Sister leans over, says I smell rain.
As soon as it’s said, there it is, the dirt-metal scent. God California, so full of wimps, at least west of the 5. Everyone complaining about the heat. It is only 85, there is a breeze coming up under the trees which happens when you live beside the sea.
But then the wind brings the smell of rain and I feel my body rise. An ache, I crave. It’s not that I mind the heat. I actually love the slow thick drama of Maryland mug. It’s that it’s hard for the body to remember suddenly, to reach out in cellular grappling for what it expects.
And how what you expect gets all messy and confused with thinking about what you want.
In Southern California rain doesn’t come to break the heat.
The heat lightening doesn’t light up purple yellow netting behind the clouds. When the sea breeze blows it doesn’t smell like Old Bay. The coasts don’t dock fishermen boats.
I go out to the front lawn to watch the sun go down. The grass is so crunchy it scratches my back. I am grateful there is a spot behind the building with green lawn and a pine tree with a base that’s fat and round. I go there instead to breathe and feel the green. The sun is already behind the foothills and that California is what I do get, what at least I know I need if not want. Night after night of final nod to the light. Night after night of thanks.
There is so much a heart can hold, and so much it often forgets.
The body remembers though. If you let it, it reminds you, it will let you know.
The thing you don’t know til you live here is the way palm tree leaves look when they bend in the wind. The Santa Ana’s. They’re real. They come sailing down the canyon with whole lists of lusty springtime wants. You hear them ranting and can barely breathe. High white-sun days of Santa Ana wind force a palm leaf bend streaked silver like the color of Christmas tinsel mixed with snow. Like an upside down smile, without the sadness of a frown. Upside down silver frenzy grin. Palm leaves in the hot sun-wind. And then you live here, and the thing is you’re driving PCH salivating over exotic trees one day, because that’s grace: The sudden appreciation of all that is. Silver Christmasy tinsel smiles lined up in wind-bent rows.
You’ve stopped drinking caffeine, you did this months ago because when your godmother died you were so strung out on Red Bull you could go round for round with it up against your single grlfriends at the bar. Except they were losing their inhibitions while your high-wired anxiety from energy drinks just drove the men away. After the lash flash number grab and flirty repartee. Caffeine effects everything, most especially your writing. When you went off it for good it was the slowest part of August, when it’s yellow melt and dust in the canyon and they’re bored shirtless bros everywhere. You didn’t get off the couch for three weeks and finally told your shrink pretty sure I’m depressed. She looked concerned, told you keep up with the resting. It wasn’t til September, after you relapsed on Americanos that weekend with Papa J camping at San Elijo that you realize. Oh shit, that was my coming off period. All those slow-coming understandings, reflections, quiet stillness. All those sighs of grace. That was all from going off 20 years of caffeine! So you’re in to it these days, things that slow your flow.
Grace. If you’re lucky, it slows your flow. But then what’s luck, other than grace? Willingness maybe? Willingness to see? The sudden shift of the eye, to catch the sun on the mountains, how the light and comfy green roll roll roll bump bump bump together like a skateboard over cement seams. Or maybe, the willingness to appreciate it. That could be luck. A funny sort of preparation. The willingness to meet grace half way.
And grace? That thing that cleans the eyes, so you can see.
I am thinking about you, California, you used to make me feel brave.
I stopped on a side-road outside Santa Rosa to eat tacos. There was a sale on RedBull which is all I drank. It was after a weekend making love with a pot grower on a secret coast hidden by the North trees. We ate oysters and he took me to a place with caves and cliff-crag clearings where I could lay naked in the grass in the sun. I tucked wildflowers in my hair. I had to rearrange my living so I pulled off the Avenue into a little womb space where the pine needles lay and ensure no sound. I took everything out of the car and put it on the ground: Now, to clear out and remake my little house. When you live in your car and your home is the road there’s never any place you’ve got to go. There was a stretch of land on the Sonoma coast where the ancients used to talk in rock-tree language, clean as wave spray. I ran the 1 up and down. I was running from nothing, nothing to run to. Just the pure relationship between movement and the ground. I listened to the native speak. Oh land. You’ve always been my home.
You~you made me brave.
Remember when I used to be frightened of the sea? Not the mama prima, oh Atlantic, who raised me? But wild, thrashing Pacific, untamed, unknown one? This was up north, Goat Rock, where the froth was so spiteful it shook the beach with thunder sound. Now I bow at your feet, Sleepy Hollow, Thousand Steps, Crescent Bay, and move as breath does from the lungs into the autonomous air. Aqua green peace. I move into you, mama, with you. I hear no sound. I am no more separate from motion than stillness is.
On Tuesdays now I often take PCH home. The line of dusk on the horizon is dark blue or purple-orange. Coming down Macarthur near Fashion Island where the bunnies are in a circle for the Easter Parade. That is when you first see the sea. Catalina laid out like a woman on her back and I always catch my breath like she is me, like I am that breathless woman made ecstatic from the sea’s all the time covetous caress. When you see her lips part that is my moan. The line of palms on the Coast Highway in Corona Del Mar from that vantage look like giants at the foot of breathless woman. She gives her breath to the sea it helps her rise and fall through the respiration of the trees.
I open my sunroof because in the dark on Tuesday’s even if the clouds are out you can still feel the still simple breathing of the stars. I drove the coast and felt their light in my hair. I pulled over on Cliff Dr to feel the sliver moon. I called Jon then drove up in to the high canyon hills. The land ran through me with the tremor-weight of horse thighs. It was so much to contain in through the windows, in through the sunroof, crescent moon and all those hills, that I stopped the car and turned off my lights in the middle of the road. My breath was so thick with you I had to gasp.
California, I am thinking about courage. My body without you is brittle. My muscles barely move. I lay in bed and feel the stars still in my hair from the sunroof and can’t deny the truth in quiet, the truth behind your dark moon.
Grace you’re so funny looking. You taste like salt and a runny nose. You make me queasy in my belly. Funny measure of glints and glimmers, late 6pm sunlight on my hobbit house wall. Life still breaths inside us despite the pressing limitations, the messiness. The barrage of I don’t want to have to deal…
Somehow I fall asleep, I wake and get to work at the exact moment I’m needed. I hear from Brooks and Erika, creative serendipity alive in their own separate lives. Their unspoken message, keep going. I hear from friends. This fucking news it breaks my heart. I look clients in the eye and know they are imperfect and battling themselves, and I love them so wholly I blink back tears that are really fear. I am going to Catalina for my birthday with my mom.
I stay in the fight. Exhausted. There is a creature called an orchid mantis so precise in its imitation of the flower that I stare, raptured, stunned by the image on the internet.
This thing we call, among other names, God? This mystery. It aligns in the most absurd ways. It is awful how far down it can take the heart on some days. I look anyway. Delirious, desirous mystery. I see you. That is all.
So like, I had made this blog one time, like, to get over this guy
it was my reminder to me that i thought for myself and loved music
long before he had come along & made it all weepy for me
& so like, last night
i was feeling really self-indulgent & like
oh yea remember this.
I even useta do this thing called Rock n Roll Tuesday
which was inspired by Heart & Liz Phair
So liiike, it’s a good day for a throwback, right?
In Newport I sleep in Beth’s basement which is actually her garage, which has no electric and no heat. The sleeping bag is arctic and keeps me warm and the couch down there is the one I slept so well on the fall I came up from Humboldt for Thanksgiving. So I look forward to it and then when it finally comes and it’s time to sleep I am a little surprised by Monday when I wake up and after the long weekend eight hours is normal again. I feel good, the way only well-rested nights round out your body from within.
I wake up from a dream and the sky is blue. It is October near the end so that’s not normal here. I was in a front pew or actually the fourth row back at the Catholic church. It was me and no one I knew but I was in St. Catherine’s and happy to be there and from what I recall the people all knew me or at least knew my face, and I seemed to know them somehow, too. When Mass was over I was in an alley of bricks and sunlight and Cynthia was there and the woman with short wirey grey hair and glasses and a soft, kind look was continuing a message about the mass, and I wrote to Cynthia on a piece of paper about the church disowning my power as a woman and something about the feminist movement but she couldn’t read my writing. Then this woman was trying to teach me what was at the core of the Catholic teaching for that week and what she came out with was this example of me having to pretend to be talking to a friend, which I pretended was Cashour, and what was she saying? And first she was talking about a guy and then about her girlfriend who was in trouble and the whole thing of it, the lesson, was about empathy, which I laughed and said I know that I study psychology and the lady, kindly, but with the kind of exasperation which said I clearly hate this part of the job or maybe I am too old for this wouldn’t relate that it was empathy we needed in order to practice the way of Jesus but just wanted to make sure I got that we had to understand one another, to meet people where they are at. Then out the window Sean G is there and now I am in a corridor for jail, an in the reception area, and I am talking with people about when he will get out, maybe it is my mom? And where he will stay? And Mandy is there and I am showing Sean pictures of her kids and Mandy is moved by the fact that I have a recent one in my wallet. And I assume she will take care of him but she is like hu-uhhh no way I have a man now, but in that relaxed reserved way that since she’s become a mom says I don’t engage.
And then I am at a big house, it is in a neighborhood and there is a long curved driveway and out the window we see that Sean is walking up, and he has no place to stay. And I am bummed, truly pissed, to have to take care of him and handle this but also kinda stoked because we will get to have sex. But then what about Josh Mudd Josh, if I sleep with Sean can I still sleep with him? And I am pissed again that Mandy can’t help me handle this, and at one point I seem to think there is a car load of them from back then on a corner of a backroad in the woods and Jeremiah is there, and Brad? But all I know is next we walk in to this bar which is “downtown” and there they all are, Serio and Brad and Hill and Donald Johnson, and Byron and Steve D and Hupman all of them with big, manly bodies and all grown up. Keith is there with Ashleigh, Steve is there with pictures of his kid. And Starkey, and there is a circle on the floor of people just talking and catching up. It is Christmas time and dead in this small, cozy town and people are arriving, they are all there and happy to be there and Katrina walks in in a red dress sort of like her Halloween costume and she is excited to know everyone and get to settle down. I want to follow her to introduce her to everyone but she seems to handle it just fine and I get stopped by this middle aged woman that everyone everyone everyone seems to know, and respect, and she is very… ordinary but strong, with power, and people get that she is a center, a coordinator of their social affairs. She reminds me of having old school punk rock stature. She wears glasses and is maybe a younger version, with the same short hair but not as grey, as the lady teaching me in church.
My mom and some of my girlfriends, Cynthia? Cashour, Mandy? Are at the corner of the bar and I hug Calvin who is really Donald, then Steve, and Steve picks me way up and kisses me but I fight it at first because of my mom and then give in. We kiss a lovely, gentle kiss and I feel warm and safe and good about it and he lays me down on a table and Donald starts rubbing my feet. I want to kiss a long while and am excited that it is my party and I can kiss all the guys I want, and then Steve and I are done and he lifts me back up and no one cares about this kiss, it is still warm and happy and welcoming and peaceful having everyone there, but also people are getting ready to leave and I am disappointed by this, then Annie texts me that she will be in Newport today but that Kaya has a game at 6 in Waldport and this is in real life and so there is a ding from the phone and I wake up.
And I don’t want to meditate, or spend all the energy having to write this dream down, this part of the story where we all turn out ok. It is sunny and cold out on the Oregon coast and all of that is many years ago and what is real is my life out West, there are friends here I have had now for 8 years, Brandon’s ex-step sister in law that I am trying to see because I feel a magnet to her in my heart these past two months, and also Derynne and Nici and the kids and other girls down in HB. Seeing Serena this weekend for the music fest in town. Hoping I can pay my rent this week but not caring if I do or can’t, bc it is temporary this cash crisis even though it triggers all my safety issues I hold way, way deep down from when dad first left and what a woman can and can not do without a man. And I am scared, it is the turn of October, the last part of widdershins and a Mercury Retro and I don’t want to look any further within, don’t want to look at any of this but also feel all these walls like so much sand just running and folding and pouring in and how like water consistent they just break me down. And more than anything I want to hitch inland a couple miles, up the river, and hike in to the coast ranges where it is finally so, so quiet and I can truly, really, breathe. And I want to find a cabin and write and also backpack a long long time through the forest and up some mountains on my own. But I am older now and know the time will come for these things, and for the first time ever understand this as an urge to be related to and comfortable with as an important part of me, not so sharp and extreme so that in all other areas I say fuck it and for this one driving need of green impulse call everything else quits. I don’t know what this means other than I have to go, I have to go back, I have to do this without interruption, this real work and breaking apart all the back thens that live inside and haunt or sleep quiet in blinded parts of me. And the money and the men and the wound of archetypal mother, the quiet treasure box in yesterday’s meditation that I got to get to because of Ben. How do I get to that for what it is, what is inside of it, are they pearls not meant to be given out before swine, or is it a box of fools gold that keeps me locked down there, trying to protect something and missing my life all along, out of a ignorant belief in a false need that this is actually how to be and always stay safe, protecting something that, other than an empty fear, isn’t even there?
I drive a sorta busted car from 1989. It’s great for sand, wet bathing suits and my surfboard. The antenna got ripped off in the car wash so I only get one station. Today on the way in and yesterday leaving work, I heard the song Dynamite. Maybe it’s no coincidence that I heard this song twice. It is a pop station. And corporate radio would never rely on constant replays to make money…
Either way. I remember distinctly the first time I ever heard it play.I had just moved back to my family house in Ocean Pines, Maryland. 2010.
Maryland is a place where the humidity gets its own label, “red zone”. There’s mug there that’s so thick that if you don’t have air condition than there’s no sense in drying after a shower, because the air is the same as steam and the moisture won’t wipe away. But the month of June on the coast, with a certain kind of off-shore wind and especially at night…this mug it turns to balm. Balm that blends with the photosynthic plant breath coming out of the jungle wall of over-ripe trees. Balm that whiffs of salt and runs your blood like the sea. Balm that is like a fresh pink and soft blue and tender green light you wear on your skin.
I was driving my “Magic Bus”, which means the sober car. It was the end of a sweaty, smiley night out dancing. The Magic Bus usually made 2am stops off at the sea for moonlit swims, or at 8th street for a slice, or uptown near Casey’s old place for a chicken cheesesteak or other sub. My cousin Eddie and dear friend Schankel were in the bus this night and the Bus was on its way pool hopping.
The windows were down, the balm rushing in, the balm all there was. 2am satiation, the kind that comes with or without booze: from moving your body, from ocean-mug air, from rhythm and the antics of being your dirtiest self with people who get the unconditionality of friend.
Schankel’s hands went up in that cute floppy over her head way she does–I saw the blue neon facebook mobile version outline of them in my rearview mirror. And she screamed the words, I want to celebrate and live my life….
And there is the moment: etched as it on my heart, in the timeless, special way we get to relive life on the screen of our soulflow when a song comes on again and can transport us.
Who doesn’t get that?
Who needs me to explain that those etchings, those frozen moments, how they mean everything. Who else can understand the power of that precious minute: the balm caught, the dear friends, the 2am intrigue, the it’s ok to be dirty-me…34th year of my life exalted like that–as I hit a re-set button on everything, gave myself permission to start it all over again. I was single for the first time in seven years, I had left my career after a decade and burnout, I’d gone home to heal my relationship with my family, I was waiting tables again, hanging out with 20 somethings, going dancing every night like that’s all there is.
I stopped taking myself so damn seriously that summer. Started to let go, loosen up, enjoy my life. Enough to listen–no, to love–bad pophop for the first time ever. Who can get that kind of moment, that a synthed out autotuned song holds that much.
It’s one of the pinnacle reasons, the hinge moments, of why I am strong enough to be here–Southern California, without family, making new friends, training in a rehab as a therapist, starting my second year of grad school.
There are a few who really get it. Get what it’s like to hold each other as you start your whole life–either as a 20-year-old–or start it over, a decade or two–wink wink to my grls–older than that. Precious, such moments.
And still alive, deep inside. As are each and every one of them from that summer.
They know well who they are.