1. A slow wake-up in a bed that’s entirely too big for me. Reading, lying there, a full blown meltdown. Had to happen sometime. Emerging into glorious coastal sun, palm trees lining asphalt. The Donut, tiny shop run by a small Asian woman with an accent, cash only, $1 a piece. “I’ll take four, and a small coffee.”
  2. Thinking about being alone and feeling alone, two different but not mutually exclusive things. Because I’ve felt alone, actually being alone carries a weird kind of relief–I don’t have to reason with myself about why I feel alone. It makes sense–I’m actually alone. I know that’s not the real reason, but hey, it’s nice to feel normal for a while. You take what you can get. Yet being alone makes feeling alone even bigger.
  3. A table with an umbrella, a good book, a journal, watching the people go by. A sweet old dog graying about the muzzle. Musing on the many virtues of dogs, the first and foremost being the unstoppable urge to help you when you’re sad–“oh no, oh my gosh, you’re sad?! oh boy, this will not do. lots of kisses and tail wags…”–and an unquenchably happy outlook on life–“the world is a good place and i love you.” A sum of the entire philosophy of a dog. Healthy. Maybe I should adopt it… or better yet, adopt a dog. I wish. I wish a lot of things.
  4. Walking back to my Airbnb, blister on my right foot annoying under Chaco straps. Sitting under a big, beautiful tree–Eucalyptus?– with my luggage on the curb. Smooth silver bark, branching twisting limbs, a vital burst of rich green leaves. Cross-legged, singing along to Needtobreathe. “We are the outsiders…” “I know that I’m in reach, ’cause I am down on my knees, I’m waiting for something beautiful…” The mailman. Cars passing on the quiet street.
  5. A car slows, white, curly haired girl with sunglasses in the driver’s seat. Reunion hug, two not-quite strangers taking a risk on sister-souls we had only just begun to discover on an island far, far away over coffee, chocolate fish, and an unmade bed raft floating in a messy room. No pretenses. Tears allowed. Lots of sourceless laughter. The potential for the best kind of friendship, only a handful of hours old. So here we are, ready to begin again. A Starbucks stop–more coffee. The talking starts as the car wheels roll and won’t stop until way late in the day. Playing catch up, topics bouncing like hot potatoes, the connections somehow making sense to only us, having no idea five minutes later how we got to where we are, warming up and relaxing by the minute, obnoxiously punctuated by Siri’s not-quite-helpful driving directions. The 101, traffic, the coast and mountain-hills, the vast ocean, deep bright beautiful blue, freedom crashing foamy white on coast, layered haze of horizon, surfer colonies in the water. Our conversation deepens as the drive stretches longer, stop and go traffic, Spanish architecture, cute houses with wavy rich-red terracotta roofs. Both of us, having just experienced the hardest months of our lives. Both of us, understanding heartbreak. Both of us, trying to find our footing in a familiar yet unfamiliar world. Both of us, trying to find someone and somewhere to belong. Both of us, pasts stretching into a dreamed and uncertain future. Both of us, just two college girls who have hearts that feel big and fall hard. Do any other differences matter? It is nice, this luxury, to have someone so far away from each other’s everyday lives to talk to. Someone to trust. We reach Ventura, the car slows, the chatter does not.
  6. A quaint one story house, stucco arch, double red doors. Quiet and perfect. Excited, bouncing dog with eager brown eyes–part German Shepherd, part dingo?–with the leaping energy of a million puppies and a trusting spirit, requesting a belly rub within the first five minutes of knowing me (the name is Lady). A bedroom vacated just for me, bright stripedy sheets. Children’s books on the shelf, rows of treasure worlds and whimsical imagination. We finish the donuts, talk launched into the realm of fiction–characters and writing and reality and fantasy and feeling and in the end, all that makes us human. Sitting outside, in the sun, reminiscing old adventures and faces–so far away, yet also like yesterday. Equally and simultaneously. The outdoors and wetsuits and gallivanting around with Kiwis and internationals, strangers made family in a weekend, guys and girls, more equal and less sexist and stronger and braver and funnier than we’d ever seen it. Friends for me, more than friends for her. Ex-somethings.
  7. The topic circles around back to that infinite topic, almost universal experience–heartbreak. ‘How do you move on?’ I ask, implying the rhetorical. She shakes her head. No clue. Me too, girl. Me too. Maybe the problem is that we don’t want to. (It’s definitely mine. You can’t move on if you refuse to let go. And I’ve dug my heels in. Sigh. I’m so stubborn.) In a world that wasn’t broken, I think people would only choose once. We’re not meant to choose, I mean really choose, more than one. We’re not meant to lose people. She agrees with me. We both admit we’re not over it. Him. Hims. And we don’t know if we ever truly will be. Especially if there’s a chance, however slim. A chance of things being different. But the problem–and the miracle–is that there’s always a chance. We can’t help playing the ‘what if’ game. Irresistible, all-encompassing.
  8. Out for a drive, the harbor, toothpick masts bristling and tangled and white. Italian food. Fettuccine with white sauce and clams–too much but delicious. Refusal to let me pay. Sun sinking, drive up a tall, brushy hill. Looming wooden cross at the top, old (200 years? 100? 72?), trying to tell us something. A story. Randoms gathered on the hill. I try to guess their stories. Father and son duo, they ask for a picture. Father, well-groomed, shock of white hair. Son, stands wide and solidly, chain around his neck tucked under his shirt–dog tags? Quiet thanks, man’s hand on son’s shoulder, fatherly, lingering. The son doesn’t mind, a connection between the two. I wonder where he’s going, if this is a goodbye. Families, kids, collegers with bright Patagonia fleeces and Navajo blankets perched atop a column, watching the sun sink. Couples. Holding hands, fingers entwined. Him, a hand softly scratching across her back. Her, beanied head with short green-streaked blond hair peeking out, nestled in the crook of his neck. He holds her close. There’s space in my heart, space at my side. I find myself wishing a particular someone is with me. It feels like he should be. But then again, it always does. Shades of blue mountains, rolling and peaking at obtuse angles above the city-town nested satisfyingly below, the avenue cutting through, wide and straight. The ocean, the great expanse, both wild and inviting yet comforting, its big blue now soft and deep, sleepy yet forever alive and awake. Huge islands in the distance. Santa Cruz–my friend’s Turangawaewae. Her place to stand. There’s a rock with a hole you can’t quite make out, but on clear days she swears you can see right through it. The swooping, dipping, bay-lined coast. Bushes of waving yellow wild flowers, big and bright, others white with yellow layers in the center, drawing me in–petals so soft and cheery, I want to get lost in them. Fingers brushing reverently, in tune with something good and greater. A tree, low and twisting, I decide it’s best not to climb–down is harder than up, and she says she’s no good at catching people. Bare feet on cool grass. The drive down, her favorite road–Foothill–as the sun goes. Dusk. A skunk family–babies! six of them?–emerging from a storm drain, all fluffy and almost certainly smelly and adorable–I just want to snuggle them but we hide in the car instead. The mother chases her curious children, scoldingly, back to the safety of their hole.
  9. House, home. A hug from another mother. Smiles and laugh lines, tea in a duck mug, funny stories and pictures, stalking hot Kiwi guys on Facebook, never serious. Spirit soundtrack, stories of toddler personality from childhood. Me–rebel running off with freshly folded laundry, doing exactly what I’m told not to precisely because I was told, sticking my tongue out to test the air temperature, horse crazy days. Her–reported first word ‘outfit,’ a pink velvet skort in a black truck full of tattooed saviors, a five-year-old ancestor with a smart mouth and a taste for beer. “That’s where I get it from,” she says with a smirk. We’re so tired, laughing at anything and everything. I’m actually happy. This is what it feels like again. But I still miss him, even in the happiness.
  10. We hug goodnight, now actually feeling like sisters. “I’m glad you came,” she says. I am too, very much. I close myself in my room for the night, feeling weirdly at home. I hug my stuffed animal puppy close, closing my eyes, remembering. So much I miss. So much I just want back. So much I just want to experience over again. But I am glad to be here. I pray about it–all I can do for my ‘what-if-ing.’ Hope is a strange thing, a freedom and a trap. But I am glad for it, and now am addicted to it, like the rest of humanity. Who isn’t? Turn off the light–the darkness is thick and complete and a little scary. Crawl under the reassuringly heavy blankets, hug my snuggle-buddy very very close, as close as memory, and quickly lose myself to sleep’s constant embrace.