Auld Lang Syne

New Year’s Day, I wake up in grey light. Someone has cracked open the curtains. Of the four of us, I am closest to the window; I pull a pillow over my head and press my back into Tommy’s chest. He slides his arm up my side and around my belly. He is tall, and I fit inside his contours with room to spare. His gold cross tangles in my hair, digging into my scalp.

I chose him as soon as we walked into the bar. Partly because he’s tall and easy to pick out of the crowd, yes, but mostly because of that pretty black magic that draws people to each other. He is babyfaced the way I like, and a sweetness floats in the air around him. He was dancing with a group of women when we walked in, but clearly not trolling. We held eye contact as I followed my friend Leigh to the back of the bar; I turned away first. In ten minutes the ball would drop in Times Square, less than a mile away.

Ten, nine, eight. Leigh and I ready our champagne glasses for the toast. She is beautiful and dynamic, and tonight she brought the party girl out to play. Someone has draped an arm around her shoulders, laying a claim. No one has tried  to claim me, and that’s just fine. I want it, and I don’t. I’ve been claimed for the last thirteen new years, first by Jeanette and then by Brad; this year I want to claim myself. The ball drops. Leigh and I share a quick kiss, say we love each other. Her admirer kisses her, dipping her backward, trying to sweep her off her feet. As an afterthought, he leans over and offers me a small, chaste peck. It’s a sweet gesture.

I glance around. Tommy is watching me.

He makes his way over in time to the music, keeping his eyes on me and moving his shoulders, so by the time he reaches me we’re already dancing together. The dance floor is crowded and we are jostled from all sides as we introduce ourselves, but somehow keep from touching each other. I forget his name as soon as he says it. The couple next to us starts making out again and Tommy shrugs and gives me a kiss, for the  New Year, he says; it’s the first contact we make. Leigh comes over, more introductions. Can he buy us a drink?

We are drinking whiskey, neat. Knob Creek for me, Jameson for Leigh. This confuses him. Bourbon and what? Just bourbon. Just pour. He is mixing vodka and Sprite. He does seem a little young to appreciate liquor on its own. My lipstick rubs off on my glass. As I reapply, Tommy leans down, offering pouted lips for me to color in. I get greedy, smooth more color onto my own lips and lean in, telling him I have a special technique. (Greedy AND cheesy, I should say.) He pulls back before I can make contact. The cycle repeats. Clearly he doesn’t want me to kiss him; I shrug and continue dancing, thick with lipstick.

Then Joey shows up.

Tommy had mentioned he was out with his best friend. That’s Joey. Joey is a twenty three year-old Jersey Shore stereotype. Short, heavily muscled, extremely forward. Goodfellas accent. Joey seems to think that he has claimed me for the evening without having asked for my input. He tells me over and over to touch his abs, and insisting that if I just take him home he will fuck me like crazy all night long. This makes up about 85% of our conversation (the other 15% is about his ex, with whom he is not on good terms).

I think Joey doesn’t know much about women.

I tell him that we are not going home together; he sticks around. Fine. Somewhere between Joey spinning me around the dance floor and providing an unsolicited lap dance, Tommy disappears. Despite having my hands full, I notice. As Joey buys me another drink, I ask him about Tommy, why he’d pulled away and disappeared seeming interested. “Tommy?” Joey asks. “Tommy’s gay.”

Ah. It’s no wonder I liked him, then. He is my people. Leigh squeals at the information and runs off to find Tommy and squeal again with him. Before the bartender comes back with our drinks, Tommy shows up again. I lean across Joey’s back and tell Tommy that Joey had mentioned he was gay, that I’d been surprised he’d turned me down earlier but it made sense now.

“I’m not gay.” No anger at his friend’s lie, just a simple statement of fact.

I grab my drink and Tommy’s hand. I don’t look back as I drag him to the other side of the bar. As the night goes on, I do get him to kiss me, and claim me, and this time I like it. Tommy is sweet, gentle. Unlike his friend, he does seem to understand women. He flirts with both Leigh and I, leaving no one out. When she buys me another round of bourbon (neat), he takes it from me with a small plea. “Don’t drink that, please don’t. If you drink that you won’t remember.” I don’t drink it. I want to remember.

Still, as the night winds down I tell him the same thing I told Joey — he’s not coming home with me, either. Not because I don’t want him to, but because I’m sharing a hotel room and I don’t want to do put Leigh in an awkward position. We start considering our options, wondering about the odds of finding an open hotel room this time of night. Not good, we think, but we’ll try. We’ll try.

Leigh finds a boy of her own; things change. We can go back to my hotel, and we do. This story’s already too long, so I’m going to leave off, but whatever you think happens next? Does.

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The only boy who could ever reach me (and all the rest of them)

He always was the kind of boy that Dusty Springfield ought to sing about; the son of a preacher man, gentle and sweet with a hint of wicked. I loved him in that aching, desperate way teenage girls do. I wrote poems, lived to hear him play guitar, clung to his image with wanton abandon. I kissed him in the backseat as our friends drove, held his hand as we ran through dirty festival grounds and tangled up together in stacks of straw. I fawned, and pined, and waited for him to fall in love with me.

He didn’t.

Somehow he never knew. Maybe that’s why we remained friends. Tangentially: the love that filled the room when we got together could suffocate you, but we didn’t get together that often, keeping up with each other through word of mouth, pictures on the internet, that special metaphysical gravity that you develop with the people you love when you’re young. Miles, states, coasts apart, we continued to orbit each other and the sun of a shared history. Then, something shifted. We aligned again.

Summertime, he came through my town for seven hours: ready, set, go. Lord, I’d missed him. Stealing kisses from me on the slide.

Winter found me on a bus headed toward Baltimore and familiar arms. Taking time to make time. Twirl me, I said before I came. Show me your city.

Teach me again is what I meant.

Teach me again how to dive into love like I did back then. Teach me how to offer the back of my hand for a kiss, how to rest my hand on your chest before we kiss. Take my face into your hands and send lessons firing like sparks up and down my spine. Climb up on the roof and give me the sunset, flirt with the people selling food on the street. Dance with me while we wait for dessert, because they played your song and because we can. Decide this will be our anniversary, and remind me every year. Be wild and tender and romantic, then hold on to me tight, I’m leaving in the morning. Remind me how it can be. I’m leaving in the morning.

He did.

He plays bass now, mostly; upright, an instrument you embrace and coax notes from. His hands are still graceful and wise. He writes in verse, even if we don’t call it poetry anymore. And he will forever, ever, ever reach me.

*****

When I was younger I fell in love hard, and frequently. I suppose I still do, to a certain extent. I love making eyes, flirting, first kisses and the moment right before when the world swims through closing eyes.

Now that those pleasures are available to me again, I’ve been taking advantage where I can. I wouldn’t have guessed, but the best new connections I’ve made have been old ones. I’m being taken apart and put back together by a small army of familiar small-town boys.

Most of them are new to me in one way or another, but the difference between old-new boys and the new-new ones is that I don’t have to be anything for the old ones. There are no expectations; they already know me as someone, so I don’t feel like I have to change to please them (which is something I do with new people). And surprise surprise, they want to be with me anyway.

And each one of them who remembers me who I was before I knew to hide her, and loves me anyway? Each one of them chips off a little bit of the plaster I used to cover over myself. Each one peels another onion layer, leaves me a little more vulnerable and a little more safe in that vulnerability. Each one heals me a little more.

He’d kiss & tell me everything is all right…

Back to the beginning

no risk no rewardPaul Madonna has got my number.

My divorce is final; I’m officially alone. (The statement is a touch more dramatic than the feeling.) Just before it went through, I opened myself  again, and in doing so discovered I wasn’t the right person for someone I really liked. Which is fair, but hurt, and does not inspire me to risk losing again. Risk fucking up. But you have to, if you want to live the way I want to live.

For a few days I steeped in sadness and self-pity. Then guilt, for feeling so sorry for myself about trivial things while there are children being slaughtered at their schools. Then I  started to come back around.

Tomorrow morning I get on a train. New Mexico will treat my wounds with her snow, hot springs, stars, and quiet. New York will stoke the fire in my belly, help me crave life again, and a quick trip to Baltimore to see a dear old friend will twirl me around. (One of my life’s great treasures is the collection of sweet reunions I’ve gathered over the years.) I am taking a notebook, and a Polaroid camera, and a heart to fill with hope. And also some wool longjohns to guard my weak California sensibilities.

(I disabled comments for now; it’s not that I don’t like the interaction – I do – but when I know who is reading and how they’re reading, I begin to write for my audience, and that’s was not my intention for this space.)

coming back to town

It’s funny how I can feel totally at home and at peace with myself in the woods, going to bed just after sundown, not worrying about entertaining myself too much (well, except books), not feeling the need to interact with humans, but the second I start moving back toward the city I feel lonely. Being around people is what makes me feel lonely. It’s also what I crave. What kind of brutal paradox is that? Hmph.

I wrote that about a month ago, after I returned home from a camping trip. Saturday I returned home after a week on vacation. Tropical paradise vacation. I traveled with friends, and spent a week as part of a unit for the first time in a while. Having time to myself again and falling asleep in an apartment that’s empty except for me was both lovely and lonely.

My moods are up and down and back again lately. History is repeating (or I’d like to think it is), except this time I make the right decisions. The trip feels like a line in the sand; I had my escape and now it’s time to hunker down. In a month I’ll be officially, legally on my own. A divorcee (ooh, fancy; where’s Henry James when I need him?). I’d like to cross that threshold with my life in a certain order.

Step 1: kill jet lag.

Cowbird is getting most of my attention at the moment, but I have a few things planned over here. Just need to screw up my courage a little bit more, and figure out how to be diplomatic and honest at the same time.

That’s tricky. The truth is so relative. And I’m pretty sure parts of mine will piss a few people off.

Maybe they deserve it.

First, back up the hill for sheep and swimming. Which, yes, is a little bit of a strange combination, but I won’t enjoy them at the same time and hey, I grew up in the woods. It comes with the territory.

On planning, and not

Summertime!

It always starts with a road trip, doesn’t it?

I love getting back out into the country. Long farm roads, hot afternoons, and dirt that sticks to everything take me right back to a slow, steady, gorgeous state of mind. Everything feels vast and open and beautiful. Nothing is so important that it can’t wait. (In the city, everything is too important to wait.)

This weekend’s escape coincided with the Perseid meteor shower, and those meteors showered and showered and showered.  A couple of months back, I got a new tattoo (bear with me, I promise I’m going somewhere with this). This one is small and simple, the words “stay gold” in my own handwriting set inside a little gold halo. I was inspired by the novel The Outsiders, which was in turn inspired by the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. I needed a little reminder to keep my sense of wonder no matter what, to snap up every opportunity to experience beauty, and to appreciate it; to stay gold. So I was delighted to find out that shooting stars still make me laugh from pure joy. And that the joy extended to laying outside on a hard gravel road in the warm night air, drowsing and telling myself I’d stay out for “just one more” until I woke up covered in mosquito bites.

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to fully relax and give myself over to the flow of a few days. By “a while”, I mean my whole life; I am a planner. I like to KNOW. I will take weeks of anticipation over a big surprise every time. But since my divorce (can I say that even if it’s not final yet? I think so. In my mind and my heart it’s all done and clear, the rest is just waiting for the state to catch up), I’ve been trying to let go a little more, and to not force an opinion or a plan just for the sake of having one. It doesn’t come easy to me, but it’s led to some amazing experiences.

It seems counter-intuitive, but a major part of my plan right now is to have no plan and let life take me where it will. Here, for example:

Or to taste infused vinegars before breakfast. (Pineapple balsamic vinegar, by the way, will make an excellent cocktail when I mix it with coconut milk, soda, and rum. Mark my words.) Or to sunburn my back through the water of a swimming pool, except for a little crescent under my neck where my hat jutted out. Or listening to my new favorite album with a good friend, two times in a row because it’s just that good.

I should probably say “and” instead of “or”, because none of these are hypothetical examples, they’re all things that I wouldn’t have done if I’d planned the way I am used to, because I would have had to rush back to the city to make it to get something done. I’d have missed out on all that, and I wouldn’t have had the evening free to linger at a favorite restaurant, drinking pink wine, soaking up the last light before sunset, and sharing dessert on the house.

Carey, get out your cane

My fingernails are filthy,
I’ve got beach tar on my feet
And I miss my clean white linens,
And my fancy French cologne…
(“Carey” by Joni Mitchell)

Up until this weekend, my only experience with beach tar was hearing Joni Mitchell sing about it. Turns out it bubbles up from under the beach, looks a lot like black sand, and will stain the hell out of your feet if you walk on it. Now I know.

I drove down to Santa Barbara to visit an old friend; the solo road trip to Southern California reminded me of being newly on my own, leaving Berkeley after class on Friday and spending just under forty-eight hours with my friends in LA before it was time to get home before Monday’s 8:00AM lab. Lately my life is a big ball of memory spiked with deja vu.

Saturday I had a few hours to myself at the beach while he worked. There’s nothing quite like the ocean to make you feel small and at peace.

I wandered around for a while, wading through the shallows and peoplewatching. It’s funny  how similarly different people react to the beach. Everyone smiles. Everyone splashes. Everyone settles down, relaxes in their own way; even the shrieking children. (and their parents)  Sun/salt/sand alchemy.

I think this used to be part of a starfish:

They regenerate; I wonder if it’ll grow a whole new body?*

There’s a fantastic tree in the cemetery at Mission Santa Barbara. It looks like a magnolia, but the sign says it’s a fig. It bears no fruit. The trunk has grown in such a way that it looks like two trees; one reaching out in lamentation or exultation while the other holds it up. It stands watch over the living as they visit the dead.

I bought a new St. Christopher medallion; patron saint of travelers. My grandmother gave one to me just before I went on my first big trip by myself, and I’ve been buying (and losing) them ever since. He was de-canonized a while back, but so long as the church sells medallions, I will buy them. It’s tradition.

And then we had the best tacos ever.

Tripa, adobada, lengua. Autentico.

* (I don’t really wonder that.)

plums and memories

Nostalgia is a funny thing.

I went up to my childhood home this weekend, to harvest a treeload of plums and see a few old friends. My folks were out of town, so I had the country stillness to myself. It was hot and dry; I spent most of my time outside. The tree was loaded.

I had a couple of silent companions.

Up in the corner. Hi.

In a dark drainpipe. Hi to you, too.

After, I made my way to town to meet an old friend for swimming. I can’t get enough water lately. Rivers, lakes, pools, ocean, bathtubs in a pinch. There’s probably more nostalgia in that little fact than I give it credit for; I grew up on the river, near a lake, and though I often took it for granted they were always available when I wanted them. Now I live a few miles from the ocean, but I never spend any time at or in the water. Strange how that works.

We took a boat out to the middle of the lake and bobbed around in lazy circles.

Instead of heading straight back to town at the end of the afternoon, we followed a whim and stopped by the summer camp we used to go to. Years had passed since either of us had been there. The grounds hadn’t changed, but most of the people had. Everything was completely the same and totally different. We relived old stories as we drove back.

Later we rounded up a guitar and sang the songs we listened to over and over back in the day. The next day I left my old home for my now home. Instead of being let down the way I was returning from Minneapolis, I felt satisfied and happy to be return to my own little slice of the world. Even against the backdrop of all that sweet history, this new place is finally home.

walk out whole

I lost the first iteration of this post between computers. That seems like a fitting start for the new blog, but we don’t need to get into that just yet. Let’s go hiking.

This time last week I was winding down a week in the Midwest with my oldest friend. We packed a lot into seven days – rivers, lakes, little towns, a road trip, cheese (Wisconsin doesn’t mess around with cheese). We celebrated her birthday, a cross-country move, and seventeen years of friendship. We processed the end of a relationship and the beginning of a new life. It was one of those weeks that we will talk about forever.

On the fourth of July, I flew back to California, to my little apartment, back to just me again. The only things waiting for me were bills and a hit-the-ground-running situation at work. In the space of a few hours I’d gone from a huge lovefest to the fetal position, weighed down by the gravity of the last year of my life. I got home Wednesday evening. By Friday afternoon, all I could think about was standing in front of the ocean and screaming into the surf.

I woke up early Saturday morning, grabbed some trail food, a camera, and my journal, and headed up the coast toward Point Reyes. The park holds a special place in my heart and my history. I was five or so the first time I remember camping there (and at all); my parents took my brothers and I on a backcountry trip to Wildcat Camp. It was only a couple of miles each way, but I remember how excited and strong I felt to be carrying everything I needed to live in a pack on my back. (Maybe not everything – I carried my clothes, sleeping bag, and teddy bear. Thanks, Mom & Dad, for picking up the slack!) Over the years I’ve returned to the park many times. No matter how I feel when I walk in, I always walk out feeling whole.

This trip was no exception. By the time I pulled up to the trailhead I was smiling. Four miles to the ocean; I left my headphones in my bag and let my mind spin a soundtrack out of song fragments and memories. I stopped to take photos; I’d forgotten how vibrant the woods are when you aren’t absorbed in a conversation or trying to keep up with anyone other than yourself. I’d forgotten how hard it is to be self-absorbed when a breeze makes the canopy dance.

Eventually, the ocean. Fog obscured the sun from about half a mile out, right where the waves hit my ears. It stayed warm. Other hikers littered the beach, so I turned off followed a winding trail along the bluff, passing occupied lookout points and pushing deeper into the brush. The trail narrowed, then widened again at each blackberry bush; I picked a handful and sang out loud just in case I was poking through a bear’s private stash.

On my way back I found a vacant clearing and sat down. The drive to scream was gone; my demons hadn’t needed an exorcism, they’d needed sweet ripe blackberries and balmy weather. I focused my camera on a group of cormorants drying their wings on a rock offshore and the viewfinder filled up with a flock of brown pelicans passing a few feet in front of me. They took my breath away; I missed the photo. I pulled out my journal to record the moment and missed a photo of the second group that passed just as close. Some things are best left to memory.

I took the long way back, climbing Sky Trail up into the hills. As I reached the top, I turned for a last look out at the water. The fog had lifted.