Child Of Light

 

 

A category one hurricane swells the San Francisco bay area, winter of 2001. There has never been a hurricane off the coast of California, but for the last few years, strange things have been happening around it. Broderick and Adam huddle beneath Broderick’s electric blanket on their couch, Broderick tracing patterns along the base of Adam’s hairline as Adam sits in his lap. They’re watching television. They probably should be tracking the storm’s path on the nightly news,  but they’d rather watch the feature stories, documentaries about the past, as they normally do.

“There has been a steep decline in adoption for foster children older than six in the East Bay,” the social worker being interviewed on TV is saying. The video shows a group of young black girls dancing in a circle, in a park near their foster home. “Last year, in 2000, almost seventy percent of adopting couples in Oakland wanted a child under the age of two. These older kids feel the sting of abandonment. Many are left in care their whole lives.”

“That’s awful,” Adam mumbles. “Look at them all. If we had a house big enough, I’d take them all. It makes you wonder how each of them got there, you know? I know not every parent wants to, I know circumstances are varied. Still. I just wish I could change it.”

Broderick smiles, kisses Adam’s temple “You’d take in every stray in the world, if you could,” he says. He means it as the highest compliment he can give.

Broderick closes his eyes, then, holding his lover closer and listening to the rain beat against the roof. Broderick is calmed by storm noise, the wind howl, the walls of the house starting to tremble; he grew up in Louisiana where stronger music than this was orchestrated. In 1992, a category five swept his childhood home up off the ground and destroyed it; just another day. In the aftermath, he used to sail a boat down the river-streets of his neighborhood, drenched, rescuing people or picking up his latest boyfriend for a joyride.

He looks to his husband, now, this boy who grew up in Riverside, a Los Angeles desert, who’s probably never seen rain like this. Still, he’s calm. In that moment, then, in the cacophony, Broderick swears he hears something that shouldn’t be a part of the storm.

He nudges Adam off his lap, moves to the door, presses the shell of his ear against it. He thinks he hears a child’s voice screaming.

“What is it?” Adam says, still watching TV.

Broderick feels the cold through the wood of the door. He also knows, for sure, that there’s a kid out there screaming.

“Adam,” Broderick says.

His pulse jumps as he unlocks the door, finds the little black girl standing there. Screaming. Her purple dressed is soaked, her hair a tangle of dreads and ribbons about her face.

“Adam.”

The electric blanket is still draped Adam’s body, but when he sees the kid, he drops it.

“Oh, God,” Adam says

The girl stops crying, backing away from the doorstep.

“No, please, you can’t stay out there alone,” Adam says. “It’s okay.”

Broderick watches as Adam slips outside and picks the girl up, bringing her and a draft of cold wind inside. Broderick locks the door back, still watching Adam sit the girl on the couch, kneel in front of her, check for injuries.

“How do you do this?” Broderick says.

On TV behind them, the video of black girls dancing shows again; the narrating reporter says the foster home profiled for the film, on West Market street in Oakland, was burned down in a gas fire by its mother in 1996.

“How do you do this?” Broderick says again, watching Adam. This is not the first time that Adam has caused strange, unimaginable things to pass through their door.

“How do you do this?”

Adam picks the girl up and hoists her over his shoulder, his eyes wet.

“I’m sorry.”

 

 

The first time it happened, it was 1999. Adam and Broderick had just graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, Berkeley, respectively, when they were 23. They had just moved in to the rickety, crooked, Victorian Queen Anne home that they would rest in in San Francisco for about a year. Adam was wearing one of Broderick’s old Berkeley sweatshirts–it always happened when Adam was touching a fabric of Broderick’s that he loved–when their front door, which they kept open in the afternoon for the light, was passed through by a friendly intruder.

“Hello, hello!” A man in his early twenties walked through the door, white, brunette, wearing a crewneck that had HARVEY MILK IS ALIVE printed on it, and a backpack with dozens of AIDS rights pins on the straps. “I was told I might find you here.”

Broderick came to the door first.

“I’m sorry, who are you?”

Adam came to the door second, not looking as shocked.

“Oh,” said the young intruder, “I’m sorry. This house used to belong to someone else.”

Broderick looked back at Adam, who was holding a spatula midair, still wearing his pink apron sloshed with bits of egg and pancake batter.

“Harvey Milk was shot in the head,” Adam said, casual, to the stranger. “Don’t you think?”

Cue Adam inviting the stranger in for brunch, feeding him flapjacks one-by-one at the kitchen table. Broderick was sitting on their Goodwill couch, trying to pay attention to the black and white documentary about Desert Storm, but sometimes, turning to watch his husband. Adam seemed to be able to make friends in minutes. This guy could’ve been a homeless axe murderer and Adam was still cooking for him. Just because he had too much.

Anyway, Adam’s guest, the kid, was harmless. Clearly a college student. He had a band-aid on his cheek, his school insignia cap was turned back, his legs bounced under the table like a kid who knew dessert was coming.

It seemed the young man was urgent to finally say this to Adam:

“It was an illusion,” he said, as Adam stood at the stove. “It was staged. You can make someone look like they’re dead when they aren’t Haven’t you ever heard of Hollywood? What if it’s just convenient for the government to make us think he’s gone?”

“That’s interesting,” Adam said.

Adam left the stranger alone in the kitchen for a moment, after having made a foot high stack of pancakes, and came to stand behind the couch where Broderick sat.

“Come eat?” Adam said. Broderick looked back at him and reached for his hands at the same time Adam extended them towards him. Broderick held onto them, feeling the cold of the silver band that he gave Adam during their “wedding,” which was less legal ceremony than it was them deciding on a hilltop, one day, that they were husbands.

“I’m alright.” He looked past Adam at their momentary friend at the table, smiling at the silliness of it all. “Who is that?”

Adam smiled, too, shrugged. “I don’t know.” His gaze was beyond Broderick, watching soldiers march on TV. “His parents had friends who lived here two years before us. I think he thinks I know them. It’s cool. We’re friends now.”

The young man simply ate his stack of cakes, talked to Adam for thirty minutes about the state of gay activism in the U.S., and then left, saying “Goodbye, goodbye!” cheerfully, knocking on the open door three times as he exited.

Weeks later, Broderick and Adam were still living in the Queen Anne house, discovering where all the floorboards creaked, the paint chipped, the asbestos gathered, and the ancient heating system hardly worked to defeat the cold. Broderick was watching the nightly news, which was telling a feature story about veterans adjusting back to civilian life.

He recognized the young man’s face in the film. “Adam,” he called, feeling chills wash over him as the boy spoke on camera, shaken up, about an IED attack he  barely survived.

“Adam.”

Adam came, wrapped in a red quilt that Broderick’s mother gave them as a “wedding” gift, standing behind the couch where Broderick sat.

“It’s cold,” Adam said. He quieted, then, staring into the familiar face.

“That’s that guy,” Broderick said.

The documentary said that the young man had killed himself in 1998, a few months after being profiled for the interview.

“Adam.”

Broderick turned around to look at him. Adam still stared at the screen.

“Oh,” he said.

 

 

In the present, at the new house, Adam has had no problem understanding the little girl’s broken words and hiccups. Broderick watches them while on the landline with the police, half-listening to the officer give him instructions.

“Can you remember where you before this?” Adam says.

“I can’t find Mommy. I been outside a long time. I try to find her.”

“When was the last time you saw her?”

“She say come home if I lost. I try to find house.”

“Where do you live? Did Mommy tell you your address?”

“3, 2, 3. Market.”

“Market street. Oakland.”

“But God say I come here.”

“God?”

Broderick has stopped listening to the officer on the line.

“I sorry.” The little girls shakes. “I get lost. I walk all way here.”

“It’s alright.” Adam holds her, looking over at Broderick. “You’re safe now. I’ve got you.”

“As soon as it’s safe, bring the child to the precinct,” the officer says in Broderick’s ear. “We’ll take care of her. Thank you.”

Broderick runs upstairs, closes their bedroom door behind them. This one’s not the same as the others, he starts to think, there’s no way. Usually, they aren’t kids.  There’s nothing else to do but involve the police. They have to.

He rushes their walk-in closet, ruffles through the box he keeps closed, full of things of his that Adam has once worn. The things that, while Adam wore them, caused things that had once disappeared from the world to return. Broderick takes out the Berkeley sweatshirt, a pair of gloves, the red quilt. When he touches each, that same chill washes over him.

At first, he’d thought it was house, the Queen Anne with its 1800s structure that maybe had history, had one too many families that had once passed through it. But here they are in this new house, and still, it follows Adam here. Broderick asks them their names, looks them up, sometimes, to make sure they’re really dead.

They all are.

When Broderick comes back downstairs, its quiet. Adam and the girl are lying on the couch. Broderick wonders how, how he got her so calm, stopped tears and hyperventilation in just seconds. Adam looks to Broderick on the staircase, motions for him to stay quiet. The girl is not asleep, but close to it.

She blinks softly, watching the television, which briefly shows a close-up of her face. Adam’s talking to her, low enough that Broderick can’t make it out, but he knows it’s a story or a myth of a some kind. Adam has this look about him when he’s talking history. He has thousands of anecdotes piled up, from all times, so many, one would think he actually lived through all of them.

The way he looks right now makes Broderick wish he could give Adam more than he actually can. It makes him imagine Adam as a father, a good, careful, nurturing one. Broderick heart aches to give Adam children of his own, though science would disagree. But Adam would, Broderick knows, takes this lost girl as his own if he could.

He has, in his way.

As Broderick descends the stairs, Adam takes to gently retying the purple ribbons in the girl’s hair. He fastens them into bows as she closes her eyes, begins to snore. Once every braid is reconnected, Adam wraps the child tight in the electric blanket, lifting her again.

“I don’t know,” Adam says to him. “I can’t explain this. I don’t know.”

 

 

“They say when I was born,” Adam said, on one of Broderick’s first dates with him in a pub, 1995, when they were both broke college students, “I was so translucent, you could see through my skin to all my organs. It’s a tale my mother told. My adoptive parents once got in touch with her, on the phone. It was the only thing she told them and the only time they were ever able to find anyone I’m related to. She called them. Anyway, apparently my translucence was a condition of some kind, but my adoptive dad used to have a theory that I’m a nymph. A light nymph.”

Adam said this so casually that Broderick almost believed him. But, thinking on it, there was no such thing as a light nypmh; they both grew up reading fantasy books. There was certainly something about him, though, this guy, Broderick had walked into that college bar three weeks ago and been stunned by the way he looked. His otherworldly aura. He hadn’t been able to leave until they spoke.

“You said ‘used to,’” Broderick said. “Has his theory changed?”

“Probably not. He passed over. He and my adoptive mother both, when I was fourteen.”

“God. I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright. It happens. But I’ve been on my own ever since.”

“You won’t be. Not anymore.”

Even then, Broderick knew.

Adam took Broderick’s hands. “Okay.”

 

 

“Was she real?”

In the lobby of the precinct, Broderick holds Adam’s hands. Broderick’s hands tremble. They wait to find out what will be done by social services, to give the police a statement.

“Hm?” says Adam. “What’s that?”

“Was she real?”

Adam notices his lover is shaking.

“She was.”

 

 

The Twin Peaks were shrouded in light. At the top of the hill Eureka, the thick gray cloud cover rolled away, letting the sky re-emerge with rainbows misting throughout. Broderick and Adam stood at it’s apex, cool breeze wisping through the grass, its leaves tickling Adam and Broderick’s ankles.

“Do you take me,” Broderick was saying, grinning, “Broderick Ziegfield, former headache and frat boy nightmare transformed into a decent human by one Adam Necessary, to be your unlawfully wedded husband?”

Adam chuckled, squeezing Broderick’s hands in his own. “I do.

“Do you take me, Adam Necessary, once an orphan with an active imagination and reckless abandon, who’s found a home in Broderick Ziegfield, to be your unlawfully wedded husband?”

“Um, hell yes.”

“We should kiss, then.”

“Okay.”

Broderick has never felt, and will never feel again, anything like that moment and that kiss, full of love, that defined their unity. He was so filled with elation, and trust, and light, that he thought he could transcend life itself because of it. He felt he had reached the pinnacle of joy, that there was nothing that would ever compare.

He looked down at Adam’s face after their kiss and found that Adam’s skin was glittering, actually glittering. Broderick blinked several times. The illusion still didn’t pass.

“What?” Adam said, at Broderick’s long stare.

“You’re glowing.”

Adam looked down and around at himself. “Oh.”

Broderick laughed, tears brimming his eyes. “Are you real?”

Adam snorted. “Of course I am.”

Broderick was overcome once more, picking Adam up into a tight hug and spinning him around.

“I don’t know,” Broderick said as he pressed his lover’s feet back onto the earth, “if I’ve imagined you or if heaven’s really allowed me to be so lucky.”

Adam winked. “You’re lucky.”

 

 

“They say that when you die,” Adam said on the night of their honeymoon, which they spent on a simple rowboat in the shallow of bay, the stars alight above their heads, “you see a flash of light.”
Broderick pondered Adam, who sipped a glass of champagne. “Why are you saying that?”

Adam shrugged, smiling light. “I just wonder if I’m going to see a flash before I die. Getting married, you know, it makes me think about time. We said to each other today, ‘until death do us part.’ Don’t you wonder what death will be like?”

“Sometimes.”

Broderick wanted to hold Adam, so he did. “Come here.” Adam sat between Broderick’s legs, leaning his body against his lover’s. Broderick encompassed him, kissing the side of his face, as cold swelled around them.

“All I know is,” Broderick said, “that I’ll be here, until you die, after that. And I’ll always be loving you.”

Immunity

In 2015, I entered my short story “Immunity” into Legendary Women Inc.’s Fiction Contest and won second place, earning publication in their online magazine. The contest asked of us to keep in mind The Bechdel Test, in which a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. “Immunity” is tells the story of uprooted tomboy Alejandra,  who’s been in love with her best friend Lenore for years and who must come to terms with the fact that, sometimes, love isn’t enough.

Read the story on Legendary Women Inc. here.

Déjà Vu

This is a short story starring the protagonists from my novel-in-progress. I’m a big fan of time travel theories, but by far my favorite is the multiverse theory, in which infinite iterations of a person can exist in infinite timelines. I love even more the trope in which two people, no matter what timeline they’re in, always find each other. So, here’s this. (Mildly NSFW towards the end)

Coffee-Shop-Featured

Broderick Ziegfield is already having an off morning. As he stumbles into Pot Kettle Black, his usual morning coffee shop hideout, his migraine is splitting, as he can’t afford to refill his Adderall right now. His glasses  don’t fit right, either. The frames have long been crooked, pinching too tight on the bridge of his nose, and the prescription is in long need of adjustment. The world around him blurs, multiplying the pain behind his eyes.

For these reasons and others, Broderick needs his caffeine fix, stat. He’s grateful to find only one person, probably a college guy, his age, standing between him and the counter full of coffee, but it seems the guy’s determined to take forever surveying the menu, chatting up the resident barista Regina in a high-pitched, southern drawl.

“I’m not sure if I should go with the melange, the con panna, or the house flat white today,” the man muses. “What do you think?”

“Well, the melange and con panna are made with the Seattle-based Sperl beans we roast in the back,” says Regina, “literally, I got done with today’s batch at five a.m., so those are gonna be your best tasting. Right now our house white’s brewed with the Julianna brand beans.”

“Oh, we had those where I just moved from!”

“Aw, where’s that?”

“Lone Pine, Louisiana.”

Their seemingly innocent chatter continues for at least another minute, and Broderick feels his patience wearing thin. He edges up in line, closer to the man, so that perhaps he’ll feel that someone desperate is waiting behind him, and what he gets instead is a whiff of the man’s cologne, mixed with pheromones. Broderick can’t place where or when, or who he’s known that’s worn this scent, but he’s been surrounded by it before; perhaps pressed up against the skin of someone who emitted it. That’s crazy, he knows that is, because he’s never met this person before, but there’s something else about him. Since the dawn of realizing he was gay, Broderick has always had a thing for the backs of men’s necks, specifically, hairlines. Was that weird? Something about this man’s hairline, the pattern of curls and the mole just below the sharp line-up, make him feel, again, like he’s experienced this person before.

Clearly his loneliness has gotten so bad, he’s balking at the backs of mildly annoying strangers. Finally, the man’s apparent cluelessness about the menu seems to end, as he turns to dig around in his satchel. Broderick finds what he can see of the man’s profile striking, all razor sharp angles and cheekbones, the face of a model but he couldn’t possibly have been a model in Lone Pine, Louisiana, where even was that?

Regardless, Broderick feels his artist’s gears whirring even at this glimpse of that face. But he swears, if it takes this gorgeous stranger one more minute to pick a drink—

“You know?” The man stops digging in his bag. “I’m just gonna go with the Julianna, I think. I know it’s not very adventurous of me.”

Broderick stares up in agony at the ceiling.

“Not buying something local or home grown from this place is a slap in the face to the craft coffee scene,” he mumbles. “Basic ass might as well have gone to Starbucks.”

He planned on his commentary being inaudible to the stranger, but the man’s sharp turn and dirty look lets him know he was heard.

And the man’s face, as Broderick guessed, is damn pear perfect. Dark, practically glowing skin, shapely black eyes, full lips, he has the kind of face that Broderick has seen in every magazine, the kind of face God uses as the prototype for good-looking. The view is over far too soon.

“You know?” The man turns back to the barista, abandoning his search for his wallet. “Could I actually sample all three? We’ve got plenty of time here, right?”

“Oh my God.”

“Sure.” Regina smirks, catching on to the farce. She’s known Broderick too long to not want to take advantage of a chance to press him. “Take your time, babe.”

She gets to work on the samples while Broderick tries, and fails, to apologize.

“Could you at least let me get in line in front of you?” he says. “Not all of us are wide-eyed, hick-town prairie dogs with no idea how decent coffee works.”

“Okay,” the man spits, not turning around, “I’m already not having a good day and you look like a self-important, black James Franco wannabe who just crawled out of bed five minutes ago.”

“Thanks.”

Broderick can’t act like that doesn’t sting, as he did just crawl out of bed five minutes ago or at least, five minutes before he walked down stairs from his loft and had to deal with this shit.

“Take your pick.” Regina has returned to the counter with the drinks, and Broderick watches as the man takes extraordinarily slow sips. The way his Adam’s apple bobs each time is practically obscene. In between, he’s whimsically commenting on flavor profiles that aren’t even there, Broderick knows, because he’s had every single drink on the menu.

“Oh, yeah, the white is my winner,” the man decides. He digs around in his bag again, then:
“I’m so sorry. My wallet’s in my car.”

“Come on.”

The man disappears through the shop’s glass doors, and Broderick doesn’t have to see his face to know he’s smiling.

“Can you ring me up before that dunce gets back?” he tells Regina. “I’ll have the usual, but—”

“I would,” Regina interrupts, “but it’s hilarious how much this is getting to you today.”

“Shut up.”

The beautiful man returns to take his order to-go, and leaves a 15 dollar tip. Broderick’s bleary gaze follows him all the way out, wondering how someone who looks like that, from wherever the hell he’s from, ended up here, in the eternally rainy city.

Broderick wanders into Pot Kettle Black most every morning, has since he moved here, to work through his thwarting art block. He’s a fine graphic artist and recent college dropout who specializes in charcoal and pencil prints. His latest sheepskin sketchbook has been more empty than inspired lately, but this morning, something like inspiration has been suddenly fueled by the irritation he’s just felt with the beautiful stranger.

Seated at his usual round table, Broderick captures his soon to be fleeting memory of the man manga panel style, cursing him out with tears in his eyes, a dialog tag reading “blah blah blah you stupid hipster blah blah!” He signs it, dates it, and titles it, ‘He said I look like a black James Franco wannabe.’

Goes to retrieve his coffee at the counter, opens a new page. Sits. Sits and sits, thoughtless and stuck, and god, here it is again: the heavy, boring slumber that’s become his life.

Everything is muted by a lack of medication. ADHD is a bitch. He’s starting to not be able to afford anything about this life. He’s tired of living vicariously through 8 x 11 sheets of thick paper, tired of consuming himself in dreary, charcoal still-lifes of coffee cups, palm plants, nondescript pools and forests. It’s already been two years since he dropped out of prestigious art school, his major depression’s increasing in droves, and his commissions are decreasing in them, too, because of it.

Desperately, he’s felt he needs a new subject, something to remind him why he again chose this life: the masochistic life of those who struggle to define the undefinable.

Today was a start.

Three days later, Broderick’s desperation is somewhat soothed when the prairie dog turns up in the shop once again. Wearing a jarring, neon, cerulean blue sweater, the man decides to take his coffee table side this time. Broderick can’t take his eyes off him, watching as he thumbs through a small, worn, brown-paged novel, licks his finger with those lips with the turn of every page. He seems happier than everyone in the room, brighter, and someone so self-contained and self-assured, in a dull city like this, a sight for sore eyes, water for parched lips. Broderick gets that itch, one hand beginning to sketch the outline of who he sees on his blank page.

The stranger’s figure is all proportionate, crossed legs all shapely and perfect. Pretty. Only equipped with pencils, Broderick makes a note on the page to “fill the sweater in like ocean,” later on.

He continues the sketch in his studio apartment over three glasses of wine later that night. His place has become dusty and cluttered; the burgundy paint on the walls is chipped, succulents are dying in every window, and empty medicine bottles, unpaid bills, and rusted art supplies clutter on every surface. Despite the cloudiness that usually suffocates him in here, though, that suffocated him all day, his focus is razor sharp on the portrait. Hunched over the stool before the large steel easel set up in front of the couch, which doubles as his bed, his mind fills in the details and features of a man that he can’t possibly be sure of yet. But it’s the imagining that is all the fun.

Adding his personal style and color to his memory of the stranger’s luminous skin does give him a small thrill. He’s able to be generous with greens and blues for veins and shadows, copious with bronze and espresso for flush. The blue sweater takes on a life of its own, becoming the sea and the portrait’s background; he weaves it into waves and whitewash, enhancing it with watercolor.

Stares at it after three hours, finally finding it worthy and titling it, ‘Who are you?’

The next morning, Broderick finds the man there again, this time wearing deep, entrancing red, and with a friend. He’s grateful for his muse’s distraction in the friend, and the facial expressions he’s making at her. He renders several of those animated faces in bust form, labeling them each. ‘Shocked,’ ‘he didn’t wait long enough to drink and burned his tongue,’ ‘so excited,’ ‘do I have to cut a bitch?’

Next time, his distant model is dressed in all black, turtleneck swathed up his long neck. His nose is red and his eyes water as he thumbs through leather-bound book. Broderick notices three white roses sticking out from under his satchel’s lapel. From all the across the shop, he can feel the man’s pain affecting him tangibly, it tugs on his heartstrings. Even though he doesn’t know him, can’t possibly know him, Broderick wishes more than anything that he could lift the sadness from him.

Instead, he draws him lying on his back in bed of white rose petals, at peace. With each petal, he feels his own stress leaving his body.

‘What troubles you?’

The morning pass like this for weeks. Broderick finds himself antsy, pathetic, itching to draw the man who was born looking like he should be drawn, whenever the stranger takes a step into the room. The man always chooses a table so far from his secret artist’s, and is always engaged in something far more entrancing. He doesn’t seem to notice.

One day though, Broderick makes the mistake of staring too long, too hard; he just can’t make out the details of that face from behind his weakened glasses. When suddenly his muse is looking up at him, pointed and curious, Broderick ducks his head. Wipes his nose with his lead-dirty fingertips and feels his heart racing.

Quickly sketches and titles the image he has frozen in his mind, of his subject staring back:

‘Why do I feel this way about you?’

He realizes that he needs to see the face up close again, if he’s ever really going to capture him. The next time he sees him in line, he gets up and stands after him, even though he’s already had his coffee. The man hesitates at first, Actively Trying To Ignore him, then turns around all sharp like he did the first time, squinting those eyes.

“Are you following me?”

Broderick’s taken aback. He’d forgotten how song-like the man’s accent was.

“I don’t see how that’s possible,” Broderick manages, “seeing as how I don’t even know your name.”

“Adam.”

That’s it, that’s all Broderick gets before the man steps to the counter, clearly having figured out his favorite drink by now. He orders it in seconds, on a tab, and then floats back to his table, but Broderick got what he went for: details about his Adam, eyelashes, barely there freckles, the shape of his earlobes, the exact curve of his lower lip.

Broderick went back to the drawing board, completing the best and most hyper-realistic drawing yet. A steel bucket of water being thrown down on the man from overhead, and him on his knees, laughing from the shock of it. Wearing nothing besides drenched, skin-tight khakis, kneeling in mud full of budding hydrangeas, skin open and bare. Broderick let himself imagine how each muscle in his body would curve, how he would know them.

Okay, so he is kind of following Adam.

‘I’m crazy. You have no idea how you look to me, beautiful. I’m crazy.’

 

 

Adam Necessary knows when someone’s staring at him. Call it leftovers from a life being that effeminate gay guy who doesn’t even have to open his mouth for people to know. Call it the hyper-awareness that he’s new in town, that everyone on this crowded hipster block just paces away from his university knows one another.

He has long grown passed his anxieties about standing out in a crowded room, though, now finding it a great asset.

That’s why he knows the hot asshole from four weeks ago, the one who all but called him a basic ass white girl, is watching him whenever they’re both in the coffee shop together. It’s not the worst way to be stared at. Despite his stereotypical appearance, the grungy five o’clock shadow, the glasses, the brooding, holier-than-thou expression, he’s quite the looker. He has the kind of boyish face that will probably never age, brown skin with smile-creases all around his eyes, contrasting with the hard, fixed line of his mouth. He frowns constantly, Adam guesses probably angsting about the meaning of art and Nietzsche and the human condition, or from having done drugs.

But he probably used to smile a lot once. Definitely looks like the kind of guy his friends, mother and father warned him about when he moved to this city. Those are always the ones he falls for, the jaded ones, the prickly ones, the hard to get to know.

He’s an artist, that’s for sure, his nose practically lives in the sketchbook he carries with him every day. He hardly moves from his corner table, not even to pee, and his hands are always charcoal grey and black from smudging pencil. Whatever it is he draws has him intensely focused. Sometimes his glasses fog up when he forgets to put the lid back on his drink, far too in the zone to ever bother dabbing them, and it just makes Adam want to reach out and do it for him.

The stranger definitely takes moments from his work to stare at Adam; Adam’s caught him several times, and knows the game.

Adam realizes the artist is making a point of standing in line behind him on purpose, one day, and questions him.

“I don’t see how that’s possible,” the man’s voice was rough from disuse, which Adam found hot, “seeing as how I don’t even know your name.”

Okay, that was smooth. So Adam decides to give a little.

He leaves after letting the man his name to give illusion of a chase. The man returns to his table and Adam waits until he sees him bow his head deep in that sketchbook.

Adam walks up to the barista and asks if he can see “that guy over there”’s receipt from his last purchase.

“Yeah, I don’t think I can let you do that,” Regina says. “Legal reasons or something.”

“It’s just—he bought my coffee once before, and I’m kind of looking to repay him.”

“Okay, that is so obviously a lie. Are you stalking him?”

“No!”

Regina smirks at his thinly veiled reaction and chucks open her drawer to fish it out.

“Since this is clearly the beginning of romantic coffee shop meet-cute, I’m not gonna be the one to keep the jaded lovers apart.”

He finds he has to leave the building to keep his dignity, uncrumple the receipt and search for the name in tiny print. But in his subsequent search, typing on his phone pacing just outside the shop doors, he doesn’t find anyone by the name Broderick Ziegfield on social media, no traces of the scruffy artist anywhere. He doesn’t even have a website for his art.

The next time they see each other at the shop, Broderick is clearly out of sorts, and looks deeply stressed. He doesn’t order anything, doesn’t even open his sketchbook. Frustrated, he types a few things into his phone, then curls over on the table using the book and the crook of his elbow as his pillows.

He gets up and leaves solemnly, and Adam notices after far too long he left his book at the table. Interest piqued, he looks around to see if anyone else has noticed, but his fellow cafégoers are steeped in their laptops. Presently, Adam eyes the front counter to see if the barista is watching him, and when she isn’t, he takes all his stuff and moves to the artist’s table.

He re-sets up his iPad and novel and pens like he didn’t just move to take a peek at the abandoned work. But he doesn’t find it in him to keep up the farce for very long, heat on his face as he peels open the cover.

Oh my god, this is so totally fine, he thinks. He’s acting like artists aren’t constantly begging to have their works reviewed by others. Broderick’s sketchbook is totally normal and unassuming, the first page having been written in his fine handwriting. His full name, the date he started, his address, and his phone number make for a very pedestrian introduction.

But Adam has butterflies in his stomach as he slowly sifts through the first pages, becoming more and more stunned as he moves through them. Here are rather haunting and dark depictions of inanimate objects, lonesome and chilling; broken cups on a never-ending table, looming forests that would like a nightmare to get lost in; sleek unrippled swimming pools reflecting eerie skies above them, a panicked hand grasping out from under ocean surface.

There are others that move him too, especially a self portrait in which Broderick is half naked and staring into a mirror, morose. He managed to capture his own details so well, the minute pinches of his brow, the shadows under his eyes, his own pain staring back at him, that Adam almost feels uncomfortable.

Oh my god, this is intimate. This is like him willingly reading the private diary of someone else. He swears he’s going to stop, just text the guy innocently and pretend he never looked, that he just happened to stumble upon it.

But on the next page, he finds himself.

Adam finds himself symbolized as a weepy cartoon in black ink. He feels half offended and half euphoric at the unflattering but weirdly adorable depiction of him, and doesn’t expect to find what he sees next.

When he turns to the next page, his heart skips a beat. He finds that deep cerulean blue, his favorite sweater he recognizes, becoming the ocean. Finds his own face, clear as day, pretty and memorized and detailed.

“Oh my god.” He keeps going, finding them all marked with Broderick’s loopy signature and the date. Every single one of them has a purposeful caption. The one of him in all black on white roses, from the day one his classmates had been hit by a drunk driver—Adam doesn’t know what to say, what he will say. He almost tears up, feeling less like he’s been stalked or watched or upset, and more like somehow, he’s been understood.

He sees me. Each drawing becomes more and more accurate. The last one of him soaking wet, shirtless, flushed and laughing, actually makes him so painfully self-aware, he shuts the book.
He doesn’t want to give it back now. Why should he? When at least half wouldn’t exist without him? He will, he’ll give the sketchbook back, but he hurriedly packs it into his satchel first. Not without stealing it away at home for himself first. He realizes that’s selfish.

That night he looks at them again, re-reading those captions, wondering and romancing himself sick. ‘What troubles you?’ ‘You make this face when you really like the book you’re reading. Cute.’ ‘I’m crazy. You have no idea how you look to me, beautiful. I’m crazy.’ The artist speaking directly to him makes him feel like his soul is a window, wide open.

 

 

Broderick hasn’t slept since he lost his book. A whole year’s worth of labor, sweat, and broken lead was just gone in a moment’s time. What on god’s shit postmodern earth was the point of being a fine artist? This was why his asshole friends in art school used to do their work digitally. How is he ever going to make a living with his tired hands?

The foggy morning that he wandered out of Pot Kettle Black and back up to bed without the book, he was exhausted from realizing the state he’s let his life slip into. His gas bill is so overdue, it’s getting shut off, in the middle of winter. He barely made enough for rent from his few commissions this month, but one of his clients complained that his quality wasn’t up to usual. He’s managed to his get his hands on some pills, but just a handful, from his sketchy old art school connect.

He wanders back into the shop the morning after, having taken one or three too many Adderall. He hopes a good Samaritan submitted his life’s work to the space behind the counter, since he got no calls last night. But Regina laments to him that they don’t have that particular brand in stock.

“However,” she says, “I do recognize the person who picked it up.”

Even through the high, Broderick is deeply angered by this thought. “Someone stole it?”

“Don’t work your blood pressure up, the guy’s completely harmless. He’s the cute one who stares at you when you’re in, though not nearly as often as you stare at him. What? You two are regulars, we notice this kind of thing. He asked for one of your receipts the other day, giving some bullshit story about how he needed to pay you back or something. I don’t know, the whole thing is kind of cute. Also a little bit creepy, on both ends. But, anyway, southern boy has your book.”

Broderick’s head spins as he wanders out of line without ordering, sits back down elbows to table, head in hands. The concentrated focus of the drug isn’t helping his mortification. The idea of his stranger, the one he’s fancied into someone intimate to him unwarranted, knowing that he has fantasized about him, even drawing him soaking wet and on his knees—

He should just go home now, go home into his dirty loft and dig up another book, start over. Find another too expensive local shop burrow in, find another strange model to stare at.

Adam wanders in that morning with the sketchbook clutched tightly to chest, hoping it will keep his heart from falling out. There his artist is, sitting alone. Looking like he’s deeply contemplating his existence.

“Broderick? Here. I’m sorry.”

The artist resolutely Does Not Look into Adam’s eyes as he takes the book back, slowly.

“Do I—“ Adam stalls, his heart beating wildly as he surveys the details of Broderick’s face. “Do I know you from somewhere?”

“You don’t.” Broderick swallows. “I just like the way you look. Or something.”

“I’ve never been—no one’s ever looked at me like this. I mean, your work, it—I nearly cried, and not just because the latter half of it was of me. The colors, the shadows, the pain, the emotion in the first half. It’s really something, you have here. Beautiful.”

Broderick knows he has pull, decides to take a stab in the dark.

“Helps when the subject matter is compelling.”

He’s looking Adam in the eye now, and Adam doesn’t want to play games. He suddenly just wants him.

“I would do this for you, you know,” he says, bold. “Let you draw me like, actually. Professionally.”

“Well, Adam, I’m no professional, but I do have a studio. I’ve got some ideas.”

 

 

Broderick takes him upstairs into his loft, and Adam surveys the space. High, wooden ceilings, steel supporting beams, dark burgundy walls, heavy draperies. Dead plants, laundry, art supplies scattered everywhere. Empty pill bottles.

“You can have a seat on the couch.” Broderick sits before his giant easel, sifting through his favorite charcoal set, not setting an eye on Adam at all as he prepares. He is so intensely focused on what he’s about to do that it hasn’t even set in yet, that his muse followed him here.

Adam sits on the couch and unzips his long boots, watching Broderick not watch him.

“How do you want me?”

At this, the artist’s eyes do flicker over briefly. The flat line of his mouth twinges slightly. But his expression is otherwise absent, glazed over.

“Any way you’re comfortable.” His voice is light and conversational, though, betraying the haze seems in. “I usually like my models nude, but definitely don’t feel the need to accommodate me there.”

Adam does strip naked for him, clinical and unassuming, like he’s all alone in a changing room. Broderick doesn’t look at him at all, not in lust or with want or even just curiously.

Broderick knows that its happened, and the sounds of zippers and fabric ruffling definitely turn him on, as a soundtrack. But fuck if he isn’t nervous. So much so he has to stay glued in on the void paper in front of him. How it’s going to be positioned, what background he’s sketching on it.

Until he hears Adam say, “It’s cold in here.”

Shit. Broderick didn’t pay the gas bill. He just invited this gorgeous specimen into his freezing depression den, on the couch where he lives/sleeps. And god, wasn’t he just perfect, angelic? Adam’s body is all taut muscle and lucent, clear skin, his soft dick curved against his thigh. Broderick stands up and walks towards him. He thinks he might just collapse with those eyes fixed on him so intently, but he holds it together.

He deigns to touch Adam’s skin, lightly tilting his chin up with his fingers.

“I’ve got a space heater somewhere,” he promises. “Give me a minute to find it?”

He returns, plugging the rusted machine into the wall and then kneeling just before Adam. Adam is starting to get hard, the moment he’d been left alone to realize what was happening sending his arousal through the roof. Adam didn’t know why he trusted him, but somehow, knew he should.

Broderick starts touching Adam’s face in daft strokes with the pad of his thumb. Caressing every curve of bone and cartilage, even the unimportant ones, giving an especially firm tug along Adam’s lower lip.

When Broderick’s strokes progress to his neck and his chest, Adam takes a deep breath.

“What are you doing?”

Broderick says, “Painting your portrait.”

That isn’t bullshit, or a line Broderick uses to get into his models’ pants. He genuinely wants to feel their bone structure, innocently, like a student of anatomy, just wanting to understand how a frame works. Adam’s is so incredible, all those proportions lining up just the way he imagined.

Adam’s eyes slip shut when Broderick drags his thumbs across Adam’s ribs. He lets himself look down at Adam’s length, dizzy from the lurid pornography of it, but he isn’t going to test those waters now. He ends his trail at Adam’s hip bones.

He goes back to his post, and Adam practically shudders at the loss of him.

“Sit up straight.”

The next hour is spent in bone-chilling silence, though the heat along Adam’s skin is making him more and more attracted. Adam isn’t sure if he should talk, though he isn’t sure what he’d say, and Broderick can’t manage it besides a few directions. “Tilt your chin up a bit,” “move your elbow to the right,” “look at me again,” “hold still.” He is lucidly focused on the work, the look in his eyes calculating, and the gift at the end of the session proves it.

Adam comes around to sit on Broderick’s lap in the after, reviewing the canvas with his artist. Broderick wraps his arms around him, nuzzling his shoulder with his chin.

“Wow,” Adam breathes. And wow is right. That was him, splitting image, pencil and grayscale, that was him. His body, just how he had always known it. Incredible.

“Thank you,” Broderick says, kissing his shoulder.

Adam laughs. “Thank me? You are the one, with all the talent.”

Adam kisses him, and Broderick wastes no time picking him up, letting him straddle him. Broderick holds him up and lets his hands be generous, getting a feel for all that skin and Adam’s chest is radiating heat against him. He lays Adam down on the couch, and Adam’s hands are shaking, as they undress him. Broderick makes love to him better than he’s made it in long time. Possibly ever. Adam holds onto him tight, his thighs squeezing around him, and their fuck is passionate like two people who know each other.

At the end of it, Broderick feels awake, like he can see clearly again.

Adam rests his head on Broderick’s chest, circling his fingers in a pattern along his skin that only he knows.

“Have you ever had déjà vu about a person? Because just now, I felt like I knew you once. Not actually, not before I made you wait in line that day, and called you James Franco. But now, now it feels like—I’ve been here before. You remember me, that’s why you can draw me so well. I’ve always known you.”

Broderick doesn’t think he’s ever heard anything so romantic, or so loopy, in his life. But the journey as an artist to define the undefinable. What he’s made today certainly escapes definition.

I Would Tell You What She Looks Like

 

Lesbians Over Everything is a platform for women who love women to share their stories, heartbreaks and triumphs. A few months ago, I contributed to the segment “Every Woman I’ve Ever Loved,” a space for accounts of women who’ve touched our hearts. The following is a concept I’d had in mind since 2015.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

I would tell you what she looks like, but I can’t. She asked me not to. As a writer it is frustrating to be told that I can’t describe a subject, but I suppose I can tell you where we were the last time I saw her, as well as when and why:

The Firestone train station on the Los Angeles Blue Line, with dim stone and chipped archways, and lingering smells of piss. Ten a.m. on a drizzling February morning. She was returning some of my things. Our relationship was over.

I arrived at the platform long before she did, knowing that she was showing up late and making me wait on purpose to make a point, sitting on the hard, uncomfortable concrete slab that served as a bench, and watching the rain fall on the empty tracks. This could be a scene from a romance novel, I said to myself, the trains are a symbol here, of her leaving my life, of my having to move on, or of the rapid, slapdash pace at which we modern humans live. And the rainfall, maybe, a symbol of my misery.

I thought this even though I wasn’t really that miserable. In fact, when she arrived and sat beside me, giving no hello or warning and wearing sunglasses in the rain, the moment was void of romance or sentiment.

Awkward and terse, making a strained effort to not make eye contact, she held the Target shopping bag full of my things. Is she seriously wearing sunglasses? I thought, taking the bag and actually almost laughing at her, though there was absolutely nothing funny about this moment.

After I took it, she stood up, cleared her throat.

“Can you do me a favor?” she asked in her fake-deep voice, the one she used to take up when she was chastising me, like I was more of her daughter than her girlfriend. “Don’t make me a character in one of your little stories.”

She walked away, that line serving as her goodbye, and if there was any way to truly hurt me, I realized she’d discovered it. She’d read my stories before, about the other girls and the wrangling of my pain that I went through. Writing is how I process, how I get over things, if I can turn a painful situation into a moving narrative, write our ending in another time and place, whatever pain I feel is worth it in the end.

Was she trying to take my grieving process away from me on purpose? When my train arrived just moments later, I got on and tried to keep myself from plotting points, and moving beyond the surface of things. Though it went against my self-imposed nature, I saw everything around me just for what it is and not what it represents:

It was blindingly white inside the train. The light bulbs above me buzzed dull and monotone. The teal linoleum floors were sticky, and sweat and body odor permeated the steel seats. Rainwater slivered down the grey sides of the windows, whizzing and flowing in time with the moving industrial scenery. Immortal by Marina and the Diamonds played in my earbuds, the singer’s deep voice echoed and ethereal. She crooned of love lasting forever, earth’s end in fire, and seas frozen in time.

I can’t say or imagine why the song reminds me of her, of nights we spent in the dark. Instead of redrawing the scene I stared down at the Target bag tied tightly shut, the plastic smooth and filmy, the logos reminding me of drops of blood on white cotton pads.

I opened the bag, curious as to why she tied it shut, and was overwhelmed by a sudden sinking remorse. Everything smelled like her, her skin and her house and her warmth and those nights. Will any of the following identify her? Aveeno lotion, men’s pine deodorant, faint hints of dust and cigarettes, burnt cinnamon incense. My t-shirts, lingerie, even the books were imbued with her scent. They weren’t just my things anymore.

As the scent filled my nostrils, my eyes watered instantly, stinging without my permission. Tears fell out of place and much too late, tears that I felt disconnected from. I was out of the moment constantly when we used to be together, plotting the next thing and focusing on the superficial, her body and face and what my eyes saw, what I would write about our hypothetical future, if we got there.

But as I closed my eyes on the train, her scent brought her within my grasp, and all I wanted was the present again:

It’s November and I am lying on her bed alone in her room, naked and waiting for her to come from work. I am blissful, full and content, my cheek pressed to her still wet pillow, inhaling her sweet conditioner, the way her skin smells, the pheromones of a person ever so constant. My everything.

When I opened my eyes, the deception vanished. I was in a train passing through Compton and Watts, in the middle of a storm, traveling further and further away from her home. The more miles I put between us, the more I knew, and the more I know now, that I can go no further than traces: I can see the room, and smell the scents, but she does not want me to have the privilege of imagining her there. Of how beautiful she was when she walked through the door.

I wonder what she thinks I would truly say about her if I could. If I could set the scene, puts words in her mouth, tell you her features. What is she so afraid of, when it comes to my memory? Better yet, what am I?

But she wants to be forgotten, to not be immortalized or of character, and I cannot invade that.

The temporary time travel – her scent on my things – became too much by the time I had exited the train, returned to my cluttered space. I sprayed them with my perfume – heavy, syrupy, saccharine – suffocating the portal that pulled me back into her world, a vanishing world, now a void.

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Ruminations On The Nature Of Lying

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1.

You were the flower girl at your aunt’s wedding. After your procession, you stood next to the women in your family, tall and stark in green, velvet dresses, in a line on the stage.

As the pastor spoke, you played with your now-empty basket. It’d felt like hours since you’d been in the spotlight, since your debut. You were hungry, and you had to pee. But soon, you noticed that the women were crying; you wondered why you weren’t crying too, wanting to be more like them. You started to lick your fingers and streak them down your face, trying to look more like them.

Once your face was covered in spit, you tugged on your mother’s hand, made her look down at you. “Oh, honey, don’t cry,” she’d said. It was the first time you felt like a woman, like them.

2.

You sat on the treadmill in your parents’ bedroom, hiccupping as your Grammy fed you sugar from a spoon.

“Sugar will help stop the crying,” she said, in that all-knowing voice. You couldn’t remember how long you’d been crying, but a while ago, you’d been standing barefoot in the kitchen. Your mother, grandmother and a cop had talked over harsh walkie-talkie feedback. Your mother was holding a towel with ice to her forehead, and a head of lettuce sat in the middle of the floor. The condensation from it was dripping onto the tile.

The cop said your father threw the lettuce at your mom. He said your dad was handcuffed somewhere outside. The cop kept writing things down as your mother spoke, listening intently, nodding, sighing. You didn’t understand much of what they were saying, but at the end of it all, he knelt down to your level, took off his sunglasses, said,

“I’m sorry all this happened, little lady. Your daddy didn’t mean it.” You would go on to learn he did mean it.

That was when you’d started crying. Your Grammy took you upstairs for you privacy, and you stared at her as she rubbed the bridge of her nose, prepped more sugar for the spoon.

You didn’t think the sugar was working. You were crying too hard to say so, but even if you weren’t, you wouldn’t have stopped her. It tasted good.

3.

That year on Christmas Eve, you set a trap for Santa in your living room: ropes tied to chairs made a maze from chimney to tree, and you even placed Jacks on the floor at every turn. An Indiana Jones path to the milk and cookies.

You were hoping he would fall, maybe twist his ankles. The sound of him plummeting to the floor would reach only you, wake only you up, and then you would finally find him, the enigmatic glutton. That plate of sugar cookies that you and your sister baked? They would be yours, and so would all the presents.

Your mother and father watched you set up your trap, every step of the way. Your father said that you were much smarter than Santa, your mother said he would be no match for your prowess. Once it was done, all night long you fought sleep; drifting off, waking up the sounds of your parents’ fighting. Didn’t they know he doesn’t come if you don’t sleep?

The next morning, you went downstairs to find your trap expertly disassembled: the floor was clean, the ropes and jacks gone, the chairs moved back to the dining room table. All six of the cookies were bitten into, and the empty glass of milk held down a handwritten letter.

“Better luck next time! – S.” You’d soon learn he wasn’t real just a couple months later.

4.

You’d soon learn the purpose and the nature of lying: it’s okay as long as it protects people. At school, your little sister got her teeth knocked out. Too much horseplay at recess caused a boy to kick her in the jaw.

Your mother was on her way to pick her up from school, and you waited with her in the nurse’s office. She held her small, bloody hands over her mouth as the nurse prepared the mouthwash, put the tooth in a plastic bag. Secretly, you wished that you were hurt so you could go home too. At least you got to skip a class.

“Does it hurt?” you asked her.

“Kind of,” she mumbled, her hands over her mouth. “It does, but the tooth fairy will fix it. You know what they say, money makes the world ‘go round.”

That night, you realized that your parents forgot to be the tooth fairy. She was fast asleep, it was one A.M., and you were quietly sifting through the contents of her room. Trying to find pennies, quarters, anything, stuffed between cushions and stashed in the toy chests.

You found nothing a tooth fairy would leave. Instead, you listened to your parents scream down the hall, wishing you could open up their doors, see them like that. Somehow, your sister was always a heavy sleeper.

The next morning, your mom dropped the two of you off in front of your K-8 school. Your sister was upset all morning, quiet and cross-armed. She sat down on the front steps when your mother pulled away, refusing to go in. Crying.

“What’s wrong with you?” you said.

“The tooth fairy didn’t come,” she lamented. “I’m broke.”

When you got to homeroom, you asked your teacher for a dollar in quarters. You slipped into her classroom next break, told her teacher what you were doing. You left them for her under the lid of her desk.

The next time you saw her, she was gap-toothed-smiling, clutching the change against her chest and spinning ‘round.

“I knew it, I knew it!” she told everyone who’d listen. “I’m gonna be rich!”

At the end of the day, you sat together on the steps again. She was no longer happy like before, dropping the coins one by one onto the concrete.

“What’s wrong with you?” you said.

“I know what you did,” she said. “Someone in my class just told me about the tooth fairy. It’s not good to lie, you know.”

 

State Quarters

Originally posted on 101words.org

State Quarters

When I was ten, my parents divorced. I coped with repetition. I collect­ed state quarters.

Why state quarters? I loved the consistency. Name at the top, year at the bottom, and the pictures in the center I’d memorized: California, Delaware, Maine, engraved silver trees and patriotic birds and olive branches.

I dug through couches and coats, feeling their ridges on my fingers, always trying to recreate a full set of fifty. I always could.

No matter his or her house, no matter the struggle, I found each one and I kept them together, starting over the next day.

Why couldn’t they?

Your password might suck, but you can change that

In the digital age, making sure that your private data stays truly private is paramount. If you’re one of those people whose password is “password,” “starwars,” “12345678,” or anything on say, this list of most commonly used and compromised passwords, I have some news that you probably already know: Your password sucks.

You may be wondering why it matters, though, if you consider yourself a regular joe with nothing to hide on the Internet, and if the only people you know who might ever try to hack into your Facebook are your mother and your regretful ex.

However, your concern with your passwords should not be with the people you know, but with the people, and their botnets, that you don’t. I can’t be the only one who’s ever had a strange online credit card purchase appear on their statement, an onslaught of spam emails suddenly, or unusual activity on one of my social media accounts. Even if you haven’t, the likelihood that you will is increasing: according to SecurityWeek, 4.2 billion online records were hacked and released in 2016 alone. That’s up from 1.1 billion in 2013.

So what can you do to make your passwords as hack-proof as possible? I believe the best plan of action starts first with understanding just exactly how password s can get cracked. Sophisticated password-jackers don’t just sit in front of their computers manually typing guesses. They automatically spam the password fields on sites, servers, and routers with precompiled wordlists or “dictoniaries,” which offer guesses in the hundreds of thousands and millions. One of the most common ones, rockyou.txt, is so big that even just trying to read it as a simple text file nearly crashes my l’il laptop. (Also, for reference: if you’ve ever seen Mr. Robot, if you look closely, you can see Elliot using tools like this on Linux to hack his “friends”).

Equipped with enough processing power, a real hacker’s computer can file through these wordlists so fast, that passwords can be owned within a matter of hours. There are also ways of making the process even faster using terminal/command line utilities such as crunch. Crunch allows hackers to set up a rubric for the order or pattern they think the password will be in. For example, if you know there will be characters first, numbers second, and symbols third, you can specify this. Plus, this doesn’t include key words and numbers such as the birthday and pet’s name listed on your Facebook profile, that someone somewhere may’ve gathered about you via social engineering.

So, now that you know this information, what can you do to keep yourself safe? Here are some tips I’ve gathered, from personal experience and various readings across the Internet.

  • Use complex passwords, especially for banking and email.

Complexity is, for example: the more, characters the better, as many in the double digits as you can remember; a combination of alphanumeric and symbolic typing, such as AK&T!5V8F9; intentionally scrambling or misspelling dictionary words, so “cat” or “house” become tca and shuoe.

Check out this video in which Dr. Mike Pound of Computerphile gives his advice on how to achieve complexity.

  • Change your passwords often, and use different passwords on every site.

Even if you have the most obscure password on the planet, and even if the website you’re using encrypts your password as you type it, it doesn’t mean anything if the plaintext of your password has somehow become visible to hackers. One of the ways this can happen is if a hacker is able to steal raw data from a database, where the company keeps your password so the site can remember you.

While some companies willfully under-invest in their cybersecurity practices, there are many major corporations, some of the most secure in the game, who still fall victim to clever gray and black hatters besting them (I don’t think I have to tell you what we’ve heard about Yahoo! lately). In 2015, The New York Times released an interactive tool for people to check which major websites and services have had customer data leaked.

Most companies will inform their customers when breaches happen, but often times, breaches can go unnoticed by them for days, or even years. Because you never really know who’s able to get into what when, the safest way to play it is to make sure the data that someone hypothetically could have on you, is constantly changing and inaccurate.

  • Physically write your passwords down, or use a Password managing software.

Having unique complicated passwords, across multiple sites, means that you’re probably going to forget them often. Personally it has helped me to keep a list of passwords in a notebook, in a place where only I can find it of course. As of this date, there are no known ways that a computer can sift through a record I keep between a hardcover in a locked closet.

Password managers such as Lastpass and Roboform will generate hard-to-remember-passwords and fill them in for you when you log-in. Check out PCWorld’s comprehensive list for other similar helpful programs.

– L