my doctor failed to inform me about a bipolar I diagnosis from my therapist), I thought it meant I didn’t need an SSRI anymore. I attributed these high moods to my dialectical behavior therapy group for the treatment of borderline personality disorder and assumed, like Alexander DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), “I was cured, alright.”
Meanwhile, I texted my friends and family dozens of paragraphs at a time when I wasn’t staying up for twenty-four hours at a stretch to compose epic blank verse in Spanish.
Friday the 4th was no different – or, at least, not at first. I spent the day pacing the house and emailing leaders at my full-time employer about what I suspected to be a grand conspiracy to fire me for calling out or otherwise retaliate against me for speaking out.
Little did I know, I also lived with paranoia related to a disabling diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
My psychiatrist’s office, when they mailed me my bills, inputted a diagnosis code of generalized anxiety disorder. According to my licensed professional counselor, doctors normally diagnose new clients with broad strokes like GAD or major depression (which I have also been diagnosed with), then zero in on trauma pathologies like PTSD or BPD. But in this “new” normal, my prescriber was treating me for anxiety instead of bipolar, which is tantamount to taking Benadryl for a root canal.
To cope with the realities of these persecutory delusions, I treated myself to an otherwise “typical” Friday night in downtown Denver. Having blacked out more than once in my past (perhaps due to my bipolar hippocampus), I cut myself off after two strong drinks.
However, as fate would have it, moderation wasn’t to save me that evening.
I should have stayed home (and sober) outright.
Without rendering a painful lived experience for far too many of you, or titillating the wrong crowd with sensational details (more on that later)…
…I was date-raped, mugged, and left for dead in the gutter.
When I came to at sunrise following what I could have mistaken for a series of lucid nightmares, I found myself wandering a homeless encampment in subzero temperatures, which made it hurt to swallow or breathe. My feet were wet, my black shoes gone white from the salt they used to melt the slush, and my iPhone 11 Pro Max was missing. My jaw ached as though my teeth had smashed together, and I still don’t know where the scrape on my elbow came from, or why my assailants didn’t take my wallet or my car.
Maybe I fought them off.
Or maybe I negotiated with them – a thousand-dollar phone, freely given and easily traded for crack, Fentanyl, meth, and whatever else they smoked so openly in this part of town.
Either way, whatever they drugged me with suffocated an already sleep-deprived, hung-over, and traumatized mind. I drove back to the shelter in search of my phone, offering rides about town in exchange for leads, each prostitute and drug dealer ripping me off worse than the last.
By the time I gave up and returned home that afternoon, the sunglasses, gloves, and charger I kept in my console were all taken.
It is not with great vengeance and furious anger, but rather overwhelming sadness, that I report this tale of a Colorado man so desperate for a pair of winter gloves that he swindled me out of mine when I was at my most suggestible and uninhibited.
That was just fourteen or fifteen hours of my life.
For him, it is his life – if he’s even still alive this many weeks later.
That taste of his world is enough for me not to rest until I have saved all people I can from his same fate, before I meet my own. Growing up in Denver, I can remember walking down the street without coming across a single tent pitched on the side of the road.
Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic and not one of us is as far removed from those looming alleyways as we comfort ourselves to believe.
One may be forgiven for wondering how I, Jack Trades, Master of Arts, would effect this change, and the answer is that not even I know how, or even if I ever will. I am only a multimedia artist, after all, screaming into the void that is the information superhighway. My ACT percentiles ought to attest that this is all I know.
Even though I could have just as easily journaled privately about this event, I have instead decided to heal in front of you (whoever you are), for it is the world that is sick, not I, and you and I are shuffling off this same mortal coil together. I am but a symptom of a far larger illness that drove anonymous strangers to force their grim perspective onto me. By healing myself so publicly, my ambition is to do the same for everybody else here.
Through the structural aestheticization of the larger meanings these words represent, may we all come to know a more beautiful life than the one described above.
Since my third-grade teacher, Mister Hardy, introduced our class to none other than The Hardy Boys, the written word has served as the currency for my borderline dissociations, and I do mean all manner of the narrative arts – even my favorite TV and video game characters accompanied me in my most maladaptive daydreams while my late parents screamed at each other for hours upon hours.
When you’re a child who hasn’t learned to fend for himself yet, sometimes the only escape is a fantasy.
After a fashion, it wasn’t enough merely to consume such media. From my earliest fan fiction to my latest homage, creating this media helped me to experience it, or come as close as I ever would. As with the futility of a lover’s embrace, writing would never truly make this superior world any more than pulling someone close will keep them with you forever, but isn’t fleeting pleasure better than none at all?
And isn’t the miracle of art that it reconstructs the truth of these moments for us to revisit over and over, even as time washes the rest away? Isn’t that why the greatest art offers up something new whenever you revisit it, as if for the first?
So with all the expansive limitations of a savant, I exorcised my dream world out of the my body and onto the page, where any sighted and English-literate eye could read and manifest it into their own imagination and memory, as if it were real – real to them in ways not real to me, yes, but no less honest for that.
And these aren’t just starstruck musings designed to frame a half-scriptural catharsis which may strike the skeptic as absurd in the face of mob violence – these claims have scientific backing. University College teaches us the best writing empowers itself to simulate visceral and verisimilitudinous reactions at times strong enough to effect social or even physiological change. (It bears emphasizing as well that Poets & Writers listed the doctorate degree in creative writing at my graduate school as the top of its kind in a 2012 ranking).
Indeed, one need look no further than near every reformist movement throughout history to study the political and cultural capital of everything from Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses to the tweets that catalyzed the Arab Spring. How would your quality of life measure up without the muckraking of Ida Tarbell to break up the Rockefeller energy monopoly, or Upton Sinclair to regulate your produce? What kind of a life expectancy could you hope to have?
More personally, writing has saved me from my own life-threatening borderline personality disorder. Dialectical behavior therapy groups encourage you to keep “diary cards” between sessions, documenting your mental wellness. For a creative nonfiction writer, these can serve as plot points in a memoir, helping you chart the path of your life’s work toward a more mindful nirvana.
Thanks to this therapeutic journaling, no new scars have arrived to join the ones already decorating my wrists since – I’ll admit – February 2022. Yes, I relapsed after my attack (who wouldn’t?), and I’m still not the same person I was before, nor will I ever be again. As I grow more sure of myself, though, I become that much louder a voice for my own mind, where the same words that trigger the involuntary flashbacks in my fight-or-flight-or-freeze response will drown out in my deafening advocacy for a brighter tomorrow.
Which then begs the question: how do I spell out the calculus behind that more prosperous and harmonious future for all, where people need not harm each other for survival, believably enough that you’ll fight by my side to build it?
At Colorado State University Fort Collins, where I worked toward my bachelor’s degree in journalism from 2012 to 2015, I minored in critical film theory. This course load lay in keeping with high school student’s a Lady Gaga obsession which translated into a fascination with Warholian postmodernism.
It only made sense for such a school of thought to resonate with a closeted queer youth who idled away the hours pretending he was a hero in one of his favorite stories.
In any case, these classes taught me to approach popular culture with more creative remove. Who do certain images and narratives benefit, and who do they exploit in a white supremacistic capitalist patriarchy which supports the billionaire class on the backs of the global majority? What can I, as the author of my life with an upper-Middle Class safety net to fall back on, do to spread the wealth of my own white male American privilege?
I don’t presume to know, not with a lifetime of socioeconomic blindspots to unlearn, but what I can say is that revolution is possible when a borderline personality survives something worse than his childhood. If, for all my empathy deficits toward the ones I devalue, I can come out on the other side of this more compassionate and not less, then a kinder lifestyle is within grasp, too, even in this day and age. We might exist in the logical extreme of post-Cold War Americanism, with predatory property managers holding stolen land hostage and ransoming it out to the highest bidders, but even while a closet robber baron like Vladimir Putin makes a devastating land grab in Ukraine to restore a fallen empire, I shall meet war with grace.
This isn’t to excuse my victimizers. For them to atone, they must turn themselves in for what they did to me, take that time to reflect on it, then spend the rest of their days investing the work to make it right with the communities they targeted in me (“atonement” differing widely from “forgiveness” or “redemption,” mind you). To borrow a DBT term, however, I “radically accept” my memory of them, and all the larger contexts at play behind it.
No, what these people are guilty of – some of them BIPOC, some of them LGBTQIA+, some of them women, most of them mentally ill, and all of them poor – is past forgiving or redeeming. Regardless, they had their reasons for doing it, even if those reasons weren’t “justifications.” We hold an enemy in common, not with any individual, but with the institutions of oppression and abuse certain individuals prop up.
Before any of them can atone, they shall either live dismantling such legacies, or die defending them.
My BPD is a family heirloom passed down from as many generations back as the German great-grandfather who fought on the losing side of World War I, if not even farther. It is as systemic to me as Trumpism is to the same country of religious extremists founded upon a declaration of independence wherein Thomas Jefferson falsely accused King George III of racist conspiracy theories. It is true I have rejected my BPD in much the same way as the United States rejected Donald Trump himself, but it is still an ideology I am cursed to rebel against whenever I am reminded of the first twenty-six years of my life, before I ever enrolled in a DBT group.
Which brings me to why I declined to involve the police, because while I am aware violent criminals are at risk to re-offend, I, their victim, am not to blame if they choose that path. The police only would have made their situation that much more miserable, brutalizing and rounding up whomever they didn’t murder at the outset. What net positive would have been gained from ruining even more lives when the police did nothing for me at the time I needed them most, anyway?
Rather, I choose to be proactive and not reactionary, preventative and not regressive, and in so doing, I represent the antagonists of this drama humanely, painting them in the same shades of gray that color me. Of what worth would any other essay be in our already anti-homeless society? Not only is violent crime among strangers statistically rarer than it was ten years ago, but Colorado’s economy of alcohol consumption, rewarding microbreweries with the same gusto as fossil fuel industries, cultured my downfall more so than my unhoused neighbors.
No, I will find my justice somewhere this never would have taken place to begin with, and I will set that scene between these lines.
On New Year’s Eve 2015, my friends and I went out celebrating in Old Town Fort Collins. ‘Twas half a year before I would sample my first drink at twenty-two (a glass of liquid marijuana), so I was the designated driver, still too scared of becoming an alcoholic like my parents to so much as try a sip, but not so scared that my abuser wouldn’t talk me into it.
Fittingly, I first met him the next day.
Anyway, a couple brawled with each other at one of the bars, so the bouncers chased the rest of us outside, our breaths rising in front of our faces to the stars above.
My friends and I were alone on a side street, looking for the car, when we encountered the couple from the bar – a tall Black man and a blonde white woman. The man was slurring at somebody on his phone when I made eye contact with him. Then, he started yelling at me, but with the phone still pressed to his ear, disorienting me enough with his nonsensical gibberish and divided attention that my fight-or-flight-or-freeze response paralyzed me with intrusive thoughts about my upbringing. His partner kept her hand on his chest, holding him back whilst imploring us to “get the fuck out of here.” My drunken friends couldn’t move between us fast enough, and no sooner did he pocket his phone than he was throwing his arms up in my face.
“This ain’t Boulder, son!” he screamed, the whites of his eyes crowning out of their sockets. “You in a different world now, son!”
For the record, I hadn’t been to Boulder but once, for a job interview.
The night flashed red and blue with siren lights from officers responding to the bar fight. I could have cried for help at any time. As soon as they saw him with blondie, they would have laid him flat on his ass.
Because I feared the pale white ghosts of my parents more than I did a Black man who had a few too many in a college town, I silently stood my ground until he backed down.
Again, I’m not the poster boy for anti-racism – I was simply too petrified to run, and that’s all there is to it. But if there’s anything to be learned from my inaction, it’s that the police would have stained that man’s record at best, whether I ultimately needed any protecting from him or not.
How many of you have been fortunate enough to overdo it on a holiday without it defining the rest of your life?
I know I wouldn’t be here spinning these yarns for you if not for the freedom afforded me to indulge in a “blank slate” (or is it a “blank page?”) after February 4. I can’t speak for anybody else, but for the world in my own head, it knows now a closure singular to the experience of closing the book on one chapter and opening it to the next, which is the magic of creative nonfiction – delivering literary transcendence to the facts of life.
What’s more, the cries for help in this essay, the pleas for my needs to be met, will reach all of you when nobody did anything to help me in Denver, having witnessed just as bad, if not worse, the night before, and the night after, too.
In the community we forge together, that weekend will go down as just another story.