The beautiful complexity of algae

And it was a time of great vulnerability.  But I didn’t know it then.

Because at age 20, away at college, and in love with the future, I couldn’t yet see anything except through the embedded resilience of youth and the dream that I knew myself well enough to be able to navigate hardship.

So we danced into experiences—he and I—becoming family in the rental in Davis, walking my dogs, brewing fancy coffee, drinking Bailey’s—becoming grown-ups—setting up the Scrabble game to Led Zeppelin; laying in on the weekends, lazy Saturdays spent with the SF Giants on AM radio, Steve tinkering under the hood of his 1967 Mercury Cougar in homemade t-shirts satirizing society (“I DON’T work out at Golds’ Gym” or “I’m High On Crack”).

Us both making a world for ourselves, living a love story we were writing every day.

And we were so tender, he and I; had lived inside lives unbecoming our gentle hearts–his as love for a sweet father who seemed to know deep grief, mine as the oldest of a family who exploded into divorce the second I’d stepped off for college—and we were perfectly-timed, growing towards one another as we lived within a protected sweetness our families hadn’t always modeled. Removing selves from the life we didn’t want to see, reflecting back to one another the safety of kindness and humor and gentle days, Fool in the Rain playing as letter tiles were chosen, him leaving funny poems on my pillow in the morning (“your eyes are the color of pond algae”), me writing my first name alongside his last in my Cognitive Psychology notebook.

But October 17, 1989 came, and the Loma Prieta earthquake stirred all I’d been pushing away, until in mere moments the entire trajectory of my broken family burned inside me. Dad crying in the armchair, mom telling me I wasn’t welcome to come home, dad moving out, mom unstable—making my younger sister Alex do the Ouija board—then that summer ‘89 day Alex ran away from the house (which in just two months she’d be inside when it shook into its death) with me following, trying to fix the world I didn’t want to end, petrified of what would happen to mom if I let her go. Me wanting to save us all from brokenness and still not being able to, for even the earth knew it was too late, and tossed the house down the hill, making everything cockeyed and wobbly, and smelling of the remnants of a dead family. Rotting food from the tipped fridge, moldy water, smashed perfume bottles, and the beloved Angel fish lying dead on the floor.

And it was suddenly too much.  I’d seen too many broken hearts—had lost too much—for dreams to still come true, and pushed Steve away in the disbelief that good could even exist. And in the breakups aftermath, he cried—tears on the lashes of lovely hazel-blue eyes—and asked me “why?”, believing I guess that I would actually have an answer even though I didn’t know anything, and wouldn’t. Not for so many years.

But, as if we both needed an answer, he stayed with me.  For during my lifetime since, I could not stop thoughts of him, and did not want to, and shuffled around a feeling of grief for what I’d done and turned from—dreaming of him at night; 30 years worth–struggling with bewilderment at the feeling that I was irrevocably chained to an ever-distant past, existing in my marriage to James in subconscious reverie for the intimate connection Steve and I had shared huddled all those years ago in college in Davis, warmth and humor and hope and respite from a damaged world. And I could not shirk it no matter how painful it was to remember, and did not know why.

Yet life is mysterious until the wisdom of one single moment calls, and here as I stand in the shadow of all these years, I am every day a new person able to see it now for what it offered me.

For it was magic. That time.

I loved him and I knew he loved me— the “me” that I was at my most deepest and significant self—and in reflecting goodness back to one another, we walked together through the shadows of grief, loving with open hearts against all probability, and nurturing a sweetness so seductive that even at 50 years of age I can still taste and smell the impossible magic that it was.

And for so long, it was a loss—a regret, hurting this sweet man, creating a hole inside me of unknown depth—but even in the remnants of 30 years and the passing of a million lifetimes, I know that he was and always will be a gift to me.

Because he changed me forever—danced upon my soul–beckoning me to emerge towards the safety of himself, and in bearing witness to his powerful love for me, I became stationary within a beautiful moment, and existed in perpetuity as witness to joy and happiness and the affirmation that I could be loved.   And it was an impossible gift that I will carry with me forever.

So on this, his birthday—February 28, 2019, his 51st–I just wanted to say:

Happy Birthday, Steve. You were a safe place in a terrible storm. Thank you—my dearest friend–for showing me how to love myself.

[2/28/2019; I write and revise this every year, and have until this year called this neverending evolution of self “Closure” but I woke up this morning, said “Happy Birthday, Steve,” knowing that you can never achieve closure from something that changed you forever. And so it will be that I will always grow with it and merely hope he’s found his way as the sweet person he always was, and continue to satirize society with humor-filled letters sent in lavender envelopes]

Forever tuning

pic 1: Me at the Salt Flats in 1991 when Chris and I drove across the country in our move from Maryland back to Davis, California. At this point, Salt Lake City was a foreign land to me— obviously I had no idea I’d eventually live here—but we pulled over and took some pictures because it felt like a mirage in a desert since while your feet touch the ground you can look out over certain stretches and it appears you’re standing on the mirror image of another world.
Pic 2: late 1990, me during a trip to see Chris in Washington, DC when I still lived in CA; I didn’t know that I’d move out with him, we’d move to CA together then I’d meet James and then James and I would move to Northern Virginia near DC together. Life.

And so it was that when I was about 13 (circa ‘82) I went to see Adelaide the psychic whose name my family had been passing around and she told me two things which stuck with me all the way through until that time (1992) I was trying to make the decision whether to break my engagement with Chris and be with James or listen to my mom and stay the course into a marriage which by now would have already ended.

The first thing Adelaide told me that day was that someday I’d be writing a book. And the second thing she told me is that one day a man with blue eyes would say goodbye to me and I’d be devastated and inconsolable.

As such a fortune might beget, I wondered about that blue-eyed boy for many years, mesmerized by a love so deep I’d excruciate at its loss, believing that perhaps Adelaide spoke in deep metaphor or that the goodbye could be averted somehow.  So when one month out from marrying Chris in the foothills of Gold Country (CA), I saw vibrantly-blue-eyed James at a bus stop–the night after dreaming I was swimming with a blue-eyed man–I retrieved James’ dropped Blue Book, and thus awakened from the slumber which had shielded me from realizing uber-cerebral Chris was for a “me” that didn’t exist anymore, and that Adelaide’s blue eyed man could be this very one.

And of course I had to find out.

The year was 1992, 3.75 years after I left for college, 3 after my parents divorce; 2.75 after the Loma Prieta earthquake destroyed the family home and I dropped out of college, 2.5 since I’d broken up with my (beloved) boyfriend Steve, 2 since I’d gotten rid of everything I owned to shack up with Chris and his roommates in Maryland, and .75 after Chris and I had moved back to Davis, CA to settle in so I could finish my degree.

He supported us, I had my dogs, my guinea pig, my cat, and the potential to abandon years worth of “too much”. Yet there I was.

I honestly do not feel I can adequately express how frightened I was during that time. I wouldn’t be able to explain what it feels like to go through days of being petrified, shaking in the adrenaline of having to face the choice, unable to eat, defying the mom you’ve never crossed. I could not condense a lifetime of the self-doubt involved with being a “pleaser” into the arc of a single event, where one choice is accepting the truth of yourself but spurring others’ disgust, hurt, your own personal hardship, and from which the other is accepting a life of external ease–making everyone else happy–while you slowly suffocate.

My body shook, my mouth was dry. It was an altered state in which I was reaching every vulnerability until they quivered and begged for mercy.

And, in the end, I married that blue-eyed boy (1996) then saw him leave myself and our two daughters (2007) while we grieved with what I thought was feeling that would never end. But it did.

Events unfold for us what we are.

We bear moments of going against the tide, scared, shaking in uncertainty only to see those same moments becoming portraits of ourselves standing alone in our power amidst a crumbling facade. For that Adelaide called into my mind the door to such grief and I opened it anyways for the potential of love writes of many unspoken truths.

Because James left. life is scales, humans playing experiences, fear and dry mouth one day becoming whispers of resilience to our selves another. And so we rise up and fall down and ride roughness into song, slowly catching the breath of the music just like a world of forever-tuning instruments.

Everything looks different

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Last night my girls, Ellen, and I watched Thelma and Louise together. And because I’d forgotten how long the movie was, the event lasted into the early hours of the next day, at which point my youngest–who’d been hesitant to even watch it at all for the last scene she’d heard so much about–excitedly chatted to me through my bleary-eyedness, saying that along with Donnie Darko, it was now one of her two favorite movies.

None of them had ever seen it, and Livy asked me in one of the first scenes when Thelma’s husband Daryl was being an asshole to Thelma, “Is that just the way it was back then?” The movie was made in 1991.

No, baby; Daryl’s just a dick.

In the midst of girl power and Thelma and Louise gunning it to their chosen end, Ellen held my left hand still and, as I watched the movie, drew upon my skin the pattern you see in the picture above; somehow, in the warm living room after the hot summer solstice day of 2017, she accessed an internal well of artistry from within a near-meditative state, and–moving henna tube into curves and points–created this freehand design, reaching over while the first section was drying to grab my hand again and add more detail before moving on to make entirely different designs upon her own skin.

When I finally saw the finished product upon my hand, my mouth was open in surprise because I could not formulate a connection to the type of mind that could so effortlessly create such a vision. I couldn’t “get to” where a human being could so confidently embrace hovering over flesh with a tube of dye and still be able to funnel the experience down into a work of art.

Because that’s just not me. I’m never going to be able to zen out and manifest this kind of thing on someone’s arm.

And I used to think that in order to live fearless, I couldn’t say such things to myself. That in order to stand within my own power, I had to self-talk myself with “You can be/do/have anything you set your mind to!”

Which is where I’d cue up the time a few years ago when I snorkeled in Hawaii with my sister, thus supposedly pacifying my panic-inducing fear of the ocean when in reality, my logical mind was saying “good for you!” while my emotional mind was saying “now look what you’ve done! You’re IN the fucking ocean???!” because logical mind only gets you so far then you’re stuck in the open ocean, hyperventilating with your feet dangling in Jaws music.

And I’ll never be able to “you can do it!”/Pep rally myself into–voila—I’m now Renoir, and being no good at something shouldn’t always bring out the self-esteem protection squad.

Because mind over matter is bullshit and invalidates the natural sense we have of who we are and what choices are right for us. And, unless you’re hurting someone else, it’s perfectly okay to let yourself be who you are. It’s perfectly acceptable to say “I’m no good at this,” and not feel like it somehow means you’re giving up on yourself.

At the end of the movie, Livy and I discussed what our favorite parts were.

Livy’s favorite part is when Thelma calls Daryl to see if the police have been asking questions and almost instantaneously hangs up, knowing their phones are tapped and that the police are listening based solely on how uncharacteristically nice Daryl is to her. It’s pretty classic. Even for 1991.

My favorite part is when Thelma, events skewed against her having created a transformation in herself to where she finally feels in control of her own destiny, sits in the passenger seat of their convertible watching the rising of early morning, and says, “I feel awake. Wide awake. I don’t remember ever feeling this awake.

Everything looks different.”

As though for a moment she’d fallen asleep in her life then with sudden implosion of all she knew had suddenly come to rise into every experience she never knew before was even possible.

Then wind whipping her hair, they take off on the road, coursing together as fugitives through the waking world of clarity and emancipation and red rocks.