Kissing a Fellow Janitor Amid the Trash

“No way,” I said. “He’s my friend.”

“Exactly.” She stood, brushed off her snow pants and wandered off to explore.

Kevin came over and we sat silently, watching as penguins offered each other pebbles in hopes of winning over a mate. After a few minutes, he pulled two plastic-wrapped cookies from his chest pocket and handed me my favorite, peanut butter.

Something rustled, feathery, in my rib cage — affection, yes, but also fear.

Nikki’s words stuck with me. It became impossible to ignore Kevin’s generosity, enthusiasm and grit, and I began to chart my own personal shift, too. I laughed hard and often, provided a gentle ear for the problems of others, and was always the last to leave the dance floor. After months of working and laughing with friends, I had started to like myself again.

By Christmas, the sun stayed up all day, spiraling above us. The carpenters hosted the McMurdo Alternative Art Gallery in their shop, a celebration of art made of trash and salvaged items. Kevin had invited me to go with him, and I was nervous while finishing up at work. Scrubbing toilets, I examined my trepidation. I was afraid that opening my heart would only invite more pain and rejection.

After dinner, Kevin and I strolled up the hill, shoulders bumping as we hoofed over icy volcanic rock. In the carpenter’s shop yard, people capered on adult-size playground equipment built from scrap wood. Inside were textile landscapes made from discarded garments, a corded phone programmed to make music with button beeps and a weaving constructed of black VHS tape.

In each revived artifact, I saw my own beautiful, imperfect life and knew that I was worthy of the same loving resurrection.