Heartaches and stomach pains

I didn’t really want a carton of french fries and a huge milkshake. It’s rare anymore that I have a craving that junk food would genuinely satisfy. But after this happened I was hungry, and lazy, and felt like I actually should feed myself junk against my own will. I thought it might help the indistinctly crappy emotional phase I had just entered by breaking up with a boyfriend. My true melancholia was gone. I’d already spent the past week feeling my way through the inevitable, lying on friends’ couches, drinking more vodka than I’m accustomed to. By the time I hit the Burgerville drive-thru I was ready to look forward—just not quite ready to start caring properly for myself. I deserved the stomachache I had for the rest of the evening.

It’s been a couple of days and I’m still in limbo, still indulging these unhealthy couch-potato cravings that seem to come from a juvenile place. I know better than to fill my life with distractions instead of real hobbies and reflections. I guess I’d like to be excused from those responsibilities for a little while longer. It seems a bit unnecessary because I’ve been through the worst already. When things get back to normal, however, the past will come into focus again and I’ll need to acknowledge that I recently had a relationship that I was pretty happy about for a while. There’s no serious heartbreak here, but underlying the numbness and frustrated disappointment, I’m afraid there could be real sadness.

It comes in waves

Glued into a photo album somewhere is a picture of me, at age eight or nine, hugging my knees and staring at the ocean thoughtfully. Half of my legs are covered by a red San Francisco 49ers sweatshirt, and my face is covered by a big pair of glasses and long, straight, sun-bleached hair. My family and I are vacationing at the Oregon coast from Sacramento. The cloudy day doesn’t bother me; beaches are among my favorite places in the world.

I’m drawn to the water. I’ve been climbing intertidal rocks in search of a high spot where I can sit apart from everybody for a while. As I often do, I want to be alone to think. What am I thinking about?

A few weeks ago I drove to the small town of Oceanside for a contemplative two-day spell. The weather was cool and verging on foggy, but it had stopped raining a day or two ago. I headed for the beach as if I had an appointment to keep. On a scarce patch of dry sand I stopped, laid out a towel, took off my shoes, opened a book, and let myself relax in the way I’d anticipated all morning. But I kept looking up from my book to the northern end of the beach, where a tunnel had been bored into a sea cliff. There was a neighboring beach on the other side. Overcome by curiosity, I packed up and went. (more…)

My uncertain history

You might have seen that Seinfeld episode where Jerry talks about the mark of a bad Christmas gift: when the recipient sort of narrates it out loud, as in, “Ohhhh, crew socks! Great!” I usually laugh at that joke because I see the truth in it. But it wasn’t true for me in December 2001, when I opened a Christmas present from my college boyfriend. As the torn wrapping revealed a distinctive red box, I read aloud from the label, “It’s Fun … It’s Challenging … It’s Scrabble!” I was grinning shyly as I gazed at it, unsure of the proper etiquette of expression. It was a unique situation. I was eighteen, and he was the first guy I’d ever dated.

We had made it official just a couple weeks before our gift exchange. In his single dorm room, which was notably absent of visitors that night, despite the open door, we confessed our feelings for each other. It came as a sort of relief to some of our friends, who had noticed the attraction and debilitating shyness between us and had not-so-quietly encouraged the union. After our anxious and awkward declaration, I ran upstairs and squealed the news to my friend Jessica, doing a manic little dance inside her room. I was exhilarated and completely innocent. (more…)

Sharing the gray

It’s the couples who are in middle age, or beyond, that tend to catch my eye. There were several in front of me at the coffee shop where I spent a quiet morning today, eating breakfast and reading a magazine. Through glances, I watched the pair who sat at the counter facing the window. She was very slim, with salt-and-pepper hair, wearing a denim skirt and a Columbia Sportswear jacket around her waist. Her partner wore a polo short and had nothing around his own waist but a bit of extra flesh. They perched on stools next to each other and read a shared copy of the Willamette Week, exchanging brief and quiet commentary on the news within.

I know that I’m reading too much into a quick observation, but that couple represents a state of being that I deeply wish for and fear I will never have. They are comfortable together, having spent many years in each other’s company. They go on hikes and on neighborhood walks. They have shared rituals. He is far from perfect. She is too, and he knows it well but still treats her like royalty—often enough, at least, that she always remembers how important she is to him. They have long ago made a choice to devote themselves to this partnership. In the face of that devotion, that promise, their personal habits and flaws matter no more. They have settled on each other. (more…)

A tribute to love

I knew Ryan in his “before” days, when we were both mostly single with short interludes of broken relationships. We were college classmates who graduated one semester apart. I’d had so much fun working with him that I kept in touch after graduation, and we became friends. We commiserated on our shared singledom and reassured each other that we’d each find somebody special, one of these days. He got into the bar scene for a while, but gave it a rest as he got older and realized that wasn’t where his dream woman was likely to be found. And he turned out to be right: around the time that I moved to Oregon, he met her at a coffee shop.

On a Saturday in June, I sped down California’s Redwood Highway, trying not to arrive late at their wedding. I’d frantically changed into my dress moments before getting in the car, leaving so hastily that I forgot the gifts I was supposed to bring. Precious minutes were lost as I turned the car around, ran into the house where I was staying–trying not to trip over my dress–and grabbed the gifts. After that came the speeding. Everybody drives too fast on that section of 101 south of Trinidad, but this time I passed many of them.

I made it to Patrick’s Point right on time, although the wedding did not. (more…)

Question marks

The first time I met him, I knew I was in trouble. He had fantastic curly brown hair and gorgeous brown eyes, and he charmed me by doing handstands at the beach. It was Labor Day, and this stretch of Humboldt County sand was nearly empty except for a woman who wore fairy wings and hopped through the surf while another person photographed her. I had, on a whim, taken the afternoon off work to come here and meet this boy from MySpace. He had emailed me while I was at the office, given me his phone number, and said that he was tired of studying and could use an outing. Work was slow, so I called him; ten minutes later I was on my way to the beach.

We’d been exchanging emails for a few weeks by that time. He was into scuba diving, and the starfish photo on my MySpace profile had caught his attention. At first I was wary of his messages. He kept asking how I was doing, and telling me about his day, and sometimes inviting me to go on a random trip with him and his friends. I tried to fend him off, but his persistence worked. He seemed friendly and interesting, and—like I said—he was extremely cute. (more…)

Gifts

It’s all coming so easily: singing and dancing together in the kitchen, clearing the dinner dishes, playing Scrabble with dessert, and singing some more. Wondrous moments occur week after week, buoying me until I feel like I’ll never stop floating. I feel like a big sap just writing about them. How did these moments, these feelings, get here? Can I trust that they are real? Why the sudden bestowment of good fortune?

I pose these unanswerable questions not just because they surround one of life’s more pleasant mysteries, but due to a long-standing disbelief that I deserve good things. I have always managed to obstruct my own path in the pursuit of happiness. As the right hand reaches toward a prize, the left one swats it away. Friendships, love, and other achievements are suspect when attained too easily. I want to stash them all in a closet where they will gather dust until the day I decide I’ve finally been good enough, or worked hard enough, to have them. I don’t know what “enough” means, and that’s the problem. Simply being myself will never suffice as long as I maintain such a vague standard.

As I grow into adulthood I’m able to more fully recognize my accomplishments, the love I get from my family, and the strong friendships I have kept. But the notion persists that I can’t fully claim all of it. (more…)

Fitful dreaming

A few days ago, for the first time since winter, I watched the sun rise. I was on the living room couch and had to shift from my usual West-facing position to see those shades of pink and orange that always seem distinct from their counterparts at dusk. The last time I’d been in such a state was a morning in Arcata, when for some reason I was awake at 5:00 AM. I took that opportunity to drive a few miles out to the marsh, where I watched the sky change color over Humboldt Bay. Here in Portland, I knew the day was really beginning when I saw the first city bus come by at 5:08. By then I had given myself over to wakefulness after a night of fitful sleep. I watched a couple of cyclists ride up the street and part of me wanted to get up and do that, to enjoy some fresh cool air before the sun started sucking it up. Instead I lazed and dozed on the couch for a few hours.

I haven’t typically experienced the kind of insomnia that forces me up at odd hours. Mostly it’s been the kind that prevents me from falling asleep until long after I’ve crawled into bed, due to a constant whir of thoughts in my head. Although the volume of my thoughts hasn’t really decreased over the past several years, perhaps their anxiety quotient has. I usually fall asleep easily enough and stay unconscious until the alarm clock rudely interrupts. Two sets of circumstances have recently intervened. One, the heat. I can’t rest under the relentless smothering of warm, moist air in my non-air-conditioned home. I keep my windows open and the fan turned up high, sprawled open as wide as can be, but have to wait until my body temperature cools before I feel comfortable. The second factor is something intensely personal. My anxiety quotient has been bumped up again, but only barely compared to the spike in happiness and hope and excitement. This blog is not about being effusive, though … or is it? I can gush for paragraphs about berries, but about a new person in my life I’ll be reticent. Let’s just say that it’s inducing a rather good type of insomnia.

Intruders

There was a boy who liked me when I was about fifteen. He was in my Internet class (do they still have those in high schools?), and he had the nerve to sit next to me and make small talk and even, once, invite me to go surfing with him. (He’d have had to teach me, of course.) A couple of his friends were in my chemistry class and they tried to persuade me to give it a try. I wasn’t moved. I did my best to brush off the guy’s attempts, and I was so agitated that I wrote a poem called “Intruder.” Nobody asked you to be here—what are you doing in my life?

I was too scared, and/or judgmental, to accept this from anyone. Dwayne, from my freshman year ceramics class, wore big sunglasses and a tattered denim vest adorned with Led Zeppelin and AC/DC patches. He came straight for me on the first day of the semester; I was standing alone and unprotected. I thought he was strange, or at least strange-looking, but somehow he ended up walking me home one day. (more…)

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