Subject: I’m in the calm before the storm
For weeks now, any thought I had about this day and crossing US immigration immediately dumped a shot of adrenaline into my veins. Do you ever get that thing when you’re really hungry and you’re about to eat something and then as you put it into your mouth a huge deluge of saliva come out of your salivary glands? It’s almost painful. I had this happen to me the other day. I have been staying at Eva’s in Vancouver, being generally relaxed and hyping up for today’s adventure. We had a late dinner one night and gooosh, my mouth filled with saliva at the first bite. It’s like my entire mouth aches when it happens. She said she’d never experienced that before. I thought it was a normal thing. That’s how my adrenals feel — like they’re pumping out juice and the stress of it is putting undo pressure on the gateways. Adrenal secretion fatigue. It’s time for a new paragraph.
I’m at a cafe near Gordon’s work downtown. We had brunch and then I stored my rolling bag at his office while I wander the city, waiting for my flight. There are women speaking stilted, accented English, talking about the exam they just took. There are giant plastic Christmas trees with LED lights smattered around the streets. There are people walking briskly.
I went to a contemporary art gallery, but it was a little too close to my reality: one of the exhibits was commenting on migration. There were foam figures leaning on chain link fences, slumped over the edges, straddling two worlds. The other exhibit was an exploration of a changing climate with rudimentary nature scenes burned into thin wooden panelling that hung from the ceiling to the floor. It was beautiful. Accents of the scenes were sparsely beaded adding hollow hints of colour — those squirrels and birds that won’t be around for long. The last panel had a red-winged blackbird on it. My favourite.
I think it would be hard to be a barista. It’s one of those things in society that we all take for granted but yet the entire structure of our organization is based on it. Like free wifi. What would these bankers do if they had to make their own coffee at home? The entire system would collapse.
After the art gallery I sat on the steps for a moment staring at the looming abyss before me. Really though the abyss is always there, we just get to ignore it, lulled unto the false sense of security our routines and patterns offer us.
We went for brunch at the Fairmont. It was fancy and delicious. They put us in a table near the back, tucked into a booth that can close off to the rest of the floor with a thick curtain. Only later did I realize I have been wearing the same mountain town clothing for four days and that breakfast at a fancy hotel in downtown Vancouver usually means people are dressed accordingly. My hair is frizzy with humidity and I’m wearing runners. Thin sheaths of shame part as I walk through Nordstroms, trying to keep my head down and make it look like I belong. I talk too much during brunch. I am holding onto the vestiges of a shared history with Gordon, but can’t get to the level of familiarity that living in a spiritual community with him brought when we used to know each other. I am doing the wrong thing, suggesting the wrong activities. The thin sheaths cloud my vision. I brush them aside and watch women with straight blonde hair and high-waisted pants stride confidently out the correct doorway. When did I start slouching so much?
I have been avoiding caffeine but ordered a soy London Fog in a fit of fuck-it-all-ness. It was not a wise decision.
Alex and I went for Ethiopian last night. There are two Ethiopian restaurants near Eva’s, but one is between her and Alex’s place. I’d never been to this one. It was large and boldly decorated: dark paint, large canvases full of colour, even Christmas decorations. We sat down at a table for two. The booths were full and the other section of the restaurant was half hidden behind a partial wall. It seemed busy. The table next to me had a man and a woman. It was one of those tables that are five inches away from the ones next to, like we’re actually sitting at the same table. The woman’s name was Jessica and she and her boyfriend were leaving the next day for a trip to Indonesia. She’d packed up her belongings, sold her furniture and was going on an adventure. I didn’t find this out last night, though. I found this out on Sunday because we were in the same ride-share from Nelson. In the car, when she’d told me she was flying out on Wednesday, I said that I was, too, and jokingly said that I’d see her at the airport. A part of me knew the world is crazy enough that we really would see each other at the airport. Turns out we didn’t. We saw each other last night instead.
Maybe I’ll just write emails to you and then post them to my blog.
Subject: Another instalment
I am volatile and emotive on the Big Island, utterly caught off guard by my groundlessness during this transition. I paint my toenails my first day in Maui but go somewhere before they dry and they smear in my closed-toed shoes. I tell myself I’ll fix them later. I don’t.
When spring came in Montreal, the melting snow revealed dozens of mangled abandoned bikes along my walking commute. All winter tiny motorized plows rode the sidewalks, the driver’s of which couldn’t really see in front of them. When I saw them coming I learned to quickly get out of the way. One year four pedestrians were killed by plows; three in one day. They were mostly elderly.
The plow drivers didn’t watch for things like abandoned bikes shackled to rails and poles. What was only a mess of parts and pieces sticking out of the snow in deep winter become bicycles in gradations from full to partial as the sun heats up. I want to take photos of them all and create a series. I assume most of them were stolen. Many are missing wheels or their seat. They are covered with the dirt the plows threw off to provide traction in the receding snow.
Here there are lines of cars on the side of the road by the post office on an empty section of space. They are missing doors or tires. They are covered in vines. The jungle is growing over and around them, taking what is left. Some of them have items inside the cabs or truck boxes. A large orange gatorade water thermos. A blanket.
Today Phoenix and I get takeout and bring it to a beach in town to watch the sunset. It’s the beach we went to one of the first days we met when we were furtively flirtatious and playful. Today we are testy and hesitant. His anxiety mixes uneasily with my volatility. We haven’t yet found our thread of togetherness, the one that we lose with our frequent months of separation. The breeze lifts off the sea, the heavy air brings memories.
I am a Venn diagram of memories. My consciousness is the central, unchanging factor as past experiences surround me in cascading spirals. Walking in Vancouver, I see a pawn shop and suddenly I’m in Napier, New Zealand at a curio shop with Kate looking at endless British antiques. The trucks pulls to a stop at the grocery store and I’m watching Cy eat frozen yoghurt from the newly opened store on Bay View Street in Camden, Maine. I watch the sunset at the Old Airport Park in Kona and suddenly I’m in Tel Aviv. Someone is leaning against the broad pillar of the pier, meditating in the sand. A restaurant nearby sells amazing falafel, says a man with brown dreads. He’s reading “The Tenth Insight” by James Redfield in Hebrew — a book I just finished — but in English so I recognize the cover. I watch two ends of a cresting wave meet. Phoenix rests his head in my lap. There are rocks in a glass-flat pool that the raucous waves don’t reach.
It’s early, but I’m so tired. I’ve been getting up at 6, which still feels like 8 so is actually luxurious. I play Spelling Bee throughout the day, long enough to get the highest score, and then I stop. I make plans to plant flowers along the pathway to our room. I take my supplements and try to make myself remember to check if I can buy the same brand here. I think about all the things of which I am afraid.
Subject: All Together Now
I begin to get used to the roosters. Not at night — not at 3:00 am when they start calling to each other from across the neighbourhoods and for which there are earplugs — just randomly. When I’m on the phone with a colleague or my boss, but not a client and so I don’t need to go into the bus-turned-office, the roosters crow. They fade into the blur of life. Like my sticky skin and rain that follows sunshine that follows rain.
I empty the dishwasher every day. It’s a politically motivated action. It’s mundane and boring and in the middle of the kitchen so everyone can see that I do it, that I’m helpful and contributing.
With effort, this jungle shack eventually becomes more of a home. We paint the ceiling. There are still spots of white on my glasses, which I’ll scrape off eventually, and my shoes, which will always bear the remembrance of this time. White dotted on black. I take lamps from the basement storage. I pull out matching rugs for in front of the couch, the sink, each side of the bed. I wash the curtains and lose momentum to rehang them properly so they remain bunched on their nail hooks, waiting. Wrinkled.
Actions, thoughts, and speech stack around me. My own and those of others. I fall into an old habit of weighing each into piles, and often sift through the leave pile, wondering if there’s enough ballast for critical mass. I do so love to leave. And then as soon as I do this — this categorizing and shifting and rethinking of things that are said and done and expressed — I become free of all my ideas of what belongs in what pile and suddenly it’s just life again, piled up around me. Then I go for a walk or watch the sunset or feel the cool breeze on my sticky skin and I breathe as a butterfly flits past.
I trawl over lava rocks to watch tide pools near the waves. Water pours in, filling a pool through a narrow valley of rock, then collectively recedes and the flow switches to the opposite. At a class in the Beach Prayer Room with Swami Matananda she had us go off and shoot short videos to analyze in reflection. I took one of a piece of wood floating in the rhythm of Kootenay Lake’s waves. The wood was trapped by a couple of large rocks. When I looked at it, I saw something that was stuck. “What else do you see?” asked Matananda. I was adamant. The video showed me only constriction. Later, I realized the broader symbolism. The screen was filled with the fluidity of the waves, movement and flow. Why could I only see the stuckness? The earth turns the horizon closer to the sun. The waves rush into the tide pool with a ferocity that seems unending. And then the water leaves with equal persistence.
We sit on the couch and do word games together on my phone. Or Phoenix pulls out his guitar and plays folk hymns from long ago, perfect for harmonizing with. I want to spend every evening in creativity. I want to be showered in attention, as only a youngest child of many is. I want to be surrounded by kindness and compassion. I want my action, thought, and speech piles to be consistent and orderly. I want a cohesion that is inescapable, but really is only a fear of movement. Phoenix works through a new song repeatedly “One, two, three, four. Can I have a little more? Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, I love you,” his voice catching over the words. “All together now.”
“All together now,” I sing out in reply.