Love is a fraud ~ Belle & Sebastian

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.

It’s okay if Harry and Sally never hook up

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”

“Remember me in your lucid dreams as the best you ever…” ~ Michelle Branch

waterfall rapellingMy blind date ended up looking like Zorg from the Fifth Element. And when I handed him my phone to show him “A” picture and he took it as an invitation to flip through more photos, that’s when I tapped out.

My friend asked me about my love life. Well, do you want to know about the man who holds my heart but doesn’t want it, the man I have a crush on who doesn’t know I have a vagina, the man who only wants my vagina, or the Dropkick Murphys roadie who started out promising but then faded away when I wouldn’t respond to his racy selfies in kind.

I also unblocked the Flake. Three months after the fallout, I held out strong but now I caved with his “I miss you, can’t we just talk?”. Out of curiosity, cracking that door open to see if it was safe to come out. It was especially hard to turn him down weeks earlier when he was passing through and asked to see me. I told him in an email that I couldn’t be “just” his friend, that I still wanted him and couldn’t pretend that I was okay with him not wanting me back. “But if you show up on my front lawn with a boom box, I’d consider it,” I replied, rather seriously. Miss me? Prove it. Our few conversations since then have been brief and rather awkward. For a week, I was back to anxiously grabbing my phone to see if I had a text from him in the morning (never did) and considered re-blocking him for my own sanity. He’s also spending 10 days traveling the Pacific Coast Highway without me and I told him not to send photos rubbing it in my face. Because I should be there with him. The walls are up on both sides and it leaves me feeling very sad.

So I hopped a plane to Puerto Rico for 5 days. It was a hell of an experience complete with a trip to the VA hospital Emergency room when I decided to chew on a poisonous plant in the rainforest. I blame my friend for double dog daring me with “Don’t even think about putting that in your mouth…”   The upside to the pain was lips that swelled like a perfect collagen job. Even the doctor remarked (while giving me a steroid cocktail via IV) “Well, your lips do look fantastic”.

I couldn’t resist sending a picture to the Flake, a breathtaking shot of me looking like a total badass, rappelling down a waterfall. He of course responded with a selfie of him at a vineyard in Napa Valley. I didn’t respond but gloated to myself  “I win!”

The roadie hasn’t asked about my adventure or my self-poisoning but offered up more late night photos to which I responded “thanks but I’d prefer we leave something to in-person discovery”.

That same night, a former supervisor from SOCOM who I haven’t seen or spoken to in years and never hung out with outside the job contacted me to ask if I wanted to get a drink. I joked that it was past his bedtime but then we set a date for next week. He was married when I worked with him but he’s either divorced or separated now. And entirely too old for me (although still younger than the 60 year old retired marine “Dos Equis” that I crushed on two years ago). All things considered, I have this foreboding that this is not innocent interest in catching up with a former coworker and already it is feeding into my inner monologue about how men want to fuck me but not keep me. Blame that on my poor choice in men to date but these late night calls out of the blue from recently single (or worse, still married) men doesn’t help. And I’ve never been promiscuous so I’m not sure why they call me. I know I’m a good catch but these men and their transient interest makes me feel disposable.

“All the vampires living in the city walk west down Ventura Boulevard” ~Tom Petty

Drunk in the airport, cucumber gimlets swimming in my gut, the impossibly full moon reflecting in the terminal glass, I think “Here we go again. Scotland part 2…at least the soundtrack is better”. The is PA is reading my mind, playing my alt-rock favorites: Muse, U2, Strumbellas, Grouplove, Lucius, Twentyone pilots (one of only two songs I like from them) as well as the one good song from Kings of Leon (Molly’s Chambers). I force myself to put down my phone, look up and make eye contact with strangers (at least the ones who aren’t buried in their own phones). I want to start a conversation with someone but their faces don’t process and I suspect anyone looking at me sees a woman lost.

Well, if you’re not going to make friends then read, I tell myself, picking up the Tim Robbins book a blind date recommended but now 50 pages deep, I’m put off by all the pussy talk and sick of hearing about this chick’s giant thumbs. I want to text someone. I want to text him. To tell him I’m going to his old stomping grounds in California find my own damned seaglass and that he cant have every country song…

My trip to the Pacific Coast was everything that my trip to Scotland wasn’t: Clear and peaceful. I went swing dancing in San Diego, watched F18’s and Seahawks show off against the backdrop of the setting sun on Coronado Island, tried In-N-Out burger to see what the fuss was about (give me Five Guys anytime), made a “pie run” on a crotch rocket through the winding hills to Julien (and popped a wheelie in there along the way), and dropped my bag in the spare bedroom of a friend’s house on Camp Pendleton and headed north, hugging the coast on the PCH (Hwy 1) through the OC, Santa Monica, Malibu…well, the intent was to spend time in Big Sur but I only made it as far as the southernmost tip, around Cambria and the Hearst Castle. From there, Hwy 1 was closed due to rock and mud slides. It rarely rains in CA but I did pick the “rainy season” I suppose. My heart sank but I shook it off almost immediately, promising to return, maybe later this year, to spend quality time exploring the forest. I headed south again along the coast, stopping often to take in the view or explore a trail or cove. I only found one piece of white-ish sea glass, which admitted was a mission this trip as the Flake had collected several lovely pieces for me a few months earlier which he failed to bring or send (I’m still holding strong, by the way. Missing him daily but not enough to pick at that wound).
I marveled at the changing geography: green mountains and forest that resembled Scotland (had the weather been clear) turning into mountains of smooth rock all running alongside cliffs of cold, cold ocean. Elephant seals quietly swam and slept along the shore in the north while their smaller cousins barked and basked on the southern coast.

I caught up with two girlfriends from my Army days with whom I shared a common age and unfortunate history of bad romantic choices. Both had moved to the Pacific Coast to “start over” and within a week or two of going back online to meet people, had met their husbands. One is now married to a young Marine and the other to a Jewish lawyer. It gives me hope and frankly, gets me thinking again about a piece of advice the Millionaire Matchmaker once made: If we are willing to move to improve our professional situations, why wouldn’t we move to improve something as important as our love life? Moving might just improve my odds of meeting someone decent. And the people did seem decent there. Relaxed smiles and not afraid to make eye contact. Perhaps there’s a legal weed joke in there somewhere but I was pleasantly surprised by the laid back culture.

In 2014, after my last trip to the ‘Stan, I added San Diego, sight unseen, to my short list of places I might leaving the Gulf coast for. Now that I’ve seen it, it is at the top of the list. One of the acquaintances I visited who had moved from Florida to the PC several years ago put it in perspective: “I would rather be broke in San Diego than rich anywhere else”. And it IS expensive! With California charging $13 for a $6 bottle of red, eating at least a third of resident’s paychecks in taxes, and the only affordable living being across the border in Mexico, I figured I would have to not only downsize my household but earn at least $60k roughly just to scrape by in that area. Maybe after I finish my MBA, I’ll move to Ocean Beach next to the dog park or Oceanside where I can watch the beautiful boys stripping out of their wet suits and remind myself “Dontstaredontbecreepydontstaredontbecreepydontstaredontbecreepy…”

But I “get” my friend’s sentiment now. The expense is worth it. I wasn’t depressed, not once. Unlike Scotland, I enjoyed even the days alone with my own company. The negative inner demon was silent as I was too busy trying to recall high school Spanish to translate local names. And when out of signal range, there was a soundtrack playing in my head with Tom Petty singing about the vampires on Ventura Boulevard, Courntey Love singing Malibu, Everclear singing Santa Monica, Bugs Bunny singing about the swallows coming back to Capistrano…
I’m going to try and go back before the year is out.