Continued from Episode One, Episode Two, Episode Three, Episode Four, Episode Five and Episode Six.
Previously: Talking about hearing songs and seeing floppy-eared dogs, followed closely by actually hearing those songs and seeing those floppy-eared dogs. Wondering how many times I can use the word “magical” to describe a wild New England weekend before the word loses meaning. Eight years later..nope..”magical” still hasn’t lost its meaning. A temporary goodbye that left us both feeling sick and feverish..
And thus began the best summer of my life, followed not even remotely closely by the second best summer of my life in which I delivered pizza with my sister and a bunch of hormonal guys.
My last email to Cassidy on the morning of July 1st before his flight was, “I’ll be there.” Five days, a brutal goodbye and a six hour flight later, that same email got a response while I was whiling away and torturing myself back at work:
“you were. you really were.”
Despite calling my mom from somewhere in New York at 4:30 am that same morning, I hadn’t been able to reach her yet. Now comfortably past my high school rebellion days and the stuff she really doesn’t want to know about my college days, my mom has always been someone I can talk to about anything. I always use discretion when needed, but I’m more talking about the emotional and spiritual sides of a situation. Cassidy was home after his long flight and also sleep-deprived so he decided to call her and introduce himself, however you can eloquently introduce yourself as the older, mysterious, long-distant man who took her young daughter to a vacant mountain house, a bed & breakfast, and even spent two nights with her in her Honda. I have no doubt he did it well. 20-30 minutes later, he wrote back how floored he was by talking to her about my father and my grandparents and how much she believed in us by how little she knew at that point. What she knew was enough.
I talked to her next and was also blown apart by her blessing. Blown apart in a good way.
Now if you remember, before I got desperate to see him July 4th weekend, we were originally going to meet in mid July for some northern California insanity. I hadn’t booked it because we had gotten distracted by his trip east and I suppose I still had to make sure he wasn’t a psycho killer, which as you can imagine, I was 110% sure before I met him that he wasn’t. So the day after we said goodbye, and the same day both talked to my mom and both felt like we were going slowly crazy, I was egged on by my amazing fellow co-workers to book a trip to California for only a week or so later. I remember them yelling, “Go! Follow those dreams! Do it! Book it!” And so:
15 Jul 04 101 New York, JFK 09:20am Oakland, CA 12:30pm 0
18 Jul 04 102 Oakland, CA 1:10pm New York, JFK 9:35pm 0
To celebrate booking that flight, which was when JetBlue was brand new by the way, Cassidy sent me a box of chocolate covered strawberries at work. A few of my friends and I gathered in the dining room at work to eat them and one said, “Chocolate covered strawberries is grounds for marriage.”
It’s funny how my California trip was only a week or two after our New England trip, but it’s harder for my mind to piece together any kind of schedule of events. A lot of it blurs together with other California trips and even the pieces of that first trip are scattered out of order. As you may know, getting to JFK Airport is no easy feat but I started to become a pro. I left before dawn that morning in July and parked in long-term parking, caught the monorail and that just made me siiigh thinking about my last JFK Monorail trip, and then I caught my flight. I remember leaning against the cool window at an unusually fluffy-clouded, vividly blue sky over NYC. It was my first JetBlue flight. It was my first flight with mini TV in front of me! I spent that flight and subsequent California flights watching “Pop-Up Video” on VH1 Classics. What I remember so vividly that I can actually feel as light-headed and imbalanced as if I’m on a plane is that every time VH1 had commercials, when they returned to their scheduled show, they’d play a little teaser of “The End” by The Beatles:
“And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make.”
Often on these flights I would take off my headphones and drift in and out of uneasy plane sleep and stare unblinkingly at the mini TVs. To this day if I’m watching TV with the sound off, I feel like I’m on a JetBlue flight, hurtling somewhere past three different sunsets in three different time zones, time traveling to get to my beloved.
I landed in Oakland, California for the first time on a clear, late morning. He was waiting for me as close as you can legally wait for someone in an airport, post 9/11. He was loose and giddy again and I was so struck and giggly over how easy it was to tell the difference between the people on the flight – the ones from California and the ones from New York. The New York ones had this paunchy, pale, grey sheen and the California ones were decidedly sexier, fitter and tanner. I remember getting my first breath of California air as we walked outside and I remember getting the first glimpse of Cassidy’s car – a 2003 Toyota Camry that we still have today. And oh, how I remember walking into the Oak Street apartment for the first time, breathing in its forever smell and walking the long hallway in wonder. I met Stormy, his Husky, whose tales I had been told for what seemed like ages. She was everything I imagined but with much more energy than most 11-year-old dogs have.
Golden Gate Park, Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, the sea lions, and the freshest, plumpest strawberries I could imagine. Ghirardelli Square and the Full House houses. Lombard Street, Haight Street, lunch at Squat and Gobble with the loveliest waitress ever. Her name is Abla. Last time we checked, a little over a year ago, she was still there and she was holding our one-year-old, pig-tailed daughter in her arms and smiling.
My first west coast ocean sunset and how freaking cold it was once it set, even wearing a jacket and huddled under a blanket. Nothing could prepare me for the cold of an SF July. After the sun went down, Stormy tore off to steal food from people’s bonfires and picnics and Cassidy had to chase her every which way, shouting her name. Eventually he got her.
Later that night he stopped in various small grocery stores while I fell asleep against the window. I was on east coast time and had been up for nearly 24 hours. He made his famous mac and cheese and we had it with salad and CranCherry juice on the deck overlooking the backyard garden.
On my second day, we went to visit ILM and I met a lot of Cassidy’s friends. We saw a strange rainbow in the sky above our car, and it was only a week after we discussed seeing strange rainbows in the sky over our cars. The moose, the bear, the floppy-eared dog, the songs, the sky.
They were puzzle pieces. They still are.
After visiting ILM, we drove the Pacific Coast Highway down to Monterey where we had reservations the following morning on a whale watch boat. I barely got out of San Francisco city limits before being intoxicated by the eucalyptus tree smell and the curving hills. And then there were the cliffs and surfers and lighthouses. I made a mix cd just for this stretch of road:
1. Steve Winwood – “Back in the High Life Again”
2. Ben Folds – “Protection”
3. Led Zeppelin – “Going to California”
4. Tori Amos – “A Sorta Fairytale”
5. Counting Crows – “Accidently Fell in Love”
6. The Cars – “Drive”
7. Dire Straits – “Romeo and Juliet” live
8. Radiohead – “Kid A”
9. Moby – “Porcelain”
10. Queen – “Spread your Wings”
11. Police – “Synchronicity II”
12. Nine Inch Nails – “Closer”
13. Michael Jackson – “Rock with You”
14. George Michael – “Father Figure”
15. Dave Matthews Band – “41”
16. Counting Crows – “Murder of One”
17. Phil Collins – “Take Me Home”
My mixes are always a little weird and dorky, but trust me, it fit the mood. Driving down to Monterey was overwhelming, for the same reason arriving in any northern California beach town is – why the @#$% do I live in New England? (Oh..right. There are lots of reasons.) We stopped in Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz and went out to the boardwalk. They had a beautiful poster/mural up by the water that said, “What You Will See In Our Waters.” I was floored. It had sharks and dolphins and whales, even blue whales. Even as we walked the boardwalk, sea lions were calling up to us. And I know I say it often, and I do love the Jersey shore for what it is, but this was what I’m really about. Great white sharks and blue whales. Nothing else is quite as exciting. Seeing even one whale was a life dream of mine, just like moose, but for longer.
In Monterey, we had dinner at a fancy restaurant and then walked the streets and the beach. What I loved so much was watching a scuba diving class at shore around the rocks, and not being able to tell the difference between the sea lions, the otters and the humans after the sun went down. They were all there, mixed together. Believe it or not, we didn’t even have hotel reservations and decided to wing it. We found a pretty fancy place with a fireplace and I was so exhausted and nervous about the whale watch that I think I fell asleep by 8 or 9:00 pm.
I woke up the next morning barely before dawn with that nervous/excitement feeling that can only mean it’s a BIG day, one of those days in life you should be having every now and then, I believe. I snuck a Dramamine, because even though I really don’t get motion sick, I had never been on a boat in the ocean and I wanted nothing to stop me from enjoying every second of this day. We had breakfast and then boarded the boat. It wasn’t a huge boat but there were maybe 20, 30, 40 people on it? I thought I had put on enough sunscreen.
Not long after we left, we were more in the middle of the ocean than I’d ever been. The sun and the wind were so strong. It was quiet for awhile and we talked to other passengers. Finally, following a lead we saw our first whale tail and the whole boat just let out a collective gasp. We followed that whale for awhile and we greeted by others, little by little. Then we saw a little shark right next to the boat and we all yelled, “SHARK!” I love those moments in life that are spent with strangers, but they just become so intimate that you’re all in everything together – surprise, joy, laughter, fear. Everything built into a symphony. More and more whales appeared and soon the dolphins followed. We were able to see a whale watch log later and the employees predicted about 3,000 dolphins during that trip. They were so rhythmic, right out of Fantasia. If I ever needed proof that the water, the animals and the earth were all musical beings, I had it that day. We had a few breeds of dolphins – in front of the boat, in back and on either side. They were performing for us. All of the whales were humpback and only one joined the symphony. As the dolphins swam with us, there was a choreographed routine in which some would jump out of the water, and then others, and then others. And it was the same and it was clockwork. And one whale jumped out with one of the sets of dolphins. As a finale, that whale rose largely out of the water, and then slammed a fin down and soaked us all. Then he/she blew water out his/her spout and I had my mouth open at the time and got a mouthful of fishy water. I swear to you it was delicious. Then we saw something called a “Mola mola” as well as something really strange that our guide called a “dead red thing.” As we set back for shore, we all comfortably talked to each other. We talked a lot about some pretty bad wildfires in San Diego that were engulfing thousands of acres at that time. Cassidy bought me a bag of Cheetos which I gracefully spilled all over the boat. We told people on the boat our story and they all wished us much luck and love.
Back on shore, we were just as dazed as post-moose, in a different way. A week later, another few life dreams fulfilled, just like that. I had seen whales, but not only that, the rhythmic performance of the mammals in the ocean that everyone on that boat needed, and everyone thought was just for them. We had also gotten too much sun, but we didn’t know how much yet. I was already turning pretty red since my skin had never met the strong California sun. We ate tortellini in town and then set back for my last night in San Francisco.
We took a different, more inland route home, rather than the Pacific Coast Highway, and I fell asleep for most of it. When we got back to the apartment, we parked across the street at the Golden Gate Park panhandle. The rock part of “Layla” was ending and the piano exit started the second Cassidy flipped the radio to KFog, a radio station we listened to all of the time out there. The piano exit just broke us both at once and fit our mood. It seemed that the more we spent time with each other, the harder the relationship got. I think each trip broke us a bit more. When we got back from New England, we had more oversensitive moments that sometimes lasted for days. We had a higher standard to live up to, being with each other morning and night, and 3,000 miles apart phone and email could never uphold that standard. I know we had only experienced a little over a week of it, but it was powerful and doomed to get worse. We knew that then, while listening to the end piano exit of “Layla.” We knew we couldn’t fill the distant holes in our relationship without the reassurances that being together in the same place could bring. We knew a lot then, but were not ready to face it or talk about it. We listened to the song.
We went for a late dinner at Mel’s Drive-In and I got eggs and nearly fell asleep in them. I was reddening by the second. Later we met a few of Cassidy’s friends at a nearby apartment but they were drunk or something and kept giggling nonstop. And I was half asleep. Not the best first meeting of your boyfriend’s friends. And by the way, We were still confused then and we didn’t really know quite what we were to each other. “Boyfriend/Girlfriend” sounded so trite and like it didn’t cover the whole story. There was nothing else in the English language to explain it, though!
The next morning my skin started to crack and I felt like a monster. We went back to Squat and Gobble and I looked down at my plate while Abla gave me a sympathetic look. I was too embarrassed to make eye contact with her. I felt like a monster. We drove to the airport soon after breakfast. We didn’t say much on the way there or at the airport. We were still giddy off the high of the whale watch trip, and unsure of the future. We just hugged for awhile.
We said goodbye at the airport and I could feel my face drying and cracking more and more. I could only look down and not make eye contact with anyone else, at the airport and in the plane. I could see my reflection in the unlit TVs before takeoff and I kept cringing. I wouldn’t talk to my seatmates until the sun went down somewhere over the midwest. We kept going east but my heart pulled me west, for so many different reasons.
My face wasn’t the only thing cracking. My heart felt that way too. And also, I was on cloud nine living this magic life. I was so many things at once and I’d never be able to describe them all..
Leaving a sunny San Francisco day and Cassidy’s arms, I arrived to a humid JFK airport at night. I had a car to take a lonely monorail to, and a long drive home with nothing to break it up but my music and some steep bridge tolls to pay.
Alone and cracked. Alone and cracked out.
Tamara:This is good stuff.Joel
What a magical time whale watching. I want to see a whale too. Your story…so lovely.
Nikki Frank-Hamilton says
Love your photos of California, the beach, the sunset. I used to fly to CA from Ohio, often, for love. I remember the flight well, high excitement and anxiety, then you were there and not wanting to go home…