I spent most of my early 20s in bars and strange houses. I slept on dirty floors in cold rooms and in strange beds surrounded with red mirrors. I’ve stumbled in six-inch platform heels more times than i care to remember, and have kissed many people who probably shouldn’t breed. I became ‘Nameless’, the girl who could be anyone – a shapeshifter with bruises on her hips and bleach blonde hair. (Because I have to make mythology out of everything) I was a very quiet child, almost selectively mute. I didn’t really have any teenage rebellions beyond secretly playing MMOs at 3 in the morning, and it had left me craving – what?

An indefinable feeling, a chaos beyond the walls, an experience with the whole of the universe that I couldn’t quite coalesce.

I wanted to, well-

I wanted to live.

So I got as close to the devil as I could with my eyes still closed. (I was still a shy girl, after all.)

I’d push my hands outside the window and watch the shadow slide up my wrists. And it excited me – like it excited me the one time I shut the headlights of my car off and careened down a pitch black dark country road, because I didn’t know where I was going or where I’d end up.

I grew up as a white girl in the suburbs of Fort Worth and beyond my voracious reading of books I understood how little I knew about the world, how people lived in the millions of other houses that dotted the planet. I didn’t want to be on the outside. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to know what it felt like to leave the intersections of comfort and get as close to raw and primal existence as I could.

Back in 2011 I was living in an East side punk house in Austin but was commuting to a north side video game office to test a video game in production. People would talk in horror about “the east side,” and say that the people who lived there were frightening. I’ve gone from sleeping on dirty floors to drinking cocktails with data miners in an upscale bar, on the same night. I felt like I had my foot in two worlds – the world of the tech industry with people who actually went to college and lived mostly in comfortable loops. And the world of burners, of people who seemed right on the edge of collapse but were also enjoying it. A world of drugs to numb the pain and parties to rile up more pain. And after that for a while I was homeless, sleeping in my car or sleeping at work. I had reached the bottom and maybe I should’ve been sad – but I wasn’t. I had lived there for so long that I found it enjoyable to live in uncertainty.

I thought I’d find meaning in the thrill and rush of the unknown. But that wasn’t what the chaos taught me.

I found that if I sat quietly next to a person they’d often begin to tell me dark secrets, even if we had just met. I thought it was a superpower at first. It took me a long time to realize everyone is dying to tell their dark secrets, they just want to feel safe and accepted enough to do so. I realized how many lonely people were on the Earth. It wasn’t that everyone else had experience and understanding that I didn’t. And they wanted someone to listen. In many ways they were just as lost and confused as I was.

Except when it came to making mixed drinks or how to shotgun a beer – but I learned those skills quickly.

I learned that everyone wanted the same thing, mostly – to be heard and understood.

To feel real. To let their experiences matter. To have purpose.

That everyone had a story full of meaning, with the highs and lows of a drama, that was to them the most important thing in the world – because it was.

And everyone – no matter how privileged or good their upbringing had been – had also experienced immense pain. It seemed an inescapable part of being.

We are more alike than most people want to believe, and we are so very close to our walls collapsing at any moment, letting the unknown rush into the best of carefully laid plans. Nobody’s pain can be dismissed because another person’s pain is so greater – the rawness of it is subjective to our experience.

There’s order and reason within the chaos too – it’s just everything we don’t understand yet. Finding it is how we begin to make sense of our world, and form patterns that inform our actions moving forward.

That’s how we really learn how to live.

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