all that she does

It is raining out. It is Mother’s Day. And I am 2,000 miles away from mine. I did not buy her a card. I meant to. But last week I lost track of the days. I let other things get in the way. The fact is, I regret that; and the truth is, my mom would never forget to buy her mother a card for Mother’s Day, or for whatever occasion it was that called for a moment of pause to take into account someone other than yourself. The reason is simple. My mom is a mom. She isn’t qualified to be selfish. The job doesn’t really allow it.

Moms are really good at remembering other people and how they would like to be remembered.  They consider other people’s feelings. Understand that details are important. Like hand tying ribbons to their daughter’s wedding shower favors. Always having fresh sheets ready for the guest room. And telling people that you love them. Because sometimes people forget. And they need to be reminded. So this post is for my mom. For all that she does.

A mom is your first boss. She recruits you to sift flour, measure sugar, and pour milk. She trusts you to crack eggs and stir batter. A mom is the first person to let you lick the spoon. Even if you’re not supposed to.

A mom is your first teacher. She shows you what you need to know in life. Like how to take care of people when they need taking care of.

She lets the dog up on the furniture where Bella’s not supposed to be. But is where she is needed most. Because she knows that sometimes it’s okay to break house rules.

A mom knows to rub your back when it needs rubbing. Because a warm hand upon your back makes it easier to endure the times when life seems hard to endure. If not impossible.

A mom is your first coach. She explains to you the rules of the game. She shows you how to take risks, consider your actions, and always play to win. And she prepares you for losing.

Because sometimes you lose big. You lose what is important. You lose something that can’t be replaced.

And life gets harder. But a mom is someone who reminds you how you survive when times are tough. You save the tin foil. You make shit on a shingle. And you don’t complain. Because God is good. Your life is good. And you should live it.

A mom holds your hand when life gets tough. And you need to be tougher.

She teaches you to look out for yourself.

To trust someone else.

To love someone else.

And for all of those things, I am grateful.

the one that got away. (almost).

We all have these stories.

Mine, however, is about an apartment. An apartment I visited once two years ago in San Francisco. Emily and I were second in line to fill out an application. And in San Francisco, second in line may as well be last.

It was not perfect. The kitchen was too small. Galley style, with no counter space and about three cabinets. But it had a small garden in back. A park to the right. And a bedroom so small only a bed and nightstand could squeeze inside. It had floor to ceiling built-in shelves.  And it was perfect for me. Someone else is living there now.

I will probably be talking about the apartment I never rented until the day I die. My grandchildren will hear about this phantom place. They will think it sounds dumpy. Inconvenient. And overpriced. It wasn’t. But they will think it was.

I thought about that apartment tonight in the shower. I was washing my hair. The image popped in as I was lathering my scalp. I rinsed and called out to Dayton while fixing my towel turban, asking if I had ever told him about the apartment I almost lived in in San Francisco. Of course I had. Many times before.

I smiled. The memory likely surfaced because we have spent the past two days house hunting. We looked at two yesterday. The first house was quirky. It had a neglected garden in the back and mustard colored shag carpet in one of the bedrooms, strange wooden paneling in the living room and a window to nowhere inside. Nevermind that I don’t garden (yet!) and have less than any experience stripping carpet. Or walls. But I could …

Still, it had nice light. Hardwood floors. And a spare room for spare things and spare people.  It felt like a place we could easily make ours. So we put in an application. The second house had even more space. Perhaps even better bones. But it felt old. And unloved. And we could tell. We left without even going upstairs.

Today after work we took advantage of the sunlight and explored new neighborhoods on foot. We found a trail in the woods and followed it to steps of a home already rented.  It was adorable. And somebody else’s. We kept walking, looking for ‘for rent’ signs on lawns. In windows. Everywhere. We didn’t see much.

We walked until we walked far enough I didn’t want to live that far away. Then we found a house. Dayton crossed the street for a closer look. I stepped back. That is not my house. But that is my boy, I thought. And he is not perfect either. Or at least, I did not think so at first. (Shockingly, neither did he.) But I guess what is true of houses is true of people.

Because we all have quirks that don’t make sense to anybody else but the person who takes the time to look in our basement. Climb our stairs and inspect our windows to make sure they are tough enough, sturdy enough to keep us warm. To keep us safe. They check us for evidence of past damage, past life lived. And we hope for a tenant who will accept the scratches on our floors, the lack of available counter space, the overgrown backyard and does not think: I can live with that. But rather, at last! I am home.

no demons here

“The will to survive is the most important factor. Whether with a group or alone, emotional problems resulting from shock, fear, despair, loneliness and boredom will be experienced … When isolated from his unit in the course of combat operations, the individual soldier is obligated to continue to fight, survive, and/or evade capture so as to rejoin friendly forces.”

-Survival Evasion and Escape, Department of the Army Field Manual, 1969

When one of your favorite people is diagnosed with cancer you go for a run. You climb a snow-covered mountain to talk to God. You climb until you think you are high enough that he will hear you. And then you do not speak. Instead you think terrible things about him. Because you know he hears those, too. And then you turn around and head back to where you came from.

And at night you talk to your nana. You ask her to come back from wherever she is. You picture her as dust. Flying through this galaxy and beyond. Smiling. If dust can smile. Visiting all that she never got to see in this life. At the edge of the earth. Or, maybe just down the road, at the nudie beach she always wanted to go to. You summon her to your side. And ask her to look out for your person.

In your dreams she comes to you.  For the first time. And you cannot believe it. You haven’t seen her without oxygen tubes sprouting from her nose in years. She is not wearing glasses either. But she is lying next to you in bed. And she locks eyes with you and tells you about the cake she bought. It is in the freezer.

“There isn’t a lot of fruit inside,” she says, shaking her head and pinching her fingers close. It is important that you know this.

You wake up. That afternoon you get a phone call from the hospital. The surgery is over. The doctors couldn’t find much cancer. You are relieved. But you already kind of knew. Because an old lady who loved strawberry and banana cream cakes didn’t order any.

Later, your favorite person has a shunt put in his brain to deliver chemotherapy to his spine. The idea is that poison will kill the bad cells that have gone haywire and leave the good cells intact. Mostly.

Weeks ago when he was diagnosed with cancer he did not ask why me? Instead, why not?

Still. The demons come for him at night, he says. They whisper things to him. Bad things. They scare him.  And then he remembers everything. His lovely wife. And he is no longer afraid.

A pretty lady comes to visit him every day in the hospital. She smiles and talks to doctors and handles the incoming calls. She is his cheerleader. And she is a pretty tough one too. She is the rock. Always has been really. And she is preparing for him to come home. Everything must be sterile. Everything must be clean. Everything. Even the mind.

There are no dark thoughts allowed. Just books. And a Bella – a yellow lab who is a little bit dumb and a whole lot to cuddle. She will sit beside him and take up too much space on the bed and make sure there are no demons here.

changing everything

When do you stop making decisions based solely on yourself? At what age do you say I want to stay in your world – even if it means moving from mine? Or does it have nothing to do with age and everything to do with a person?

Does it always have to be flower petals and cake, photographers and attendants? Can’t it just be installing a bike rack on the back of the car, departing with a handful of boxes, and deciding to leave the window half cracked? Or simply, I pick the way you smile in profile in the dark? I choose your knee. And the way that it feels next to mine.

Why does it have to be your future, my career? Why can’t they exist in the same place? Could it be three years and snow, mountain passes and shared closet space?

I hope so. Because in January I am moving. Out of the state and for a boy. And for me.

I will be living 900 miles from a coastline, and 526 miles from the nearest Major League ballpark. I will be living in what is considered a red state. And I am not sure what will require the most to adjust to. The last big move I made was from Massachusetts to California six years ago.

I moved because I needed to experience something new, I needed to experience a new me. So I found a job. I paid my bills. I met nice people. I broke my heart. Then I moved again. Met more nice people. And one in particular. Now soon I will embark on a new adventure. To a new state, to a new life. One that I will share with someone else.

To be honest, I have lived with someone else before. Briefly. And it didn’t work out. But I didn’t move for him.

I used to tell D that he had “the unfortunate experience of being next,” after my last break up. Now, I’m not so sure.

Because we had time to date and break up and stay friends. Date other people and do the things that friends do. Like confide in each other. Eat cheeseburgers. Drink beer. And go home separately. Then one day we decided that maybe, just maybe, I would like to kiss you again.

Five months ago I watched a terrible thing happen. He packed up his room, kissed me on the lips, and moved away. To be fair, he wasn’t leaving me; he was going back to school to learn and grow and be better. I knew it was coming. Still, it hurt.

After he moved we had to learn to become better communicators, our nightly chats reduced to talking on the phone and appearances over Skype. The experience forced us to just talk to each other. About things. Like feelings. The distance required us to make an extra effort. I wrote letters and postcards that I sent because I liked the ritual of saying, I love you enough to wait in lines for stamps at the post office.

The distance also kind of upped the ante on our relationship. Making us project manage our lives, asking ourselves – what do we really see developing here? Three months into our 900 mile long distance experiment we decided to continue seeing more of each other. But in person. And in the same apartment – parking both our bikes and our lives at the same address.

We thought it would take a while for me to secure a job in Utah. Perhaps a year. Or longer. I searched job listings, sent in a resume, and got a phone call and job offer two months later. And not just a job, a good job. And one that I really wanted to accept.

My friend Allison has a theory that things that are meant to be should be easy. Kind of like water flowing downhill. You shouldn’t have to push against the tides, divert energy, resources, and everything you have, in order for something to work out. Especially, when it comes to love.

So soon I will be departing the city I have called home for the last three years. There are things I will miss. Like my friends. The food. Baseball. And the ocean. But I am answering this call for adventure. I am going to a state that is bluer and greener, drier and colder than you might imagine. I am going because the way to happy just might be through a little Mormon town in northern Utah.  Where the mountains are high, the temperatures are low, and there is much for me to learn.

I know how my life is now. And it is good. But I am comfortable. And I don’t believe you get better by staying the same. Changing everything is terrifying. It’s risky. And that is exactly why I am doing it.

worthy

Landfill isn’t a very pretty word. It is a slightly nicer term for trash. Landfills are often equated with the dump – places you banish ugly, unwanted things to. And many times that is what they are: Sites only good enough to hold someone else’s waste. Graves for things people got over.

But landfills are also a place of second chances. Where items are plucked from the heap by someone with a different vision. Salvaged for a different purpose entirely. This transformation process can occur by using materials no longer needed on one site and transporting it to another where it is. The material, often excess soil and sand from construction zones, is recycled to give new life. We call it landfill. It still sounds like refuse.

D and I recently visited the Albany Bulb in East Bay. It is the site of the former City of Albany’s dump, constructed from rebar and rock and concrete. It has lay fallow since the 1980s when filling efforts ceased due to litigation.

The Albany Bulb lacks ongoing police patrol.  The area is largely unregulated and has become a space owned by no one. And everyone. While the city aims to transfer responsibility and upkeep of the land to the auspices of the state parks department, sea birds, local homeless populations, artists and environmentalists have taken stake in its development. For now, it is a beautiful anarchy.

Over the past decade urban artists have erected sculptures using found materials and painted colorful murals on reclaimed wood. A small castle of plaster and spray paint sits back from the water. Broken glass carpets the floor.  You wonder why people always need to leave pieces of themselves behind. Slabs of concrete covered in graffiti jut from the waves. You aren’t really sure if it ever belonged there, if it ever made sense of itself along the water’s edge.

There is a small network of trails cutting paths through overgrown dry grass. Homeless encampments decorate the hillside. A community library – a one-room shack – houses a collection without requirements.  You do not need a card to partake. Just come and abide by one rule: Enjoy and contribute. Or leave. A sign inside reads: “Do not shipwreck this space.” A dustpan and brush hang along the wall. A broken American flag windowpane keeps out the wild blackberry bushes in the back. The air is tinged with urine.

The shack is punctuated by a makeshift flagpole flying an American flag. A hammock is caught between two trees out front with beer bottles dangling from their branches. The front yard harbors renderings of presidents and Jesus, an organ that has seen better days, and ropes tied to nothing. Unknown builders have tacked several flags around the front window highlighting their allegiance to no one in particular.

And they will eventually be dismantled.

Throughout the hike I snapped photos of the art and graffiti. I noticed one word kept reappearing on the rocks, painted on shards of concrete, spray painted along the walls of the castle, etched in the wood, and stamped on the walkways: love.

Love was everywhere in this abandoned space.

And after looking beyond the broken glass, the beer cans resting in fire pits, shopping carts parked in the shadows, rusted rebar poking through the weeds – you start to see the beauty in this place. Flowers push through cracks of concrete. Birds fly over untouched golden fields. There is life here. And it is thriving. The messages seemed fitting and clear of the site. As if saying to those who question its existence: I have many flaws. I cannot offer you much. But I am many things. And I  still deserve a chance.

Below are some photos of what remains at the Albany Bulb.

One of the many hearts left behind.

A heart shaped house. With a message.

Looking across the Bay is San Francisco. Someone cares for that place too.

way up there

Before my Nana died she told my sister she would find a way to come back to watch over us. The month before she passed, thousands of ladybugs came to New England. Hundreds swarmed along the southwestern portion of our house. They stuck to the screens outside Nana’s bedroom. They made their way into our home, appearing between leaves of lettuce in the refrigerator and along the molding above the doors.  One eventually found its way into her room and crawled along the ceiling. I thought maybe we just needed a little luck.

She died a few weeks later. After the funeral, and I returned to the Bay Area, a single ladybug began appearing above my bed. This happened three nights in a row. I like to think it was her checking in on me. I like to think it was her telling me everything was going to be ok.

On our 2,500 mile road trip last month, D and I visited Zion National Park. We hiked a trail known as Angels Landing – a 2.5 mile ascent scaling a 1,200 foot rock formation that involves steep climbs along a narrow pass. Parts of the trail require the use of chains as footing disappears along a sheer rock face. The national park service lists half a dozen fatalities on this hike since 2005. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know this beforehand. All I knew was that my mother recommended it after visiting the park two years ago with my dad, and that it was supposed to be pretty. A part of me also knew that I kind of had to get there.

Because three years earlier I wussed out of hiking the final part of Half Dome at Yosemite National Park. The chains were crowded and there didn’t appear to be any order as people passed those stalled on their way down. They didn’t seem to see them at all. My partner kept looking upward and tried convincing me I could do it. But something inside just said: Let him go on without you. So I sat in the sun and waited for him to return – disappointed I didn’t finish what I started. And more so, that I didn’t get to stand beside him at the top.

This time was different.  This time, I followed D’s lead – repeating his mantra: three points of contact at all times. I asked him to wait when I felt scared. When the way was uncertain. When I just needed to know he was still there. In the meantime, I had conversations with myself. Calm down. Take a deep breath. Now another one. Focus on your next step. Find something to hold on to. Trust your judgment. Don’t look down. Stop if you have to. And know you can always turn back.

Eventually, I began using the chains less and less for leverage. Sometimes they were placed too low and it felt awkward to slide them along my palms. Sometimes I was better off trusting myself to take the right path – even if it wasn’t necessarily marked. Plus my hands were slippery with nerves. At one point the path narrowed and the chains fell away completely. Then way up there, in the desert, surrounded by a few jagged rocks and sand, a ladybug appeared. D smiled.  “Everything is going to be ok.”

And it was.

Here’s proof.

 

perhaps

Growing up, before embarking on any long road trip your dad would check the fluid levels of the car, inspect the tires, review the route, and rig an intricate system for configuring the luggage. Anything left was tied to the roof or hung off the back. At 29, you find you have inherited some of these tendencies. Along with your mother’s habit of always packing for perhaps.

A few nights before you depart for a 2,500 mile loop around Nevada, you set aside your tent, sleeping bag and pad, Swiss Army knife (that you will eventually forget), mess kit, two first aid kits, long underwear, running shoes, emergency rain gear, two cell phone chargers, extra bike tire tubes, three sundresses, fishnets, and a pair of stilettos. Just in case.

You make a checklist for groceries. Examine your car registration and insurance stubs. Run to the bank. And plot your course. Sort of. Enough to know where you might go and what you might see, but leaving a whole lot of unknown to discover in between. And when it seems you don’t have anything left to worry about, you can finally address what is really on your mind. You roll over, throw your hand over your road tripping partner’s chest and say, “I wonder what our first fight will be about.”

He smiles with eyes still closed, “I thought about that.”

You smile back even though he doesn’t see it. “I hope we don’t fight. I don’t think we will.”

You consider the possibilities. Directions? How you kept nagging about needing a tarp. And rope. His music? Your boys with guitar CDs? Then you wonder, do people actually fight about stuff like that? What if you run out of things to talk about? What if you talk about things you shouldn’t?

“We will be fine as long as you don’t get hungry and I don’t get cold,” you finally say.

The next day you send him an email warning about your need for frequent pit stops. You have great kidneys you insist. You confess you like milkshakes and burgers and sometimes get carsick on winding roads. You tell him you are going to want to pull over when you see something pretty.

He admits he likes the window down when the pace is slow. Is susceptible to speeding and driving long distances without stopping. He says he is not opposed to pausing for stone throwing contests, taking pictures or dancing. He just doesn’t always think of it first.

You smile and type: I think we will be a good match.