Berkeley, CA

I got lost yesterday on my way to Berkeley Espresso. I left the apartment believing I knew exactly how to get there; I didn’t even bother to look at the streets. After a few blocks it dawned on me that I had no idea where I was headed. Ironic how losing my way is almost always preceded by certainty rather than uncertainty.

Sometimes I won’t turn around when I realize I’ve gone the wrong way. Sometimes I refuse to accept defeat. I insist on going forward, charting a new path with my misdirection. Each year these instances happen less frequently — stubbornly continuing in the wrong direction, I mean, not getting lost, I get lost just as often as I always have. I’m learning to accept my errors. And also to not give in to every inclination of my ego.

Instead of Berkeley Espresso, I ended up at People’s Cafe. A rather fortunate turn of events really, I have very fond memories of this place. See the parrot on the wall? There’s a drawing of it in my notebook, a quite uncanny duplication if I may say so myself. And the table in the back with the bench against the wall, there we sat when I realized you were my happy place.


I’ve been missing Berkeley these days, missing summers on Telegraph Ave when blocks would be closed off to cars to make room for the tents lining both sides of the street selling hand-made jewelry, tie-dyed shirts, ceramic bowls, and special pastries, missing those four-day weekends when I’d spend an entire day leisurely cruising through all the shops on College Ave, always pausing inside the pet store to contemplate buying a pair of birds to bring some chirp to my apartment.

An entire album of travel photos can’t compete with a single photo depicting my previous life in Berkeley. If I could travel back in time and relive one of those days again, any old Sunday, waking up with you beside me, running errands all day, and ending with a dinner among friends. Just one of those days.

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Saturday Morning

I’ve been thinking about that morning, one of the many cold, foggy mornings in San Francisco. I was sitting on your bed listening to the stereo. I can’t remember the exact song now, one of those slow, sultry numbers that is at once seductive and comforting. I wanted to pull you to me, to feel your strong arms wrapped around me, to rest my head against the warmth of your body while we swayed gently, barely.

We had just had that terrible fight. I was afraid of what you might say if I made this silly request of you. I was a fool then. I realize now you never once denied any of my requests. You never said no to me.

When the song ended, I gathered my things quietly: my earrings off your bedside table, my clothes scattered across the floor, my purse sitting behind your door. I threw back the curtains and opened the windows wide, welcoming the invasion of a chilling morning breeze carrying my scent from your room. I casted one last look at the scene, securing it in my memory. When I was certain there were no traces of me left, I made for the door.

Three months later, we met for lunch. The following Saturday, I was leaving your room yet again. This time, I didn’t bother erasing my footprints from your wooden floor. I couldn’t erase those prints any more than I can reach into your mind and erase your memories of me.

A week later, I got on a plane that carried me across the world. I had spent all those months erasing the distance between us, rushing to your door, only to scramble out of your life, grabbing for space until half the world rested between us.

Old Magic

I spent the summers of my childhood at grandma’s. Waking with the sun to milk deliveries, first in glass bottles, then in plastic packets of original, chocolate, and strawberry. I loved licking the caps of those glass bottles where a thick layer of cream collected. The plastic packets required more work to open. I’d gnaw at a corner of the square packet, spitting out tiny pieces of plastic, until grandma came to my rescue with a pair of scissors.

One fine morning, I was drinking strawberry milk when a ray of sunlight caught my eye. It had painted a slanted square on the wood floor, like a doorway into another realm. Curious. I stepped up to the light and saw that it was not a concrete entity but the gathering of infinite specks, floating leisurely in the air. Were they going somewhere, like swallows migrating in early fall? I searched for the pattern that wasn’t there.

I knew then I had discovered the secret of the universe. I spun under the light, smiling as I felt its warmth on my bare skin. I saw love, next to despair, joy and sorrow, beauty in all its forms, and time itself as the sliver of light moved across the floor. I watched till it disappeared altogether, feeling no need to intervene. I bent down to feel the still warm floor with my hand, erasing all uncertainties of what I witnessed. Then I finished my strawberry milk and ran downstairs to look for grandma.

When Claritin Fails

I was kept up till 4:30 in the morning by my allergies last night, this morning, whichever.

The first few hours weren’t too bad. I was up reading anyway. I’m in the middle of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedman. It’s not a page turner in the usual sense but it is fascinating.

By 3 a.m., I had used three different types of nasal sprays. I wandered down to the kitchen and heated some soup. Then I returned to my room with both the humidifier and air purifier turned on high.

By 4 a.m., I no longer had the focus to read about the identification of the feminine in the 1950s, so I delved into my old journals. A piece of loose-leaf fell out of one of them; it was covered in my handwriting.

“This music is making me feel a very strong love for you.”
“Just this music?”
“This music and whatever hormones that are produced in me.”
“Why does it have to be anything? Why not just because I’m good to you and I feel the love for you?”

“a costume of indifference” — when he’s got a grasp on his words, they’re impeccable

Maybe he would’ve done this more eloquently, maybe he would’ve used more literary devices, but it probably also would’ve been longer, much longer. 

And I thought about you everyday. A day hasn’t gone by when you didn’t find your way into my mind. That’s the work of nostalgia. 

I like to think it was nonfiction but it could just as easily be a story I was working on. There were no names or dates. I was so succinct with my words back then. Now everything is described in detail, entire conversations are documented. I used to write to strength my hold on the past, now I write so I can forget. It is a terrible burden trying to carry the weight of all my memories.

Of Dreams & Memories

I don’t even look forward to visiting the Bay Area anymore. I dread parts of it: the packing and unpacking, the futon-surfing, relying on others (thank you dear friends) to house and occasionally transport me. None of it appeals to me.

But then I land in SFO. And as BART pulls me closer and closer to my destination, through Daly City, 16th Mission, and Montgomery, my heartbeat quickens. A part of me that remains dormant when I’m elsewhere wakes and I feel myself coming into my own being. Then I wonder how I ever left this place and when I’ll be back again.

Jetlag is real, even when it’s only an hour-long flight. Somewhere between “fasten your seat belts” and beverage service, my grasp of the present slips and I fall asleep. I land groggily, taking in my surroundings as I walk through the airport.

Where am I? How did I get here? Was I just on a flight? I must have been.

I tug at a loose strand of my memory, it gives a little. “I’ve wasted too much time on science,” a voice says. I struggle to hear the rest of the conversation but it’s already spiraling away from me.

I see two tangled strands around the corner. I chase them as they heave and writhe and I realize they are two bodies, groping in the darkness. Just when I’m about to reach out and touch them, they dissolve into fine mist.

Now I’m at the heart of the matter; I can see the tangled mass that is my memories. I search for an opening. I pick up a promising lead and it asks, “Do you run?” I stare at it with confusion. “No,” I respond. And my answer is echoed back to me three times, and the question is echoed back to me three times, and the entire mass is unraveling, disintegrating.

Just tell me how it made me feel. I don’t need the details, but please, just tell me how I felt. Without that, I am lost.

At my plea, the mass breathes renewed life. It comes towards me, picking up speed as it suddenly recognizes my existence. I prepare myself for contact until I see Despair, barely hidden behind Hope.

I break into a run. I run until I know my memories are lost to me, until I see the light ahead, until I am swallowed by the sun.

I’m back in San Diego. The summers here are so perfect I wonder why I ever left.

Reset

I had a long to-do list for this weekend, just like all the other weekends.  I was going to visit the meditation center in the city, have brunch with Annie, take my car in to get serviced, pick up my dry cleaning, do laundry, clean my apartment, attend a birthday dinner on Saturday night, go to church, file my taxes, and study.

I left work Friday evening and it was still light out, windy but bright.  I picked out a bouquet of flowers, choosing each one carefully: freesias bright as the summer sun, roses with just a hint of pink, clusters of small purple flowers that I later recognized as lilacs.  It took me awhile to select them and even longer to arrange them in the vase, but the final result made me very happy.  The tangle of fragrances filled my apartment all weekend.

After I got home, I took a long bath.  The candles were lit, Pandora was set to jazz, and I had my Kindle in my hands the whole time.  I loved seeing the steam raising from my skin every time I moved; I could feel tension leaving me.  After that, I decided rather anticlimactically to throw my to-do list out the window.

For the rest of the weekend, I skipped all social events and mandatory chores.  I made a collage of clippings from interior design catalogs over my living room wall.  I went through all the mail that had collected in the corner of my desk.  I read “A Game of Thrones” hungrily.  I swept the patio outside my apartment and re-potted a bonsai tree.  I slept in.  I approached each task as if I had all the time in the world.

On Sunday evening, I finally stepped outside of my apartment and met with Jason for dinner in Berkeley.  We walked around campus after and so much has changed, I barely recognized Dwinelle’s halls.  Jason took the long way driving us back, through Ashby then the 80-W. As the freeway turned and Emeryville presented itself to us, I suddenly thought of the countless times I had passed through this route, before I ever knew what Emeryville was.

I thought of the boy who would always come to the same room I was in during those study sessions in Dwinelle.  I thought of all those times I rode shotgun in his car as he took us to the city.  I was a first year back then, a few months in Berkeley and I couldn’t tell you the name of the bridge that linked San Francisco to the East Bay.  Yet I remember the first time he drove us down Ashby to take 80-W. As we turned right then left, merging onto the freeway, the sky suddenly opened up.  It was early evening and the sun was just setting behind the city.  I saw the row of Watergate apartments reflected in the bay, the sky streaked with pink and purple.  I could just make out the outline of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, and I saw the shimmering lights of cars atop the Bay Bridge before I even knew what it was.

That was more than six years ago; Emeryville has been my home for two years now.  Still, every time the I-80 turns and the sky opens itself in front of me, presenting the bay and Emeryville and San Francisco in the distance, I think of the boy who had shown me its beauty for the first time all those years ago.