Tag Archives: journey

“All the Miles That Separate — Disappear Now, When I’m Dreaming of Your Face.”

It’s going to be about opening doors.

It started with our landing in Warsaw…

No, wait.  Scratch that!

It started with our boarding of the trans-Atlantic flight — that carried us to Vienna — and which I nearly missed due to a row of fuck-ups on behalf the domestic airline that took me to D.C.  One thing that I must say (in the domestic airline’s defense) is that the stewart who announced our landing did make a Christmas wish over the radio:  He asked that every soul on that plane allowed those of us, in danger of missing our flights, pass through the doors first.

“Yeah, right!” I thought.  “Like that’s gonna happen!”

My point exactly:  A family of South Koreans flying in first class were the first to get out of their seats and block our way.  And then, a miracle!  They sat.  Back.  Down.  And the entire plane remained seated, and we were given a priority.

Well, I’ll be damned:  Humanity!

I started running, checked the schedule of international departures on the go and followed the arrows to my gate.

“Say what?!  I have to catch a train?!  Fuck me!”

With ten minutes before the plane’s departure, I was still running alongside the moving walkway — and I was actually faster than the mellow well-dressed passengers, much better suited for this spotless place.

“Wien?” a flight attendant with a German accent intercepted me.

“YES!  WHERE?!” I was short of breath and seemingly out of my good manners.

“This way.  We have been waiting for you, m’am.”

Well, I’ll be damned:  What dignity!

A couple of other flight attendants who checked my boarding pass were equally as chill.  Effortlessly, I passed through a pair of sliding doors and entered possibly the biggest aircraft I’ve ever seen.  It was so giant that upon our landing (forgive the shortcut past the 9-hour flight here), TWO sets of exits opened to let us out.  And it was one of those aircrafts that involved stairs leading down to the foreign soil; and then, THREE shuttles — waiting to deliver us to the Passport Check Point.  So old-school!

After the silent man who stamped my visa page, there would be another security check, more doorless doorways and then another boarding, in the same old-school manner.  This time, it would involve ONE shuttle and ONE set of doors.

“Dzien dobry!” the flight attendants cooed at me at the entrance of a seemingly brand new plane.  They all had those gorgeous Polish noses, mellow faces and striking eyes.

Is this a European thing?  By now, I began to wonder.  This dignity, this slower manner that allowed for a well thought-out response:  Was this what other travelers insisted I experienced — by going to Europe?

And it would indeed turn out to be the pattern in this city:  In Warsaw’s every neighborhood, I would be treated with respect albeit some barely noticeable curiosity.  The women here — always so gorgeous, I would gladly subscribe to the world’s conviction that there were no equals to them, anywhere! — would look at me with some off-kilter fascination.  They wouldn’t be unkind at all, but they seemed to know I was one odd bird:  Sort of from around here — but not really.  Someone who understood them but, except for my communication via gentle manners I’d acquired with forgiveness, could barely respond.

Some men would be attracted but never spoke to me.  Most studied me modestly and never interfered.  One young and pretty creature stood aside, dumbfounded, and let me pass him.  A few turned heads — but never spoke up.  And no man would ever disrespect the woman he was with by being demonstrative with his curiosity at me.

Well, I’ll be damned:  Respect!

The doors to my cabdriver’s car (he looked so very much like my father):  Those doors just wouldn’t open.  And I had tried a couple of them.  My father’s kind lookalike, despite being in the midst of shuffling my bags, ran to assist me.  He would attempt to open those doors upon my final stop, as well; but I was too American in my capabilities to wait for him.

The doors leading to the concierge office were impossible to locate.  And only after going down a dodgy alley, with multicolored graffiti and smoking teenagers, did I finally locate the back door.  (The only woman in that group — gorgeous and not easily impressed — squinted her eyes at me.)

I yanked the door.  No luck.  Embarrassed to look back at the hip smokers, by now struck with silence, I buzzed the first key on the intercom.  Thankfully, someone chirped on the other end, and I was allowed to ascend.

The doors to our rented apartment required TWO sets of alarms and THREE sets of keys.  I waved and wiggled the keychain with my electronic pass in front of the red-lit eye for nearly five minutes before an older woman — again, gorgeous, mellow and smiling — quietly demonstrated how to do it.  The old fashioned key, like something out of my childhood’s fairytale, required some maneuvering in the lock.  Finally, I entered the spartan place that would become my home, for this week.

And this story about my random visit of Poland — where, after sixteen years, I would reunite with dad — would continue to be about doors:  The tubular, time-machine like doors of the shower; the heavy doors of every restaurant whose signs I could not decipher; the detailed doors of cozy cafes that would support my jet lag with their coffee; the wooden doors along the narrow cobble streets behind which I secretly wished to live (so that I could be closer — to dad); and the eventual folding doors of that ONE bus meant to bring my old man here —

TOMORROW!

I swear:  I’d conquer so many more doors — and miles — to get to you, today!

“We Were Born Before the Wind.”

It seemed like she was waiting for someone.  By the bench, at the top of a hilly lawn, the bottom of which met with the narrow gravelly passage occupied by the late morning joggers, she stood there, barely noticed by others.  An iron railing stretched on the other side of the path, and the bright blue waters of Monterey Bay seemed calm.  A forest of boat masts kept swaying in their metronome rhythm.  They clanked against each other with the hollow sound of empty water buckets or rusty church bells.  The shallow waters by the shore were navigated by a couple of paddle boarders and glossy baby seals.

Was it her beloved heading home?  Or was this just a mid-stop where she’d regroup for the next glorious flight of her freedom loving soul?  She stood like she belonged to no one — but the call of her nature, immune to the voices of fear or doubt.

The Northbound wind frolicked with her straight white hair.  I didn’t expect to see that texture on her body, but when I saw the handful of silky strands fly up on the side of her head, I stopped.  She remained motionless:  still and proud, slowly scanning the horizon with her focused eyes.

Just a few meters down, I myself had rested by a statue of a woman.  I couldn’t tell how long ago I had left my room without having a preplanned route through this small town by the Bay; for I myself had come here to rest in the unlikely lack of my own expectations — my fears, worries and doubts — and I had let the movements of the sun determine my activities that day.  So in its highest zenith, I departed from the four walls of my inn after the laughter of children — hyper way too early and fearlessly attacking the nearby pool — woke me up.

I began to run slowly at first, crossing through the traffic of drivers used to the unpredictable characters of pedestrians.  Not once did I resort to my city habits of negotiation by scowls or passive-aggressive gestures.  I bypassed the elders slowly walking, in groups, along the streets of boutique stores with hand-written signs for Christmas sales.  The smell of caffeine and caramel popcorn would trail behind young couples on their romantic getaways.  The joggers of the town were few and far between; so when I reached the narrow passage of the tree alley along the shoreline, I picked up my pace.

The wind kept playing with my fly-aways and untangling my tight hair bun.  A couple of times I turned my head in the direction of its flow and saw the mirage outlines of my most favorite Northern City.

“By the time I get there, I shall be free of fear,” I always think but then return to the predetermined pacing of my dreams.

I noticed the statue’s back at first:  A colonial dress peaked out from underneath a cape, and both were captured in the midst of their obedience to the same Northbound wind.

“A statue of a woman.  That’s a rarity.”

And I walked up to her.

It seemed like she was waiting for someone. Up from the pedestal, she focused her gaze on the horizon.  Her face was calm but gripped by prayer.  I knew that face:  It belonged to a lover who trusted that the wind would bring him back to her, unscathed.  And even if he were injured on his odyssey or tempted by another woman’s feasts, she trusted he would learn and be all the better for it, in the end.  Against her shoulder, she was leaning a wooden cross made of tree branches.

Santa Rosalia:  The Italian saint of fishermen.  She froze, in stone, in a perpetual state of beholding for other women’s men.  Throughout centuries, so many freedom-loving souls must have departed under her watch, and I could only hope that most of them returned.  But when the sea would claim them, did other women come here to confront her or to collect the final tales of their men dying fear-free?

I walked while thinking of her face.  And then, I saw the other awaiting creature.

When she began to walk downhill, she’d test the ground with each step.  With a balletic grace she’d stop at times, and study the horizon.  The wind began to tease her silky hair.  It took figure eight routes in between her legs, and taunted her to fly.

And so she did:  On a single rougher swoosh of the wind, she stretched her giant stork-white wings, gained height and began to soar, Northbound and fear-free.

“From Tolstoy to Tinker Bell. Down from Berkeley to Carmel.”

STOP HERE ON RED —>

EXPECT 5 MINUTE DELAY

We obey.

I’ve never seen such a thing.  The normally two-lane highway — with one lane heading to Monterey, and the other back down to Central Coast — has narrowed down into a single one.  The red light conducts the traffic going in two different directions into a narrow passage marked by the striped, orange cones.

One lane.  Somehow, all the way up here, in Kerouac’s country, coming and going doesn’t seem to matter.  We are all one:  simply on the road.   

We wait.

Ahead, the plastic poles cut across our lane diagonally, and the orange netting stretched between them provides zero protection from the loose stones that seem to have come off the side of the mountain.  The high rock is exposed and dark gray, darker than the wet asphalt of the PCH.  Here, the highway had to have been built by heros, used to conquering any mountain.  Or, perhaps, it was carved by the machetes of the retired Valkyries, tired of fighting.

We rest.

The traffic behind us is starting to accumulate.  The Jeep of military green has a brand new rack on its rooftop.  It’s empty.  A line of Subies and Prii must belong to the locals.  They know how to navigate these roads, with patience and an even hand.  But I wonder if for them — the chase is over.

A row of similar cars going in the other direction finally passes us.  Our light changes.

We begin to continue.

As the view opens around the bend, we both gasp:  Unmanned machinery sits amidst the piles of construction material.  There are rolls of metal netting with which the heros must secure the side of the suddenly disobedient rock.  A giant crane of royal blue is left upright and I immediately want to go swinging off its rusty hook suspended seemingly at an arm length away.  It has begun to drizzle and the machines parked on the other side of the road, over a short bridge, are blurry behind the fog.  Sleeping monsters.  There are a couple of newly erected cement walls, on both sides of the road.  They’ve got their purpose written in stone, but with five meter spaces in between each one, they appear to be thought up by Richard Serra himself.  And underneath it all, there roars the Pacific.  It’s white with foam and gray with rage.  Mercilessly, it slams its hissing waves against the giant fangs of the rocky shores.

To look down feels like a bird’s flight, but it is best not to do so while driving:  The heights tempt the mind’s wings into the abyss.

The line of cars on the opposite side of the site simultaneously waves hello with their skinny hands of windshield wipers.  The faces behind the rain-splattered windows seem calm and exhausted, but not at all resigned.  They are aware, actually.  For fifty miles at least, I haven’t heard any thumping of car radios or the abrasive screech of honks.

We cruise.  Come up on yet another sign.

ROUGH ROAD

The forewarned patch is just a dip with gravel on the bottom.  The white railing to the sides winks at our headlights with yellow, round mirror eyes.

We drop, survive.

It’s not so bad.  And just like that:  It’s over.

The mountains get higher here.  The fog is denser and it wraps around the black peaks.  It blends the line between the seemingly undoable heights and the sky.  The Ocean beneath is blurry, and although the drop can no longer be measured by the eye, the exhilarated heartbeat knows it’s no joke.  I hear its whooshing.  Glorious.

The limit that marks the end of that terrain and starts Big Sur sneaks up on us:  And suddenly, things change.  The mountains are not so rocky and covered with all shades of green and rusty red.  The roots of vegetation replace the metal netting done by the heros; and they seem to do quite a sufficient job at taming the exposed rock.  The rain begins to come down evenly, but not yet pour.  There kicks in the smell of mushrooms, dying leaves and wet bark.

The fields with feeding livestock return.  A row of inns and hiking humans marks our return to calm civilization.

HENRY MILLER LIBRARY

SOMEONE ELSE’S GALLERY

USED BOOKSHOP

BREAKFAST LUNCH AND DINNER

We pick up the pace.  The Redwoods.  Magnificent umbrellas of evergreens.  Stalagmites of eroded yellow rock.  The fire-engine red of succulents.

CARMEL HIGHLANDS

We keep on moving.  Sometimes, we follow the lead of those who seem familiar with the passage.  Their pace is calm, belonging to those living in surrender.  The occasionally impatient ones pass us while we pull off to the other side of the white line.  Here, we’re all still one, and simply — on the road.

SHOULDER CLOSED

BUMP AHEAD

We pass it and again:  It’s not so bad.

We keep on following the road.

“… And Our Way Is: On The Road Again.”

Which way?

Northward.  Onward.

I leap up.  I must’ve drifted off.

I’m pretty sure I was just dreaming, redefining my stories in my resting state.  Redefining memories of my family, understanding the departures of those who were supposed to stand in — for my loves.  Remembering, memorizing, redefining my journeys.  Maybe it was a bump in the road or my road partner’s drumming on the steering wheel, but I wake up.

“Ventura?” I recognize it immediately.

He looks at me out of the corner of his eye:  “Yep.”

Seaward.

The Ocean over his shoulder is blending with the sky.  The glorious giant is calm today.  In shallow spots, it shimmers with emeralds.  A single pier jots out.  At the end of it, there sits a seafood joint that emits the smell of overcooked frying oil.  I wonder if it can be smelled under the pier, where flocks of homeless teenagers and aging hippies reconvene before the rain.

There is that white metal bridge of the railroad that runs through the town and always hums throughout the night instead of the roaring Ocean.  I should take a train up here, sometimes, for an adventure.  The traffic of LA has been long surpassed, but the cluster fuck of that two-lane Santa Barbara stretch is coming up, right around the bend.

Yep, here we go:  The perfectly manicured golf courses to the right of me and the Spanish villas flocking the greenery of the mountains gives away the higher expectations of the locals on their standards of living.  Time moves slower here, more obediently.  That’s one of the biggest expectations that money can buy.

Where to?

Northward.  Forward.

Past Seaward.

After a few more miles north, we hit the land of ranches.  Brown wooden signs with names of farms and modest advertisements for their produce begin to mark our mileage.  The mountains seem more arid here, yet somehow the land seems more prosperous.  After the yet another dry summer, the greenery is starting to come back.  It will never look like the East Coast out here.  But neither will my adventures be the same.

I keep on moving, dreaming, redefining.  I draw up maps of future trajectories, but even I know better:  That when it comes to dreams, I’ve gotta roll with it.  

A few more miles up and the wondering cattle starts to punctuate the more even greenery.  They are like commas in black ink.  The ellipses.  The horses here are more red, and they match the clay colored rocks protruding in between the green.

Were we to take the 1 Northward, the terrain would have been much prettier.  But the 101 is slightly more efficient.  Besides, if offers up a thrill of weaving in between the mountains, where the eye can easily miss all signs of rising elevation, but the ears can’t help it and plug up.  I get that same sensation when taking off in steel birds from the giant airports of Moscow, San Francisco and New York.  In those moments, whereI’ve come from seems to give room to where I’m heading.  And I continue to redefine the journey.

Lompoc comes and stays behind.  I’ve once leapt out of a steel bird here; and the fear of falling did not get to live in me, for long.  After enough falls, it would become a way of being.  Free falling was just another form of flying.

Which way?

Not downward, but onward.

Onward and free.

In fifty more miles, we reach the vineyards.  They cling to the sides of these heels like patches of cotton upon a corduroy or velvet jacket with thinning material on its elbow.  Some patches are golden.  They look harvested and ready to retire.  Others are garnet red and brown.  Above the ones that are bright green I notice thin hairs of silver tinsel in the air.

“Is that to ward off the birds?” I ask my road partner.

He answers indirectly:  “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

And it is.

It is quite beautiful up here, and I am tempted to pull off the road and temporarily forget about my general direction.  Perhaps, it matters little:  As to where I’m heading and how fast.  But the way (as in the manner, and my manner is always grateful) must make the only difference in the end.

“Freedom’s Just Another Word — for Nothing Left to Lose.”

“It should not be denied… that being footloose has always exhilarated us.  It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led West.” 

Wallace Stegner, The American West as Living Space

“What if I walked away, right now, into these open spaces ahead?”

I wasn’t sure if every 19-year-old entertained such thoughts, but as I continued walking in the midday heat of a Southern California summer, I could see the journey clearly.  I could see myself:  A tiny figure whose outline was distorted by the heat rising from underneath the thin-soled Converse shoes, walking slowly but with certainty, fearless in the way of someone who had nothing to lose.

I had lost enough that year to not fear the possible pain of the unknown.  I had lost enough to have nothing holding me in place.  My college applications had been sent off late and only to a handful of unknown institutions with rolling admissions.  Considering it was the end of August, I had assumed I had failed to get in.

Two marriage proposals had happened that summer, by two different men, neither of whom even pretended to understand me much.  A month before, I had lost all of my cash, my car and my place of stay; and the absurdity of my pre-college summer was finished off — with a death.

As a matter of fact, it was the dead that was still keeping me in place.

She had died untimely, from a heart attack-ed.  I was called out of my Anatomy Lab to receive the message.  It was just a note, written on a pink slip that rarely meant good news.  The couple of times that I had witnessed it being delivered into my classmates’ hands, they wouldn’t return for the rest of the day.  Sometimes, they would be gone for weeks; and when they came back, I noticed the difference in their faces.  It looked either like gravity — or weightlessness.  I was about to find out which.

My messenger — an unknowing work-study student from the counselors’ office — ran out on me before I could ask him for any details.

“I have a note,” I told the receptionist in the counselors’ office, while rummaging in my schoolbag for my glasses.

“I know.  They are still on hold,” she answered.

The supervisor of the office loomed in the background, by the copy machine.  I saw his face, however blurry, and knew if I could see him any clearer, he would tell me of his sympathy.  My hands continued shaking, as they searched the bottom of my bag for an item I insisted on needing before picking up the phone.

The next few days had passed in a slow-mo waltz of minutes.  There would be phone calls and somber cards; a weeping husband on a flowery couch; a line of uninvited guests who would never be around whenever I was attacked by a slew of forms and interviews from funeral parlors.

“Whatever you need,” they promised to the weeping husband, as they too began to weep.

Nothing had prepared me for the questions that happened that week, from the people on the other end of the phone:

She was a donor, they said; and could they have my signature — to take her eyes?

Make a list of all the things, they told me:  things to be placed inside her coffin.  Did I know which she had treasured the most?

Choose the clothes she would be most comfortable in, they insisted:  Shouldn’t she be comfortable, wherever she was going?

And was I sure she wouldn’t prefer cremation instead?  (‘Cause that wouldn’t cost us as much, they would mention under their breath:  After all, they weren’t completely heartless.)

The weeping husband continued to assume I was strong enough to take his place.  No one had asked me if I was ready or willing, or knowledgeable of her last wishes.  Perhaps, I had promised more competence than the bulb-nosed man on the flowery couch, who nodded and moaned, accepted troughs of food from the still uninvited neighbors, with their solemn faces and anecdotes about the dead.

“Whatever you need,” they mumbled over his shoulder as they hugged and strained their own faces for emotions.

On the morning of the funeral, I remembered shivering.  They had wanted us to start early:  The first burial of the day.  And the morning would be so cold, and dewy.  The husband continued to weep in the front row of gray plastic chairs, while I accepted envelopes and hugs from people I hadn’t known.

Thank you for coming.

Thank you for coming.

Thank you.  It means so much.

The following week, I had promised to come back and clean out her closet.  The task of deciphering the bus schedules and routes seemed absurd and painfully sad.  I would study the indifferent faces of the drivers as they spoke gibberish about my transfers, and vouchers, and student passes.

I would get off on the last stop and study the desolate grounds and the open spaces ahead.

“What if I walked away, right now,” I thought, “into the open spaces?”

What if I followed the trajectory of black telephone lines or began chasing tumbleweeds:

Where would I end up?  And would I end up free?

And would that freedom feel weightless, eventually returning my joy; my forgiveness?

“But It’s Hard to Come Down — When You’re Up in the Air.”

“Where are you going?” P asked me on the phone during my monthly calls to Motha Russia, after I announced that I was busy packing.

“Eh.  A little bit here and there,” I answered while measuring the contents of my closet against the mouth of my giant suitcase, gaping open on the floor.  “Here and there.  You know.”

I haven’t really finalized my travel plans yet.  I mean:  I knew I was heading back to Motha Russia — eventually.  That explained the uproar currently happening in the family:  They haven’t seen me in sixteen years, so the homecoming trip promised to be loaded.

But I wasn’t making that daunting trip for another couple of months.  In the mean time, I was giving up my apartment and packing up my giant suitcase.

Apparently there was nothing out of the norm about the vagueness of my plans, because P was agreeing with me, quite enthusiastically:

“Da, da, da!” he said.  “I’m listening.”

Dad had always been on my side.  He had to be; because I never left him much of a choice but to get used to the nomadic habits of mine.  I mean:  All I ask for — is my freedom.  Is that so hard?

Penelope Cruz

But apparently, in order to accept my antsy temperament and the life-long addiction to wanderlust, I also ask for a lot of trust.  Trust was exactly what I relied on when I announced my initial decision — sixteen years ago — to leave Motha Russia in pursuit of my education abroad.  Trust was demanded when I later moved to New York, for the same reason; or when I committed the daunting trip back to Cali after my share of victories and defeats on the East Coast.

All along, my relocations were telegraphed to my folk back in Motha Russia on a monthly basis.  Considering the homeland chaos, I took it upon myself to keep the connection alive; and I would call, from wherever I landed.

“I’m here, for a little bit.  Here and there.  You know,” I’d say, while unpacking another giant suitcase.

As far as I was concerned, I was fulfilling my daughterly obligations beautifully.  So, whenever P would voice as much as a hesitation or a worry, I’d go bonkers:

“I mean…  All I’m asking for — is my freedom!  Is that so hard?”

P wouldn’t have much of a choice.  So, he would agree with me, quite enthusiastically:

“Nyet, nyet, nyet,” he’d say.  “I’m listening.”  (Dad had always been on my side.) 

No one knows the responsibility of freedom better — than those of us who vow our lives to its pursuit. 

I mean:  All I am asking for — is my freedom.  And all I am asking of my loves — is trust.

My addiction to wanderlust began in the first years of my life.  Mere months after my birth, P — who devoted his life to building the Soviet Empire as an Army man — was being relocated from the East Coast of Motha Russia into the less populated inlands.  The first couple of our moves would be done by train; and in the beginning of his career, P could track his ascent through the ranks by the route of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

“You’d always sleep easily, on trains,” he’d say any time I told him about the utter calmness I feel these days, when on a railroad.

His bigger promotion would take us into the middle of the country — into much more brutal winters and lands.  For first time in my life, we would have to take a plane ride.

I wouldn’t be older than a year when motha packed me into a tiny suitcase that she kept unzipped on her lap during the 4-hour flight.  She would have to get inventive and make a transient crib out of it, stuffing it with a pillow.  I would be bundled up into a blanket and wrapped with a ribbon:  A tradition taught to Russian mothers by the brutal winters of my Motha’land.

For the duration of the flight, I wouldn’t fuss at all.

“All I could see from my seat — was your button nose peaking out of the tiny suitcase:  You were sleeping,” P would tell me whenever I confessed about the utter peace I always feel these days, when up in the air.

In order to feed my life-long addiction to wanderlust, I’ve had to grow up quite quickly.  Motha Russia wouldn’t leave my generation much of a choice after the collapse of the Soviet Empire that our parents devoted their lives to building.  So, instead of living in ruins, many of us chose to pursue a life — and an education — elsewhere.  So, we packed our tiny suitcases and we left.  We had to give up our childhood — and to grow up.

Because all we asked for — was our freedom.  And for my generation, it was indeed very, very hard.

Because all I’ve asked for — is my freedom.  And as someone who’s vowed her life to the pursuit of it, I’ve paid all the consequences of my choices in full — and they have indeed been very, very hard.

So:

“Da, da, da!  I’m listening!” P is always saying, quite enthusiastically, on the phone.

He — is always on my side.

And after sixteen years of my untimely adulthood, he agrees with my pursuit of that calmness and peace that I always feel when transient; when in pursuit of my self-education — when in pursuit of my freedom.

“Half of the Time, We’re Gone — But We Don’t Know Where, And We Don’t Know Where. Here I Am…”

I mean:  I had just written something about cotton candy.

“Kitten!  Look at the sky!” I heard.

I came out onto the porch:  Endless fluffs of torn clouds stretched across the darkening sky.  They were the color best found on the fur of some Siberian cat:  a palette of silver and all the purple shades of amethyst.  In a departing kiss, the setting sun colored the bottom layer with fuchsia pink.

“And who’d thought you up?” I whispered, in response.

By the time we got into the car, the fuchsia kisses had been wiped off.  And just as we drove off, an arrow of lightening shot down, about twenty meters ahead of our front bumper.

(I have landed here over a decade ago, yet I still think in metrics.)

“WOW!  Did you see that?!” he said and flipped his entire body in the driver’s seat in my direction.

“I did.”

But I was calm, in that tired sort of way.  Another day of work was behind me.  So were a few more good-byes.  There had been many of those, this year — a number of amicable departures and such a multitude of voices by the unsettled many, I was beginning to lose track of my losses.

So, I was leaving town on a whim, just so that I could wrap the last season of the year with whatever grace I could summon — elsewhere.

In half a kilometer, we reached the onramp.

(I have landed here over a decade ago, yet I still measure the distances I go — in metrics.)

How can the 405 be possibly packed at this hour?  Well, at least, it was moving.  We were moving; and I became aware of just how many people lived, dwelled, dreamt in this city.

Of how many dreamers had to survive the multitude of voices by the unsettled many — and lose track of their losses.  

Of how many of us had to leave town on a whim, in search of our grace — elsewhere.

We neared the hairy maneuver of merging onto the 101:  A few careful steps on the breaks and a couple of accelerations past the unknowing drivers — a couple dozen meters of betting against other people’s graces (which is always a tricky hand) — and we were free sailing.

(I know:  I have landed here over decade ago, yet I still measure my growths — my flights — in metrics.)

The traffic was moving against the dark mounts, outlined in the background.  On this freeway, everything seemed a lot more sensical at nighttime.  So, many times I had passed the peak that revealed the view of the Valley all at once, but never had I thought of it so stunning:  It spilled out in a palette of multi-colored stars dropped onto the ground beneath us.

The cars ahead looked like a trail of migrating fireflies.  And the lights in the oncoming lanes were the color of French lemon meringue.

I opened my eyes:  I had to have drifted off for a minute.

(It’s a good thing that time is measured with the same particles in both hemispheres.  Because I had landed here over a decade ago, and I had long given-up on thinking in military time; but the rest of the adjustment was easy. Here, time — is a bit more simplified:  There is just never enough of it.)

I remembered waking up like this, back at the age when I was already filled with dreams, yet most of the time dismissed by the adults as too serious of a child.  I was asleep in the backseat of a cab, moving through Moscow, at nighttime, to catch an early morning flight to the East Coast of my Motha’land:  Somewhere, where both the skies and the forests were the color best found on the fur of some Siberian cat.  Leaning against the door, I had to have drifted off for a minute (at twenty three hundred, plus some minutes after — it was long past my bedtime).

The road was narrow, much narrower than it tended to be here, and a lot less sensical.  The traffic ahead looked like a trail of migrating fireflies.  And the lights in the oncoming lanes reminded me of Russian meringue cookies, with apricot jam.

I flipped my entire tiny body on the backseat toward motha:  She was napping on my jacket that she’d rolled up into a travel-size pillow.

But dad heard my commotion from the front passenger seat, looked over his shoulder and whispered:

“What’s your business, little monkey?”

“P!  Did you see that?!” I said.

“I did.”

P was calm, in that tired sort of a way.  But he smiled at me, just to let me know that he, unlike others, was taking me very seriously.  After all, I was a child already filled with dreams; and he had to have known that I was already meaning business.

Back on the 101, it began to feel like we were climbing.

I flipped my entire body in the front passenger seat — already feeling closer to having recuperated my grace with gratitude — and I said:

“Are we going up?”

“We are,” he answered.

He was calm, in a tired sort of way, and didn’t at all look like my father.  But still, he, unlike others, was always taking me very seriously.

The road narrowed down to two lanes, and I could clearly smell the Ocean:  It smelled like the East Coast of my Motha’land.

(I have landed here over a decade ago and willingly stopped measuring my life with memories. But somehow, I seemed unable to forget that one smell of home.  And after a decade of living, dwelling, dreaming in SoCal, I realized that here — I was much closer to homecoming.)

At this point, having gone however many kilometers out of town, on a whim, there was barely any traffic.  We were speeding, sliding, catching up to an occasional lonesome firefly ahead; until there were none at all, and the deserved single lane of the PCH began to feel a lot less sensical.

A lot like home.

There were so many ways to leave home, and there were many more ways — to land.  But I knew:

Homecoming — was always better committed with some grace; even if it was found — elsewhere.

“Proof! I Guess I Got My Swagger Back: TRUTH.”

“Hey, Ra-Ra!” — one of my brothers leaves me the same voicemail, for the nth time.  “Don’t you think it’s kinda ironic that after six years, your outgoing message hasn’t changed?”

My brothers call me Ra-Ra.  They’re both Latin:  For them, rolling their “r’s” — is half the fun.

“Rrra-Rrra!” the younger one always winds up his tongue; and he gleams while shaking the long hair out of his squinting dark eyes.  “RRA-RRA – BABY!”

I chuckle:  How I adore those hearts!  

This morning, I listen to the message, and I slide open the windows.  It’s been feeling like autumn, lately.  But how exactly — I just can’t pinpoint yet.

Perhaps, there is a vague aroma of dying leaves, much more aggressive on the other coast, where my older brother now dwells.  He is making things happen over there, moving at twice the speed than we do, in this paralyzed city.  And his energy — his hunger, his passion, his perpetual up-for-it-ness — is contagious, even if only captured on my voicemail, this morning.

All throughout the year, he is in the habit of wearing long, tattered scarves, a couple at a time.  A few — seem to be made out of his own canvases.  Others are thicker:  I imagine they’ve been crocheted by the hands of lovely girls who tend to adore him, with their open, yet calmer hearts.  And when I meet him, in the middle of autumn, on the other coast, I study the flushed tip of his nose peaking out of the bundle of those endless scarves — which he is in the habit of wearing, all throughout the year, a couple at a time.

“Ra-Ra!” he’d say, while untangling himself.

And I would chuckle:  How I adore that heart!   

 

It’s not going to rain here, not for another month.  So, my own scarves, long and tattered, can remain stored for just a bit longer.

Still, I can already smell the oncoming change.  It sits at the bottom of a clouded layer that now takes longer to burn off in the mornings.  At night, I’ve started using thicker blankets.  And when I leave my day job, these days, the sun is already on its way out.  I walk home, alone in this paralyzed city, and I bundle up in my oversized sweaters whose sleeves remind me of the long arms of my brothers.  I bury my face in the generous, knit, tattered collars, and I chuckle.

My brothers:  They stand over a foot taller than me.  My baby-talls!  My two gorgeous, loyal creatures from two foreign lands with convoluted histories of political detours, similar to my own Motha’land’s.  We each belong to the people prone to chaos, to revolutions and idealism.  So, our comfort level — is flexible.

Moving — or moving on — comes easier for us.  Neither one has settled yet (and we won’t settle for less than the entire world!); and we tend to keep our luggages readily available at the front of our closets.

My younger brother tends to get easily distracted.  On every adventure, every journey, he loses himself completely, disappearing for months at a time, on the other coast.  But every time he resurfaces, his energy, his passion — his perpetual up-for-it-ness — is absolutely contagious.

He takes weeks to return my messages.  And when he does:

“RRA-RRA – BABY!” he winds up his tongue, and I can hear his gleaming while shaking the long hair out of his squinting dark eyes.

And I chuckle, instantaneously forgiving him for disappearing on the other coast: How I adore that heart!

This morning, I slide open the windows:  It’s been feeling like autumn, lately.  I pull the luggage out of the front of my closet and I begin packing.

“How ’bout an adventure?” I think.  “Why not?”

And immediately, I am flooded with a certain feeling of lightness and peace.  But what it is exactly — I just can’t pinpoint yet. Where I am going — I do not know.  It’s always been easy to move.  But lately, it’s become easier — to move on.

Fuck it, I think, and I go digging out my long, tattered scarves.  A couple of them seem to be made out of my brother’s canvases.  I don’t remember where I got them though; and I rarely wear them.  So, I pack those away again.  The others, thicker and multicolored, crocheted by lovely girls with open, calmer hearts — those I start trying on, as if with their length, I can measure the mileage to my beloved hearts.  One at a time, I wrap them around my neck, bury my face and I chuckle:  In my life, I have adored so many hearts!  And so many hearts — adore me.

It’s not going to rain here, not for another month.  So, maybe, today, I’ll just drive up north:  Somewhere else to tangle myself up — up to my flushed nose — and to think of my brothers; to think of all the other hearts, dwelling on the other coast.

In less than an hour, my luggage is packed.  I’m ready to go; and immediately, I am flooded with a certain feeling of lightness and peace. Is it gratitude?  My adoration for other hearts?

I listen to my brother’s message again:

“Hey, Ra-Ra!” (he left it, months ago, for the nth time.)  “Don’t you think it’s kinda ironic that after six years, your outgoing message hasn’t changed?”

Because for the last six years, I’ve lived vicariously through my brothers’ energies:  their adventures, passions — their perpetual up-for-it-ness — on the other coast.  My own travels, however, have been carefully planned.

I reach for my phone and prerecord another message.  I think I may use it, in my seventh year:

“Hey.  It’s V.  I’ll tell you something new.”

I zip up my luggage.  Leave a voicemail for my brothers:

“How I adore your hearts!”

And I get a move on.

I Came To Win. To Fight. To Conquer. To Thrive. I Came To Win. To Survive. To Prosper. To Rise. TO FLY-AH-AH-AI!

I normally don’t do this, but after serving nearly seven years in LA-LA, I decided to skip the shortcuts the other night — and take the long way home.  It’s rare, but I felt like I had nowhere to be.  And no one — was waiting for me.

By now, I had thrown myself into a few affairs; and for while, each would fool me into thinking that my life was somehow made better:  Elevated.  And I would dash across town, using shortcuts, to get myself tangled up in my lovers’ limbs, stories, messes and hair — just so that I could get distracted from the mundaneness that happens after one starts taking her breathing for granted.

The men wouldn’t last:  They had “their own set of problems”.  They too — were serving their time in LA-A.  And they would go away, taking shortcuts out of my limbs, my stories, my messes.  My tangled hair.

So many of them had left, during the last seven years, I would start confusing my heartache for being alive.  And I would crave this chronic state of getting over a man — instead craving the love that I had never actually received.

“This one — is for the sake of the departed,” I thought when choosing my route, in my mind, while simultaneously starting up my car.

I was leaving the West Side of the city which runs in its own timezone depending on how many people are trying to get through traffic — to their own shortcuts — and into the limbs, the stories and the messes that wait for them in other distant neighborhoods.  After nearly seven years in LA-LA, I had learned how to wait out the crowds:  not because I dislike serving my time amidst humanity; but because I prefer not to do so — amidst the worst of it.

So, by the time I was choosing my route the other night — while simultaneously starting up my car — I had avoided the traffic and the worst of human behavior that comes with it.

I looked in my rear view mirror, West bound.

“Remember that departed?” I thought while seeing the neighborhood I had started to explore in a company of a man full of stories and messes.

I looped around the block, but then realized:

Love had never really lived there.

So, I got back onto Venice — and started heading East.

Venice was moving, speeding at times.  I saw the tired faces of other drivers taking their shortcuts, after serving enough time on the West Side to avoid the traffic and the worst of human behavior that came with it.  They seemed focused:  in the know.

A pretty blonde in a well-aged red Jeep seemed to sense my curious gaze, studied me for a split second:  She saw that I was meaning well, smiled tiredly and took down her hair, out of the tiny ponytail at the base of her neck.

“That’s my girl!” I thought, speeding past her in the other lane.  My windows were down:  I wanted to taste the incoming marine layer, crawling in like a giant wet tongue — and to outrun it, while heading East.  I slid open my sunroof, and the wind immediately swooshed inside.

I took down my hair.

The Melrose District came up on me quite quickly, despite my taking the long way home; and it greeted me with heavier pedestrian traffic and the smell of anything else but the Ocean.  Joggers in stylish clothing, smart enough to wait out the heat, strutted along the crooked pavements.  Pretty Jewish girls in modest, long skirts somehow reminded me of the old country.  Sporty mothers with yoga asses:  What made them flock to this ‘hood?  And girls, in gladiator sandals or sparkly stilettos, smart as whips, chasing their bargains along Melrose:

They weren’t a breath of fresh air, no; but a mouthful of something very specific.

Normally, I would take a shortcut here.  Instead, I obeyed the residential speed, turning into the less travelled streets with open-mindedness; and I let them surprise me with memories.

“And remember that one?” I thought suddenly, swinging past a lavender sign of a restaurant resilient enough to serve its time for the last seven years, in LA-LA.  I had first come here with another departed, even though love — had never really lived there.

“Or this?” I was sitting in an alley, passing a funky yoga studio in which I had once fallen for a boy.  He wouldn’t last:  He had “his own set of problems”.  And he would go away — run away, actually — taking shortcuts out of my life.

I took the long way home.  I never planned for it, but after serving seven years, here — has become my home.  And history was written everywhere.

“I’m A Hustla, Baby! I Just Want You to Know.”

How does one get back, I always wonder when on an in-bound flight to LA-LA.  How does one summon herself again — for the grind, for the hustle, for the race; for the conviction?  For the insanity of the dream?

Because most of us haven’t chosen to live here.  No!  To live here — we must.

Because this is where the grind happens, and the hustle, and the race.  This is where one comes to make a name, slowly chiseling it out of some seemingly immovable matter.  This is where one comes to knock on doors, endlessly, as if deaf or immune to rejection.  And only after enough doors have been opened, does the labyrinth of all the unpredictable passages and dark thresholds left behind begin to make sense.  And even if it doesn’t make sense, somehow one must find herself satisfied with the journey itself.

Aha:  The journey.

I hear others, many, many steps ahead of me, testify to the worth of “the journey” in their interviews as very accomplished people.

“Easy for you to say!”

Right?

No.  No, I never think that.  By choice, I am not bitter, or skeptical.  Stubbornly, I hone-in my own insecurity, so that others’ testimonies of this kind don’t set it off.  And instead:  I end taking their word for it, not because of my blind fandom for these very accomplished people; but because I myself have found the one journey I don’t mind committing despite the grind, or the hustle, or the race.

Oh, sure:  There are days when the dream stalls a little.  It sits there, rooted in nothing but my imagination.  And sometimes, I am appalled at how others don’t see it my way.

“It’s over there,” I tell them, as if pointing out a thunderstorm cloud accumulating on the other side of the mountain.  “Right over there — right above it all and ever so close!  Don’t you see?!”

Their faces tell me everything about their own “journey”.  Some get spaced out in self-defense:  They’ve seen too many madwomen in this town by now to be shocked or threatened by my insanity.  They aren’t even amused by it, as a matter of fact.  They just want some safe distance in between.  Others — the ones with ephemeral dreams of their own — try to empathize.  But they can’t!  They really can’t, for they’ve got too much of their own shit to do — and they just don’t have any time for mine.

“We should coffee sometime,” they tell me, instead.  “Talk about it more.”

And then, there are those that have promised to love me forever.  To them, my insanity is no surprise:  They worship it, instead, by association.  They are my comrades, equally insane and more fearless.  And we have been feeding off of each other’s craziness for a long, long time.   Because that’s how we get by:  We compare each other’s grind, and the hustle, and the race.  And somehow, because we are all insane enough to dream, it all stops seeming so unbearable.

But:  How does one get back, for the in-bound flight to LA-LA?

I started itching yesterday afternoon, in the waiting lounge of the San Francisco International Airport.  My fellow passengers seemed either exhausted or dreamy.  Others were loud, habitually hollering at their children and spouses; yelling through their mobile devices, most likely at someone back in LA-LA and already in the midst of their grind.

A businessman in sneakers and a short-sleeved floral shirt was negotiating a sale that, according to him, all of us had to witness, while he typed furiously on his hefty looking Dell laptop.  A traveling couple of colleagues at a Samsung charging station were hollering back and forth about some training workshop that had to get done before their landing; and the tiny, beat-up Indian man caught in the crossfire of their hollers, seemed utterly defeated at the discovery of his irrelevance.

“These ones don’t need to get back,” I thought, “because they never left:  the grind, the hustle or the race.”

Suspended right above my own despair and denial, I continued to look around the lounge.  The young, investment banker type to my immediate left met my gaze with a pressed-lipped smile:  He seemed slightly surprised at his own reluctance to get back.  The sleepy hippies in laid-back but stylish clothing rested all over the floor while listening to music, jotting down their dreams or looking up at the last views of The City.  They seemed in the midst of plotting their return already.  (Or maybe they were just spacing out.  And maybe, it was all — in my own mind.)

But:  How does one get back, after the in-bound flight to LA-LA?

I tell you how:  You summon yourself.

At first, you summon yourself in order to bear.  You summon your courage and your conviction, your memories of the dream that’s worth the grind, and the hustle, and the race — the dream that has brought you here, in the first place.

Sometimes, in the most remote corners of your heart’s ventricles, you must look for all the reasons to carry on.  And you glue them together — sew the damn fucking thing, if you must! — and you suspend yourself, right above your despair and denial, and you carry on.

Step two:  Summon your gratitude.  Even though most of us haven’t chosen to live here, to live here — we must.  But that living happens much easier — and with better dividends, in the end — if it’s committed with some grace.

And after all, She ain’t so bad:  This forsaken city of LA-LA, exhausted by all the grind, and the hustle, and the race for which She continuously — and quite graciously, the good girl that She is! — makes room.  Patiently, She waits for so many of us to get back, to land.  And then, She must wait for us to get over all of our other cities and loves.  She does.  Like a good girl — She does!  And She keeps taking us back, graciously.

And if you look at her with enough undivided attention, She is even quite pretty. So, I did that, yesterday:  As soon as I landed, in the midst of all that room that She has graciously made for me — and for my dream that’s worth the grind — and I drove myself out to Her shore.  Quietly suspended above my own denial, I frolicked in Her sand, and in Her waves, and in Her glorious sun; and before I knew it:

I have gotten back and I have landed.

And now:  Back to the grind.