the ladder back out

Sometimes, something will go so disastrously wrong with my day that before I know what's happening, I'm pushed to the bottom of a cold, dark rabbit hole. So dark it's impossible to see the ladder guiding me back up to sunshine and warmth.

When that happens, I only ask one thing of myself - that I continue to put air in my lungs. Breathe, I think. That's the only thing you have to do right now. I do that for as long as it takes. Sometimes, that's five minutes. Sometimes, it's five hours.

In the past, when I would get really, really low, all of the other negatives in my life would come tumbling off the shelves, threatening to bury me alive. But I've finally started to retrain my brain. I remind myself that while yes, I just had a fight with my boyfriend, or got a piece of bad news in the mail, that doesn't change the rest of my reality one bit. It doesn't improve it, but nor does it worsen it.

My parents are already dead. They can't get any deader.

I'm already unemployed. I couldn't be any more unemployed.

And so on. Unsuccessful relationships I had in the past remain just as unsuccessful; they can't be resurrected and reenacted to some further point of failure. I'm just as divorced as I was before. Any standing health issues I have aren't exacerbated by this fresh, new source of pain. They're immune and apathetic to it.

Last night, I spent the evening with new girlfriend: happy hour at a restaurant I'd never been to, stops at another two bars I'd never set foot in (despite the fact that they're a few blocks from my apartment), cocktails, music, conversation, and a late-night burger to top it off. Eight or so hours of entertainment that, if not for virtue of where, when, and to whom I'd been born, I'd never have the privilege to enjoy.

Perspective and gratitude. Two rungs on the ladder back out.

george and cc - epilogue

Tragedy strikes; George is devoured, and CC is claimed as trophy.




Incidentally, that's what Chaucer's last bed looked like when it was clean. The light blue crib mattress cover was impossible to keep, uh, light blue. The dog tracks in a lot of dirt; his paw pads are enormous. I just got him a new mattress with dark grey sheets. So h's not on that nasty thing anymore. No need to call PETA.

fluffies about town

Coming home to George and CC was just the coolest. I was physically exhausted and emotionally obliterated, but all I could do was stare and grin at the ridiculous vignette my boyfriend had created for my amusement.

And I wanted to return the favor.

I took George and CC on a small tour of downtown, stopping at a few of the places that hold meaning for A. and I. They patiently posed for pictures, which were then sent with a message. I saw a couple today that reminded me of us. So much so, in fact, that I followed them for a while. I even took photos. Is that weird? And do you see the resemblance?









This is where I admit I've had way, way too much time on my hands lately. At least I got the desired outcome.

6.26.12

A. found a puppy in Pershing Square a few days ago. No tags, no microchip, and no sign of an owner. She was a ridiculous little thing, all silky curls, bounces, and kisses. Chaucer was over the moon. I'm guessing a mix of Maltese and Yorkshire Terrier. A Morkie? We kept her overnight, thought about keeping her, and tried tempting some friends with her before reluctantly heading to the pound. She'll be adopted in a heartbeat.



---

I went out with a friend in Hollywood on Friday night - sushi at Katana, drinks at SkyBar, and dancing at Greystone Manner. Paul Oakenfold was playing, though we got nowhere near enough to actually set eyes on him. Packed dance floor, and VIP sections heavily guarded by surly bouncers who all but laughed at my attempts to charm my way past. Still had a blast.

---

Saw Moonrise Kingdom. Really sweet story and the kind of visual aesthetic that makes you want to blast through the candy glass filter and permanently check into that world. All subdued colors, buttons and plastic, felt and wool. I could have done with a slightly less Emma Watson-looking Suzy, but I still loved it.

---

Chaucer's been amazingly well-behaved at the dog park lately. The past couple of years, he's grown aggressive towards medium-to-large sized dogs, so I sadly had to pull him from pup party socialization, lest he bite someone and I end up in the clink. But last week while walking him, I ran into some friends who were on their way to the dog park. They encouraged me to let Chauc loose, and said they'd have my back and help me out if he got into a tussle. So I went for it, holding my breath as I unclipped him and he went bounding across the grass to join the group - but he was like a new dog. Playing and sparring and running with labs and pits like they were old friends. No fighting whatsoever. It made my week.

Since then, I've been letting him have more and more park play, still vigilant when big dogs are around, but much more relaxed about the experience. It makes me so, so happy when my dog gets to be a dog. To run and wrestle and chase and do his dog thing. No pics yet of him around bigger dogs (want to stay alert enough to break up a fight), but here's some lil ones he met recently:



---

A. made me a secret box from a book I brought home from my dad's. Some of its chapters would make excellent band names, like "The Righteous Gentiles".



Unfortunately, none of my secrets is little enough to be stored in such a small space.



---

This coming weekend, a friend is throwing a Japanese-themed dinner party, and costumes are mandatory. WTF. No idea how to approach that one without a) looking like a fool or b) insulting anyone. I'm sure I'll manage to do both.

---

I've discovered a ton of new music on Spotify lately.

Man of Devotion, by Fool's Garden (would make an amazing soundtrack song)
Allo, Darlin' - great lyrics
Walk on The Moon - a cross between Two Door Cinema Club and Panic at The Disco
Yellow Ostrich - lead singer has the coolest voice. Sounds a bit like Brian Molko (Placebo) and a bit like Nate Ruess (Format/Fun). Overall sound is The Strokes meets The Kinks, maybe?
Animal Kingdom - reminds me of Muse and Radiohead
Lykke Li - reminds me of Lisa Germano
Tennis - reminds me of Feist
Tanlines - fun dance music, especially Three Trees
The Submarines - if you like Stars, A Fine Frenzy, and/or Little and Ashley, you'll love The Submarines
Contact High by Architecture in Helsinki - reminds me of Dandy Warhols

truth in advertising

It occurs to me that this might have come in handy at some earlier date.



There aren't enough hours in the day to tackle Troubleshooting.

one less bottle

It was surprisingly easy to go through my dad's things, after he died. Occasionally, I'd stumble into a moment of paralyzing nostalgia. Some ostensibly harmless personal effect of his - a handkerchief, a slide rule, a Zippo lighter - would reach my hands and burn as if on fire. Just some thing, with the power to trip up my pragmatism, to laugh at it. This is so him, I'd think. Emblematic. Representative. I'd recall its place in my father's life, delicately fingering every facet of the memory. And the breath would be knocked out of me for a few minutes while I let grief wash just over me, unchallenged.

But for the most part, I maintained an attitude of stoic resolve. All this shit has to go.

You can't keep everything, after all.

The liquor posed a problem. Not the stuff that was still sealed - A. and I didn't have to think twice about what to do with that. We packaged it up and shipped it back home to LA (though sadly, it never made it here). But there were several bottles of entirely decent (even decent plus) alcohol that, as established and accomplished lushes, A. and I were loathe to drain down the sink.

So we started giving it away.

One afternoon, the cable technician came to collect some equipment. He was somewhere solidly in his sixties, a man whose stooped demeanor and perceptible limp belied an otherwise rugged vitality, and an earnest face. He'd probably seemed sixty-something for the past twenty years, and would probably continue to for another twenty.

As he was putting together some paperwork for me to sign, A. ambushed him in the friendly way he does. "Sir," he said, "I don't suppose you're a whisky drinker?" He assured A. that he was, in fact, precisely such a man. And before the technician could say "nonrefundable deposit", his erstwhile customer's daughter's boyfriend was presenting him with a two-third's full bottle of Dewars.

The man accepted the gift with grace. He must have been putting two and two together already, what with the boxes, the general disarray of the house, and the cancellation order he was there to fill. A. probably confirmed his suspicion when he told the man that the liquor's previous owner would appreciate passing on the bottle to a worthy and appreciative trustee. The man looked at me. He said some kind words. I wish I remember them exactly. Or maybe it's better I don't.

A look came across A.'s face, and he stepped out of the room with some unknown purpose. He returned a moment later, a roll of blue painter's tape in hand along with a black Sharpie. He tore off a small piece of tape and carefully stretched it across the bottle of Scotch. He spoke as he wrote on it. "The only requirement is that when you pour yourself a glass tonight at home after work, you have to raise a toast and say this." He smiled and looked up from his handiwork to me. I read what he'd written. To Norm. I swallowed and smiled back.

More warm words from the technician. "Wonderful young woman", "good souls" - something like that. Small dabs of salve on a freshly blistered heart. We walked him down the driveway to his truck. He asked my name and shook my hand. Then he had an idea. "I'll tell you what," he said. "I'll do you one better than just a toast. If you give me your phone number, tonight when I'm ready for my drink, I'll call you guys up, and all three of us can drink to your father at the same time."

I looked at the man. I looked at my boyfriend. I felt, straining its way through the clotted, hard dirt of loss, a tiny shoot of joy. How had they done that, these two men from different worlds, with nothing in common but big hearts and a gift for awing me with their thoughtfulness? They made it look so easy.

He called us promptly at the appointed time. A. took the call, and put him on speakerphone. He had the man hold while we scrambled to pour our own drinks. All we had on hand was vodka and apple juice. It was perfect. We lifted our glasses and told the stranger on the other end of the line that we were ready. And that's when my heart, already squeezed to near suffocation by this moment, was clenched just a bit more: the man said, "What sort of man was Norm? Tell me about your father."

I made a sound, something like "Ohhh," a mixed exclamation of surprise and laughter and I don't know what else. Oh, wow, I wasn't expecting that and Oh, wow, if you only knew just what a character he was. "He was an engineer," I began, carefully. "He loved to read. He...taught me to question everything." I was grasping, falling. A. saw it, and chimed in cheerfully. "He was a ladies man, too." We all laughed, and something came loose inside of me. Some knot of sadness, born of the fact that there was next to no one around to mourn my father's death. Next to no family, next to no friends. It had broken my heart on his behalf. But here, now, an utter stranger was honoring my dad in the purest way possible: truly caring about who he was. Making him matter, if only for a moment.

After our clinks and drinks, the man again offered his sincere condolences. He praised me as a daughter, from the little daughtering he'd witnessed that day. He invited us, should we ever find ourselves back in his small town again, to dine with he and his wife. I thought wistfully of that dinner, which I knew would be lovely and probably somewhat life-affirming, but which I knew would never happen.

We said our goodbyes, rinsed out our glasses, and continued sorting late into the night. We had one bottle less to pack.

homecoming

This is George and CC. As you can see, they're quite fond of one another.



George's spelling is shite, but I think that can be excused, considering his obviously good intentions.

George and CC, my and A.'s British, highbrow, and heavily accented alter egos, were created in the interesting-only-to-them way that all inside jokes and pet names are born to couples. The story would bore or nauseate anyone other than ourselves - probably both. The important thing is that they were born, circa April 2012.

CC and George had their golden age while my dad was dying. It was a remarkable thing: the worse things got, the more clever their exchanges and frequent their appearances became.

Coping mechanisms: curious, random, useful.

Anyway, I came home to this (ob)scene upon my return from Florida: George and CC, heretofore just characters in our heads, brought to tangible, touchable, fluffy life. A lamb and a triceratops. What more natural pairing could there be?

But George and CC weren't alone on my bed. They were accompanied by a medium-sized stash of gifts. Wrapped in custom paper. That A. had designed and printed himself.



Among the gifts were two boxes of tools A. had packaged up and sent from my dad's house in Florida, before he'd left. My dad had several complete tool sets and hundreds of spare screwdrivers, wrenches, etc. A. had assigned himself the task of curating the collection to assemble some necessities for me to keep back at home. He'd sent them on ahead of us, and when they arrived, he repackaged and decorated them, then wrapped them and left them in my apartment for me to find, first thing, when I got home.





The inside covers were inscribed, too.

Inside my refrigerator were gift-wrapped milk, eggs, and cereal: a few staples so I wouldn't starve until I had the time and strength to make it to the grocery store.

That's what I came home to, after burying my father.

black outlines

There are two sides to my father's death. There are the plain, cold facts of what happened, and there are all the little details that fill in those black outlines with color. I need to get them both out of my head.

---

My first few weeks in Florida were overwhelming to a point of comedy.

My dad had no one but me to take care of him. His brothers and he had long since ceased speaking. There was a cousin, herself elderly, unstable, and unavailable. That was it, as far as his family of origin. As far as his own family? His ex-wife was dead, and his son was MIA. He had no close friends, and certainly none close by enough to help.

So I was it. And I was in way, way over my head.

I can't claim to have hit the ground running when I got there. More the opposite: I faltered and flailed about for the first few days, terrified and in denial of the situation. Feeling sorrier for myself than him, really. But once it became clear that my father was becoming more helpless by the minute, some survival mechanism in me clicked into gear. I made calls, set appointments, did research, and shuttled him to doctors. I wrote lists, asked questions, picked up supplies and medicines. I created three different schedules for pill-taking, in an effort to make it easier for my father to keep track of the seven prescriptions he was taking (none worked). I cooked and cleaned and counseled my father as best I could. When he started to lose mobility, I rearranged furniture, and even sold some things just to get them out of the way. I acted as liaison between him and the panoply of specialists he'd collected in a few short days since his diagnosis.

And speaking of his diagnosis. Here's that, in a nutshell. On April 7, my 73 year-old father was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. They didn't like what they saw, so they kept him overnight, and ran tests. A day and a half later, he was informed that he had small cell lung cancer. I was on a plane two days after that. Four days after that, his radiation oncologist gave him a prognosis of 6-12 months. But the doctors were optimistic about treatment, affirming that my dad would be healthy enough to undergo several weeks of chemotherapy and radiation. They even said he should be able to drive himself to his appointments.

Hearing that, I was utterly nonplussed. It seemed obvious to me that he wouldn't be able to care for himself on a basic level (eating, bathing, etc), much less have the strength to take himself to treatments. But maybe they were right? Maybe the bad state he was in was temporary, and he'd rally? Maybe I could manage his care from across the country at first, coming out every few weeks and stepping up my presence as necessary, as things devolved? I conferred with one of his doctors. And by "confer" I mean, I practically clutched the man's coat lapels, voice shaking, and asked, "What the hell do I do?" He told me my "plan" was a good one, and that'd I'd know when my dad would need more help. I'd know when things were getting worse.

He was right about that. Things got worse, fast, and I knew it. I saw it with my own eyes. Those first few nights, when we were making early rounds to specialists to get a plan of care in place, were hell itself. He had completely lost his appetite, and dropped 20+ pounds in a matter of a couple weeks. He was consequently too weak to move much, but so mentally agitated that moving around was all he wanted to do. The cancer had spread from his lungs to his ribs and spine, and he was incredibly uncomfortable, even with the morphine. He was depressed and afraid. He'd sit in his office chair for five minutes before insisting on moving to the living room sofa, which after another five minutes, he'd want to get up from, and go lay on the bed. He didn't want to wear pants, and I couldn't get him to stand in the shower long enough to wash off. Incontinence kicked in. We (meaning me) were still tweaking his morphine dosage, trying to find a happy(?) medium between lucidity/pain and bombing him into a speechless semi-coma.

It broke my heart to watch my father, always the vainest man I'd known, forced to abandon his dignity in such a manner. As for me, I had no clue what I was going to do. I had no idea what I was facing, or how long my father was going to be like this. It was clear as day I couldn't leave him and go back to California. Did that mean I had to move out here for the next half year, year, to be his sole caregiver? Would I even be able to do that?? What the hell did I know about caring for a sick person, much less one who was dying? Visions of me trying to bathe him, taking care of his bathroom and hygiene, spoon feeding him and checking his IV, managing all those medications several times a day, etc. wracked me. What. The. Fuck.

I was bewildered and lost. When the occasional nurse or insurance person or hospice worker that I spoke to found out I was handling everything completely on my own, the compassion and solicitousness with which they responded broke me every time. I'd chin up and thank them politely for their concern, but inside, the little girl in me was throwing pity party confetti in the air: Yes! I know! It IS incredibly unfair, right? How am I supposed to do this?? After a while, I stopped pretending to be strong and just let them throw their arms around me for a virtual hug.

The kindness of strangers saved me in those days - the acknowledgment and validation that no one should have do what I was doing, alone.

And so the second week went, with him leaning on me more and more every day, literally and otherwise. He didn't want to eat, so every few hours, I'd spend several minutes trying to coax him into a few bites of ice cream, or chocolate milk - anything dense in calories, in an effort to keep some meat on his bones. He was completely at a loss re: tracking his medications, which needed to be taken every two hours. I couldn't trust him to remember, so I gave up on my fancy charts and checklists and just set my own alarm. He became disoriented and confused about place and time. I awoke on Saturday at three am to him calling me frantically from across the house. I found him fully dressed, sitting near the front door, convinced that he was about to be late for an appointment. When I explained that no, he had no commitments that day, he became inexplicably angry and threatened to hit me.

I'd take advantage of his moments of lucidity to talk to him. We even managed, in the first few days, to have a couple of restaurant meals. I sat across from my father and we looked at one another, the dead weight of his prognosis making each forkful feel like a thousand pounds of sand to swallow. We did our best, though, with small jokes and the occasional sincerely loving exchange. I told him in no uncertain terms what he meant to me, and how I credit all my favorite parts of my personality to him. He told me that despite what I'd convinced myself of, he was incredibly proud of me, of who I'd turned out to be.

Back at home, the restlessness was a killer. He just refused to stay still for more than a few minutes at a time. But with every hour, he lost more and more strength and balance. Each time he wanted to move, I had to be there, lest he go crashing to the ground. At first, the support of my shoulder was enough. Then, he'd need me to walk backwards in front of him, so he could hold my outstretched arms. By the time I went to buy him a walker, he was so frail from lack of food that falling was a near-constant concern.

And then he did fall.

At 2am.

And I couldn't get him back up. And he couldn't get himself back up.

Just that morning, he'd been enrolled in in-home hospice. We'd been at the oncologist's, and I had pulled him aside, wild-eyed with lack of sleep, and said, basically, "Look. If you think he's strong enough to undergo several hours a week of chemo, you're out of your mind. And aside from the issue of chemo, I need help. Badly." The doctor agreed that it was time for hospice, even though he still felt confident that my dad could do chemo. We went home and I spent the afternoon learning just how much support I was about to get - I knew nothing whatsoever about hospice. As it became clear that I would have a team of professionals acting as reinforcements, I slowly let more oxygen into my lungs. I can do this, if I have help. Help is coming.

Help came that very afternoon. He was enrolled, the paperwork was signed, and all the ugly but necessary documents placed on file (his living will, his DNR order, his funerary wishes, etc). A hospital bed was set up in the living room, because my father refused to give up the ghost on the waterbed in his bedroom. He was still adamantly insisting, even in his degenerative state, on climbing in and out of it all day and night.

That's what he was doing, when he fell. Trying to get out of the goddamned waterbed. And I was helping, but not well enough, obviously. Because suddenly he was on the ground, moaning in pain, and I couldn't do a fucking thing about it other than try to dial down my hysteria.

That was one of the hardest, most awful moments of the whole ordeal. But it was by no means the worst. No, cancer is an endless swag back of heartbreaking surprises!

Anyway, I called hospice, who sent help as quickly as possible. It took almost an hour. During that time, I ostensibly sat with my father, covered him in a blanket, held his hand, propped his head, and talked to him (he didn't talk back). But what I was really doing was facing the fact of my father's impending death, and taking the first wretched step towards accepting it.

The EMTs arrived, and lifted him into bed. I got more What, wait? It's only you here, taking care of him? type pity. I ate it up, greedily. His hospice team's head nurse, upon learning of this incident, upgraded him to continuous care - I was told as much over the phone. By 8am, a certified nurse would be there to help, and, I was told, there'd be someone staying with us, at the house, 24-7 from that point on.

selections from the last two months

A. had a show at Art Walk. He got the raw space late Wednesday, and completely transformed it overnight, bringing a few originals and several framed giclee prints, plus some of the new stuff he's been doing. He stenciled the walls and put up signage, and spent six hours fielding questions and compliments, networking, and selling.



Between runs for refreshments and DJ'ing, I mostly stood around, chiming in occasionally to help when he was occupied, and making sure no one took high resolution photos. I love being (now, finally) familiar enough with his work to be able to explain how intricate, complicated, and labor-intensive the process is. I suspect most people have no clue how much time and effort he puts into his pieces. But more than that, I loved when people took the time (and interest) to read the artist's statement he posted.




---

Father's Day happened, and I almost didn't even realize it. We decided on a whim to go to the beach, since it was so gorgeous downtown. The coast was a bit chillier and rather grey, but it was still nice.



The water was icy, but A. plowed in without flinching, so I followed. He laughed when the waves knocked me over, nearly choking me with spume and spray. With his arms around my waist, he held me above the crashing water so I could catch my breath.



Later, still sandy and disheveled from the beach - and I in a sweatshirt - we went to BOA and dined on jumbo prawns and steak tartar, prepared tableside. I overheard someone nearby say "something something Father's Day" and it hit me like a wall. I looked at A. "Today is Father's Day?" I asked, my head cocked in amazement. I'd completely forgotten. He nodded quietly and put his hand on my leg. A few self-indulgent tears got by me before I felt ridiculous, sucked it up, and enjoyed my raw meat.



Still hungry, we drove up the PCH to a roadside fish shack, where we ate fried clamstrips and clam chowder. It was freezing by this point, and we had a 25 minute wait for food, so A. wrapped himself up in our trusty Bonnaroo whale sheet, to block the wind. He looked like he'd ripped a shower curtain off the rod of a cheap Palm Beach motel.

---

Some friends from out of town visited, including a BFF I hadn't seen in two years. Colori Kitchen, the Standard, Chateau Marmont, ping pong, and some alarmingly unflattering photos.



A. and I got stupid at the Standard and decided it would be a good idea to go swimming. In our underwear. I was wearing a mesh bra. A nude colored mesh bra. Guess who had too many greyhounds?? But my friends, being the considerate people that they are, made sure to get pics. These are the most SFW:



I was mortified when I saw them, but then A. said, "Look how happy we look," and I kind of melted.

We all went back to A.'s, and a friend took some pics of us that I didn't even know about until a few days later:




---

I had a birthday, and an unnecessary fuss was made. At dinner with my out-of-town friends, I was surprised with fried green tea ice cream, and sung to. A few days later, A. had the waiter at Izaka-ya (best meal I've had in LA so far), candlefy our desert. Then, at a Memorial Day barbecue at a friend's, I was presented with two different cakes. My "friends" then thought it would be hysterical to then get me high and encourage me to eat half a fucking cake when the munchies inevitably hit.

A. and I feasted on the raspberry-chocolate cake he'd gotten me for days. When we attacked it again one night in the wee hours, he first put a lit candle in it, before bringing it to me in bed.



On my actual birthday, more fuss and more flame at Bottega Louie:


Don't people know it's reckless to give a girl like me so many wishes?

---

And an afternoon that just made me happy - Vietnamese for lunch, and A. carves his coconut. Cat calls from outside alert us to mayhem on the street: the annual World Naked Bike Ride is going by, just outside the front door of Blossom, downtown.



bonnaroo

There's a mechanical problem, minutes before we're supposed to take off from LAX. Already on the tarmac, we're taxied back to the gate, where we wait for nearly two hours for a new plane. Chaos, angry passengers, frustration. We jockey for position along with the other Bonnaroo-bound: there are only so many seats available to Dallas/Forth Worth, where weather is precluding all flights to Nashville. We don't make our connection, or the next two attempts at stand-by, so we have to spend the night in Texas and miss the first evening of the festival. At the steakhouse in the hotel where we stay, A. plays up our plight to the server, who comps us a bottle of wine and desert. We take these back to our room and gorge ourselves in bed.

An early morning flight to Nashville, a hurried check-in to our hotel (where we score a jacuzzi suite), running to catch the bus to the festival. We're there by one, barely missing The Kooks. We quickly learn that our VIP upgrade affords us some huge advantages: no waiting in lines, exclusive seating for big shows, access to a large, air-conditioned tent filled with couches, cushions, free fruit, and cheap massages, incomparably cleaner/larger bathrooms, and remote concert viewing, should we choose. We stumble around, overwhelmed by the sheer size of the festival grounds, by the sensory overload of things to see, to hear, to smell, to touch, and to taste. It's a bit intimidating, like arriving a week late to summer camp. We try to get our bearings and find a sense of belonging in this pop-up community, but there's very little time to get acclimated before the first show we catch - Two Door Cinema Club. I'm excited to hear some tracks off of an unreleased album, and A. hoists me atop his shoulders during my favorite song. He pivots so I can videotape the screaming, cheering, waving crowd around us. Girls in dangerously little clothing crowd surf above us, and a guy nearby climbs the rafters for a better view.



By the end of the show, the heat has relented enough to let us really take in our surroundings for the first time.



Bonnaroo is like nothing I've experienced. Sun, skin, and sound everywhere. Carnival rides and games, food trucks, colorful tents crammed with crafts, art, and clothing, a water slide and oversized fountain, and a sprawling campsite with its own small village, all spread out over 700 grassy, tree-filled acres. Throngs of people, mostly young, many beautiful, nearly all thrilling to natural and man-made highs. Drugs everywhere: smoked, swallowed, shared and sold, all in plain view. We watch kids barely out of their teens pose for photos with acid tabs on their tongues. Over eighty thousand people are here with us, being flooded with music that pours from every corner of the grounds. It's positively surreal.



We wander in wonder at this small city, and plunge headlong into a three-day binge of our own illicit hedonism. We've come prepared, and we've been looking forward to this weekend for months. We feel no hesitancy and no shame about what we're going to do to our bodies and brains. We've earned the shit out of this weekend, emotionally, financially, and physically.



Our first roll kicks in while we watch Trampled By Turtles, and it's pure heaven. Dusk, and the sting of the sun is finally off of our bare shoulders and legs. We're sitting on a blanket-sized piece of vinyl fabric that I bought in the fashion district, just for the occasion. I picked the most colorful, silly, and happy print I could find - bright blue, green, and orange whales. This mat becomes an invaluable part of our Bonnaroo equipment: lightweight, waterproof, and fun, it's the perfect no-fly zone for when we need to carve out a little space from the crowd - not to mention put a layer between us and the dirt and bugs.



As the bluegrass notes wash over us, in the sandy area that divides the standers from the sitters, I'm physically unable to stay still. I jump up to dance while A. remains seated, chatting with our neighbor on the ground. They talk about psychology and other randomness, passing a joint back and forth, happily crossed-legged on the ground despite the fact that everyone else around them is on his or her feet. I touch the back of A.'s neck every few seconds as I dance, both to keep my bearings and to connect with him. He smiles up at me, telling me how much he loves the moment, the experience, me. It's an intense joy for both of us, that lasts song after song after song. When the opening strings of Wait So Long hit the air, everyone goes wild. A. leaps to his feet, then kneels and pulls me atop his shoulders, where I stay for the duration of the song. He bounces and sways, holding my legs tight as we both belt out the words we know and love by heart. I dip my head and kiss his face, upside down. From my vantage point I see the hundreds of frenetic, ecstatic people singing along with us. The lights are synched perfectly to the tune, and our senses are saturated in every way possible.

We leave the show electrified, and stay that way for the next three days.




There are over 150 acts at Bonnaroo, and it's impossible to see every one. We follow the schedule we've set for ourselves loosely, coming and going from the eleven different stages as we please. On our way to watch some electronic, for example, a strain of lo-fi indie pop will float to me, and I'll pull A. off in its direction. This is par for the course, all weekend: we're flexible, high, and just happy to be within a minute's walk, at any time, of some of our favorite music in recent years. We follow beats as we fancy, depending on the whims of desire, hunger/thirst, and state of mind. It'd take pages to detail the entire weekend, but I can at least list some highlights:

Top Ten Eighteen Bonnaroo Moments, In No Particular Order (except #1 really was #1)

18. Sunday night, stopping randomly at a small stage, headlined by some band we've never heard. Less than a hundred people are watching, but the twangy country sound fits our mood. We dance beside a small canopy with stringed lights woven in its branches, oblivious to how we look to anyone but each other. We cross arms, grab hands, and spin, and I take one of the most vivid mental snapshots of my life: my boyfriend's laughing face, the lights and trees blurring behind him, and beyond that, paper lanterns aglow and adrift in the sky.
17. Stomping and sloshing my way through the mud on Sunday, being so glad for my rain boots, and loving the feel of the light, warm rain on my skin.



16. Watching a paper lantern being lit and launched, a few feet away from us, at Red Hot Chili Peppers (the cheers from the crowd are deafening each time one is successfully set afloat in the night sky - we see dozens over the weekend). When it dips back down into the crowd, threatening to crash, a woman catches it and gives it the push it needs to get skyward again. The crowd roars with approval and excitement.



15. The heady feeling of freedom, to be there with A. Just us, doing as we please. No obligations or responsibilities to anyone other than ourselves and our dogs, waiting for us back home. Recognizing and appreciating the fact that we can do this again - anytime we like, in fact - finances allowing. We're that free. It's intoxicating. The sense of well-being and connectedness, with my boyfriend, with the world at large - with myself. Finding the first true moments of peace and contentedness since my father died.



14. Discovering Major Lazer, based on a tip from some young'uns we meet on the bus.
13. Skrillex. Mind = blown. Dancing my face clean off.



12. Walking by Radiohead, but not actually stopping to watch them. This is strangely awesome. I don't remember where we're going or what exactly we're doing, but we just aren't feeling Radiohead enough to stop and stay at the stage. It's enough for us to be nearby, see the stage, and know we are hearing Radiohead live, and go on with our night. Totally surreal moment, getting to make that choice.
11. The Shin's performance of Simple Song, which has become my favorite track of the past few years. I'm obsessed with it. We watch the show from the VIP section, just high enough above the crowd to have a great view but still feel in the mix. It's drizzling rain, and A. wordlessly takes out his hoodie and wraps me in it.
10. Walking in to the festival one afternoon while The Beach Boys are playing. We stumble straight into the venue, packed with three or four generations of smiling, singing concert goers, chanting giddily to songs they've grown up with. The group sounds exactly the same as their records.



9. Dancing with wild abandon to Phish, with glow sticks A. has collected for us, in the misting rain. We wander the outskirts of the crowd, jumping around and laughing like children, lost in the moment and music. A. completely lets loose and dances with pure, unconscious joy.
8. Trampled By Turtles (especially the moment described above).
7. Discovering the ridiculously talented LP, who A.'s been into for some time, and now I know why. After the show, an older couple approaches us to say, "We saw you guys yesterday, and we just want you to know we think you're romantic and sexy. We'll let you figure out who we think is which." Makes our day.
6. Ritzy Bryan of The Joy Formidable smashes her guitar into the drum set, and the crowd goes bonkers. They do an amazing set, and the girl is a freaking rock star.
5. Dancing at the Silent Disco (everyone is given wireless headphones playing the same live-DJed music). I'm rolling hard, and consequently feel like the best. dancer. in the world. So, so, so much sexy fun. We had plans to go back for another round on Sunday, but it was closed. So A. proposes we make our own Silent Disco, and that's exactly what we do: we find a semi-private, relatively quiet patch of grass, put on our headphones, and just dance for a while to our own beats.
4. Watching A. during Dispatch, but especially when they play The General. He's absolutely elated.



3. Mogwai's entire set. Rocking, eyes closed, high as hell. Indescribable beyond that.



2. Young The Giant's performance of My Body, which is pretty much an out-of-body experience for me. I am beside myself. I have never seen a crowd so charged up, and it is far and away my favorite performance of the entire festival.
1. Laying on the grass, on our ridiculous whale sheet, in the middle of the festival grounds at 1:00 am, on a perfect, lovely roll, holding one another, eyes closed in the dark and cold, hearing the strains of music around us, feeling cozily tucked in amongst the thousands of blissed-out people, but special and separate at the same time, kissing for several minutes straight without breaking contact. Now when I ask him for a "Bonnaroo kiss", he knows exactly what I mean.



I've been on some truly incredible, once-in-a-lifetime vacations and adventures. I've been to five of seven continents and done some crazy cool, bucket list stuff. But after going to Bonnaroo, I would easily pass up any trip - even international - to attend another music festival like that. No question. We're already eyeing Outside Lands, in San Francisco, in August...