This latest move doesn’t feel like a transition. It feels like an alternate universe.
Somewhere in the recesses of my memory is a life before. But that life seems foreign and distant, like a dream.
Sometimes I am shaken with the realization that I really did it. I really quit the job I loved and packed up and moved to a new house in a new state to take a new job, again. After dreaming of living in this place for so long, it seemed like an impossibility. Yet here it is. I am living it.
This course of drastic change seems so stark compared to the life before.
Just months earlier, I stood in airport in some city somewhere for the 20th time last year. Announcements echoed through the corridor, funneling people into lines that led to seats that led to flights to faraway places. Suitcase wheels buzzed around me as rivers of people wearing scarves and holding Starbucks cups and talking on cell phones flowed through the hallways.
I stood like rock in that river, as people moved to bump and splash on either side. I felt as though that moment was a little analogous to the life I was living.
Everywhere were birth announcements and engagements and job changes and life events. I seemed to be in the midst of that steady stream of change, standing, unmoved. I watched the metamorphosis of many a friend go from single to engaged to married to motherhood. Years passed as these events took course in their lives, one after another after another.
That day in the airport, as I looked back, it was if I had been watching a time lapse video of their lives in motion. And all the while, amid the flurry, I stood still.
Then something shifted. It was so slight at the beginning. Like a boulder that has sat perched on a crux, motionless for years. Then some internal, unseeable settling sends it rolling. I felt it in my core one day — that shift — and knew the tumble was coming.
From my spinning viewpoint at the center of it, I watched my world morph into something new. Here I am, at a conclusion and a new beginning. And finally, at the end of still.
There is a break point in every heartbreak. One where you stop remembering the bad, and the good surfaces in little bits of salvaged memories at unexpected moments.
I am at that point. Mine is heartbreak of a different kind – not one of snuffed out romance and unrequited love, but instead caused by a loss of a piece of me. One forged by a group of people with a common love who held that piece. The kind of group you think would never cause heartbreak. I loved them each uniquely, and deeper than I knew I did until after I lost them. I was angry for awhile. I was sad for even longer. Now I just remember them as one remembers an old friend who has lost touch.
As I watch a friend blow out birthday candles, I smile when I think about how we all used to celebrate birthdays at practice by eating cake straight out of the dish, bending around each other’s forks. As I drive by In and Out, I remember how we stopped there to celebrate after a radio appearance, passing hamburgers between each other while beaming at the host’s reaction.
Sorting through old pictures, I see two of them, sitting back to back as they practiced, one with a mic to his lips, the other hugging the instrument that seems to calm his demons to his chest. And in that moment I appreciate the loyal friendship they have for each other.
There are stints of time that go by that I don’t think of them at all anymore. Sometimes I forget that my weeks were once dominated by their presence. Now other opportunities and pastimes have crowded into that space.
But it’s in the midst of live music I remember them most. It’s then my heart hurts again, like someone has reached in a pricked it with a pin. I wish they were there, appreciating it and sorting through it and digging into it like only fellow musicians can.
I try to imagine what they would think. How they would react. What we would talk about after the last chords have faded and musicians have wrapped up cables and snapped shut cases.
Like on this Friday night when a band chalk full of chops has me in an alternate state. Maybe we would sit together in balcony. Maybe one would stand, his arms crossed, and nod, uttering a guttural “Uh,” at high points of jazz riffs and blues chords. Maybe another would focus in on the drums, dissecting the rhythms into math equations.
Or like on this Tuesday night at Yoshi’s when one lone slide blues player sweeps the arm of his guitar over his audience like a wand. We sit under his spell. Maybe one would talk about how there was two much reverb in the second song and the back up singer was a bit pitchy, but in the end he would acknowledge the guitar player’s skill with appreciation. Maybe another would sit pensively listening, his chin in his hand, then repeat a lyric and ponder it with an articulate brevity beyond his years.
Then all four of them would talk about how we could and when we would and what the challenges are of playing at Yoshi’s someday too.
But on the way home, I tuck these imagined scenes away. The truth is, there is no trace of me left there. Anything I had the slightest impression on has changed and morphed into something else. Any photo I was in has been blotted out. It’s like they took a pencil eraser and scrubbed me out of that year. I compare that to my job, where my fingerprints are all over everything and will be long after I ever leave. At least there, I think, I am leaving a mark. At least there, everything I have poured in won’t splash to the ground and evaporate.
And so, when the thoughts of them resurface in the watery tides of my memory, I scoop them out for a closer look and then set them free.
The waffles and ribs place finally opened. They finally wiggled past the protestors and built the Lowe’s. There’s a new Thai restaurant downtown.
But other than that, it’s exactly the same.
I think that’s part of what makes going back so disconcerting for me.
Staying exactly the same, in my new line of work and new lifestyle, is no longer an option. If you’re not growing, you’re dead, they say. I’ve done nothing else since I moved, to the point I have growing pains.
Maybe that’s not it though. I think I’m in the mourning stage — that period when you realize how much damage you did. And nothing makes mourning return more sharply than seeing a ghost. That’s what this town is, a ghost of my past.
I drive by the trailhead where I used to run. There’s the hill I was once carried up over someone’s shoulder to see if it was possible. There’s the dive bar that advertises that it allows smoking just by keeping its doors open. There’s the house I couldn’t drive by without peeking to see if a certain car was there. And on the corner, with its maroon awnings flapping in tribute to its 150-year presence, is the newspaper I worked at for five years. Here I argued with editors and typed and planned camping trips and gossiped and angled through politics and fell in love and cried and cranked out story after story on deadline. No one should do that all in one place.
In my new town, I’m somewhat sheltered from remembering. I have a new house. A new name. A new job. A new life. I’m always looking forward, so I rarely have time to look back.
When I drive into this town, I run into all the people who helped me make my past what it was. I see one who made a sliver of a contribution while ducking through an athletic store on my way to a coffee shop.
He looks different, but in a good way. He’s filled out, but not because he gained weight. He’s just lost the gauntness and angles of youth.
“I didn’t know you worked here,” I say, but realize just as the words slip out that I did.
“What? I’ve worked here for years,” he says, with the same lift on the edges of his words that he always spoke with.
We catch up.
“Nothing’s changed,” he says. “I’m still doing the same things I’ve always done. Same old thing.”
I think of the whirlwind reshaping my own life and feel sad that he won’t get it. It’s too much and too big to explain, so I gloss over the highlights. We part by saying, “see you later,” and I think it’s very possible that we never will.
I leave this town with a sense of relief, driving past cows and covered wagons and other hokey tourist polishings that have rusted and cracked. I weave through the tangled roads. I coast down hill after hill covered in brown grass. I ease out of the foothills and onto the valley floor, past orchards and corn fields and shacks where strawberries are for sale.
I breathe easier as I return to my new home, yet still feel the heaviness of that place, lingering like a sour stomach. Someday I won’t feel this way.
But mourning is a process.
I didn’t write a post the New Years everything changed. I didn’t write about my trip to the Dominican Republic, which proved to be life-altering, and not in the cliche, unmeasurable way. I didn’t write when I started a new career and pushed journalism aside to a part-time role.
But I am writing today: the day before I am about to work my last day as a reporter.
It’s been about two years since my last post on my old blog. For all you know, the past two years didn’t even happen. My old blog has slunk silently into oblivion. I would have been OK with it. You probably would have too.
I thought about picking it up from time to time, then got caught up in other things. Busyness is really just a cop out though, because you make time for your priorities. I guess this wasn’t just one of them. Then too much time passed for me to resuscitate it. I worried it would become a false start even if I could.
If I began again, I wanted it to be different. It had turned into mundane accounts of monthly milestones in my life. Really, the only people who care about that is family members and a few close friends, who I talk to regularly anyway. In short, I was boring myself.
I decided I had to start new, with a new format and new template and new colors. Starting fresh, like I did when I moved.
I still don’t know how I want it to be different, or what it will be. But I figured that now that I am not going to be writing for a living, I better keep it up somehow. I wonder if writing is a skill that can grow dull if unused, or if it’s more like bicycle riding.
Maybe now that I’m not writing for a living I will be more inclined to write for fun. We’ll see.
Either way, I’m back for now, restarting fresh.