Holy Terror

Today, you are 25 years old, it is foggy. You will walk down to the beach and drink a cup of coffee. You will sit in the cool sand dunes and watch the barges crawl under the bridge. You will think about your Grandma falling to bits and pieces with the decline of her body. In one moment of clarity last week, sitting on the sunny deck, she turned to you, tearing her eyes away from her Danielle Steele novel to inspect your tattoos and say,

“Molly, by God, you are a holy terror.” Then she turned back to wherever she came from, silently.

You will think about your own vanity, and how you would rather throw yourself off the bridge than ever ever get that frighteningly lost in your own mind. You think about your Dad who needs a hip replacement and your cousin who broke her femur mountain biking. You’ve never broken anything. probably because you never went mountain biking or sky diving or anything physically risky. You are not a physical risk-taker. You would rather read a biography of Lincoln than scuba dive. You wonder if it is strange that you have absolutely no desire to scuba dive, or sky dive, or high dive, or cliff dive. Even roller coasters seem like a pointless activity. But you are not against pointless activities, just ones where the end result is a burst of adrenaline.

Ruling out “extreme” as one on your list of addictions you find that your case is worse. You are a heartbreak junkie. Any kind of heartbreak, any kind of disappointment, whether it be bagel, career or boyfriend related. You stop in the middle of the wet street on a foggy night to examine the beauty of telephone wires. It’s really, really pathetic. But There is no adrenaline like the drop kick and splat of your dreams getting painted across the ground like some fat ass possum in the road at the wrong time. Its like childbirth, in that, you never learn. You forget each time how utterly awful it is. But at the same time how thrilling, how basic, how human. Dad calls this phenomenon the “underwater explosion”, people wont know what happened until days later, a rogue wave hits like a sledge hammer for no visible reason. The unseen daily sky diving of a self-important overly dramatic artist type.

Emotional free-fall, much more frightening than cliff diving, therefore… no need to cliff dive.

So, being 25, essentially homeless, directionless, and suffering from a severe form of mental constipation and daily “underwater explosions.” Well, at least you have a new job that is the most rewarding and bearable one you have had since pedaling cupcakes: day time bartender at fancy beer place in small affluent mountain town. Complete with all the hip trappings of modern gastronomy, including some of the old favs: Blue Bottle Coffee, a cheese menu, decorative animal skulls, unfinished wooden furniture, family dog, German things, no TV.

The patrons are salt and gold; English tourists with popped collars, local middle-aged men in colorful polo shirts, young loud construction workers, lesbians of all shapes and sizes, owners of hip clothing lines with black AMEX cards and small cherub offspring, dogs, bikes.

You love the daily aspect of it, you love that there is nothing but the weather and “business” to talk about. No larger existential questions need be answered at any given time of day. It was busy or it was slow, it was hot or cold, or “lovely” today. The patrons learn – and use – your first name. There is a very minimal amount of math involved.

You have a job, and a place to sleep, you are not in Afghanistan, everything else is gravy. You take time to appreciate the sound of your foot steps, really just how quiet it is here. You focus on the feeling of yellow sun on the back of your neck as you eat a turkey sandwich. You get up early. You learn how to say “Weinstephaner” correctly, and what the difference is between an Ale and a Lager.

You sit in front of a blank piece of paper after dinner and wait for something to happen. If nothing, then maybe tomorrow. You write down things like ” going to sleep after drinking a cup of coffee, ” and ” This whole year is lost to some kind of pale appreciation of afternoon light. Nothing gets done, I am happy.”

You stare for hours at a banana slug slurping its way up the window screen leaving a honeyed trail. Tomorrow you will write a story about a man who takes a bath after being in prison for 17 years. You will try to describe it. It will probably suck.

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Prepare for Landing

There is a dip and a pull, like a hand tugging at the root of your tongue.

Good evening ladies and gentleman, we will be arriving at Burbank, Bob Hope Airport in about 30 minutes, the temperature is 75 degrees and the time is now 8:12 PM.

The lady next to you is still pounding Chardonnay. Her kids are draped across the seats, asleep, clutching stuffed armadillos.

We took the kids to see the Alamo, spent the weekend in Dallas. Their dad never showed up.

You nod and say how cute they are. Even though they spent the better part of the past 3 hours throwing pretzels at each other and scream-laughing.

You tell her about visiting your old friends from highschool, how one of them has two baby boys and her husband is in Afghanistan. You can’t relate, you tell her, but you would do anything for her, and the kids of course. You can’t imagine how hard your friend has to work just to keep it together, just to get up in the morning. She is the strongest, most brave person you know.

The Chardonnay lady confesses that she has never been so lonely as she was this weekend.

Flight attendants, please prepare for landing.

You wonder what it is about strangers, and airports, and honesty. You just nod. There isn’t really anything you can say to this lady. What do you know? You could be her in 15 years. It could be you, a single mom, chugging chardonnay and lecturing some girl in an airport about birth control.

The funniest thing happens when you visit old friends. It feels as if you were never apart. But now, everyone is older, with babies, and husbands, and houses. Then there is you, with less direction and fewer belongings than when you started. You’ve got your back pack and your suitcase, headed west to start over….again. But you always knew you would be the last one to grow up. No surprises.

The dirty martini you had for dinner is starting to make its comeback. You slip on your headphones and hum along to distract. The sun is gone but there is still a light blue glow to the sky. Little houses and buildings spread out in neat rows lit by tiny dots of golden street lamps. You are close enough to see people running around a lit baseball field. Miles and miles of people living in rows. The cars on the freeway are fireflies going in red and white rivers to and from the neighborhoods.

You are coming home. If home means the place where you grew up, than yes, you are coming home. But home is subjective. The place where you grew up is all stucco and cars and hair dye. When you think about it, you never felt at home there. That’s a lie actually, you always felt at home there when you would sit around your friend’s porch shooting the shit and drinking wine. But that is because of the people, not the place. You have to be reminded constantly that you don’t have to identify with the sprawling malls and car dealerships and endless track-housing. Just because you are from there, doesn’t mean it defines you.

But you can’t knock the beaches. The long wide yellowing beaches. Combed and filled to cosmetic perfection. The good people of LA and Ventura County stuff their cars full of colorful plastic furniture and wait in long smoggy lines to get in to the baking parking lot so they can drag their spawn across a quarter-mile of tar-hot sand, to sit in the salt stinging sun and play in the half-ton waves. The water curls and pounds the shore in variations ranging from pale white-blue to deep murky evergreen. And that smell. Like the beginning of the world; salt and decay and mud. Carbon-based life dying and being born at the same time.  But that’s the landscape, it has not home. Maybe the beauty of the place is too important to you, no, it just means you are a romantic.

You find a bench next to a planter in the pick up lane of Bob Hope airport. You drag your giant blue plastic case over to be your foot rest. You lean your head back on the smooth concrete and close your eyes, it smells like jasmine and gasoline. You bum a cigarette from some thin snarling lady and start counting the number of Mercedes verses BMWs that appear. You try to guess who belongs to which car. Then a dusty grey pick up truck appears around the corner and two giant bodies unfurl from the doors and start galumfing towards you. This is home, two big hugs and four man-arms to lift and shove your baggage in the back.  Your “little” brother makes fun of you and then you make fun of his hair. Your Dad makes un-funny jokes and sound effects the whole way home.

You are back at square one again. Life could be compared to a lot of things but the game Shoots and Ladders seems to be the most passive metaphor; you’ll take it.

The next morning you sit at your mother’s dining room table scaning The Ventura County Star and drinking excessive amounts of coffee. You try to write but it is as if there is shredded cotton filling your head instead of a brain.  Your brother tumbles down, grabs the jug of orange juice and a glass and posts up on the couch. You discuss future plans lightly. He is currently paying rent in Montana but has been traveling around working for Transworld on a contract basis and trying to keep Mom out of his hair.

“I’m trying to write,” you say, “But I just can’t, I don’t know what it is.”

He turns and says “I know, it’s like every time I come here it’s like a black hole of creativity.”

You nod. Yep.