In 1975 I put all my belongings, or most of them anyway, into and onto my '69 VW and headed for California, specifically the Bay Area. My mother's brother, Uncle Bob, had offered his spare bedroom in Sausalito and well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Just like the married woman I was involved with in Albuquerque seemed like a good idea at the time. Or maybe not an idea so much as a reaction, a reaction to hearing the words "I love you" and being glad that somebody did.
My senior year at the University had been a tough one. As a member of the gymnastic team, co-captain actually, I'd decided to heck with the coach (who I didn't get along with very well) and, knowing it was my last year, worked harder than I ever had. I was light, I was strong and it was all going my way. Then one afternoon, just at the end of a workout, I had trouble with a highbar dismount. Hmmm. That had never happened before. While the equipment was being broken down I chalked up to try it one more time. You know, get back up on that horse.
As soon as I let go of the bar I knew I was in trouble. I heard my coach shout from across the gym, "Get him!" I landed with a crash, saw a flash of light, heard all kinds of strange noises and then, for the first few moments, couldn't feel my legs. It was scary. Coach leaned over me as I started to cry, uncontrollably. "What's the matter? Does it hurt? Where does it hurt?" I couldn't tell him where it hurt. It hurt in my heart. I knew my season was over, that after four years and countless hours in his gym, putting up with him, it was over. The ambulance came and got me.
Several weeks later when my roommates were off at practice, the married woman and I began our affair. In hindsight, I could come up with all sorts of why's and wherefore's but honestly I was head over heels in love. It was the kind of love that happens and nothing else matters, no other person, no other thing. Whether it was right or wrong never entered my mind.
Early that suummer I drove by myself to California expecting, I think, to leave it all behind. I made it to my Uncle's house, a magnificent place on a hill in Sausalito over-looking the bay and Angel Island. In the sunny afternoons the fog came pouring down Hurricane Gulch, along with the smell of wild sage and I felt absolutely that I was living in a magical place. Mt. Tamalpais was a sacred wonder as I wandered its trails and its anchor, Muir Woods. I never met any trolls or Druids but I picked up at least one hitch hiker on his way up the mountain to do just that. I brought my guitar with me, usually, and played to the mountain. On one especially charged afternoon I sat in a sun-filled glade, playing and singing while two deer chewed within arm's length and listened for a good, long while.
At my sister's house in San Jose I got introduced to Constant Comment tea. She would make a pot after my brother-in-law went to work and we'd sip and talk. We might decide to get in their VW bus and take Highway 17 over the mountain to Capitola where our talking continued on the beach. Unlike now, we had no problem speaking of our family and what, exactly, it was like to grow up in a household with nine children. Of course, our sister Barbara was still alive then and our youngest sister was about ten years away from having her breakdown.
The married woman stayed married but joined me. We got an apartment with a ratty, used couch and a mattress on the floor. I was bartending in the nearby shopping center and she got a job at a lunch place. I took her up Mt. Tam and she got infected by the place, too. If you had to run away somewhere to have the life we were having, it wasn't a bad place to run to. The sun most always shone and when it didn't, the rain seemed gentle and healing. Winter wasn't anything but the promise of green and a reason to hold one another and sleep close. We had breakfast at Fred's in Sausalito and shopped the Mom and Pop stores - all gone now - in Ghirardelli Square. Every trip over the Golden Gate was the best amusement ride ever.
Sometime in the past year I saw Constant Comment on the shelf of the grocery store and brought it home. One smell and I was back in northern California, getting the fog report on the radio so that my sister and I knew when to head out for the beach. One taste and I was climbing the trail out of the parking lot of Muir Woods with my guitar in hand, playing "Country Roads" and "Four and Twenty" for any animals that would listen.
The married woman has remarried and is the mother of two lovely grown children. She's an amazing artist, having some real success with her paintings, back in Albuquerque. As I sit typing this I can look on three of her still-lifes that we have hanging in the dining room. There's a larger one in the bedroom that she sent us eighteen years ago, as a gift, when my wife and I married.
I don't live in the past but I remember it fondly and on some days I brew up a cup of Constant Comment just so that I can travel all the way there.