Freight Hopping

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A self-proclaimed-self-help junkie, I find myself in a predicament.

I know too much. The trouble with all this starting over crap is — whether you’ve moved coast-to-coast, left a relationship, or are totally revamping your outlook on life — at some point you have to stop starting over and, well, — just keep fucking going.

Self-helpers, like myself, will often spend much of their time building themselves up, hoping to arrive at some very specific end result and — they never quite get there. We can’t finish what we start. We give up. Or, worse — we settle. And, we find ourselves starting over. Again.

It’s an existential hamster wheel. And it’s especially cruel when you’ve read something like 80 books on the subject: Starting over. Creating yourself. Recreating yourself. Healing yourself. Losing yourself. Finding yourself. Finding happiness. Creating happiness. Losing happiness. Keeping happiness. — I know my fellow Seekers will understand. Because, we know. We’ve read the book on that — 80 times. We can watch ourselves fucking it up — in slow motion. We know exactly where we’re missing the mark. But, there’s no stopping that train once we’ve boarded. We’re freight hoppers. It’s this: A one-way track. Stay or jump. — But know, jumping off now will hurt.

Since moving back East, I’ve been trying, relentlessly, to deconstruct this goddamn train. I’ve exhausted myself. And so, I’ve had no choice but to give myself a little leeway. And, after watching the same landscape speed past my train-car window — it dawns on me that, this time, starting over won’t require that I design some grand master plan. I just have to ride this runaway train — and try to enjoy it.

The truth is — I’m in love with all these unfulfilled parts of myself. I admire my own willingness to trudge through mistakes and misery to get what I want. It makes me proud that I haven’t settled for someone else’s version of me. I revel in my highs and lows — I would hate for my own story to be linear. While I may be sad, I will never be stagnant. I’m still a kind of mystery, even to myself. And, sometimes, I find some real joy in my own elusiveness.

On my good days I seek patience, forgiveness, and — when I can muster it — a little tenderness. When I get even just a taste of these things, I’m able to locate some hidden part of myself.

There are moments, however fleeting, where I remember who I really am, without making apologies for her. And, when I find myself in those places — starting over doesn’t seem so pressing. I’m reminded that it is in the pursuit of my happiness that I have been most happy.

Keep fucking going. The train will roll on. Without brakes. Seekers, we don’t need them.

We trust the track — and we ride.

 

Photo Credit: Mike Brodie, From “A Period of Juvenile Prosperity”; http://mikebrodie.net/

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La Revolution

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Question: What is the difference between a teacher and a guru?

Answer: A teacher points the way. The guru is the Way. In the course of your awakening you will have thousands of teachers. Throughout all of this teaching, the guru waits, beckoning from beyond.

Be Here Now, Cook Book For A Sacred Life; Ram Dass, Pg. 6

I think we’re all waiting for the payoff.

The big reveal. — The moment of release. The summation of all this pain and toil. An unveiling of some blessed reason for the world’s continued suffering, and, what is certain to be, its ultimate demise.

We seek the guru because we tell ourselves it can’t be this. This place. This time. This cast of characters. This. It just can’t be. In our denial and disbelief, we gloss over the thing we know to be absolutely true. We beg answers of the teachers before us — but to truly know — we must go within. It’s clear to me now more than ever — relief is not around us. It is inside us. — Good lives within. — We must find it there and draw it out. A spiritual revolution.

I read the work of Baba Ram Dass daily. I love him. I’d love for him to be my guru. But the truth is, in my seeking him, I become more lost. What’s even more hilarious? — He taught me that lesson. Teachers are funny like that. They shine light where you’d rather not see, so, you go to another teacher, then another, then another. Soon you’ve seen too much, but really, you haven’t seen anything at all. I like to think you know what I mean, because I like to believe that we all are seekers.

I’m still in this funk, so, I’m stuck. I sit patiently and wait for instruction. From anyone, really. A customer. A coworker. A song. Sun glinting off the choppy waves of the water in the bay. — All messages from the Guru.

Recently, a few important people have drifted, unexpectedly, from my life. Teachers. — The best teachers. — And, watching them go has reminded me that there are new lessons I’m meant to learn. It’s not by my design. But, I must remind myself that if I allow myself to be stuck here, then I will continue to be just that. — Stuck here. Any design requires movement. Patience. Love. — Revolution.

Before my eyes, big cities have become incredibly small.

I turn off the television to avoid making myself sick. I embrace and abandon my own sense of place. I wait for healing. I look for apartments in Southern Vermont. I stare at a picture of a covered bridge surrounded by falling leaves, and, in another photo, the same bridge covered in snow. Different seasons. Each lonely and quiet. Isolated and still. It looks like a place my guru might wait for me. I feel myself moving closer to something. — We are all moving closer to something.

But life isn’t about moving. It’s about being. The most sacred lesson, more than any other lesson I’ve learned from my Baba, is the lesson of being. Not thinking, or seeking, or seeing, or knowing. It’s not a tangible trip. It’s not something you can destroy or embrace or free or trap. It’s not something you can kill. No amount of violence, inside or outside of us, can unsettle it.

It’s something we know because we are. All of us. Each one of us.

And, that’s the grist for the mill, Baba would say. — Becoming ourselves is the trip.

 

This moment, is a moment for the guru. — This moment, is the guru.

Vive La France. Vive La Revolution.

 

 

The Coffee Shop

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I watch the sun come up in the window of the coffee shop where I work.

I got the job a few weeks ago. — A barista.

I arrive at 6:25AM, five days a week. I brew big carafes of coffee, set out pastries in a glass case, and watch as the Avenue begins to open its eyes and welcome the day. The coffee is the best part. It smells warm and sweet and I breathe it in as deeply as I can throughout the day. And — I know — that when this time in my life is over, I will walk into some cafe, any cafe, and the smell of coffee will remind me of how the light splashed down Third Avenue in the Autumn of 2015.

After the morning rush — a parade of school teachers, mothers and fathers with sons and daughters keen on a breakfast of doughnuts, chocolate croissants and macaroons, crabby little-old-ladies, suited business men, and a suave Italian who always orders a cortado with “just-a little extra milk” — things slow down. It’s still. One regular sits at his computer quietly, for hours, eating his giant, cinnamon-sugar doughnut. I stock white paper cups and stamp white paper bags with our shop’s logo. I look out the window and I ignore the elephant in the room.

I’m just taking cover here, in Bay Ridge. Other parts of Brooklyn still lay in ruins.

I avoid the subway lines in certain neighborhoods. I decline invitations from friends who are headed into different parts of the borough. I’m still walking around in a mine field without Kevlar.

It’s not just that Brooklyn has changed. Change — I expected. It’s what hasn’t changed. The places that still remain — as if I’d never left  — a skeleton of a city that I once shared with someone else. When I left Brooklyn in November of 2009, I wasn’t an “I.” “I” was a “We.” We left this place. It had been ours. Everything. Parks and street corners. Restaurants and bars. Cafes and clothing stores. And Avenues. So many Avenues. I cannot escape how the light falls here. It’s like a time machine. Brooklyn, B.P. (Before Portland) and Brooklyn, A.D. — the two blur, in some strange warp.

Seven years later, I pass the same places and I want to melt into the cement. — To disappear. — All these little things I once loved, still living in the same space. Some are gone, too. My heart aches — for all of it.

But, here, in the coffee shop, I’m safe. The faces are, for the most part, kind. The Brooklyn accents, comforting. And, the smell. Oh, the smell. I grind the beans and I lean in as I pull the cleaning lever, watching, as a little cloud of fine, ground coffee puffs out into the air — flakes of fragrant, roasted perfume. I pour creamy espresso shots into little, ceramic cups and its aroma wafts up and into my nose. The little metal spoon clinks. The machine drips. drips. drips. the drip coffee into a steel carafe. A woman tears the top off a pack of Domino sugar. Everything feels calm and manageable.

I hand a little boy a clear bag that displays his little, coconut macaroon. His father buys one for him every morning. He tilts his head and smiles at the cellophane bag and the gold sticker that secures it. “What do you say to the lady?,” his father asks him. The little boy teeters back shyly into the wall opposite the counter and mumbles, “Thank you.” His father smiles at me when I hand him his cup of coffee. “Come on bud, let’s go.” He ushers the small boy out the door, but, the boy always looks back in. First, to me, then, to the case filled with macaroons.

I know that feeling. Looking back into a place that’s so hard to leave — so inviting. I feel his melancholy — forced to leave his dreams on the wrong side of a glass pastry case. But, it’s all just a part of growing up. He will learn. The necessity of leaving things behind. Too much sugar. He’ll know better. He’ll know what he can return to, and, he’ll know what he has to abandon. Yes, he’ll know. — Gold stickers will not always hold things in place.

I wipe down the counter where a few drops of coffee have spilled.

When I remember this time in my life — I know — I will remember the smell of this place.

I breathe it in deeply. Warm and sweet.

Coffee.

 

 

The Hunker Bunker

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There is nothing worse than being stuck.

I’ve heard it said, the definition of hell is standing in one place while wishing you were standing in another.

Unfortunately for us, it would appear that the human experience itself is an ongoing parade from one plane of our stuck-ness to the next. We stop. We assess. We look for new places to stand. And, me, I know — I’ve been in this spot before. I’ve felt it. — Change is imminent. I’m on the brink, but, I still find myself looking too far down the path ahead. I get caught up in distances that are too mysterious to gauge.

And, when I become overwhelmed by my own sense of place — or lack thereof — I do it. — I hunker.

My best friend can predict my hunkering — episodes of withdrawal and isolation — with laser-like precision. It’s no secret when I am tired of fighting the good fight. I become exhausted searching for the next, best place. So, I resign myself to my bed where I binge-watch television shows on Hulu and Netflix and tell myself that nothing will ever change. Ever. Ever. Ever.

It sounds terrible. But, in truth, it’s pretty fantastic. Not only is hunkering incredibly relaxing, non-invasive, and cheap — it’s the pre-cursor to breakthrough.

I wrote recently about the advantages of identifying patterns. — How labeling my predictable routines has helped me to see where I was wrong, or where I needed to change, or where I kept putting myself in harm’s way. And, yet another advantage of this self-awareness is — you know when things are about to shift.

Hunkering is a sign. And while I’ll admit that it’s a behavior that sends up some red flags, — mainly a house-ridden, quiet, and antisocial alcoholic — it’s not all bad, I assure you. I’ve camped out in the hunker bunker many times before. I know the drill. And, I know that what follows is the sincere desire, drive, and momentum — to evacuate.

An experienced hunker-er knows that change is inevitable. There are only so many hours we can stay in the good graces of our beds. There are only so many days we can devote to celebrating our own misery. And — there are only so many episodes of The Mindy Project available on Hulu Plus.

The truth is, if we stand in one place long enough, wishing we were standing somewhere else — we will eventually move toward that other place. We move because it is unbearable if we don’t. Sometimes, we don’t even know that we’ve taken the step.

To hunker is to catalyze.

So, I tell my best friend, lovingly — I’m going. Don’t call. Don’t write. Don’t text. I’m headed into the bunker. I know the drill. I celebrate my stuck-ness. I know where I’m disappearing to, and I know what’s coming. And, soon — I’ll emerge.

Because, after standing in the same place for far too long there is nothing else to do — but move.

 

Artwork: Andrew Wyeth; Daydream, Tempera on panel.

If I Could Talk Drunk To You

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Oregon, if I could talk drunk to you — I’d say too much.

But, in between botched and blurred sentences, I’d speak those gems. I’d say things that my heart kept pad-locked-up until we went ahead and blasted the doors off with a fifth of Jim Beam and a couple of cold, tall pints.

It’s been a long time since we’ve opened those doors. And it’s been even longer since my heart allowed me to hear the things you’ve been trying to say. But baby, if I could talk drunk to you, I’d ask you — Do you remember being young? Not that you’re some old man, but — we’re old enough now that when we’re asked if we remember being young — we know the answer.

Do you remember loving her? Some girl. Any girl. This girl. Maybe she was quiet and lost. Maybe she walked up and down your coast. Maybe she stood in the arch of The Vista House, her hair flying wildly over The Gorge as she screamed out your name across the Columbia River and cursed you. But, do you remember loving her? Do you remember how you’d give anything for her to just call, or show up at your door? She’d look at you in a way that made you feel. Like you were really there — like you existed. Not only existed, but, existed just for her. Do you remember — feeling that way?

Love made you feel. Can you remember when love was humbling? When you’d bow down before it, sovereign, wanting nothing more than for it to look upon you? Just. One. Brief. Moment. — To crown you? We all felt it when we were young. Sometimes, because we didn’t know any better. But, more often than not — we did. Know better.

It’s not something you can escape. It captures you. And baby, I may feel old, but when I love you — when I let you go — I’m young. And my heart was once your happy captive. Those ideals that you thought I’d soon abandon, well, — maybe I will someday — but not today. Not today. Today this love rules me. It runs laps around my heart. It crushes me with its casual distance. And maybe, after our most recent repairs — your heart looks pretty shabby too, baby.  But, if I could talk drunk to you, I’d tell you — It’s worth piecing together.

If I could talk drunk to you, I’d ask you to love me with that same, reckless abandon. I’d ask you to forget your old man heart and dive into mine, where things aren’t nearly as broken and battered as they were when I found you. I’d ask you why people give up on love when they’re finally old enough to feel it. I’d tell you, I may be young and stupid — but there are parts of me that are old — and I know more now than your green heart could handle. I’d tell you — I’m worth it. All of it. I’m that girl you couldn’t have back when you were seventeen. I’m the comfort that you never got from the women who held out their hands to light your cigarettes. I’m all that passion you beat down into your guts because you never thought you’d find someone who could match it.

Here I am.

If I could talk drunk to you, I’d tell you that — back then — before I met you, my love was like a paper cut. But now, your love fuels some massive inferno that turns my insides red-hot, and if it ever goes out, all that will remain is a burnt up cross where my heart used to be.

Oregon, you taught me to love. And, some days, I fear the love I have for you. You’ve broken me before. But, when you touch me, you spin that golden thread that pumps through my veins, straight to my heart. A drug that I’ll choose to give up, but, somewhere, I’ll always seek.

I should tell you — I’ve watched the sun rise over your head. And, that first time I told you I loved you, your sky said, “Oh baby, I love you too,” like I already knew, but, — I didn’t know. I never knew.

If I could talk drunk to you, I’d say that my love is crazy, and if you could see it, if it were an actual thing you could touch or hold — I know you’d want it. You’d want to keep it. You wouldn’t leave it on a shelf or stash it in some drawer. You’d wear it. You’d protect it. You’d carry it until whatever made you, made you no more.

If I could talk drunk to you, I’d tell you that — I know — I think too much. I wish it were that simple.

But, it’s not. Simple.

It’s time for me to go. But, you knew that already.

And, what good is talking drunk to you if I’m just telling you the things that you already know?

 

Photo: Allison Webber; http://www.allisonwebber.photography/

The Invented City

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Before you leave a place, it’s important that you commit it to memory.

Later, you’ll return to it like a dusty book on your shelf. You’ll run your fingers over its edges, and, you’ll remember something you didn’t realize you’d forgotten. It’s hard to visualize — the passage of all that time. Our memories, warping, fit in tightly-packed-cranial-crevices. But, it’s all right there waiting for us, on the dog-eared pages. We open up to that brittle spot, where the spine is cracked. We revisit our oldest secrets. For me, it’s always a story that begins in the Summer — when things were hot and uncomfortable.

*          *           *

Standing on the corner of Lombardy Street, where Williamsburg and Greenpoint are divided by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, in front of the sports-dive, The Callbox Lounge — Adam and I invented Portland.

Inside the bar, five Hasidic Jews draped their heavy, black coats over the backs of tall chairs. Their tzitzit dangled from their hips and their faces, framed in curls, sweat profusely while they watched the Yankees game. Some of them drank beer, some of them, Coca-Cola. This place was their secret. — And, Portland was ours.

We sat at the bar, bathing ourselves in the intermittent breeze of the sputtering air conditioner. We were so different then. Young. In some kind of love. Complicated, even before cracking. We didn’t care. And, we sat there without any real concept of time. We hardly knew the things that stood before us. Our world spanned the length of the bar — and that was enough. Adam’s face was radiant in a blue glow as Keeno numbers popped up on the grid of an old TV screen and, even now — I want to kiss him. Back then, we had plans. We were getting out of that city. Soon. Maybe a year. Maybe less. And beneath the highway, under a starless sky, the night was humming a song with its passing cars and rattling metal. We drank Budwieser and smoked cigarettes and we planned our escape.

Back then, I wanted anything but Brooklyn. I wanted open sky and long, wide roads. And, green. Lots of green. I dreamed of places where no one knew me. Us. Lost together. Anywhere. Winding through some unknown place. And so, we imagined Portland. I imagined Portland. — I imagined we’d be the opposite of what we were.  — And together, we would draw our maps.

*          *          *

The day we left, I stood at the window of our third floor walk-up. I looked down over Nassau Avenue. It was starting to feel like Fall and my screen was thrown wide open. I remember seeing a woman down below with a baby carriage drop her scarf and an old man leaned down and picked it up for her in front of the deli with the blue awning. The scarf was red. — I was going to miss that place.

My mother was in our living room putting things into boxes. We had overestimated the amount of room in our car and my father walked up and down, up and down, up and down our steps taking bins, boxes, and bags back to my childhood home in Bay Ridge. “Don’t worry Dabba,” he said, “we’ll ship them out to you when you’re settled.” Dabba is my family’s nickname for me.

It occurred to me, as I stared down at my dirty, Brooklyn street — no one would call me Dabba where we were going.

Adam came up behind me and held my shoulders. I only remember this because it was unlike him. He was reserved. He didn’t hold my shoulders often. So, I leaned in, because, when you are scared and lonely and at the precipice of something imagined becoming real — you want Adam to hold you.

“Are we really going to leave today?” I asked, fat tears pooling in my eyes. The apartment still had too many things in it. My mother looked more perplexed with every passing hour. “Sarah,” Adam said, turning me around from the window to face him, “I don’t care if we leave everything we own on this street corner. We are leaving tonight.”

And, we did, that night, around 5 or 6 PM — I can’t remember. We left to find something we both had lost. Though, now, I know that our lost things were not the same. They had never been the same. But, he had been biding his time and I had ignored the facts. So, we invented a place that already existed. We assigned it meaning. And, we drove. We placed ourselves here, in the City of Roses. We walked along rivers we’d read about in books. We learned the names of mountains that, eventually, would rise up from our backyard into a sky that turned strange colors which we did not know how to name.

Oregon.

At the curb, I cried in my mother’s arms. There is no feeling comparable to leaving your mother when you are scared and she wants you to stay. My father’s arms held me a little too tight, and they spoke the words that he couldn’t. Adam turned the key. Ignition. That was the last time I saw Nassau Avenue — my mother becoming smaller and smaller in the side-view mirror.

As we crossed the Verrazano Bridge, our Polish landlord called my cell phone from Nassau Avenue. “You can’t leave mattress on street like this! I get fine! Garbage pick-up not ’til Thursday. Fifty dollars I going to have to pay!”

I looked at the side of Adam’s face. His silhouette sketched a thin line against a darkening sky that met the edges of Brooklyn’s shadows below. The bridge’s wires held us up. I was seat-belted in with our scotch-taped love and some kind of freedom and an emptiness that I will never be able to describe.

“Tell him to take it out of our security deposit,” he said. “We’re not going back.”

(Photo: Allison Webber; http://www.allisonwebber.photography/ )

Preamble Ramble

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Sobriety is varying states of unrest.

Some weeks, I’m bubbling over, some weeks — I’m tapped.

I pull up the chair to sit at this table. I open my computer. And, I stare at the screen — into all your faces.

I’m processing this story. Always.

Every week I feel like I’m in a dark room where the photos just soak forever. Nothing develops. But, still, I want to tell you everything.

There are a lot of these Goddamned pictures. So many stories. And, the plot can go a lot of ways while you’re waiting for things to come into focus. Stories get restless and start to write themselves. There are an estimated five billion hopeful story lines going full tilt right now. Some intersect, and some, escape, wild, out on their own. And, many of them, I can tell you with absolute certainty — hopeful or not — won’t end well. It’s funny, my best moments, my best stories in sobriety are the ones where I don’t feel sober at all. Right now — I’m running on fumes.

We all get high on stuff. Sometimes it’s legal, sometimes it not. I’m not sure what I’m high on this week. Fear. Excitement. Sadness. Loss. Epic confusion. I’m riding the wave and there aren’t too many cohesive thoughts. But, I’m enjoying being lost in this emotional blur which is decidedly better than just — being lost.

I stop here, every week, and disclose the state of my union, or, should I say, the non-state of my disarray. I like to stare into your computer eyes and let you know things. Like — I’m coming up on some cord cutting, and, I need to test the waters before I start hacking. There are still secrets that I have to keep from you. Maybe I’m high on that.

But, I can tell you this — I have plans for a little summer series. Stories. True stories. Portland stories. Expect those in the coming weeks.

Cord-cutting-cathartic-cross-bearing-down-on-this-12-bridge-city stories. Love. Love stories. Love that lived and died. In a bottle. In a pipe. In a needle. In a heart. In a city. — This city.

So, tune in next week.

Summer’s heating up.

(Photo: Allison Webber; http://www.allisonwebber.photography/ )

The Insignificant Thing

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The thing that breaks us, is never the thing that really broke us.

It sounds nonsensical. But — it’s the truth.

Our minds and bodies are magical things. — Beautiful and complicated mechanisms of celestial science and engineering, built to withstand incredible stress. INCREDIBLE stress. Though, I’ll say in earnest, for me, it doesn’t often feel that way. — Especially having been broken recently by an insignificant thing.

I’ve been here — a big-mouthed Brooklyn-girl — in Portland, Oregon. I’ve made my own way for quite some time. I’m not scared. I’m not in any trouble. I’m not facing imminent danger. At least, I’m not anymore. I’m just fine. Though, I hate the word. — Fine.

But, last night, after dropping my mother off at PDX, sending her homeward toward NYC, I swerved in my lane driving back home on I-205, sobbing hysterically. Minutes earlier, back at the terminal, when my mother’s arms broke their lock from around my sunburned shoulders, I felt it. — A sincere desire to be vulnerable again.

It only takes one insignificant thing.

In recent weeks it’s all flooded back. My time. Here. In Oregon. I’ve watched a lover and partner of almost 7 years walk out on me, never returning to say goodbye. I didn’t break. I’ve been arrested. Battled addictions. Marched myself through rehab like a soldier. I never broke. I watched my new lover and partner of almost 2 years get strung out on heroin — again and again and again. Not a crack. I stood, through all this, strong, like an Oregon pine. Dropping my dead needles. Picking up my pieces. Picking up their pieces. I pulled it all back together, my sap, like emotional super glue. — But, leaving my mother at the airport. — That’s what did me in.

The insignificant thing. The moment where you realize that you’ve held your own world together for far too long. Somehow, even after standing in the eye of the storm, it’s in the push and pull of the insignificant things where we find we’re — Tired. Broken. Lost. And still, we find it difficult to let go. The body, in all it’s magical resilience, resists giving way. Finally straining and, eventually, snapping under the weight of this thing that reminds us — We must respect the nature of things.

A friend of mine, who got divorced a few years ago, bravely escaping an abusive relationship, recently told me that she’s tired of being the “strong one.” I know what she means. We send each other notes. We tell each other that we’re better for it. But, in truth, we’d both take happiness over fortitude any day.

Blinking back more tears, I struggle to see this place. — Oregon. — These trees. The Gorge. The Wild West. Open air and unspoiled land. This place, by nature, has made me an adventurer.

It’s not insignificant that, here, I have learned how to be shipwrecked and to wash ashore — wet — but still breathing. What’s more, I’ve learned that I can fall in love again. I can heal myself. And, I can skillfully duct tape my 2001 Honda Civic back together — with expert craftsmanship — and not care what my father has to say about it.

But, the insignificant thing I can’t ignore is this — an unshakeable feeling that, it’s possible, I don’t belong here.

There are only so many storms I want to weather. Only so many loves I will stand to lose. Only so many places where I’m no longer haunted by the person I once was.

A long time ago, in a one-bedroom, railroad apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, I held a love bigger than my heart was meant to carry, and I told myself — Dream big. I freed myself up and, for a time, I loved fearlessly.

Those things I told myself back then — they weren’t insignificant. They were my system of road maps. Maps for letting go. Holding on. Surviving. Breaking. Rebuilding. Reviving. Re-starting.

On I-205, a man in a Toyota Tundra watches me sob at the merge. I allow it. I allow my mother’s departure to break me. Suddenly — I care not for strength. I give up on mourning the things I lost. I decide to abandon the dream I was hell bent on living so long ago. I allow myself  to want again.

Something else. Someone else. Somewhere else.

And, before I reach the exit for Powell Blvd., I watch the course of my life change in my side-view-mirror — the one that’s duct taped, securely, to the driver’s side door.

And, without anyone else’s permission, I vow to follow it closely — wherever it goes — my insignificant thing.

 

 

 

The Great Squirrel Chase

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This weekend, I evicted a squirrel from my apartment.

I first saw his ratty, grey tail peeking out from under my enormous television set. First, I panicked. Next, I reached for my yoga mat. Which, obviously, I proceeded to wield as an unruly weapon.

Even in my hysteria, it seemed simple enough. — I just had to lock the cat in the back bedroom, open the front door, and then usher my squirrel guest out, with gusto, flopping my yoga mat this way and that.

As it turned out, we were both quite terrified. So, I called my friend Tony who lives across from me in our apartment complex. No answer. Then, I tried my landlord. No answer. Then, I called my father — in New York City. Though separated by five thousand miles, he was the one who did not fail me. And while he did laugh at me like a hyena for five minutes, he also remained on the line for my intense, steady, and, dare-I-say-it — hunter-like — progression of profanity. Which, progressed as follows:

“Holy shit! Oh my God he’s in the closet now! Fuck! He’s making noises! Holy fucking shit, I can’t see him! What if he fucking bites me, Dad? Dad — Stop laughing! That stupid fucker just ran into the kitchen. God, that asshole’s a stupid motherfucker. THE FRONT DOOR IS OPEN YOU ASSHOLE!!! Jesus fucking Christ, he just ran out the front door. He was, like, fuckin’ airborne Dad. He’s out. Holy shit. He’s out! Fuck.”

My heart was beating like rapid fire. — And, there I was, yoga mat in hand. — Alive.

In truth, I’m rarely present. I run over the past in my mind, I plan the future, I design escapes and intrigue. But, I’m not here. It’s tough to get me in the moment.

One evening, my ex, after hearing me spout off about this or that, asked me how it came to be that Ram Dass was my hero — my guru — if I was constantly struggling to “Be Here Now.” — “Why didn’t I try harder to live in the present?” He wondered. I didn’t have an answer. It’s hard to explain to someone else how you can love a person that has the one, intangible thing that you want most, but, can never seem to grasp. It’s not coveting. It’s reverence. And, it’s nearly impossible to describe to someone who cannot comprehend any spirit that’s bigger than their own.

It’s funny, because that very same ex got me a framed “Be Here Now” poster as a gift. — A reminder I guess. It’s purple with a white lotus flower in the center. And, even though my ex is gone, the poster remains, situated happily on my mantle. So, after I had called, texted, emailed, and tweeted to everyone I knew — I plopped down on my couch to draw in my breath and stare at my purple-poster. I smiled with my teeth for the first time in months.

Excitement. Joy. Suspense. Hilarity. A SQUIRREL. Here. Now. IN MY APARTMENT.

That squirrel was my gift. Maybe from Baba himself. The moment where I was reminded: I am a real, breathing creature, wielding a yoga mat and taming wild — albeit tiny — beasts. Even when the moment had passed — the tiny creature bounding out over my two-step stoop, the feeling he awakened in me remained. — A feeling that will not escape me so quickly.

Sometimes, we can only love those that are present — without us. We can bask in their light. Their awareness. Their true presence. We can read the words that they have spilled across thousands of pages in countless books, we can watch their YouTube channels, we can sing chants along with Krishna Das. We seek out the presence.

But, sometimes, it will come to you: A squirrel who shits all over your house —while you chase it wildly with a yoga mat — while your father laughs in your ear — while your heart pumps in your chest. At the end of it all, you watch something leap to freedom. — And, it’s you.

I thank the purple poster and, for old time’s sake, I text my ex.

Because, I need to tell someone — I’m here. Now.

“Now is now. Are you going to be here, or not?” — Baba Ram Das

Bitter(s).

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I sit at a bar shaped like a horseshoe and I order soda with Angostura bitters.

My 12-Step friends will hold the bitters against me — the same way they do when I lick the side of the vanilla extract bottle while I’m baking. I decide I don’t care.

I’ve been waiting for this.

I sit across from a hipster-geek in a wool, skull cap. The weather’s too warm for that, but, in Portland, no one cares. The bartender showcases a tequila bottle I don’t recognize for two drunk women at the end of the bar. They snack on fried food and chew with their mouths open and they don’t realize how old they look, bat-bat-batting their eyelashes and laugh-laugh-laughing at something the bartender says, but, everyone knows without hearing — it isn’t funny. Their husbands are outside smirking and smoking cigarettes. They turn to gawk at a group of three, tall twenty-somethings who walk by in patterned leggings that hug their perky, little asses.

I hammer my straw down into the ice, like I’m breaking something up. I stir — like there’s whiskey at the bottom of my glass. There isn’t. But, I continue eyeballing the good shit on the shelf.

I pass this bar every day. I look in its big, rectangular windows. Behind my own reflection, I see smiling lips that leave blots of red lipstick on the edges of tumblers and the tips of little, black straws. I wanted this — to sit here. To feel it. Soft leather. My purse dangling from a hook at my knees. I wanted to breathe out. — A release. A homecoming. My heels drawn up against the sides of a bar stool. — I’ve waited.

The perfect conditions. The right amount of cloud cover. The slice of evening right before the Saturday crowds filter in through the angled, double doors. A hum, a quiet energy — like something might happen. But it doesn’t.

I can’t explain it. — It’s not what I wanted.

The hipster-geek doesn’t look up from his smart phone, even when his hand searches along the bar for his drink, which, I am certain, is an old fashioned. The older women, who think they’re young, wave their hands back and forth. Pinot gris sloshing at the sides of their glasses, just barely contained. The bartender reaches for his bar rag, but, in the end — doesn’t need it.

I ask for my bill.

“All you had was soda. Right? We don’t charge for soda.” The bartender walks away from me. So, I thank his back. This is what being castrated feels like — I imagine. Suddenly, I’m worth even less than the dollar it cost for me to keep the seat warm.

Whatever it was I was hoping I’d feel — I know now — I can’t anymore.

The chewing, cackling hags. The lechers with cigarettes that dangle from their lips. The bartender’s display of insincerity and faded tattoos. The smell of spilled beer and dirty mop water. It’s hardly a return to the days I used to live for. — His hand grabbing for mine, while we poured over menus, the sun sinking into another river. Here, I’m lonely. And, the wood of this bar is scratched.

At home, I crawl into bed and I lay very still. I bury a feeling I didn’t know I still had.

I just wanted a moment in the bar. But, the moment’s gone.

Rain taps the window and the cat swats the venetian blind and I miss things I haven’t missed in a long time. Adam. And New York. And our railroad apartment. And they way the sun spilled over Nassau Avenue in the summer when I was twenty-five.