Chicago, Sept. 24

It used to be that I’d keep a part of myself back; hold myself apart in an attempt (somehow) to protect against the emotional assault of another. Relationships were what I sought, but were also a state in which I could lose my way; lose myself. And that was something to fortify against.

Now at 38, I wonder how much of where I find myself is owing to the echoes of relationships past. They came and they thrived, until they went. Five years, then three, fours years, now two. Each a tattoo upon my heart of time not always well-spent. For good or for ill, they’re indelible marks I wear always.

And yet, these days I somehow find myself sharing more of myself than I’ve previously allowed. These days, I’m sharing my hopes and dreams, my fears and confessions. It’s scary and yucky, and it’s heartening and real.

Here now is someone who values the best of me, sure, but someone who also welcomes the parts of me I wish I could undo. He knows how I cry into my pillow for no reason. He knows why sometimes I look down at my dinner plate in silence, and he understands. He recognizes me, fully; the first man to do so perhaps. He sees me and in being seen, I am undone. All I am and all I have is laid bare.

I can’t help but falter with this newfound vulnerability. How do people do this? I wonder. How can they tolerate it…the exposure, the risk, the consequences of being so unguarded? 

My mind is a spin cycle of unease, but there’s a particular hope tumbling around in there too. This time…this time surely…things will be different.

And if they aren’t?

What’s certain is that this time I’m different. I’m more open, honest, all-in. Perhaps, in the end, that’s all the difference I need.

Berkeley, Sept. 6

Before she moved out of the home they always lived in, when I’d visit Boss Lady (what we’ve always affectionately called my paternal grandmother), after greeting, I’d make a bee-line for the front hall closet, open the door, and breathe in the remnants of what was left.

My grandfather.

Leather. Old Spice. Freshly mowed lawn. Him.

Oh, how I miss him.

When he passed in our driveway from a silent heart attack on Christmas Day, there became a rift in my life. A before; an after.

Coincidence that my check engine light came on while en-route to the hospital where they pronounced him dead? Well.

There he was, laid out and still and I held his hand until it went cold. I felt the heat drift away and I felt an obligation to feel it. To feel the life parting from him.

And I promised him, to what was left of him, to be the best version of myself I could be.

Oh, how I’ve failed him and that promise since.

In that driveway, I kissed him upon the cheek, gave him water, and told him I loved him before he went to the hospital and what a gift it was to be able to share and say that to him in his last moments. How does one ever really know?

He was the first person who I lost who meant the world to me, who always made me feel special and valued and someone of importance. He always wanted to sit next to me in church and at the Thanksgiving table…”Where is Nic sitting? Put me there.”

He taught me what love can look like and without him I wouldn’t know what’s possible today.

I’m grateful for those moments at the end and that I was there to hold his hand until the life drifted away.

Bereavement never gets easier, it just gets more familiar.

 

Berkeley, Sept. 5

This time a year ago, I was on vacation in the UK, specifically Edinburgh, the Highlands, then London. It may prove to be the last solo trip I ever take, sans work travel, and thanks to Facebook’s memory feature I’ve been reminded of this fact and have been spending my days in nostalgic reverie.

It’s one of the places, if not the place, that I feel happiest. My spirits soar. I’m smitten, even a decade after my first visit to the UK, with the history and terrain, the cheeky sense of humor and the slang, the quirky food stuffs and proper tea. The dial tone, the Queen’s English, Sipsmith gin, Bank Holidays, Christmas specials, Mumford and Sons and Oasis, Barbour and tweed, the Peak District, popping out to the pub for a pint (or three), Graham Norton, Cadbury Dairy Milk…hell, even the dreary weather can be romantic with the right mindset.

Since my first visit all those years ago, I’ve kept a porcelain clock on my nightstand on London time, changed my cell phone to the 24-hour clock, visited countless duty frees for that Cadbury Dairy milk (it really is better than what they make here), and am now addicted to the British house-hunting show Escape to the Country (on Amazon Prime).

But, I wonder how much all of these sentiments would wane if I ever were more than a visitor. I wonder how much of the magic would shift if the banalities of the day-to-day were to creep into my Anglophile dreams, as surely they would. No matter where you are, there’s always the grocery shopping to be done, the dishes (or washing up as they say), the rush hour crowds on the train and traffic in the street.

All this to say, it’s apparent to me that there are niceties here in the US for which I take for granted…properly-sized stoves (and kitchens overall), ice in sodas, the all-American road trip, hot dogs with ketchup, March Madness, even the unjudgey culture in which “Dude!” and “Awesome!” are accepted in casual conversation.

I’m just another soul whose heart wants what it cannot have; given over to my continued nostalgia. I’m a realist and know that I long for a thing that can never be.

Berkeley, Aug. 28

I wish I could be a creature in silk for you.

I wish I could be a taut limb to kiss and linger upon. A bared collarbone, a shoulder, the subtle back of a knee.

I wish I could be the one whose touch electrifies, the pulse to inspire.

I wish I could be the keeper of your desire; capture it, bottle it, taste it on my tongue, savor it for all time.

But…

I am the girl who wakes up beside you and greets you each day with a smile and a kiss.

I am the girl who makes the coffee and the gin and tonic and keeps both stocked in the cabinet.

I am the girl who plans and cooks the meals and sits opposite you while sharing our days.

I am the girl who waits patiently for your return while planning our weekend getaways.

I am the girl who shares my secrets, hears your pains, and keeps our dreams in hopes of what may be.

I am this plebeian reality; not the creature of dreams, but I will give you all.

I wish, oh, how I wish I could.

Minneapolis, Aug. 23

Being back in the Midwest, even if only for a few days, has me realizing how much it’s possible to miss a thing once it’s suddenly before you again.

The recognition was instantaneous as the Lyft whisked me from the airport to my hotel tonight. I may have grown up hours south of the streets we traveled along, but what I saw from the car window was home.

I left nearly three years ago and am only just now beginning to comprehend what an ex-pat life I’ve been living. Then, I sought and found something different, but here now is the familiar. The achingly familiar…

The trees: oak, ash, maple, and elm. The verdant shades their leaves parade as they dance on this furnace-like breeze.

Place names like “Hiawatha” and “Minnetonka,” “Peshtigo” and “Oconomowoc.” The way each rolls off my tongue as I cast them faintly out the open windowpane.

Rusted out grain silos holding court against newly-built apartment complexes. Building upon building of burnished crimson brick.

The unfailing humidity of late summer…but when did my pin-straight hair suddenly turn frizzy?

Clouds: big, bulbous things with heat-lightning in their bellies. They’re putting on a show for anyone who chances to look upward from their dinner table, or more likely, their phone.

The incessant hum of locusts droning outward from hiding places in heavy-laden branches and overgrown grasses.

Rivers swollen from a summer deluge. From hearty, well-fed, rain drops; dousings and sheets of rain.

And upon arrival to my hotel, there’s “Please” and “Thank You” and smiles from strangers.

The Midwest is just as I remember it, though not quite as I left it.

And it’s never felt more like home.

 

Berkeley, Aug. 20

I’m sitting next to you, but I just popped a klonopin. You don’t want me to, and yet I do it anyway.

Am I self-destructive? Do I defy you? Or do I simply want to sleep tonight?

We’re watching Harry Potter 6. I need some cheering up and how better to send me off to what I hope will be a sound sleep?

Thirty-three minutes remain in the movie; the perfect timing before the chemicals kick in and flood my system, allotting for the bottle of pinot that accompanies them. Thirty-three minutes before I drift off to a dateless, timeless sleep.

How lovely. How elusive.

Sleep: such an escape, but oh how it evades me. A chronic insomniac, I’ve been not sleeping since I was two years old. Three a.m., it turns out,  is my witching hour…still is. Every night like clock-work, I greet the hour with a lucid mind and ready eye.

We’re nearing the movie’s end and my head swims with these last moments of narrative. Dumbledore caught in the breeze of the Spring evening on the Astronomy Tower. “Severus…please.”

Such duplicity.

I wonder now, sitting next to you, if you find my taking this klonopin as duplicitous. Or, if you see it as the coping mechanism that it is.

I crave the escape of hours spent seemingly unaware of what is, the escape from being present in my own mind, if only for a time.

 

Berkeley, Aug. 19

Her candle still lights. The one she surprised me with that time we were in Charleston together. A candle from the Holy City for my birthday: 34. A candle from before we knew she was pregnant with their first. With my dear one. My godson.

Her candle still lights even though the wick has reached the bottom, not yet extinguished. Tonight her candle is lit as Mumford’s “Roll Away Your Stone” spins on the turntable. J doesn’t know how it pangs me to see it alight, the meaning it holds. He means well, but.

Things are not well. There’s strife and turmoil and all manner of despair. I lack the means to articulate the rift that’s come between she and my parents. A rift that may be between them, but impacts everyone in our family. Can’t she see that? 

Words have been flung. Words that cannot be taken back. Perhaps they’re words which aren’t intended to be rescinded? But, the toddler ears upon which those words, hopefully, haven’t fallen will bear the full weight of their outcome. Of what cannot be undone.

I’ve kept my peace for weeks as the discord has played out within my family; geographically (perhaps conveniently) distant.

But tonight, the scent of that damn candle unwittingly wafts about my house. I catch the scent and, I confess, it gives me hope. The wick hasn’t quite reached it’s end.

San Francisco, Aug. 17

I’ve been stewing this past week about something a friend, a long-time friend, said to me. The stewing has me feeling unjust, unreasonable, uncharitable even.

“He’s not my enemy,” she offered simply as we descended the staircase.

“Oh,” I muttered, quickly glancing down to avoid stumbling on the next step, “No, I….I…only meant. Well…okay, sure.”

We’d been standing at the floor-to-ceiling windows, gazing out at one of the newer garishly appointed high-rises in Civic Center, when I mentioned what popped into memory then, almost in passing.

“I think he moved into that building. After,” I gestured toward the window. “But, I wouldn’t really know actually.”

As I turned away and we moved toward the first flight of stairs downward, she offered that she’d recently seen my ex over coffee with a friend of hers. They’re together now, you see. My ex and this friend of hers, as such things tend to go. The world…so small, after all.

“He’s not my enemy.” Her words echoing in my mind.

Was this feeling of unease from her having coffee with him at all, or the implication that I never would again? Had she crossed some undefined battle line? Had I drawn one?

Echo…echo…echo…

I wish I could have said, “Nor is he mine,” but that realization was still days away as these things tend to go.

What was has been, and there is no more. What else is there to say? The pangs of mutual friendship it turns out.

My school-aged claim upon my friend, whom I’ve known for years before ever meeting him, has me turning territorial in some very unflattering ways. Suddenly, I’m asking myself why she has a continued interest in someone I no longer know when the answer has nothing to do with me.

My ex’s new partner, as it is, has been a friend of hers for some time, perhaps longer than she’s known me; while my pettiness and immature assumptions are, unfortunately, something of a more recent nature.

Berkeley, Aug. 14

Lately, I find myself storing up topics of conversation; stockpiling them to sprinkle into future dinner discussions with J in hopes of still having some semblance of a complex daily life. Working from home most days and having little interaction with the outside world means something as simple as “How was your day?” sends me cartwheeling into the equivalent of verbal acrobatics at times.

“I talked to the lady down the hill today and she made a point to lodge her deep and lingering concern over the presence of the Eucalyptus trees adjacent to our property, as if we planted them and don’t worry about them ourselves.”

“The neighbor’s contractor explained they’ve been doing work on the house for the past 15 years, which means they’re either really terrible at what they do or the neighbors are full-on psycho as we feared. Apparently, the owners don’t like sharp edges.”

“The fire-prevention goats were around the bend today and I watched as their minder and his two herding dogs rounded them up and moved them onto the next section of overgrown grass to devour. It was magic!”

“By the way, my ex-boyfriend from ten years ago called last night and left me a drunken message asking for ‘closure.’ Can you please pass the salt?”

“King salmon is now $36 A POUND at the fish market. Outrageous!”

Sure, life is contained in such pedestrian moments; in sharing them with someone you build a life together. But if I share them ALL at once, where will I be on a “slow” day?

Berkeley, Aug. 13

What I write now is very difficult, painful even.

Yesterday, as J and I sat awaiting our train into the city, a man stepped off the opposite platform and was run over by the oncoming train.

There was yelling and the blaring of the train horn, but I knew, just knew, when I saw the yelling man turn his head away with a shake, that it had been too late.

I instinctively rose from my seat and was drawn to the stopped train, trying to find a way to help, to stop what was happening. I was shaking all over as I asked the train’s driver if he was okay. He nodded, resigned, but had his procedures to undergo and I stepped away to leave him to it.

J tried to pull me away, but I wouldn’t have it. In my mind, I hoped I’d been wrong or that maybe it wasn’t a man, but a rat instead that someone saw or, though awful still, perhaps a bird or dog. I was assured by the man who had tried to stop the train that it was certainly the worst.

And then our train to the city arrived and we stumbled aboard, stunned and at a loss of what to do otherwise. I leaned into J’s neck and quietly began to sob uncontrollably, uncaring who saw me or found me odd for doing so. It had all happened in a matter of two minutes at most. Just like that.

A strong gin and tonic awaited me once we arrived at the symphony, along with the unexpected news that the suicide attempt had been unsuccessful. There would be relief, but for that long train ride, I felt all too keenly what that man had done. Had tried to do.

He is a 65 year old man who left his cane on the platform, rolled off the side, then lay down in the center of the train tracks, where the train ultimately trapped, but avoided killing him.

I’ve never felt such relief in someone’s hopes being dashed.