Unlocked

At the fork in the road, she looks left then right
and chooses the middle with a wink and a grin.
Oh how the wayward souls go


Tomorrow I’ll lock my front door for the first time, and the last time, in eleven years. My home has been figuratively and literally open to anyone who needed anything for over a decade, an era that ends right now.

This wasn’t just a home. It was family dinners and karaoke nights and pool parties and dad jokes and stripper drama and unconditional love and unwavering support. People lived here because it was safe, fun, and judgment-free. It was a refuge for my kind of people – the wayward ones. Those who chose their own paths, forged their own futures, and triumphed over harsh adversity.

I moved to this home newly divorced and terrified of being alone. I leave as someone who loves himself, who has grown and learned and become a much better person. The lessons over the last decades were hard ones, but I’m proud of who I’ve become. And as I witness each one of my chosen family go on to do amazing things, I’m even prouder of them.

Change has always been my enemy. It’s brought anxiety attacks, sleepless nights, and hours of abstractly calculating everything that could go wrong. But tomorrow, as I begin a trip with no end in sight, change will be my constant companion, and the thought of embracing it warmly terrifies me. No more routines, my brain says. No more familiarity, my social sense cries. Aha, but no more stagnation, either. No more complacency. No more doing the bare minimum.

I’m so excited.
I’m so terrified.

What’s going to happen next?

Janelle.

Janelle died this weekend.

This isn’t going to be an eulogy. I never knew her well enough for that. 

She was in my circle – my periphery – for almost seventeen years. She was a dedicated reader back in the days of blogging, and commented on every post. She supported every cause, came to every event, and listened to every episode of our long-dead radio show. Janelle may well have been my very first fan, and for a while, she was definitely number one.

I used to do stupid YouTube videos in my old office, which was painted Superman blue. Janelle was fascinated by the room and would comment that she couldn’t wait to visit “and see the Blue Room.” I suspect she was so engaged with the world of blogging for the same reason that many of us were – it gave us a window to whole new worlds we never knew existed. And for Janelle, married with children in a small conservative town, it showed worlds she wanted to be a part of. When she had the opportunity to visit other bloggers, come to parties, and attend events, she moved mountains to make it happen. I remember when she attended a Halloween party at my house, she treated it like a trip to Disney World, traveling somewhere more magical than home to escape reality for a few days. Her sense of awe and wonder was infectious and optimistic, which was a refreshing take I never appreciated fully.

Janelle (dressed as a Tropical Depression) and fellow blogger Michel (as Uncle Fester) at one of my Halloween parties

I took Janelle for granted. It’s only after her death, hearing from friends about how much she meant to them with her compassion and concern and love and support, that I realize that. To me (and to at least one other blogger), she was president of our fan club, but that’s where it ended for us. I would go read her blog when she asked me to and pat myself on the back for leaving a comment, like I was doing some type of fucking charity work, and I knew I could always count on her to be among the first to boost my ego with a comment of her own, but I didn’t know anything about her life. I didn’t know how many kids she had or what her background was or what her dreams were. I didn’t even know where she lived until about three years ago when I organized a meetup in the closest big town. To me, and I say this with absolute regret, Janelle didn’t cross my mind except when it was related to how it could benefit me or support my efforts or ego. Over the years, I got a vague sense of how she was a vocal ally for marginalized groups and a champion for progressive causes, but I never made the effort to treat her as an equal. It’s now clear that she was a much better person than I.

Janelle took her own life this weekend, and I can never take back how I devalued her as a person. I can never make amends for it. I’ve heard from so many friends about how supportive and wonderful she was. She was compassionate and considerate, an energetic cheerleader who championed her friends as they went through their own personal trials. Janelle celebrated your good news and held your hand through the bad news. She was a genuinely good person, and I never knew.

The last time I saw Janelle, in Nashville, with her husband, Paul, as well as fellow blogger Ginger, and my friend Mekennah.

Janelle, I’m sorry for taking your friendship, affection, support, and admiration for granted. It’s too little, too late, I know. I wish I could have been there for you like you were there for so many people, especially in your final hours when you made that terminal choice. There is a tremendous hole in our community now, but I hope you’re at peace, and I hope that each person who benefited from your optimism, support, and love will be able to find peace as well. 

In lieu of flowers, her family is asking for donations to St. Jude Children’s Hospital.