Never, say Never

“Run from whats comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.” @mav_mav

Deep in Steinbeck country, the gentle click-clacking of the diesel engine riding on the hot wind coming in through the windows, we re-apply chapstick for the 80th time. If you sweat, you barely feel it before it’s wicked off your skin by the parched air. The dog is panting like he just ran a marathon. We grumble past silos, and orchards, and thick patches of livestock ranches in mile-long bubbles of manure smell. Like Pig-Pen from Charlie Brown.

We stop for gas and ice-cream, we hose down the dog, poor thing.

Most girls wouldn’t swoon at the idea of vacationing in a two-tone, 15 foot, 1986 Chevy Beuville van, with a dog. But, we’ve established here, that I am quite left of center.

It looks like home, bright yellow furry hills as far as the eye can see; crippled gray oak trees shading rectangular cows mud brown or paten-leather black, with their heads dipped to the earth in the humming munching meditation of grazing. When I die I want to come back as one of these cows. Grazing all day, lying in the shade, ‘mooing’ to show affection or displeasure.

Great long wire fences delineating god-knows-what spread into yellow nothing, meeting the baby-blue dome bright and searing.

We are heading to Sonoma, for wedding, well it’s more of a party, because they already got married and had their honeymoon in a cab-over-camper on a road trip through “God’s Country” – for lack of greater detail.  But as much as they didn’t want a wedding, they knew better than to commit the mortal sin of denying the O’Neills’ a good party.

So here we are traveling from all corners in cars, vans, trains and airplanes, to take over their street for a two-day block party.

Rob has met my whole family already (see posts dating in July), but this will be his official debut as my “boyfriend” at an O’Neill family event,  and it will end in a naked hot-tub party with the groom chanting his name.  Yeah, I’d say it went well.

It’s the kind of hot that makes your skin sting in the sunlight. We nurse our pre-party hangovers with the delicacy  of war veterans behind sunglasses. We snack on doughnuts as Rob makes huevos rancheros, and a heard of family arrives to “help set up”. There is a lot of idle chatter, popping open tables and chairs, moving cars, standing around, filling coolers. Neighbors coming in and out. A certain adolescent cousin eats the frosting off of two doughnuts from the box, discarding the bare carcases, with kid-sized bite marks, on the kitchen table.

The bride holds court on the couch with her swollen foot aloft and iced, due to a classic unfortunate unloading-the-ice-block accident. We promise to make sure she doesn’t get parked next to the old people and left for dead at the party. (She is in a wheelchair on the dance floor at one point.)


The sun goes down, the flowers are placed on the checkered table cloths, the neighbor’s band sets up on a trailer pulled by a Subaru. And the infamous “Margarator” begins its constant churning. The taco cart man goes into “the zone” chopping and grilling and scooping and warming tortillas like a man on fire ( he is now an unofficial member of the family after seeing us through two summer weddings); he winks at the circling contingent of dogs and flicks them a couple of pieces of gristle with his greasy spatula.  It’s really all about the tomatillo salsa.

We awake nestled cozily on a camping pad on the ply wood floor of the van, the merciful sky is overcast for the time being. The dog licking our aching heads. I scuttle down the street in my sweatshirt and PJs to use a real toilet, and find other sleepers lazily opening the doors of their vans and lifting the tarps over their truck beds. A silent wave, a squinty smile.

Crow is a gamey and oily S.O.B. But I’ve eaten it almost everyday this summer. Love – ugh! I sound like Carrie Bradshaw –  makes one do things that may seem contrary to one’s normal behavior. In fact, the brain of a person in love is most chemically similar to a person on the brink of institution-worthy insanity. I’ve always harshly judged girls who move in with their boyfriends within a year of knowing them let alone within weeks, and with their boyfriend’s parents! Girls that “miss” their boyfriends while they are at work, and organize their lives around having the same days off. I’ve said that I’d never move back to Seattle “it’s too cold.” I’d never date anyone who went to Burning Man, I’d never want to move in with a guy that I hadn’t dated for more than 2 years, I’d never marry someone I hadn’t known for more than 5 years…

I have miles and miles of things I vowed I’d never do,  I am crossing off almost every single one, and I will probably break all my own rules by the time I die, and I don’t know why I’m so surprised, I mean, I love breaking rules.

But when it comes to “Love”, I have always been a real cynic. I scoffed every time my mom said “If it’s meant to be, it will happen…” and “when you know, you know!”… and the ever annoying “It will happen to you! He’s out there, I just know it!”  It’s a wonder that my eyes didn’t  come loose, they rolled around so much.  I mean, I’ve never had a real successful date in my life. I’ve always just hung around with the same guy until it got awkward NOT to call them my boyfriend. Like a true Barraza, I assume the worst with a lighthearted cynicism, while secretly wishing for the happy ending.

We tell each other our most shameful secrets over steaming bowls of Pho in a neon tinted mid-century strip mall restaurant. The kind where the menus are on display  between the turquoise poly ester cloth and the slab of scratched glass on the table top. The ringing spicy broth excising all demons via the back of our necks. It’s so delicious, but so painful to eat. Like catholics, we are contrite and accepting of it’s  equal parts pain and pleasure.

It’s our three-month anniversary, and I magically have the day off. Rob makes banana bread french toast –  and YES he made the bread the night before from scratch – with eggs over easy and sausages, serving it to me on my favorite plate. We take the dog to the Arboretum, admiring the first of the trees turning. We lie on grass in what may be some of the last lingering sun, tossing a stick to the dog. We are waiting to be approved for move-in by our new roommate.  She wants to meet the dog and iron some things out over a beer. We drool over the kitchen, and the deck, dreaming of parties we could throw, and people who would come visit us.

What we end up admiring most about the arboretum, is the amazing spider webs that stretch across impossible distances. the perfect swirls spun just-so, in a pocket of slanting light, the silky strings glowing. The spider sits contemplating his work, his plump body riding the delicate sail in the breeze.

It’s the strongest substance in the world, Rob says.


Whats weird, is they can never see their work, for us, it would be like painting a mural on a football field and never being able to step back, get above it, and see the finished product. They just follow the program in their head. 

With no idea of what the finished web looks like, they just have to trust their instincts, programmed a million years ago by nature. All they can see is whats right in front of them, the next step, the next design element, the next decision to be made. Until, they get to the center, then sit swinging in the breeze and wait for lunch to fly by, hoping against hope that the branch they chose doesn’t snap, and if it does, what the next most reliable branch?

So we sign a lease this week.  I take my best instincts, my most honed decision-making skills, move forward on the best possible course I can think of, hoping that the branch I chose doesn’t break; circling the center, building a structure I hope will last a long time and keep me safe. So far, so good.