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Time Travelers

A few weeks ago, I found myself 2,500 miles from home, sitting under twinkle lights and across the table from an old friend. The stars had aligned, putting us both in the same place at the same time for the first time in over a decade. Try as I might, I couldn't recall the exact moment the lights went on in our friendship. One day I'd never heard his name, the next it was like he'd been there all along; tall and full of thoughts and bearing the weight of a certain kind of wisdom. It seems most of my memories of our roving gang and the way-back days have been swept out to sea by the clouds of time, lost in the nostalgic haze of an old fog machine. I recall lots of laughter, but can no longer place exact dates or timelines. Nonetheless, I remember the flash fondly; a flurry of fun and function, classes and caffeine. Weekends ran Thursday to Sunday with occasional periods of recovery in between. Our nights were filled with too much wine, too little sleep, too many jam thumbprints. We were living on borrowed time and borrowed couches, finding our footing and our way past Boardwalk and Park Place.

I earmarked that phase of life not by dates, but by seasons. Summer was fleeting. Autumn was promising. New Years Day found the winter house warmed by a huddled handful of dreamers and a weightless kind of wonder and love, possibility and blindness one only experiences during that final descent. Childhood took the lead for one last dance, covering our eyes with her gentle hands.

"Trust me," she said. And we did.

"Follow me," she said. And we did. With each night, each gathering, each step, we were leaving behind the world we'd known in order to meet the people we were meant to become.

Eventually, the record took its last spin. And when the music stopped, she scattered us to the wind.

Our lives are a great anthology in which we each play our own protagonist. Some chapters are long, some short. There are periods of peace, of war, of struggle and triumph. The characters are as charming as they are varied. Between the pages we find a spine. We learn to fight against the current to get to where we need to be. There we find the courage to open our eyes and our minds and our hearts. Amongst a sea of strangers, we begin to recognize people we've never met as friends.

The older I get, the more I understand that there is a certain peace one finds in the company of old friends. In those quiet, comfortable moments with the people who've known you for the long haul, you recognize your whole self in them.

Someday the clouds and fog will come to carry all your days away, but ten years from now you'll travel to find you've time traveled. And there, 2,500 miles from wherever you are, you'll rediscover the story of who you are, safe and sound, in a comfortable silence and a familiar face.


A Letter to the Hill


When I was in college we used to do inanimate writing assignments. It changes the way you think and relate to the world when you’re asked to come at life through the lens of something you’ve always taken for granted. Be it a graffiti wall or an abandoned car or a tiny golf pencil, when you stop over-thinking, you begin to see into the soul of the world around you. This not only makes for better writers, it makes for a better human existence.

This weekend a friend asked me in passing about the wine I was drinking, and I found myself wondering “why write about a bottle of wine, when you write on her behalf?”

The truth is that my Friday night wine came from a favorite vineyard in the photo at the top of this blog post. It’s a no-name winery straddling the cusp between Napa and Sonoma that most people drive right past. The vines twist and turn at the base of a little mountain that keeps watch over them as they bask in the California sunshine day after day, season after season. If the bottle could speak, I imagine her penning letters to her hill. And this is what I believe she would say…

I like you more than all my appendages and most major organs. I like you better than long weekends and sno-cones in July. I like you better than pumpkin carving and palindromes. I like you better than birthday cards and more than fresh fruit. I like you better than hosta leaves and first pick of the cinema seats. I like you better than thunderstorms and sunny days when they predicted rain. I like you better than peanut butter and jelly cut on the diagonal. I like you better than cello solos and every coin wish in the bottom of the Trevi Fountain. I like you better than the thesaurus and dictionary combined. I like you more than 1.618 which is a number that once had significant meaning to me but now I’m not sure why. It is cowardly that I say these things in this way, but I simply cannot hold onto all these balloons. So, instead, I am releasing this SOS in the hopes that one day, maybe, when we’re old or young, happy or sad, you will find them. And you will know that if presented with a choice between you and Orion’s belt and all the sun’s tea and a Texan bluebonnet field that went on for miles…I still would have chosen you.

A Sixteenth Year: Life, Friendship and the Burnham Building

yearbook While I was home for Christmas vacation I found myself meandering down memory lane by way of old yearbooks, photos and a handful of notes my mother had pilfered from my backpack and carefully tucked away for the last 10+ years. Between the pages of smiling faces I rediscovered inside jokes (long-since forgotten) and summertime promises, dusty with the passing of time.

I'm a writer by trade, but every so often even I find myself flooded by an emotion that renders me speechless, leaving me grasping for the just-right words. Like the fringe between asleep and awake, it's a magical grey area; a combination of reality and fantasy, somewhere between a dream and a memory.

I had an amazing group of friends in high school. We were a ragtag team, our own little roving pack of misfits. We perfected the art of skipping school and had a thing for country drives. A tank of gas was the price of freedom, and ten dollars was all it took to feel invincible and impervious to the world. Truth be told, I don't know that I have ever felt more present in the moment than I did during those afternoons with the windows down, the radio up and the sun shining in on our little corner of the universe.

Sophomore year we made a group decision to participate in the school play. Not having a theater at our own at our high school meant passing a semester in a suspended state of hormone-infused, sugar-and-caffeine laden evenings in The Burnham Building, a practical, sturdy, brick building that had once served as the city's lone high school.

Night after night we showed up for rehearsals and reprimands from cranky directors and stage managers. Though the months felt infinite at the time, looking back, I now realize we were growing up and growing apart at the speed of life. Each day prepared us for the great unknown that lay ahead. We laughed hard and we crushed hard. We drove to Taco Bell to ponder the future over 7-layer burritos. We overanalyzed anything and everything anyone said or did. We complained about our parents, our part-time jobs, our age. We talked about the future like we had it all figured out.

Over the course of those few precious months of practices and rehearsals, I took my first (and only) sip of peach schnapps (just one capful). My first real crush grew into my first real love, (rather than bringing it to his attention I silently spent every night thereafter hoping he'd magically take note.) I discovered one of my closest friend was living a secret life, soon to surface (ultimately breaking the hearts of girls far and wide.) I tirelessly battled my parents when "everyone else" was allowed to do XYZ and I was not (and for each of those "grave injustices" when they stood their ground I don't think I'll ever be able to thank them enough.)

For all the time we spent at Burnham, I remember very little about the building. I can't recall if the seats were cushioned or wooden, painful or comfortable. I don't remember where the restrooms were located or what the dressing rooms looked like. My lingering memories are rooted in emotions and senses: the rush of sitting close, the scent of Abercombie cologne, cherry pie and Diet Dr. Pepper, awkwardly dancing between tape lines as Cake's "Going the Distance" blared from somewhere off in the distance.

As for the building, the one memory I have retained remains that of the backstage walls. Having been used for decades, the painted tiles of backstage Burnham were covered in messages from other plays, other people, other times. Decades of names and notes; a time capsule from the past to the present by all who had passed. Hidden away from the rest of the world, those walls were a place to make a mark and remind the future that we were here. My friends and I, like so many others before, left a legacy preserved for posterity in black Sharpie ink, and when we walked away from the building after our final curtain call that spring, I had no idea it would be for the last time.

Life changes us. It changes the way we think, the way we trust, the way we love. We not only grow older and wiser, we grow different. We begin to opt for the direct route home rather than the meandering country drive. A ten-dollar tank of gas becomes little more than a line item on a monthly budget, midnight swims no longer cross our minds. We  grow older and grow to accept certain inalienable truths: not all is possible, not all is infinite, so much is so very fragile. We move away, we move into new chapters and new lives, leaving our eternal autumn behind.

At 31 I now understand that the handful of friends with whom I roamed the backstage of Burnham were not just the people I spent my formative years with, they were the loves of my life. With each country drive, first cigarette and  Dr. Pepper toast, our lives were being inextricably intertwined. Like siblings, we grew up together. We became a family suspended in time.

Last week I had the opportunity to catch up with one of my dear high school friends. As we reminisced, I mentioned my intention to return to Burnham one day to revisit our wall. Turns out the city razed the building a few years ago. They put up something shiny and new in its place.

Author Richard Ford once said, "What was our life like? I almost don't remember now. Though I remember it, the space of time it occupied. And I remember it fondly." Stage lights may dim and buildings may crumble to the ground, but I like to think the ghost of my 16-year-old self is still happily sitting in the theater seats I cannot quite recall. Surrounded by the contents of her backpack, shoes strewn to the side, I like to imagine her putting off geometry homework for one hour more, head in the clouds as she makes makes a mental note to call her best friend about something "Carlos Juan."

I don't know that I will ever return to the site where Burnham once stood, it seems my mind has preserved it better than time. I'm sure that in a decade or two, the details of songs and snacks will have escaped my mind. But as for the space of time it occupied...that, I am certain, my heart will remember fondly.

An Old Letter: The Island

Screen Shot 2012-09-12 at 12.29.09 AM A note from the author: Old love letters are a bit like scars. You wish you didn't have them, but they are useful. They serve as a reminder that you made it through the wound. I survived with scars and old letters. Someone once told me you should burn old love letters, but I prefer to throw them out to sea. If you happen to find this in a moment of need, please remember: one day this will all be nothing more than a scar...and a faded memory. 

Sometimes I like to take drives to nowhere. Windows down, radio up, mind clear. I challenge myself to  get lost and then see if I can find my way back again. I assign bonus points if I stumble upon one of those little rural Main Street USA towns; the kind comprised primarily of a church and handful of century-old brick farmhouses with ample front porches. (The kinds of porches that undoubtedly display a jack-o-lanterns for every child in the house when halloween rolls around.) The kinds of towns and cities you'd miss if you glanced downward to adjust the radio while hitting the gas pedal. Those towns are some of my favorite country drive discoveries. They make me feel like I've been let in on a secret, a little roadside whisper that doesn't want the rest of the world to overhear.

Today I took a country drive. I made decisions about which turns to take based on things like which street name I liked better. If I saw a tree to the east with a prematurely orangey autumn leaf...I turned to the east. If a saw a jogger with an iPod or someone talking on a cell phone, I headed the opposite direction. I paid no attention to the course, I just went where my heart told me it wanted to go.

When I finally came back down to earth, I found myself on a road called Big Walnut. I was at a lake I didn't know existed, looking at the tiniest island I had ever seen.

I got out of the car to take a closer look. The only other person around was an old black man fishing. He had a white bucket, but I didn't look inside. He looked like something from a movie set in Mississippi; the kind of character that would have been listed as "Wise, Old Fisherman" in the credits (though I have no way of telling if he was really wise). Wise, Old Fisherman was curious about me, I could tell. Probably annoyed someone had found his secret shoreside hideaway, but I was quiet and he let me be. He just tipped his hat and cast his line. I wanted to ask if his name was Charlton.

Off in the distance sailboats were playing with one another. Back and forth, back and this little island shyly watched on.

Call it serendipity or happenstance or simply unconventional afternoon road trip unmapping, but here is what I know: following my heart lead me to a secret island today.

And every road I take leads me back to you.


murmuration “We were a murmuration in a past life,” you said. The moment you murmured, I recalled. The feel of a wild wind whipping through my feathers, a downward view of apricots and almendras, as we raced westward toward a setting sun. You and I drew an invisible line they still call Santiago.