I haven’t had a cold-flu-bug like this in ages. Apparently everything was milder in Portland — including viral illness. — Meanwhile, back in New York…The weather. The people. The attitude. Not one thing is laid back. Not one. Even influenza cannot be bothered with a “mild” setting. Here — it’s all or nothing.
And, maybe that’s what I missed so much about this place. The limitless energy. New Yorker’s don’t have to gear up like we did back on the West Coast. Because, here, there is only one gear — Badass.
I remember when I first arrived in Portland, how people were taken aback by my candor. I said what was on my mind. To the point. I never pussyfooted around. That bothered a lot of people out West. They expected something more dilute and demure. They also thought that I walked too fast. And, even though we adjusted to each other, I missed New York City’s edge. Its speed. — Its sense of urgency. — There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else.
I’m considering moving up to New England, or at the very least, a bit further out of the city — maybe the Hudson Valley. I need an in-between-speed city. As much as I love the hustle, I also feel worn down. I want something easier. Quieter. I try to plot it out sensibly. But it’s difficult. What criteria should be used when selecting a home? I evaluate how I arrived at all the places I’ve been and the things that made me want to stay or go. It seems easy. But, it isn’t really. There are a lot of variables. And, while nothing is permanent — it’s still a big decision. Place can be everything. Mean everything. Place can define you. And, place can make or break your sobriety. — I’m starting to feel that as I slip here in Brooklyn. — I have to be careful.
What does my heart say? I wait to feel the pull.
I know it will take a special place to set my heart ablaze again. I guess it’s just a matter of time.
So, in the interim, I nurse this badass-East-Coast-cold and I tell people it like it is and I walk to work at record speeds.
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.
Every time the conductor cries out “Stand clear of the closing doors!” and the bell chimes, I have a sort of epiphany.
It’s been awhile. But, I’m back on the train — literally and figuratively.
These moments. These people. These — STOPS. I think about them. With every little movement, something huge shifts. Someone changes. A woman turns the page of her book. A kid shoves his scooter under the orange and yellow seats. A guy stuffs a bagel with cream cheese into his face and the white glop oozes out the sides of his Everything and over the wax paper and down his fat, pink fingers. — It’s a show. A glorious fucking show.
I sit on the 2 train, awed. I wonder — Have I been gone so long that these vignettes of mundane existence, these glimpses into the drudgery of everyone’s daily, city commute, have suddenly become the most romantic thing in the world? Maybe it’s because I’ve only been home for a month. And, sure, everything is still shiny and new. But, no, the more I think about it — it’s so much more than that.
I boil it down to get to what’s different and, — I think it’s sobriety. And no — not just the fact that I’m clean and sober — whomp, whomp, patontheback, patontheback — it’s more. It’s one of the side effects of sobriety that have slowly begun to crop up. A kind of gift. It’s something I was denied while I was living here years ago, but now, I suddenly have access. And that, that thing I’ve finally tapped into — is the ability to admire the machine of which I am part.
Here, in New York City, sober, I have allowed myself to become small again. Something I never could have permitted myself to do before. Back then, I wanted to be a big fish. The biggest fucking fish in the biggest fucking sea. And, blazing forward in my self-obsessed fury — to become and to have and to live and to consume — I missed it. I missed the incredible beauty of living a small life. I never saw these little pieces. The city under a microscope. I never appreciated the infinite and tiny parts of this incredible and unique place that, without asking anything in return, surrounds and envelops me with beauty and intrigue.
All this. Right here. A big sea. A HUGE FUCKING SEA. And me, somehow, no longer terrified of being a guppy. To the contrary — I wish I were smaller. I want to see it all come up around me. My eyes well up as we clatter through the dark tunnels of the NYC underworld. I keep thinking of all the things I missed while I fought so hard trying to get upstream. — All the pages that were turned, all the scooters that were shoved, and all the cream cheese that was oozing. — And, I missed it.
But, I catch myself and I smile when I hear it again. — “Stand clear of the closing doors!”
And, one last straggler — a man in a suit with a missing button — squeezes through the metal doors and joins our little school of fish and, together, we all dive beneath the waves of the East River.
Maybe it takes a year or two to move one, rotten inch. And, it’s sneaky, the business of waking up. Fucking subtle. So, don’t expect it to hit you hard or for it to happen all at once. It’s not some invincible force that saves and redeems you. But, it happens. There is an awakening.
Today marks three years sober. And, like every year, for the past three years, I’ve spent the week, leading up to today, trying to figure out where, exactly, I fit into all of this. Sobriety. — A word I throw around somewhat haphazardly. — I often forget the weight of things. Honestly, I’d being lying if I told you I felt one way or the other about it. In truth, it feels like I’m standing right in the middle of an enormous see-saw.
I wasn’t always up for the balancing act. Three years ago today, I wouldn’t have been able to stand in the middle of anything. Everything was an extreme. — Loss or gain. In or out. Good or evil. God or none. — One side or the other.
Today, I’m not so sure. I find that I’m often open to things that I’m not privy to. Miracles. Fate. Divine intervention. Maybe even some chaos and anarchy. — But, I’m open. That’s for sure.
The night before I got sober, I got cut off at my favorite pub. The owner told me, “Happy Birthday,” as I walked out of his bar, shitfaced. He knew all about sober anniversaries. He was a good guy who was happy to see me go. I, on the other hand, wasn’t so happy. I knew my drinking was bad news, but, I wasn’t so sure that the alternative was better. I think about her — Good ol’ shitfaced me. The girl who was so uncertain about the possibility of something genuinely good coming her way. And, three years later, I look back on that time, wide awake. I didn’t know how to comfort myself back then, because — I wasn’t there. But, now, I’m here every day. And all my voices speak.
The voice that reminds me to cry. The voice that tells me to step up. The voice that ushers me, with care, away from the people and places that no longer serve me. And, the voice that honors all that I’ve lost in these three years. — Together, we kneel at the graves of the many versions of myself that I’ve buried because they didn’t learn the right lessons.
I stand in the middle now, with confidence. Because I know, sooner or later, like it or not — this see-saw’s gonna flip and I’ll see what each end has to offer. I’ll stand high and I’ll sink low. Tides turn. And, I’m not afraid of the change anymore.
It’s nothing I can mark on paper. It’s not even a feeling. Three years is nothing but a notch I use to keep my place in the mess of cogs — a system in flux. Something that, next year, will be even more expansive. Awake and limitless, without warnings or boundaries. I count the years even though I know now — they mean nothing.
Just more room. Room for losses and gains. Ins and outs. Gods and none.
And me. There’s finally room for me.
And, I’m standing, three years deep — in the middle of it all.
When I was a kid, I used to love it when the oldies station would play Neil Sedaka and it would spill out of the car-radio speakers. Back then, I had no idea what the lyrics meant, but, I gathered that holding onto love was important. And now, I know, much of our love is the kind that we hold on to, desperately. Not the adult kind where — you know — you let it go and it returns to you.
I’ve tried that tactic. Love seldom finds it’s way back to me. The letting go part is too hard.
I think that’s the beauty of getting older — beginning to see your own patterns. Internalizing them. Recognizing them as they’re happening. Developing a keen awareness of what our bodies and brains would have us do, even if we ourselves are totally checked out. It’s pretty amazing how we all have our own modus operandi. From folding laundry to getting our hearts broken, it’s a cycle — on repeat.
Now that I’m back in New York City, I’m starting to see them. — My old, Portland patterns beginning to emerge. Some good, and some that I was hoping to leave behind. I try not to overthink it. But, of course — I do.
New York. — It’s an old pattern, but, I have to see it in a new way. Because, it is new. I’m new.
I decide I have to break-up with myself. Because, my two selves — we’re in two different places. We’re at the pivotol moment when you realize that there’s this one thing — and it’s just not what you want. It’s a deal breaker. So, you have to let go. And, letting go is hard.
If it were the old me, the Portland-me, — I’d stay. I’d try to make it work. Tip-toe around it. Insert myself in little ways only to have my own current pull me back out to sea. I know the pattern.
I have to break-up with the girl who’s always just skirting the heart of the problem. I’ve decided to be straight forward with everyone now that I’m back home. — And, I’m realizing that I need to have that same candor with myself.
I’m breaking up with the girl who worries about what other people think of her. — Where she is in her life. — Her marital status, her veganism, her body, her life’s plan. I may be sleeping in the same room I was when I was 18, but, I am decidedly not that girl anymore. I’m a grown-ass woman. — I’m weathered and wise. Independent and inspired. I have my Portland-hippie roots grounding me, and, I’m not scared to set them down.
Breaking up with this part of myself is hard. But, it frees me up. It makes room for new love. — The adult kind. The kind that I was once so busy holding on to, I never had time to feel. — So, I say my goodbyes and I let her go…
And now, I stand here — ready to welcome whoever comes back for me.
My sweet, 14+ pound kitty and I had quite the traumatic flight. But, we survived, and we pulled up to my childhood home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn very much alive. I returned home to find that, despite the fatigue, stress, and moving-related nostalgia, I had been gifted an unusual and, somehow, special sense of place and peace upon my arrival. My cat, however — hid under my bed.
Just days later, my mother and I embarked on our epic cross-country journey BACK to Oregon. (We’re still on the road.) In Portland, we’ll be packing up the last of my things and saying final goodbyes to the people and places I have cherished for the past six years before driving back East. For good.
It’s a strange feeling. Moving — shuttling around. A friend of mine recently moved from Portland to Richmond, Virginia. We’ve been talking about the highs and lows of leaving one home behind for another. The excitement and the sadness. The stress and the satisfaction. One night, after expressing my mild panic about one thing or another, he sent me a text from the road: “The drive across country helped soften the change.”
I thought about his words. Digested them. That’s really what I’ve needed all along. — Something to soften things. All my things. — To make my places safe and comfortable. Graceful transitions have never been my forte.
But, in the car with my mother these past few days, between our laughter, obsessive podcast listening, eclectic music selections, and the obvious we’re-in-a-car-together-for-several-weeks frustrations…I’ve all but forgotten the sadness that my Portland-loss had brought. And, while there’s still packing to do and goodbyes to make, I think that confusing my sense of place has — softened things.
So, this week, and next, I celebrate. I celebrate myself. I celebrate my mother. And we celebrate our place — together and in the world. — Wherever that may be.
I learn that place will never define us. It cannot define us. It only builds and informs us — it transforms us. But, it is us who will do the defining. And, with each step I take away from, and back toward, Portland — I write myself. — My place. — I discover that I am my own home.
And, I allow myself to live — here — in my own heart.
And with that knowledge, I soften with every passing day.
As I pack, I find stories strewn about everywhere. Stacks of old papers. Pictures. Books. Dresses and socks. Keychains and candles. Molskines and mugs.
I can hardly breathe. — So, bear with me, there won’t be bonafide essays for a few weeks. Just travelogues. Notes on a transient life — which has spilled out in front of me like a bag of rice on the kitchen floor.
One thing is certain — we can tell who we were by the things we carry. Tim O’Brien once wrote a beautiful book that captured those feelings I’m only now beginning to understand.
What follows here are snapshots. Truly. There is so much more. Boxing up my life. Leaving this place I love. I sit with it. I look at it. All of it. I lay it all out on the cutting board. And, I cut away the pieces. Choosing the ones I will throw in my pot — and tossing the rest to the side.
I acknowledge these. These that were. These that shall remain.
His photos are all in one box. I put them there — years ago. A coffin at the top of a closet. The lid was covered with dust. We used to take photo-booth-photos everywhere we went. I still have all of them. The strip above was from our friend’s wedding. He loved me on that day — I remember — and I loved him back. We danced. We sat on cement steps with plates of food in our laps and we laughed. I have tried to throw everything of ours away before. No matter what I trash, I will forever keep this photo strip. Always. Because he was my first love. And, I will never love that way again. And this. — This is what that looked like.
My maternal grandmother died before I was born, but I’m told that we are a lot alike. My mother says that she was no-frills. That she said what she had to say when she felt like saying it. That she insisted on eating salad with every meal. — And, that she was a fox. People see my fair skin and know that I’m Irish. But, they forget that her Mediterranean blood courses through my veins too. In the Summer, my shoulders turn her Italian, olive brown.
I knew my grandfather well. And, I knew he loved her real bad. — Even years after she died. — He’s gone now too. But, every time I consider settling on some guy — I think about them. And, I know, there’s some dude out there who’s gonna love me, real bad, even when I’m dead. And, I’m waiting for him.
When I see the picture above, the one with my mother sitting in Grandma T’s lap, I think to myself — we all look alike. And, we’re beautiful. Three generations of beautiful. Theresa’s dead, but she sees me. — I’ve known that since I was a kid. It’s weird. — I keep her pictures in every room so she can watch me. So she knows — her daughter did a really good thing.
My dad is, and always will be, a strange bird. But, there’s no guy in the world who will ever love me more. Growing up, he used to listen to a lot of classical music. Opera, symphony, choral — all that stuff. He had bookcases full of classical recordings. One day, he was just over it. Suddenly — it was all Bob Dylan — all the time. He used to pick me up at play rehearsal in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and blast Blood On The Tracks like it had been released that day — every day. If we’re being honest, I’d rather not admit I know every track by heart — but, I do. My dad gives me Bob Dylan postcards and books. It’s like, he’s telling me — subliminally — if I get Bob, then, I’ll get him. That alone is enough to keep my interest. I don’t always acknowledge it, but, I love that my Dad is weird as fuck. Because, I am too. And, it’s nice not being so alone in my weirdness. He’ll watch an entire season of any HBO show I want — in 1-2 days. When I sold my complete series of OZ DVDs on Hawthorne yesterday, it kinda broke my heart. But, my Dad knows what’s up. He’s got HBO GO. And, I know, we’ll get back into it. And now, while we’re in the car — I get to pick the album. — I paid some dues getting through, Tangled Up In Blue.
My mom sends me a card for everything. They arrive so frequently, I forget how amazing they are. Now, I’m finding them everywhere. Sometimes, she’ll throw in some cash and tell me to grab a bite, or to do something nice for myself, or to buy the cat a treat. She wants me to be happy — always. In good, motherly fashion, she has always wanted me to have, feel, and be the best. I find her heart scribbled on tiny cards everywhere. Maybe she doesn’t know — I save them all. When I was little, she emphasized the art and necessity of the “Thank You” card. — How it will “never go out of style to have class.” How, to appreciate people and things is important. It occurs to me as I pour over her notes — crying like a child, because it’s uncanny how she always knew exactly when I needed saving — that I should send her more cards. There is no one in my life more deserving of thanks and kindness. She deserves nothing less than 100%class. And, there’s no one who needs more reminding to do kind things for herself. Someone needs to give her permission to feel good. Maybe that person is me.
The card above was sent to me at Christmastime — the year that my heart was first brutally slaughtered. Whenever I come across this note — I’m reminded of who I’m supposed to be. And, that’s a woman who’s a lot like my Mom. — Gracious, brave, strong, and impossibly classy.
5. Me, Myself & Eye
I took this photo yesterday in my kitchen.
I wanted to share a vulnerable moment with you this week because, well, that’s how I’m feeling. I wanted to show you the vulnerability. But, I don’t have to. I’ve been showing you for months and months. These things I’m packing up aren’t me. They’re my archives. All this crap I’m putting into bags and boxes — those aren’t the moments — they’re the evidence. Proof. My tears are like that too. All that outside stuff.
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.
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.
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