I was high and holding the phone to my ear when he asked the next weird question: “If you could spend 100 years submerged in the sea or floating in space, which would you choose?”
100 years, 100 days — I honestly can’t remember which he said… but we loved doing this with each other: presenting various scenarios — some the this or that kind, others open-ended — and then reading deeply into each other’s responses… too deeply maybe.
I’m sure I answered space to this one (hard to recall certain details) but what I can very clearly remember is staring up at the ceiling and laughing laughing laughing, saying: “I wish I could EXPLAIN this to you…”
I kept trying to tell him that there are creatures deep down in the sea that we say we know nothing about — we say we don’t even know what they look like — and while I wasn’t fully convinced of this, I couldn’t get the frickin words out to tell him so.
“I mean how do we know they’re THERE if we don’t know what they LOOK like?” Finally, I was able to get it out, and I was feeling extremely suspicious about it. “Is it like… sonar? Like they’re giving off vibes and so we can sense them but not see them?” I laughed again; this was, for whatever reason, completely hysterical. “I feel like we’ve been talking about this for a million years, James,” I whispered into the phone, eyes wide.
“It’s been like two minutes, babe.”
And this was just before we (I) ended things — or eased back on them, at least.
“What’s your decision making process like?” he said. “What criteria do you have when choosing which way to go?”
I’d noticed this guy, a different guy, sitting on a bench when I’d first stepped onto the path. I was in Littleton Colorado and it was Friday — Wednesday’s blizzard was totally over with now.
And I hadn’t expected him to speak to me with such ease and candor, being a stranger and all, but hearing and seeing him up close, it made perfect sense to me: Destiny. We tend to think of soulmates and lovers as composing our big destiny, but so do other things: good friends, good meals, good songs, good conversations…
Smiling, I veered off of the trail and walked through the grass to sit down beside him. Dude was older — late 60s maybe.
“I knew that I could turn right to get closer to the mountains or left to see them more clearly,” I said, settling onto the bench.
“Ahhhh,” he said. “And you went left. Prefer having a sustained view?”
We continued talking like this for about an hour. When he learned that I was visiting from Birmingham, he whistled between his teeth.
“Birmingham,” he repeated softly.
“Yeah — but we’re slowly, sort of getting there,” I said.
He talked to me about growing up with a dad who was in the army — explaining how, on road trips, they’d visit southern gas stations together with his dad in full uniform, because if he wasn’t in full uniform, they were usually denied service (and quite rudely, at that). Insane, right?
We say we’re so far from it all now, but watch out for it and you’ll see it. All of it.
Yeah; we ARE getting there (like I told him), but we’re not there yet. Getting somewhere and being somewhere are two very different things, and it drives me NUTS when people just wave it off: “Oh, that? That’s old news…”
Yeah fuckin right! I mean wow… what a luxury: being a privileged and probably white piece of shit to such an extent that discrimination against an entire race and color of people doesn’t affect you AT ALL. Anyways…
He told me more about his experience with racism in corporate environments, about his schizophrenic son who likes making jewelry so much the dad signed them both up for local jewelry-making classes, and about his rental properties near Denver (he started investing in the area about a decade ago… SOLID timing). Lot of things depend upon and center around and grow out of timing, it seems.
We were staring into the lake together with frequent glances up at the mountains when suddenly, straight out of the blue, magic.
“THERE’S A RABBIT OVER THERE,” I whispered urgently. “RIGHT BEHIND YOU.”
He turned to look over his shoulder. “Huh! Yeah… LOTS of rabbits over in that hedge. See ’em all the time.”
I got up to leave soon after this and, walking parallel with the hedge, spotted one, two, THREE more rabbits! And they were my favorite kind of rabbit, too: tricolored, with grey and white and brown all over. I’d never seen so many of them plainly out in the open like that before… it was really special.
And so it was that the mountains and the rabbits and the roads pointed me toward my city — the one I’d been hoping to find.
When I’d finished packing my bags and checking out of the Airbnb earlier that morning, I turned left onto the city highway and then followed the mountains with my eyes, driven by curiosity and intuition only. But I’ll admit here that I DID ask the universe to help me find the right spot this time because this was my THIRD time visiting the state in TWO years and because I could positively FEEL how close I was now.
Anyways, I passed through lots of towns that day: Westminster, Arvada, Golden, Lakewood, Englewood, Centennial, Morrison, Castle Rock, Littleton…
Littleton, Colorado: those friendly mountains, that sage old man, and those magical, wild rabbits… I just knew I’d know when I knew.
When, you ask? Not sure yet. Stay tuned…
“Do you know if the spring’s this way?”
I’d just followed Colorado Avenue over to Manitau (taking the suggestion of an ex-vet coffee shop owner — he’d made a fine marshmallow caramel latte!) and wasn’t sure where exactly I was now. I’d parked my car somewhere and then hopped onto a shuttle of some kind and then ended up standing near slash on a mountain of sorts.
The old man who was slightly ahead of me on the path heard my question and turned to face me better, gripping a walking stick with his right hand. His granddaughter peered out from behind him, watching me closely.
“Which spring?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Any of them, really.”
He sighed deeply, looking down at his granddaughter. “Wanna take her to Twins Spring?” She nodded.
And this is how I came to make two new friends: Allen and Jazzlynn.
We spent the next two hours hiking near Pike’s Peak, a mountainous area that has these natural, limestone fountains of mineral water bubbling up out of the earth. Cool, right?
As Allen and Jazzlynn led the way to one of these springs (their favorite, they said), they told me some of their favorite stories.
“Tell her about the bear,” Jazzlynn said once. I was watching as she ran up the uneven sides of the trail, crouching down now and then to kick at rocks and inspect things. A wonderfully curious gal.
She was nine now and liked interjecting Allen’s storytelling sometimes, saying he should skip the boring part or let her tell it the way she remembered it instead (implying her way was better; more funny, more interesting… I loved observing the transparent mind she hasn’t learned to cloud yet).
So anyways, Allen told me about the bear outside his door; the pretzel brawl he incited at this lively old bar in Alaska; and his Arkansas Crystal Craze years that ended with him and his bus stranded together in an avocado field, California. This guy had the neatest stories.
“Did you eat any of the avocados?” I asked hopefully. He said he hadn’t. I did think that was a shame.
After sharing a lot that had already passed, he began talking about their future, describing a house that he and his daughter (not granddaughter, turns out) were building together. It was going to be constructed on a 16-acre plot of land on the other side of this mountain and was to have a workshop, greenhouse, and rooftop garden.
Jazzlynn said she liked gardening and I remember thinking that I wished I’d known how to garden, how to identify poison ivy, how to build something (anything) at her age. I was happy for her and couldn’t help but think about my friends’ kid, Emme, who I’d be seeing later that evening — how she’s going to be a heck of a lot like Jazzlynn: crazy smart, super brave, and perfectly self-sufficient.
Allen paused our hike a few times to draw pictures in the sand, using that pointed walking stick of his. He drew mountains and fault lines and timing belts and sun cycles and the architectural design of their new house… he also mentioned that, besides working as a realtor and unofficial architect, he’d recently picked up a side gig working as a gate agent for Delta.
He didn’t do it for the shitty pay, he said — it was the promise of free travel that got him. And the company’s promise turned out to be a legit one. I’d been interested in everything he was saying up until now, for sure, but I found myself feeling especially intrigued by this topic — the mere idea of free travel.
“We travel all the time,” he said. “Hawaii, Alaska, Florida, Wyoming, Michigan, Texas — we’ve been to a lot of places already and I’m just waiting on her mom to okay a passport…” he stopped himself here, looking over at Jazzlynn. I noticed “her mom” and the tone of “her mom” and understood.
At the end of our trek, we visited this orthodox cafe in town that my friends mentioned frequenting; they drank yerba mate while I sipped on a pineapple-and-coconut smoothie.
“I hope you’ll write about all of your adventures,” I’d said to Jazzlynn a bit earlier on in the afternoon, when we were walking the path together. “Please consider keeping a journal. You’ll remember details vividly this way… and you already seem to speak like a writer.” I told her I’d mail a copy of my book to her and she told me that she’d like to have a new pen pal — that her last one hadn’t stayed in touch with her very well. I assured her that I would.
And as she drank her raspberry mate tea, I looked down at the counter in front of her and saw that she was already writing, slowly and deliberately, in a notebook… carefully moving her right hand across the page. She was recording the ways in which her mother had disappointed her, her father said, and I was struck with empathy.
On my last evening out west, I crashed in an upstairs bedroom at my friends’ place, the ones who’ve just moved out to Colorado, the ones with the adorable, fierce, and kickass little girl.
I stretched out on new-smelling carpet and piled pajama pants and scarves and other clothing items on top of me, in the dark, to keep warm. I used my stuffed rabbit friend Governess as a pillow and woke up just a few times that evening, cold thighs and a cold nose, but this only added to the sense of adventure.
It was a good night and a good temporary goodbye. We got takeout Thai food earlier on in the evening and then watched a show together, quietly talking about stuff here and there: about their move and my road trip and our history and his music and her job and their future and my future and this guy and that guy and the other old guy and what happens next. Like everyone, we all like to guess at what happens next.
After hugging my girl friend goodbye and shuttling up to Denver the next morning, I walked into the airport and popped the last Coloradoan chocolate into my mouth: 1906’s Chill. Who knows when I’ll get to do this again, I thought to myself sadly.
I held it in place with my tongue until I’d located the airport’s security checkpoint and then I bit down into it, checking the watch on my left hand and beginning to kick off my shoes.
I’d made it through security, found my terminal, gotten some coffee and begun leafing through my comic book Persepolis when it started to sink in. I looked up once (what felt like a million years later) and noticed people walking past me in this hazy slow motion. I know this, I thought. Nothing to freak out over. Just stay with it.
One guy that was passing by looked like Chris — he really did. And as he moved, I followed him with my eyes and asked myself: “Does he still make your heart thrill?”
I kept watching him, ready to be honest with myself — I could clearly remember those green eyes, that proud gait; his saucy tone and dramatic mannerisms. My first love. He was definitely right for me back then — we were really good for each other for a while. “No… not anymore,” I said quietly, knowing it was true and turning away before he was even gone from me.
Then a tall guy who only slightly resembled Captain Kangaroo stepped onto the human conveyor belt in the middle of the floor, moving further faster than the other one had.
I imagined Keith’s hands and voice; his old couch and brown eyes and those cardboard boxes full of records…
There was something there, still, but it was faint now. Because I knew — I remembered: If anything, at best, I was his second choice. “No,” I said firmly. “Because I respect myself a lot more now — too much to wish to be anybody’s afterthought. Even somebody as cool as that idiot.”
Then I thought about how I’d cried three times while driving through Kansas — all because of that big fat shepherd girl, Tycho. Because of how much I was missing her while we were away from each other. I think all of those poor, wonderful cows lining the highway were reminding me of her.
True love: You’re finally on that exciting adventure of yours but catch yourself dreaming of holding hands (or paws) with somebody who’s missing in the passenger’s seat. Feel that? Who’s your missing somebody? I know it hurts to think about it, but I really think you should.
I’m sure this will sound funny to many of you, but I’ve never loved anyone, anyone, the way I love her. Goes to show that you never really know a. what you’re capable of and b. how remarkable the people you don’t know yet are.
I also thought, as I was thinking all of this, about how this road trip was really good for me…
How I’m still — more than ever, really — so thoroughly delighted by a life of simplicity: friendship, music, food, travel, writing. I drank coffee and ate groceries in the car (fresh fruits and breads and local cheeses) and drove aimlessly for days, following signs and sounds and feeling wonderfully, fantastically whole on my own.
And as I drove down this one country road for a while, some empty highway near Golden, I remember thinking to myself that it didn’t feel right for me to belong to anyone right now; that I’m still so taken by wandering and too booked and busy to sustain an exclusive and committed relationship.
I think I just want to keep meeting and talking with people, I thought to myself, and I thought that made good sense… for now, anyways.
Before we both hung up, James asked me another question that night — a night early on in the trip.
“If you could have one superpower and it was either flying or invisibility, which would you choose?”
I knew instantly. “I was always so visible in school,” I said, starting to fall asleep now. “So obviously weird… hiding jeans underneath long skirts; couldn’t go to the Halloween parties. I didn’t want people to notice me so much,” I said, yawning and rolling over.
“And now, it’s the opposite — I’m weird in this other kinda way: so lonely, so chaotic, so alternative… too hairy and godless with too many tattoos. Have to hide ’em all the time to appear acceptable.” I paused. “I’d love to be invisible, James. I’ve always wanted to be invisible.”
And I remember James saying that he wanted to fly… and that, in a way, he’d already figured it out in his mind; that he already knew how to fly. He’d done it before, he said — in his dreams.
Of course he did. And of course he had! I’ve never flown in any of my dreams…
But then again, I’m something like a ghost in my dreams, so I guess I’m already flying in my own way.
Your Friendly Blogging Ghost Girl,