everything coming up

It's the day before Thanksgiving, and the metaphors are everywhere. I don't even have to look for them anymore. The universe just hands them to me on a silver platter, monogrammed with my initials. It allows that this is my talent, for better or for worse: finding meaning in the vagaries of an indifferent world. And it provides me with plenty of material. Here, Ellie. Be of use. Amuse someone, even if it's just yourself. 

We're driving up the PCH, having cut over to the coast just north of San Francisco. Just for an hour or two. Just so long as we have daylight to take in the views. Then we'll snake back inland, pick up the 101, finish the haul up to Mendocino County where our host for the weekend lives. A second family of his, of sorts. They'll greet us, along with two bounding, barking dogs, in the frosty driveway. Usher us with hugs and handshakes into the home where Timo spent a year of high school.

But right now we're on the road. Six days off from work. We sandwiched the holiday with vacation time. My first official RTO at the new job. It's a big deal to me, to be here with him, to enjoy this trip guilt-free, because I have work to return to afterward. It's a big deal for other reasons, too.

Muir Beach. Stinson Beach. The marshy wetlands of Bolinas Lagoon. At some point we stop saying "Oh wow", stop craning our necks out the window, and actually pull over at the vistas. The windswept cliffs of Point Reyes. The clay blue cottages of Nick's Cove. I say something banal, about that blue. How you couldn't buy it, you couldn't ever find that perfectly faded shade even if you thumbed through a hundred paint chips at the hardware store. Wabi sabi. I have to believe in wabi sabi.

"Yell if you want to stop," he says, and sometimes I do. Then I spring from the rental car, retracing the twenty or thirty yards needed to get whatever shot it was I saw. It feels weird. I'm out of practice. I miss Instagram, on days like this.

When he comments on the barges dotting the horizon I have an excuse to use one of my favorite phrases. "In the offing," I say, smiling at him. He loves learning new English words. "That's what they call it, where it drops off from view. Literally it refers to the farthest you can see out into the ocean but it's a great metaphor for something in the future you can just barely make the shape of." The words hardly get out of my mouth before I realize their import. To me, anyway. Skirting the conversation I've boxed him into half a dozen times already. The one about where his future diverges from mine, or doesn't. The one about work visas and homesicknesses and job placements that weren't supposed to last as long as they have.

I'd bite my tongue but I know I'm safe. He hasn't heard the subtext of my words. He's not afflicted with the same "talent" I am. He's just happy to be here. It's one of the things I love about him. He rarely overthinks.

We stop for bottled water, and to stretch our legs. An outdoor coffee stand attached to the general store catches our eye. It's a long drive still. Caffeine might be a good idea. The wiry barista who makes Timo's latte speaks with a vague accent; we'll agree afterward that he's French, that an interesting story must have landed him in this tiny seaside town. When I throw down four bucks for a three dollar drink the Frenchman rings a little bell. "We do that for good tips," he winks at me, though I don't see anyone else around to constitute a "we." Handing over the cup he nods his traveler's benediction. "Enjoy everything coming up."

I write this down, word for word, in the notepad on my phone. Enjoy everything coming up. 

A few minutes later and my recent sleeplessness hits like a wave. I cannot stay awake and keep Timo company for the remaining drive, even though I know I should. Even though I know he would. I am positively wiped, physically and emotionally. In the past two months I have started two restaurant jobs and quit one. I have taken on three freelance writing gigs, started and then stopped an assistant position in Beverly Hills, broken the lease on my apartment and signed the lease on a new one. I am finally settling into something resembling routine and stability--or at least I will once I've moved. This is the first I've felt I can really relax in a long, long time.

The best I can do is change the music I've been playing through my phone to a podcast for him. Snippets of it invade my dreams. TED Radio Hour. Something about love, about the kinds of partners various personality types seek. I'll bring it up later, because of course I will. This time Timo will know exactly what I'm talking about. He'll have honed in on the same part, maybe thinking the same thing I am: We sought and found our opposites. Isn't it lovely? But not exact opposites, you know. In some ways we are so similar. And that's lovely, too.

(I'll say all of this in a state of exhaustion, curled up next to him in our bed for the next five nights. Even in the dark I know his expression. The half-smile that means he's listening, accepting, but not necessarily agreeing or endorsing. It's okay. The listening and accepting are enough.)

Two cattle grids in quick succession jar me awake. "We're here," he says, carefully navigating a starlit, gravelly country road. I feel groggy, puffy and gritty from travel. I blink, getting my bearings. An expansive yard, raking sharply down to where we drive. Trees bedecked with string lights. Wire form animals, also strung with bulbs. Colored icicle lights crowning a house the details of which I can't make out yet, in the dark and in my punch-drowsy state. A pair of German Shepherds herd us up the driveway, barking in welcome or warning or both. They know Timo. They don't know me, the holiday interloper.

The cold when we emerge from the car is biting but not bitter. I hang back, pulling on my coat while Timo greets his host mom and the man whose exact title in this domestic arrangement is unclear. Roommate? Caretaker? Companion? Even Timo doesn't know how to explain their relationship, which while long-running has never been romantic. Friends. Co-inhabitants. Whatever. It's working for them. This is a happy home, that much is obvious immediately. I am not spared any of the effusiveness Timo's return has generated. Hugs for me, too. We go inside. The dogs stay outside.

An hour of catching up, reconnecting. Polite inquiries about the generalities of my life. I am bleary, but trying to be bright. It's unnecessary, though. These are easygoing people. Relaxed, ready to like anyone those they love present to them. And they love Timo. His host mom is lit with excitement at his arrival. She peppers him with questions about his work, his family, his life in LA. I sit beside him on the sectional, chiming in when I can, smiling quietly when I can't. Heat from the furnace is pushing me back towards sleep. Tomorrow will be tough, I know. I'll miss my family and my friends. Voices in my head will attack me, tell me I deserve the loneliness I'll feel despite sitting at a cheerful, packed table. I'll wonder whether I shouldn't have stayed home, rather than foist myself on yet another unsuspecting family.

But I was invited.

I retire before Timo, who stays up to talk, laugh, reminisce. He snuggles up to me a little while later, giggly and high and sleepy. "I'm so happy you're here with me," he whispers. "I'm so happy to share this place with you. I can't wait for you to see how beautiful it is."

As always, as has not yet ceased to amaze me, the sleep I share with him is the most restful I've had with any man, ever. No tossing or turning. No feeling crowded, even when when our limbs tangle. He is the only one I can say this about.

I count it as a something to be very thankful for.