With less than a week away, I cancelled my New Year’s trip to Jamaica. It sounded adventurous, to climb the blue mountain peak alone at night on New Year’s Eve and watch the sunrise on New Year’s Day but the fact was I wasn’t going to be able to do it within budget. No Backpacking/hiking trip should cost over $1k but after 6 weeks planning, it became clear to me that no foreigner, particular a lone American woman, would truly be welcome to live like a local. The cost of living may be inexpensive there but I would always get the American Price. A 50 Cent bus ride would cost me $20. Free beaches would charge me a fee. I hate the idea of haggling for everything I eat and Everywhere I Go. So much so that I was no longer looking forward to this trip. So I took a friend’s advice, took a hit on the plane ticket, and will spend another New Year’s Day with toes in the sand with good people rather than alone on a Mountaintop. I still look forward to hiking the Canadian Rockies for my birthday amd I may be squeezing in a few dance trips in between. So Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year, to all of you. And Bill, my dance partner and precious friend, no New Year’s Eve swing dancing for me this year. Not without you here.
I’m so lonely, I’m combustible. My emotions aren’t raw, I am a live wire. Always have been. Passionate, honest. Eight days flew by.
Miles of abandoned beach means “clothing optional”. Tons of sand dollars and washed up jellyfish that look like breast implants but still no sea glass. Pushed myself pretty hard the first few days in Yosemite. Climbed a no-shit mountain and developed a stress fracture in my foot. Followed by a sinus infection because It snowed the 3rd day and all I had was open toed Tevas and a light windbreaker. When I was packing, the forecast called for 85 degrees in the day, not 34.
Sadly, there is no way to escape the crowds in Yosemite. There is always someone in front of you or riding your ass, chattering away loudly in a foreign language. But it was beautiful and wonderous at moments in a way that the Scottish Highlands were not. Except for the Sequoias. The grove was a graveyard of burned up and dead. The living were centuries away from being awe-inspiring.
Although with every trip off the grid, I think I should have done something else with my life, career-wise. Been a botanist or environmental scientist. I wouldn’t have gotten rich but probably would have had a stable job for the rest of my life that may have been more rewarding than my attempts to save humanity
Napa/Sonoma was a like Disney: overpriced bougie boredom. The Flake’s new home is a paradise. Although I still think SoCal suits me better, being part lizard n’ all.
After Yosemite, I decided to “take it easy” hiking around Point Reyes National Seashore. The oasis amidst soul-sucking San Francisco, one trVwler called it. Limping along mile after mile of California coastline, leaning heavily on a piece of sequoia from Yosemite. The foot slows me down but doesnt stop me. What stopped me was a herd of Tule elk in the path, less than a mile away from the tip of Tomales Point. I considered walking around them but the stags began yelling at me “Dont even think about it, lady”.
Im a big fan of the hostel though and their slogans “for travelers, not tourists”. I met a dutch woman who confided that she worked the same job for 17 years, then after a misssion to South Africa, decided “I cant do this anymore”, put everything she didn’t want to part with in storage and began traveling the world. But
But i still didnt engage with anyone, not for long. The only romantic encounter i had was with myself, nude on a deserted beach, fantasizing about an attractive single man coming along and asking if he could help.
I walked for miles on a deserted beach until after dark and didnt bother to mark the narrow entrance to the foot path. I know better! Mild panic set in when after a few false starts, i realized i couldn’t simply plow my way through the growing wall of seagrass and 9 foot high brush. I shuffled my feet and sang to warn off the nightlife that chittered and howled around me. Then turning back toward twin lights on the beach, it was a couple of Japanese guys night fishing, wearing headlamps. Thank g-d, they led me back to the path.
I sent him a picture on a nude beach. Tit for his repeated tat. He said it was sexy and turned him on. He asked where i was. He knew exactly how close i was and for how long but never said “I want to see you”. I admitted to him that i teared up driving past his house on the way to the airport. He said “That makes me sad too”. I doubt that. After all, he could have had me with a word.
Lock Little Big Town away with Edward Scissorhands and the second album from Brand New as “Things that I love but hurt my heart more than I can bear”.
I got quite a bit accomplished today. Trimmed my bangs which are always an all-day adventure that starts with “oops, missed another spot” ends with “for crissakes STOP while you still have HAIR!”
I’m also reading an exceptionally well-written account of Churchill and Orwell by Thomas E. Ricks. It may be the first book in years to hold my attention enough to finish. Purchased because I’ve always been a fan of Mr. Churchill although the more I read, the less I like Mr. “Orwell”. Although it is interesting to note that everyone who met Hitler was convinced he was sane, trustworthy, and genuinely a force for peace. Conversely, Churchill was regarded as “unbalanced”, a hot-head, full of uncensored, unsolicited and unwelcome diatribes, he was hated and derided by every political party including his own.
I also began planning for my next trip. I said I would return to California this year. Mid-to-late September, this time to Northern California to visit my sister (and NOT the Flake. Not, not, not, not…). I’ll couch surf in Sacramento with her and spend several days hiking Yosemite. I’ll take Mist Trail as far as Nevada Falls but I don’t think I care enough about getting to the top of Half Dome to attempt it although if my Army buddy “S” ends up joining me, he’ll insist on it. Three days of hard hiking is probably all my body can handle so I’ll take a break in Napa Valley and lounge all day at the Sattui winery with my sister. At some point I’ll have to get homework done (boo hiss!) but I do not want this trip to be like my recent trip to NYC where I spent most of my time in a motel room in Jersey working on school assignments. I’m not expecting to do particularly well in this next class so I may just say “fck it” that week for grades. The last few days, I want to spend on the sand. Preferably nude. And with access to a hot-tub and more wine, recovering from the beating I’ll take in Yosemite (and trying hard not to contact the Flake who lives very close now to where I’ll be visiting).
I asked him a few months ago, when he reached out, if he only ever wanted to talk to me when he was bored or lonely (or horny) and he replied “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t want to talk to you”. So why isn’t he talking to me everyday? Now that I’ve agreed to reconnect. My imagination spins, wondering who else is occupying his time and receives the same “special selfies” he sends me… When he’s blocked and can’t reach me by phone, the pressure is off. So I do this to myself.
My dog listened to me sing for 10 hours in the car ride up into the hills of the tri-state area (NC/TN/GA). If his farts are like contractions, how far apart must they be before I pull over?
On the way up, I took a detour through Athens to avoid Atlanta altogether. I not only didn’t feel like dealing with the traffic but something about passing what used to be the Flake’s exit hurt my heart.
I reached the base of the Smokies around 7:30pm. From there, the temperature dropped quickly and the scenery improved. It might have triggered my first sincere smile of the day. At this rate, I reached my mother’s property just before 10 pm. My only prayer was that she had toilet paper and a coffee pot, which she did, but in hindsight, I should have prayed for a working shower too.
It was like camping with a roof over my head. I bullied opened the sticky windows that would budge and cleaned up the rodent, bug and bat carcasses. While washing in the kitchen sink, dead bats floated up from the garbage disposal and by then, without gloves, I couldn’t bring myself to stick my hand down there and fish out the rest. The next day, I drove to the nearest town 40 miles away and rented an electric floor sander, found a wifi signal and ordered electronic plug in rodent repellants from Amazon. One of my Army buddies who said he would drive up to help me didn’t show but luckily the old woman living in the property adjacent put me in touch with a local handyman who would repair the shower (not til after I left) and helped me lug the 150lb sander up the narrow staircase. I was proud enough that I got it out of the car and into the house by myself but making up it up the stairs without throwing out my back or falling down the stairs was too risky. When did I become so weak? I bathed in the rain, in creeks, and in the (clothes) washing machine (when I was caked with sawdust from sanding and sweating so a baby wipe just wouldn’t suffice). I spent two full days working on the floors and a few odd repair jobs around the property then dedicated the rest of the time to hiking.
Raven Cliff falls was my favorite. Five miles round trip, a gradual incline and path that hugged the water all the way. My dog LOVES creeks. I discovered this when I went to visit the Flake in Atlanta last year. He literally bounces with joy, plunging his face and body into the cold water. He can’t do this at home because unless it’s on the ocean or gulf (which he can’t drink), there are ‘gators.
The next day, my dog was moving as stiff as I was so I opted for a much shorter trek closer to “home” at Fires Creek (although armed with two walking sticks, I insisted on keeping us in the water, navigating over slippery rocks which proved to be challenging and hardly qualified as “taking it easy”).
The next day was supposed to be the big hike: Finally, after nearly a year of cancellations, I was going to do the Full moon hike over the suspension bridge at Tallullah Gorge, leaving my dog behind of course but wearing him out on trails during the day to include Minnihaha. But we woke to the sound of rain and a message from the state park calling off the hike on account of it. The extended forecast called for rain the rest of the week so there was no “waiting it out”. In this environment, I could not re-wear the same clothes day after day and I had only packed enough underwear and medication for 9 days.
I also woke to an email from the Flake. How does he know just when to reach out and just what to say to bring me back on the line? He apologized for not being a friend to me. Said Atlanta was a transition period and he was at peace in California. Thanked me for being there for him at his darkest, ugliest. Said he was again the man I met and fell in love with at the Pelican pub 7 years ago. He wasn’t asking for anything but to talk to me. He missed me so much. I caved. Replied that I was in the hills without a steady signal and couldn’t call. But the door was open again.
As I weighed my options and decided ultimately there was nothing to do but start to head back towards home, he suggested Amicalola Falls. I’d been there before but not on a trail because my family couldn’t hike. It was on the way so I decided to stop and gauge the weather once I got there. The nice thing about hiking in wet weather is the trails are abandoned. Amicalola is labeled “difficult for dogs” but another pooch-traveling hiker hinted that the East Ridge trail was suitable. And it was. A bit rocky at the top so I released my dog from his leash so that he and I could both pick the path most appropriate for us. Besides, he’s responsive to voice command and has attachment issues so he never got more than 20 feet ahead of me before stopping and waiting for me to catch up. And he’s smart. He would creep towards the edge and look out but never got too close and was never tempted to follow a small animal to his doom. Amicalola was just over 2 miles round trip and a much steeper incline than Raven Cliff. The sky cracked open when we reached the top so we ducked back into woods, taking the west trail down, protected from the worst of the deluge by the woodland canopy. Unfortunately, I had no clean, dry clothes or towels left to change into when we got back to the car so it was a wet, chilly drive for 6 hours to a dog friendly motel on the FL/GA border where we stopped for the night.
On the way, I chatted with the Flake. He invited me to come see him. I mentioned plans to go back to Cali later this year but the highway through Big Sur was still closed and Esalen was too expensive. He said he would take me hiking through the Redwoods and we would drink wine in the hot tub overlooking the Ocean where he lives on in apartments on a cliff. Of course we would also hit the nearby nude beach. Things were and still are sexually explicit between us. I mentioned I had told my sister I would visit her sometime during her next contract job in Sacramento from Sept-December but she stays at places through AirBnB so I would have to do the same. Or stay with him. I considered the state-run lighthouse hostels and calling my Army buddy from WA state down to hike (he already said he would come and of everyone who says they will make it, he’s the one who keeps his word). So I can go back to California and not see the Flake. I should NOT see the Flake. I know I can’t handle it. I know we would have a great time and then I would crash on the plane home, emotionally. I would be left empty, just like last year, struggling for months to recover from a few days of happiness with a man that loves me but isn’t IN LOVE with me. And I’ll tell him this, in a few weeks when I book my next trip that does not include seeing him.
Montana was a bust. I spent my birthday and the following week trapped on a porch, breathing in smoke from the burning mountains and counting down the days and hours until my flight home.
I went to visit a recently retired Army friend-turned-frazzled mom. Her daughter adored me but the son was unfriendly and fussy. My friend was too exhausted and unmotivated to hike although she had the gear and her kids were perfectly content to ride on our backs. In 7 days, I may have spent a total of 2 hours on foot in the terrain. I was stir crazy, unaccustomed to being sedentary. I cleaned house (which made her mother uncomfortable, I learned), walked the short stretch of road to and from the local grocery store and lunged around the yard when no one was around. We did make it to a bar one evening and bored local cops stalked us as we walked home sober. Ive never been stalked by cops before. What option do bar-goers have in a town too small for cabs and Uber?
Although it was nice to discuss music again (I failed to agree that Ben Gibbard of Death Cab ripped off the sound of Placebo from the Cruel Intentions soundtrack). And it was endearing to meet a family with roots. Sisters, uncles, countless cousins…they were bickering, loving land barons with thick paper deeds dating back to the mid 1800’s. My friend has history. She can trace her lineage even without the help of the Mormons. I know nothing and can learn nothing beyond my Ashkanazi gypsy horse thief great grandfather.
But back to my friend. In her desperation for children, she compromised on love. Perhaps forfeited is a more appropriate word. A willful, independent, forceful personality saddled but not tamed by parenthood. She seethed resentment though dare not voice it because it’s hard to complain to a lonely, childless woman. My mother said “It will get easier in a few years when they get into school and she has a few hours to herself again”. But watching her struggle and I, bored to actual tears, wondered if this was a lesson for me, G-d reminding me to be careful what I wish for. What is worse? Living, sleeping, and dying alone or being trapped in an unhappy marriage and mommyhood?
That’s what I’m thinking about, last nights conversation with my Asshole Best Friend (ABF). As I’m pre-flight cracking: folding myself in half to release my back, then shoulders, then lift my legs like dog-meets-tree and the sounds of my hips popping is loud enough that the man beside me in the line to board the plane remarks on it. It will be long day of flights to reach Montana. I’m visiting a friend there for my bday. Because you know I always grow desperate around my bday and need to get the hell out of town. Scotland last year, Alaska year before (and looking back, you recall how those went). Montana is a foreign land to me and I wanna make those mountains my bitch but these days, my appetite for adventure is bigger than my physical capability. Also my friend has 18mos old twins and is in full-time mommy mode. I told her we could split them up, pack them in papooses and ruck them up the mountain with us. Not sure if she’s down but she used to be fearless. Freshly retired from the Army, I’m dying her hair pink. We’ve been obsessing over Guy Tang colors and I’m going to follow one of his recipes for a 5 part harmony of rose gold and pink. My mother will be next with varying shades of silver and dusty violet metallic.
But I digress. The Flake called again and it went straight to VM because he is still blocked. He just wanted to apologize. And I’m thankful for the apology. It eases my resentment.
But my asshole best friend. We may only talk on the phone once or twice a year but that’s partly becsuse I hate talking on the phone and he traps me for hours. Last night, it was 4.5 until my phone died. By then he was drunk, rambling and repeating himself. Telling me he attempted suicide again on his birthday and, unsurprised and a bit less sympathetic than I had intended, I advised him to take a tip from me: take birthday weeks off, run far far away and go check something off the bucket list. He also lost his recent radio gig in a blaze of dramatic glory. Frankly, I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did. On the upside, He started writing short screenplays again. One is nearly finished and he bounced a few other ideas off me. One is based on us. A key scene being a memory that he holds dear (and I was too drunk to recall): at a concert, he says something to upset me, of course, I lash back and he apologizes. I sit next to him and lay my head in his lap (I do not remember any of this, by the way. I can’t even recall what concert we were at). He’s stroking my hair, thinking about how much he loves me and wonders if he should kiss me. But he doesn’t and instead, puts me in a cab and sends me home, like I requested. And that’s the scene that haunts him, he should have kissed me, he insists. I’m on the other end of the conversation, shaking my head amd flapping my arms like my brother in an autistic fit thinking “Nononono!!!” But my voice is calm as I say “Well, thank you for not taking advantage of me when I was drunk. If you had, we may not still be friends”, he replies “Of course we would. And we’d be married with kids” I cringe and flap again, “You know,” I try to joke, “its okay if Harry and Sally never hook up” but he isn’t listening. He’s again describing this kiss that could have altered the course of our futures, that will be the alternate reality played out on video. And I hear my mother’s voice “See? I told you men and women can’t be friends”
I feel like I’m always operating in the red, physically and mentally at a deficit.
There were two Gregs. The under 30 homeless-by-choice biking gypsy yogi without a fuck in the world and the other one who pretended not to recognize me. Oh, you know what you did, motherfucker. Ten years ago, this “friend” tried to steal my civilian radio job while I was in Iraq and got fired for it. The one time the company did right by me and we haven’t spoken a word since. Although all he did was jump across the street to the competitor where he still works today so maybe Karma is waiting to kick his ass in his next life. But he spent half an hour pretending not to notice me sitting 10 feet away at my favorite local coffee where I go for a change of scenery while working on school assignments. I forced a smile while homeless Greg happily rubbed my dog’s belly but kept thinking, this is just one of the reasons I need to move: I’ve been here too long if I’m bumping into assholes from my past. Time to go meet new assholes, make new enemies somewhere else.
But it looks like The Flake will make it to the West Coast before I do. He flies this week for the final round of interviews and contract negotiations for a job out near Monterey. He’s texting me links to the luxury apartments near the national forest where he is planning to live. Meanwhile, I’m looking at the red line that is Highway 1 in Google Maps after much of the coastline slid into the Pacific in the last few weeks. Road closure until at least late August. I might not make it into Big Sur at all this year as planned. But that asshole is moving there. In all my self-righteous glory, I utter encouragement and congratulations to him while making my apologies to G_d for secretly being bitter and green. What is the line between sharing and gloating? Is it the intent? Because it feels like he’s gloating.
Or maybe this is another example of how I’ve lost my perspective. Because I live in Paradise too, 10 minutes from some of the most beautiful beaches in the nation. I need only open my front door to the smell of saltwater and the sound Of seagulls. It’s a source of peace and he is an unwitting thief. I give him the benefit of the doubt with “unwitting”. But if he is unwitting then that makes me solely responsible for my discontent. No, he can’t be that stupid. I’ve told him we can’t be friends, that my feelings haven’t changed. He knows he’s still using me. And I let him.
“Your insecurity makes you unattractive”, he once told me. I recall hateful things he’s said to me in the past because ripping that wound back open motivates me to rebuild The Wall. Not the healthiest coping mechanism and certainly not very forgiving but it’s a line of defense that works.
But I danced and sang a bit this weekend. Even if I was just faking it for the crowd, the point is, I did it. And that’s progress.