“Landscapes tell us stories about time.”

 He smiles at me and I wonder if he notices the erosion of my lips from all the thru-hikers leaving their footprints across the surface.  Can he still see the path he first made, or have there been too many trails off the original?  The first time he kissed me, he parted my lips like a river parts rock and my mouth was a canyon waiting for him to fill it with love.  I didn’t know then that sometimes canyons get so big they become empty.

Outside the restaurant, he opens his arms and gives me a hug.  And it’s not quite like how I remember it.  I felt taller.  Like elevation had nothing to do with my height, but the length of my spine.  Could he feel the earthquake that still trembled inside of me after he left?  Or the ridgeline of my shoulders, where he staked his flag for first ascent? And did it count if I’ve grown?

I cross my arms over my chest.  The valley of my breasts is now a meadow.  He used to linger there like morning mist.  But sunlight evaporated what remained of him.  Wildflowers grew in his place.

He says he can’t believe he hasn’t seen me in years.  I say he made sure of it.  He stayed away like I was volcanic activity spilling on his Pompeii.  He bows his head and tries to explain.  I tell him I understand.  I am no longer rigid like granite.  I break more readily.  Weathered by heartbreak. 

When they seat us, I sit across from him, my fingers laced together on the table—the way I learned to pull myself up on days I couldn’t get over him.  He tells me he never forgot my number.  A fossil from a time of flip phones and T9 texting.  We catch up and rediscover shared commonalities.  Sometimes he confuses my scenic views for those of other wilderness’ he has explored. 

And it is okay because no one remembers the past as it is.  It is a function of how we feel.  And time changes everything.  It buries the hurt like sediment in a lake bed. 

I sigh in relief. 

No longer does he feel like sunshine spreading across snowcaps in the Sierras.  He is not sunshine.  He is just a man with a broken compass.  When men backtrack, I need to learn that I am not their final destination.  I need to learn that I am not thunder and that I am not rain and that lightning never strikes the same place twice.  So this time I let his words pass through me like wind and I bow but I do not break. 

We split the check.  Right down the middle.  Clean.

I ask him if he wants to finish my birthday beer with me.  He agrees to get in my car and we drive to the bay.  We catch up like real friends as we sit on a bench in the dark and watch the fog roll in.  The street lights ripple across the black water.    

He says he needs to do this more often.

To do what, I ask.

He says, to be outside.  

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Cheers to being picked last, eating lunch alone, and experiencing FOMO

They talked about what they would name their not-yet-conceived children as I drove down the single lane highway, admiring the unfolding landscape of the San Diego countryside.  The golden sunlight kissed the pastures while the cow grazed, framed by blue skies.  I sighed in awe of the nature while two of my long time friends chatted about engagements and weddings and buying homes and having children.  All I wanted to do was celebrate my 26th birthday.

As a single, unattached 26 year old female, I find that I don’t know where I fit in anymore.  On the one hand, I’m not ready to settle down.  And on the other, all my friends are.  That leaves me in the middle.  Neither here nor there.  Just somewhere in between being a “real” and “young” adult.  This middle is terrifying.  I admit it may only be FOMO (fear of missing out) but the panic is real when you’re the only one in the car that doesn’t have anything to contribute to the conversation about baby names. 

FOMO is stupid.   

I don’t relate, but I also don’t care to and I don’t try.  For me, adulthood has been like a road trip where I’ve opted to take every back road instead of the one that will get me to where I need to go the fastest.  And I’m perfectly content to explore at my leisure whatever comes along the road that interests me. 

At 26, all of the commotion about marriage and mortgages and children is overrated. 

But because I feel this way, I find that the road less travelled is also more lonely.

People partner up so damn fast—like its 8th Grade P.E. and no one wants to be picked last for a team.  Desperate glances and nervous hands link as if to say “You’ll do”, just glad they’re not alone.  But that’s the thing—even at 13, I was never one to rush a good thing.  I turned down dates and broke from friendships and waited for time to reveal who would remain.  Sometimes I ate lunch by myself—but I learned you need an empty table in order to fill it. 

The conversation turns to travel plans with the boyfriends.  It’s funny how “We” can sound so exclusive.  And even though we were all together in my car, heading out to the desert to camp for my birthday, it was hard not to feel like I didn’t belong to the club.    

But I’m realizing maybe this is the adult version of eating lunch alone in the cafeteria.  That this emptiness is only making room for new people and new experiences to come.  I’ve never rushed a good thing, so for now I’ll stick my nose in a book or journal.  I’ll run new routes around the city.  I’ll drive until road meets ocean.  I’ll summit mountains and chase the sunrise across different continents.  I’ll keep doing me—confident that I will receive exactly what I put out into the universe.  A little kindness and whatever human connection I can find along the way.

Black Coffee Kind of Love

He drinks his coffee black.  He says that it is bold and decisive.  But I like mine buttery brown like croissants in the morning with Grandpa.  For me, coffee has always been about that feeling of intangible comfort.  It’s nothing like a hug or a kiss–those kinds of physical comforts dissipate after the moment of impact.  I like to think of coffee like a warm memory–the kind that you can revisit and will kindle into a fire long after that time, that place, or that person is gone.

We sipped black coffee out of a shared mug the first time we went camping together.  Sitting in his car, listening to songs on his high school iPod, waiting for our phones to charge, we reminisce on the night before.  About how fortunate we were to find a camp site, about crispy spam, glasses of whisky, and campfire conversations.  The morning was cold and I had forgotten my jacket so he gave me his to wear.  It somehow felt like I was shedding more layers than I was putting on.

We sip black coffee on the mornings that I sleep over before we each separately head off to work.  After our first date, I saw him two more times before the week was over.  I was never one to put down a good book–and he was the kind of character that teenage me worshiped in young adult fiction.  It was a long time since 17 years old felt so familiar.

Tonight we sip black coffee as we have dinner.  We spent Saturday in the desert under the Milky Way.  Last night I cried as I told him about the growing distance between me and my sisters.  About how it felt to be alone because all my friends and family were in different places in their lives.  When he kissed me, I finally felt that someone understood–the only way a person can understand because he too knew that loneliness.

Sitting beside him at a tiny table in Souplantation, I have never felt more unambivalent about who I was at 25 years old.  Somehow I have become the kind of girl that jumped over rattlesnakes on dirt trails and made sweet passionate love under the stars in the desert.  The kind of girl that hangs out on the side of cliffs and shares gritty coffee with strangers.  I have just met this part of me and am fearful that this girl will disappear with the touch of him.  That I will never again be so wild and uninhibited.

When it is over, will black coffee have taught me to be bold and decisive? Or will it only serve as a warm memory of who I was with him?

 

A little fall of rain

I’m glad it is raining on my birthday.  April raises the curtains and we see the crystal drops on the window.  It’s the kind of pretty that makes you forget you’re in a hospital room.  The machines go off every few minutes for one reason or another.  They take my uncle’s blood pressure.  They squeeze and unsqueeze his tiny legs.  They monitor his heartrate.  They give him additional oxygen to breathe.  Nothing in this room is without a flashing light or a loud beep. 

Last night I cried and I commended myself.  Because to hurt means that one has put oneself in a vulnerable position—and there is nothing more human than that.  It’s my body’s way of flashing and beeping.  Telling the world I’m still alive.

And in the words of Eponine, “I don’t feel any pain.  A little fall of rain can hardly hurt me now.”

And sure, I feel silly.  But silly is better than never knowing how it felt to have that wonderful feeling—even if just briefly. 

Short nothings

I don’t know how some people can talk with so much conviction about who they are when I am so ambivalent about myself.  And maybe that’s the problem.  Why I can’t convince anyone else to love who I am—it’s because I don’t know who I am and they know it.  Like BO I can’t hide under deodorant.  I stink at love. 

Turning 26 in an ICU ward

I spent the eve of my 26th birthday in my great uncle’s room in the ICU. 

What had started off as a weekend of canyoneering and camping with friends in early celebration of my birthday, ended with a Snap from my brother of a hospital waiting room.  It was 10:30 PM on a Sunday, and many hours since I came back from the desert, yet I had received no message or call from my family.  Warning signs immediately went off in my head.

The first ring felt like forever, and then my sister’s voice broke through the static silence.  “Hello?”

“What’s going on?”  My voice was frantic.

“Haven’t you checked the Snaps?” 

My heart dropped.

“What Snaps?”

“Shake my head—“ She said, her voice condemning.  “Grandpa Her was rushed to the hospital this afternoon.  He had a stroke.  Mom and dad are with him right now.  He’s in an induced coma.”

They say the first stage of grief is anger.  It is true.  Devastated by the news, and infuriated by the delivery (Snapchat?! WTF), I began roaring at my sister through the phone despite how I heard her own scared voice tremble.  We argued—not about my uncle—but about communication.  About how I don’t have the time to sift through 800 seconds of Snaps in the “Family” Snapchat.  And suddenly I felt like it was an attack on how I’ve spent my time this year. 

I really wasn’t around as much this year for my family.  I mean—I was, to any other normal family’s standard—but not in the same co-dependent kind of way that I used to be.  I went camping with friends, ran half marathons with friends, partied with friends, rock climbed with friends, traveled and played national competitions with friends, toured South Korea with friends—and all this rage that I felt kind of melted into deep guilt. 

I called my mom.

I talked to her about my uncle’s condition.  She assured me there was nothing to worry about.  My mom was never the most warm and loving person to me when I was a kid.  When seeking comfort, I’d choose her last.  But in that moment, I wondered how many times my mom kept her cool in times of crisis to protect us from a scary or sad situation.  Even if that meant bending the truth—she wanted us to feel safe. 

On my 26th birthday, I want to talk about my Grandpa Her.

I wrote an entire short story based on him.  It went on to win an award.  The writing was nothing special—it was his story that was remarkable.  A story about miracles. 

My grandfather tells it the best.  He recalls bullets zipping past his back.  The river water running red.  Turning around and seeing his brother, my Grandpa Her, getting swept up among the bodies.  Gasping for air.  With gun strapped to his back, without a second hesitation, he dives back in to save his brother.  His bumbling, schizophrenic brother.  And then when they get to the refugee camp—they lose him for three weeks.  My grandpa looked diligently for his brother and refused to leave the country until his brother was found.  To this day, no one in the family knows how my Grandpa Her ended up at a different refugee camp across town.  But they found him just in time to take the next flight to the United States. 

The real life unedited story is about brotherhood, home, and what we each believe is valuable in life—and, that, to me undoubtedly is family.

Tonight, I watched as my Grandpa Her, confused and scared in his big hospital bed and looking so small with all the tubes wrapped around him, opened his mouth for his brother to feed him ice chips.  I wanted to cry.  Love stories never quite seem to be this beautiful in the movies. 

Why I embrace casual relationships

I ended December 2016 with this sentiment:

“I left his apartment the next day with an entirely new perspective of on “casual relationships”.  Somehow, he made each individual causal relationship meaningful to him.  I had always thought that casual relationships were supposed to be meaningless.  He taught me otherwise.  And I left with a determination to gain new experiences the way he chose to live his life—finding meaning in each novel moment, no matter how brief.”

This was a defining moment in my adulthood.  I was trying to understand hookup culture and whether it was something I should feel ashamed to be a participant.  I started thinking about how society defined who I was based on my sex life and relationship status; and whether that had any importance to me.  If I was sexually prolific, would that make me any less of a big sister, a daughter, a friend, a coworker, or a lover? 

I shared with my friends, whom most are all in committed long term relationships with their first boyfriend, that I had found meaning in unconventional relationships.  I think they thought I was trying to undermine their lifestyle choice.  That I was somehow attacking their Wedding Pinterest boards as I talked about my need for personal growth and fulfillment.  They talked about me in secret; wondering when I would finally settle down and shut up about how loving someone shouldn’t be coupled with expectations of a ring, a house, and kids. 

This narrative was important to me for a number of reasons.  The first, the only long term committed relationship I had ever been in left me deeply broken.  The second, I aligned myself more closely to the ideals of feminism.  The third, I learned the importance of prioritizing myself. 

I started dating my ex-boyfriend when I was 16 years old.  And no matter how many people told me not to take it too seriously—when you’re 16, everything feels serious.  At that age, failing an AP exam felt like the end of the world and I thought I would be with him forever.  But both turned out to be untrue.  When we broke up spring break of 2013, I questioned why he didn’t want me and confronted feelings of not being “good enough”.  Coming out of this experience taught me my value wasn’t for a man to decide that I was worthwhile for him to keep. 

I came to this realization through learning about feminism.  Growing up, I only saw through mainstream media the narrative that feminism was divisive and therefore I didn’t identify with the movement.  But a few things happened in 2014 that opened my mind.  One of the things was the #YesAllWomen trending Twitter campaign.  Recently out of a long term relationship, I had to navigate the dating world as an adult women for the first time ever.  And this meant I had to learn about what I accepted as appropriate and inappropriate behavior from men.   I found that frequently, I wasn’t respected as a person—but as a sexual object to be pursued and handled.  And #YesAllWomen allowed me to see that fear, shame, and harassment was a universal experience all women shared when going about their normal day to day lives.  

The second thing was the leaked nude photos of multiple female celebrities that came out that same year.  It was astonishing to me how often I heard comments condemning the women for taking photos of their own body.  And then, Miley Cyrus’s music video for her single “Wrecking Ball” was released—and the media and internet went crazy again—slut shaming the artist for her choice and use of nudity in the music video. A lot of Miley’s conservative fan’s denounced her, but I watched her take a stand and use her platform to talk about gender equality and homeless youth.  And for the first time I saw her as more than just a Disney-made pop star—she was a humanitarian—naked or not.  These events made me decide something very important.  I wasn’t going to let mainstream opinion make me feel any less of a worthy person of respect based on what I did with my body. 

Unconventional relationships taught me how to put myself first.  It taught me not to wait for a text or phone call.  It taught me to go to out and check off items on my bucket list.  It taught me not to compromise on where I want to go or who I want to be.  Because I didn’t owe anyone any of that.  All I could give people, was my time and my genuine self. And no matter how brief that time we shared—whether I would see this person again—the time was meaningful in that we had a connection—and I didn’t expect anything more than that.

Through these experiences and embracing casual relationships, I’ve found that I feel more free as a human being to give and receive love.   I’m not limiting myself from feeling based on conventional expectations.  Because I get to decide my worthiness, I get to decide I am more than a sexualized object, I get to decide that there is infinity in brevity—I don’t see casual relationships as bad.  But at the same time, I’m not saying it’s better than traditional relationships.  They’re different.  And for now, I like the kind of different I am—finding meaning in each novel moment, no matter how brief.