Who ever thought that my pilgrimage would begin with me jerking off into a plastic cup? I’ll get to that in a little bit, but for now, I’m standing at the edge of uncertainty staring at the abyss and a 482 mile walk across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. What brought me here? I guess it’s the same things that brought me to my knees back home in Southern California: The crumbling of a 23 year marriage that taught me how to hate. The teetering of my first real relationship after being separated that had taught me how to love again, and a gnawing feeling that after more than half a century on this earth i was still lost.
I was hoping that a million steps down a path through Spain in the middle of summer to find some Saint buried in a church in a town in Western Spain would help me lose sight of the things I needed to rid myself of. Hopefully, I would leave those things behind with each boot print I made in the dirt and see the path that lies in front of me more clearly, and figure out how to walk it with the time I have left before I shuffle off this mortal coil. So when I hit rock bottom, walking the Camino barged into my psyche like a bull running through the streets of Pamplona looking to gore a drunken tourist, and it wouldn’t let go. I’d never even been to Europe, but with everything I had known and loved tumbling down around me, I didn’t have to think twice.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprise of great pitch and moment with this regard their currents turn awry and lose the name of action. -Hamlet
Janice and Hannah
Back to jerking off. Almost 14 years ago, there I was, at the Center for Reproductive Health, cup in hand, and a passel of porn spread out on the that thin paper that covered the exam table, like at every doctors examination room you’ve ever been in. The nurse had politely alluded to the cupboard where the porn was kept, in case I was in need of “assistance”. For some reason, the white sterile walls and the pastel pictures awash with flaccid colors didn’t give me a hard on, so I dug into the stack of magazines. Fortunately none of the pages were sticky…
I had never been one of those men who necessarily wanted kids. You know the guys. The ones who were just destined to get married, have 2.3 kids, live out their lives with a steady job, soccer games, manning the grill and watching football on the weekend. I know I should have been hard wired to create as many spitting images of myself as I could, but as I said, I was just never that guy.
So it caught me off guard when, at 45, my wife Janice told me that she’d like to have a child. We’d never really discussed it. On reflection, a big part of it was (I think) her career, which was on a downswing. The business she had toiled in successfully for twenty years was notoriously ageist, and she wasn’t getting any younger. She hadn’t been getting much work, and it seemed to me her energies needed to be focused elsewhere. And she probably felt some maternal tug, a call to nurture that she had chose to ignore up to this point.
I was ambivalent; I mean we were both 45. After thinking about it (or maybe Janice just wore me down- an easy task for her in those days) I decided that, despite my misgivings, I would do this for the woman I loved. After we made the decision and nothing happened, she started taking some Chinese herbs. Still nothing. Then she started taking fertility drugs and we had the obligatory sex at the appointed time.
Time went by, we kept trying. It all seemed so, uhh…scientific (except for the jerking off part) and sterile. But hey, this is our world, the one we’ve created and accepted. Finally, we got an inkling of hope. An early test indicated a positive result. A subsequent test revealed a healthy baby girl. Nine months later Hannah was born. She’s 12 now and I think I’ve been a pretty good father, taught her a few things, at least until I was ostracized from the relationship. Little did I know that after my divorce, a beautiful Swedish woman named Amanda and her four kids would teach me more about parenting, myself, and life than years of therapy with Sigmund Freud himself could have.
Two months before setting foot on the camino, I was sitting with Amanda at a bench by Starbucks. It was the first time I’d seen her since losing her from my sight as she left the Southwest terminal at LAX and just sort of faded away. We’d been returning from a job we had both worked on. It was sort of like a traveling circus, we were working on the same project, but different teams. I saw her for a little while most days. She had told me at the beginning of the trip that she had been drifting away; her feelings for me weren’t the same. Great timing. If I would have known, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten her the job in the first place, which was through an ex- business partner of mine. I had to do some convincing to get him to hire her but, well, I was in love with her and she could use the money, having just been through a divorce herself.
The flight from Sacramento had been silent. We sat next to each other but I didn’t have much to say. We had made it to the airport early and I found myself vacillating between my old self- at least the funny, smart, adorable part of me, and a part that was now vacant, that had nothing to say. I didn’t know what to do with the part of me that had grown to love Amanda over the past 9 months. The part of me that shared my ongoing divorce with her, and hers with me. The part that wanted to feel her head resting on my shoulder, wanted to press my lips to hers and breathe life into her, and feel her breathe life into me. We weren’t sharing those things anymore.
When we got off the plane we walked to baggage claim in silence. I just felt numb. I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do to fill those lonely moments, hours, days. Even though she had been drifting away for awhile, I was still hoping for…what? I don’t know. I just knew that I would never again find the love, tenderness, and connection that I had found with this beautiful soul who picked me up when I had been knocked to the ground by the slings and arrows of a 23 year marriage that in the last few years had become emotionally abusive.
And so, I stand in Se Jean Pied de port, France looking out to my future. As Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Yeah, well…I’ll bet his first steps didn’t take him 25 km over the Pyrenees from France in the rain with a 30 pound pack on his back.
Maybe later I’ll regale you with stories of Madrid. But for now, lets just say that a little too much wine and cigarettes the night before compromised my level headedness and, more importantly my sense of direction the next morning when I was to head to St Jean Pied de Port and the beginning of my walk. After agonizing over the signs and asking a few people who didn’t speak English- my eighth grade Spanish wasn’t enough to bridge the communication gap- I finally made what I thought was an educated guess. I was wrong. When I realized my mistake I got off the train and caught a train back to where I had begun, and beyond to the central terminal, where I would hopefully take a train to Pamplona, and then to St. Jean.
When I finally did get to the station, I ran into Erin, a blond Canadian from a small town near Toronto. She was going to Pamplona to meet friends and watch the running of the bulls. It was a relief to finally talk to someone who spoke English. We walked to where you purchase bus tickets, and I went over to the Alsa counter where I had purchased a ticket online, but for, how I read it, the wrong day. I was dismayed when the woman at the counter told me that they did indeed have tickets to Pamplona which left in an hour, but I would not make the connection to St. Jean. I got out of line and kicked myself for not planning ahead, for the hangover, and the gnawing feeling that this whole adventure may have been a huge mistake…
When we got to Pamplona, Erin and I parted ways. I found my way to the bus to St. Jean where I met a super nice Japanese guy named Kento. He was traveling, at least for the moment, with Asia, a Polish woman he had met in Madrid. He seemed like one of those guys who always wants to help> He was always interested in what you were saying, and continually nodded his head up and down while smiling or laughing, even though I had doubts about how much he really understood. I figured I could probably use a little of what Kentos’ got. Asia told me It was his second trip to the Camino. Kento didn’t speak much English, but I got to know Asia a little since she spoke 3 languages fluently, English being one. We all boarded the bus which was only half full, and away we rolled to St. Jean.
After an hour of a winding road through the Pyrannes, we landed in St Jean in a drizzle. Asia and I hugged (she let me know she was a big hugger) and said our goodbyes. Kento had volunteered to see if there was a room at his auberge, so I followed him up a picture perfect, windy street to find that his hotel was full. So I walked back down the steep, cobble stoned street and stumbled upon a room that was abuzz with activity. I surmised that it was a place one could get their “pilgrims passport”-sort of like a real passport, with pages to get stamped in towns along the way.
I asked the woman who helped me about a place to stay, and she directed me to one of the newest auberges in St Jean, the Gite Buen Camino, which was just down the street. When I got there I was glad to see they had beds- it had started to drizzle and I pictured my first few days on the camino coughing up phlegm and blowing snot onto the Camino. Not the best behavior for a pilgrim I figured.
The proprietor Maria Estelle, gave me and a few others the tour. I opted to pay an extra euro and sleep in a smaller room with only 4 beds. As I was settling in I met two other pilgrims, both Korean, who were to be my roommates. Im and Park weren’t traveling together but had met in Paris, where they had embarked from, to travel to St Jean and walk the Camino. They spoke slightly more English than i speak Korean (which is none). Im immediately asked if I wanted to get a bite (he did most of the talking, as it were). So we walkded the thin, windy cobble stoned streets over the river to have dinner at place near the center of town. At one point Im was struggling to say how beautiful it was, and I simply said “Disneyland”. They got it, we all laughed. The town is so perfect as to be almost indescribable. So I won’t try. Here’s a picture though.
Dinner was good, pasta with Bolognese (something Amanda had taught me to love) – it seemed it would be the perfect blend of carbs and protein to help me over the Pyrenees the next day. We got back to the auberge, and Im and I had a French beer while Park took a shower. Im commented on how kind Maria Estelle was, so I wrote in Maria Estelle’s’ guest book- “Thanks for opening up your place, and your heart to us”. Not too poetic but I was still a little brain dead from my last night of celebrating life in Madrid.
We went to bed, and after hearing my phone chirp all night (13 times to be exact, due to an old friend I had reconnected with texting suggestions for places to stay and eat) the alarm finally went off (I thought I had turned the volume off). So I got up and fumbled for it between IM and Park’s bed (that’s where the charging station was) and proceeded to get ready. It seemed to take forever, but as I subsequently found out, preparing the night before to hit the road quickly and quietly is something you learn after a few nights of getting pissed off at yourself for not being organized, and thoughtful of the other pilgrims who might still be sleeping.
Finally, I said our goodbyes to Maria Estelle who hugged me and kissed me on both cheeks. My first french kiss. Im, Park and I headed off down the perfect dewey streets of St. Jean in a steady sprinkle, almost rain. We hiked through the town, then up steep paved roads. After awhile the rain got a little harder, the clouds got a little thicker (you could only see a few hundred yards in any direction) and our clothes got wetter…
After a few hours, we came upon a little town, and the last chance to eat a real meal until Roncesvalles, our final destination that day. There were pigs the size of Shetland Ponies milling around out front, so I got a chorizo baguette for ironies sake, followed by an espresso. I sat down with a young, good looking Italian guy from Milan. It was his second camino. We talked about our countries, what brought us there. I told him that part of the reason I was out there was because of a woman. How many times have those words been uttered on the camino?
I moved on pretty quickly, wanting to get some mileage in. I met some other folks from Norway, Poland, Italy. The camino is certainly a melting pot. Compared to the rest of the world though, considering the diversity, every last person I’ve talked to is so nice, and giving. Perhaps the United Nations should walk the camino and talk. Maybe they’ll figure something out.
After awhile we came upon a van selling cheese, fruit, hot chocolate. I now hold hot chocolate (at least hot chocolate offered to a soaked soul in the middle of the Pyrenees wondering what the hell he was doing there) amongst the most regal of beverages, right up there with a intense Syrah from Eastern Washington or a cup of Terrafazione espresso from Portland
After I finished, I had trouble getting my pack back on, and by the time I was ready, the loose knit group I had been traveling with had gone. I tried to catch up but couldn’t find them in the fog. I walked alone for a long while. I got lost once, having to retrace my steps (I hadn’t been paying enough attention, my thoughts were distracting me).
I finally caught up with Wim and Elsa from Holland. I was stressing about trying to get this first post up, and then emailing and posting to Facebook, etc- trying to get some followers, get the ball rolling. In addition, it seemed that the one place to stay in the small town we were walking to (Roncesvalles) had only one large monastery where all the pilgrims stayed. I was pretty sure monks didn’t use the internet. in fact I’d heard that Roncesvalles isn’t really even a town. In addition it’s in the mountains. I was certain internet access would be non-existent. Hell, they probably wouldn’t even have electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing. God, what if I can’t check in on Facebook…
I got to Roncesvalles drenched and I couldn’t wait to take a hot shower After walking up to the second floor I found bunk #234, my home for the night. Shivering due to my wet clothes, and having switched from my hiking boots to my wet flip flops (due to the fact I had smartly hung them on the outside of my pack) I rifled through my backpack for my other pair of long pants which were…drenched. Seems i had ignored putting the rain cover over the pack, reasoning that the backpack was pretty waterproof. Guess not.
So I went to take a shower which was nice and hot. I finally removed myself from the comfort that can only be found in a warm shower, and maybe the womb, I turned the shower off and went to grab my towel. Except I forgot the lesson I had learned (obviously not very well) the night before in St Jean, that auberges don’t have towels. Note to self: buy towel. So I used my wet shirt to dry off. It worked.
Then I got dressed in what I had that was dry, which is why I’m writing this from my top bunk, looking out the window of a thousand year old monastery where my other long pants and wet underwear are drying, wearing the only other long sleeved shirt i have that’s dry- a black $150 John Varvatos button down (that I brought to wear in Madrid) over a lime green t-shirt with a picture of a gorilla riding a bike, and a pair of O Neil board pants from Costco.
And I am happy. And I am grateful. I am especially grateful to those I am dedicating this blog to: Janice, Amanda, and Hannah, and the woman in my life who’ve taught me the lessons i’ve needed to learn, and who continue to show me the way.
And we’ll walk down the avenue again
And we’ll sing all the songs from way back when
And we’ll walk down the avenue again when the healing has begun
And we’ll walk down the avenue in style
And we’ll walk down the avenue and we’ll smile
And we’ll say baby ain’t it all worthwhile when the healing has begun
I want you to put on your pretty summer dress
You can wear your Easter bonnet and all the rest
And I wanna make love to you yes, yes, yes when the healing has begun…
I was startled awake in my top bunk by a rotund, jovial guy telling me (and the other 180 pilgrims sleeping in bunks in my room) to essentially get our asses in gear. I had set my alarm for earlier but in my post Pyrenees/rain soaked delirium the night before, I guess I screwed up. Breakfast was at seven and I had wanted to get my shit together. Before I left Madrid, I had every intention of organizing where each item would go in my backpack to make access the most efficient and easiest but, well, as I mentioned, too much living that last night in Madrid had compromised my packing.
Nor I had slept well, and was cold most of the night. I had only packed the recommended sleeping bag liner, since most of my walking will be spent in 90+ degree weather (Madrid was 95-100 the whole time I was there). So, after a day of walking in a constant rain and being soaked to my sorry pilgrim ass, I was somewhat cold already when I went to bed. And as usual I woke up at 5ish, so I groped around and found my sleeping pills and proceeded to choke down half a pill without water making sure not to wake my bunk mates. I dozed off to sleep after a half hour and was in the middle of a rem cycle when I was prompted to wake up.
So as the other pilgrims packed and left-obviously they hadn’t spent an evening in Madrid over imbibing and if they did, the fact that most of them were at least twenty years younger than me contributed to them bouncing back a little quicker. So I took a little more time than most to get my shit together.
So the fat, pissed off guy who had woke us up before (his demeanor had changed, probably only due to my now somewhat anxious perception of him) made the rounds again, telling me (my other bunk mates were long gone) essentially that I should get my pathetic pilgrim ass in gear and head out to the camino if I really wanted to find what I was looking for.
I threw a last few things in my pack and headed out to the Posada de Roncesvalles for breakfast, a few hundred yards from the auberge. It was a separate building, dating probably to the 1800’s (new by Roncesvalles standards). Park and Im were there, as well as Else and Wim. I was served a simple breakfast of cheese, meat, bread, juice, and most importantly, coffee. I sat with some folks I had not yet met. Nobody spoke much, they were probably like me, too tired and in pain to utter a word, after climbing rain-soaked over the Pyrenees.
I left by myself thinking I would catch Park and Im, since I could see them off in the distance. The path took me along the side of the road for awhile, and then into forest. I started to think about the things that had happened to me recently. Really, most of the things that happen to us in life aren’t big catastrophes, although we often make them out to be. Most of it is pretty small stuff.
So maybe those things happen to give us pause, make us reflect, and are there as reminders that we are human, fallible and can make mistakes. And hopefully we learn from those mistakes. If you think you haven’t got anything left to learn, then I’ve got an internet venture called myspace you might be interested in.
As I got further away from Roncesvalles, everything became more lush, greener. I ran into a few people, made small talk, and wished everyone the traditional ‘”buen camino” (good camino, good journey) as I passed by. Apparently, rumor is on the camino that I’m Tom Hanks. I’ve had 5 or 6 people ask about it, and my resemblance to him. I’ve heard this before and frankly I always thought he was a little goofy looking (sorry Tom), while I see myself as being much hotter ;). They all must have seen “Castaway”-I’m thinking’ it’s the beard.
When Stefano mentioned my resemblance yesterday (at the place I had lunch in the Pyrenees), his friend piped in (in broken Italian/English) and said “It must work well with the ladies”. I laughed and told him that’s what Tinders for. He gave me that smile you get when you know someone hears you but they don’t understand.
I did think later it might be funny to create “Tinder para el Camino” ©- helping people from all over the world hook up on the camino”. Talk about a melting pot. Then again, it sort of collides with the reasons most are here. I really wasn’t serious but I have trademarked the idea.
I moved on through peaceful, deciduous forests and farmland. Big white cows, round Monet haystacks. The sun broke through the clouds, providing that brilliant light you get after your eyes have dimmed and gotten used to the grey. Most of the time I heard cowbells down in the hollows and glades. I think I saw the ghost of Christopher Walken walking along side me (wait, he’s not dead, he just kind of looks like it). More cowbell!
I was walking alone for awhile, so I started singing as I do- badly (“Helpless”, Neil Young). I also play guitar badly. It reminded me of the time not too long ago, in the final throes of my marriage, when I was sitting on the floor wrapping christmas presents. When I wanted a break ( wrapping presents is next in line after death and taxes in the pantheon of crappy things in life) I would pick up the guitar and sing a few verses (it was probably Helpless).
My daughter walked by and made fun of me for trying to sing. I used to sing to her when I gave her a bath as an infant. I know my singing voice isn’t that great, but who cares? I felt embarrassed and sad. What 8 year old daughter would even think to say what she did, and where had that came from? I can only guess. I never sang around her after that.
I walked a little further and finally ran into some Polish pilgrims. Damian and Lucha. The both laughed a lot which immediately endeared them to me. Lucha had just joined Damian in St Jean, because she wasn’t down with starting at Damian’s doorstep in Krakow and walking across half of Poland, Germany, France and Spain like he had done.
Which by the way, is how the original pilgrims did it centuries ago, by simply walking out their front door- usually in Spain although routes have been established in most of Europe. Damian was Catholic (as is the dude buried at the end of the camino) and for him it’s a religious pilgrimage.
We traveled together for awhile, talking about his trek, my journey, life in general (it seems to come up a lot on the camino). We also discussed the previous night, checking in at Roncesvalles. You had to fill out a simple form and check off why you were trekking the camino. Two of the options were cultural and spiritual and we postulated that everyone must be out here for at least partially spiritual reasons, for a chance to look oneself in the eye and take stock.
With his easy laugh and attitude (and the fact that he had walked from Poland) Damian was the most interesting Pilgrim I had run across so far. But then, as I parted ways with him and Lucha, I ran into Emma and Baya, from Portland Oregon.
They had met in a blueberry patch when they were two. Uh-huh. They actually did. They had been friends ever since, are in their early 20’s and live a mile from each other. I’ve always loved the Northwest, mainly due to the people I’ve met there, and the healthy, creative energy that seems to subside there. I’ve spent a lot of time there, and everyone I’ve met, for the most part, always seems smart, creative, open to anything. And these girls were no exception. It was Emma’s first time on the Camino, Baya had been once before.
I don’t know if you ever meet people who, right off the bat, you just start talking about anything and everything under the sun with. I have- Amanda was one them. Maybe you just have to be open to it, and some of us, sadly aren’t. So Emma, Baya, and I walked, and we talked about everything under the sun. One topic led to another, then another…
We talked about some dude with a map of life, Joseph Campbell, our lives, heroes journeys, how they liked to sing on the camino, etc, etc, etc. Then, Baya told a story that made me have to walk ahead so they couldn’t see the tears in my eye. And I don’t even know how we got on the subject.
Baya told me about a friend whose son was emotionally disabled (Aspergers type symptoms). Only thing was, when she saw the kid without the parents (her friend would babysit him from time to time) there were absolutely no signs of anything, the kid was completely normal (whatever normal is these days). The child’s nervousness, anxiety, and external misbehavior was caused by the parents.
I had thought about this exact thing in regards to Hannah before. I had heard a similar story a few years prior. I didn’t really have any concrete evidence, but I’ve seen the little gestures and hand signals Janice gives to Hannah. So has my mom. And I know that Janice is controlling, and has Hannah wrapped around her little finger.
I have no doubt that Janice thinks she is doing the right thing. I am also certain that some of it is due to my moving out 2 years prior. It’s just that all parents think they are doing the right thing, but sometimes maybe they’re doing it the wrong way. I’m sure that if Janice ever reads this, she would never understand that maybe if she gets some help, it will help Hannah. Talk about the camino providing.
As I walked away from Emma and Baya (sometimes it’s not necessary to say goodbye) immersed in my thoughts about everything we had discussed, they started singing:
If you’ve been thinking you’re all that you’ve got,
Then don’t feel alone anymore.
When we’re together, then you’ve got a lot,
‘Cause I am the river and you are the shore.
And it goes on and on, oh, watching the river run,
Further and further from things that we’ve done,
Leaving them one by one.
And we have just begun, watching the river run.
Listening and learning and yearning.
Run, river, run.
Winding and swirling and dancing along,
We pass by the old willow tree
Where lovers caress as we sing of our song,
Twisting together when we greet the sea.
And it goes on and on, watching the river run,
Further and further from things that we’ve done,
Leaving them one by one.
And we have just begun watching the river run.
Listening and learning and yearning.
Run, river, run.
As I moved on, I started singing along.
I met Amanda at a party. I almost didn’t go, I had been with some friends earlier and begrudgingly took my leave. The party was a “celebration of life” honoring the birthday of one of the hosts’ friends, and the passing of another. The host was a business associate who had become a friend.
I didn’t know who’s birthday it was, but as the fucked up hand of fate seemed to be touching my life those days, I had had a legal entanglement with the dead woman-a lawyer- who had been murdered by her boyfriend.(http://www.etonline.com/news/168488_legal_diva_reality_star_loredana_nesci_reportedly_killed_los_angeles/).
Looking back in life, it seems that maybe from time to time we should stand back and look at the sign posts. It seems to me that there are, at times, certain things that help to lead us off in the wrong direction, away from our authentic self (I’ll probably use that term a lot), the person we were put on this earth to learn to be. This is assuming that there is any meaning to our existence here on this mortal coil.
If the signs hint at you (or maybe scream) that you’re somewhere perhaps you shouldn’t be, maybe it’s time to head in a different direction. My legal dealings with the dead lawyer whose life the party was celebrating should have been one of those signposts that screamed at me to run. But there I was.
I walked into the kitchen and a few women descended on me like vultures (later I found out they were more like mother hens). I figured it was just because I had a bottle of red wine. After pouring wine for all of us and making some small talk, I walked outside past the 2 piece band playing old Motown and 70’s rock to the tables that had been set up on the lawn. I finished my wine, ambled over to the bar to get a beer, and walked around. I was trying to figure out how to make a quick escape. I ended up at one of the round tables on the lawn after being called over by one of the women I had graciously donated some of my wine to.
I then proceeded to be chatted up by the women who had now been joined by their husbands, boyfriends, etc. They asked me who I was, what I did, how I knew the host. The rest is a blur. I don’t know if it was intentional or if it just happened, but all I remember is, (it could have been ten minutes or an hour, later) I was at the same table with Amanda, the one friend of these woman who was alone. And suddenly we were alone. And I don’t remember anything of what was going on around us as we spoke. Except calm. And it seems as if we talked about everything under the sun and stars.
Maybe this was her friends’ intent. But you know what they say about the road that’s paved with good intentions. Still, the more we spoke, the more I felt like I had known her forever. It wasn’t the words she spoke, but what she spoke of. It wasn’t what I heard but what I felt.
After awhile, her friends let her know that they were leaving. They invited me to join them, but I declined. And in fact, it was almost as an afterthought, just as she was walking away, that I handed Amanda a business card to email me.
Long before, I had accepted the fact that I would be without someone for awhile. But you know what the Buddhists say: only when you stop searching for something will it find you. Or maybe it was Yoda who said that. Nonetheless, somewhere, amongst the rumblings of my insecurity and ambivalence, something glowed dimly. She was so damned easy to talk to and we shared some common threads: separated (later we found out for exactly the same amount of time), abusive spouses, kids, the joy and pain of life.
A week or so later we had dinner overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific. A night of shooting stars, roving peacocks, and a thrilling reminder of what we had both long forgotten: that life can be good, and if you’re lucky, maybe you can be given the opportunity to mend the wounds of the past with the help of another.
Janice and I got together on a balcony, at a wrap party after too many drinks. We kissed, that was it. I had been working with her on several freelance jobs, and I hadn’t been seeing anyone in awhile, I guess I was ready. She was smart, she had it going on. She was attractive to me. I’d like to think I’m not that superficial. I like to think that emotions and feelings color the actual physical perception of our vision. If we feel something, we overlook some aspects of the physical nature of things.
After that moment on the balcony we were pretty much together. I don’t know if she knew what she was doing, I sure as hell didn’t. Maybe she knew it was time to get this one thing in place so she could then focus on the next thing. I, on the other hand, had been drifting at the time. And getting together with her did help me focus. Focus on the things that she thought were important. We became a team. So, being passive, I went along with it. Trying to do something creative went by the wayside. I didn’t think about her lack of passion, her focus on money, or her idiosyncrasies. I used to joke that it was “an East Coast thing” (she was from New York). I guess i was the stereotypical west coast laid back guy. But when your a hopeless romantic you just dive in. And you never think about the possibility that you might drown.
Last night was a splendid example of the serendipitous things that seem to happen on the camino. I arrived in Zubiri, a small town of around 400 people, at around 2pm. Around the corner came Kento (I haven’t seen Kento walking the camino yet, but he certainly has the funniest habit of showing up in each town when you least expect it). He pointed to where he was staying, so I checked in- two rooms with 4 sets of bunks each, showers, internet. The basics.
I got another top bunk. An Irish bloke (s. Diúlach m, cuilceach m.) was in the bunk below. We had an immediate rapport, based mainly on the fact we both spoke English. We arranged to have dinner in an hour, so I walked down the street to the cafe to get a glass of wine and write. I felt very Hemingwayesque, especially since I was headed to Pamplona the next day, and my beard was filling in.
In fact, I felt a little like Santiago (how appropriate), the main character in Hemingway’s’ “Old Man and the Sea”. In the story, Santiago (a fisherman by trade) has gone 84 days without catching a fish. Finally, after much struggle and sacrifice, he goes out further than he ever has, and hooks a large marlin. After a long and grueling struggle with the fish, he finally hauls it in and lashes it to the side of his boat and heads back.
But then, in a seemingly final indignity, he sees his trophy catch destroyed by sharks that he tries valiantly to fight off. When he gets back to his village all thats left is a carcass. He returns with nothing. Yet, this apparent defeat enables him to undergo a remarkable transformation, and he wrests triumph and renewed life from his seeming defeat.
The last few years of my life have been like Santiago’s 84 days. And I guess like the old man who refuses defeat at every turn (he resolves to sail out beyond the other fishermen to where the biggest fish promise to be), I’m going out beyond the ordinary, to walk this path. And like Santiago, I am hoping that the experience will cause me to undergo a transformation- letting go of the past, coming to grips with who I am, and learning to see life in a new light.
Back to dinner. Cormac showed up and we ate our dinners and talked. He’s a school teacher trying to get some tenure over in Ireland. So he’s smart, insightful, thoughtful. I’ve only been out her a few days and here’s yet another soul I feel I can discuss anything with. As we finished dinner, two Swedish girls showed up that Cormac had met earlier on the camino.
We invited them over to the table. Rosemary and Caroline came over and proceeded to…laugh. Well, not just laugh, but their conversation was peppered with smiles and laughter. In fact they used to work at the same place but Rosemary was asked to leave because the two just got along so famously, laughed too much, and never got anything done.
Then Caroline told us a story about her and Rosemary and some Japanese guy who found themselves in a little stone hut, cold wet and tired the previous day. They found some wood and decided to build a fire. The girls were hooting and hollering, the story was funny (every story they told was funny, infused by their infectious laughter). Then I asked them if the guy was kind of short (yes), had short cropped hair (yes) and if his name might be Kento. They thought about it for a moment and shrieked “yes”!
I just thought it was funny that this guy I had never seen walking on the camino (for all I know he was being chauffeured in a limo from point to point) but who just kept appearing out of nowhere would be the guy they built their fire with.
Just as the story finished, I turned to look over at the counter, and as fate would have it, there was Kento, walking over with his dinner, laughing. We all cracked up at the serendipitous nature of what had just happened, and what the camino provides.
We finished dinner and went back to the auberge. I stayed up awhile, posting yesterdays blog. My other 7 bunkmates were fast asleep when I climbed onto my top bunk. All the lights were off so I tried to find my overnight kit so I could brush my teeth. After 10 minutes of futility- groping around my bed in the dark where I thought I had left it, climbing down on the rickety bunk ladder and feeling through by pack, then checking the around the sinks and showers, I gave up, resigned to going to sleep with stinky teeth.
So I just laid down and went to sleep. Sort of. After about an hour some sort of alarm or weird music started sounding. The way the night was going I figured it was probably my phone (sometimes Pandora seemed to play for no apparent reason). I checked it, and my phone was not the culprit, so I laid back down. The song/alarm/whateverthefuckitwas continued, and the girl in the bunk next to me asked me if it was my music. I assured her it wasn’t me. Still, the sound was coming from my direction.
After another moment it was painfully obvious that I was going to have to rappel down from the bunk and go look in the cupboard that housed my backpack for who knows what. The only thing I could think of is that it was the eight dollar bluetooth speaker I bought for $35 from some shop in Madrid (don’t get me started). The aux plug didn’t work with my iPod which is why I bought it. Of course it came with an instruction sheet with a few lines of english that were translated by someones 7 year old 5th cousin in Shanghai who had earnestly learned 9 words of english from the internet.
I found the speaker and the sounds weren’t emanating from it. Remember Im in a dark bunk room, everyones asleep (well, they had been asleep). And here I am, some American dude fucking with their pilgrimage. So I just kept grabbing shit out of my pack trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. Finally I grabbed my Kindle which I had thrown in at the last minute. I hadn’t used it in months. It had never made a sound before but there it was, chirping some fucking techno beat ballad. Imagine George Winston with a drum machine.
I hit the power button and it stopped, after I muttered a few expletives that at least Cormack heard, repeating it to me the next day, laughing. I figured it must have been another message from the guides of the camino, telling me to unload some of the needless trappings of modern society from my metaphorical bag of shit.
I climbed up to my bunk to finally go to sleep. Everything quieted down until, after a few minutes. Cormack whispered to me that something was dripping water on his arm. I fell back down the rickety aluminum ladder that barely held my weight, knowing that my little hydration backpack must have started leaking due to me moving my backpack around when I was searching for whatever was producing the mad techno George Winston ballad. I shoved it into the cupboard, climbed back up to my bunk, and finally fell asleep.
The next morning I had to organize my pack again since I had scattered everything from the backpack in search of the offending noise the night before. I was the last one out, I stopped to get an espresso and a sort of Apple danish that the Portland girls had recommended (they should know, coming from the land of bacon doughnuts) the night before when I ran into them after dinner. Finally, I was off.
The preamble to todays journey was kind of like my life lately. Sort of a big mess, from taking the train in Madrid the wrong way, to getting out late in Roncesvalles, to my shit going off in the middle of the night. Im hoping that the camino will set things straight, and begin to help clean up the mess.
Some of my mess was my doing, some of it was due to others. Not necessarily their intent, they were just trying to get what they thought they needed. Aren’t we all. But it’s because of those things that we do, most of the time with good intent, that we hurt each other. We try to get what we need, the best way we know how. But the way we learned is usually passed down from those that were not necessarily the best teachers. They were doing the best they could, armed with the sins of their fathers, passed down to them.
I walked out of Zubiri and the path moved up to the side of a beautiful little valley which leads into Pamplona. I ran into Cormac and we ended up walking together for most of the day. Like with the Portland girls, our conversation took as many twists and turns as the path we were walking. There was a dam across the stream we were walking alongside so we ambled down the bank and dipped out feet in the water.
After getting back on the path and walking awhile, we ran across a beautiful old church and heard the story of it from a South African gentleman who was refurbishing the place. He told us that the church was of somewhat unknown origins and they were just finding out about it’s history. Some of the symbolism even pointed towards the Knights Templar. The quiet and beauty of the place reminded me of why I am here.
We moved on through the beautiful little valley, stopping at another church and ringing a bell that was the oldest in the region (1300’s). Cormack moved ahead and I lingered, taking pictures, walking by beautiful old farms with roosters, geese, peacocks.
I caught up with Cormac again and we pushed on into Pamplona. It was the last day of the festival of St. Fermin, the running of the bulls. He stopped at an auberge, I moved on to the hotel I had booked for the night. I had decided to treat myself to my own room and shower, and try to catch up on some much needed sleep. And hopefully…to dream.
Janice had booked a trip to Hawaii with her friend Paula not too long after we had gotten together at the wrap party. I said goodbye and wished her well. Always the hopeless romantic, I devised a plan.
I decided I would surprise her on Kauai. Since I didn’t have much to my name at the time, I sold my Toyota Turcel and booked a flight to Hawaii and a room near where Paula and Janice were staying. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I got there, but I figured the fates would guide me. I checked into my hotel and drove over to where they were staying. I figured they would be at the pool, so I walked out, and Janice was at the other end of the pool. She didn’t notice me, so I dove into the pool and swam underwater to where she was. I popped up in front of her and, well, she was surprised. And I suppose smitten. No one had probably ever done anything like that for her.
Unfortunately I hadn’t taken into account how Paula might react. The dynamic had shifted. What she had anticipated was now unalterably changed. But then she hooked up with the Scuba instructor and everything was fine. We hung out as couples for the rest of the trip. Janice and I ended up getting engaged on Kauai, and went there often until Hannah was born. As fate would have it, my company got a job producing a job on Kauai for Norwegian Cruise Lines. I hired Janice to produce, and I went along as Executive Producer to oversee. Hannah travelled like a star, soundly sleeping for much of the flight, non-plussed. She took the whole trip in stride, a happy kid.
I still have a picture of her in her mothers arms on a beach in Kauai. Hopefully the adventure is embedded in her soul: the smells of plumeria, the feel of warm winds touching her face, and the love of her two parents caring for her and making her secure, even in an unfamiliar place.
It was the last time either of us had any interest in traveling to the island we had once loved.
So I called Amanda and we met at Terranea, a beautiful resort overlooking the ocean in Palos Verdes. I still wasn’t expecting much. And I don’t fucking know why, considering what transpired over the following 10 months. When she showed up she was wearing a light summer dress, blue and white. And then…we started talking again.
Like at the party. It was like I had known her forever. It was so easy. We had dinner, we listened to the band and had some wine (Justin Cab- PV Moms Kool-Aid) and walked back to her car. It was a little bit of a hike along a sandy path. And then we stopped. And we saw a shooting star, and a peacock barked in the distance. And…we kissed. We both laughed, saying that we had never kissed on first dates before. We held each other for a long time, not wanting to let go.
Looking back, I know that part of the reason we held each other so tight and felt such a deep connection is that we had both been through hell. When you find someone whose been torn apart, battered, and dragged through the mud like you have, you hold on tight because you’ve found someone who understands what you’ve been through, someone you can talk to, and if your lucky, someone who can show you how to love again. Standing there holding her made me feel, for the first time in a long while, like the man I had left behind so long ago.
Little did I know that some of the things that conspired to make that moment happen would eventually make her walk away.
I left the Los Tres Reyes Hotel in Pamplona and found the camino running behind the hotel and I followed the gold scallop shells (symbols of the camino) planted in the sidewalk. If life was only that easy. Just put your head down and follow the signs. But I guess that would take the fun out of it.
Pamplona was a ghost town, a hangover from the 10 day Fiesta of St Fermin. I was walking alone, passing a few pilgrims as Pamplona faded away behind me. At the edge of town I walked through a peaceful, quiet park, over a freeway, and headed through some fields before the path turned uphill towards Cizur Minor, a small town where I stopped for some fruit, salami, cheese and bread; staples of the pilgrim.
I continued on wondering if I’d see anyone I had met on the first few days of my walk. I walked through fields of hay. Beyond were rolling hills with big white windmills. I thought about Don Quixote. And like the windmills in the book which (I think) were a metaphor for Don Quijote’s difficulties in life (one of them being he was a hopeless romantic in a world that had no patience for dreamers anymore) I was out here to deal with some of my own windmills. In the end Quixote proves that he has faith in himself – but he also discovers that it might not be enough in the real world.
The camino took a sharp turn to the left and all of a sudden I was in a lush green forest, deciduous trees, green vines, a stream. It was nice and cool so I picked up the pace. After a few km I arrived at Zariquiegui (hey I didn’t name these towns) and found a cafe where a bunch of pilgrims were sitting outside taking a break. Cormac was there so after a bocadillo we continued on together, picking up where we had left off, talking about our lives, telling jokes (which we both suck at by the way), and passing the time. Well, Cormac might take umbrage to that joke comment.
We walked by several fields of sunflowers that were just ready to show their faces, and Cormac told me of a friend of his who says there’s no one who can look at a sunflower and not smile. I agreed, and smiled.
We climbed up to the Alto del Perdon (Mount of Forgiveness) a high point with a 360 view and a monument to us pilgrims. We posed for pictures and stopped for lunch. I realized I had lost my reading glasses and hat, which didn’t put me in a forgiving mood. I guessed that maybe the monument was supposed to give us pilgrims pause and remind us that maybe on this early step in our journey, one of the first things we have to do (on this pilgrimage, as well as in life) is to forgive. Forgive those who have wronged us, and forgive ourselves- for the things we’ve done, the things we can’t change, the things we regret. Only than can we really move on.
As we walked down into the valley -a wide expanse of soft hills that looked kind of like Palmdale without the box stores and crack houses- it got noticeably hotter. In addition, it was a 24 km day so we just buckled down and moved on, walking through a few pretty little towns, not stopping. We finally made it to our final destination” Punta La Reina. We were beat so we stopped at the first auberge we saw. Fortunately it had a shaded outdoor patio with a bar. I was sold, I knew where I was going to be writing.
When I sat down to write I met Hikhun, who was writing and sketching. She was from South Korea and had ran into Park and Im early on. She was a little shy about her work, but she allowed me to take a picture. Here it is:
Then Cormac, her, and Wim headed over to the village to buy some ingredients for dinner. They made an awesome pasta with mushrooms, onions and beef and we chowed down. The perfect meal to load up on for a long walk the next day. I recompensed by cleaning up.
As I’m writing and the sun is going behind the hills, I sit thinking about the beginning of my day. Life would be easier if we just followed the signs. But the signs are more obvious to some than to others. I guess the key is to open yourself up enough to see the signs, know when they make sense for you, and follow them. Just use that one thing that knows how to recognize the signs: your heart.
For the first 10 years of our marriage, we both poured ourselves into work. Janice continued with her career, a freelancer. I did the same, and then had the opportunity to take over a small company that was going to close. I hired my brother as the sales guy, and we grew the company, landing a job the first month of our existence, working out of the back room of Janice and my rental. We both poured ourselves into work, growing the company, moving out of the house first to a small office in town, then to Venice Beach, where all the hip companies were.
The years flew by. I found myself traveling, producing television commercials across the country. Then, as I mentioned before, things slowed down. The industry was changing. It was about this time Janice was getting less work, and when her thoughts turned to motherhood.
After Hannah was born, Janice took charge of rearing Hannah. But as the infinite hand of the universe touched out lives, I became more involved. I loved this wide eyed soul who had touched our lives. Janice was re-gearing her career. It was a smart move since the writing was on the wall. I helped her get into the union, acquiring and organizing the mountain of paperwork necessary to qualify. I was able to adapt my schedule to help care for Hannah.
So when Janice had to work long hours, I would make Hannah her breakfast, get her ready for school, hang out with the moms on the street, and either take the kids, or send her off with one of the other moms, the bright, big, beautiful future tucked into the little backpack she carried on her shoulders as she bounced down the street, talking and laughing with the other kids.
When she got home I would take her through homework, make her dinner, give her a bath (for some reason I got into the habit of singing to her- I can’t sing) and fall asleep with her after reading her some stories. Life seemed like it was supposed to be. It just was.
Little did I know during those moments when I was laying next to her reading stories as she drifted off to sleep that the exquisite madness of the universe would tear my marriage apart.
When I met Amanda, even though we spent an hour talking about shit you don’t talk about on a casual first meeting. And I truthfully don’t remember her as being as truly beautiful as, she became, in short order, in my eyes. Her beauty grew as I got to know her. And well, to a hopeless romantic like me, I guess thats how it should work.
I had asked Amanda out almost as an afterthought. As she left the party with her friends, I asked her if she’d like to get a drink sometime, and handed her a business card. At that point, emotionally, my life was just a shit bag of chaos. I had been seeing someone casually, we had a great rapport and I thought it might be going somewhere. So I still wasn’t even sure I was going to get ahold of Amanda.
The day following the party, I had received a text from her saying she enjoyed talking with me at the party and she’d love to have a drink. I was outside at a bar overlooking the beach, waiting for a concert on the beach to begin. So I did what any guy would- I took a picture of my feet (crossed resting on a rail, looking at the water) and sent it to her. So we went out to Terranea for dinner and drinks, as described in my previous post.
After our first date, Amanda called me up to ask if I’d join her at a party some friends where having (a few who I had met the same night I met her). I drove up to Karen and Don’s house, a beautiful place above a park in Palos Verdes, and walked into the kitchen where Amanda was, along with some of her friends from the other night.
One of the guys was testing a recipe for a new restaurant concept he was developing- he had recently sold a pizza franchise he had built from the ground up and was testing out ideas for a new concept. Everyone was around the kitchen island and there were pots with beef, barbecue sauce, etc everywhere. People were “fluffing the beef” (a technical description of this process would take more time than you or I have, so just use your imagination).
Amanda had brought a bottle of Cayuse Syrah from Walla Walla. If you know anything about Walla Walla Syrahs’ (and who doesn’t) you would be impressed. Did I mention I like wine? So if the fact that she was beautiful, smart, and liked to laugh wasn’t enough…
We drank the wine, we fluffed the beef, we talked. They all had interesting stories. , After awhile, everyone went outside to Don and Karen’s beautiful terraced backyard, congregating around a fire-pit. We listened to Eagles songs from a cover band that was playing a concert in the park below. Amanda and I sat close to each other holding hands, in fact we couldn’t keep our hands off each other- maybe this was the first sign of some sort of codependency.
Or maybe it was just a sign of two people who had been hurt, and were just so in need of something they’d been missing for so long. I guess we were enamored with each other, and felt lucky to have found each other, after what each of us had been through the previous few years.
I can only smile when I think back about those days, despite the things that would eventually challenge us, and force us to confront the ugly habits we had learned from our past relationships.
The auberge last night in Puente La Reina was the best so far- auberge jacque. They had the usual stuff. The bunks- sets of 4 that were separated by thin walls, so it was somewhat private. They had showers that played music – Losing My Religion echoed thorough the room when I turned on the water to bathe after the long hot day.
Cormac and I left the auberge and walked over the queens bridge (the name of the town means, well, “the queens bridge”). Some queen (Queen Muniadona, wife of King Sancho 3rd if you must know) built the bridge specifically for pilgrims to be able to cross the river into the town to be nourished and sleep before continuing their pilgrimage.
A few miles out of Puente La Reina the path became light sand, gravel. It reminded me of hikes I had taken in the local mountains in Southern California. As we moved on it got warmer and we started walking through cornfields mixed with grape vines.
After awhile we walked uphill and pines and various coniferous trees surrounded us. It got a little cooler. Cormac told me a story about when he lived in Korea for 6 months. Apparently he went to dinner with 2 guys he was working with. One of them he called Pakeman who became a good friend of his. Another was a big guy, older, about the age of Cormac’s dad whose name was Pac-jeum-bae. I’m talking sumo wrestler big. Cormac had a casual friendship with him.
The three were out to dinner and Cormac related that he had his camera stolen while he was riding a bike in Seoul. A guy just drove by on a moped and lifted his camera out of his basket. As the dude drove off, he turned around and smiled .
As they ate, the sumo wrestler excused himself. After about a half hour he returned with a camera, the one Cormac is using on his pilgrimage. Later Cormac learned that Pac-jeum-bae had lost a son, pretty early on. Maybe he was just doing something nice. Or maybe he was doing something for the son he never got to know, the son he never got to help guide through life, the son he never got a chance to love.
We walked through Villatuerta. It was siesta, so only a few kids were walking around the town square. We stopped and had some lunch by the church- bread I had bought locally, some salami and cheese. An old dude walked out of the arch next to us, a smile on his face. it was quiet, peaceful. I was grateful for sharing this moment with Cormac, my new friend.
Just beyond the city we moved through wheat fields. Then we hit Lorca, another small town. House martins flew above us, their mud nests built under the eaves of the houses. We moved on, it got hotter, we walked on dusty roads, and Cormac related a story about his grandmother.
His brother had gotten engaged to a Spanish girl and they were to get married in a little village in Spain. Cormac’s grandmother was 91 at the time and was reluctant to go, she was worried about traveling such a distance. She was finally convinced, and made the trek. When she got back all she could talk about was the sunshine (apparently they don’t have any in Ireland), the food, and her time in Spain.
She died a year later. What are they odds Cormac’s brother would marry some Spanish broad in a small village in Spain? Maybe the universe conspired to give their grandmother an opportunity to experience a little more of life, something she was reluctant to give to herself.
Worriers are people who think of all the variables beyond their control. We can’t take everything into consideration. In the end, I guess if you just go with your heart, sometimes against your own instincts (which are discolored by the vagaries of life) you might just decide to do something crazy like go to Spain and walk 470 miles across it…
We trundled on, got lost for a few km’s due to us talking. We commiserated with the GPS, cowering in the shadows of hay bales stacked two stories high in the middle of a wheat field. We finally found our way and got into Estella tired, aching, and hot.
LETTER TO MYSELF
Since the part of this blog has to do with relationships, I’m going to take stock of my past ones and try to make some sense of things. Throw it out to the Universe.
I was born (and still am!) an identical twin. My youth seemed normal- middle class, the suburbs of Los Angeles- walking to elementary school to hang out with friends and maybe learn a few things along the way. Summers were filled with long, hot days playing baseball until after dark, mom driving us to the beach on the weekends where I learned to body surf. It was pretty idyllic.
I’m not sure when and why I became intensely shy. Maybe having a twin had something to do with it. According to the book “The Same But Different” by John A Friedman, “… twin pairs have been emotionally reliant on one another for many years, they unwittingly develop an unhealthy dependence upon one another. Very few people question this codependency because twins are expected to experience an extraordinary closeness”.
But, I had girls as friends through 8th grade. That’s when things turned south. For some reason my brains/emotions decided I was ugly. I guess I was the perfect petrie dish for insecurity to grow and fester. I know I wasn’t the only one. I have to laugh now at how immature I was. I’ve never spoken to anyone about this, haven’t really thought about it until now.
It was somewhere in junior high that I remember being in the back seat of a parents car, being driven to dance class and having my friend Doug (resident trouble maker later put into the witness protection program for arranging for small planes with cocaine to deliver their cargo somewhere in Oklahoma) and him telling me that a girl liked me, and how she put out. I think we got together after class that night, but never even kissed. I was either not interested, or mortified. Later I was told she tried to commit suicide.
So, high school was, for the most part, about hanging out with my friends. Boys awkwardly becoming men (very slowly- in fact barely starting the process, at least in high school. I think most of us still haven’t completed the process). I was resigned to swimming and water polo in school, and whatever sports were going on at the time (I was mediocre at all of them) outside of school with my friends who were similarly afflicted with outsiderness for whatever their reasons were.
I never really even went on a date in high school. Some twins tried to make a connection (tenuous at best) with my brother and I but, well, they were a little stout and must have worn their beauty inside. I wasn’t interested. I couldn’t wait to get out of high school and head to collage, and “life”. In retrospect I should have waited, grown up a little, and appreciated college more.
As it was I was interested in college, but probably more interested in living. College though was a great place to meet woman, and I met plenty, and somewhat naturally, came out of my box. In addition to going to class, I worked nights- I could support myself stocking shelves at a supermarket 20-30 hours a week.
In the beginning it was great, but as living intervened, school became less a priority, so working at night became a burden as I fell asleep during class a lot. Still, I scraped through with a B- Didn’t even go to the graduation ceremony. I don’t really even remember that last year, I just needed a few classes here or there to fulfill the requirements. At that time in my life, marriage wasn’t even a thought, and kids certainly weren’t on my radar.
But, as I’ve mentioned before, when Janice approached me about having a child, I agreed, because it seemed like it meant so much to her, and I figured maybe I could learn something, grow up a little. What I came to learn was that I became pretty much disposable once Janice had gotten what she wanted, and I wasn’t providing everything she felt she needed.
This is sort of a poem I wrote, at the time
You were smiling, turning round to look at me.
And I was looking at you.
Until the day we both stopped. looking. And turning.
It was on that wooded trail, the smell of pine and bough.
The sound of crunchy needles underneath.
The rubber of boot and breath and sweat.
I’ll always remember the amber hues of the sun
squeezing it’s way through the needles
like two fingers opening white metal blinds
We didn’t worry about much.
We didn’t talk about the things we could never know.
We didn’t care about not finding our way home.
Now we’re so careful. You and your nervous chatter.
And your armor.
Me with my half-assed laugh and doubt. And my black hat and overcoat.
Is this really life?
I found out soon enough that Amanda had four kids. The oldest was 19, out of the house living with her boyfriend. Savannah was 18, in her last year of high school and going off to collage in Switzerland. Maggie was just moving into her teen years, getting the first tastes of becoming a woman. Her youngest, Chris was a skater boy/gamer and was probably the most affected by losing their father to the vagaries of life and what it can do to you. What I mean is, their father was probably just as messed up as the rest of us, fighting his own demons.
What are the odds that they would all be artistic? Probably a nod to Amanda’s raising them. You figure at least one of them would have leanings towards, say, math or animal husbandry. They could all sing and dance. Beautiful, but troubled, affected by the breakup of Amanda and their father, and his erratic behavior. At times it seemed obvious they were crying out for his attention.
So, it was with amazement to me when I instantly bonded with these kids, especially the two younger ones. I just never thought twice about what I was getting into, what I was signing on for. It just kind of came naturally. Maybe I was supposed to be a dad to a big brood. Looking back, I guess part of it was due to my emotional dependence on Amanda, the woman who had showed me love when I needed it the most. And maybe some of it was the relationship I was missing with my own daughter, who was always kept at arms length from me.
But it still boggles my mind how naturally I fell into having a relationship with those kids. It helped that they were smart, witty, creative kids, at least when they weren’t acting out, vying for love and attention from their mom, crying out because their dad was, emotionally, lost in his own world.
When I first started going out with Amanda, the kids had several spontaneous “performances” that included some singing, some dancing, some horsing around. The performances usually ended up with them in a pile on the floor, laughing hysterically. One night, I remember being in the backyard, overlooking the L.A. basin towards the mountains, the blood red moon emerging from a lunar eclipse, the warm wind wrapping around us and bringing us close together.
Maggie was egging me on to sing Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen with her, and dance. She was so uninhibited and full of life, even though she’d been through a lot. There is a place your brain goes when you sing, dance, create. I know that when I write, or sing and play my guitar badly, my brain goes to this different place, and my pain and hurt goes away for the time being. It’s a place of refuge and solace.
I may have given them something that they needed- to see their mom happy, at least a little bit, to have a man around to replace their father, missing in action. And I thank them for that. Maybe some day I’ll be able to repay them for what they gave to me that night.