california

I Found My Heart in San Francisco

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We drove because he liked me. It wouldn’t have been a problem to fly – a little more expensive, a little less travel time, both essentially non-issues – but he insisted on a road trip. I didn’t argue. You learn a lot about a person when you’re trapped in a hunk of speeding metal with them for six hours. And I wanted to learn a lot about him.

The trip was impromptu- “This might be the last weekend I can really have fun for awhile. Want to go somewhere?” He texted me on Thursday. We’d only been dating for a month, but it seemed like a lot longer. It just felt right. Friday morning we hoisted our bags into the trunk of his car and took off up the I5, San Francisco bound.

It’d been over three years since I’d made the trek up to the Bay Area, and I’d forgotten just how much I love California. “There’s a reason we pay such high taxes here,” he said as we cut through snow-kissed mountain ranges, past geometrical rows of orange trees, through rolling hills as fluorescent as an exit sign. “People have figured out where they can finally have it all.”

Having it all. I thought about this as I stared at him, my fingers running through his hair, my nails dragging gently along his broad shoulders. He reminded me of Joaquin Phoenix in this moment, his slight crooked smile, the way his Ray-Bans perched on his nose, the rust color of his close-cut beard. What did that even mean, to have it all?

“Oh my God, yessss!” I squealed as he put on Peter, Paul and Mary’s Puff the Magic Dragon. I pulled out my phone and hit record, holding it close to Harry the Seal, a dash ornament he’d had since he was in high school. Behind Harry rays of amber  broke through huge thunder clouds, the remnants of the worst storm in years. “Could this be any more perfect?” I laughed at the sublime blend of beauty and the absurd.

* * * * * *

We checked in around 6:30 and got ready for the evening. “You can wear something more casual,” he informed me as I shifted through my embarrassingly large suitcase. I hadn’t travelled with more than a carry-on for years, but I hadn’t been sure what to pack. He’d made all of the plans, and I was delighted to have it be a surprise. I threw on a cotton dress, tights, heeled boots, and a leather jacket. With make up and hair it took 15 minutes. “That’s one thing you’ll like about me,” I smiled, “I never take long to get ready.”

Our first stop was Union Square. He held me close as we watched the ice skaters, my breath finally visible. I loved my solitary sports bra runs on Christmas day in Palm Springs where my parents live, but it felt good to be experiencing the season in Hallmark fashion: warmed up by a guy next to the brightly lit Macy’s tree. “Ohhh,” he cringed and laughed as a teen in a backwards cap and hoodie hit the ice. Hard. “Yeah, I’ve definitely been there,” I admitted. “Oh, I know,” he nodded, kissing me on the forehead. That was one of the things he liked best about me- my adorable clumsiness.

We stopped at a wine bar on our way to Chinatown, where we proceeded to fatten up on pork fried rice, Peking duck, lettuce cups, and a sort of tempura crab, one of his favorite dishes in the city. In fact, it was the whole reason we’d come to the hole in the wall, empty save two other tables. And I understood why. Salty fried goodness, a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, a wonderful guy – what more could a girl ask for?

Well, an awesome Saturday for one. After dinner Friday we had a night cap at a local pub, soaking in the festive pre-Santacon cheer, before retiring around midnight. Which meant that I got up early feeling rested and ready for a six mile run. “It’s the only thing I absolutely require when I’m traveling,” I’d told him before we left. “Whatever you need, babe, just as long as you do it in the morning.”

After my run to the wharf, we showered and headed to Haight-Ashbury for brunch at Zazie. We enjoyed boysenberry bellinis, crab benedicts, and cornmeal pancakes with lemon curd and strawberry that rivaled my dad’s best morning efforts. “You’re going to love that about him,” my girlfriend had told me before our first date, “he’s a huge foodie. He will totally wine and dine you.”

And he did. And I did love it. We rounded out our meals in San Fran with seafood and Bay Bridge views at Waterbar and some of the best dim sum I’ve had at Yank Sing. But what I loved even more was the Keith Haring exhibit he took me to Saturday afternoon. He knew how important art was to me, and so we strolled over to the De Young Museum after Zazie to soak in some culture. As we floated through rooms of luminous American art, I wished I could somehow squeeze him tighter than I already was. I mean, I knew he couldn’t tell the difference between a Martin Johnson Heade and a Winslow Homer, but did that really matter?

The short answer: no. Because that’s what I was learning the more time I spent with him. No, he hadn’t heard of Inherent Vice, the latest film from the director of his favorite movie of all time, Boogie Nights. No, he didn’t enjoy reading fiction for fun, although he loved obtaining knowledge. No, he wasn’t going to join me on my morning runs because his asthma wouldn’t let him. But so what? It’s not like I could name a single NHL player from the Kings game we’d gone to the week before, even though I’d had fun. Nor could I tell you anything about tort reform beyond what I saw in Hot Coffee (he’s a lawyer). Or even begin to comprehend how to put together a business proposal (he’s also an entrepreneur).

But what we can do is laugh for hours with each other. And talk freely about anything and everything, from politics to religion to family to Family Guy. And we can also get super competitive about bowling and Scrabble and a game of horse. You know, the things that matter. And we can show up for each other in pretty much any circumstance, whether it’s NFL Sundays or a three hour film about a 19th century artist, even if it may not be totally our thing. And finally, we can spend 12 full hours in a car together and one romantic weekend in San Francisco and still want to know more about each other. So much more. And you know what? I think that might just be what it means to have it all.

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Happily Ever After

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“Did you ever imagine we would be here?” My mom asked my dad as we reclined on pillowed chaise lounges gazing out at the silhouetted desert landscape, the unusually humid September air blanketing our bare skin in the late evening hour. The question dangled momentarily, hovering over the glowing pool, dancing around the blue neon light sculptures my dad had recently created and installed. I knew the question was meant unambiguously, referring specifically to this exact location, this house in this corner of the California desert, looking at these particulars mountains on this perfect early fall night. But the brief space between the inquiry and the response allowed just enough time for the sort of free wheeling, existential rabbit holes of thought my mind liked to take me on. Imagine… Here I was, living, breathing, experiencing. Here we were, specks of sand along an infinite beach, our brief windows of consciousness merely the smallest moments ticked off by an endless clock. Here they were, my precious parents, still together after all these years, more than half their lives spent by each other’s sides. Imagine!

*. *. *. *

Today, September 29th, 2014, is my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary. For three decades, my mom has put up with my dad’s snoring, tolerated his ridiculous burping songs (don’t ask), dealt with his sweat drenched laundry and boyish tendencies. For 30 years, my dad has struggled to figure out the female species, weathered many a PMS storm, attempted to keep up with my mom’s incredible passion for all things cultural. For almost a third of a century, they have trusted in each other, supported and relied on each other, laughed and cried and shared nearly every part of themselves with each other. It’s mind blowing, really, especially for someone who’s never done anything for 30 years, not even breathe. Marriage is a commitment indeed!

I remember the first time I heard the origins story. Not any specific details, like how old I was or where we were when they told it, but rather how I imagined it. My dad was this handsome young man, full of chivalrous intent and Prince Charming like charisma, my mom this fun-loving, insanely brilliant, 80s fringe haired goddess, and as fate would have it they both lived in Seattle. One sunny day (the Seattle of my imagination never experiences rain), my dad waltzed into my mom’s Marais-worthy frame shop, print in hand ready to be outfitted, and fireworks exploded. One single glance and the world shifted, catapulting them into each other’s lives. But not just quite yet, because even though it was love at first sight (of course), my dad was a gentleman and therefore shy and therefore waited until a few days later when he returned for the framed photo to ask my mother on a date. And then he showed up at her door on his white horse, threw her on the back, and rode off into the sunset. (Okay, maybe that last part didn’t happen, but everything else is true.)

Even though I’m grown up now, I still see my parent’s meeting as a fairy tale. It really was love at first sight, the kind you see in movies. After three months they were engaged, within a year married, and now, a little over 31 years later, they are leaving on a month and a half long Mediterranean vacation tomorrow. Happily ever after does exist! I’d say the big difference between how I viewed my parents as a child and how I view them at 28 is that I no longer take their marriage and happiness as givens. Back then, I just assumed all parents were the same- fated, healthily dependent, and together forever. I think maybe every child believes this, for some deeply rooted, shared DNA reason, until proven otherwise. And since my parents never actually have proven otherwise, I’ve only learned about the possibilities of failure and misery in marriage through outside sources, and through my own difficulties navigating relationships. What they managed to make look so easy and effortless – unconditional love, raising children, running a business together and owning a home – I now understand was anything but. They were my age when they met, and when I think about how far away I feel from those things, it makes me shudder. How did they do it?

Well, for one thing they recognized the things that were truly important to each of them, and saw that their values aligned. They honored and respected each other’s qualities and beliefs, and knew that at the heart of things they were well matched for this thing called marriage. They had differences – my dad could be content living off the wilderness in Alaska, my mom could spend the rest of her life in a museum – but they were willing to make compromises (and to a certain extent, honestly enjoyed them.) Instead of creating unsolvable equations, their variables were like pieces to the same puzzle, fitting together to make a more perfect whole, always adding up to one. And when conflicts did arise, the answer was never shouting (which I maybe heard once in 18 years sharing a roof), but fair discussion and resolution and forgiveness when needed. And finally, they’ve always supported each other in their spiritual journeys, my mom as an artist, expressing herself through her paintbrush, my dad in his communion with nature, leading him up mountains and across countries, from one trail to the next. They didn’t just sit there staring into each other’s eyes after “the glance;” no, they looked out and charged ahead, side by side.

*. *. *. *

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” The crescent moon hung low in the sky, enjoying its splendor alone with Venus before the other celestial beings joined them. I looked at my mom, my dad, their joy, their sense of wonder. The years had only served to strengthen them, bring them closer together, illuminate their best selves. I had asked them many months ago what their favorite age was, and they had both said “now.” (Elkhart Tolle would be proud.) I’ve thought about that a lot since then, as I move through my 20s, growing more and more aware of the one way path we all head down, and it’s filled me with hope. My parents’ road hasn’t always been easy- there have been struggles and heartaches and illness and loss, all of the elements of the human experience- but it’s led them here, to their own little piece of paradise, their own magical place in the universe. Imagine that.