Friday, October 19, 2013:
It is the final night of my first return to Georgia in a whole year. And for the first time since abandoning the South three years ago, I am actually sad to be flying back “home” to California tomorrow.
Normally, I am not sad; normally, I am beyond ready to return to my new life after a few days spent reliving my old one. After just three or four days of my mother’s blueberry pancakes and pumpkin bars, the warm fuzzies have usually been quick to flee.
With no offense meant my parents or faithful friends still dwelling in the Peach State, I normally cannot endure more than a few days there before the tentacles of my past stretch for my soul. That lonely bedroom surrounded by walls wearing meaningless academic awards, blaring reminders of my isolation and bullying, that birthplace of pornography, that worthless spirit of yesteryear —
This is why I hate Georgia. Not for what is, but for what it once was. I hate Georgia for the fearful hopeless person it turned me into, the fearful hopeless person I lived for eleven endless years.
And yet this brief Georgian trek in the fall of 2013 is different. This particular return trip home has done something to those eleven long years of secluded suffering. Redemptive conversations and newfound triumphs breaking the stale dirt of a lost decade.
Tonight on this final night in Georgia for God knows how long, I step outside. I walk a few yards behind the house I once called home and stare down at the plot of earth more sacred than any other ground my feet have trod.
In the blue black light of this cool autumn night, I crouch at the foot of my dog’s grave. It is the first time I have stooped here since well before my book’s April release.
Six months ago, I finally told the world about Annie. The whole story.
For years, I knew this innocent rat terrier’s story would be told someday. I knew it beyond my bones, somewhere many rungs deep within my gut. And yet for many years, fear held my feet — my pen — at bay.
Annie’s accidental death on November 17, 2006 changed everything for me. Transformed my story far more than a cross-country move or multiple summer camp excursions. Radically renewed something deep and very much broken within me.
Six and a half years later, that story was finally told. If you’ve read Struggle Central, you now know it. The tragic altogether redemptive story I once held so tightly to.
A tragic redemptive story that’s now set free.
Kneeling here at Annie’s grave, all these years later, she barely seems real anymore. Like a wispy woozy strain of orange in a fading evening sky. I close my eyes in this midnight dark and struggle to recollect the smell of her neck, the warmth of her tongue on my cheek, the spark of her bark and scampering feet as I come home from another empty day at school.
I reach down and grip the hard Georgia clay littered with pine needles, and immediately I weep. I sob deep into my shoulder, desperate not to be heard by neighbors or my own family. I clutch the cold dirt and needles and stare at Annie’s gravestone, mourning all over again the loss of arguably the most important character to enter my life, my story.
Annie taught me love unlimited, unmerited with her life and courage unthinkable, unparalleled with her death. With her untimely passing, my secret war with pornography and homosexuality suddenly grew quite timely — finally became a war I would start to win, bringing darkness to light.
Struggle Central would have never happened without Annie. That eBook from April, the upcoming paperback version, none of it. None of it would even exist without her.
My story would be lost without Annie.
Over the next few minutes, I hover over her grave and weep some more, whispering words to the dirt below eternally holding her physical frame. I pray she can hear me, somewhere in the mysterious beyond.
“I did it, girl. I finally told your story. People love it.” My voice trembles. I stare long at her stone, my throat throbbing.
“I still miss you, Annie,” I breathe, rising from the dirt with a shudder and a shiver, wiping my eyes with my damp jacket sleeve.
5/15/99 – 11/17/06
Always With Us
(Seven Years and Counting)