under the rubble

So, what is it like to live with your ex-boyfriend? Well, sometimes it's like this:

Friday Early Afternoon

- The Escape lineup for today is insane, ugh. It's killing me.

- Gah! Can't even look. :/

- Tickets are only $99...

- For Sat or Sun?

- Today. It's today and tomorrow.

- Oh wow! Hmmmmmmmmmmm.


- Can't do tomorrow but...

- OMG I mean would that just be insane? We could just find a motel and crash after... Oh wait, your car's in the shop!

- It's ready! I'm picking it up after work. Is it at the same place as Nocturnal?

- No it's at NOS Events Center, in San Bern.

- Hmmmmmmmm. Starts at 4. Could we buy tickets at the door?

- I'll call and ask.

- This is all very possible.

- OMG. Ok lemme call.

- We would need to figure out hotel and parking. I'll look into that. 

- Yep, we can buy tickets onsite.

Friday Late Afternoon

I will be greatly disappointed if someone, somewhere doesn't eviscerate me for this. 

Friday Evening

Not me. My hood is way fluffier.

Gosh Ellie, it's amazing how interchangeable all your festival photos are. Great work!

No but see this one's a different color, so it needed to be included. 

And when it's like that, it's like that because the things that bound you together in the first place are still there, even if they're buried under ten metric tons of relationship rubble. They're easier to unearth from the rubble when you communicate clearly, from a place of respect and compassion.

But it's not always like that.

Sometimes, it's awful. A maelstrom of hurt that's all the worse because we don't know when it will break - we don't have a move-out date yet. And when it's awful, it's awful because our respective weapons of choice are well-honed, and close at hand. Mine is avoidance, and his - well, I don't know how to characterize his. But it stings.

Really our main conflict concerns boundaries. Terence feels that since we're stuck living together for the time being, "the rule book is out the window". I disagree, and think rules are vital. I'm just not sure what those should be. So we push and pull at one another, moving apart in quick strides then inching back closer when we feel safe to. One day at a time.

If I had to put percentages on it, I'd say we're coming in at 80% peaceful-if-occasionally-uncomfortable coexistence, 15% unresolved tension, and 5% something resembling transcendence. Not too bad, all things considered.

A few days ago we hit the sweet spot, and squeezed out an hour or two of transcendence. In those moments, it is humor that elevates us above the pain of breaking up. Looking at the absurdity of our situation like a sit-com. Laughing about how it must look to our friends, family - even my blog readers - that one day we're at each other's throats and the next we're going to a music festival.

We even took a few selfies in the car to acknowledge it. Shhh, don't tell anyone that we're having a good time, and We're supposed to hate one another. Oops! and Life, amirite??

Last night in San Bernardino we were laughing, too. "Best breakup ever," joked Terence, as our favorite DJ took the stage and we sunk into a familiar, blissful trance. Kind of has a nice ring to it.

One day at a time. 

right place, right time

I only took two photos the day I left.

I said goodbye to the family and then Bill walked me downstairs alone. After a quick hug he stood in the street behind my rental car and directed me out of the narrow driveway. Then he came to the driver's side window. "Remember," he said. "Nothing is ever as bad as it seems in your mind." I nodded. He quickly kissed my cheek and waved me off. I kept it together until I was out of sight of the house.

As I passed the boat dock on the way out, I glanced down at my favorite maple tree. The weather of the past two days had taken a toll, and her red was losing its verve. The tree directly beside, which had still been green when I'd arrived at the lake, was now a rich crimson, full and proud. I put the Jeep in park but left the engine running, and ran down to them in the sputtering rain. One last picture.

I cried hard, but not for long. I can shake off goodbyes fairly quickly; God knows I've had enough of them. So my eyes were dry when, not three minutes later, I passed by a sight that made me nearly wreck the car, the double take I did was so extreme. "Oh no," I said aloud to an empty car. "No way am I passing that up." Again I pulled over, this time inching as unobtrusively as I could onto the driveway, presumably, of the person's whose property I was about to photograph. I watched the house's front door for a moment, but when no one emerged, I shoved my phone up my sleeve (it was really coming down now) and ran through the marshy grass alongside the road back to one of the most spectacular natural vignettes I'd ever seen:

I had to laugh; it was too unbelievably perfect. The mist on the mountains. The fall foliage, flaming in the tree above and scattered evenly in the ground below. The fact that the horse was here, underneath the tree, when it had an entire meadow to graze. I don't know a thing about horses; I wish I knew at least enough to be able to say whether it's a mare or stallion (or a gelding?). I stood there as long as I could considering the rain, the trespassing, and my fear that I was giving her? him? indigestion with my gawking. Back in the car, my clothes steaming, I zoomed in, making sure I'd gotten a clear, crisp shot. I vowed to leave it 100% unedited and unfiltered.

Magical thinking, my old nemesis, danced on my brain. Lake Burton's farewell to me? A benediction? A reminder of some kind? A last, fairy tale image to hold in my mind, to crowd out reality as long as possible?

None of those, of course. It's none of those. It's just being in the right place, at the right time - nothing more. Sometimes that's enough.

the rain came

Well, the rain came. Misty floating pillows of it, directionless and soft. Unthreatening, it promised not to interfere with anyone's plans. Then I guess it changed its mind, or just got tired of holding its own weight, and the tin roof above me became a drum. In the pitch black bedroom I pulled up the covers and listened. Each drop was a glass marble surrendered by a sky too full to keep them. Hundreds of marbles fell, then thousands, until the wind stepped in and picked up a slingshot, and the marbles hit with such ferocity I expected to see moonlight piercing through at any moment.

The rain loosened the soil on the cliff above the house, shaking down small stones and clumps of earth. I had the sensation of being buried alive, and with each crumbling patter I pictured faceless mourners tossing handfuls of dirt onto a casket.

It woke me up periodically, from feverish dreams that either made no sense or too much of it, I'm not sure which. One saw Terence embracing me lightly from behind, turning my cheek to kiss me with an adroitness I hadn't remembered ever knowing. He evaporated, leaving me melting and unsure, and standing at the edge of a shallow pond. Someone dared me to wade to the center of it. And when I did, I found a circle of my friends scowling at me in disappointment. I didn't know what I'd done; I only knew I'd confirmed their worst suspicions.

We had a sort of Thanksgiving. The family, myself, and three neighbors whom I tried terribly hard to impress. They must wonder who the hell I am, I thought uncharitably of myself - of them. What gives with this stranger, this interloper from across the country? She is not blood. Where is her own family?

Woody, of course, knows the answers to those questions now, and probably wouldn't ever have asked them anyway. He and his wife (tennis buff, no nonsense but quick to laugh) brought spaghetti squash, sea-salt dark chocolate caramels, a pumpkin pie the size of a manhole cover, and a bottle of Sauternes. The Sauternes really deserves its own post, honey bright and smooth and lip-licking sweet. It was my first, which made it special to me. And it was the first Sauternes Bill has had in decades, which made it special to him. He and Hannah used to order it as a young couple in California - I believe he said on trips to Mendocino. His face when he spoke of it - laughing about how little he knew of wines back then - briefly lost all of those decades. Woody, too, had a Sauternes story to tell. A group of nine friends, gambling one day on a $900 bottle they had to split, well, nine ways. $100 per man, for about a sip. Worth every penny.

Today the rain abandoned all restraint, laughing at me, spitting in my face as I stubbornly rounded up the last day's worth of photos. The wind turned Hannah's umbrella into a sail, and I nearly toppled into the water trying to take a selfie at the end of the dock.

I didn't have a great day today. Sleep has evaded me all week for a combination of reasons, twisting my nerves into a bundle that threatened to snap at the slightest provocation. And provocation came tonight, in the form of a nasty burn running the length of my forearm. I was making vegetable chowder (Hannah liked it so much the last time I made it) and I stupidly used a short-handled cup to ladle some of it into the blender. My elbow grazed the lip of the pot and I jumped, splashing piping hot soup onto myself, my favorite navy cashmere sweater, and the floor.

Everyone swarmed to help me. To clean up my mess, to treat my burn, to fetch me painkillers. Their solicitousness sent me sailing over the edge, and I had to brush tears - humiliating, childish tears - from my cheeks so I could see to finish my cooking. At the table the meal was subdued, heavy with the tone I'd set with my overreaction, and it wasn't long before Bill's gentle prying unleashed the truth underneath the ostensible reason for my tears. I was exhausted, anxious about returning home, lonely for friends who wouldn't be there when I got back, and generally in a storm of self-doubt.

Not exactly the note I wanted to leave on. I mean, I didn't say all that, though the subject of my breakup did come up momentarily. But they could see I was fraught with worry and sleeplessness, and Bill ordered me to bed early.

That was seven hours ago; only one of which I slept for.

Oh god, here it comes again. I wish you could hear it. Great gusting sheets, surging suddenly just now as if desperate to drown out my bleating self-pity. Or maybe gently wash it away. Maybe the rain is a friend tonight.

Anyway, friend or foe, it turned the lake and its surroundings into a crayon box today. It wicked the leaves down from trees that weren't ready to release them; they were still too bright, too alive. They lay stunned on the ground - a wet, waxy palette of goldenrod and ochre, strawberry and chartreuse. I feel guilty filtering pictures of them, like I'm adding salt to food that's already plenty seasoned. So only the tiniest bit, to make sure their vibrancy comes through loud and clear.

The sound of the rain, though - that you'll have to imagine. And now, for me, sleep - though maybe I'll have to imagine that.

the magnificent maple

I met the most magnificent maple. She lives down at the marina, right at the water's edge. In the summer she watches boaters come and go. Styrofoam coolers and cranked-up stereos. Water skis, life jackets, and excited shouts. In the winter, she sees snow silence the mountains around a still, steel-blue lake. In the spring she bears witness to winter's promises having been kept yet again. Rebirth and renewal, bloom and blossom. But I met her in the fall. And in the fall she herself is the thing to see.

The maple I met understands the inevitability of change. She meets it head on, with patience and grace. The wind chills her limbs and the sun dries her sap, and she blushes in anticipation of her impending bareness. Her blushes are a fiery riot of red and orange; they'll take your breath away. She captivated me from the moment I saw her, and I returned every day to watch her transformation.

I stood underneath her branches, close to her trunk, and looked up. I heard whispers passing between her and the sky, and the sun winked at me as if he too knew their secrets. A beetle cleaved to a knot in her bark, unbothered by what she was going through. Nature's apathy, writ tiny. At my feet were the leaves she'd shivered off, all sizes, their pigment faded to various degrees. Some as wide as my palm, and wine dark. Some no bigger than silver dollars, and peach, with pale pink tips. I couldn't help myself; I gathered them up by the handful. Each seemed more perfect than the last, and I piled them on top of one another, carefully aligning their maraschino cherry stems.

I carried these pieces of her away with me. They were still pretty, still smooth and pliable with the life she'd given them - but they were fast becoming memories to her, and I knew she wouldn't mind my taking what she'd already lost. Besides, I wanted to try and make something beautiful with them. It's always worth trying, I think, to make something beautiful of the things we lose.

sunday dispatch

The fact that I've become close with my best friend's aunt's husband is strange and wonderful enough on its own, I think. One of those unexpected connections in life that keep it interesting. But there's an extra bit of coincidence that kicks things up another notch on the Well isn't that something scale, and it's this: both Bill and Hannah worked where I live, in downtown Los Angeles, decades before I was even born. They frequented places I do now, in 2015.

Hannah worked for the telephone company, both in Los Angeles and further north. You can hear the pride in her voice when she talks about it. From the multiple transfers she was granted to follow Bill as he career took off, it sounds like she was a well-appreciated employee. They tease one another about it now. Oh give me a break, says Bill, grinning at me when she pretends to be overcome by household duties. You haven't worked in ages. Hannah fires back: Well that's because we kept moving around. I transferred as many darn times as I could! Bill, more softly, reflecting: Yeah, but you raised my boys. That's the best thing you did.

As a kid, Bill shined shoes in Pershing Square - one of Chaucer's daily destinations. He lived in Boyle Heights, and a trip to Clifton's Cafeteria - a place I've been many times - was considered a fancy meal on the town. My mother used to dress me up like little Lord Fauntleroy, oh boy. I told him Clifton's recently underwent a massive, multimillion dollar renovation and reopened as a night club; two of its five floors have bars now. The ground floor cafeteria is restored to its former glory, too; I ate there with Kerry and Ross not a month ago. One of these days he's going to have to come visit me so we can go for some meatloaf and jello. And cocktails upstairs afterward, naturally.

Tonight Bill asked if I knew the old Sears building in Boyle Heights. I do; it's a famous landmark seen easily from the freeway. Terence and I would always comment on it, on our way to Whittier Narrows. It's nine stories tall, comprises over one million square feet, and has an interesting history involving Oscar de la Hoya's childhood (facts I Googled on the drive to Whittier Narrows). The full name of the building is the Sears, Roebuck & Company Mail Order Building, a mouthful that calls to mind flipping through catalogs as child, laying on the floor in my dad's den. There was no greater thrill than a package from Sears, circa 1980, in my home in St. Joseph.

Well, Bill used to work there. Back from the service, a fresh-faced twenty something, he got a job filling the exact sort of orders our parents used to place, pre-internet. Clothing, toys, appliances. He told me about the chute that ran down from the top floor to the basement. About how workers would scurry around, wrapping up dolls and bicycles on one floor, toasters and tools on another, and send them down the chute for packaging and shipping. Some of them - including Bill - even wore roller skates to get around quicker. We'd go whizzing around, every once in a while you'd plow into someone, though... He laughs, remembering.

You can't hear these stories and not feel an instinctive longing for simpler, sweeter times. Then you remember that no time is ever really simple, or all that sweet. Still.

Anyway, that was my favorite story from today. There was another fantastic one, told over wine and cookies after dinner, involving a broken ankle and a cake pan...but I probably wouldn't get any more wine and cookies if I told it.

I can hear the rain starting up. We knew it was coming this week, and it'll probably be going strong until I leave Wednesday. It'll probably cancel the boat trip with Woody, and maybe also the full moon night hike he and his wife invited me to join them on. But I can't help loving it. I've taken more leaf-peeping photos and videos than I could ever want, and seen every inch of the lake I can get to on foot. Some quiet time in the house reading will be nice.

I almost forgot: tonight we're having Thanksgiving dinner. Yesterday morning when I heard Bill ask Kim to bring up a turkey from the downstairs freezer so he could brine it, my jaw hit the floor. I knew exactly what he was up to. Bill, I scolded. You didn't. Please say you didn't get a turkey for my sake. I stopped there, just thinking the rest to myself. Because you know I'm not going to have much of a Thanksgiving this year. You know Terence will be with his family and my usual Thanksgiving crew will be gone. That's when he and everyone started claiming they cook a turkeys all the time. Except this evening there'll also be stuffing and cranberries, and Woody's bringing a pumpkin pie. So I'm not buying a bit of it. Not one bit. These people can pretend their hearts aren't as big as they are, but I'm no fool.