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  • J. S. Chlapowski

Imagine a diner at three in the morning, not far from the west coast waters your toes first touched just three months before.

Seated around you are friends you barely know because you didn’t let yourself know those type of people, because just three months before they disgusted you. They scared you and they reminded you of what a coward you were when you didn’t tell your friends and family in Georgia that you were one of those people, too. You, with them, at the table make eight. More will come later.

This is your first time in the diner, but not theirs. They’re greeted by a blue-aproned woman, wide and comfortable with her girth. They call her Large Marge and she accepts it. You don’t understand the reference yet but your new friends and Large Marge seem to have fun with it.

Large Marge carries no pen or paper but takes each order anyway. She’s got this. It’s her trick and your friends love her for it. You wonder why someone with a trick like that works at a diner instead of working in linguistics like you and your friends. This is before you learn in September that language won’t be all you do.

Your feet under the table are covered in sand from a ritual two hours ago, invoking the good grace and well-wishes from the Goddess, a clear bottle shaped like a headless torso filled to the brim with blue sand and seashells. That night you learned about "camp", though you didn't know the word for it yet.

Large Marge doesn’t seem to mind your sandy feet. You’re told in hushed whispers that she’s a goddess too, and perhaps the same Goddess, blue sand made flesh. Your food comes exactly as ordered. It’s quite good and you think maybe there’s something to that goddess thing.

You come back to base that night smelling like bacon and cigarettes, full of memories that stick and last longer than most. You broke a rule to bond with these people, and you’ll do it again.

  • J. S. Chlapowski

I met some friends and Snorre at a bar after work on Friday at a table with a bench, a few chairs, and some seats against the wall. One got up when I arrived. He offered me his seat along the wall. His back was bad, he said, but mine was worse, which isn’t quite true because it doesn’t quite work that way.

But some days it does work exactly that way. On both kinds of days, good and not-so-good, I hate talking about it. I don’t like it when people remember that I might have it hard sometimes.

HuffPo says there’s a celebrity with the same condition as me. Dan Reynolds, part of Imagine Dragons and now forever in my head as fellow anklyosing spondylitis…I don’t know, sufferer? Is he suffering? Am I?

I didn’t read the whole article but gave it a quick glance. I started tuning out the second I read that he needed to take time off to recover. I didn’t want to know the rest.

I didn't want to know what his threshold was for too much because I don’t want to look for my own threshold. I don’t want to be less able, because people remember that, right? The nice ones are accommodating, but it’s still an acknowledgement that I'm weaker than they are.

Most of my days are good days. I can walk without a limp, usually, and I’m pretty sure my back is more bendy now than a year ago. I haven’t had an MRI in probably ten years or more, but I haven’t really felt the need to get one.

I don’t want to read that maybe I should be more diligent, that I’m ignoring a slow boil that’s going to tip over if I don’t keep my eye on it, because, here’s the thing: watching a pot is fucking exhausting.

There are days when the water gets a little too hot, when the steam rises and pushes against the pot lid enough to make it jiggle and shake, and on those days I really do need to sit down and take it easy. There’s not always a seat available, and usually I’m not offered one. I don’t really look like the kind of person who might need a little more support now and then.

But then I have friends who offer a seat even when I don't need it, and on those days, I take it, as I'll need the seat to still be there on days worse than Friday.

  • J. S. Chlapowski

A story on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell popped up in my newsfeed, about Obama and his tepid commitment to repealing the law, and I don’t remember enough to dispute it. I don’t think I would have bothered if I did remember enough.

It was ten years ago, wasn’t it? I can’t remember the year. If I can’t remember the year, it’s too long ago for the rest of my memory to be reliable.

I do have a picture. Maybe that’s more reliable. You can see it just above.

You wouldn’t know it if I didn’t tell you, but you squeeze your eyes hard enough you can see me in the corner, on the right, in the shadows, oblivious to the very real fact that the moment I was in was a Big Moment that would be photographed and sent to us months later, so that everyone in the photograph could have proof that they were important once.

Looking at the picture, I do remember something. I remember after it was taken, the President left, and, still starstruck, I stood my ground against his staff anyway. It was a hard thing to do and I stuttered and blushed, and when I was done a few others spoke up and shared the small piece of courage I stood upon. They may have been inspired by me, they may have been waiting their turn, but at the time it felt really good. Over the next few days I did feel important, though it wasn't a moment caught on camera.

For a while, I had it in my head that I would write something about my experiences on the Hill, after every memoir and article claiming credit for winning the fight against DADT cycled out; when readers and potential readers were in the mood for a more nuanced take, where there were no heroes you could point to because there are hardly ever any heroes and hard, non-heroic decisions are hard, because who can be a hero when the path to being one is never lit?

But memoirs need memories, and mine are silent, stirred only by the occasional post about heroes that never were.