Choose Your Own Adventure

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My friend T and her ’86 Volvo, Chit (after Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) on a stretch of highway somewhere in the southwest.
I used to wish I was from the Midwest, where people speak in gentler tones and kindly turns of phrase. When I was young, I thought it would be fun to be in TV commercials and wished we lived in California, preferably Hollywood. After spending a week in the waves on Block Island, I thought it would be romantic to live in an isolated community out in the middle of the sea. I was always dreaming of somewhere else.

Even now, I imagine different places, different lives. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. If you want to follow the path into the woods, turn to page 61. If you want to venture into the cave, turn to page 21.

And that’s as far as I got this morning when I began this post, before the day spooled out in ten different directions. Certain items on my list resist being checked-off, mainly those that require sustained attention, like writing my friend T a letter for her 40th birthday, which was a month and a half ago. Determined to finish and mail it, I wrote the letter in scraps of time throughout the day.

I started to write about our road trip, the one we’d always dreamed of as little girls. We played her dad’s 60s records, Joe Cocker, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and imagined driving out to California in a VW bus. As it turned out, we chugged along in her ’86 Volvo over the course of a month from New Mexico through Arizona to southern Cali, camped in Joshua Tree. In San Diego a friend took us across the border to Rosarita and Tijuana. Then we headed up through Cali. L.A., the Pacific Coast Highway, the Redwood Forest, Yosemite, Death Valley. Then we cut back in to Las Vegas, Zion National Park in Utah, past Shiprock and back home to Santa Fe.

I know, I’m listing all the places and skipping the stories. But anyway, I was writing memories to her like, remember when we drove away with the book of CDs on the roof of the car in Joshua Tree and lost all our music? Think about that for a minute. A month on the road, desolate highway stretches with no radio signal–and when I say signal I mean antenna. We had one cassette tape, a 70s disco mix from college, and damn if disco doesn’t still make me think of winding our way around the sharp curves of Pacific Coast Highway at night.

And then I wrote, remember how we read Barbara Kingsolver out loud in the tent at night by flashlight or in the car on those afternoons the road seemed to go on forever?  We read Small Wonder, and I want to say we had The Bean Trees along with us, too. Or maybe I’m just remembering The Bean Trees because we both loved it so much as teenagers. Either way, I’d forgotten all about Kingsolver and reading aloud to each other until I began writing her that letter. That’s the funny–and magical–thing about writing. You can have an idea about what you’re going to say, an idea about what you think you remember, but when you set pen to paper, you will surprise yourself every time.

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Backcountry in Zion, hiking to “The Subway.”
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Inside “The Subway,” where the monoliths meet and form a tunnel with pools of icy blue-green water. Just as I slipped, T rescued me. There is another story here, the one about the person who took this photo, a man our age named John who we happened to meet the night before in the pitch black, all of us gathered with a group of astronomers and massive telescopes. I saw the red ring around Saturn, crisp and clear. John had just arrived and had nowhere to camp. We told him he could camp at our site for the night. In the morning we saw his pick up with the custom cabin he’d built himself. It was outfitted with gear and functioned as both a bunk and storage. He decided to venture with us into the backcountry. No trails except for the odd cairn, no park rangers. A 700-ft drop into the canyon and up a rocky, winding river. In his pack, John had a water purifier and iodine drops, and throughout our trek, he pumped and purified water for all three of us. There was no way to carry all the water we needed for an 8-hour hike, and without him, I suspect we would’ve gulped river water and hoped for the best.
(Post 253 of 365)

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Circling Back Around

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Tonight’s sunset, Charles Island in the distance.

Yesterday I got to spend the afternoon with an old friend who’s in town from California. Old friend, like we saw Tori Amos back when she toured Little Earthquakes. A tiny theater, so close we could touch her. She hit a high note in “Silent All These Years” and blew the speaker.

This friend, we go long stretches of time without seeing each other, but we always circle back–in LA, in New Orleans, in the Berkshires, at home in Connecticut–and it’s the same, no matter how much time has passed. The older I get, the more I recognize these friendships as rare gifts. The ease of being with someone who knows you deeply over almost a lifetime.

She asks me the right questions, the ones that make me think. It’s just a matter of conversation really, but always ends up meaning more. She is a person of action, a person who says, just do it. That’s what she’s telling me after I mention grad school. She asks about my reservations. And I hear myself say the words, I don’t know if I can bet on myself. 

I’ve been turning that over again and again. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. But there it is again, the echo of doubt. Important to recognize it, and tell it to pipe down.

(Post 198 of 365)

A Light So Bright

Yesterday afternoon I pulled into the driveway to find my best friend lying on the wicker couch on my front porch. I’d gotten a text from her, “You have the best front porch ever!” And I’d written back, “Stay! I’ll be there in 2 seconds!”

I raced home, afraid I would miss her, but of course, there she was, completely relaxed and waiting for us.

She’s in town from Santa Fe, and I’ve been counting the days until her arrival.

Best friends since we were seven years old. We know each other’s many selves, every version since second grade. And when we’re together it’s always, always the same.

My daughter runs to her as if they’ve known each other ten thousand lifetimes. Amidst flying garden dirt and giggling and play dough and yoga poses, my friend and I talk and talk and talk and talk and never stop talking. There is so much to catch up on, and also this is just how it is when we’re together. Our conversation overlaps, crisscrosses, doubles back.

Being together restores me to myself. Instant happiness. Because she is a light so bright, so bright.

We stayed up talking until 11pm. When she kissed her niece goodnight she said, “Every day is going to be the best day ever!”

And she’s right. Every day while she’s here is the best day ever.

(Post 165 of 365)

 

Cape Cod Weather

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Oh this Cape Cod weather… crisp salt air, clean blue sky, conjures the carefree days of my early twenties with my best friends in Provincetown. I can feel us waking in the same room, bleary and laughing, splashing cold water on our faces and heading out for iced coffee. Wandering Commercial Street in the too-bright sun. Packing up for the beach, or heading out to the point on the boat. Diving into icy waves, lying on the warm sand. Evening of oysters and soft-shelled crabs and too many vodka sodas, dancing to jukebox music, wandering to the sandy alleyway down to the bayside beach or jumping in someone’s Jeep with an oversand pass and heading out to the dunes in the fog to find the water lit up phosphorescent as if all the stars had fallen into the ocean. Someone’s playing guitar. The damp air curls our hair as we wade through the dark into the bright water.

(Post 147 of 365)