Thursday, June 30, 2005

Twice to the Sea (Part One of Two)

I feel as though I have enough things moving around in my head for an almost daily blog, but alas, summer school, cleaning house for S's return tonight, my own trip on the Bay sailing last weekened...I just haven't been writing. But there are two stories I'd like to tell, one about the first time I snorkeled, the other the first time I was on a sailboat. My first scuba day makes for some good bloggage too, but snorkeling is a better story, and it was the first time I peered beneath the surface of the water. Incidentally, the scuba mask really has changed world culture; it allows us all to see what is beneath the sea. The mural on the Casino in Avalon was painted by what little could be seen through the old glass bottom boats; it's fairly fanciful, and it was painted in the twenties. Not anymore.

And so, before the story of my first sail, the story of my first trip under the water.

It was the first time S and I went to Catalina; we were dating, had only been dating a few months. It was fall, and I took an ex-student named Clint up on his offer to camp for free at his place. We were discussing Thoreau and Walden in a Composition class and a student I didn't know, except that he always wore the same pair of khaki shorts and green t-shirt, mentioned that he, in fact, did live outside in a house he himself had built. A tent really, with a wooden floor. I found that quite impressive, and when he told me he had been living that way for two years already and that I was welcome to visit, I took him up on his offer. I had never even been to Catalina, the place where Clint was living this extraordinary life, so the next November, months after he had been in my spring class, I came over as a special guest and stayed at the Hermit Gulch campground outside Avalon. I think Mikey may have been with us; no, that was the second trip when we got to sleep in a teepee.

I was quite amazed to find that Clint did in fact live in a tent/cabin he had built, with a wooden deck floor, low wooden walls (perhaps three feet) and then upper canvas walls and a peaked canvas ceiling. Why he didn't build his walls higher (they were just framing and plywood, if I recall correctly) I don't know, but he had no electricity at that time, no phone. Just a gorgeous spot at the head of a canyon, at a trailhead which runs all the way to the backbone of the island. The campground was behind him, and he did in fact work there and commute to Long Beach for classes, but when I saw the inside of his felt like something at Disneyland, the treehouse, or what you see waiting in line for the jungle cruise, only real. Many books along the wall, mostly anthropology, literature related to travel or exploration, a globe, and a futon bed up off the plywood floor, covered in blankets. This was before he had expanded, before sweet J moved in with him and his place was very small, maybe 10 by 12, but he could tell me for sure. I do believe he had already built the little deck out front with the crimson bouganville (sp?), a single stem barely two feet high.

And so we sat there, on wooden stumps outside his shack in the evening, drinking rum and coke or beers, grilling in the dark by flashlight (make sure that chicken isn't pink) and eating what came to be the classic Club Clint meal: chicken thighs, string beans (french cut according to the can) heated in said can on the grill, and beans, cooked the same way. Ranch style beans, mind you, not the sweet Boston variety. Perhaps some bread or rolls to go along. I had that meal many times, and always with the beers flowing. Clint may not have had electricity, but he had a sizeable ice chest and he kept it stocked from the campground ice machine. I learned immediately (it just felt right, he never said a word) not to come up the hill empty handed; it would have been poor form indeed. So usually Cuervo or Captain Morgan came with me, maybe a twelve pack of coronas or sierra nevada.

I believe this happened on my first trip to the island, if not perhaps the spring after. But we began talking about snorkeling and spear fishing. Neither of us had scuba dived (he later became my scuba buddy and we certified together) but Clint had a 3/4 wetsuit and spent whole afternoons in the water on his days off. The more we talked about it, the more intrigued I was to see what could be seen. And so it was that in that cool autumn air I decided to go down the hill with him and get into the water at lover's cove, a little preserve where diving and hunting of any kind is prohibited, snorkeling encouraged. The truly funny thing is that it was already late, fully night, and I had no gear of any kind.

J didn't live with Clint yet, but she lived in a tent nearby, and she came up with a pink girl's wetsuit; I don't know what the size was, but it was not big; she was a small woman. Somehow Clint and I got me into that thing in his tent cabin, and it was so tight (and I swear, bright pink from wrist to ankles) I couldn't lower my arms to my sides and couldn't take a full breath. I had no dive light, only a backpacking headlamp which was supposed to be waterproof. Someone came up with a mask; I went without fins. Unaware.

What I do remember is riding down on the handlebars (in said wetsuit, unzipped down the back so I could move) of Clint's bike (and I was, oh, 32 years old by this point in chronological time) all the way down the hill, through the lower canyon, past the golf course, through avalon to lover's cove and the sea. And I remember how wonderful I felt. I have trouble with tension now, but I was always tense then, very tense, just picking my textbooks for a semester scared the pee out of me, and rolling down the very dark canyon road to avalon (this was before the new lights) on the front of a bike seemed to me an extremely therapeutic activity; I could think of nothing else but the moment, and it was beautiful; the smells in that canyon are extraordinary, anise and brush. For someone who takes, and took, few real risks, avoided dangerous things, this was a very different kind of night.

When we got to the ocean (and avalon is on the lee side of the island, away from the weather and heavier surf) there was some surge, small waves, but it was pitch dark. Clint told me there was no law against being in there at night that he knew of, but someone might think we were poaching, so we had to be careful. Lover's cove is a perhaps a half mile to the east along the sea from the actual city; there is only rare night traffic on that road and again, it was very dark.

Down the steps (what did I have on my feet? someone must have come up with booties; perhaps I had teva's?) and across the short rocky shore and into the black surf and water; for the first time I felt how water creeps cold into a wetsuit, then warms; though my suit was so tight I probably didn't take in much.

Dive lights are very large if you look at one. The reason this is so is that it takes lots of light to find things in the water at night. My headlamp, which I switched on, did very little of anything, though it did help me find Clint when I looked around on the surface. But he was careful with me. I stuck close to him and could see what was in his beam, and we just floated in our wetsuits, salt water gurgling around faces, staring at the shallow rocky sea floor and the strands of kelp which floated just as we were floating, silent, shifting with the roll of the surge as it came in and out.

But the things we saw, even with only one dive light and in average visibility: a huge lobster on a rock, long-lived in the preserve, something out of the old submarine ride at the aforementioned theme park in the sixties (and my favorite ride as a boy). Fish, of course, brilliant sea urchins, and even a sand shark, somewhere between four and five feet (hard to tell in my memory). Apparently these sharks have no real teeth; I didn't know this, but as Clint pointed it out to me, maybe twenty feet away, curling in the dim water just off the shallow bottom, I noticed he was not concerned, even happy (and it is a funny thing, picking up facial gestures through mask and snorkel, but it can be done for the more demonstrative moods). Since he was not concerned I figured I had nothing to worry about either. The shark looked smaller, or certainly no bigger, than me anyway.

We hadn't been out there too long yet I was getting worried: how far is the shore? can I get back?. I know how to swim but have never been a swimmer, and not having fins is a terrible thing in a situation like this. Now if I was out doing the same and dropped one, certainly both, I'd head in. But it wasn't until the Sherrif SUV spotlight picked us out that I figured we were heading in anyway. So far we had just been floating in the surge, not swimming much at all, and I wasn't far from the beach, maybe fifty feet, maybe less than that as we were trying to stay shallow to see the bottom better. But no mistaking a police spotlight an actual sheriff, standing on the edge of the road and shouting down at us. She may have used her sheriff speaker, I think that's how it began, I can't recall.

But she asked what we were doing, told us we weren't supposed to be there. For sure, she was trying to figure us out, thought we were poaching. But really, it was when I then put my mask up on my forehead (a sure sign of a dive fool: one never, ever, ever mask props; the mask goes around the neck so it doesn't fall off the head) and she caught sight of the pink wetsuit and my awkward arm strokes (made more awkward by the tightness of the suit, and again, you don't swim with your arms when snorkeling...that's the fins) that I think she gave the final word for us to come in. I was getting a bit nervous, but it wasn't hard at all to get back to shore. Once out, Clint talked to her, I believe knew who she was, and she stood there talking to him but looking from time to time at me, dripping in my pinkie with my tiny backpack headlamp on, no fins. She felt we should call it quits, and by then I believe she was right.

How did we get back up the hill? I know I didn't walk it in that wetsuit, unless I had it zipped down and off around my waist. I think Clint called and J came and got us in the thrasher campground pickup which always smelled like brush (including poison ivy) and dog. I got back to his place, somehow peeled out of that thing without killing myself, and was back in dry clothes in no time. And I had a story to tell.

'What was it like?'

Hard to describe, really...murky, objects showing up in a spotlight I stayed close to, and us always moving, smooth hard rocks and soft and slippery kelp. It was my first time in the sea, or under it I should say, and because of the rocky bottom and the low surf the visibility there is much greater, even on a terrible day, than anything along the california coast. So I indeed had seen things. The mural at the casino (is it a mural, when it's made from thousands of flecks of tile...perhaps mosaic is the correct term) looked different to me when I saw it again. I had peered beneath the black and shifting blanket and seen, and felt, something entirely new. A number of other campgrounders congratulated me on my courage, going out without fins on my first snorkel, and at night no less, but I only knew how alive I felt that night, baptized, the first time, in the great salt mother, for so she is. Though the sea has no heart, it somehow opens ours.


My time is short. The story of my second sea baptism, my first sail, comes next. And I promise to try and get it out soon. Some of my series have months between installments! Not fair to my loyal handful.

Peace and love to all.

And if you ever get the chance (in the day, preferably) to snorkel catalina, by all means do it. Two hints though: one, have all the gear, fins are essential, as is a wetsuit unless it's very warm and a mask and snorkel, even gloves if anyone has them; two, do it as Descanso beach if lover's is crowded which it usually is. Heck, at Descanso you can get out and lie in real sand to warm up while the wait staff brings you fish tacos and a mai tai.

Well, and one third hint. If you get motion sick at all, take meclizine, 25 mg. or so the morning before you go out, the night before also if you know you have trouble. Snorkeling can make me motion sick faster than almost anything; I'm never on the island without meclizine, cheap now and over the counter at Long's.

Have fun, people. That night was the beginning of a long love for the island and the sea for me, a love I too rarely indulge (all the more difficult that I now live in the mountains).

Part two next.


Saturday, June 25, 2005

Cannery Row

I've never read Steinbeck's novel. I picked it up when I actually visited Cannery Row (which, to my naive surprise, has no canneries anymore but is one swank place to eat seafood and drink whites from the central coast; it is astounding that the novel, considering its characters, has contributed to the tourist reputation of such a place). It's an easy book to read; I started last night, and now thirty pages from the end I'm stopping, braking, letting the book live in me before I put its final page to rest in my soul. I have so much to write here; I've been so busy with summer school and working with the pain I talk about in the post below and just living...having a family is better than having a blog, but it certainly cuts into my blog time...I'll do what I can and try to catch up this week.


For one thing, S and Mike are out of town. Mike, in fact, is going to Europe with his grandparents and I won't see him again until August 10th. I am terribly sad about this. He usually spends most of his summers with his dad, but we always drive down to so. cal. and take him to Catalina once or twice. This summer, he won't even be on the same continent. I hate this fact, though I believe this will be a great trip, a life changing trip. The 13 year old who returns will be a different person.

And since I'm nailed down with my online summer classes (and really, they're not that hard, an hour or two a day, though the first papers come in Monday and that will be different) I can't drive down with the S. So I am home, alone, until Thursday night. Not common. In fact, rare since our marriage. I'm sure it will do me good and already I've started off right (reading, eating raisin bran with soy milk for breakfast). They left early this morning, before seven. It's hard to describe my feelings, especially regarding Mike, but sadness is the greatest of them.

Then, some complete jackass decided to fire up a chainsaw (do I hear two now?) at 7:30 in the morning on a Saturday, so sad, mad, and unable to sleep in I went back into the Steinbeck.

Everything I think is essential in Kerouac, which I'm sorry to say isn't much, seems like it was borrowed from Steinbeck (except for the times he finds the beautiful rhythms in jazz, which he openly adopts, and Snyder's attitudes toward nature). Even the concept of the Beatific bum, in nearly identical description, is in Row ten years and more before On the Road and Dharma Bums (the second, a more enjoyable novel for me by far). This surprised me. Kerouac tried to romantacize a different kind of criminal, the real kind, the true borderline, in On the Road. In turn, Steinbeck may have gone too soft on Mack and his friends, painted them too sweetly, but I didn't live in that time and place and since we are all the summation of so many things some of which change constantly and a novelist can only show pieces...perhaps he told the truth he could tell. Fact is, Neal Cassady was a crazy sonofabitch; his worship makes no more sense to me than the cult of Bukowski (the man, not his work, though again, nothing I've seen in Buk's writing makes him more than a footnote, even if the Chili Peppers do give him a lyrical nod). Buk worship still hummed warmly in the Long Beach scene when I lived there.

(Incidentally, I hate needless obscurity; I'd put links to all these people to help the non-English majors who read this blog, which is just about everyone, but any name or term can be quickly found in google, of course, and you'd probably find a better site than I would).


On another note, this morning, I'm grateful I'm not a scientologist. What is it about us that lures us to secret knowledge, the graduated steps of the gnosis; that concept is in so many religions, current and ancient, I am curious.


I also saw the film Gallipoli this week, and again, am reminded of the radical grief which grows inside all war, the death of innocents which must be part of every conflict, no matter how just (and those of you who read know what I think of Iraq; whatever the outcome, lots of families, families and children, have accidentally been blown to bits by our weapons while we go chasing small groups of men and that is not a disputed fact).

And I will say something else I have thought for a while: nationalism, patriotism, is deadly dangerous, even stupid; maybe I belong with Mack and the Boys at the Flophouse, but tell me what makes any nation superior to another when all are made of human beings, sentient and social animals organized into families who, according to one writer at least, are made in the image of God? Patriotism can quickly lead to the devaluation of other nations and those who live in them. It is the history of the world, friends, and it must change.

Also, democracy is not the final goal in the historical shift from monarchy: the elevation of human rights is. There are elected freaks all over the planet. Dictators and outright butchers who were freely elected. All it takes is propaganda, hatred for the Other (internal or external), and limited choices. I favor free election, of course, what is the alterative? Election by the elite only? I agree with Aristotle: let everyone have a say (though I'd include women and all citizens, including, I tend to think, felons) but democracy alone is not enough; it can shield colonialism, fascism, the exploitations commom in capitalism and socialism. No, human rights must be the final goal. That is where the founding documents of our country are strongest.

As a Christian, does that include evangelism, is the great commission (and I don't like that term, because there seems to be more than one commission in the gospels) what I mean here? I actually don't have an answer to that. Certainly love for one's fellow human...the details of what human rights are must be dictated by the universal nature of human needs, material, spiritual, emotional. But do not be fooled: just because a democracy is in place does not mean a people are free or have human rights or equal opportunities. It is towards these as universal goals that we as a planet must strive.

Does that mean some cultures, or pieces of cultures, are better than others. In my opinion, clearly. Social relativism looks damned silly in the face of genocide or female genital mutilation or wife beating. Does it mean that at times violence or he threat of violence will be required to defend human rights? Yep. Is that always an easy decision. Nope. Are there times when it should be an easier decision than others? Yep.


I've been going through a hard time physically, as you know from my previous post. I am coming down from the valium; it works, but I'm sick of it and my condition seems to be slowly, slowly, improving, though I still feel, frankly, like some drove a truck up my butt just last week (and it's been three months now; remember, please, I have a special condition which was exacerbated by my colonoscopy; the coloscopy itself is very, very easy; get screened when your doctor says so!) They say valium is addicting, and having been at only five milligrams, one valium, a day for the last few days after taking two or some days three (it has a very long half life) I can feel my brain chemistry fighting the change after less than three months of continuous use. But I'm hanging in there, taking neurontin also which may or may not be helping (I think, a little, but hard to say). Neurontin is not addicting or mood altering. But what a ride is has been. Damn. Some days I've felt out of the woods, some days almost back to square one, but I'd have to say empirically I'm very gradually getting better, week to week, maybe month to month, not day to day. It has always passed before. This has just been an exceptional flare up of a condition which has no known etiology and whose treatment is controversial. I could be much worse; I think again of Mrs. Funkiller and my eyes mist.


I end this morning, my first alone, on a happy note: I am going sailing! I really enjoyed last time, and I got in good with the skipper (with S's overt help; he's her friend), and Sunday I drive to the Bay, spend the night on the boat, sail all day Monday, eat more wonderful Berkeley food that night (Indian food heaven, that town) another night on the boat and then drive home Tuesday. This works out very well with S gone; not so well with the onliners, but truthfully they'll live. I took on that second online class to pay for sailing lessons or just more sailing (it isn't cheap) anway. And summer school should be more relaxed.

That's enough for one morning I guess. Think I'll finish Row. Once again, thanks for letting me share.

Oh, and I gave up on not using my first name. Fickle me.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

More on Pain

After reading Funkiller's rending post here I decided to take a risk and share a bit about my physical pain. I've had so many intense emotional posts lately...I don't want my blog to become like that little hill where all the suicidal kids hung out in high school. Now that was a poor joke, but nevertheless.

I suffer from something called levator ani syndrome. You can read about it all over the web, though not much specific is really known. I've had it since college; it tends to get set off by sitting too long over a period of days or weeks, and once it acts up...oh man, without treatment, it can last months, even a couple of years or more. Then it will unwrap itself (the levator is a muscle, the muscle really, at the floor of the pelvis) and I'm left with just a little soreness, something I hardly notice. I take hot baths two or three times a week simply as a lifestyle, and I do pretty well with it. I wasn't actually diagnosed until 98, and then I found the only treatment that really works: valium.

Valium is a great muscle relaxant, but it works by changing the whole brain chemistry somehow. At least my brain chemistry feels changed. I haven't had an outbreak in two years, and that was minor; four years before that. colonoscopy. Ah, yes. A (possible) family history of colon cancer, I turn 40 and get screened...I was unconscious at the time but I imagine by something along the lights of a mag lite. The four D cell kind. Because my levator went into real spasm. I started valium, got some success (and stumbled around in a daze the last half of the semester) would stop the valium, wham it's back full force. Then on to my second 50 valium (I've never used more than 100 before per outbreak); same thing. I use it, it helps, I try to limit how much I take and wham.

I tried another drug called neurontin but that seemed to constipate me; I could have been wrong, but with levator spasm the last, the last, thing you want besides a colonoscopy or a hard wooden chair for ten hours is constipation so I quit taking it. Perhaps I should have told my doctor (they know less about it than me generally; it's rare, and not much good research gets done). Then I found this guy with a compounding pharmacy; he makes drugs on site. He told me guaifenesin is a powerful topical muscle relaxant in animals and he uses it successfully with humans too; you know, the stuff in Mucinex and over the counter cough syrup. Incidentally, I ended up at his pharmacy because my doctor was going to have me try another med., 0.2 percent nitroglycerine cream, only my pharmacy gave me 2 percent; the kind you use for angina. And you know where I put that, at ten times the recommended dose. Truthfully, it was a bit of a rush. Hmmm. Yeah.

Anyway, so I found this compounder guy and he made me something out of guaf and neurontin to apply topically (this is way, way, way, more than most of you want to know, but I have to talk about this with somebody!) and at first it seemed to help. So of course, I pull back on valium and the motrin, and then today, wham. Driving to campus to do a couple grade changes was hard; coming home, very hard. So I took another valium, I'll try some more of the cream, and I'll take a hot bath.

It all sounds funny, almost, but the pain is very real. At its worst, I can start to sweat. It's not there now, but it's pretty bad. Like a bad, burning toothache or like a wound that's tender. All from the spasms. Jeez.

The one thing I do know is that eventually it will pass, that muscle relaxants like valium are available, and that somehow I'll get through it without getting addicted to them like Favre.

Okay, enough. Compared to what Funkiller's wife is going through this is minor, in the sense of temporary, even if it lasts six months it has always passed before. How my heart goes out to Mrs. Funkiller. What I have is considered a kind of myalgia I believe, but it's limited to one muscle area. Whatever.

Valium sucks by the way. In terms of mental and emotional impact. To get addicted to that my life would have to be pretty crappy; then again, maybe it's brain chemistry that makes some succeptible. I've always stopped before easily enough. I'm not really worried about that, but I hate walking around in either: effing pain intensely aggravated by any kind of sitting or lying on my back or small pain and lots of brain haze. I'll probably talk to the compounding pharmacy guy again; he really was knowledgeable and helpful. Maybe we can tweak my blend somehow. Or throw in some freaking benzocaine!

Oh man. It's been a hard afternoon. Pain changes my personality, my mood, everything. To top all off, I think weightlifting has prolonged it. I don't know that, but it's a good guess, so I'm laying off the steel until the spasms have passed. And that blows, because it's a great mood elevator and I'm sure to gain fat just laying around, already have. Oh well. At least what I have isn't dangerous in any way. And the valium I took thirty minutes ago should begin to touch the pain soon enough. And I'm off to the hot bath.

Be well all. Prayers appreciated, but pray for Mrs. Funkiller first, kay?


Friday, June 10, 2005

Estella's Story 2.0

Dearest S, my wife: this is another post about Estella, my ex. Please skip if you can; if not, read on, though there is nothing here for us.

It is raining and I am up very early; I was awake before 6:00. I am not a morning person, but I woke from a troubling and emotionally intense dream. The kind of dream I used to have often. Years ago I had dreams like this at least once a month. Now, very infrequently, perhaps once a year, less.

E was in my dream. I was single and coming home to an apartment I've never actually lived in. Whether I was expecting her or not I don't recall, but she was there, her book bag (the green one) and other stuff scattered in a pile on my living room floor; she sat there in jeans, doing whatever she had been doing, reading or studying...and when I walked in unexpected she was happy to see me.

That last, tragic part is the center of this particular dream. The woman who once abandoned our life together, leaving nothing but pink plastic razors in our shower, the girl who went from wife to someone who suddenly seemed to hate and fear and (maybe) love me all at once, was again showing joy at seeing me, the way she did for so many years before the Great Chaos. In the dream she still had the same brilliant blue light in her eyes, the light that, in retrospect, was perhaps more promise of warmth than true warmth (or perhaps the hope for warmth) more focused inward than I could understand, but which also reflected a genuine pleasure when they looked at me. Those eyes were back in the dream, as real as the computer I am writing on now, and as in all dreams, I was emotionally naked before them, without reason, without defense, protection, analysis. Truthfully, I felt elated, like again seeing a sister I haven't seen for a decade (and it has been longer than that now); but the deepest part of that ecstasy, I understand now that I am awake, was the feeling of having someone who rejected me deeply return, love me again, act as if, even if her life is different, her happiness to see me is unfeigned, the same as it was in college or the better moments of the years after. It feels, almost, like a redemption; more like the dressing of a wound, or the removal of a wound completely.

The dream went on. I think she talked a little about her life, though I don't know what she said. I do know she looked about the same as she did when I saw her last, which is probably not the case. But the dream ended, as again this kind of dream often does, with another mood. Two apparently rich guys sitting in a rich guy car, talking about Estella in a beach parking lot, myself as observer as if watching a film, and one saying to the other, 'oh, she's taken you know, husband, a son by him, and his older daughter too.' And then the happiness of impossible reunification in the dream becomes the old pain I know so well, that I could describe like a part of my own body. A daughter, a son, a husband. None of it part of me.

* * *

I don't actually know if she has any of those things, if Robert had a daughter from his first marriage, if they married or had a child of their own as in the dream (though once, about six or seven years ago, I woke up in Steph's apartment sure E had come in a dream to tell me she had a child; it was so compelling I got up and looked around the bedroom and hallway to see if she was actually there in my half-sleep). I have good reasons to believe they did marry, but I never got the final story, and I never looked hard enough to really discover it. Why? Those blue eyes probably do still exist, but what lives behind them is so different from what I knew...I would only be a phantom before them, and based on the person I was when I knew her, a guy in his teens and twenties and deeply depressed at the end, I don't suppose I'd look like much based on her memories. Also, we have been apart now longer than the entire time I knew her. I have been with my wife as a couple for almost nine years. But still, at times for no reason I can see, the dream comes.

* * *

In the first section of this story, a quick narrative covering 1984 to 1989, the years we knew each other before we were married, I found myself stressing some things I find odd in reflection. My own incredible sexual frustration while dating E, for one; I didn't consider it an issue much at the time as I remember. Something which rarely was a conflict, mostly just before the marriage; I just assumed non sexual affection, not even kissing, nothing that would make us a couple, was how it would be with this girl while we were 'friends' and accepted that as the very best way, the Christian way. For many it is. Though the long years we never even kissed...looking back, it reads very strange. I needed physical love, but I was no rapist hiding in the closet of her life. Yes I was desperate for physical intimacy, more desperate than I admitted to myself except perhaps in the final year or so before the wedding, but then most of the other guys I knew were desperate too, guilty every time they crossed a line with their girlfriends or fiancees (lines E and I never really crossed, or not much). Still, remembering that first post, my sexual frustration/repression stands out from almost the first night I stayed up and spoke with her. I can't deny it. I sure denied it at the time.

The other thing I recall, and I do believe I mentioned this, is how strangely we would keep each other in the other's control but remain at a distance. We didn't date other people, except for her one actual boyfriend smack in the middle of our time together. For years, we were attached in an unbendable way. Truly, like siblings, but siblings who even though we hung out all the time, had no idea how to have a normal conflict or intimate conversation. When one would draw close, the other would pull away. Lots of distance drama.

But there is more of the story to tell, as long as this post already is. My household remains asleep, and hopefully will sleep in long enough for me to process this and post.

Estella's Story 2.0

We did become engaged to be married, and I was, at 24, flooded with desire. But clearly, we had been best friends, at whatever capacity of that we could manage, for five years before we walked the aisle. More than five. We spent more time together than any same sex friends we had for most of that time. How could things go wrong? How could we not truly love each other? We were attending church, I was leading a bible study (truthfully, I think, in part to show her I was superior to the guy she had so suddenly began dating just as we finished our first failed foray into coupleship; but then, Christian or not, put me in a church and I find myself leading). Everyone who knew us since we were teenagers saw us as indestructible, I think. But during the engagement, dark, dark, things began to slither from out of someplace inside her. Dark things.

For one, looking back at old journals, she told me at one point she was afraid I was going to lose control and beat her up. This was during our engagement, or maybe the dating just before it. This, honestly, I can base on nothing. We weren't even having fights. When she dated the other guy (and I forget what I called him in the first post, Hermes maybe) I never got angry at her like I should have, yelled, raised my voice, told her to go to hell after all we'd had, or had hoped to have, together; told her we were over for good if she chose him over me. (I should have known: all those years she refused to let me go with her family to Yosemite at thanksgiving, where they always went; two months dating Hermes and he was there: months later I saw the pictures of them ice skating in the snow; by January she was hanging around my house again).

While I'm sure I had deep seated, intense anger from my past, I felt her fear was coming from out of nowhere. Truly, it was. I never grabbed her, shook, her, hit things, all those years we dated. Robert taught me to hit things later, but I never touched her.

The other, more ominous thing, was that she began to tell me during our engagement she believed she had been molested.

I think I've cloaked her identity enough here to talk about this. Anyone who knows her and is reading these posts already knows this. But she was still seeing Keith, our first predator therapist (this was before he had sex with a client) and she had begun to have strange dreams during the engagement. Intuitions. No actual memories, but just feelings. And those feelings, friends, put the quick brakes on what was beginning to be a fairly warm physical relationship (but still not going past kissing, or not much past).

What was I to do? How to handle this? I remember sitting in the office of the pastor who was to marry us having her tell him: her therapist said she was disassociating, having nightmares...E was telling the pastor she didn't know if she could 'do it,' literally, become my lover after the wedding. And he, fool that he was in that hour, an hour during which we were considering postponing our wedding, brushed it off as cold feet, the virgin jitters (though he used neither of those terms). After all, six months before, or less, we were in there, my own body in flames, asking him how far he thought we could go. Based on this short history of physical desire and almost hypnotic passion (and not on the years of strangeness before it, which he knew about quite well and had witnessed most of) he felt that once we got married things would settle down. And we, I at least, believed him. I even thought, insanely naive technical virgin that I was, that if we had sex once a week, once a month, it would be better than it was now. How unaware I was of the sexual complexity of a genuine marriage. Of the burning heat of youth.

Also, I'd like to add, if you want your timing belt changed, see a mechanic. If you have a theological question, consult a cleric or a reference. If you have a therapist issue, find a real counselor and even then cross your fingers.

I do know, and this I admit to my everlasting shame (indeed, though I understand I am forgiven intellectually, I would like to confess this sin, and one other that will come into this story eventually, to my priest; Episcopalians have some kind of rite for that I believe; there is no penance I could do, no way to change this, but it would do my spirit good), to my great shame I began to argue with E about her own molestation. We were close to the wedding now. We already had gotten a place together on a little street called Ransom where she was living alone (and she told me about footprints in the mud behind her apartment; had me put nails into the windows so they could only open a few inches so no one could climb in and get her, which I did, heavy framing nails). It was there I first remember a kissing session stopping short. The wedding was probably two months away, maybe even less. I was ready, radically. Those of you know who know my intensity...that did carry into that area also. Finally, release, consummation, perhaps I believed that physical intimacy would give us the emotional intimacy that I didn't comprehend we tragically lacked. I really do believe that latter part. But while I supported her continued therapy (and we had little money) I simply couldn't understand what was happening. When I asked who, what, when? There was no answer. Only a feeling, a sense that she had somehow been violated but couldn't remember it. I recall, when she had her first pelvic exam of her life, before the wedding, she asked the doctor if she had an intact hymen. The doctor (a woman, of course) said yes, but there was some tearing, it could have come from many activities over the years. E asked if it could have been from having sex. The doctor said, 'well, maybe once.'

Once. Maybe. Dear God, if so, with who and at what age?

But whether there was any physical evidence, there was certainly a growing emotional panic inside her; panic and perhaps a hatred. And while I did some things to try and help her uncover her abuse, I felt her pulling away from me with awful speed, and I found myself for the most part unable to help her. I didn't know what to say, or what to do, or how to react so close to the wedding; and truthfully, part of me didn't want to hear it if it meant she was going away from me, emotionally and physically, and she was certainly changing fast.

Years after the divorce, cleaning out an old box of papers in my garage in Belmont shore, I found a card she had written to me during those weeks before we were married. (Dear God, hold me up now; show me a grace greater than my own self-hatred which feels overwhelming; I have never told anyone this.) The card, which of course I threw away, as I have thrown every other single thing with her distinct, cursive hand away, was brief but very direct and more honest than almost anything she ever wrote or said to me: it was something like, dear troy, as we get close to the wedding, I find myself unable to talk to you about my possible incest; this is a serious problem, one of the biggest problems I've had to face in my life, I need your support...I can't remember any more of what she wrote now or even if I got it right. How I wept when I read it years later, wept and hated myself. But that was the heart of it: she was reaching out, or very skillfully not reaching out (perhaps setting me up for some of the blame) on this one issue. I wanted a lover, a wife; I had waited five long years for her. To have her suddenly, for the first time in all those years, drag this hulking carcass, stinking of death and doom and perversion, and throw it onto the bridal linen between us...I wasn't a good support person on this issue, and I believe I told her so; I lacked the skills and it came too close to me. I wanted her to get help, but I couldn't give it, and it seemed she most wanted me to understand her, though again, she was a very smart, very smart, very self-protective girl. If she had told me it was her father, say, I would have accused him to his face, had an enemy I could name and that we could hate together.

But she had no specific memories, nothing concrete to share. She had none of that, or none that she was telling. In fact, if she ever did uncover who her perpetrator was, she never told me, not before, during, or after the wedding, though later she had a suspect.

God, and on top of all of this, I had tried to get professional advice, from a pastor I thought was nearly infallible. Who may have thought it himself; that I do not know.

All this, and I haven't even gotten to the wedding! Or the disastrous honeymoon at Tahoe, events which occurred not far from where I now live.

The tragedy is we did get married. Her in the absolute height of her physical beauty and probably emotional vulnerability (trusting me, perhaps, or do I give her too much credit; was her aversion to true intimacy as great as my own, her need to destroy even greater?); me somehow believing we'd work this out as we had managed to work everything else out, or at least stay connected all these years. I do remember the horror of the rehearsal and the following dinner, though. When I saw her standing with her father at the end of the church aisle she was sobbing. And she kept sobbing. She cried through the entire rehearsal or close. And she cried, as I look back, like a girl being offered as sacrifice, or like someone horribly torn. I thought at the time she was sad over her lack of closeness with her father, who was symbolically giving her to me, of course, walking her down the aisle. But now I see those girl's tears differently. I know that my aunt B, the Sedona aunt actually, the only one of the four sisters, including my mother, that I can risk emotion with, came up to me after the church part of the rehearsal and told me, very distinctly, 'that girl is not ready to get married.' I hardly knew my aunt then, she had never met E, but she said it more than once.

She was tragically right, as tragic as rigid steel. 'That girl is not ready to be married.' She wasn't. I wasn't either, and from the moment I saw Estella standing at the end of the aisle I knew something was wrong. I got feet so cold they went black and fell off. I wanted to call of the wedding, over some panic I could not identify, madly. I had the wildest passion to run. But I reasoned with myself: I could find no good reason to do so, the sudden intrusion of my feelings made no sense to me, they weren't related to any certain issue, I simply sensed disaster, a deep reticence not to go through with it. Later, at the ceremony, that horror, that desire to stop, turn back, dominated the entire day. I threw up in the bathroom at my own reception; I didn't want to cut the cake, I swear it was the truth that I had to force my hand to actually cut the cake with her, holding the knife together. Every step of it, the walking to the front to meet her, the terror I felt saying the vows (I do remember how her chest above the gown was flushed with red spots from the emotion; I never saw that happen to her before or since). I didn't want to throw the garter, even. I wanted to stop and scream over and over, no, no, no, something is not right. I couldn't place it to anything, but I felt it as deeply as I've ever felt anything, from the rehearsal dinner through most of the wedding itself.

I listened to what I thought was reason, and did in fact cut our cake, young hands together, new gold rings, bouquet on the table.

My girlfriend from high school came to my wedding, married five years since and with at least two children by then. We danced. My new mother in law cut in when she actually pulled me close during a slow dance, as if testing the feeling. Not body to body close, but close enough to smell her hair. She said she was surprised how beautiful my new wife was; everyone said that. Barbie Doll. I should have been very happy, ecstastic, but inside my terror, even misery, was enormous.

And then we climbed into the car her parents gave us a few weeks before and drove to the Ramada Rennaissance for our first night together. Many of those details I will not share here, perhaps when I am much older, but some I must. But next time. This has gone long enough. The echo of my dream has dissipated. I want water and perhaps some more sleep.

Peace to all. Much story remains.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


I'm trying to make my blog more 'anonymous,' and I've taken my real first name off; until I can come up with a suitable psuedonym, westslope it is. I have very mixed feelings; I love to see myself addressed by my first name in the comments, and maybe I'll change my mind and switch back, but as I include more content up here from church, from work...I'm writing about other people also. It's not my own past I'm trying to hide; it's the present which involves others.

I have, though, added an email, which I never had up before. It's available under my profile.

So much for the current blog drama.


Summer is here, or it feels so, though the full, heavy heat of July and August is still to come. Even at my elevation, without air conditioning, there are days I get into my truck and head up to beat the swelter. In thirty minutes, maybe forty, I can be close to 7000 feet. Up there, even when the temperature is 108 at the valley floor, perhaps 97 at my house, it's comfortably cool, often with light breezes, in the high woods, the forests and meadows not far below the gray granite timberline. The limbs on the conifers that high often grow downwards because of the heavy snow load in the winter; and trees blasted over by the winter storms are easy to find (often half bucked up by those hunting firewood, which is usually what I'm doing up there also...chainsaw, chaps, gloves, orange ear plugs, a measuring tape and lumber pencil to mark the cuts). The summer calm in the high meadows is brilliant, still, and very gentle; it's hard to imagine the tree shattering winds and snowfall that dominated the air and land months before.

I have taken my wife and son one at a time, and one other friend, climbing high onto what the loggers call slash piles: great mounds of left behind tree trunks and limbs, the small piles as big as my house, the bigger ones several times as large. But each one full of cedar, fir, or if I'm very lucky, oak, which as a hardwood, burns longer and hotter. Our first winter I cut every stick we burned; now I buy some, cut some; with a pick up...I don't think I'll be buying any this year. It's dusty, heavy work. Cutting off round after round, or bringing home five or six foot lengths to buck into that ideal 16 inch piece...then the splitting (which, fool that I am, I've always done by hand) and stacking to let the wood season. Fact is, the forest service charges me ten dollars a cord (though no one has stopped me to check my tags yet, the little I bring out at a time) and so it's possible, with plenty of sweat, to heat the house in winter for almost nothing, or at least our great room where the fireplace is.

Of course, for about 550 dollars, I can buy two full cord of split and dry hardwood which is more than enough to last me a winter as we use propane also. I think I tried to figure once how much I'm making an hour, limbing, bucking, splitting, stacking, and hauling all that wasn't an impressive number considering what it would cost me to buy it. With our middle-class income, the cutting is done more for the love of working the mountain itself, the way a farmer must feel,or a gardener. Of course, I don't actually cut down any trees unless they're very dead and very small; felling takes true talent and is illegal without permits. But cutting up the downed trees, the ones already blown over by the wind or snow, or cleaning through the slash piles, using energy to heat my home that otherwise would only rot over a decade onto the forest floor, that feels almost like creating some new thing.

It's true I'm often alone, and that's not the smartest, but I take extra care when I am. Looking out for lions (squatted down with the saw off, earplugs in) if there is any way one can look out for such a predator, and trying also not to cut my fingers off or have the saw kick back into my face (much more likely risks that mountain lions). But really, I think it's a pretty safe pasttime, and one I look forward to getting back into now that I again have a way to bring the downed wood home.

There is a feeling of security, a primitive and masculine sensation, bringing home wood I know will heat my family no matter what happens to the power or the weather. Central heaters take electricity to run, of course, and while losing power happens less and less during the winter storms it does still happen; knowing I have two cord of dry cedar I split myself under a tarp in my yard is a very calm feeling. If the juice goes, I toss the perishables out onto the snow on the deck, cook whatever we need on the wood stove, even sleep in the great room with the hot stove all night.

I can't remember where I read it, maybe Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance, maybe in Abbey, perhaps Desert Solitaire? But one writer I know talks about cruising down an empty country road that goes over a commuter freeway during rush hour. No one is even on the road he's on, but he can look down and see the thousands of cars, the tense and red faces, the heat and the smoke. Living in the mountains is like that in some ways. Sure I sit in traffic jams sometimes; I certainly drive a lot (hence the continuing need to improve my stereo and my techno collection) but when I see the tract houses (is it tract or track) piled together, all the same, same roofs and colors, tiny yards, a little lawn park with a few trees in the middle...sure there are advantages to living like that. I may end up in a place like that myself when I'm older. But all those ridiculous myths you hear about living close to nature in the woods, about birds all around the house, seasons changing dramatically...those are all true. Our dogwoods are in bloom, I can hear the robins and the jays even now. It's a pretty good bet there isn't another human within 100 yards of me at the moment. That's not far by country standards by any means, but I'm not looking out my slider at my neighbor's kitchen sink either.

I don't mean to sound critical. There are as many ways to live as radii in the circle, as Thoreau says. There are drawbacks to life in the quasi-suburban woods and I've shared them. But sublime, cyclical beauties too. And I'm close, very close, to country so open, the whole wide back of the sierra crest itself, that I can get there very easily. My hope is to get into backcountry more this summer than I did last year, even though I'm teaching summer school (perhaps to learn to sail in the sea, of all incongruous things).


To close, a very good friend of mine just gave me an essay by Raymond Carver (my minimalist title is in his honor); Carver was one of the best short story writers of the last half of the twentieth century, and Carver says you should never publish half assed work. There's no excuse for not producing only one's best. My buddy tells me, and I should know it, that the best writing comes from re-writing, from writing a paragraph 27 times until it looks like it was written once. I've never done any prose which could be considered creative until this blog, and those are both great pieces of advice. But then, this is a blog. This is talking to friends, not a paying audience. And the whole thing here for me is more about support and pleasure than art. I've used this place for support many times; I hope I can at times provide pleasure. I know there are better bloggers out there and I've said so before, but perhaps my blog is a different flavor. Better yet, I know some of you have grown to care for me through this thing, and that, truly, is worth more than all.