Everyday Romance

The house smells like dog – specifically a very, very sweet and old golden retriever. Nothing personal against her, but still, the house smells very much of her existence.

Then there are a few other details. The toilet seat is up, there are stains on the carpet, dust clings to the edges of the bunny-eared TV, and facial hair remnants stick to the toothpaste-crusted corners of the bathroom sink.

I am house sitting a well-established bachelor pad. I was aware that his home may not have necessarily appealed to my feminine abilities/sensibilities (which I would proudly give a 22% rating), and I suspected that this experience might present a challenge. But, perhaps, I thought it might be a good challenge.

In a hotel on the border of Ethiopia and Kenya, I slept on a bed that was rented by the hour. I unrolled my travel linen sleeping sheet to avoid lying on the stained covers. When I touched the dense, lumpy pillow a cloud of dust confidently swirled above the fabric. I looked under the bed and spotted a used condom (which wasn’t mine).

But it was all part of the romance and the adventure of it all. I was in a colorfully rural border crossing in East Africa. The used condom actually seemed to be a perfectly-placed detail.

In Muscat, the capital of Oman, I had booked a guesthouse online. The first time the skeleton key unlocked the door to the room, I sat on the bed and cried a little (and I hate to admit that). Every space in my closet served as linen storage for the guesthouse, there were dead bugs in the plastic cups, there was no soap anywhere in the bathroom, and I was in a random suburb of the city 45 minutes away from any charming historical spots. I simply felt very, very alone. But, I could at least claim that I was the traveling “single woman in the Middle East.” I eventually picked myself up, rented a car for the week in lieu of no public transport, and drove to the local grocery store to buy soap.

But, now, I am not in a foreign nor inherently-romantic destination.  I am just down the street from home.

On closer inspection, and after a change of focus, I begin to notice the endearing details of this bachelor’s home and history. His plaid jackets hang on the wall, photographs of the Alaskan crab boat he captained for 20 years decorate the living room walls, and the tops of his rubber boots sit perfectly folded in his bedroom corner. A beautiful oil painting of a lighthouse rests in a 1980s wood frame on the bedroom wall. The light in the painting offers immediate and safe direction for ships to navigate through the layers of waves that match the colors of the cloudy, night sky. For me, this is the most beautiful moment of his home.

This challenge is not as easily justified as the romance in an African border crossing or the solo traveler in the Middle East. This everyday romance is a little more difficult to discover, but, it is just as real.

The What of the “What?”

We have visited relatives in their homes, and we have visited relatives in their graves; we have researched family history in western landscapes, and we have researched American history in dusty museums; we have sat in the car cruising just under the legal limit, and we have sat in the car stopped near houses of past loves. In the last two decades we have reached purposeful destinations, and navigated unexplained routes, traveling thousands of miles. Together.

 

My grandmother, mother, and I – ages 90-68-29 – make an effort once a year to climb into a car and go. With 187 years of combined life experience, these annual road trips facilitate time to share past stories, express unsaid thoughts, and, of course, cultivate our shared slant of humor.

With three generations in the vehicle, sometimes talking over The Mills Brothers lyrics or  Garrison Keillor stories, there is a predictably large margin of error. Between our age differences, generation gaps, failed hearing, and selective memory, the question “What?” often arises.

               

This year’s road trip – from Reno to Park City to an undetermined location – began with such a moment.

Before we even pulled out of the driveway, my grandmother realized that she forgot her cane. We walked back in the house to retrieve it.

“Is that the lead-lined cane?” I asked Grammy, hoping she would understand the suggested reference.

“What? No, this is the retractable one,” she replied.

“Remember the lead cane, Mom?” my mother asked Grammy, picking up the storyline. “The one we were going to smack men with?” My mother was referring to a time a few years before when I was suffering from a broken heart. We all joked that Grammy could help the healing process by smacking my latest ex-boyfriend with her new lead cane.

“Is that the lead one you have there?” my mother asked again.

Grammy looked down at the baton-looking cane in her hand.

“No, but this one’ll do,” she said.

Such “What?” moments have become more common as our time passes together, but they have also become more valuable. “What?” has ceased to be an annoying question, asked under obligation in expectations of an irrelevant answer. Rather, “What?” offers a chance to hear an old story in a new way, establish a memory, or create a new layer to our ever-evolving relationship.

“What?” has actually become a precious question. Right up there with, “Which way should we go next?”

               

 

 

Flipping Pages

Changing chapters in my life has forever involved struggle. Tears unwillingly flow as I sit at airport gates, wondering if I should board, knowing that I can choose to not step onto that plane. I desperately call my mother, or the boyfriend that I am leaving behind, to talk me through the process of making the “right” decision. But in the end I always give my ticket to the agent at the gate, walk down the jet way, and find my seat. I stare out the window at the people working below, I muster a half-hearted smile at the person that lodges himself next to me, and I try to let go. Telling myself to let go, though, makes me want to hold on even tighter.

Two years ago I sat in that window seat, clutching to memories of drinking cheap beer at happy hours, scuba diving under tropical waters, and doing “sunset” with friends. I was departing the Hawaiian paradise I was not ready to release, and heading to the typically rainy climate of Eugene, Oregon, to pursue scholarly endeavors.

What a change.

As predicted, I hollowed myself into my institutionalized-esque apartment for the school year. I caught a chronic case of FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out, as one friend explained – and while I forced myself to attend happy hours at a local campus bar, my heart was still sipping Mai Tais under a warm sun.

But then something happened. After spending the intervening summer back in Maui, I learned the value of appreciation. I woke up every morning with an underlying sense of gratitude, no matter what was happening in my life. My boyfriend and I were no longer together, I had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to start an unpredictable car to get to work, and my impending departure back to Oregon was reliably approaching. But I loved it all.

And I took that gratitude back to the mainland with me. This last year in Eugene my friendships deepened, I looked forward to the indoor happy hours, and I even met a new man (I did not see that one coming, but I never do, until it’s too late).

Soon enough, though, I had to leave. I had to leave the friends, the community, the man. I had to leave it all, again.

Perhaps it is part of getting older, maybe it is realizing that people come in and out of our lives for a reason, or possibly it is noticing that all our adventures build into a web of unexpected appreciation. I know all these things, but I am finally beginning to feel them. I left Eugene with love. There were still tears – by God there were tears – but there was less struggle. There was less resistance. I finally realized the choice of it all. When we leave with love and appreciation, whether it is a place, a person, or even an expectation, we are also able to start a new page with love. No FOMO necessary.

Postscript:

Sometimes years of experience coalesce into a moment of hindsight that establishes a new understanding of our world and a shift in our perspective (such as the above post). But how is it, that after years of growth, it can sometimes be wiped away by one thought. And we so easily fall into our old patterns.

After spending the past weekend in Eugene – attending a wedding, floating the river, drinking microbrews with good friends – I am again resisting my current transition. But, I hope, just knowing that the feelings of love and acceptance are possible will give them the space to willingly return, even if for a moment.

Duct Taping Truths – Not Dogs

I sip the last of the Bulleit whiskey while reclining on a couch that I am being paid to occupy. Before leaving on vacation, my friends generously instructed me to finish all “perishable” items – including the whiskey and the eggs – before their return. On the couch, I sit next to a incredibly sweet but still-not-quite-amazing-enough-for-me-to-want-my-own dog. This is a surprising statement coming from a resident of Bend, Oregon. I am a part of a hometown that proudly boasts one of the highest number of dogs per capita in the United States. I feel slightly guilty admitting that I want a dog as much as I want an unexpected pregnancy – although I am sure that there is an amazing amount of room in both situations for love and surprise – but I figure I better start out with the truth with you. This is my first blog, and I need to be honest. Not just for you, but for me too.

I intended to begin this blog discussing where my own life has fallen parallel to the connections that we make across continents and across time – our personal voyages of discovery that join moments of truth and beauty, while we surrender to heart-uprisings or unexpected down-stirrings, within the boundless extents of historical humanity and changing geographical horizons. But, I hope, there will be time for that later.

Now, instead of sharing these examples of my own journey (if you are Bachelor fan, you must drink at the mention of this word), I must admit how surprisingly happy I am to be “HOME.” I usually never want to be home. I need to be walking into hopeless deserts or breathing into blue oceans, I need to be pushing my own boundaries into unexpected landscapes to feel like the “person I want to be.” 

But, right now, I sip this sweet beagle’s ration of bourbon, and she sleeps next to me on the couch in tail-curling comfort. We listen to Ryan Adams and “Dirty Dancing” on vinyl as the needle catches on crackling dust.

This dog trusts me. Maybe not like Baby trusted Patrick Swayze when his smooth arms lifted her innocent curls up to near-heaven, but this beagle actually trusts me. She knows that I will not duct tape her twitching paws together, and that I will not sharpie a cattail on her Central Oregon white-ish underbelly. She knows that I will feed her in the mornings, and take her out to the lakes in the afternoon.

She is precisely where I need to be right now. Trusting. Trusting that this is the exact spot, on this couch, where we need to exist. Trusting that right now, it is perfect.