Getaway to the Bay

And suddenly, I was standing in the subtle breeze of the San Franciscan morning, snug in the arms of California once again. The air around me seemed filtered, of a higher quality somehow; and though I had been flying for five hours on three hours’ sleep after the most arduous day I’ve had in a while, everything around me was brighter than it should have been. My eyes were a lighter shade of blue. Everyone was beautiful. The wind was cooling me, refreshing my insides, diffusing the squalor of airport terminals and recycled air to which my body had become accustomed. It was like LA, but better.

My sister Emily appeared through the scattered scramble of people waiting to be picked up at the curb and my eyes adjusted to her presence; I had been scanning the cluster of oncoming cars to find the milk-chocolate Jetta that belongs to her husband Mason, whom I had never previously met but felt like I’d known for years because of both the magic of social media and the fact that Emily just knows how to pick quality people. And yet, she had gotten out of the car to get me, she was hugging me, she was taking my small black-and-cream Chinese Samsonite knockoff. All these gestures–insignificant to some–fused together as one act, one sentiment. After the loneliness and isolation I found in Europe, after going weeks speaking only to waiters and shopkeepers, after flying clear across the world, someone was here to pick me up, here to hug me, helping me with my bag like it was the most normal thing in the world. And really, it is. But to me, at that specific moment, it felt like I’d won the lottery.

It had only been about three weeks since I saw Emily, who moved out to the Bay Area after Mason had received orders to Travis AFB, but it felt like three years. I was so shaken from the hurricane–with its violent storms and calm, serene eye–of the two weeks prior that I fully felt like a different person. The woman that sent her off not even a month before with a bucket of Pomegranate San Pellegrino cans and sunflower seeds (her timeless favorite food) for the long drive from Alabama to California wasn’t the same woman she was fetching from the airport. And yet, no one could really grasp that but me and as we walked toward the car (known henceforth as Loretta the Jetta), I felt the weight of everything, yet again, because it was truly over. I was in San Francisco. I was on the other side of the world. Not only had I gotten through one of the strangest and most soul-revealing times of my life, but it never ceases to amaze me (regardless of how many Skymiles I accrue or in which Delta Medallion tier I find myself) that one time in my life, I was just a daydreamer out in the countryside of Alabama, thinking maybe one day, if all the stars align just right and in a stroke of dumb luck, I would like to travel the world. But then, I would think, reality setting in, that I can’t possibly do that. Traveling is for rich people, for privileged people, for people who have more of a footing in this world. For people who aren’t me. And yet…there I was. Standing on the curb of SFO, fresh off the plane from ATL after having an unexpected tidal wave of an adventure in Europe, including but not limited to: spending the night in a German airport, feeling my way through Portugal on my feet, jumping off cliffs in Croatia. I felt myself, silently, secretly solidifying into the adult I always hoped–eyes dreamy and sky-turned–I would one day build myself to be.

Mason hopped out of the Loretta the Jetta and gave me a hug, exclaiming, “I FINALLY GET TO MEET MY SISTER!” I played it off casually (I hope), hugging him back and saying how awesome it was to be in San Fran, but inside, I was exploding with happiness. This is what I needed: family. Familiarity. People who give a shit about me.

We made our way through the traffic of midafternoon across congested highways and I made the acquaintance of Tyler, posted up in the backseat. I’d seen him in the various snapchats I’d received from Emily and Mason during their cross-country drive; he was Mason’s friend that they brought out to California for an adventure. The five of us jammed to Mason’s spotify account that could have doubled as a gay bar playlist and headed to The Mission, where we decided to eat at a place called Gracias Madre based solely on its name. Getting there and looking over the menu, we discovered (to my delight) that it was all vegan cuisine! Colorful dishes replete with flavor were consumed and after the meal, I was the only one at the table who wanted dessert (because I am fat), and Mason ordered two vegan cheesecake slices so that I didn’t have to eat dessert alone. That’s quality brothering, right there.

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I think it’s time to note that my sister and Mason are gay. Both of them. They are legally married, and that’s their business. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve got more family that loves me because of my sister’s atypical home life, and I’m totally fine with that. I love Mason and I love Breanna, her girlfriend. Emily has given me both a brother and a sister, and they are both amazing. So if this bothers you as a reader in any way, just go ahead and click this tab closed on your browser, because I love my unconventional family, and there’s no room here for judgmental or hateful comments.

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love knows no gender.

love knows no gender.

 

I arranged for Breanna to fly in from her home in Staten Island the next day because I love her, and I love Emily, and I don’t want the distance between them to take its toll. The five of us were all squeezed into Emily and Mason’s two-bedroom apartment in Vacaville, two to a bedroom and me on the balcony. In true military fashion, their household goods shipment was delayed, so we were eating on floors and sleeping on air mattresses, utilizing my suitcases as makeshift tables for journaling and laptop use. It was reminiscent of the quintessential “first apartment” painted with high hopes and optimism–the feeling of starting anew and on your own seeping through the walls–despite us all having long surpassed that actual first apartment in our lives. It just had that feeling, that wonderful air of independence and the start of something really, really good.

Saturday, 23 August was Tyler’s twenty-first birthday and around 11pm on 22 August, the guys and I found ourselves on the bright birch of the hardwood floor in the living room feasting on a spread of guacamole with tortilla chips and peanut butter (straight spoon-in-the-jar style) washed down with a most delicious red blend whose label initially drew me in and whose vivacity sealed the deal: Headsnapper. Just before midnight, Mason and I fashioned a mini birthday cake out of a frozen Reese’s peanut butter cup topped with a dollop of peanut butter and two little shavings of salted caramel coconut strips. Taking note of it all now, it seems lackluster, ho-hum perhaps to the casual observer, but under the wine-soaked watercolors of how it actually played out, we had a lot of fun. We laughed. We toasted. We took shots at midnight. We celebrated Tyler and adulthood as a whole: the fact that we came from different places and all lived different lives and yet, we were there–in a near-empty apartment in Vacaville, CA that made us look more like clandestine squatters than people waiting on Uncle Sam to deliver the furniture–chasing vodka with spoonfuls of peanut butter on a windy summer night. We are all on different paths in life, but in the moment, we were intersecting in each others’ lives, forming memories out of variables that, in the sober light of day, may seem random and aimless in their importance but to us, then, as our giggles rang out against the empty rooms of the apartment, they meant the world.

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In the morning, we all came to life at different times, emerging from our holes in the apartment like robots booting up; slowly at first, feeble in our fatigue then in a snap of good company, we all became animated and ready to tackle the day. The five of us piled into Loretta the Jetta and took to the city, playing tourists for the day so that Breanna and I could see the Golden Gate Bridge and get our obligatory photos. The roads whipped and winded up to the viewing point; inundated with people just trying to get that perfect shot where the wind and the light and the shadows all align, but Mason managed to drive us far enough out that when we parked on the side of the cliffs overlooking the Bay and the Bridge and all the majesty in between, it felt like we were the only people in the world. Like everyone was simply gone, and San Francisco was ours, bequeathed to us from the Golden Goddess of California herself.

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The wind whipped through our hair and we finally, after a while, retreated back to Loretta, scenery-saturated and craving city-center chicanery. We headed back to The Mission where I had it on good authority that there was a rooftop bar with “Tyler’s 21st Birthday” written all over it. And I was not wrong.

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Although, of course, nothing worth having in life isn’t without a hefty side-dish of patience…so rather than pile up in the standing-room-only zoo of the bar, we waited about 45 minutes for a table where we could sit down and eat a meal overlooking the lights and the spirit of the San Franciscan Saturday like the classy bunch that we are. Emily and Breanna spent the waiting period gallivanting down Mission Street, popping into the sketchy family-owned stores and the guys and I headed next door to a dark-and-stormy, enigmatic-looking bar called Laszlo. I bought a round of drinks that were orange in color and a deep, vibrant red in potency. You know, to get the night started.

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Time passed and so did we; the rest of the dwindling twilight seemed to transpire in fast-forward motion. We did everything faster as another pitcher of sangria was ordered, we spoke in falsetto, cartoonish tones as tapas were scarfed down with a tenacity that suggested that we, perhaps, hadn’t eaten in weeks. And after all the plates were cleaned and the cups were emptied, after the sky faded from teal to turquoise to twilight before our eyes and then inevitably evolved to a rich violet that finally died and deteriorated into black licorice above our heads, after we paid and tipped, we slinked off to the most typical place we, as a unit, possibly could.

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The Castro District was alive with color and clamor, with laughter and lipliner, with knavery and neon. We, as a pack, crossed the street and a plaid-shirted, short-shorts-wearing guy with hair coiffed to perfection looked at me and exclaimed, “GORL!” A few moments later, some guy wading through his public drunkenness gave me a hug outside of some top-rated bar on Yelp and said, “Oh honey, don’t go there.” I asked him where I should go and he recommended Beaux, a bar down the street that, unlike seemingly all the bars in The Castro, accepted credit cards. Mason and I–birds of a feather–were sold. I asked the guy his name and he replied, breathily, “Kevin. And I’ll be down at Beaux in 20. I’ll see you there,” and as quickly and randomly as he materialized in our midst on the sidewalk, Kevin was off down the street in the opposite direction. (Spoiler alert: we never saw Kevin again.)

Beaux was everything you see in movies when it comes to gay bars: loud, flashy, and one thousand percent fabulous. We paid the five dollar cover charge to a guy wearing chaps and got our hands stamped, then headed into the laughing, swinging, mischievous belly of the beast that was Beaux. Through the crowd glimmering with glow sticks, there was a near-naked man dancing for dollars on an illuminated cube, fierce dance mixes of already upbeat songs we stretched our time, and the next thing I remember was Emily handing me my credit card and sternly yelling in my ear (whether she was frustrated in her sobriety at having to take home a gaggle of drunken slobs or just trying to get through to me over the roar of the party, I am still unsure) that she closed my tab and it was time to go.

The car ride home was strange and haunting, and most definitely not my finest hour. Every drop of alcohol I had consumed swirled together and began to conspire against my body as it simultaneously ate away at my mind, chewing bit after bit of my rationale in real time. I regained some mental clarity in the shower when, as I came to recognize the massage of the hot water against my back and appreciate its consistency, Emily bolted into the bathroom and, with the tone of a tired mother whose three boisterous children won’t go to bed, barked, “The air mattress is waiting for you and I got clothes from your suitcase. Get out and get dressed, then go to sleep. Now! I want results!”

Intimidated and feeling like I was back in boot camp, I did what I was told. The next thing that my brain processed as truth was the way the light–once my friend that signified the unfailing optimism of the California sun–came crawling in through the window like a swarm of locusts to smother me with the pain of the dreaded Morning After. My head felt in equal parts like a bowling ball, hard and oversized and heavier than it should, and a peeled grape, vulnerable and easily squished in the harshness of the outside world. My body felt brined-soaked and sun-dried, brittle and creaky in its paltry movements.

And apparently, as my body succumbed to the scathing depths of hungover hell, there had been an earthquake. That was what I gleaned, anyway, from the explosion of text messages that sat idly on my phone, waiting to be read with bleary eyes and a confused disposition. I made coffee, putting my phone on the floor next to my air mattress and waving a flippant hand at it, as if that would somehow auto-respond to everyone. Just as the first few sips of the deep and bitter caffeine passed through me like electricity pulsing through cables deadened by the elements, Mason appeared. “Did you know there was an earthquake?”

“I found out…but I didn’t feel it. Did you?”

“No. But I was just as messed up as you last night.”

“Dear God,” I said, swigging the coffee in shame.

Tyler shuffled out before long and the three of us made the executive decision that a deluxe Sunday brunch was in order. We left Emily and Breanna to themselves in the apartment and made our way to an adorable little diner off the highway in Vacaville that illustrated the splendor of Americana in a way that Norman Rockwell himself couldn’t have painted better. The building was old and its sign, facing the oncoming blur of cars on the highway like a stately old butler ready to welcome you inside, was a pallid version of what it once was after years under the unfailing California sun.

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On the inside, waitresses ranging from the tail ends of childbearing years all the way to blue-haired old ladies with voices raspy from decades of nicotine laid our silverware and took orders on the classic indigo and teal notepads that are mainly just utilized in today’s modern world by Chinese restaurants who didn’t get the memo that we’ve moved past that tired old notepad. The décor hinted at more of a Southeastern eatery awash in down-home charm than a San Franciscan brunch spot as the walls were lined with kitschy pictures of chickens and steaming coffee cups, cementing this place as the kind of establishment that Waffle House aspires to be. The coffee is black and the food is greasy. It was perfect.

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hangover helper.

They didn’t have any vegan meal options on the menu, but I was able to assemble a hangover helper brunch of champions from their selection of sides: unbuttered toast, avocado slices, their signature potatoes (which were, come to find out, fries in the shape of medallions, which totally changed the game on fried potatoes forever for me) and, eyeing the menu with a lust to feel human again at whatever cost, a full plate of sweet potato fries. Make no mistake, I ate it all, but it was a struggle. Afterward, I wanted more than anything to just lay down and die.

So of course, we went to the outlets instead. The sun had never been brighter or hotter. My clothes had never felt so restricting as they awkwardly clawed onto my body. My feet felt like rubber and my eyebrows hurt. Yes, my eyebrows. And yet, somehow, I made it through the day to the sweet and subtle breeze of evening, when we all ate on the balcony as a family, sipping wine and San Pellegrino and taking in the fact that we were adults who were brought together and we were free in our wild whims and ways to do whatever we wanted. It was a dinner among family and it was a dinner among friends. It was something that my soul, crushed lately by the cruelty of others, needed.

I had dragged the air mattress outside the night before, sleeping under the stars and slumbering soundly when the wind picked up like an industrial-grade oscillating fan, Mother Nature mimicking the manmade. Early the next morning, Mason and I were up with the sun and running through the wild winds. He did two miles, I did seven. A shower, a wardrobe change, a banana and a water chug later, we were pointing Loretta toward the slatted and sliced greenery as far as the eye can see of Wine Country. I perused google for a place to sample wines on the way and wound up with a facility that landed itself on many a Napa Must-See list: Castello di Amorosa. It was a winery housed inside a Tuscan-inspired castle that, from every stone right down to the rustic, aged door hinges, was built from materials imported from Europe.

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The castle itself was built in California only a stone’s throw into the past, but the Old World charm it exuded was genuine, soaked in Italian authenticity. We took a sixty minute tour of the ins and outs of the castle, the drafty cellars that housed barrels upon barrels of local wines, and then finally, later on, we were led to a tasting bar where we were given a menu and the chance to try any six wines we wanted. The basic tour and tasting included a five-sample setup, and only for their basic wines. But it’s me, so at the time of ticket purchase, I opted for the Reserve Tour, because Mason and I are too uppity for our own good sometimes. For ten extra dollars, we got an extra sample and the chance to select from all the wines the Castello had to offer. As presumed, we selected exclusively from the Reserve Wines list and chose the most expensive wine on the menu (clocking in at $90 per bottle and close to a grand per case and tasting more like the way a honeysuckle smells than fermented grapes), because Mason and I are too uppity for our own good.

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After a few more grape juice flights, we headed back for the hills of Vacaville where, after a few minutes in the solitude of the apartment, we made our way to San Fran just as the world around us was fading into a summertime dream of lemon and ginger, the early evening taking hold and casting blond shadows across our faces as we drove. It was a Monday evening and the atmosphere was branching out into rusty oranges juxtaposed next to the sapphires of the sky post-sunset. Mason drove me to the marina at Treasure Island, one of the best vantage points of San Francisco and the next-door neighbor to a Coast Guard base. As I got out of Loretta, drawn to the sweet lapping of the waves of the bay on the rocks in front of me, I couldn’t help but play “what if” in my head. What if I had gotten this unit instead? What if I had been assigned a completely different billet, what if instead of all the things that happened in the frigidity of Boston–in the air so cold that your ears feel like they’ve been axed clean off the side of your head and in the gulf of disconnect between the people whose attitudes override any sort of compassion–I drifted out here instead? I could see myself smiling, I could see myself taking pride in my job; I could see the little card that said, “This is the start of something GREAT!” that my dad hid in the pocket of my dress uniform when he pressed it the day after I graduated from boot camp actually coming together as truth (instead of what it actually was: just a jading reminder in the kitchen drawer of unfailing optimism being struck down by the blunt force trauma of reality). I stood there, at the edge of the bay, watching the sunlight glint off the rich blue of the water and imagined this elaborate other life; the life I could have lived. With a twinge of bittersweet melancholy, the thought occurred to me that I might still be married. It might have worked if we weren’t subjected to freeze and then thaw ourselves out in attempt to save it…only to be frozen over again in the social tundra that is New England.

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What if, really? I realized, definitively, that I would have been so much more of a person. So much better of a person. I wouldn’t be what I’ve become after Boston. I wouldn’t be so x, I would be so much more y. But, I conceded as I slowly and methodically took a panoramic shot of my surroundings, the city and the sun and the bridge and the bay, that isn’t what happened. I got Boston and I got all the horrible things that living there at that time entailed. I can’t change it. It’s a part of me now, all of it, and I just have to find a way to make it all fit into some box that I can toss in the closet of my mind. And who’s to say, really, that I wouldn’t have faced some of the same things at another unit? Or that here, my mind would simply drop to the point where I would cease to feel that there’s just more out there; more to learn, more to be explained, more to split me open and fill me with new perspective? No one can say, I ended the conversation with myself as Mason and I walked back to Loretta to hit the city.

The stage lights on the world went down as we walked through the Financial District, familiarizing ourselves on foot with the dazzle of the city in which we were both quickly finding ourselves enamored. There was a bar on Yelp that boasted panoramic rooftop views (by now, everyone should be up to speed on my penchant for rooftop bars as I love both drinking and looking down on people) along the waterfront promenade, but we weren’t even able to get a foot in the door to check in for the reservation I’d hastily booked via Opentable on the way over, so we cut our losses and called it a night, especially once we saw that the “panoramic rooftop” was no higher than two stories. We walked and talked along the promenade, both stopping to snap the perfect shot of when the lights along the Bay Bridge danced just right or the angle of the illuminated structure became even more photogenic than it was fifty feet into the past.

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Bay Bridge On Blurpose.

Finally, after a stroll and a solidifying feeling in my soul that Mason truly was part of my family, we headed back to the homestead of Vacaville where we joined Emily and Breanna in a first-look family screening of Beyoncé’s performance at the VMAs the day before (that we neglected to watch because we don’t live our lives around a plastic light box on a shelf). I retreated afterward to my balcony bed, beckoning me through the whispers of the wind, and fell into a sleep fueled by mental exhaustion and the burden of truth that in 24 hours’ time, I would be back in the sweltering, sticky South.

When I landed in New Orleans, I got off the plane last. I didn’t want it to end. It didn’t seem over yet. I had flown straight from Europe to California, stopping only for the planes to catch their breath. I hadn’t been home, or the place where all my things are currently stored, rather. The last time I saw the place that I categorize (loosely, of course) as my “residence,” I was starry-eyed and assuming, setting out for some cookie-cutter Eurotrip and getting instead a lesson on the human race and its potential for cruelty on which you can’t put a price. There was a sliver of innocence to me, a naïveté that I didn’t know I had in the wake of believing I was some big, bad wolf in the world. And now, in New Orleans, I was dilly-dallying with my carry-on bag. I was taking longer than necessary in the bathroom, fixing my hair for no one in particular as it was after 22:00 on a muggy Tuesday and I was headed to an empty apartment in another state. I finally made my way out of the terminal behind the pilots and through the secure area to the open-to-all lobby that was, at this time of night, deserted save for an older couple who came to pick up some girl who was immediately enveloped in a hug by the man. I kept walking, more fascinated by the fact that a ghost of myself from less than a month prior was standing across the lobby, beaming with subtle elation at the fact that I was, finally, after all these years, going to the storied and slightly taboo Frankfurt. That girl across the lobby naught but three weeks in the past was so sure of herself, too happy to realize that she would soon have it drilled into her head the hard way that Sartre’s words are more than a little Easter egg of random knowledge to casually slip into conversation to seem more intelligent: they are real, they are true, and they can crush you to pieces if you’re not careful.

After paying my respects to who I was the last time my feet walked these floors, I grabbed my bags from the whirring carousel and walked out into the black claws of the humid, New Orleans night.

Homelessness: A Journey

This morning, while registering with the AFAR app, I was faced with a question that I found impossible to answer.

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I’m currently holed up in my father’s Hattiesburg, MS apartment. Save for a candle I’ve been burning on the coffee table, the place still smells like the beige paint applied to the walls, like the fresh cut of the wooden cabinets, like cleaning products. He’s lived here less than six months after taking a promotion and leaving behind the place where I grew up; his tiny and quaint apartment in Alabama with a twentieth-century charm that’s a rarity around these parts. The bathroom had a vintage black and white tile scheme reminiscent of the 1920s and the bathtub was actual porcelain. The hardwoord floors–the same floors that held my footprints through years and stages and phases of my life–were beginning to buckle under the stress of eighteen years of watching children and adults grow. The walls were smoke-stained from my father’s (now rectified) propensity to light up. And yet, here I am, in this minimalist, crisp apartment with its amenities and its convenience; a far cry from the captivating little apartment hidden in Mobile: that charming flat that, with its paint-chipped windowsills and baseboards, felt more like a home to me than the actual houses–cold and unfeeling–where I lived with my mother when I wasn’t on my every-other-weekend retreat designed by the divorce courts of Alabama to somehow “enrich” and “stabilize” a child’s life.

I’m only here in Hattiesburg for one more day. Sure, it’s where I receive my mail. It’s where the United States Coast Guard and the Veteran’s Administration places me on a map. It’s where the home-library I began to collect once I made the foray into adulthood resides, waiting for me to return. And yet, Hattiesburg is just a checkmark, really. It’s a vapid answer to a question whose intentions are usually rooted in something just as transparent. If I list my home in Hattiesburg, it’s always for some sort of document, some strip of red tape. It’s not really my home, it’s just the big red pin on a map that satisfies the digital field I’ve got to complete, or the long, lonely blank on an intake form somewhere. It’s a location, it’s a coordinate, it’s a physical building with running water and a couch and food in the fridge.

And yet, home is more than just some position on a globe.

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I’ve been mentally wrestling with the definition of HOME since I separated from my ex-husband in March. My entire life has been spent with a very solid idea of what it means it be both at home and the place where one originates. My home was my apartment in Massachusetts, dressed to the nines in little bits of décor collected through the years, painted in colors that revitalized me every day, little trinkets of significance stashed in various places to remind myself that this was a place I created. A little over a week ago, I was sitting on a couch in that apartment, my art and knickknacks and books still displayed prominently in wait for the government-hired movers to pack it all up and take it away. Mail that needed to be shredded was piling up on the kitchen counter. The little chalkboard key holder next to the front door still retained remnants of a message I wrote to myself in the midst of smudged chalk from notes past.

And now, it’s just a memory.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Currently, I’m sleeping in a spare room of a place that neither my father nor I consider familiar. In a week’s time, I’ll be in Paris…but not before breathing in the air of New Orleans, of Atlanta, of Frankfurt. And after Paris, it’s Porto. And then, only time and fate will tell where I’ll find myself.

The subject of HOME seems to be on repeat in my mind, coming up in seemingly every conversation I have. From the skeptical, “You ain’t from here, are ya?” slur of a Southerner to the uptight and shrill accusations of down-home hillbilly origins, the last four years of my life–the years I’ve spent living outside of the box in which I was raised–have been leading me to redefine what I always knew to be true of the word and all it encompasses.

What is home? Is it a place? Is it a feeling? Is it a person? Is it my mind?

Sitting in a vegan café on the Fourth of July with excellent drinks and even better friends, I began to wax poetic about the personal meaning of home, or lack thereof. I began to feel a sort of lightness, a tingling on my skin that seemed like I had cracked the backbone on an unsolvable riddle. I felt like life was less of an enigma, and that home isn’t just the place where you reside or the letters on a birth certificate, but a place where everything seems right. A place where it all fits, where the grooves of your soul click together in tandem with the world around you.

Driving down from one place I once called home to another in the wake of my discharge from the USCG, my sister and I began to bounce ideas back and forth on what it means to be home. The RAC remix of “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros was playing beneath the baritone of our voices, setting the scene for a heart-to-heart between the two of us that would have made our past selves, entrenched in constant bickering, recoil in horror. “Home is everything inside you,” she said wistfully as we crossed the Staten Island bridge. “Home is everything you already have.” For a 21-year-old, she struck me as incredibly wise at that point. And then, of course, I remembered myself at 21, and gave the world around me a sly smile for setting such a pretentious, smart-ass example.

Speaking face-to-face through the wires and waves of the world wide web to people whom I knew previously only through the opaque walls of Instagram and iMessage, we drifted toward the subject of home. “You don’t seem like a typical American,” one of my new friends said, and it was flattering. I smiled and replied that I’ve worked very hard to create a first impression that is not of where I was raised, and that America’s never felt like my home anyway. I went on to say that I’m still not sure where I am completely at home, or what home actually means to me. In the places I’ve lived and loved in the United States, home has seemed more like the satisfaction of a red tape requirement than a feeling of belonging, I explained. “I’m still searching for that place, that idea, that feeling,” I told my new friends, who seemed to just get it.

In a world of vapid soullessness, of people getting up to go a job they despise in order to pay installments on a loan they acquired for something they thought they needed–something they thought would make them happy–in a world of “if I do x then I will feel y“…it was heartwarming to share a real conversation with real people who saw me in a real way, not just some façade of American contentment finger-painted on my face.

What does home mean to others? What words, what feelings, what memories are conjured up when someone really stops to think about it? I took to my snapchat feed and posed the question via a video: What does home mean to you? What do you think about when you are asked to define “home”?

The results were exhilarating and stirring.

Most of my snapchat friends mirrored my method of messaging, opting to send me a video of them speaking, their voices curving out the words and their faces displaying micro-emotions that they themselves were probably unaware were present. The responses were basked in Saturday morning comfort: women were fresh-faced and glasses trumped contact lenses, pajamas were prevalent and there was an air of raw honesty to each message that is so rare in this day and age of technological overload.

Home is, according to the data collected by my snapchat survey, a place of comfort. It’s a physical place where one can go in which pants are not required. It’s a place of connection, a place of family, a place of passion. It’s the place you share with the one you love. It’s a place where your creativity flourishes. It’s a place where you feel–undoubtedly and unabashedly–you. It’s a state of mind in which you can do whatever you really and truly desire. It’s the eyes, the words, the soul of a person in which you get lost. It’s that special place where you can breathe in the air and know that despite all the negative aspects of our world, in the face of any hardship or adversity, it’s the location or the feeling or the person that can make life worth living.

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I am still searching for it. I’m currently sitting in a sea of clean laundry splayed out around me, waiting to be rolled to maximum tightness and stuffed into a suitcase. I’m clicking a little star on a gold iPhone to save a location across the globe, adding it to a digital itinerary that I’ll more than likely ignore once I’m actually there, soaking in the panache of the place and the presence of the people with whom I’m sharing it. I’m on this mission to find where I truly fit, where all the pieces lock and click into place, where I was made to exist.

Maybe I’ll find it this time. Maybe I’ll walk onto some foreign soil and sigh with relief that yes, I’ve finally found the place where I am, undeniably, at home. Maybe a person will walk into my life and change it forever. Maybe I’ll be able to say, without a doubt, that I belong.

IMG_0080 But until then, here’s to homelessness. The journey is probably the destination on this one.

 

My Californians


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“You begin to come back so often that eventually, you just stop leaving,” my good friend, Eric, told me last Friday as the two of us plus Jazzy waxed poetic about life and its ability to turn on a dime in the blink of an eye. He brought his pint glass of beer–amber and fizzy, sweating as much as can be expected in the pocket of paradise where we were geographically located–to his forest of beard and sipped, allowing me to take advantage of the pause and digest the absolute truth in what he’d said. The three of us were drinking at an outdoor café in Culver City on the Fourth of July, picking up right where we’d left off when I made my way out to the West Coast five weeks earlier. The sensation of having friends–people who actually want to see my face and interact with me–was chilling in the nicest of ways; it’s something that’s so scarce to me in the East Coast town I’ve been forced for the better part of the last four years to call home. In Boston, no one wants to make an effort; there’s always too much traffic on 93 or too much snow or the humidity will ruin your hair.

Eric was speaking, of course, about Southern California.

There’s something in the air here; a whisper of whimsy that I haven’t been able to pin down anywhere else in the world that I’ve traveled. There’s something about the rawness of Dan Auerbach’s strumming in my ears juxtaposed to the killer sunlight singeing the pavement beneath my feet. There’s something about the carefree lifestyle here, about breezy hair and no shoes, about saying “No Worries” and meaning it.

I wasn’t supposed to be here now. I was supposed to be sitting in a swirl of Bostonian blasé with my hair pulled back, waiting for the rest of my life to happen. And yet, in the span of time it took to send an email, everything was different for me. I didn’t even have to finish out the week; I was simply…done. The world had opened up. I was free to go and see and do and love.

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Painted nails: a luxury so minute, so taken for granted, yet so sweet.

And then, of course, I headed out West with my headphones on.

My Airbnb host had mirrors outside for optimal selfie-taking. She gets me.

My Airbnb host had mirrors outside for optimal selfie-taking. She gets me.

I came out to Cali this time riding the coattails of something that I thought could be great; an opportunity for a kind of happiness I haven’t had the pleasure of knowing in a while. And yet, as life is so inclined to do, I was swiftly informed by the universe that that on which I had set my sights was not to come to fruition, and that, my friends, is a shitty feeling. In my constant crusade for eloquence, in all my years of leisurely dictionary-reading…I can safely say that “shitty” is the best and only way to describe the taste left in my mouth when I was faced with Plan A not working out. I gave myself a day, I allowed myself to feel, unabashedly, what my spirit was simmering, I allowed my soul to sing whatever kind of song it wanted. I can sit here, iron-faced and pretend that negative emotions aren’t a thing, but when you’re happy, you never feel that way. When you’re on a high of elation, you never stop to think, Oh, I shouldn’t be feeling this…it’s pathetic. And so I gave myself the day to process the pain of rejection…and then in true Sarah fashion, I blasted “Clarity” by John Mayer, donned a slick pair of shades and got over it.

by the time i recognize this moment, this moment will be gone.

and i will pay no mind, worried ’bout no rainy weather

Genuine shitty feeling notwithstanding, SoCal is still my favorite place in the country. I have more friends here than anywhere else, and they all think I’m the bee’s knees. It almost doesn’t feel real to me how connected I am to these people, to My Californians.  And yet, I am. And I’m not refuting it. My friends here have shown me a different side to the humanity I once perceived to be all conniving, all evil and only looking for personal gain: I’ve been shown that in a short time, with a few shared interests, people can interact together. People can laugh. People can make jokes about the dumbest topics and not even care. To say that my little circle of friends out here in LA have enriched my life is a grave understatement; this fierce, people-despising introvert feels revitalized every time she’s around Her Californians. And here in the past year I had made the assumption that all people are terrible and allowed the sun to set on my world. Oh, how wrong I was.

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There was food, there was alcohol, but more than anything else, there was an authentic sense of camaraderie. In this world of fake friendships, of hurting others to get ahead in life, of vapid, soulless existing…this is the stuff.

 

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Independence Day

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The song in the car reminds me of you
As the wind whips through my hair
It should evoke a nostalgia so blue
Yet I’ve chosen not to care

Because I really like this song
With its beat so airy and light
Fitting the moment, nothing is wrong
As I speed through the LA night

Going back to my house, where I’ll have some wine
Create a page or five
The stars are out, the weather’s fine
To me, this is being alive.

Planning trips around the globe with a face I haven’t seen
Since I was scarcely more than a girl
No more than a blubbering, lovelorn teen
Eight years later, we’re traveling the world

I didn’t think life could feel this way
So breezy, so carefree
All I had to do was wait in the grey
Until I could live my life for me

And what a lovely existence it is
For the power to be in my hands
To float from one place to another like this
My life blooming in spontaneous plans

I am my life’s captain, I’m steering this ship
As colors explode through the sky
Never have I felt so confident, so equipped
As I did on that Fourth of July.

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Life is People

I was summoned awake on Memorial Day at 6:30A by my absolute need for food. It felt like I hadn’t eaten in days and my stomach was just folding in and eating itself. The emptiness roused me from my slumber and led me to throw on last night’s attire for a walk of shame of sorts (although, in the immortal words of the great Liz Lemon, “It’s not a walk of shame, it’s a stride of pride.”) down to the Potholder Café for what I read on yelp would be a most enjoyable breakfast. 20140529-033834-13114497.jpg

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I was not disappointed. Two black coffees, a water, and a double order of mimosas from a goblet plus a vegan burrito plate later, I was walking home to the bed where I planned to crash once again; this meal only serving as an interlude in my sleep schedule for the day. I was that sort of lightly intoxicated where everything is beautiful and the possibilities are endless; the world is spinning and you swear you can feel it turn and hurtle through space around the brilliant sun as you stand there and wait for the walk signal.

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Once I got to my apartment, I fell into the bed and let the hours pass. Not an hour into my nap time and I was already texting Jazzy about the lunch plans we’d loosely formed over margaritas and in between guac bites the night before (the fact that we were coherent enough to make a plan as we inhaled guac shows some serious mental multitasking skills, if you ask me).

After some light traffic and heavy parking confusion, we met for lunch and what proceeded to be one of the best days of my life. Nothing necessarily life-changing happened, the day simply had an “XO” by Beyoncé feel to it: sunny, smile-laden, and seamless. The afternoon was a swirl of copious amounts of alcohol and guacamole, top-notch conversation, four (not a light one or two, but actually four) vegan desserts at Real Food Daily, a new friend at the Apple Store, and capped off with a beach visit.

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Let me be your everlasting light

At dinner time, I finally met the famous Delfino, another one of my Californians that I’ve been following for years without ever actually meeting. We had more guacamole (no, we’ll never tire of it; our blood is made from 75% avocado and 25% tequila) and then took a walk. You know, for balance.

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We finally, around 9:00P, said our final goodbyes, our collective sense of responsibility rousing slowly, squinty-eyed from its holiday-weekend nap. All good things must come to an end, and this was the bittersweet death of the day. I made a pact through hugs that I’d be back in a couple of months, citing the fact that there’s more for me in SoCal than anywhere else in the world at this point.

I drove back home to Long Beach listening to John Mayer’s cover of “XO,” feeling the weight of everything that had happened over the four short days I spent in California. Mayer’s crooning infiltrated my soul (as if in the eleven years that he’s been my number one music man his voice never really did) and illuminated everything I felt: the nostalgia of days past, the hope of better times to come, and the solid, shining sensation that maybe, juuuuuust maybe…I’m not so alone in this world anymore.

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Sunday Funday in Southern California

The Californian chicanery was beginning to weigh on me by Sunday morning. The late nights, the strong drinks, the order after order of guac. It was all feeling like too much, like I had increased my (m)ass by at least ten pounds. I laced up the old Brooks and set out for Rainbow Harbor, the marina I had explored on foot the previous day.

In my neck of the woods, jaywalking is a giggle of an afterthought; a joke in the face of needing to get where you’re going right this instant. We North Easterners don’t have the time, the patience, or the personality to sit and wait for a little pixelated sign to tell us when we can and can’t walk. If it won’t kill us, we cross.

Not so in California. Not that I found out the hard way, I simply remembered that the frigid Northeast is a strange sort of Siberia where anything goes because the BPD are too busy to care about you crossing the street and killing yourself if there’s a car in the way (natural selection makes a comeback). Running in California was an entirely different beast. I was waiting for walk signals longer than it took me to traverse each city block. In a surreal way that I never thought could be a possibility, I missed the no-holds-barred, I-do-what-I-want attitude of Boston.

As for the run itself, it was incredible once I got down to the harbor, with its long stretch of boardwalk and no vehicular roadblocks. It felt like there were pillows or springs beneath my feet, like every step was a jaunt on a mini-trampoline. The clouds overhead married the smog and should have suffocated me, should have made me feel strangled by the gripping paws of the mugginess. And yet, I felt free. I felt like, as my father so eloquently put it once in describing his own relationship with running: like I was one with the universe and it was one with me. 20140528-231653-83813400.jpg
My West Coast adventure was not just an outlet for guacamole and liquor, but also a time for me to finally meet all the people that have helped me in greater ways than they can even fathom through all the pain and red tape that the past three years have piled on me. And there was also guacamole and liquor most of the time, which was optimal because hey, it’s California. I had plans in place to meet my good Instagram friend Lizette for the first time after my run, so I cleaned up a little just for her. I learned from Venice Beach the day prior that anything goes in LA, so I opted for a chambray on patterned shorts ensemble punctuated by some faux leather cowboy boots. This type of outfit only flies in Boston if you’re somebody, if you can muster the bravery and the nonchalance to break through the sea of ill-fitting Patriots tees and oversized Bruins jerseys that the Bostonians find so fashionable. In California, it was the status quo, and I greatly enjoyed that.

I met Lizette at a café in Long Beach on a crowded strip of shops and smiles and sunlight. I drove through rows of palm trees as my iPhone gave me directions and I played The Black Keys, remarking to myself that life at the point felt like a dream; a swirling concoction of my mind and all the movies I had ever seen. I was driving along streets that had been lodged in my brain back in my Alabama days, classic places that has always been here, just a plane ride away, gilded by popular culture and existing in the majesty of it all. Seeing Lizette for the first time was amazing, as I would always scroll through her Instagram feed and say to myself that surely, absolutely, she was just very photogenic. There is no way she’s actually that beautiful. And her kids? They have to be filtered to the nines. No people look that effortlessly gorgeous.

And yet, there they were in the café, the same faces I had seen on my phone screen for years. I came up to Lizette and gave her a huge hug, the hug of someone that’s been around for years. The hug of an old friend in a hard time. The hug of a bond that was forged through sheer personality and heart, not by circumstance. We ordered some green tea and promptly had girl talk for about an hour. There were no social hiccups, no awkward silences; just straight-up amazing conversation. And in a world where I’m constantly battling a feeling of loneliness, a lack of belonging…to say that was nice was an understatement.
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After our tea and talk, I bid Liz, Rob and Kaity adieu and then regrouped. I found a nearby Burger King and I strolled inside, shaking my head and thinking there’s a joke somewhere in there (so a vegan walks into Burger King…) and immediately located the restroom. I changed into the bikini that I had in my Herschel pack and, feeling guilty about my brazen use of a public restroom, approached the counter to buy some water. I wasn’t even noticed by the cashier or the manager for a cool two minutes and just as my guilt dissipated and I turned to leave in an act of unsaid defiance, I was finally asked in a monotone drag, “Can I take your order?”

I found myself back at Venice Beach. I sent Mike a text to see if he wanted to hang out again without a car catastrophe, and he positioned his ETA at about fifteen minutes. We hung out on the beach together for no longer than ten minutes before Jazzy texted me, almost on cue, to see if I wanted to scout out some guac and beverages. I got a feeling of intense, unadulterated inclusion at that point; a sense of kinship that I haven’t felt in all my years in Boston, and probably not in my entire life. I was someone that was considered. I was someone that, for once, was being sought instead of doing the seeking. And a lot of the time–mostly all the time–in the Frigid Northeast, I can only handle so much social interaction at once before I recoil into myself and need to recharge. And yet, here, I craved the connection. I wanted to be with people–my people–the people with whom I have forged such a strange and beautiful bond with sheer personality over the years.

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Mike and I made our way back to his house in Santa Monica so that we could stow the bike on which he rode to meet me and I could change out of my wet bikini. After hiring an Über (a Camry, much to Mike’s silent dismay), we met Jazzy and Eric at a sort of hole-in-the-wall place called Lares. Now, before insults are launched at me via the wires and waves of the World Wide Web, allow me to just throw it out there that anytime a restaurant is labeled hole-in-the-wall and still in business after three months, it’s earned the top tier of my palette’s respect. Hole-in-the-wall means down-home, authentic deliciousness. It means not needing to impress anyone with fancy adornments or cutting-edge decor. It means they do their food to the absolute best of their ability and other elements of the dining experience are of little importance. Also, this place had a literal hole in the wall, which is where we sat for our shindig.

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Three margaritas each, our laughter about the most basic of subjects reverberated out of our dining cave and through the restaurant, causing other patrons of the establishment to turn their heads to us in mild disgust, marking us the resident nuisances. As we placed order after order for more guac, more drinks, more fajitas, the contrast of our excitement only increased, brightened. At one point, we were laughing about the amount of tiny straws our table had accumulated. We giggled and guffawed about beards. About how Jazzy liked every song that was played. About how I have more friends in California than Massachusetts and Alabama combined. About life, spanning from one haphazard thought to the next. Finally, I belonged somewhere. Here, in a literal hole in the wall in a Mexican restaurant in Southern California on a breezy May night with three people that had only just physically met me, I was in the right place at the right time.

I sped home to Long Beach down the 405 with the windows down, air whipping through my beach-stained hair blasting “Sweet Disposition (RAC Remix)” on repeat and wondering how in the world I could swing my luck to hold onto that feeling. To make this my life. To never leave.

Saturday Shenanigans in SoCal

The next thing I knew, my phone was buzzing next to my face.

It wasn’t automatically apparent to me that I was getting a phone call; at first the sound infiltrated my dream, masquerading as some sort of mutant insect screaming and thrashing in droning monotony.

“Are you all right?” It was my father. “I haven’t heard from you all day. I got worried.”

“Yes, Dad, I’m fine,” I responded a slight bit incredulously, as I’m an adult just sleeping in on vacation. “And what do you mean by ‘all day?’ It’s morning. It’s like, 7AM.”

“Oh no, honey, it’s much later than that.”

The light streaming in through my window betrayed me, told a different tale than the truth. It was 1PM pacific standard time. I cursed myself for wasting a day in California sleeping and hurriedly got dressed. I took a shower, put on an assortment of garments that I felt would make me look sufficiently local, and I headed out the door.

There was a vegan eatery that I spotted the night before directly across from my apartment. Feeling the weight of the previous night’s capers, I donned my favorite pair of j.crew menswear shades and my classic “forget you” attitude (although, being so far away from the malevolence and malaise of Boston, I can’t say that sort of demeanor was warranted). The sky was the color of milk and the air hung stoically yet stalely like the smoke from a cigarette in a sealed room. By the time I waded into the door of the Ahimsa Café through a humidity I never knew existed so far westward, I was wondering to myself whether I was still in California or if I had somehow stepped into some invisible portal that transported me back to Alabama.

Ahimsa–with an atmosphere not unlike the episode of Mad Men when Harry visits Paul in the Hare Krishna center–really hit the spot, what with its laid-back ambiance juxtaposed next to the vibrantly-hued walls and falsetto serenading from the speakers overhead. 20140527-123312-45192450.jpg

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I went all out on my food consumption (as if that were a cutting-edge life procedure for me) since I’d slept through 2.5 mealtimes already and hey, it’s California. Appetizer plate of organic guac, Avocado Jalepeño “Cheese”burger with a side of salsa, and a ginger mint lemonade to cleanse the palette (because you really do need to cleanse in between two forms of the same food. Totally, you guys). The lemonade was almost shockingly refreshing. I knew it would be good, sure, but I’m not really a juice person. I’m not one of those vegans that clings to a bottle of wheatgrass and subsists purely on purées. (Actually, come to think of it…I’ve never even had wheatgrass. That’s not food in my mind, that’s lawn decor. Not all vegans are created equal.) And yet, I strayed away from my usual non-alcoholic mainline of water and just went for it due to the interesting flavor combination (and, let’s be honest, the subtle lingerings of a hangover). And really, wow. I should drink non-water things more often, because the marriage of mint, ginger, and lemon was insane. The burger and guac were, of course, fantastic as well. How could they not be? Way to go, Ahimsa.

After my feast, I just walked out the door and began looking around. The sky was still sulking, still sternly looking down on me with a surly disposition. I walked around to get a feel for Long Beach, to take in the sights and sounds and sensations. I know embarrassingly little of this side of the country, and California has always been romanticized to me; this glimmering land of fame and glamour and sunsets and The Black Keys. And really, my first 24 hours in LA didn’t necessarily betray that notion. I played “Fever” by The Black Keys as I walked through the LBC, hoping the beat would lend me some of its swagger and I could appear less like a tourist.

After stopping at It’s A Grind (a coffee shop with oversized chairs, portraits of important musicians, and a vibe that screamed SARAH that I swore I would revisit and never did) for an Americano, I set out again, determined to reach the water. I found my way to the Rainbow Harbor, which was underwhelming. At this point, I’m humiliated to say, I had never seen the Pacific Ocean. I was expecting a beach, and instead, stumbled upon a marina.
There were shops and restaurants along the marina’s boardwalk, and the Queen Mary was docked along the other side of the harbor. After sufficiently scoping out the scene, I headed back home. It was time to get in my car and drive to my next adventure.

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The sky cleared en route, the condescending clouds choosing to loiter somewhere else. I found myself at Venice Beach because, if I’m going to be happy anywhere in the world, it’s going to be called Venice. That was my reasoning, anyway. And man, did it definitely NOT disappoint.

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The feeling of the Pacific Ocean lapping over my feet, through my toes, sinking me into the sand and solidifying me with the surroundings was an otherworldy experience. I’ve seen other countries. I’ve tanned on foreign beaches. I’ve felt a misplacement that reaches farther into my soul than any love or heartache ever has. And yet, right there, alone with my feet in the water, I felt like someone had given me an oxygen mask. Like someone had shaken me awake. Like I had been given glasses that I never knew I needed. I felt like I had been reset, as if someone unfolded a paperclip or used an earring to poke a small opening in my back like some plastic toy, and that rebirth of sorts spread up and out and all through me. The sun was poking through the LA smog and shining down on the water. The waves wee lapping violently against the rocks. And I was, in that moment, complete.

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As soon as a valet parked my car in a tight spot across the street from the beach, he returned my keys to me. I sent an Instagram Direct message with a picture of my location to a good friend whom I had never met, Mike, and asked if he wanted to meet up for a drink. He texted me right away and told me he’d ride his bike over to the beach and be there in ten. I clipped my keys to my wallet and headed for the shore, for this glimmering blue monster that I knew, already, would give me a feeling of rejuvenation. As I stood there with my feet in the Pacific, I held my wallet in my hand. Once I felt sufficiently cleansed by the sun and the sea and the scenery, it occurred to me that something was missing. My steps felt off-kilter somehow, like I was missing a toe or walking with only one high heel. And yet, I couldn’t quite place the discrepancy…until I realized that I was only holding a wallet. Just as it began to hit me that the keys and an expensive fob were anywhere between the Venice Beach gaggle of weirdos on the boardwalk and swiftly being swept out to sea by the aggressive tide, I heard someone shout, “IS THIS REAL LIFE RIGHT NOW?!”

Mike found me by the water line and I gave him a huge bear hug. We were ecstatic to finally meet each other after our mutual insta-stalking for so many years. He was a one person to whom I turned when I made the overnight decision to transform myself from a bacon burger and cheese connoisseur to a vegan, and he was incredibly supportive.

“So, Mike, here’s the situation…” I began, coolly. I told him I lost the keys, and he was more concerned about the issue than I was. I wasn’t going to let some very replaceable pieces of plastic kill my vibe. I did have an ounce of responsibility, though, and called Enterprise to ask what needed to be done. I was informed that a two truck would be sent, and I would be given a new vehicle. Mike had suggested a rooftop bar (he was somehow already aware of my love affair with drinking outdoors and looking down on people), and I thought back to how packed my parking lot was with pedestrians and other cars just tryin’ to beach it. Enterprise LAX was open 24 hours, as was roadside assistance. My keys were gone, and they would continue to be gone. Mike and I made the executive decision to drink and forget about the small snag in our night until later. There was no use crying over spilled milk.

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I got a text from Jazzy and I told her about the key situation, to which she replied and asked if there was anything she could do to help. I told her to come drink and have a good time with me (because hey, it’s California). A few rounds later, she and Eric rolled up to the rooftop bar and the four of us drank until we got too hungry (which was approximately one drink later, as we’re a gaggle of endurance athletes).

We took an Über Prius to Café Gratitude and Mike let us in on his secret that he cancels his Über orders if they’re not a Prius. Jazzy countered that she usually requests SUVs. Eric and I tipsily laughed at the contrast.

Dinner and a drink later, it was about 11PM and we found ourselves at the deserted parking lot with my useless car. I called Enterprise, had them send a two truck, and the four of us waited under the stars and the smog and the singing wind for two hours. I kept imploring them to leave, under a sheath of guilt, but they refused. They are some choice people. We danced to Ricky Martin and Lou Bega because when it’s the middle of the night in LA after you’ve pretty much tossed your car keys into the ocean in a fit of spiritual awakening, what else could you possibly do?

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A homeless man approached us during our wait and asked for nine thousand dollars. We smiled and told him we didn’t have anything on us, to which he laughed at his own mastery of bantering that he would even think to ask for nine thousand dollars. We were polite, but not amused. As he walked away, he turned back to us, standing in a semicircle around my car, and said, “You know what? I had a thought. You don’t have cash, but there’s an ATM right there. You could get me some cash.” Jazzy stood closest to him, and she very sweetly replied that she never said we had cards. She reminded him that she told him specifically that we didn’t have anything. The homeless man’s face sunk into a scowl as he locked eyes with her for a good minute or so, the anger billowing up in his eyes. “Are you serious?” he asked in a quieter, more sinister tone.

“We lost the keys to our car. All our stuff is in there. We’re waiting on a tow truck to help us,” Jazzy continued, not even fazed by the slightly maniacal glint in his eyes.

He accepted this answer and stuck around to volley an unwilling conversation with us. He said his name was JR, except his real name is Casey Robert Brown, but the cops know that name, so he goes by JR. He was short and small, shorter than me and poverty-beaten. He joked that he needed a card reader for his begging. JR asked our names and we all gave fake identities except Mike. The stanzas of Annabel Lee were wafting through my head at the time, so that was my name. Annabel.

Casey Robert “JR” Brown went on to say that he and his dad came up with an addictive game called Word Wars and they’ve gotten the entire homeless camp addicted. He pulled out his pocket Bible and told us that no matter what you do in life: lie, punch Mike, steal cars, ANYTHING! You can be forgiven. We smiled and nodded, wondering how long he would regale us with the wandering a of his mind. Some cops drove by in an SUV and we tried to discreetly signal out discomfort to no avail. Finally, somehow, we shook him off of us. The last we saw of Casey Robert “JR” Brown, he was headed back to camp to drink a beer.

Finally, my two truck arrived. The wind had picked up and Jazzy and I were freezing in our collective outfits that left little leg to the imagination (hey, it’s California). We said goodbye the Jazz and Eric and Mike waited with me as the angle of the vehicle and the precision with which it was lodged in the parking spot proved to be a difficulty for the tow truck driver. After popping the door open, grabbing my purse and Herschel backpack containing my entire electronic life from the trunk, it took about a half an hour and lots of patience to load the car onto the truck.

At this point, I hugged Mike goodbye and got in the truck with Ray, the driver and my new friend. We danced to house music on the way to LAX and he appreciated my cynical wit so late in the evening.

Another Hyundai Elantra later (this time in flashy red with tan interior–much more my style than the nondescript grey for which I exchanged it), I was pulling into my apartment’s garage around 4AM. My final thoughts before slinking into bed were something along the lines of: Two nights in a row, Sarah. Life is really something out here.

Manifest Destiny

Friday, 23 May 2014 was the longest day of my life.

Literally, it really was. I found myself wide awake on the East Coast at 5:00AM nursing a flurry of excitement and adventure. By noon, I had run six miles, eaten a mango, knocked back a large signature pink cup of Marylou’s coffee, and thought of enough words in a succession I found satisfactory and pleasing to the bibliophile in me to comprise a chapter of my new novel (which, at the time, was untitled; saved to my computer only as “Novel3”). Twelve hours after my eyes first opened for the day, I was breezing through airport security in the TSA Precheck line. It took more time to complete the transaction of purchasing a watch the other day than to go through security at Logan International Airport on Memorial Day weekend.

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Seven hours later, I was deplaning in LAX with a genuine sense of wonder. These days, I’m so bogged down by the ennui and malaise that feels almost mandatory in Boston, and just stepping into this wild world of hats and avocados and not automatically having a problem when you wake up was a jolt to my soul. I struck up a conversation with a boy from Dubai on the rental car shuttle and he told me he was tying up some loose ends at his apartment in LA then booking it to Sweden to work on a farm. It isn’t like me to talk to strangers, not anymore. Not since the sun of my extroversion set and left me with a fierce need for silence, a craving for reflection. And yet, there’s something about the air in California, something magical that makes you realize that you can be whoever you want to be, do whatever you want to do. Are we all impostors here, or are we just our best selves?

I drove my rental car to my Airbnb place and promptly gave my friend Jazzy a big ol’ squeezy hug. She was waiting for me to arrive, waiting to sweep me off into the breeze and the fascination of the LA night. Her friend Eric was in the passenger seat, and I commented that his beard was top-notch, which I’m altogether certain is he number one thing everyone says to him upon meeting him, which, in retrospect, makes me feel vapid, some cookie-cutter version of myself swirled together by the fatigue and the hunger and the jet lag. After some pleasantries were exchanged with my airbnb host, we were off to The Happiest Place on Earth.

Just Jazzy, looking flawless as per her Modus Operandi.

Just Jazzy, looking flawless as per her Modus Operandi.

We met Bryan and his girlfriend Jen at UVA Bar in Downtown Disney and I remarked to myself as we twisted through crowds of people under string lights sipping potent liquids in the same place that children dream of roaming that my life just feels like a constant reading of a Bret Easton Ellis novel. Two whiskey sours and a half of a Maker’s on the rocks later, my hunger was crashing the party. We were talking about guac and cookies. I felt, all of a sudden, as if it had been days since my last meal. It was around 2:00AM.

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Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey

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finally, we’re in an age where internet stalking is endearing and leads to drinks in exciting locales.

I assumed that LA, with its glimmering reputation for fast living and general effortless badassery would have a slew of options for where to eat, even for those who favor the greener side of things. Really, guacamole was our only request. We were a party of four vegans and a vegan-friendly man, and all we wanted was guac. We were largely unsuccessful, an unfortunate truth that didn’t seem to make sense to any of us. Why was everything closed, and why didn’t the restaurants that were still open have guac? Were we not in California anymore?

Around 3:00, we threw our hands up and settled on Norm’s, the California version of Denny’s. My intoxication of the preceding few hours had deteriorated by this point, evaporated to the point where I was shriveling, famished and fatigued, into the blackness of the California night. We had to wait for a table at Norm’s, and I might have fallen asleep in the process. The next thing I remember is being served a veggie burger with some sort of mayonnaise on it. For the first time in my life, I sent a food item back to the kitchen. We accept the veggie burgers we think we deserve. I also, in my stupor, inhaled 2.5 orders of fries.

The clock was flirting with five AM when I found myself walking along the side of my building in Long Beach. Just behind the private entrance to my room, there was a Starbucks, which I knew would be opening its doors shortly. I had a wild hair to just grab a coffee and find the beach to say hi to the sunrise. With every step, I grew more delirious and I debated this prospect of wild, reckless Californian abandon countless times over in my head, and yet, the prospect of sleep won the war in my mind. There will be time for Starbucks and sunrises later. The time to act like a kid who came out to California with a longing for freedom and light will come. For now, there is sleep.

I climbed the stairs to my room’s second-floor entrance in my walking-dead state and as I nonchalantly held the railing (something I do these days out of habit and not necessarily for support; because my mother told me to do so as a lackadaisical child, because what else will I do with my hands, because why else is it there?), part of it became loose and dislodged from the wall. I was instantly jolted back, mentally, to some other point in my life; a point when I had a friend whose house had stairs and the railing was perpetually dislodged, only set in its place for the preservation of normalcy. I couldn’t remember whose house it was, where in the world it was, or even the actual surroundings of that particular space, as my overworked brain slid through my mental Rolodex of people, places and things from years past and swirled together an algorithm of everyone that I knew with stairs in their house all rolled into one. I gave up on the notion when my key hit the lock and I was, finally, pouring myself into the plush bed about which I had been dreaming for hours.