A soft light spills out from the open door. Adulthood is a series of forked paths. So this is what adventure looks like in your thirties. Enough reminiscing. Small moments give life shape. Isn’t that enough?
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Welcome to Planet Radiant.
You are standing at the threshold of an emergency exit, stoppered door to your right, sculpture garden ahead to the south. A mix of abstract and figurative works populate the overgrown field. You see human figures, craggy monoliths, sheets of steel welded into something like a tent. You remember that last one well, from before the occupation. There was a storm, and you and Janelle took shelter beneath the curved outcropping, listening to the ping of rain on metal. Then the thunder came, and you ran back to the museum, clothes dripping and shoes soaked. The guards wouldn’t let you past the lobby to use the restroom.
That was the second time you and Janelle hung out. The memory was too precious, too personal for your webcomic. You kept it to yourself, revisiting it whenever doubt and depression clouded your mind. It was your constant companion during your weeks of imprisonment, shackled in a dark cell twenty-four hours a day. You thought about Janelle’s laugh. You thought about those fat raindrops bursting against her skin.
To the southwest is your old bus stop. It was a twenty-minute ride on the 43 to a neighborhood your landlord called dynamic, gentrifier-speak for historically Black but increasingly white. You loved your first floor apartment, with its creaky wood floors and radiators that squealed in the winter. But you never fully settled in. You never resolved in your head what it meant to be an Asian body on that block, a person of color complicit in its change.
You remember when you first moved to the city, driving alone in your disintegrating Toyota Yaris. You looked up at the skyscrapers with wonder. You gazed down the parkway, the flags and street lamps drawing your eyes toward the museum. You were in your early thirties, and it felt like you had finally escaped the suburbs and arrived at the center of the world. But the novelty faded in a few years, and the city became a place like any other: familiar, parochial. That is until war reawakened your devotion to this trash-strewn expanse of rowhomes and overpasses, of bodegas and gastropubs and historical markers, clusters of neighborhoods built along two glorious, polluted rivers. Violence rekindled love. You gave everything to defend your home.
You remember Nikki, high school bestie and wartime turncoat, visiting during your first year, before they moved to the city too. You hadn’t made any friends yet. Bored and lonely, you were grateful for their company.
That night, Nikki had a plan. They brought two flashlights from home, mapped out an escape route on their phone. The two of you were going to break into an abandoned warehouse.
“Why?” you asked.
“To see if it’s cool,” Nikki said.
“Oh,” you said.
So this is what adventure looks like in your thirties. When you were a teenager, adventure meant bending the rules until they broke. It meant getting high with your goth friends, sneaking into the Kozolowski’s pool after midnight, and skinny dipping in the cool starlight. It meant long night drives to the city, seeking reprieve from the sprawling boredom of whitebread suburbs. It meant rolling down the windows and breathing in the chilled interstate air, tasting that bittersweet freedom tinged with dread, the palpable reality that your childhood was almost over. And in its place would come the burden of responsibility and self-determination, of hard choices and inevitable regret. Adulthood is a series of forked paths, diverging destinies over which you have only so much control. And as the years pass, the paths narrow, avenues close, and detours disappear. You run out of chances to reset, to rest, to try something new. The end comes into focus. Then you die.
Nikki rifled through their satchel. You went to your bedroom and put on black clothes.
“Should we bring gloves?” you asked.
“Why?” Nikki said
“So we don’t leave fingerprints.”
“Oh my god,” Nikki said.
You left. It was a half-hour walk from your apartment to the old industrial part of town, where crumbling factories stood dormant and forgotten. On the outskirts were the fresh skeletons of new apartment buildings, speculative construction to lure in yet more white people.
You and Nikki cased several warehouses before finding one with the chained doors pried open enough for a body to fit through.
“Here we go,” Nikki said.
“Okay,” you said.
One at a time, you slipped through the doors and into the darkness. Your eyes struggled to adjust. The warehouse smelled like rust and neglect. You turned on your flashlight and shined it on the graffiti-filled walls. There were murals rendered in scripts you couldn’t decipher, as intricate as they were elegant. Loose bricks and empty bottles littered the floor.
You kicked at the dirt. After two or three minutes, you had seen all there was to see. Nikki paced a while longer before stopping by the freight elevator door. You joined them.
“Now what?” you said.
“I know this sucks, but I want a souvenir,” they said.
You smiled. Nikki was bummed, but you were joyful. You flashed a grin at them. After fifteen years of friendship, you could still be delinquents together.
They picked up something from the ground.
“I’m taking this bottle cap,” they announced. “I’m taking this stupid bottle cap, and I’m going to put it in a drawer, and like seven years from now I’ll find it and wonder, ‘Why the hell is there a bottle cap in my drawer?’”
You bent down, found another bottle cap, and put it in your pocket.
The two of you went back to your apartment, slumped on opposite sides of the couch, and got drunk. After a long silence, you cleared your throat and told Nikki you might be trans. It was the first you had told anyone. Nikki took that in, waited a beat, then said, “I think I might be something, too.”
Enough reminiscing. It’s cold out. You observe the dark cityscape, silhouetted against the lightening sky. Two rats skitter over the dewy grass. Your head is a jumble of memories. You try to find some common thread, some grand unifying narrative. You remember Candace the artist, Alia the bass player, Yolanda and her lost denim jacket. You remember the Kozolowski girl whose first name you can never keep straight. You remember queer Mrs. Montserrat unlearning her Catholic guilt. All that remains of them—of you—is a hodgepodge of epiphanies and traumas and triumphs—all the small, disparate moments that give life shape.
Isn’t that enough?
Behind you to the northwest leads back into the museum. There’s nothing inside its blood-smeared walls but abandoned cubicles and plundered galleries, objects gathering dust.
Art feels meaningless unless it’s shared. After you were officially a couple, you and Janelle returned to the museum. You meandered through the exhibitions, lingering in front of each piece on display to debate the colors and craft, the social context and artist’s intent. The conversation continued unabated for several hours. Bystanders found you both insufferable and adorable. O thirty-something love. Through art, you learned how the other saw the world. You learned how to listen. You learned that life has meaning, multivalent and immutable, if only you look at it a certain way.
A soft light spills out from the open door. A familiar purple glow beckons you to return. Remember when you first saw it? It was your final day of freedom. You resisted but couldn’t overcome its thrall. Now you’re resigned. The end has come and gone. No matter where you go, there’s nothing left but memories. May as well stay where it’s warm.
You walk inside the museum.
Thank you for listening to season one of Planet Radiant. Words and music by me, Sasha V, logo by Jess Hamman. Beta tested by Jess Hamman and Christina Larocco.
For transcripts, and to learn more about the show, visit planetradiant.love. That’s Planet Radiant dot L-O-V-E. Or you can find more of my writing and music at sashav.love.
If you’d like to help us save for a new couch, you can support us financially at patreon.com/planetradiant. There’s bonus content. It’s great.
Hope to see you soon.