Hey you guys! More ramblings from me.
Here's Part ONE, if you're interested.
I should mention that before he left, M made me promise him one thing - that when he returned from Afghanistan, in December, we "at least had to go on a date." And I agreed. So - it's April, 2009, and I have a dinner-n-drinks scheduled, for 8 months in the future. I plan ahead, I do.
The trail up to Griffith Observatory from Ferndell Park always reminds me of Italy. More accurately, it reminds me of the tiny slice of Italy that I've actually seen. I remembered hiking up through the Cinque Terre with my ex, traveling the ancient, winding goat path that passed fragrant citrus groves and the occasional stone gate that had sat there since God-knows-when, all the while overlooking the sea - blue, blue, blue, stretching on forever into sky.
The trail up to the observatory isn't exactly a Roman goat-path, but it still passes its share of fragrant citrus trees and terraced gardens, that wind into pines and streams, and finally emerge into the blinding sunlight of a Los Angeles morning, into the dust and dry chaparral, overlooking Silver Lake, and all of the fancy houses hiding beneath the palms. If you squint through the haze, you can kinda see the ocean. On a clear day, maybe...or after a nice rain.
It's my favorite hike, and two days after K's notorious party, it felt good to be outside, in the sunlight and moving around. I needed to start getting in shape - I had a trip to the Grand Canyon planned in late July, and it was already mid-April and here I was, dripping sweat at the slightest of inclines. The canyon was going to kill me at this rate. Deep breath. Gotta get in shape. Healty. Clean. All that stuff.
Take that, liver. I chugged some more water as I crested the ridge and came to rest on the manicured lawn in front of the building. Just try and hold on to those toxins, now.
I hate you, my liver replied, and went to hide behind my spleen and throw up on itself a little.
BeepBEEPprrreeep. Now my phone was apparently talking smack. Curious to see who was texting me at 10AM on a Sunday, I fished it out and peeked at the screen.
"Hey L," read the text. "This is M. Just wanted to thank you for an amazing night. I'm in Dallas now, waiting to board a plane."
Huh. Dallas. His plane had probably passed over me as I was struggling up the initial third of the trail. I sat down at a table in the (brilliantly-named) Cafe At the End of the Universe. What to say?
"It was great meeting you. WINKING FACE. Send me your email so I can tell you all the BBC shows you need to find!" We'd spent a better part of the early evening discussing British sitcoms, and I'd come up with a few he hadn't seen... Peep Show, Spaced, Alan Partridge, Little Britain. I'd send him a nice email about British television. There we go. Non-commital, but friendly. Lemur isn't attached to anyone right now, and Lemur doesn't want to be. Lemur is perfectly happy to spend her Sundays hoofing it ALONE up this trail, and as far as she is concerned this encounter is NOT going to change -
I peek at the phone again.
"firstname.lastname@example.org is the regular one, email@example.com. somethingelse is the official."
Ah! And now I know his last name. Feeling 20% less slutty, I read the rest of the message.
"Don't worry," it reads, "I'll be home as soon as democracy kicks in."
I chuckle, and chime in with my own sarcasm. "Should be about two weeks or so," I reply.
BeepBEEPprrreeep. "You joke, but we'll be at Disneylandistan before you know it."
I crack up openly now in the empty cafe. "If that happens, you owe me one ride on Martyr Mountain."
There's a few minutes with no message. Then - BeepBEEPprrreeep. "You made me laugh so hard I spit out my cough drop. I'm supposed to be looking dignified in uniform. Thanks a lot."
I grin. "I'm up at the observatory, and I'm going to hike back down now. Have a safe flight." I put the phone back in my backpack. There. No more texting. Only a peaceful hike back down into the shade of the trees and the terraces. Hipsters with dogs. Pine trees. I sensed somehow that I was on the edge of an abyss. An old lamppost. If I stay on the edge and don't step forward, it's a lot less complex. A breeze coming through that smells of oranges. Just don't think about it. A large Mexican family carrying a picnic. Don't peer over the edge. BeepBEEPprrreeep. Don't think about what could happen in that vortex of Terribly Complicated Things churning below.
April 19, 2009
So you probably won't get to your email for a while, but when you do, here are some BBC shows you should watch. When you're not, you know, performing down-to-the-wire emergency appendectomies or elbow deep in guts. :P
Spaced - Best show ever. Makes you feel like you have a bunch of British friends, and they let you hang out at their flat. You also drink a lot of wine together and have crazy adventures.
Peep Show - This one is pretty cool. Filmed entirely in first-person perspective. Occasionally it's cringingly awkward, "office"-style. The wedding episode in the fourth season is priceless.
Little Britain - The weirdest, funniest sketch comedy ever. You will laugh. You might cry. You'll probably get a little nauseous.
Hope your flight went smoothly and you're settling in well. Take care of yourself!!
ps - Don't forget, if democracy kicks in, you owe me one ride on Martyr Mountain. :P
April 24, 2009
home! (away from home)
I'm back and settled into [the base], and I've finally had a good 16 hour hibernation. The flight from Bagram took me two days with the polish, but we weren't in the air the whole time. The flight...was a gunship conducting a presence patrol, so they kept zigging and zagging over mountains and through valleys looking for people to shoot at. It was very beautiful, I've never had the opportunity to be on a flight in theater where I wasn't busy looking for threats or treating wounded.
I spent most of the flight time with my legs hanging over the side of the door kicking my feet next to the port gunner watching everything scream past below us. They hooked me up to internal coms so I could hear them talk, which was nice of them. It made me feel less isolated. After a while the gunner I was next to started pointing at things while saying something, which I figured out was probably the polish name for whatever he was pointing at. I replied first in englishat first, but once we both figured out that we didn't speak each other's language, I started working on my pashto. He also then started pointing at things and calling it's name in pashto, so I basically played an international version of I Spy while flying through afghanistan...
As the weeks stretched on, and July crept closer, I continued making the trip to the observatory once a week, if I could. And I continued emailing with M. By that point, we had moved on to deeper, more meaningful topics. Like Lost, and Harry Potter.
....I too read all the whole Harry Potter series again before the 7th book came out just to catch up, so you're not alone in your nerdlinger status...
Originally I had stayed away from Harry Potter until the third book because I thought "it was some lame kids series". I have since made amends for the error.
....Haha, that's me too...I think I started reading HP sometime right before the 5th book, and I'd avoided it for the same reason - "bah, it's popular and for kids and zzz." Once I started them, I think I caught up in a couple of months - I hadn't read a bunch of books so fast since the Hitchhiker's Guide series. ...I'm a freak and I can never NOT finish books. Even if they are horrid, I still am driven to read them to the bitter end, in an epic contest of wills.
Then we dove into music:
...today; One of my jobs here, besides taking care of ICU patients and
running the ER is running a daily clinic for local afghans. Every day
6-10 show up at the gate and we drive them in our ambulance to the
hospital and back for minor procedures and check-ups, etc.. I duct
taped some cheap speakers into the driver compartment a while ago so
that my partner and I could listen to our Ipods while we're driving
around in the ambualnce, and today I was playing t.a.T.u...
Two of the local afghans began to sing along with the russian verses
as we were driving. Just hearing these two surly looking afghans
singing along with lesbian russian pop songs while riding in an
american army ambulance was really really funny...
I love Tatu!!! :)
I had mentioned that I was going to the Grand Canyon in July, and M offered to ship me his spare digital camera and some other goodies for the trip. By this point, we'd been emailing for a couple of months, and I felt comfortable, so I accepted. I asked M what he'd like me to ship out to him from the US in return, if anything. His response:
...my food shelf has fruit-cups (fruit is a rare find these days, I'm mildly concerned about scurvy), cans of spaghetti-o's / chef boy-ar-dee ravioli and shelf-stable pudding cups. Cookies do fine in transport, as do things like kashi bars and beef jerky. I would never wish an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat- army field-food in a bag... its the culinary equivalent of going to the dentist and getting 4 root canals + accidentally being castrated) on you, but if you somehow are familiar with them you'd understand why food from home is such an important part of deployed life...
And so it was, that I found myself in the post office, mailing a box of Trader Joe's dried fruit and ready-to-eat pad thai to the other side of the world. I sent it off, with a hand-written letter and some drawings that I hoped weren't too weird, and waited patiently for my package in return.
Somewhere around mid-June, when the flowers along the trail started blooming, and I felt myself getting more and more adept at climbing uphill, something inside me changed.
The emails had settled into a regular routine. I would get to work in the morning, and immediately check my email, and there would be a brand new one, in bold, at the top of the list, with M's name. I'd grin, and jump up to make a fresh cup of coffee, with half-and half, in my favorite yellow mug in the studio kitchen. I couldn't start animating until I'd read my new email, that was the rule.
Sometimes they were brief, a couple of rushed sentences about multiple casualties, and catching a brief nap on the ER floor, before rushing off to pick up more wounded. Other times they were serveral paragraphs, describing life overseas, the Afghans, the missions, the people. I'd read them slowly, like favorite stories, savoring each word.
Then the workday would commence, and I'd spend the day laughing with my cubemates, animating a new scene or finishing a board sequence. My brief glimpse into the wild west was over, and now I was very much back in my own world, surrounded by familiar things and faces. I came home every night to a loud-mouthed tabby and occasionally went out with a circle of friends to our favorite bar. Then I'd return, and flip on the computer. Before I went to bed, I'd write out a reponse. Mostly my emails were about work, or what I was cooking, or the cat. A part of me was positive I was boring M to distraction on a daily basis. But almost every morning, there was a new email, a new message in a bottle, drifting towards me from across the ether. And so it continued.
We got to know each other slowly, as one does when writing. I never get to know my boyfriends slowly. It's always a whirlwind - we go on a couple of dates, we sleep together, then BAM, it's a Thing and it's going to Last Forever. And of course it doesn't, but we always hope. This time was different. I could take things slowly, if I wanted. Neither one of us was commited to the other. Ours was a strange and sudden friendship we could turn on and off. It was just emails, after all.
And yet, I felt an odd connection. It was nice to be able to ramble about my stupid day, or the cat, or whatever was on my mind, and to hear M's ramblings in return. There wasn't anything earth-shattering about the letters either of us wrote, but it was a small comfort to know that out there, on the other side of the world, someone was listening, and writing back.
July came quickly. I still hadn't received any packages from Afghanistan, despite checking the front porch expectantly every day after work. M had mailed it off, letting me know he'd loaded the camera with pictures, and added some "other goodies" to the bundle before shipping it to me. My curiousity piqued, I was all too anxious for it to arrive, but day after day, the front stoop remained empty.
Finally, it came down to the wire - two days before I was scheduled to depart for Arizona. I was gritting my teeth as I drove home from work; if it didn't come that day, it would be held at the post office until I returned, and what fun would that be?
So it was a pleasant surprise when I turned the corner to my front door and saw a rather battered box from Amazon.com on the mat.
"SQUEEE!! PACKAGE!" I didn't care who was watching. I dashed up the stairs, leaving the mailbox at the bottom hanging open, and scooped up the package, neatly dropping it. It was heavy; what the hell was in there?
Throwing open the front door, much to the cat's bafflement, I threw myself on the floor and ripped open the tape with my keys. A puff of air hit me in the face...it smelled like rubber and plastic and old canvas. On top there was a letter, scratched on loose-leaf paper in back pen. Underneath was the camera, a wide-brimmed hat in army camoflauge print, and a small pair of field glasses. And...a velvet bag?
I peeked inside...something blue and silver glinted at me, and I took it out. A necklace? And a bracelet? I spread them out on the table, and examined them. They were stunning, lapiz and silver, in the shape of eyes, interspersed with little glittering stones. Jewlery? What the fuck was going on here? I opened the letter, and proceeded to read. Apparently M had been having tea at the gate with a few other soldiers and the local Jewler, named H.
"...Turns out H's brother was one of the guys I pulled out from under some wreckage the day of the IED strike on our gate. --(I remembered that; he'd mentioned it in an earlier email.)--I guess I kinda sorta talked about you a bit during tea, and H made the necklace and the bracelet for you, as a gift for saving his brother's life.
In Afghan culture, not accepting a gift is a terrible insult, so I couldn't refuse. Plus they were made with you in mind, so it seems fitting that I send them to you. I know we haven't exchanged much beyond emails, and that getting...jewlery from some guy you only spent half a day with mught possibly be unnerving. I just don't want you to feel obligated to reciprocate with gifts, just more emails, drawings, and possibly cookies/beef jerky. I really do look forward to your emails, and talking to you helps me feel normal in a place like this that is anything but.
H also assured me that if I give these to you, then you'll have to marry me, and that your father will owe me at least 50 goats. I told them it didn't work like that in America, but attempting to explain the intracacies of western dating to guys who basically traded a few walking carpets for their first wives is kinda futile.
I do however appreciate him trying to help build my goat empire. It's good to have friends everywhere.
I put on the necklace, and looked in the mirror. There was that abyss again, only I wasn't exactly on the ledge anymore. What was I feeling? I knew that I liked M, that I felt a connection with him. He was funny, intelligent, witty. I closed my eyes, trying to picture his face. Where was this going? Where was I going, for that matter? Would the chemistry between us exist outside of our weird little virtual world of emails and packages?
December, December, December. Sometimes it was coming up fast, and sometimes it couldn't come fast enough. I didn't have to worry until the leaves fell from the trees, and the trail up to the observatory was cold and foggy. I could hang here, separate and confused, for a few months yet.
August 1. Fresh off the river, renewed and giddy. Beautiful scenery, silence, bugs, freezing cold water and blazing sun. It was just how I imagined it would be, but better. The trails, as I'd suspected, were murder on me, but I did my best and by the end I felt in better shape than I'd ever been before.
Drinking and sharing meals with my father and godfather, sleeping on the ground and watching the stars. Bugs in my ears. I had just washed my hair, and it finally didn't feel like straw anymore. I had a stack of paintings and a full sketchbook, and for the first time in a few months, I felt considerably less confused with where my life was going.
I lay back in the soft bed- first time in two weeks I hadn't been covered with dirt, or watching for red ants - and I let a happy sigh escape. For all my confusion and trepidation over M, I had until December to figure out where we were, and where I was. Did I really want to keep hiking up that trail alone? Well...for now, anyway, it was probably best. But then again, there was that feeling of connection, of shared stories and secrets, that intoxicated me. I didn't want to let it go, but I couldn't let myself admit that I liked it, either.
There had been times, while looking up at the thousands of stars from the bottom of the canyon, I offhandedly wondered if M was looking at the same sky. Then I realized how many cheesy love songs --
My phone was ringing. Groaning, I heaved my lazy ass off of the soft down mattress. Whatever this was, it had better fucking be good.
A strange area code. Intrigued, I picked up the phone.
"...yes?" The voice was vaguely familiar.
"This is M. My orders got cancelled."
I sat down on the bed, staring out into the dark Arizona sky.
His voice crackles on the other end of the line, from halfway around the globe.
"I'll be home in two weeks."
To be continued...