the clouds themselves

The 24-hour Korean spa that I visit a few days after it happens--my eyes puffy from lack of sleep, my shoulders sore from body-racking sobs--requires nudity.

I know this going in. I've read the reviews, I understand the etiquette. Still, it takes a few laps around the labyrinthian locker room to work up enough nerve to shed the uniform issued to me upon check-in: mustard yellow t-shirt, baggy khaki shorts, brown rubber flip flops so thin my ankle bones crackle on the hardwood floor. I'm pretty sure the ensemble is purposefully designed to be as ugly as possible, so patrons will want to ditch it.

A wall of paneled glass, closed off with curtains except for double doors on which are etched the rules, leads into the main spa area. Jacuzzi. Cold-water dipping pool. Sauna and steam room. These facilities are bookended by a series of standard showers on one side, and on the other, three rows of some other kind of bathing stalls that I don't quite understand. Short, tiled booths with detachable shower hoses and plastic stools for sitting. Something ritualistic and exotic about them intimidates me, makes me feel like a prudish outsider. As I walk past these washing stations with averted eyes, I expect to catch glimpses of grey hair, loose skin. Instead they are occupied by lithe young bodies and heads full of sleek black hair.

It's 1:00 am on a Saturday morning, and there are easily three or four dozen other women here. We're all naked. We're not all Korean.

He isn't with me here. There's no reason he ever would be in a place like this, so it's easier to forget him for a few minutes. Heartbreak doesn't exactly leave, but it abates, lessens to a dull throb. I press my shoulders hard against the dry wooden beams of the sauna. Sink my fingers as deeply as I can into warmed-up muscles. Breathe in, then out. Life goes on. You've been here before. There's no holding onto anything, or anyone.

A heavily-accented woman's voice pierces my thoughts and I realize I'm being summoned. The numbers she's calling out match the ones on the plastic, waterproof bracelet around my wrist. The bracelet serves as identification, and also syncs with the locker I've been assigned.

"Seven forty-tooo? Seven forty-tooooo?"

I emerge from the sauna with my hand raised, feeling sheepish and extraordinarily exposed. "Here! I'm here." Glances shoot my way which feel disdainful, though I'm probably imagining that.

The woman who leads me to the separate area where services such as massages, facials, and other treatments are administered is not naked. She is in fact wearing lingerie, or some approximation of it. Tiny black tap pants. A lacy black triangle bra. She's sixty if she's a day.

With a few impatient gestures I am directed to lay facedown on a vinyl massage table sheathed in clear plastic. My skin, hot from the sauna, sticks awkwardly to the plastic as I try to shift into a more comfortable, more dignified position. But I'll understand soon enough the reason for this prophylactic measure: the entire treatment area is tiled, with drains underneath each low-walled cubicle. When things get messy (which they will; I've opted for an oil-based massage), guests can simply be hosed off like elephants at the zoo. After a massage the acrobatics and detached intimacy of which confirm all my presuppositions, bucketfuls of warm water are dumped over me, washing away the oil, and with it the last of my worries. Or such is the idea. Alas.


I don't linger long after the massage. One more quick round of the sauna and steam room, then I walk to the wall where I've stashed my t-shirt and shorts in a plastic bin At this point I'm no longer fazed by my own nudity. I don't face the wall as I dress. The place seems to have cleared out anyway. It's time to go home. There is no more putting it off. I remind myself that it will hurt a tiny little bit less every day, until it becomes bearable. But already my throat is thickening and my fingertips tingling. I think of his face and the pain makes me gasp.

Outfitted once more in my own clothes, I trudge up the stairs to turn in my wristband and check out. The cold night air is bracing and black and joyless I have a twenty minute walk ahead of me. My hair is wet and tangled, but I don't much care.

As I round the side of the building, I hear male voices and laughter issue from somewhere along the curbside, where every inch of precious Koreatown parking has been utilized. It's dark though, so I don't see the source until I'm directly next to it: two men sitting in the front seat of a beat-up mid-90s Nissan, the windows rolled down and passenger-side door swung wide open. The engine is off, as are the car's lights. I'm almost past the vehicle when one of them calls out.

"Hey, how's it going? How was the spa?"

Out of surprise more than friendliness, I stop, bending over to better see the strangers while still maintaining my distance. The faces that peer back at me are grinning and guileless. Both thirty-ish. One fair, one dark. Casually dressed. Well-groomed. Neither particularly bad-looking.

"Great," I reply. "First time. Place is a trip."

"Isn't it, though? Did you check out the rooftop?"

"No. I didn't even realize there was one."

"Oh yeah, and it's awesome. Co-ed floor is crazy, too."

"Co-ed floor? I didn't even know about the co-ed floor." Hearing this news, I feel I've failed somehow.

"Yeah, but you have to wear the uniform."

"Ah, okay," I say, as if consoled. I'm about to dismiss myself and press on when the two introduce themselves. Brian and Zack. We wave polite hellos in the moonlight.

"You seem nice. Do you want to smoke a joint with us, before we go in?"

There is no reason to say yes to this absurd invitation. Two strange men sitting in a beat-up car, in the middle of the night, on the fringes of Macarthur Park - a place I don't want to be even in daylight. But the thought of the alternative - that is, returning home and facing a fresh round of the shattering grief that awaits me there - eclipses my better judgment. And anyway, nothing about these guys reads predatory. My gut says go for it.

And so with a shrug at how fucking weird and wonderful the universe can be, I accept.

The three of us walk around to the front of the building, ambling and talking for another half block until we reach some stone benches underneath a tree. We're on Wilshire Boulevard, a busy thoroughfare. There's still a decent amount of traffic, even at this hour. I'm not concerned, though. I'm too busy trying to wrap my brain around the information I've just received: Brian and Zack are youth pastors.

At first I don't believe them. I accuse them of trolling me. But the pair is sincere. They've got stories. They've been doing it a long time. They've been friends a long time, too. They're aware of how odd a light their current behavior casts them in, and try to explain themselves more. I probe, genuinely fascinated. The more I learn, the more I suspect that neither is a true believer. It seems to be something they fell into by way of a charismatic church leader. The word "cult" floats through my brain, but I stay diplomatically silent. They've got weed, after all.

I'm not a pot smoker. It's just not my drug. It makes me dopey and slow and paranoid, and doesn't work well with my body chemistry. Leaves me feeling blah.

But blah is better than broken, so I take all three hits that are offered to me before thanking my benefactors profusely, and saying goodnight.

Okay. Well. 

The walk home is both interminable and fleeting. Once there I cast about for something to put my attention on. Can't read. Can't write. Want to talk to someone, but it's 2 am. There's always a chance Cameron's awake; he keeps crazy hours. I re-read our last few exchanges. Zero in on the message I sent a few hours after night it happened. Thursday, February 9th, at 3:02 am, when I found out that the news had been shared. My boyfriend had thoughtfully told one of my best friends, so I wouldn't have to say the words myself.

I'm sorry. I didn't know Timo was going to do that. I wanted to tell you myself.


It was bloat. The surgery would have been $6-8k. And he was 10. And I hadn't told you but he slipped really bad about a week ago and had been limping way worse than ever. 

I'm sorry you found out this way. 

He loved you so much. He loved Bailey, too.

I don't know what else to say right now.

It's never been so quiet. 


The night Chaucer died, the streets of Los Angeles were thick with fog.

LA is never foggy. The coast, sure. But never the city. In fact I'd never seen anything like it. I noticed it when I got off work: hazy streetlights and a slickness in the air. By the time Timo came over to hang out, you couldn't see twenty yards in front of you. Everything was shrouded, romantic and dramatic and mysterious. Sounds disappeared in the night.

Maybe Chaucer felt the strangeness. Maybe it tickled his senses, delighting him into being especially playful. Trotting more quickly down the dark alley beside my building, his passageway out for a walk. I don't know. Timo doesn't know, either. Both of us took him out that night, in pretty quick succession, because he hadn't gone potty after we fed him. Perhaps he was more keyed up, thanks to the weird weather, or because Timo was there.

He adored Timo.

There is no knowing exactly how or when it happened. If he jumped, or if he drank water too quickly. But it became clear pretty quickly that something was wrong. Retching. Heaving. He wouldn't settle. Wouldn't lay down. My increasing nervousness turning to panic, turning to dread in the backseat of the Uber we called when the 24-hour emergency vet said to bring him immediately.

I knew, of course. Not that it was bloat specifically but that something was very, very wrong. I just knew. And I held my sweet pup in the back of that car and stroked his shaking body, and just let silent tears pour down my face. And Timo reached back and squeezed my knee and I felt nothing, because the most beautiful part of me was dying, and I knew it.


It was foggy the night my best friend left the world.

Fog that wrapped itself around our car as we sped down the freeway, hiding everything from me except his perfect, sweet face. Fog that hugged the animal hospital like soft cotton, muffling cries that tore through me like fire. Fog that gently closed us in, just the two of us, him breathing heavy with sedation, strapped in a tragicomic display of last-moment silliness to a gurney, looking like some kind of spa guest in his white towel, in the room they gave us for our goodbye.

Of course it would be that way. The fog. Because how else would he get into dog heaven?

The clouds themselves had to come down to carry him up.