beauty in the grey

Next thing I promised to talk more about: therapy.

I found my therapist through Open Path, which is a discounted psychotherapy collective. Cheap counseling, in other words. So right off the bat you know you're going to be working with someone compassionate, because these people ask for pittance, basically, in terms of an hourly rate. In some cases they charge as little as a third of what a typical session of therapy costs. Patients only need to pay an initial membership fee; then they can see anyone in the collective, forever and ever amen.

I scrolled through the listings, looking for I don't know what exactly. An especially sympathetic face, primed to give me all the pity I crave? I found a man whose picture and description spoke to me (he specializes in loss), and I emailed him. This in itself was a very tragicomic exercise, trying to condense my many issues into a sort of please-take-me-on-as-a-client pitch. I ended it with my goals for what I hope to get out of therapy, which felt a bit like sucking up to the teacher - but I wanted him to know I'm serious about getting my shit together.

He didn't answer for a few weeks, and in typical Ellie fashion I just assumed I'd been rejected, and that I didn't deserve help, and I told myself I'd revisit the issue soon. But then he got in touch, apologizing for the delay, saying he'd been out of the country. He asked whether I'd like to come in for a complimentary consultation, which made me laugh out loud, because that's like asking someone with a totaled car whether they'd like to bring in their vehicle for a free checkup. Better clear your schedule, buddy.

No joke, I was already crying when I got to his office. I'd had a terrible night at work and the ol' avalanche of negativity had nearly buried me alive. As it does. So woo boy was I ready to unload on his couch.

Long story not much shorter: he had my number inside of ten minutes. "In the past thirty seconds you've said 'amazing' and 'horrible' and 'always' and 'never.' You swing from black to white rather quickly, don't you?"

So we're working on that.

We're also working on the inextricable closeness with which I keep to my emotions. My inability to detach from them, and from the experiences that have fostered them, even when those experiences are years old. I can tell the story of the abusive relationship I was in, in late 2011, and be instantly wrecked. He was quick to note that the upside of this is (he imagines) the amount of deep joy I can dial into, instantaneously. (I assured him that indeed I can do that.)

Bottom line, we're working on getting me to be more even keel. On finding beauty in the grey. And eventually we're going to put to bed all the crap that I've been keeping knotted inside of me for the past ten years.

And I like him a lot. He doesn't pull punches, and often uses humor to make his point. He makes me laugh at myself, which is something I love. My favorite people are the ones who know how to tease me, and do it effectively - and with warmth.

I told him when I initially emailed him that things are tight for me financially right now, but this is something important that I'm going to prioritize. Manicures are awesome. Mental health is awesomer.

in

I can't sleep, so I guess I'll plow ahead and I'll bring you up to present day, starting with what happened with Timo.

I walked away from him that day last month, didn't look back, and got on the bus home. (For locals: we'd met at The Grove. I made him meet me at the fucking Grove.) My heart was just a lump of icy lead. I didn't tell anyone, didn't even text my best friends, because doing so would have made it real. I just went home and faced it down alone.

I worked nonstop. I worked eight days in a row, took one day off to move, and then worked another six in a row. Work saved me. It kept me busy and distracted, and I was grateful for it. Every morning on my way to the train, I listened to songs that, for whatever reason, empowered me. I latched on to them, knowing that forever after they'd be ruined, but needing something to channel my feelings through.

At some point, and already the timeline of this is hazy, he messaged me. Said he wanted to see me before he left to go home for a month. I told him that if he was just looking for closure for himself, that I wasn't interested. That if he just wanted to say he was sad for how things turned out or whatever, that I didn't want to have that conversation. I explained it would just hurt me more to say goodbye to him yet again. He said he wasn't sure what he wanted to say, but that he really needed to see me, so I said ok, and asked when. He said he'd think about when he could make time, and that he'd get back to me the next day.

But then he didn't get back to me the next day, and that was almost worse than The Grove. I felt jerked around and so, so hurt. Then the next day he finally messaged and said he didn't know if he'd be able to squeeze in seeing me before he left after all - and that's when I wiped my proverbial hands. Because what the fuck.

In his defense, he had a lot going on. A huge project at work, getting ready to go to Europe for a month, and a stopover in Pennsylvania for work on the way. Also in his defense, he knew he wanted to see me, he knew he wasn't ready to let go - but he didn't know what he would say to me, anyway. And Timo doesn't do or say things he doesn't mean, or isn't ready to. Ever. It's one of his best qualities.

But from my perspective? I was donezo. I put my head down, threw myself into work, focused on settling into my new place, and tried to think about him less and less every hour.

This plan didn't last long. He texted me and said he'd sent me something on the messaging app we'd used before, the one I had dumped the day of The Grove. (He didn't know I had dumped it, I guess.) I said ok, I'll check it out, and I reinstalled the app. It was a voice message. He was about to get on a plane to Amsterdam (I could hear the call for boarding in the background), and he wanted to tell me that he'd been thinking about me every day. That he hoped I'd see him when he got back. Said he loved me, in English and German. Used his pet name for me.

I didn't know what to make of it. I felt like someone had yanked my head off my shoulders, played a round of tennis with it, then reattached it. I texted a friend for support, and that friend said, "Uh yeah, I meant to tell you. Timo messaged me asking about you. If you're doing okay. If I'd spoken to you. Also, he wanted to know if I have your new address, so he can send you something."

On the one hand I felt enormous satisfaction to know he was thinking about me, needing to talk to me. On the other I felt mistrustful. Suspicious. Not that he had impure motives, more that he was just missing me on a superficial level, and that if I wasn't careful, I'd get sucked into some kind of prolonged, protracted breakup again upon his return.

Like I say, the timeline of everything is hazy, but we messaged a few times. The gist of his communication was to say, "I want to talk when I get back. I need more time to think, but I know I want to see you. Give me a chance." The gist of mine was, "I'm here and listening. I've made my feelings clear. Figure out your own." He confessed to being scared I'd meet someone else. I told him, perhaps a bit brutally, that I meet people all the time. But that I wasn't interested in anyone else.

A few more days went by. And then it was Christmas Eve, and I was walking home from work when he texted. "Merry Christmas, Ellie," he said. I think it was raining. I'm pretty sure, in fact. Anyway, along with the text was a video.

This video was the boombox outside my window.

It was him sitting at his desk, talking into the camera, addressing me. "The other day Spotify showed me that you were listening to this song," he said. And he named the song. And it wasn't even a favorite song or anything, it was just a random track from a group I like. But apparently the name of the song jumped out at him as some kind of clue to my feelings, so he looked up the lyrics. And one of the lyrics was something like, "You say you love me, but what does that mean?"

Do you remember a few months ago, when I was talking about the things that worked so well between us, and I mentioned the whole "love languages" thing? How we speak the same ones, in the same order, and in the same intensity? Well, the premise and structure of this Christmas Eve video was Timo telling me exactly what it means when he says he loves me...as divided into the five love language categories.

"So this is what it means, when I say I love you," he started. I couldn't even watch it at first. Or even the second time. I could only listen. It was too much.

It was a series of statements all starting with "It means."

It means that you enrich my life, by challenging my way of thinking. It means thinking of you makes me think profound things. It means that the tears are worth it. It means I want to dance with you in front of a stage. It means I want you to wear my t-shirts. It means it pains me when I cannot find the right words to talk to you. It means I want to make sure you have the right pillow. It means I want to take a photo every single time we're together. It means I want to share the road with you, in seeing the world, and discovering new things. 

And on like that, for nearly five minutes.

Obviously, it opened things back up between us in a big way. We talked on the phone. We agreed that we needed to talk in person, not via satellite over the Atlantic. But we didn't really hold back. We copped to missing one another terribly. We expressed love. Timo told me that he made the video because he couldn't wait, that he didn't want any more time going by without letting me know how he felt. That so much could happen in five weeks, and he didn't want to risk losing me.

He didn't stop with the video, either. He made a playlist for me, of dozens of his favorite German songs. Pages of notes accompanied the list, a primer on the feelings associated with those songs, why he was sharing them, excerpts of lyrics translated for me. A few days later he made a sort of playful PDF report on my Lobby Ellie pictures, winnowing down his favorites by category. He sent me homemade cookies, along with a picture of us he'd printed up. He recorded a twenty minute audio message for me.

He went, in short, all the fuck out.

Then he came home, loaded with presents and things to say. The first night I saw him, we tumbled into bed and didn't really talk seriously. The second night he sat with me on his couch and I listened while he told me what he was feeling, and how his perspective on some things had changed.

And here is where I need to stop and clarify for you, the same way that he was intent on clarifying for me: this wasn't - isn't - a situation where his feelings changed. His feelings, he has emphasized repeatedly, never changed, because he did and does love me. But spending time away from me, over some of the most emotional days of the year, back in the country where he has always planned to return to - if I understand him correctly (and I am still coming to understand it all), made him realize a few things. That it feels good and right to be with me, here and now. That he isn't necessarily in as big a rush to leave. That even at the most meaningful moments with his family and friends, he felt something missing, and it was me. That every time he saw something beautiful or surprising in his travels, that it was me he wanted by his side to share in the experience. That he doesn't have all the answers about his future or my future, but that maybe we can meet in the middle and figure it out together?

Of course I am paraphrasing all of this, and probably exaggerating some of the more romantic notions he expressed. But not hugely. Not hugely, I don't think.

So. That was the second night.

The third night was last night, and we tumbled back into bed, this time with all the barriers removed and all of the emotion having landed where it is going to land, for now. And god. Just... And when I fell asleep next to him, I felt as relaxed and happy as I've felt in I don't know how long.

And this morning he woke up for work, at my place, in my new space that I love, tiny as it is. And he tickled me and made silly sounds and kissed my stomach to try and get me out of bed even though I didn't have work, so that I would have a full, productive day and feel good about myself. Because he knows I am fighting to get back to the things that are important to me, and he has enlisted himself in that battle. Because he's in.

And I'm in.

And that is where I am, with that part of my life.

the one you'll not want to skip

Hello again.

It has been incredibly difficult for me to get back here; the only obstacle being, as ever, myself. Whenever I am stuck in blogging, when I push it to the corner or hide from it, it is due to fear of some kind. Or overwhelm. Or both. In this case, I have wanted to write a massive end-of-year tell-all, about everything that went down in 2016, so that I can start 2017 with a clean slate - creatively and emotionally.

But there have been things holding me back from telling all and getting to that clean slate. Namely, shame.

There is no point in hanging on to shame, though. It's doing nothing for me. I don't have a time machine, and I can't go back and undo any of my bad decisions. I'm where I am now for better or for worse. So let's do this. Let's just unload all of this crap and move forward.

2016 was by far, without competition, the worst year of my life.

I spent the first six months still living with Terence, even after we'd broken up. And it was so, so bad. A nightmarishly toxic situation that made monsters of us both. I was unrecognizable to myself. He was unrecognizable, from the man I'd met two years prior. We brought out the absolute worst in one another. Ugly, raging, middle of the night screaming matches. I broke my own heart with how awful I was. I hated myself. But we were stuck.

So there was that.

In March I started working for a man as his personal assistant. I wrote some about this. This was what gave birth to the Riley series. I alluded in general terms to his difficult personality, to how demanding and angry he was. What I didn't get into was how quickly I fell into a weird, semi-codependent relationship with him. I was his employee, and he was my boss. But he didn't need another employee. The "work" I did for him was nothing he couldn't do for himself. What he needed was a friend. And that was my real job. Being the confidant, the emotional validator - the crutch, really - of an exceptionally unhappy person. And I got paid for it. So I stayed. Because I needed a job.

Because I had run out of money.

That's right. That's the big secret I have been mincing around for the better part of a year now, the one that has made blogging with honesty and openness all but impossible. Because if I am dishonest about the basic circumstances of my life, there is no room for authenticity or real feeling. It's just me trying to represent some version of myself, as I want to be seen.

So here it is, here is the terrible thing that I have spent the past six months coming to terms with, in a sort of slow-dawning shock: I blew through not one, but two inheritances. My mother's (small) and my father's (not small).

There was no reason for it to happen this way. None at all. No excuse in a hundred thousand years that can justify it, though my therapist disagrees (yes I am in therapy now and I'll get back to that shortly). But there you have it. Gone. Where did it go? Well, it went to four years of rent. Mine, and for half of the time we lived together, Terence's (he paid a third of what I did). It went to food. It went to entertainment. Festivals and concerts. It went to clothing, and caring for Chaucer.

It disappeared, because for four years, I didn't work. I didn't save. I just spent. So if you want to know how to blow through six figures in less than half a decade, that is how you do it. You just freeze up. You just become paralyzed about how to move forward with your life. You refuse to face reality and start at the bottom of a career path. You lie to yourself that tomorrow you'll start fresh. Make a plan. Figure it out. You tell yourself that lie day after day after day, for a thousand days.

And then all of a sudden, your self-sabotage will coalesce into exactly, precisely the disastrous ending you think you deserve: you'll have nothing. You'll be jobless, facing a dwindling checking account. Panicked but in denial. Sleepless with anxiety but totally clueless what to do.

Imagine that going on, while at the same time living with an ex-boyfriend whom you despise. That's where I was when I was introduced to an eccentric millionaire inventor who needed a roll dog and a whipping boy.

But here's a fun detail you don't know about that: the person that introduced us? Well, that was my girlfriend/neighbor, who also worked for him. And oh boy. Oh boy oh boy is this the point where shit gets interesting. Because I had spent the better part of a year, as her friend, listening to her complain about him. About how much he screamed at her, about how abusive a boss he was, about how she was just going to take advantage of him as much as possible and then get out with a cool million. About competing products she had in mind, to threaten him with. Per her words on a weekly basis, he was the absolute last person on the planet anyone should work for. Her job was miserable, because of him. And it wouldn't be until months later that I saw just how much he had informed her attitude about life, with his negativity. She truly is the most unhappy person I have ever met, and I suspect it's because of his daily (hourly, really) influence.

Anyway, the drama with her started immediately. She was, I guess, threatened by my sudden stature as preferred employee (a honeymoon phase that didn't last). She began to act coldly to me. Passive aggressive in the extreme. I confronted her, tried to have an honest and open dialogue about what was happening, but she dug her heels in. She blamed me for making her life more difficult, her job more challenging. The fact is that working for this man requires a delicate dance of diplomacy and tact. He doesn't always make decisions that are in his or his business's best interest - and sometimes he ends up pitting employees against one another. Vague I know, but the bottom line is this: I was nearly broke. In extremely dire financial straits. So I had zero choice but to do the work as it was prescribed to me. Follow his instructions. He was my goddamn boss, after all. She, however, wanted me to be more subversive. Risk my job (and his wrath) to make hers easier. A job that was providing her with an extremely comfortable and secure lifestyle, with plenty of money in the bank. She wasn't in danger of any kind. I was. She didn't care.

And here's another dumb detail of this sad story: she was furious about Riley. She told me that our boss was "her" story, and that I had no right to write about him. Mind you, in the six years she had been working for him, she had never once written a word. Not one word. But for some reason, all of a sudden my fictionalizing my experiences with him (for creative release and therapy, really), triggered her.

Anyway, March flew by, then April and May, and things escalated. Our friendship dissolved completely. My work life consisted of running around on a moment's notice, performing inane tasks and busywork, driving an inebriated boss home to his Bel Air mansion after tagging along on his dates with socialite models, and occasionally going to some "glamorous" event either with him or in his stead. Things I could never blog about, but holy shit. It culminated, the day before everything turned, in my attending a charity event at the mansion of a very well-known reality TV star. I sat at a table with soap stars I'd grown up watching.

Then, the very next day I believe it was, my boss snapped. We'd been arguing about a raise he'd previously agreed to, and he just lost it. He swung his very heavy bag at my head, and the metal clasp cut my skull open. Actually, that's not the whole story. What happened was this: we had been arguing at a cafe near the office, and he lost his temper and fired me. So I said, great, okay, I'll just gather my things and you can pay me, and I'll be out of your life forever. And he said, no, fuck you bitch, I'm not paying you. At this point I was scared. I'd seen him throw things before (he once threw a phone at me), and I could see him tossing my laptop out the window. So I rushed back to the office to get it before he could. Only he followed me, right on my heels, calling me a bitch the whole time.

And when we got to the stairs of the office, I was steps ahead of him. Maybe fifteen seconds. And on the steps I ran into a man whose office is right across from my boss's. It just so happens that this man is an award-winning film producer, who had become my friend in the previous months (another thing I could never blog about). And I said to this producer-friend, please don't leave, please wait and make sure I get my things safely, my boss has just fired me and is threatening not to pay me.

And my boss arrived at this scene, heard what I was saying, and just exploded. He swung his bag at me full force. It's actually amazing it didn't send me spiraling down the stairs. But no. It just knocked into me, stunned me, and cut my head open.

I could write volumes about what happened in this moment. And I'm not even talking about the logistics and the legal fallout, which I'll get to here in a second. I'm talking about what it did to me, emotionally. In short - and this is how fucked up my state of mind was last year - I felt I'd deserved it. I was so disgusted with myself, with the thousands of terrible, irresponsible choices that had led me to be working for a violent abuser, that I thought, more or less, "Yep. This is about right."

But of course, it wasn't right. It was the wrongest of wrongs. And after a surreal five minutes where he desperately tried to act like he hadn't just committed a violent crime, I scrambled my things together and left his office. And I called one of my best friends.

And so here is where the story takes another sad turn, because this call was the beginning of a whole other sub-chapter of drama. Here is the broad strokes of what happened: my AZ (college) friends rallied around me when my boss attacked me. Big time. They made calls, they researched my rights, they told me that they had my back financially until whatever would happen was settled. They gave me money. A lot of money. Which - can you guess? Can you guess what I did with it? I blew through it. Again, 100% because of not working. In my defense I was trying. I was interviewing, I was applying. But I didn't know what I wanted to do, only that I wasn't cut out to be a fucking administrative or executive assistant. And the time I spent figuring this out was on their dime. So they were pissed. They are still pissed. I don't blame them.

Christ, this story. Have you ever read anything so loaded with sad, tangential drama? Ugh.

Anyway, an Instagram friend (who happens to be a very talented and well-connected attorney) put me in touch with, no joke, probably the most feared trial attorney in the fucking city. I can't tell you the huge, high profile cases this guy has handled, but holy hell. Holy hell. And this attorney met with me and agreed, because of my connection to his friend, to handle my case pro bono. So yeah. That was pretty unreal.

A settlement was obtained. And I didn't have to give a dime of it up for legal fees. But can you guess what I did with the money?

That's right kids. I spent it, because I was still. not. working. Had I had a fucking job by this point, I could have used it to pay my friends back. But nope. This was August/September, and I had lost my job in June, and I still wasn't working. One of my friends cut me off completely, he was so disgusted. I have been trying to fix things with him, but it is the source of enormous, gut-wrenching heartache to accept the fact that nope, he's pretty much over me and my friendship.

And I don't blame him.

So let's see. Where are we? The settlement. Oh! I forgot to tell you some more of the gross details, namely that this former girlfriend of mine, the coworker, did everything in her power to try and prevent me from getting a settlement. And this - this is the thing that almost above all was just...just mind blowing. She called up the police detective who was handling my case and told her about my Riley posts. Why you ask? I have no idea. I mean, I do. I know she did it to curry favor with our boss and ingratiate herself...but good grief. All I could do at that point was laugh. So, so, so unnecessary. I cannot for the life of me understand why this person was continuing to meddle into my life and my business, and why she wouldn't just leave me the hell alone, but there it was. She just couldn't live and let live. I don't know if she knows how to do that at all.

After the settlement, my boss reached out to me and apologized. He said he didn't blame me, that he would have sued, too. He offered me my job back. And I took it back, for another month, until I found the job I have now.

I know.

But here's the thing. This man? He is not evil. He is just damaged. He has been through some really, really bad shit in his life. And at times he can be so generous, and try so hard to be a better person.

I still speak to him. He knows everything, of course, including about my blog. He doesn't care, and he doesn't read it. In fact I occasionally do small writing projects for him. Letters or press releases or whatever. It isn't a big deal. I do them remotely. He pays me well. We know we don't work well together. But he has helped me, too. Written checks way beyond what I was owed, to help me as I got back on my feet.

So that brings us to now. And me being on my feet. But because this post is already way, way too long I will end it on four things that I'll expand upon, completely, next time:

1) I have a job that I am good at and that I enjoy very much.
2) Timo and I are back together.
3) I have a new place that I am wildly in love with.
4) I started therapy.

I am, by all measures, finally back on my feet. Happy new year to you, and to me.

Soon.

So very much to tell, so very much to say.



open

Timo and I broke up on Saturday. I guess I get to claim the dubious victory of having been the breaker-upper. It was my decision. Bully for me.

Where to start.

From the moment we got involved Timo was upfront about his intention to leave the US, probably within a year or so. One of the first things he said to me that constituted, I don't know, a warning sign, was that he doesn't let himself get too attached when he dates because of his plans to return to Germany eventually. He said that to me within the first week or so. I adjusted my expectations accordingly.

Then, shit happened. We went to Malibu. We went to a festival together. We started spending about half the nights of the week together. We got close. Our chemistry was always electric and we couldn't get enough of one another. He would routinely sleep over and go straight to work from my apartment. Once he blew my mind by taking his backpack and work clothes to a concert at the Bowl, just so he could come straight to my place afterward. And I didn't even go to the show.

He involved himself in my life, in what I was going through with work, with looking for jobs, interviewing, all of that. He was supportive in actual, concrete ways, going out of his way to help me figure things out, make plans. He told me he loved how much care I showed for him, too. He said I'd made him happier than he'd ever been, living in LA. That he was so thrilled with what we had.

I could feel myself falling for him in a big way, which terrified me because he's leaving. I brought up the issue a few times but those conversations only left me at best mildly reassured and at worst more confused.

The first time I brought it up he understandably balked. It was pretty early on. I think I said something about being open to anything, but that if he wasn't, he had an obligation to tell me. He responded by saying he was open about things too, but didn't know what would happen.

But then some more time passed, and I brought up the topic again. I may or may not have been drunk. This time I was more anxious, more persistent. I don't remember all of the conversation, but I do know this exchange happened:

Me: "It would almost be easier if you were to just say to me, 'I'm going home to Germany, and you, Ellie, are staying here.'"

Him: "I don't know that I want to say that."

Another time I found myself crying in his arms, because I was so crazy about him and so scared of losing him. He held me tight and, referring to a possible job change, said "Who knows what could happen." Little things like this that he would say - they were enough to keep me feeling calm about the situation. But then at other times I would call him out and refer to myself as the "good for now girl." And the way he would wince and softly say "Don't say that" made me think there was some truth in it.

We fell in love. When he told me he was falling in love with me, and then when he actually said the words, I was elated. I thought that meant that, I don't know, we were progressing towards something. So I relaxed a little. A lot, really. I felt his love, every day. I felt secure and so happy in it. He is incredibly loving, incredibly affectionate, and incredibly expressive. I counted myself incredibly lucky.

Over Thanksgiving there was a moment where he told me he wanted to take care of me. My heart nearly exploded.

Still.

Still there was a voice in my head and a dark little spot in my heart. Something deep inside was whispering that he didn't see me the way I saw him. That he loved me wildly, but that he loved me only for now. Little clues. Like when I started learning German, he didn't really encourage it. Like while he once mentioned talking about me to his family, he never said anything along those lines again.

I was at work a couple of days after we got back from Mendocino and I saw a couple that nearly devastated me. They were probably 60ish. They were foreign, Italian I think. They were the most youthful, playful, affectionate couple I'd ever seen. Just giggling and canoodling and so, so beautifully connected. It stopped me cold. I realized in that moment that I want that, too. I want it now - and I want it when I'm 60. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with my going after it, and demanding it for myself.

Timo is going home for the holidays in about a week and half. He'll be gone for three weeks. When he told me, I didn't even flinch. I expected it, had zero expectations about him inviting me or being back in time to kiss me for New Year's. That was all fine. But something in the way that he asked me to make myself available the day of his leaving and the day of his return...I don't know. It was playful and sexy in spirit...but it dinged my radar. Hard. And when I saw this couple I decided I was going to ask Timo, right away, whether he thought about a future with me. Not about marrying me, not about whisking me away to Germany...just whether he even entertained the notion of a life with me in it.

Because just as I have ambitions for myself professionally and creatively, so do I have personal ambitions, too.

I took Friday night to think. He spent the evening with friends. On Saturday I asked him to meet me. We set a time and place. It was an outdoor mall. Christmas tree, lights, music, crowds. The whole deal. Exactly like I needed it to be. I needed to feel surrounded by people and not alone. Because I knew. I just knew.

So, we talked. I told him everything that I felt, about him, about us. What I saw in him, what I saw in us. But that enough time had gone by that, if he wasn't at least thinking about a future with me by now, that he was wasting my time. Or that I was wasting it, with him. Whatever. I more emphasized how much potential I see in us, because my god. There are things about us that are just...exceptional. We never, ever fight. And if we do get into the slightest bit of conflict, it is so easy to just calmly get back out of it. That alone.

That alone. Priceless.

Then there was the intimacy, which just...

This is hard.

Then there is the fact that we both love in the same ways. We both speak the same love languages, in the same order, in the same intensity.

We both respect one another, and one another's independence, tremendously.

Anyway.

It didn't matter.

He didn't say the exact words "I don't think about a future with you, Ellie," but what he said was enough. It was stuff about the complication of moving countries, and how he's very good at seeing the downsides and challenges and impossibilities and la la la. It was "you have no idea how hard it is to completely uproot yourself and try to blend into another culture" or something like that. And it didn't matter to him that I'm unafraid of that (which I said) or that doing so actually sounds like the greatest adventure ever (which I also said), because at the end of the day it is not about Germany or moving or us not knowing how I'd support myself (us) in a foreign place.

Because all of those things are problems couples solve every day, all over the world, because they want to. Partners learn new languages and find expat communities for support and networking, and help with jobs.

But they have to want to.

I know he is heartbroken. I saw him cry for the one and only time. He didn't want to walk away. He said as much. He said he didn't know what it was inside of him, holding him back from saying "Fuck it, let's do this." He said he wished he was man enough to make that call. I tried to explain that there isn't any big or permanent decision to make right now, just dialogue and openness to possibility. Alas.

He said he can't imagine life in LA without me. He said he can't even imagine three weeks or a month without me, right now for the holidays.

But I am not a temp.

What sucks the most, honestly, is that he never even saw me shine. He was with me through what has been, hands down, the hardest six months of my life. He saw a version of me that was so beaten down, so overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, and insecure. He has no idea who I can be. He's never seen me at my best. He's never seen the person I am when I am secure, when I feel safe and loved and in control of my life - exactly the place I am getting back to now, step by step. He never saw the best me, and now he never will. I hate that.

I told him he probably has a window of opportunity, to change his mind. I tried to explain that I'm not after any kind of commitment or promise, that for all I know, when it came down to it I might decide I didn't want to move away, anyway. That all I need to know is that he thinks about it, because he loves me that much, and sees what we have is so precious and rare and amazing.

But two nights have now passed with no boombox-wielding German standing outside my window blasting Peter Gabriel. And I am forced to face the fact that I am not a heroine in a John Hughes movie, and that sometimes really, really good things get away.

When I walked away from him, I held my head high and I didn't look back. I didn't even cry. I just searched his eyes for a moment, asked him one last time if there was any reason I should stick around, gave him once final chance. Then I kissed him on the cheek and left with my dignity intact if my heart crushed.

Anyway. I'm okay. That same night I did the Ellie equivalent of getting roaring drunk to forget my woes - I found an EDM show and took myself dancing. It was actually a festival, a small local one at a nightclub I'd never been to. Two floors, five stages, awesome, unpretentious crowd. I had a fucking blast. Then I went to work the next day, and was so busy I didn't have to think. Then last night it hit me like a tsunami, and I cried harder than I have in probably years.

It's not just Timo. It's this year. This has been the hardest year of my life, by far. I haven't even shared all of what I've been through, though I plan on writing a massive end-of-year tell-all to clear the slate and start fresh next year. But yes, last night I cried so much and for so long that today I feel like I was punched in both of my eyes. I cried so hard that it was purifying. Now it's just numbness.

One part of me fantasizes that a month away from me will tear him apart, that he'll come to his senses and see that what we have is incredible and exceptional. But the rest of me knows him well enough to know that he goes after the things he wants, and if he wanted me, he wouldn't have let me go on Saturday.

I told my friends. Some said "Good for you for knowing your worth." One said, "I don't think this is the end of it." One said, "Oh god, Ellie," and just shook her head. (That was probably the most helpful, TBH.)

I made a bunch of lists, and taped them up in front of my desk. One of them is titled "Fresh Start" and lists all the ways in which I'm getting exactly that. New job. New apartment. New year. New opportunities. One of them is labeled "Me" and is a list of all the words I want to be able to honestly describe myself as, like calm, graceful, giving, creative, assertive, and so on. One of them is titled "Things I Love" and is a list of everything in life that brings me joy. When I wrote it I couldn't believe how quickly I filled up the page. I see it every day, several times a day, and it's a reminder that life is big and beautiful and full of potential, that there are amazing experiences still to be had, adventures of wonder and discovery, of laughter and love.

I'm open to them.

Mendocino

(last installment of Thanksgiving '16)

Saturday's rain maroons us perpendicular on the sectional, him with a book and me with my laptop. Every so often we glance out the window to see if the weather has cleared. It hasn't. We head outdoors anyway, Timo laughing when I push my furry hood back and let the rain pummel my face and hair. I know I look like a drowned rat, but the fresh air feels too good.

We hike up into the acreage behind the house, mindful of property lines. The people living around here value privacy and are armed, I suspect, to prove it. A tree trunk bridging a roily creek is an invitation I can't resist, even though my heart pounds faster as I inch across it than I'd like to admit. From the safety of other side I watch Timo take equally careful steps. We plunge further into the wilderness, crashing through puddles in waterproof footwear.

It's too wet out, though, and too cold. Defeated, we retreat back to the dry, warm living room. The furnace snaps and pops and, armed with snacks, we watch a movie. Timo tries graham crackers for the first time.

Sunday's promise of a clearer day holds, and we take the forty-five minute drive to the coast slowly. Branscombe Road lets us out at the spectacular cliffs just north of Westport, and we stop time and again for photos of the picturesque sea stacks being washed over by waves.

Following the Shoreline Highway leads us through a series of blink-and-you'll-miss-them towns, until we hit Fort Bragg for lunch. At a friendly dockside shanty of a restaurant, we wave seagulls away from our fish and chips and talk about the weekend. I get buzzed on a pomegranate cider, which warms my body but not my icicle-cold hands. Those, Timo invites me to warm on his neck.

With not too much daylight left, we're back on the road to Mendocino. Past the Jug Handle Reserve and Caspar, a sign for the Point Cabrillo Light Station beckons. Timo's game, having never been, and we walk the half mile to the water's edge with linked arms. I'm still merry from the cider; he's delighted with how much I'm loving the landscape he hoped I would.

All the outbuildings in the lighthouse complex are painted in coordinating colors of cherry and seafoam, with brown trim. They are beautifully maintained, cheerfully bright structures that stand in defiance of the drab, grey ocean behind them. We take our time ambling along the headland's curve, and I relax into taking as many photos as I please.

We reach Mendocino just as it's getting dark, making a quick round of the streets along the coast and the main drag. It's a place I could amble through, gallery by gallery and shop by shop.

Maybe another year.

Either way, Thanksgiving '16 gave me quite a lot of awesome to file away in the memory banks. Hope yours did, too.

























north towards Eureka

(continued from here)

On the day after Thanksgiving, we find perfect. Rather, we make it. We carve it out, hour by hour, along the two-lane highway heading north toward Eureka. Avenue of the Giants Scenic Byway. I am selfishly thrilled to have him all to myself for the day. One hand stroking the back of his neck while he drives, the other on the playlist running through my phone.

Townships tick by. Mostly quiet, we absorb the majesty of our surroundings. Towering redwoods, rivulets that fill out to creeks that suddenly become the latte-colored Eel River. Criss-crossing it through Phillipsville, Miranda, Myers Flat. Every roadside tourist trap inducing us with the promise of cornball laughs. Chainsaw Carvings. Drive-through Tree, Five Dollars. We buy buffalo jerky from a manic-seeming local whose warp speed spiel (Alrightyfolksletmejusttellyoualittlebitaboutourjerkiesgoaheadandusethetoothpicktospearyourselfapiecenowgoaheadandturnthattoothpickaroundthatsitjustlikethat) lends itself to a Kate McKinnon character. I consult a map.

"Would you rather see the Immortal Tree or the Eternal Tree?"

"Immortal, probably."

"Would you rather be immortal or eternal?"

"Eternal, definitely."

The rain flushes most of the traffic from the road. When other cars do stack up behind us, Timo pulls over to let them pass. We just want to cruise, just want to take our time.

We wonder aloud about the sorts of people that live out here, and how many inhabitants it takes to make a town, anyway. We joke about murder-y looking motels, which triggers Timo to tell stories about backpacking through Australia and New Zealand. I press my face against the window, watching the tops of trees whiz by.

In a turnoff somewhere along the state reserve route, we grab hats from the backseat and climb out into a strikingly silent grove. My rain boots sink into a forest floor of soaking pine needles, and Timo withdraws hands from warm pockets to pull me up beside him. On the ageless carcass of a fallen sequoia we survey the grove. The afternoon has brought just the right amount of rain, which we're mostly protected from anyway, under the canopy. There's something sacred about the space, the isolation and quiet. We take advantage of it, feeling brazen in the lush, wet wilderness, despite being so close to the road.

Later, stopping for snacks at a grocery store in a Stepford-esque sawmill town, I get the creeps. Something about the hollow way the music drifts down the aisles. The tinny, sad echo of it, getting lost among banks of fluorescent lights lining a disproportionately high ceiling. Everything and everyone seems cold and stale.

"Let's go," I say edgily, garnering a curious look from Timo. After we pay the dead-eyed teenage cashier for a bag of potato chips, I try to explain my unease. "It just feels like a place time has forgotten. But for circumstance, I could be here, living here, shopping here."

"Don't move here, and you won't live here," he replies in his problem-solved tone.

We play questions on the way home - his lighthearted and forgettable, mine studied and serious. I practice the art of not reading too much into his answers.

Back at the house, he fixes us plates of leftovers, cubing the roast pork and frying the mashed potatoes in little pancakes. He joins the others in front of the TV, and I drift away to the bedroom to blog. A huge, unbroken chunk of time for me just to write, and for him just to read, watch movies, and hang out.

We agree it's a pretty perfect ending to a pretty perfect day.










layers

(continued from yesterday)

Thanksgiving morning is grey and damp and still. A blissful lack of street noise, of constantly rushing traffic outside my window. I am always embarrassed by how late I sleep in other people's homes. But Timo's right there with me, and it's nearly eleven before we stretch and yawn and wish one another a happy Thanksgiving.

Cooking smells permeate the house. Roast pork and pumpkin squash soup. Stewed cabbage, broccoli and hollandaise, mashed potatoes and gravy. I poke around the living room, examining tchotchkes and souvenirs, peering into the tiny framed faces of loved ones I'll meet later today. A passionate devotee of Native American culture lives here. Dozens of dream catchers adorn the walls. Feathered brushes for sage ceremonies, instruments of horn and skin and bone. Beaded drums, woven blankets, paintings full of tribal imagery. Bear claws and eagles.

We explore the bosky grounds. I'm enthralled by how wet and green everything is. Moss wrapped trees with dripping branches. Reedy ponds sheltering toads I can hear but can't see. A carpet of soggy leaves underfoot, flecked with spongy yellow mushrooms. Following a road storied with Timo's teenage experiences leads us to the fenced-in pastures of other rural loners. In one, a curious horse ambles over when we cluck an invitation, carefully extending our arms across the barbed wire. His mane is matted and his flank is filthy; our hands are black when we finally leave off petting him ten minutes later. We promise to return tomorrow with apples.

I am given a tour of the cannabis garden above the house. It's a completely legal operation; a dated, signed permit hangs in a sheet protector on the tool shed beside. In the shed, massive plastic bins keep the harvested buds, still in need of trimming, safe from the mold and cold. Overhead are parallel lines of cord, hung with bunches of colorful wire hangers--all empty. This is where the plants, earlier in the season, hang to dry.

Near the empty garden is a mound of discarded bamboo shoots, used for staking the plants. I enjoy the thought that even wicked things need support to grow properly. I'm told about the technique of light deprivation: shrouding the crop in the darkness of tarps to trick it into thinking it's later in the season than it really is.I enjoy the thought of this as well, and try to explain to Timo why. "The idea of applying some artificial means of...whatever. Speeding things up. Getting to the end game faster." I don't know what end game I mean, though.

Guests begin to arrive, and the house fills with the cheerful sounds of introductions, reunions, gift-giving, glass-pouring. I hover at the edge of conversations, trying not to be underfoot as tables are brought in, seating rearranged. I spend entirely too long wiping down some folding chairs, just to have something to do.

Dinner. Talk of travel, politics, the career achievements of the past year. I nurse my glass of local Chardonnay, watching strange faces laugh as they uncover commonalities, disclose relatable moments.

Later: backgammon, homemade quince liqueur, and naps on the couch. I excuse myself to make calls, send texts. The feeling of wanting to belong to something is like a blade at my throat. Being included in a day like today is the ultimate paradox: it only makes it worse. Everyone is lovely and welcoming, of course. It doesn't matter. My walls are three feet thick.

When everyone has gone home, Timo shuts off the outside lights so we can see the stars. At the edge of the yard he holds me and we tip our heads back. "I've seen some incredible Milky Ways here," he says.

I tell him this is a moment we'll enjoy in layers. "Right now, then again later as we fall asleep, then however often we'd like in the months to come, remembering it."

I know this is true, because it's like others I've had--while being completely unique at the same time.







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.








I'm a dime. I'm fine.

Sitting cross-legged on the rug, she tipped the oversized mason jar once used for cold brew coffee onto the floor. The sound made the dog look up briefly before dropping his head again.

An avalanche of copper. A buck or so of nickels, dull and thick in their near worthlessness. She spread the pile with her fingertips to unearth what was left of those precious glinting slivers. Dimes were always her favorite. Tidy little discs that like to hide behind pennies, surprise you in a winking flash. That pleased feeling of suddenly jumping ten cents closer to the object of one's vending machine desire.

There were no quarters. Quarters had their own special home, in the footed antique desert dish where they gathered strength in numbers before giving their lives in service of clean sheets, socks, sweats.

The indignity of the moment bit, though she re-packaged it cheerfully as frugality. Legit a week's worth of Metro rides in here! She glanced at the dog, as if to check whether he could read her true thought, which was closer to a solitary, sighing Christ. If so, he remained poker-faced about it.

A curious imposter in the jumble of coins peered up at her: a lone googly eye. Lidless. Lost. Laughing? Oh, knock it off. Don't be dramatic. No bigger than the nail of her pinky finger. Hard transparent shell protecting a flat black circle. She resisted an urge to crush it with her thumb, watch the clear plastic turn milky the way it will when bent. Cheap things give easily under pressure.

Instead she picked it up and carried it to the kitchen trash. It wouldn't help her get to work in the morning, and she doubted she'd come across its mate any time soon.