Girl with the Heart-Shaped Sunglasses

Dozens of songs, an abundance of reflection, four and a half hours and three hundred miles later, I made it to my first destination – Convict Lake in the Eastern Sierras. Stunning, though humble, commanding though serenely so, the clear, blue green waters sparkled with the late morning sun.

Winding my way through the Inyo National Forest bordered to my left by the breathtaking Sierra Nevada Mountain range, I had set off on a weekend, solo road trip to Mammoth Lakes, California with a few stops in mind.   Along highway 395 is a turn off one might miss if he or she is not looking for it but if you’re lucky enough to be in the know, you certainly won’t regret the beautiful area a few short miles outside of the popular winter destination, Mammoth Lakes. After scouting out my own private alcove gently touching the pristine waters, I blissfully sat on a rock with the joyous momentum of having arrived and relished my second breakfast of the Saturday morning – a small meal with a stellar view.

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I was embracing the solitude, welcoming its calm and its loneliness. I wanted to feel every single thing no matter how difficult or sad or surprising and I wanted to feel it in less than forty-eight hours. Even my emotions I try to control, however, my emotions didn’t need controlling on this trip. They were present and they were palpably shifting my reality. As I watched the boatloads of weekend campers and adventure seeking kayakers whisk by, I longed for that group outing, the synchronized laughter and the thrill of learning a new sport with close friends. While envying these nature-loving strangers, I was simultaneously learning about my self.

That night, after paying with pennies to enter the awe inspiring oasis that is the majestic Mono Lake, taking a scenic gondola ride to the summit of Mammoth Mountain, eating a pasta dinner at a local Italian eatery, unregrettably paying far too much for a glass of unique tasting Pinot Noir and pampering myself with a hot, hotel bath, I wrote in my journal:

I am buoyant. It is evening and I am winding down. It’s been a very long day of traveling and sightseeing and exploring. I have enjoyed myself greatly. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d be enjoying myself more if I were with (him). But, in contrast, I also couldn’t shake the feeling that I made the right call in ending things.

I’ve been hiking since about the age of twenty-one. It wasn’t until I began taking it seriously as a sport, challenging myself to longer mileage, higher altitudes and differing terrain that I truly fell in love with nature, more specifically, the terrain known as the mountains. Don’t get me wrong; at the age of twelve having seen the Colorado Rockies for the first time in my life, I was speechless. However, the connection I feel today when I’m on that mountain, climbing the ever-changing picturesque pathway to its summit, daring my lungs to defy me, pushing every muscle in my legs to their own perimeters, admiring and respecting my surroundings and the animal life that call such an environment home – that connection is remarkable.

The following day en route to hike Crystal Crag trail, a deer ran out in front of my car with thankfully enough time allowing me to hit the brakes. I patiently watched it gracefully dash across the two-lane road with hints of the early morning sun shone through the towering pine trees and then disappear into the shade of the bordering forest. Shortly after, I found myself at a dead end, obviously missing my turn, though fortunately discovering the abandoned and beautiful Horseshoe Lake. With not a soul in sight, I walked in the forty-degree weather in my denim shorts to its shore, snapping photograph after photograph of this unanticipated and glorious detour, knowing full well that the pictures would never do its splendor justice.

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Finally, on my hike, I decided to stop and enjoy the spectacular early morning views of Lake George and Lake Mary from many feet above when I felt the unexpected familiarity of tears forming in my eyes. The beauty, the isolation, the peacefulness of those moments in a short span of time when this world is experiencing so much unrest – I wanted to bottle them up, clone them and hand them out to every single, living human being. It was like the Earth, the Eastern Sierras in particular were enveloping me in a cool, crisp hug with their jagged snow-capped peaks, whispering all of their secrets to me.

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Fickle Heart Turned to Stone

It’s a known fact that life can turn on a dime. Life, as we know it, can completely alter its familiarity from one minute to the next. We can receive a phone call that brings us to our knees, forever shifting the proverbial. We can watch a two-hour documentary on the preservation of the Amazon rainforests, inspiring us to completely change our chosen professions.

The point is that seven years ago the below was my reality. I have grown, changed, altered, shifted, evolved and then some since I wrote this journal entry. I can vividly recall the sometimes inexperienced, immature sentiments and judgmental thoughts expressed in the below and it’s a direct reflection of the deep, sometimes painful contrast to my present ideas about each individual possessing nine lives.

The below is somewhere around my fourth life and specific names have been omitted to protect their privacy.

 

7/19/09

My time here is coming to an end. I can’t feel guilty for wanting to go back to Los Angeles. It’s my home now. I don’t belong here and my eyes are wide open to that fact. I recognize more quickly now the reasoning behind things that seem like they shouldn’t be happening. I know that I didn’t get a job right away because my dad was going to be diagnosed with cancer and I wouldn’t have been able to come home and be with him through his treatments. I’ve learned that I had to come and spend this much time here to realize that I don’t want to spend any more time here. Prior to coming home, I was applying to jobs in the Kansas City area and the first few weeks I was here, I was touring apartment lofts in downtown. I now am certain that I don’t want to spend more time here than necessary. I’ve begun to feel like I’m sixteen again. I have no car, I live at home with my mama with the occasional fights, and I’m watching my dad do drugs again. I left when I was eighteen partly so that I could get away from all of that.

There are some things, however, that I have not figured out the reasoning behind. For example, the intense love that I still have for (ex boyfriend) and the part of me that wants to give him another chance. Rationally, I’m almost certain that that’s a bad idea, but the part of me that loves and cares is afraid to just let go. I don’t worry too much about it because I know what is supposed to happen will happen, but it’s something that I definitely think about from time to time. They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder. I guess I’ll know more once I go home and live with him again. I must say it’s been nice not living with him for three months, though I’ve lived with my mother, and I’d rather be by myself. We were on the telephone for quite some time last night and having a pretty intense conversation. I like to think that he’s listening and understanding and taking the things I say with him and to heart, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t trust him, that is very doubtful.

I know, from experience, that a relationship cannot be had without 100 percent trust being present. I’m twenty-four and I like to think that there’s something bigger and better out there for me. Call me a dreamer, but I believe. There’s also a part of me that thinks settling for (ex-boyfriend) wouldn’t be so bad, though. I cannot even believe my ears and eyes…that was a very difficult sentence to type out, but I have to be honest with myself, therefore I have to be honest with you since I’ve endeavored on this sharing of the past three months of my life. I just want to break that cycle and settling is not the thing to do. I know that. Sometimes love aint enough…it’s true.

Right now, he’s planning on going out with his brother’s soccer team and the team from Milan to do God only knows what. I don’t need to be with a man who makes me feel suspicious or insecure. He’s really the only one who has made me feel this insane. Something else that kind of came to the surface, yesterday, was the golden rule. I told (ex boyfriend): “You lie to me. I lie to you. Don’t fuck with me.” I told him I’m not proud of double wronging things, but I’ve learned my whole life that you treat others the way you want to be treated. If I’m disrespected, I’m going to disrespect you. In other words, that’s karma.

Like right now, almost midnight, I’m going crazy. My mind runs wild, thinking of all the things that he could be doing, looking at, thinking about, ugh…that’s insanity – And a waste of time. I thought my other relationships were “dysfunctional.” Ha. I can’t wait to go to the coffee house. Technically, it opens in five hours…I’m pretty sure they open at 5 a.m.

I went to the other location of Scooters, on the plaza, this afternoon, and did not like it. It was packed and the clientele is very different. The whole vibe was just off – Whatever that means to you. Live in the now. Live in the now, I tell myself. If I live in the present moment, then petty things like (ex-boyfriend’s) actions cannot bother me.

I wish I was holding my baby George right now with Bambino laying by my side. Okay, now I’m just being random. Honestly, I’m tired of the fighting and the discussing, so I think I’m going to give it a “time limit” again. That means I must behave, as well, but basically, I’m going to go back to Los Angeles and I’m going to act as if we are in a relationship. I’m going to give him the same three strikes rule I give any other potential suitor, though we all know he’s well past one hundred fifty strikes. I’m not going to say anything about his meetings or this or that. He’s a big boy. He can make his own decisions, but I will mentally note if he “justifies” not going to one of his meetings. That will be a strike.

He shall that remain unnamed’s birthday is the 22nd but as we all know I don’t have much to say about him. To call or not to call? He told me to give him a call, last time we spoke, when I returned from New York, but I haven’t. Whatever. I’m not in the mood to discuss this any further at the present moment.

I know I’m going to miss my mama and her cats and the coffee shop, but it’ll be all right. It’s not as intense as the feeling of missing my cats. I hope they forgive me.

I’d really like to see my dad quit smoking before I leave Kansas City, though I’m not going to hold my breath. It makes me so sad, but I have to keep reminding the little girl inside my head that I cannot do anything more. I’ve done all I can and it’s not my responsibility. My dad is one of the saddest people I’ve ever known. It’s truly sad because he is a good person at heart. I believe that his next life will be better, happier. I can only hope. I hope a lot. I think it’s a good thing and I hope that that will never change about me. Come to think of it, even if he quits smoking, he still has an addiction to pain killers.   I need to get out of here. I need to live my life. I love my mom and I’m here for her, but I cannot stick around here any longer.

This fucking candle reminds me of He shall that remain unnamed’s bedroom. It smells like his fucking bedroom – the one on Melrose. I wonder where my mama got it. It’s addicting, almost, because I could just blow it out. And I did earlier, but I lit it again. It’s amazing what scents can do to a person. I mean I can literally close my eyes at this very moment and be laying in He shall that remain unnamed’s bed, waiting for him to return from the restroom and/or listening to music drone from his computer while we make love – or have sex. Whatever.

I’ve been very creative today. I worked on a few songs – mostly ones that I had already began. I like it when I do that. I dislike having incomplete work on my hands…perhaps that’s an obsessive compulsive disorder, but if that’s what I’m obsessive about – finishing something I start – then I think I’m doing all right. It’s when I start placing boxes of doctor’s gloves by every single door in my house just so I don’t have to touch the doorknobs, and then I end up with that white, powdery crap all over my sweaty fingers. That’s when someone might need to worry about me.

 

Marriage and Melatonin

I was bombarded on Facebook, this morning, with photos from my wedding four years ago. You know that whole “memories” thing Facebook automatically uses to choose random photos and posts from years gone by and then places them at the top of your newsfeed so that it’s the first thing you see when you log in to the app? Yeah, so this morning the first thing I saw was myself in a wedding dress. They’re actually awesome photographs of my loved ones and I and a few of my friends and my brother reminisced on them with me, which, of course, always helps.

Looking back I deem that time in my life my sixth life. If you’ll recall in Nine Lives, I’m going on number eight. And right now, I’m grieving number seven. As the brilliant Elizabeth Gilbert so eloquently put it, and I paraphrase, I am not merely telling a story so much as I am living it therefore I’m choosing to refrain from too much detail at the moment. With that being said, it has been a rough past week and a half. By rough, I mean my anxiety has been through the roof and I haven’t felt this emotionally alone since the immediate aftermath of my mother’s death, a time when David would often opt for staying out all night boozing with his coworker’s rather than come home to be with me.

Self-medicating by wine, dramatic television and finally, melatonin seem to assist in getting me through my nights and my days are sort of a fake it ‘til I make it shit show for anyone who is empathetically attuned. I’ll be all right, though, because I’m always all right.  And just for the record, I am not mourning David – the despair I have expressed above has absolutely nothing to do with David.

I often feel like such an asshole for expressing my personal problems at a time like this when my “personal problems” are merely a tiny pinprick in the swollen thumb of the state of this world, of America, in particular. My therapist would remind me that my problems and the world’s problems are not mutually exclusive, however, and in order to make a difference in the grander scheme of things, one must take care of oneself first and foremost.

Nonetheless, I don’t want this to manifest into a woe is me post because my heart is also heavy and my mind is aching with the helplessness I think many of us feel amidst the turmoil of this country. The best I can come up with is something my mama always reiterated to me – basic goodness. I have to believe that kindness and compassion go a long way and I have to spread love. At the end of the day, most importantly, I have to believe that the majority of people possess those very same core values – the same core values that have the power to create the necessary equality, respect and unity that every single one of us deserves.

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Best friend, brother and I stuck on the Brooklyn Bridge en route to the City Clerk’s Office on my wedding day

After a While Comes the Dawn

I stumbled upon a handwritten poem in one of my mother’s journals this morning, a poem by a woman named Veronica A. Shoffstall.  I’m guessing my mother read it in the Ann Landers column of the newspaper back in 1999. Many people would write this incident off as mere coincidence but I don’t believe in coincidences.  Every single step we take, every experience we have to call ours in the great span of history, every single person we encounter – it’s all connected be it minutely and quietly or in a grandiose form, shouting from the designated summits in each of our personal journeys or somewhere in between.

As I read this poem, I heard my mama speaking to me, answering those questions from Nine Lives and reminding me that a part of her is still with me. She’s in the short, peaceful interludes of my thoughts, poetically interjecting with journal entries that reflect a woman who was still learning how to be alone and still discovering that her strength was limitless. She was learning, practicing self-discovery and perhaps, feeling that familiar loss of hope in humankind and true, unconditional love.

I hope that seventeen years ago my mama had someone to discuss life’s perils and disappointments with, someone with whom she could trust and rely on. I hope that she wasn’t just having to say goodbye.

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My mother’s handwritten journal entry

After a while you learn the difference

Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,

And you learn that love doesn’t mean learning

And company doesn’t mean security

And you begin to understand that kisses aren’t contracts

And presents aren’t promises

And you begin to accept your defeats

With your head held high and your eyes open

With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child

You learn to build your roads on today

Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans

And futures have a way of falling down in midflight

After a while you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much

So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul

Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers

And you learn that you really can endure

That you really are strong

And you really do have worth

And you learn and learn…

And you learn

With every goodbye you learn

©Veronica A. Shoffstall

 

Nine Lives

I’m entering into, for lack of better terms, a new phase in life – one where the silent, uneasy solitude will be my best friend whether I like her or not, one whom I must become familiar with until I do like her. Her company will most likely reveal the desirable and not so desirable filthy corners of an old soul, coercing me into, yet another, inadvertent spiritual cleanse.

It’s like reincarnation because I learned a long time ago that life isn’t a continuous piece of string looping through jungle gyms and obstacle courses. It is several different pieces of string that we’re dangerously swinging from, holding on tightly with weakened hands, possibly with a direction in mind, but always falling or unintentionally veering off course. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not always unintentional. Sometimes one decision, no matter how big or how small, can completely alter the direction our lives have been taking, empirically shifting almost everything about them. It’s like we’re cats with nine lives.

I’m not certain which life I’m headed into right now though if I had to guess, I would guess it’s somewhere around eight. And if I’m right, I better make this shit count! And just in case there’s any confusion, I’m not talking about some hippie, drink only lemon juice and cayenne then meditate for twelve hours cleanse or life, either. I’m simply describing that almost transcendental feeling of ruminating on the past and feeling as if a couple of years ago was actually lifetimes ago or as if it were possibly someone else’s life that I’m merely retelling a story of. Perhaps it was even a book I read?

Either way, I must carry what I learned and experienced to the present and utilize it for the greater good of those around me and myself. I’ve begun to feel as if I was put on this earth to only plant seeds, to be a part of someone’s life for what feels like such a short time because once you truly love and care for another life, time is irrelevant to the emotions. A lifetime can feel utterly insufficient. Enter lesson number 9,153 – My mother always reminded me, “The price of love is grief.”