Tears Tip Eastward Once Again
This morning the crying girl on the BART was I.
A vague anxiety about returning home has been hovering around the periphery of my consciousness since the Pacific Northwest. It passes through phases, ebbs and swells. Last night around midnight it bloomed brutally. Princess that I am I had finally gotten used to sleeping with just the one flat pillow I’d brought with me from Chicago. Suddenly, last night it seemed insubstantial and horribly uncomfortable. Exhausted and achy from several days of long, hilly bike rides, due to be up and traveling in five hours, predictably, sleep seemed out of reach.
“Life is empty.” I said to Lynn from my mattress on the floor when he walked in around one from Raf’s birthday party.
“Do you really think that Abby?” he said consolingly, shoving the mess of shrink wrapped yellow “Live Strong” Lance Armstrong bracelets that, much to our glee, had arrived in the mail that afternoon, off his sleeping bag next to me.
“Well it isn’t always.” I conceded dolefully “But when it is, it’s unbearably so.”
The crisis is manifold, complex and like most things worth getting upset about, mostly impossible to understand. I don’t ever want to work again. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. I feel only tenuously connected to anything in this world. Worst of all, I’m finding this out a few years too late.
Lynn woke up early with me and helped me carry my bags to the station on Market st. The air was cool. An old man stood just inside the station entrance playing guitar; his song incredibly lovely. I’d spent two days last week down on Fisherman’s Wharf busking for money on a borrowed guitar (with little success, I have to admit) and I felt that broke as I was, it wouldn’t be proper to leave town without giving him a dollar. Every now and then I receive these little hints that Karma or Causality might actually exist. When I got to the turnstiles they were taped open. It seems I had the great fortune of traveling on “Spare the Air Day” meaning free train rides between 4 and 9 am. Have I mentioned I love San Francisco?
Deeply pained, I hugged Lynn goodbye, ran down the stairs and jumped right on my train. I’m not sure what set it off, fog perhaps, the train map on the wall, but I started to cry. It was quick and tasteful-just a few silent tears. Truly, a fraction of the deluge I wanted to be washed away in. I wept because I am returning home with a more acute feeling of venturing into the unknown than I had when I left two months ago. What kind of sense does that make? Plainly, It’s terrifying.
The tour already seems like ancient history, a troubling sensation in and of itself, and I was just starting to get used to life in San Francisco. Cooking for the boys, visiting friends, writing, staggering up those hills feeling full of wonder. It seemed that in San Francisco my thoughts came to me prepackaged in poetic form. I began thinking in verse, an adaptation heartbreaking to sever.
I’d been taking it pretty east, a little too easy, in fact, right up until the very end. Lynn’s parents were in town visiting the last few days and with their typical generosity took me along on all sorts of family outings and out to family dinners. The other day we did something very important. We took a bike ride down through the Presidio, over the golden gate bridge and into marine.
I refuse to believe that there is a single person I know who hasn’t at some point, if only for a flickering instant, considered jumping to her doom from the Golden Gate bridge. Sam, a San Francisco native, says that idea is mostly urban legend. “Where did you hear that? That lots of people kill themselves that way?” he wanted to know. “Are you kidding?” I answered, eyes widening. It just is that way. Everyone knows it. It’s got to be one of the most Romantic ways to go.
Half way across the bridge I paused and climbed off my bike to gaze down at the foamy rocks below. It is really rather windy up there and it occurred to me that perhaps many people have been in the process of contemplating jumping and then the wind came along and made the decision for them. All in all we rode a good 25 miles through Sausalito, Tiburon, all around the bay, and then took a ferry home. My borrowed bike I’d been living on for a week had a rock-hard seat and snarky gears. I struggled nobly and my ass is ruined.
There is something inexplicably divine, almost holy, about biking on those hills. You move on a continuum of toil and redemption. You struggle up feeling like your lungs will burst, your legs drop right off your body like some consumptive insect, and then you crest and the way down is delicious in perfect proportion.
Retuning home I cooked the leftover Indian food I’d grifted from a catering gig I’d worked the night before. An Indian wedding party that had me scrubbing pots caked with charred korma until two in the morning. The work was exhausting and the night didn’t end until 3 am when I trekked back to the restaurant to collect my pay and my bike. All the prostitutes were out on Polk at that hour. Most of them trannies. My feet ached from standing on my feet in dress shoes for 12 hours, my arms sore from hefting dishes, carafes and garbage. While climbing onto my bike and huffing back to Chinatown I passed by a prostitute, a little girl who couldn’t have been more than 12. A total Jodie Foster Taxi Driver deal for real, and felt suddenly that any complaints I might have were wholly inappropriate. A bunch of thugged out dudes in a BMW idling at the intersection hooted and called at her “Hey little one! Come ‘ere little one.” My heart broke and I had trouble sleeping that night too.
Direct flights were decidedly out of my budget and I had to stop in Denver. On my first flight I had the uncomfortable experience of sitting next to a girl who by all surface accounts was just like me. About my age, similarly dressed, she read a hardcover copy of Anna Karenina (one of my favorite books) and clicked away on an ibook identical to mine. I’m nothing. Nobody. Just like everyone else.
Towards the end of our flight we encountered some of the worst, most prolonged turbulence I’ve ever suffered through. The plane dipped and jerked, metal cabinets in the kitchen rattling and slamming. My stomach fluttered through my body, exploring the outer reaches of my trembling fingers and toes. I closed my eyes, tried to breathe deeply and remind myself that I’m not scared of dying. I like to think that I’m not scared of dying; rather look forward to it actually, but in that moment my will to live betrayed me. It was really, really scary.
Right after 9-11 I found myself morbidly and obsessively consumed by the curiosity of what those final moments before a crash must be like on board. Probably everyone has this fantasy in some form or another my fantasy was clean and romantic (until the flames and fuselage that is,) and involves nice things like holding hands with the stranger next to you, making last declarations, confessions, resignations. Now I understand that you probably don’t have the stomach or the presence of mind for such profound, Romantic niceties. In reality people are probably screaming, vomiting, shitting, scrambling like crazed animals. Given a choice, I’d take the Golden Gate route in an instant.
Weeks ago, on our way from Olympia to Portland we gave a lift to Allen’s friend, the rock star Anna Oxygen, a lovely and inspiring woman. “Sometimes, when I get back from tour,” she admitted, “I need to be alone for a good two weeks before I can see anyone.” At the time that struck me as a lonely prospect. I’m the kind of person who can’t stand to be alone, so scared of being alone I often conspire to avoid it, even if I end up feeling lonely in the presence of other people. Which is why I’m so astonished to find myself wishing I had the luxury of doing that, at least for a few days but I’m still adrift, without a home, without space of my own. I’m going to try hard not to act like a weirdo when I get back. All told, I’ll probably fare better than I fear but a heads up from the heart just incase I don’t.