Jendate 31: Soul Mate

When I moved to Miami my one worry was my grandmother.

 

All three of my remaining grandparents were early into their 80’s. But Stan and Vange had scale: they had each other, as well as six kids, their six partners and ten grandkids.

 

I don’t know how many years my grandmother had lived alone. Since I could remember she’d been in the same ground-floor, two-bedroom apartment. A concrete patio grew flowers in the summer, pots in the winter. There was beige carpet. The narrow galley kitchen had a brown 1970’s range. Her walls were hung with paintings of Navajo women and a black and white photograph of a weathered fish cache, an echo of her youth.

 

When I visited my grandmother to tell her the news, my eyes filled with tears. “I’m going to miss you,” I sniffed.

 

Then, “You are my soul mate.”

 

The words came out of my mouth.

 

“You come and see me, now,” she replied. It felt like I was her long ago neighbor, popped by for a visit, not her granddaughter, definitely not her soul mate.

 

Years later it came up that Seath was her favorite grandchild. My cousin and I joked about it, but to myself I wondered how I’d been so wrong about soul mate.

 

I spend the end of August working on a pitch with New York. I’m only available for the first half of the process – the first client meeting in New York. It is the usual new business grind – lots of differing opinions and limited availabilities. The team is spread out across the country. I am grumpy with the work. I have come out of the closet to my HR director that I want to move into coaching and have started to dream about an airier existence. This work is landlocked in my old area. But it is work I know how to do and I know it’s a chance to impress the guy who runs North America.

 

Plus, there is fresh air at the end of the month. I have a vacation planned at the Oregon Coast.

 

It is hot and sticky in the City. The day of the meeting I head to the office and after two blocks feel the sheen on my forehead even though I’d chosen the shady side of the block. The meeting goes well – it is a collaborative work session asking questions of clients. When we’re done and the clients have left the building, the head of North America says, “Guys, this is the agency I want to be working at.”

 

That night I go walk in Central Park. The jacket of dark on the streets has only added to the steaminess. There is not a hint of cool. My fingers swell into hot links. Just as I’m leaving the Park, I see multiple rats run brazenly across the road, undeterred by the swarms of bikers and runners. Jaywalking New Yorkers, like any others. When I get back to my miniature climatized hotel room I’m relieved to wedge myself into the tiny shower and crawl into the cool sheets. The temperature already feels like vacation.

 

At the beach, September is the sweet edge between summer and fall.

 

I’ve had a few days to myself at the beach, mostly walking and Instagramming: the gnarled beach pines and silver-green grass; the mottled sky reflected in the glossy tidal sheen on the sand; the low afternoon light and swooping seagulls on the river.

 

Barbie and Brian join a few days later. They are quiet company: Barbie reads in her chair in the window, her head tipped forward and mouth settled into a slight purse of the lips. Brian does Sudoku, his Costco glasses edging towards the tip of his nose. I am not feeling social yet, and spend the day upstairs in my room, sitting in the window and writing. The neighbors have multiple bird feeders and the doves and jays flit in and out of the beach pines. It makes for just enough activity.

 

The only real plan for the week is a day trip to Nehalem. We’re meeting my aunt Nurse Karen to see the art studio of one of her childhood friends.

 

I’ve always loved Nehalem. A mile up the road, it’s neighbor, Manzanita, is a perfect vacation town with a gentle cascade of second homes and upscale shops and galleries. By contrast, Nehalem, feels like a town where people live, albiet only a few. It eschews the drama of the ocean for a quaint bend in the river. A handful of small buildings cling to one side of the bank, a grassy expanse opens on the other. On the hillside: a steepled white church and a sign to a public pool. The highway does a full 180 degree turn in the middle of town – not asking you to stay, exactly, but demanding respect.

 

Mary Jo’s home and studio is on the hill. Even at first glimpse from the car window, I have a surge of excitement. There is an construction area in the lower driveway full of marble chunks, drills, sanders, hoses. Female torsos emerge from the debris.

 

The house is perched at the top of a stone walk and flanked by an apple tree and a huge minty hydrangea. Her garden is a riot of pumpkins.

 

Inside, a shelf over the kitchen sink teems with saintly idols: A Mexican Day of the Dead figurine with a flat skull face and toothy grin; a carved Greek goddess with flowing robes; a primitive wood figure with a blunt nose; the Virgin de Guadalupe. Romantic reverence for the female form is tempered by a puckish sense of humor: hanging by the back door, an owl has a plastic knife for a beak; a half-finished torso wears a life jacket around her neck.

 

MJ tours us through all of the corners. Her sculptures are everywhere – on tables, in closets, enshrouded in plastic sheeting in the entry of the back house.

 

It is sweet to see Karen with MJ. They’ve known each other since grade school. Between them is an invisible shorthand, like bees buzzing around the same set of flowers. MJ calls Karen “Karinina”– a sweet, floral name for an otherwise dauntingly efficient and spunky woman.

 

As all artists do, MJ sees straight into another side of my auntie.

 

I had seen a piece by MJ in a gallery a few years ago – a round full black marble torso. We look for an equivalent. Finally, in the light from the high window of the back house, my piece emerges. She is black marble with a white vein that wraps around her backside.

 

“Is that your girl?” asks MJ.

 

I think she is.

 

MJ wraps her up in a green towel and buckles the piece into my back seat like a baby. We stand in the sun, doors to the car open. I mention that I’m adopting and MJ animates into a story about how her son was conceived.

 

“We went home that night and you know, we’re making love and he says, ‘The only thing that is missing from my life is a son.’ And here we thought he was sterile! Then I find out that I’m pregnant. You’ve just got to ask for exactly what you want from Saint Anthony and it will come to you. It’s kismet.”

 

Karen and Barbie and I laugh that she’s said kismet, and Karinina says, “That’s the baby name.”

 

“Kismet would be a great name,” says MJ, not quite in on our joke.

 

When MJ heads in I tell Karen and Barbie how inspired I’ve been by our afternoon.

 

“Maybe I should move to Nehalem and be an artist,” I muse. Karen reminds me that it hasn’t always been fun and games. There have been lean years. But my heart isn’t interested in the family pragmatism. I want to be surrounded by dusty tools and a garden thick with pumpkins.

 

I want to be enveloped in purpose and creativity.

 

It is my true drug.

 

The week, I am back to work, the North American boss is in town. He grabs me at the end of the day on a Tuesday. I’m unsure what he wants to talk about. He’s a small, trim man, quick to a white smile, his hair gelled to a shiny black lacquer. His New York hustle is palpable.

 

When I sit down, in quick order he offers me a promotion.

 

The way he positions the job is, “I don’t know if you have an extra 15 or 20 hours a week to devote to doing this.”

 

Before my brain can even engage, I thank him and politely decline. I tell him I want to do something else. I’ve gotten started with coaching on my Fridays. I don’t want to do all that travel.

 

Plus I’m waiting for this baby.  

 

It is not the answer he expects. In the corporate world, people don’t turn down promotions. But he takes it in stride and asks more about the coaching. I follow up with a note on how I could see doing that for the network, my observations on our challenges and how coaching can solve them. He says he needs time to think on it. Fair enough. So do I.

 

Later, I think of Sheryl Sandberg and her observation that women limit themselves. I have a nervous flutter that I have looked a gift horse in the mouth. But I’m reminded of another conversation where the words just spilled on their own out of my mouth. It was when I was leaving my agency in LA. “Look at all that came from that,” I remind myself.

 

My tenure as a trustee for Make A Wish finally starts. I attend my first board meeting. We are in a law office downtown, on the 26th floor. Reception has an unobstructed southern view, the glittering sound, the industrial cranes at the Port, Mt. Rainier. The conference room is all white with a huge, unmemorable painting on the wall. The tables are formed in a u shape with a lake of carpet between everyone. I try to just take it all in – what is said, how it is said. There has been a wish granted recently that is shared out on a slide show. The room gets misty-eyed. When the slides shift to another topic, many in the room, women and men alike, wipe their eyes.

 

The morning after the board meeting I fly to SF. A few of us have been loosely planning this trip for the last couple years – our mutual schedules finally conspire to make it happen.

 

We are staying in the outer Mission in an Airbnb – an apartment attached to a bigger house, no-doubt built by a tech millionaire ten or 15 years ago. Whereas the street is full of typical modest SF houses – lavender and pink stucco façades, street-level garages, bay windows overlooking the street – our place has the look of a battleship: muscular concrete construction and aggressive footprint up to the brink of the sidewalk. Inside there is a bathroom that is bigger than any of the bedrooms. A central control panel raises blinds and lowers the lighting. “You have to try the shower,” says Anna at one point. “I’ll just explain how it works.”

 

Driving through the streets of San Francisco I am reminded of a life past.

 

We go past familiar corners, haunts where in college my early set of friends, Mara, Faith and I would go to see hip hop and funk bands on the weekends. We would pack into Mara’s little blue Honda Civic and drive across the Bay Bridge. At Nikki’s BBQ in the Haight we’d shove in past the crowds and put our jackets in a corner. It was a small place with low ceilings and loud hip hop jams. I have glimmers of dancing with a hulking guy in a red and black checked shirt and a baseball cap – the height of 90’s hip hop glamor. When we finally spilled out into the cool open street, we were sweaty and tired. Inevitably young men would trickle out after Faith and her epic curves. “Yo, yo, lemme get your number,” they’d call. She would flirt coyly and throw her head back flashing white teeth. But ultimately, we’d wander back to the Civic, back to Berkeley for a slice of pizza and finally, bed.

 

There are still moments of what I have always loved about San Francisco: the funky alley with murals celebrating the Aztec tradition and a larger-than-life Cesar Chavez, fist in air. Bodegas and neighborhood bars greet the street with open windows. Inside, the flies circle and salsa music pours out into the street. At one point we stop at a piñata store –  in the window they feature a Donald Trump piñata that you can “deport” to Mexico for $45. His hair, made of fringed yellow paper, looks strikingly accurate.

 

As I stand in the open doorway of our Brutalist temple, an elderly Mexican woman shuffles by with her grocery cart in tow. She sees me standing in the doorway and asks, “Es departamento? Nunca sabia, yo.” I explain to her that yes, it’s an apartment for rent. We’re here for the weekend. When she asks me how much her face pauses to take in the number. “Ooooh, ‘ta caro.” Si, ‘ta caro. I am touched by the encounter, a sign that not everyone lives a life obsessed with stock prices, dashboard lighting and barricaded living.

 

Gradually the bodegas and pastelerias cede way to preening modern furniture and tattooed arms serving coffee. We wander into a clothing store and poke around the jewelry and racks of dresses. One of the guys who works there asks how we know each other and we all pepper in our multiple points of contact: we all worked together at the same agency, we all lived in Portland and Europe; we’ve all been on countless vacations in countless countries. We’ve all played cards together. A complex strata of emotional geology.

 

“You all seem like so much fun,” he comments.

 

“We are pretty fun,” we all say, laughing because today it is particularly true.

 

This breezy otherworld existence is jarred by a text from Seath.

 

Evie is in the hospital.

 

She’d been having headaches. Her appointment had transmuted into CAT scans and MRIs. And the possibility of a brain tumor. They would be there late, until the tests were done.

 

When I think of Evie, her tiny body and long skinny limbs dwarfed by the sleek muscularity of the CAT scan machine, I burst into tears. A flutter of women descends around me, asking if I want to go home, if I want to skip dinner. But I just need to cry a minute.

 

Dinner is a quiet affair – the restaurant is a little to glitzy for our mood. I do my best to convince them I’m OK but the second I get home I call and change my flight home for something earlier.

 

It is a small palliative balm for the evening.

 

In the morning, I see Seath has sent a text at 2am saying they’ve sent Evie home and the scans had come back clean. Still, it is a relief to get home. Seath and Carina host a casual open house for people to pop by. We sit by the outdoor fireplace and laugh in the sun while the kids run around. Evie is at top speed and completely disinterested in the adults, which I take as a good sign.

 

But the window is short-lived. Wednesday night I get a call from Seath that Evie needs to go back into the hospital at 8am the next morning. They may need some help with Edison.

 

I tell Seathy whatever they need, of course. When I call Maevey she asks for details but I tell her I didn’t ask. S&C don’t need any additional asks of them right now, even if it’s for more information. Carina texts me details about the Edison for the next day – she’s going on a field trip so I need to drop her at school by 845.

 

The next morning I meditate on giving peace and support but I’m still swallowing my own tears.

 

When I get to S&C’s they are walking out of the house. Seath and Carina are grey with a contrasting veneer of forced chipperness. Evie has crazy bedhead and scuttles to the car with sideways smile like a wild rabbit. Even on a good day she doesn’t like being the center of attention.

 

On the surface, Edison is her normal self. She is chatty and excited about her trip. Her class is going to Yakima to meet migrant workers. “Maybe you can use some of your Spanish,” I suggest. As we near the school, she realizes she’s forgotten her lunch. I wonder if it is related to the emotion of the last few days. The wrinkle is easily remedied with a quick stop lox bagel and a juice – ever the gourmet. I drop her a block from school and wave to her as she makes her way down the block. Her sweet peachy face smiles in return as she adjusts her bags onto her shoulder.

 

Evie is admitted to the hospital for three days. I text S&C that I will pick up dinner. Evie’s special request is sushi – “is that doable?” asks Seath. I Google an option close to my work and order a heaping tray.

 

At Seattle Children’s the parking is packed – everyone here for visiting hours. Seath meets me in the front of the hospital and takes the heaving sushi tray. At the check in station, they ask me if I’ve had a cough or cold in the last week. They take my ID and print off a badge.

 

As we walk Seath gives me the update on more of the medical details of Evie’s condition. They are unsure of her final diagnosis, but it seems like it is a moment in time, not something chronic.

 

Evie looks tiny in a huge hospital bed. The lighting is dim. There is a child in the other half of the room, behind the curtain. I think it’s a girl but I can’t tell.

 

Carina sets the sushi tray on the small cabinet counter. We rip open the paper chopsticks and packets of soy sauce. Eating is something familiar and normal we can all do, even if we’re all perched precariously on the guest couch next to Evie’s bed.

 

Evie seems pretty happy with her bed – she adjusts it up and down to get to the exact right spot. She’s acquired some trinkets along the way – a coloring book and a new stuffie. At intervals the nurses come in, then the doctor, a baby-faced white guy with a mop of brown hair and dated square glasses. He looks like he a South Park character. He wades in tentatively, asking about vaccines and Evie’s broader medical history. Carina is a force to be reckoned with, batting back with doctor counter knowlege like a Williams sister on the court. Still, her eyes fill with tears when they talk about the further tests and treatment for her daughter. She is going to stay the night on the couch.

 

When I get back to my car to head home I text a friend, “What a privilege it is to care for a child.”

 

The next day I leave early from work – my schedule is empty and I am hoping to give Seath and Carina a break from the hospital. Evie has requested dumplings for dinner. She is fussy, unhappy about everything, kicking her feet out from the covers. Carina asks if she wants to go for a walk – there is a level with a deck that looks out to the trees. Evie emphatically does not. Eventually she covers her head with a blanket, sulking. Then starts to fall asleep. S&C sneak out to pick up dumplings and to down two much-needed martinis. They are in better spirits today, having moved beyond ambiguity into treatment, and fast approaching the end of their stay in the hospital.

 

I marvel at the coincidence of timing with Make A Wish. It is suddenly very viscerally easy to see the need for it. Even three days, even at my limited level of exposure, I already feel the claustrophobia setting in. The hospital is impressive – the different areas named Lake and Mountains, the hallways named for Frogs or Bears, the staff trained to interact with kids on their level. But it is still not a place that can be remedied by dumplings or sushi.

 

It is still not home.

 

Winter sets in and the days are dark. I finish up a meeting and realize I’ve missed a call from Barbie.

 

It’s unusual for her to call in the middle of the work day so I fight the flicker of worry. When I listen to her voicemail my worry is confirmed. My grandmother has been admitted into the hospital. They are worried that her rattle-y lung might be pneumonia. She also has an uncategorized infection that might be sepsis.

 

I walk around the corner to the far end of the building where there’s open real estate. The walls are littered with presentations in progress – skins shed as the conversation evolved and moved forward.

 

When I call Barbie back she doesn’t have much more detail.

 

“She was really uncomfortable when we were there the other day,” she says, “Tugging at her diaper and fidgeting.” The hospital was keeping her in for 24 hours and then would know more.

 

“Well, let me know how it goes, if I should plan on coming down this weekend,” I say.

 

But there is a snow storm due tomorrow in Portland and later in the day, Seattle. And Barbie thinks she may not survive even as long as the weekend. If she goes, it will be quickly.

 

My eyes well up with tears and I’m thankful for my glasses as one of my co-workers walks by.

 

When I hang up I sit alone for a minute in the open space. It’s bright with the overhead lights, but outside the sky is already bruising to a bluish purple of night.

 

There is so much wrapped up in the potential death of my grandmother. A freeing of sorts for my parents, who have been her primary family contact since she moved into her care facility. She is also in the world of dementia, a foggy parallel universe. And she’s 92.

 

I have been reading a book Barbie gave me years ago that had been sitting in the “must read one day” pile. It is a memoir of a woman who, along with her husband, lived in the Canadian wilderness on and off from 1937-1941. They build their own log cabin, stuffing the cracks with moss. They camp out in twenty below weather. They track bear, moose and dozens of bird species. They interact with the Indians of the area who occasionally appear as they follow their trap lines.

 

This was my grandmother’s childhood: snow, sled dogs, trees and cold. And alone-ness. One of the things the author is most happy about is the preservation of their isolation. But of course, she has her partner. She has her family back east to whom she is confident they will one day return.

 

In stark contrast my grandmother’s mother died of TB when she was seven. She was sent off to live at a boarding school for Indians run by missionaries. She told me once she was married to “the first man that was nice to her,” although he soon showed his true colors as a drinker and gambler who was never home and eventually abandoned the family. As a young mother of small children in Timber, Oregon, a tiny railway town where my grandfather was stationed, no one would talk to her because she was Indian. Once my father and his siblings had grown, she lived alone for the rest of her life, with brief hiatuses when my uncle or aunt moved in temporarily.

 

Now she was in a hospital bed by herself.

 

“She always loves the hospital,” says Barbie. “Sleeping in that nice bed.”

 

“I could see that,” I say. I am seeing Evie, adjusting her bed up and down, chatting with the attending nurses that pop in at the change of a shift. An instant doting community with you at the center.

 

Maybe to be in a clean, brightly-lit hospital room, to be served food on a tray, to be the object of the efficient care of an attending nurse could be a good end.

 

And snow.  “It would just be so ironic if she did die in a snowstorm,” I observe to Maeve. “Full circle.”

 

Apparently the hospital stay is too good to depart for other existential planes. The next morning she is no worse. My parents manage to see her before the snow starts. Barbie texts me and Seath a picture: High regal cheekbones contrast with the tube up her nose.

 

“The Great One,” Seath texts back.

 

It is what she always called herself.

 

The election takes its cues from the fall – a bright optimistic start gradually dimming to grating piles of dead leaves and the graying light of winter.

 

Maevey and I are chatting on the phone a few days before the election and she quips, “this may be heresy but I’m a little curious to see what would happen in a Trump administration.” I have a feeling of a black wall coming down in front of me.

 

“It would feel like racial justice would have regressed 30 years,” I say darkly. “I just can’t feel cavalier about that outcome.”

 

Maevey apologizes that she’s ruined my day, but of course it’s not Maevey, it’s a harbinger of what could be.

 

Election day I run into a few people in the parking garage and say, “Feels like a good day for a woman to become president!” I know there are a few Trump supporters at the agency, including one tall bearded developer who wears his Trump Pence t-shirt to work. I’m catching up in the hallway with someone when he walks between us saying lightly, “Am I causing trouble here?”

 

A bunch of us are at Seath and Carina’s to watch the results come in. Lenora’s made a lasagna. There is an ongoing joke about how the men are finally going to relinquish control of the remote now that HIllary will doubtlessly win. At some point, the temperature in the room drops. We all stand staring at the TV, incredulous. Bourbon is poured. When I hug Carina on the way out, we both start crying.

 

The next day, I see the plaid flannel back of the bearded dev at work. I want to give him a sportsman-like congratulatory hug, but I can’t muster it. Later, I find out he is wearing a “Deplorables” t-shirt which makes me glad I didn’t chase him down. I organize an informal gathering of mourners in our new bar at work. People pile in and stand around. It is a funeral, tinged with fear about the future.

 

That night I come home to a demolished front porch. The rebar is exposed in a metal grid and chunks of old concrete scattered like heavy breadcrumbs.

 

My plan is to extend it, adding a layer of flagstone to match the hallway and kitchen. But the metaphor is too much to pass up and I write a long post on Instagram about how insecure it feels to everyone I had talked to today, especially my friends of color.

 

As I’m writing, I realize this insecurity is something I’ve felt before. In college, a friend and I were attacked outside People’s Park. We had had a photography date in SF together. We were in the same French class, taught by a sexy chain-smoking French woman with big eyes and a messy bob. We wandered around the Mission and took pictures. We flirted, we took the BART home and wandered back the Berkeley streets in the dark.

 

As we walked past Peoples’ Park we crossed paths with two shadowy figures. We said, “hey,” and then just as we’d moved past them one of them said, “What did you say?” in an angry tone. Suddenly I was punched in the back. The punches and kicks rained down on us. I crouched down and put my hands over my head. One of them said, “I’ve got a gun.”

 

Then, as unexpectedly as it had started, it was over.

 

Shaken, we walked home to my house and climbed into my twin bed clutching each other. I never reported the assault. I didn’t know anything about it except that I was on the receiving end and didn’t want to be in the business of misidentifying someone. For days I was bruised and sore. For weeks I was terrified of walking in the dark.

 

Z and I had texted after the election but had not seen each other in person. We meet for brunch near her house. We barely start talking before we both start to cry.

 

“Seriously, JP, I’ve lived this already. I grew up in apartheid South Africa. I’ve lived this. I’m not going to raise my son in this climate. At first, I was just devastated. Now, I’m pissed off. And anger is a very useful emotion.” She puts her finger out for a moment, a mark of defiance, before it retreats behind her ear to twist her curls.

 

The restaurant is busy and we ask the waiter to bring us more bread. When he haphazardly tosses the basket on the table, Z gives him a glare.

 

“What was that about?” she asks.

 

“I think they’re just busy,” I tell her. “I don’t think it’s a comment on us.”

 

She tells me how in the days after the election she was feeling exposed in her local grocery store, wondering if every white man there had voted for Trump.

 

“I just feel so unseen by this country,” Z says. We grip each others’ hands, and I feel the tears spring to my eyes again.

 

I think about the young white male waiter and the basket of bread. Would he have tossed it wrecklessly on the table of two white women? It was impossible to know.

 

The agency also has a new President.

 

At first I am hopeful.

 

Lonnie sends me a note saying, “Tell me your hopes and dreams about north America.” and floats a coaching option for me with a senior exec. I forward her a note that I have sent the North America CEO, describing my observations about the agency, my philosophy about coaching, concrete things I could be doing.

 

“This is helpful,” she says.

 

Still, I notice myself with the same heavy dark energy I had about the election. I don’t know if it’s a hangover from the political situation, or if it’s about work.

 

Then, the slow attrition of optimism.

 

The coaching opportunity is taken back.

 

And finally a frank exchange.

 

“What I really need is an amazing planner. And you’re an amazing planner,” she states.

 

“Yes,” I say.

 

“But I don’t think that’s the job you want to do.”

 

“Yes,” I agree.

 

She says with “strong people” – “people who are strong at their jobs,” she clarifies, “we all have insecurities” – with strong people you can just come out and say the truth, and that’s what we’re doing here.

 

She suggests connecting me with a big coaching firm, she states the reason they are good is because they use all kinds of metrics and data points – “Otherwise you don’t make any progress.” When I tell this to Suzi, she laughs, as close to a scoff as Suzi has ever uttered. “I thought you’d like that,” I tell her. I think of my own massive progress over the last seven years of coaching without a single data point or metric.

 

Lonnie and I agree that I’m going to think about what I want over Christmas break – “You gotta let me know how much of you I can have,” she says.

 

In the dark wet streets on the drive home, I have the dizzying feeling of having shown my own truth before I was really ready. Again, the memory of the moment with my boss back at Deutsch where he’d asked me to spend more time in LA and I told him I didn’t have it for him, the words tumbling out of my mouth in spite of myself. LIke a magician pulling the endless scarf, I continued to say that this was working against everything I actually wanted in my life. That as much as I was disappointing him, I was disappointing myself.

 

His wise smile.

 

I remind myself that two days later I had a call on this Seattle job.

 

It’s the evening of our Christmas party. I consider not going but I decide to go for an hour. When I get there it is more or less in full swing, except the space is so big that everyone is spread out. I say hi to some people. James comes over and gives me a hug. When I see Lonnie she is carrying someone’s baby that has come to the party. I don’t talk to her. Instead, I escape at a party low where Lonnie has taken the stage for dull speech-making that momentarily snuffs everyone’s holiday cheer. You can almost hear the groan. It is no longer a party, or a company I feel comfortable at.

 

When I walk out, snow is just starting.

 

That weekend I breathe, write and meditate my way into calm. I try and corral all the times where I’ve taken a risk and been caught by the universe: moving to Seattle, leaving Deutsch, the final conversation with Juan before initiating our divorce paperwork.

 

That night I have a dream. I’m in my old college dorm. The lighting is bluish and soothing. In one room, Juan is on the lower bed of the bunk. There is enough room for both of us. I kiss him goodnight, and leave with another, younger man. I wrap my arm around the young man’s skinny waist. I feel young and free.


We walk down the corridor to the door to a huge indoor pool. A creative director I once worked with is there and we decide to race for fun. I know I am a good swimmer. But the pool is filled with people, it is a watery version of the plaza at the arch in Mumbai – lots of Indians there with their families in big groups.


The crowd clears a narrow path in the pool. People are cheering me on. Then suddenly the swim time ends and the pool empties out. We have the pool to ourselves for the race. My younger man is there smiling in a knowing, supportive way. The pool is the perfect temp of cool. I know the swim was going to wear me out to have a good sleep that night.

 

I wake up too early, already missing the dream. The dream has put me in a good mood, made me feel optimistic about my decision. The wide open pool and soothing light. The easy confidence in my abilities. The calm support of ex husband, future partner.

 

I have one more week before I’m on vacation and it’s all I can do to hold on for it. We have an offsite at the end of the week for two days. Every day I write and meditate. Slowly I feel the anxiety dissipate. I start a website on SquareSpace. I am happy to see how easily my articles and Instagram comes together to tell a story. It is a quilt that I have already sewn the squares for. As I assemble them, I see how they perfectly fit together.

 

In this time I rapidly jot notes about what my future will be. In one note I write, “I am creating a ministry in the workplace.” I think about my job as creating a new belief system that is spiritual, not merely skills based. I see myself as a preacher, preaching for more authenticity, creativity, collaboration, self-determination.

 

At Christmas I decide to head to Portland, in part to see my aunts and uncles and cousins, but also to see the Great One.

 

Unlike my last several visits, my grandmother is alert to the point of agitation. She keeps saying, “We’ve got to get out of here,” and wanting us to meet her old IRL boss. Over the course of the hour that we’re there, she slows down a little bit. I ask her what she wants for Christmas and she says simply, “my family.” It’s the same thing I want too.

 

Besides being toothpick thin, there isn’t much evidence of her recent illness. Her skin is smooth like it always has been. I hold her hand and tuck her white hair behind her ears. She’s almost small enough to pick up in my arms like a child and cradle.

 

Brian leans in and says, “It’s good to see you,” in a loud voice so she can hear him. For two life-long adversaries, it is so sweet to see them together now. All the fight has gone out of both of them.

 

Barbie has brought her a box of candied orange slices in bright colors. She takes a pinkish red slice and nibbles on it. A bright piece of jelly falls on her lavender sweatshirt and sparkles there like a jewel.

 

I wonder about her recent connection with her old boss and job. For many months she seemed to be roaming around in her childhood. I wonder if there is a timeline to her themes, like she’s slowly coming back to modern day, reaching the full circle.

 

I have a book of pictures from my grandmother’s youth – my grandmother and a few of her friends from boarding school. In most of the photos it is summer. They are dressed in homemade calico frocks. Their black hair done in the 40’s style. They are wearing mukluks despite the summer. My grandmother was no doubt learning the Shakespeare soliloquies she used to quote to my brother and I. I can still hear her saying, “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

 

For being almost 93, it seems clearly that there was no question: Being is still the answer.

 

Christmas could not be better. I plan a lot of visits with friends – ex W+K people, Abby, my cousin’s wife who had read the blog and said, “I want to hang out with you!” Even staying at Barbie and Brian’s feels different. Because of the election, Brian has kept the TV off – he can’t stand to see Trump’s face anymore. I am struck by what a difference it makes to not have it on.

 

One evening I’m standing in the doorway, talking about my exit plan for work. Brian is sitting in the chair with his usual appendage of clipboard with today’s Sudoku printed out and clipped to it, his glasses on. He gives out a sound that is somewhere between a huff and a “sheesh” and then says, “I’m not going to say anything” which is of course saying something. I prod him and he expels, “I mean, I just don’t see how you’re thinking about leaving your job when you have this baby coming.”

 

I get choked up, but I do not take on his fear. Instead I see his worry and protection of me. Barbie stands neutrally, then when she sees me tear up comes over to give me a hug.

 

“I appreciate that you’re worried about me,” I tell him. “I’m scared too. But I’m more scared about working another 20 years in a job I don’t love than of taking a risk right now. Besides, companies aren’t safe, you don’t know what it’s like out there.”

 

“I’m 45 years old,” I tell him. “I might know a thing or two about how to make money.” It feels good to say it, like I am getting up above myself and looking down, marking the time and experience I’ve logged in over the last 20+ years of working.

 

Later, Barbie reminds me that Brian has been out of the workforce almost as long as I’ve been in it.

 

When I recount the conversation to Seath he says wryly, “Oh, you mean Brian talked to you like you were 20 years old?” We both start laughing.

 

When I tell Suzi, she observes in a magical lateral jag, “You know this means the baby is coming, because it is in your dad’s consciousness.”

 

The next morning, after what feels like a cordial avoidance of each other Brian comes over to me in the kitchen and says, “I still worry about you, you’re still my little girl,” and gives me a hug.

 

For months S&C keep asking me what I’m going to do for my birthday. It’s an iconic date this year, 1-17-17 and for a second I think I should really celebrate. But I never can gear up for a big do. Instead, I decide to go to the beach for some walking and writing and meditation. And I decide to mostly go on my own.

 

It has snowed in Portland the weekend before. As I drive down 1-5 there is a point after Olympia where the fields become powdered with white. At one stretch the sun streams through the fog and it is breathtakingly beautiful, the sparkle off the snow, the trees still cloaked in white, the fog insinuating itself in the pockets between.

 

I stop in Astoria for lunch. The snow has dissipated and Astoria is almost balmy with sea air. I situate myself at a table in the high windows at the co-operatively owned bakery. They have cloth napkins and a full bulletin board of the local goings on. There is a pile of pamphlets in Spanish advertising what to do if you’re stopped by the policia. They may have been there before the election but as I pick one up I silently thank whoever put it together, thinking of my past and current undocumented friends.

 

When I get to the house it is dark.

 

It isn’t until morning when I make it to the beach. I walk down the beach to the trail access to a state park. The sand is crunchy with the cold, easier to ascend the various dunes but more difficult to come down as the sand has less give. The park has trails that wind in amongst the beach pines. There are frozen ponds, the ice locking in bubbles. I finally emerge at the river. Seagulls float in a clump of white where the water ruffles with the tide coming in.

 

As I always do at the beach, I feel alive.

 

Barbie and Brian come down the second day. I hide out upstairs, working on the blog from my perch but I know come evening I will be happy for the company.

 

By late afternoon we are all ready to get out of the house. We stop at the gallery in town. The owner’s husband is there and no dog, so it’s not as fun as it normally is. When we’re done we pop by my uncle Matt and aunt Holly’s place, Brian having spotted their car.

 

Matt is in a new, multicolored shirt and Holly is wrapped in a bright turquoise afghan she found at a garage sale. She went fishing for steelhead the day before and says her bones haven’t warmed up. We sit in the light of their living room and chat. Matt is thinking about becoming the councilman for Pacific City. It has no representative on the county board and he’s concerned that the recent development in PC is going unchecked.

 

I start calling him the Commish (for Commissioner) and take interest that Matt, who has always struck me as a bit of a libertarian, feels compelled to be part of government. On the floor, Hope, the new puppy brought home as antidote to the election, wrestles with Tanky their full grown pit bull. Hope is skinny and black with long-limbs and a white heart on her chest, in every way the opposite to white, tan and muscle-bound Tanky. Hope tackles and tugs and nips and gnaws. I ask Holly if Tank ever puts Hope in her place. Holly says no, and points out all the places where Tanky has pink teeth marks on her belly. At one point, having had enough of the scuffle, Tank lays her huge muscled jaw on my knee. As I pet her, she closes her eyes.

 

We invite Matt and Holly to dinner at Los Caporales for my birthday. It is an unexpected treat, since I don’t spend any time with them on their own. Holly runs home because she’s forgotten a present for me – a sea urchin shell with an air plant dangling from inside. “It’s a jelly fish,” she says. I am touched by the gesture and as always, so impressed by Holly’s crafty creativity.

 

Over chips and Coronas I ask Matt to expand more on his vision for Pacific City (“It’s not a city,” he says. “What a great tagline,” I quip – ‘Pacific City – it’s not a city’.”) He talks about water and sewer, about the rights to the parking lot at Cape Kiwanda (the non-city owns the parking lot, but the state owns the beach, making charging for parking tricky.) I love hearing his vision play out – keeping Pacific City accessible for working people, checking the gentrification.

 

Holly perks up and says, “What’s your new thing? I want to hear.”

 

So I start talking about what work is like now: How in the recession, there was increased emphasis on productivity – fewer people in the workforce, doing all of that work that everyone else who was no longer working used to do. Then, as the workforce rebounded, that productivity culture remained. We became tied to the idea that our only value at work is in this hyperproductivity. But you can never make it through your to-do list, so the endeavor is soulless.

 

“People have forgotten WHO they are in the context of work. They have forgotten that they can figure out what is in it for them, what they want to create – that is where real meaning comes from.”

 

Holly is filling in my sentences, tracking along with the mission around creativity and authenticity mission.

 

When I finally pause, Matt says, “Sounds like important work.”

 

“And it’s work I’ve been doing for 20 years, I’ve just been doing it for brands instead of people.”

 

Brian, a slow convert comments, “Now THAT is something you should tell people.”

 

Carina organizes us to go to the Women’s March. We meet at S&C’s in the morning. Ben and Lenora, fresh off the MLK march with the kids roll in with expertly made signs. Evie has made a sign that says “Girls are future.” I make her hold it up and take a picture with it.  We troop with the kids down to the busline. The stop is packed for a Saturday. I chat with a couple from Tacoma who are waiting with their girls. “We’re in her charge,” I say pointing to Carina. “She’s a doctor, but I think her true calling is tourguide.” The woman says, “You know, I don’t know her but I totally trust her,” and we both laugh. It takes only as long as the bus ride to start plying the kids with snacks. Evie comes and takes my hand and we trudge up the hill merging with the swarms of people already congregated.

 

The hill of the park is a glut of people. There are some amazing signs on display, my favorite of which is “Too much injustice for one fucking sign.” I snap pictures and text back and forth with Z who I’m hoping to run into despite the insanity. The weather is uncertain which side it wants to take. After some minor spitting the sun comes out.

 

After over an hour we finally make it out of the park and wind through the neighborhood. At an upstairs window a woman has arranged her speakers to point out to the street. She dances with her drink in a plastic cup and occasionally shouts out something that causes the crowd to erupt in cheers. On our side of the street, an older woman waves from a low window.

 

I wave back and call to her, “Thanks for sharing your sidewalk with us today!” She raises a supportive fist.

 

There is a moment where we open up onto Jackson, a straightaway down to the water and we can see the masses of people stretched out in front of us. My eyes get teary at this, the throng of humanity there in support of common values.

 

The highlight is when there is a log jam in the march progress and a disembodied voice on the loud speaker asks for patience. She then points out two eagles floating overhead. “They’ve been following the march!” says the voice. The crowd explodes into cheers.

 

The next day another pair of eagles is at the lake.  One dive-bombs a raft of ducks in the water. The action is so close to the shore it feels like I could wade out into the middle. The eagle flaps its huge wings and dives in to separate the group, resumes a hover and dives in again. The ducks scatter to avoid but remain close. On the third dive some real space is made and the prey is exposed. The eagle swoops in and takes the straggler in its talons and flies out into the lake. Suddenly a second eagle appears. While the first eagle drops the duck and returns to a perch, the second eagle takes over, picking up the duck from the water and dropping it again into the lake, then resting over it almost like a water bird. Finally, the eagle flies off with its catch down the lake and the second eagle follows.

 

There are three humans standing witness to this beautiful and horrible act. One says, “Wow that was the most brutal thing I’ve seen in a long time.” He’s been filming with his camera.

 

“I’ve never seen them hunt together,” I remark.

 

The third human, a runner in a bright green shirt agrees. “Eagles are monogamous, I think,” he says.

 

I can’t help but think of the march. I feel energized about the future.  

 

Lenora has a close friend who is dying. She is our age. It’s been less than a year since her cancer diagnosis, and it comes downs to this week for the end. My phone buzzes with a series of texts, updates from Lenora on her condition and then the resounding words and emoji hearts sent in support.

 

By Friday she still has not passed, hanging on despite her dismal vitals. I text Carina to see if they have dinner plans and she says that Lenora and Ben are coming over with the kids. “We’re thinking something boisterous,” says Carina. “You in?”

 

I am in.

 

When I get there Lenora is in a multi-colored dress and black tights, in contrast to the bedside vigil she’s been holding. We debate on options: BBQ? Indian?

 

“I want urban,” states Lenora. “People. Energy.”

 

We decide to take the light rail to Capitol Hill and take our chances on a dinner place.

 

The train is busy. As we congregate in the middle and eye our options for seats, a young white guy with a beard comes over and says we may want to avoid one side of the train, there’s a drunk guy spewing language inappropriate for the kids.

 

We’re not sure what way we’re supposed to go to avoid said distraction so we scatter across the length of the car. I sit in the middle next to Seath. At one point a woman and her husband get on with rolling carts full of groceries and I pull Seath over and motion to her that there are seats for herself and her “friend.”

 

“We’ll squish up, we’re siblings so we’re OK with it.”

 

She chuckles gently at “friend.” “Friend. Husband,” she clarifies.

 

“He looks friendly,” I say with a smile to him. He wont take the seat but she does. She has a kind face that has something soulful to it. Her skin is dark with a purple-ish undertone.

 

“Gotta have a seat on a Friday,” I say. “Long week.”

 

Over by Ben and Lenora, voices are raised. Two men are arguing about something. I see Edison and Delilah in a seat together, Edison’s head tilted slightly in confusion, her cheeks splotchy. Ben stands up, a head taller than the man in the aisle. It’s hard to tell what’s happening until one of rabble rousers throws a punch. It’s a slow punch, but a punch nonetheless. The other man retaliates. Ben inserts himself and with the calm of a bouncer and pulls one guy off the other. Seath stands up and heads in. Lenora calls out to the girls to stay in their seat since the aisle is where the fracas is happening.

 

The train stops and a large man with a white beard and a blue and green blanket wrapped over his shoulders says, “You! Off the train!” Ben shoves him down the aisle and I can see the man is cut under his left eye. Two men in security uniforms board the train and escort both men off. I am relieved they are men of color and calm. A man in a wheelchair boards on the other side and Seath and I have to move. I put my hand on the shoulder of the grocery shopper asking if she’s OK. We move to another bench and sit beside each other. Seath heads up front with Carina and the girls.

 

“So many people living such hard lives,” I say to the grocery shopper, my eyes filling with tears.

 

She asks me if the kids are mine and I explain what’s happening, Lenora’s vigil, the boisterous night out. “I don’t think this is exactly what we had in mind,” I joke.

 

She and her “friend” are new arrivals from Cincinnati. Her husband has been transferred for his job with Delta Airlines. They’re both in Delta sweatshirts. I tell her about my many trips to Minneapolis, and how well I know that Delta flight. She says she likes Seattle but that people aren’t very friendly. “You’re the first friendly person I’ve met,” she says. I tell her my strategy, that I just barrel on through with people.

 

When she gets up to exit, she asks my name and if I’m on Facebook. I wave them out and then head to sit with Ben and Lenora.

 

“So sad, how that fight started two years ago when that guy became homeless,” I say. “Or ten years ago.” I’m thinking of the political situation, I’m thinking of the rising homeless rate in Seattle, I’m thinking about the pain and frustration of being an economically-challenged black man in America.

 

Rocco is distraught because the guy called Lenora a “white-ass bitch.” Lenora in full witty genius tips her head and scrunches up her nose to say, “…Which is kinda true,” and we all erupt in laughter.

 

Later I think about how the fight served to draw a line between the emotion of before, the emotion of the vigil, and the emotion of now. We are bonded together by the moment. When we exit, Carina is her smiley self except for having to pee. I link with Edison’s arm and ask if she’s OK. “It’s strange to see a fight, isn’t it?” I ask. “Not like the movies at all.”

 

Though it’s Friday night and we are 9, we’re seated almost immediately at Oddfellows. We order deviled eggs and fries. The kids get blackberry sodas with pink and white striped straws. By the time we’re ready for dessert Rocco and Evie want to get out, so I take them to run on the street and then into the book store. Then we pick up Edison and Delilah and I take them next door for ice cream, leaving the parents to order more drinks and dessert. Ben waves cash at me but I deflect, saying, “Let their auntie buy them ice cream.” It is as much a treat for me as the kids, their excitement and thank you’s filling the night air as we turn the corner.

 

It is busy in Molly Moon’s with a line to the door. Edison and D stand shoulder to shoulder and talk with their heads turned towards each other, tall and still like adult women. Evie and Rocco race to the little low window that peeks back into the kitchen where the vats of ice cream are being churned. They are still puppies, unable to contain their energy.

 

Our ice cream scooper’s name is Cheyenne and his apron is tacked with a button that says he/she/they. He has a beautiful long face and square jaw and bare muscular arms that seem somehow at odds with ice cream. He/she/they fills three of the kids’ orders and then say, “Well, that will do!” despite Edison not having ordered. Seeing her confused face he issues a peal of high-pitched laughter and says, “Just kidding!” and takes Edison’s order last.

 

We take scoops back to the table where the adults are eating flourless chocolate cake and lemon tart. They pass plates to me as if I’ve been in a war zone, deprived of all comfort or sustenance. We walk back through the park and the kids run across the dark field playing a loose form of tag and grabbing parents as base.

 

The next day, Lenora’s friend dies. Lenora sends a beautiful group text that makes me tear up for her. I have met her friend a few times over the years, the last time at her birthday where she had what I can only describe as an angelic glow as she came into the dark back room of the bar we were at.

 

My conscious uncoupling with work continues in a swirl of confusion and anxiety. When I come back after the break with a proposal for my exit, Lonnie asks me to stay longer. I feel neutral about this – I’m not on a timeline, and frankly I’m still wrestling with my own fears about leaving.

 

Plus, I am trying to figure her out. She is a woman of formidable energy and experience. But she is not without her own insecurities. In a moment in front of the agency she talks about creating a protective symbol with her fingers before her speech. I find it interesting that the optics could be read that she is looking to be protected from her own staff. She starts out in a big open space instead of an office but eventually retreats to an appropriated conference room at the far side of the agency removed from the fray. Slowly, I come to terms with the idea that even if I wasn’t leaving, I may be looking for a job.

 

Our interactions trend towards her lecturing me. At one point she informs me that there are people who are “trained” to moderate focus groups – that we can hire for money. Then she goes on to say that she is so trained, and that I “might be as well,” she didn’t know.

 

It is a bizarre recounting of the obvious. I find myself confused for a moment, wondering if I’m misunderstanding her, trying in vain to find a message in there. I realize there is no room for collaboration around ideas. She needs an executor of her ideas.

 

The rest of the day I feel an airless deflation in my chest. I try to breathe deep but it doesn’t help me expand the feeling. It is the darkness, the same darkness I felt on that day before election day.

 

What is clear is that Lonnie doesn’t get who I am: That I am skilled, good at what I do, and valuable to the agency. It itches like a mosquito bite, throbbing away no matter how much I try not to scratch. In hindsight, however, I think she did get exactly who I am – unsure about her vision of the agency.

 

Through my break up angst, Maevey texts me an Instagram photo of Barack and Michelle Obama, jet-skiing with Richard Branson at his private island. “Dude, the jet skis. You’re on your way.”

 

I start to wonder if I can make it the six months she’s suggested.

 

“It’s really hard if you and the CEO don’t get along,” says my New York equivalent who has stepped into the North America job. “It just makes things impossible.” I can see he is all in, energized and motivated in a way I am not. He spent 5 years out on his own and has a fearlessness about him that I like.

 

He makes me realize how much I am hanging onto something wrong.

 

I have a moment where I realize everything is up in the air – my work, the adoption, my future man. A dog! So many placeholders. I tell Suzi I feel like I’m in limbo, but then I realize that the place in between is where everything happens. “Yes,” says Suzi, “The invisible world is so active.”

 

The next morning I am walking at the lake. It is cool and grey out but I am too lost in my thoughts to worry about the weather. Then I have a thought about myself: that I cannot fit in the box Lonnie is trying to put me in. I am a visionary, not an executor. Immediately I feel my lungs fill up with air. It is an expansion beyond the walls of the agency, beyond the current confines of the role I’ve been playing. It is literally beyond.

 

And of course, the wide wingspan of an eagle swoops in front of me.

 

My last few weeks of full-time work my schedule fills in with people wanting to do whiteboarding sessions at work.  

 

Multiple people tell me their sessions “changed their lives.”

 

Someone sends me a bouquet of flowers in thanks.

 

I feel more sure of myself. I clean out my desk and head out for vacation before coming back to a new, diminished capacity at the agency.

 

I transform my painting studio into a whiteboard room at my house. I move my heavy easel with its half finished painting into the laundry room, taking apart the pieces that prevent it from fitting through the door. I buy large easel sheets of paper and cover the wall with them. I take large black bowl from upstairs and fill it with colorful Sharpies like candy. I put a bud vase of flowers, a sand dollar, a sage smudge on the table. People come on Sundays for sessions. Friends from work. My architect. I scribble on the wall.

 

I do a Mindfulness session for the staff of Make A Wish. When I finish, I think with excited satisfaction, “My work can always feel this way.”

Out of the blue, Juan calls. “I need some advice on work and unfortunately you are one of the smartest people I know.” We catch up on life first. He is living in Venice in a little house with his baby boy and his girlfriend. He shares a nanny with another friend from work. He says “we.”

 

When he launches into his work problem, it is beautifully mundane. I give him three thoughts, of which he likes two. I don’t hear how it all goes. I note, this is a mirror of my transformation.

 

There are still ambient doubts that nick. Seath surprises me with a skeptical remark that “Now you’ll just have to see if people will pay for your coaching.”

 

It is Carina that gives me the biggest gift: “You will really have your dream job,” she says.

 

Something about these words stick in a way I had never considered before.

 

In my definition I’d been wandering out on my own into the wilderness, like the book I’d been reading. I’d been seeing the effort of building my own log cabin, hauling water, chopping wood. Instead with these words from Carina, I realized this is the work I want to do. It was not work on the way of something.

 

It was a new way to live, an alternate existence.

 

Nurse Karen who has just retired observes, “You’re actually retiring too, retiring from the corporate world.”

 

The first week I’m in my new, tapered schedule I get a call for a freelance project with my old agency.

 

I meet Celine, my adoption counselor, at a café to check in. I give her a heads-up about my work transition. For now, I still have consistent employment so don’t need to change anything.

 

She has some ideas about loosening up on some of the specs for my adoption. Some of the places where I’ve drawn lines on medication might rule out relatively minor things – Ritalin use, e.g. My adoption agency holds seminars on a monthly basis and I tell Celine that I keep trying to attend one but can never make the schedule works. She gives me the next few dates and I put them on my calendar. They are conveniently right by my house.

 

It is a small group of attendees with a lot of food. There is a crock pot of slow-cooked pork and another of mac n’ cheese, sodas, cookies, fruit. I marvel at the people who have whipped up something for an event at 630 on a Thursday night. I have only managed to bring myself.

 

We’re supposed to tune into a seminar put on by an adoption and child support organization in Chicago but we can’t get the technology to work. The counselor who is there reminds me of Celine – white, thin, brunette, earthy. There are three couples there besides me. One is foreign – maybe Eastern European of some sort. Another sits by me, which makes me both happy and uncomfortable. She is very excited about the mac n’ cheese and keeps talking about it. The final couple is a slightly jittery, bobbing in their seats. The counselor starts going through the notes she has from the day – there are books and movies that are suggested resources on a variety of topics. The jittery couple chimes in on every section with what they’re reading from that topic area.

 

At one point I exclaim, “Wow, you guys are serious readers!”

 

“We’re just nerds,” she says.

 

I ask them how long they’ve been in the pool. “Only two weeks,” she says.

 

I have a momentary passing judgement on myself for all the books I haven’t been reading. But then I catch myself and get back on the rails – my way of being in this is to actually BE – to meditate, write – not do. I share this story with Jess, my adoption mentor. She suggests I write letters to Kismet.

 

It is finally spring, and my yard fills with rabbits. I wonder if this is a fertility sign and watch with amusement as the mother and baby hop around the back yard. I email about a dog that Lacey, my old dog walker has found online. His profile is “house-trained couch potato.” “He looks perfect!” says Nurse Karen. He looks like Tanky. After a week of not hearing back, I call the agency. She says they emailed me back, but the dog is now gone. Not meant to be, I guess.

 

The week after I put up my website I get an email from someone who has found me on LinkedIn. She is interested in a career shift – moving from accounting into creative strategy. We meet for a coffee.

 

I am surprised taking her in that she worked in such a staid profession. Mona is young and pretty with fresh red lipstick – agency ready from outward appearance.

 

When we get talking though, I hear her inner excel spreadsheets come out. I can feel how her creative energy is trapped. She has done some coaching before and we look at the pieces she’s put together – a statement of purpose for her LinkedIn. When I ask her to read it she takes in a big sigh before she starts, like she’s gearing up for something intense.

 

“Let me just reflect something back to you,” I say. “I’m not sure if you were excited about any of that.”

 

She starts to defend it, and I ask her, “What’s your favorite part?”

 

She reads me a single line, buried in the middle of the paragraph.

 

“I love that,” I tell her. “And you light up when you talk about that line. What’s the rest of this for though, if that line is the only thing you care about?”

 

I can see her unfolding her thought process, like she’s a crumpled piece of paper that is filling back out it’s tight creases.

 

I tell her I think her biggest challenge isn’t connecting into more people, or getting more resumes out, it is becoming a creative thinker. I give her an example of what I mean – a call I’d done with another woman, a similar type actually – who wanted to get into more creative strategy. “We talked for 30 minutes and there was no soul in anything she said, even her questions. All I could feel was her duty. Then I asked her to talk about something she loved. She told me this great story about becoming a triathlete. Within the story there was one thing that I thought, “Aha, that’s interesting.” I pulled it out and told her, ‘This is what you need to be more in. Lead with your creativity.’” I can see Mona’s face, her red lips slightly open, but her expression is inscrutable.

 

Even when she says she’d like to move forward and do a whiteboard session, I can’t feel her interest.

 

Still, I am excited. I can exactly see how to help her.

 

Mona inspires me to recreate my studio. I’ve moved out my painting easel and half-finished canvas. I go to City People’s and buy a large jade plant and beautiful pot that I set in the window. I take a bowl of red tulips from upstairs and set it on the table. I order a fluffy white rug and pillows. I smudge the space and meditate downstairs one morning, filling it with positive energy.

 

The morning of her session I am downstairs, prepping things in the studio. I decide to burn a pine-scented candle in the room. I jog upstairs and pull it down from its niche in the fireplace and there is a white flash as a piece of paper flutters down to the floor. It is a drawing I did as a young child for my grandma Vangie that says “Happy Mother’s Day.” When my grandma was still alive she told me once she wanted me to write her letters and leave them on the mantle when she was dead. When my aunt gave me the drawing, I folded it up and put it up there, as a memory of my grandma.

 

I stand for a minute holding the paper, knowing that Vangie is there with me. Vangie who raised six kids, who loved the piano and art and Ella Fitzgerald. Vangie who loved red lipstick. I stand in my living room and cry for a few minutes, sad to have lost her, happy to have refound her in this inaugural moment.

 

Mona comes and we spend two hours on her session. The wall is filled with observations about where she is wants to expand, where she has created limits. When we take our tea mugs upstairs I tell her about my grandma being there. She puts her hand to her heart and says, “I’m so honored.”

 

I am touched that she gets it.

 

I’m on a work trip for the freelance project when I finally write my potential baby a letter:

 

“Dear Kismet:

 

I am caught right now between wanting and trying to be at peace if you never find me. I can see us standing at the window, standing on the deck that hasn’t yet been built. I can see you being held by your adoptive father. He is pointing out to the lake, maybe at one of the many birds that fly over the water. I see your fat dimpled hand and tiny finger point too.

 

One of the things I’m learning right now is how to be outside the corporate world. I’m tapering down on my job, I’ve taken on some freelance advertising work and have had one coaching client. Of course, the coaching is what I really want to be growing. I’m trying to invite space for it to become. Suzi said once that I was having twins – you and my book, although I could consider my new practice in the same way. I can feel in my heart how great it will be when it’s bigger and taking up all of my work time. The meaningful relationships that are built, the conversations that are shared are filling and not depleting.

 

The reason this all pertains to you is that I am building freedom into my life. I am trying to attract money. I am doing what I love and what my gift is to the world. And allowing these two things to be – to channel these two things, work and money, is allowing me time with you. I am trying to be in receipt of gifts from the universe, and that includes you.

 

Even writing this letter I can’t help but cry a little as I type. I feel a pang for you in my heart. I am knowing that all this time that you are not here yet is time for me to be learning something about myself.

 

I’m trying to hear all the lessons.”

 

Those balmy early days start to wane into a nagging, low-level anxiety. I feel like I’m constantly scraping together work in order to meet my 20 hour/week obligation at the agency. My new coaching business has stalled out. Mona hasn’t called back, nor have any of my early leads turned into anything. My freelance project starts with a lovefest and dims to a quagmire of frustration and one client saying she doubted my “strategic chops.”

 

Maevey supportively says, “Oh dude, there is no taking away the Jen magic.”

 

I have a memory of those days of the Make-A-Wish brainstorm and my first session with Mona, like a long-past vacation where I’m still trying to conjure up the feeling of the sun on my face.

 

My Friday night is co-opted by my freelance project. I feel deflated by the commentary from the client and the increased body count on the project – more voices, more opinions. I fall asleep watching the new season of House of Cards. I wake up at 3am and it has run through a few episodes and then paused itself. The dark, dastardly plot taints the air in my room. My head aches.

 

When I finally make it out of bed, there are texts and emails about what needs to happen on the freelance project. I text back that I want to go for a walk and meditate. Then I’ll be ready to get back in the slog.

 

On my walk I have a low of loneliness. Maevey, my usual go-to is sick with a stomach bug and not answering her phone. It is a grey cool morning, like the weather is still asleep too. I listen to my vision statement over and over.

 

I start to perk up when I see Carina running toward of me, cheered by the sheer joy of running apparent on her pink face. Roxie grins and wags her tail, also excited by the encounter. Then I get a text from Maeve. It is doom and gloom about her stomach bug, but still I am cheered. I realize the universe is sending me a wink about my support. Later, when I set up shop at a cafe to finish up the work, the slog is gone. I reframe the barrage of comments as a learning opportunity rather than a way to self-flagellate.

 

I think of one of Poorna’s friends who said to me that getting on stage was easy because everyone in the audience just wants you to succeed. Two girls ride by on pink bikes. One has a handful of large black feathers tied to her bike, as if it were a totem.

 

I breathe in and try to see this moment through that same lens, stepping onto the stage, the universe wanting me to succeed.

 

I pull the plug on my freelance project. It’s time for me to move on. We end on a good meeting, flying in on Sunday and meeting on Monday. As an additional boon, my critic on the client side does not attend. Afterwards, we sit at a cheesy bar at the airport, drinking beers and eating fried pickles. It feels anticlimactic as an end, maybe because it isn’t one for them, it only is for me.

 

My only thought is to go to Portland to see my grandmother.

 

I arrive just after lunch. When I get there, my parents are with her in the living room. It’s a minty green with a tall glass case of porcelain figurines in one corner. My grandmother is tiny, her cheekbones jutting out of her face and twig legs swimming in green corduroy. Her irises are ringed with blue cataracts. I take her hand and it is cold. She’s not quite coherent today. Barbie says she was just starting to doze after lunch when they got there.

 

She mumbles along, nearly at a whisper. There’s no thread to follow, so I smooth her white hair back behind her ear and rub her scalp. Her eyes get heavy for a moment. I think about how many days I’ve gone through the last seven years with no hug, no physical contact and then see my grandmother through this same lens – not just now, her back obscured by her wheelchair, but years and years before where she lived on her own, tending a few geraniums and marigolds on her front patio and puttering around her apartment. And the years as a child in Indian boarding school.

 

She’s still talking a bit with Barbie interjecting here and there. Once in a while some of her signature expressions slip in, an “Oh god!” and a chuckle. I think about Poorna and how it is to see her act – there are trace elements of the person I know, but it’s encased in something altogether different.

 

I decide to abandon the conversation and fully commit to the massage, standing up behind her wheelchair and seeing her pink scalp peek through her white hair, still thick at the back. At one point I lean down and kiss her cheek over and over like I would a baby and she says, “Oh that feels good” and then, “It burns.” Just like Loli who would let me kiss him, his mouth and floppy ears and then would get up and shake it off.

 

I meander my way home through the east side of Portland, driving through old neighborhoods and seeing how the city has changed. I’m listening to Fresh Air – Terri Gross is interviewing Sherman Alexi on his new book about growing up on the reservation. At one point he says that his mother never told him she loved him – that he couldn’t think of one time when she hugged him. And now how he showers his own sons with affection.

 

Then he says he sometimes wishes he could go back and be the parent his mom deserved, an adoring parent, and give her all the love she should have had.

 

The tears stream down my face as I think of my grandmother, essentially an orphan who was never adored as she should have been. How she passed this down to my father, who was never adored as he should have been.

 

How like Sherman Alexi, my dad adored his own children.

 

I have a clear vision of why I am meant to adopt: To heal this cycle within my own family.

 

It’s like a bleed of color, from lighter to darker to the fullest saturation where the color is complete.

 

This is why I called my grandmother my soul mate: I am tied to her soul’s journey.

 

I am sobbing as I drive. It is a particular kind of release, one that evokes another bout of sobbing, the time I drove back from Sedona.

 

I didn’t know it then, but it was the winter I would decide to move to Seattle. The divorce paperwork had been submitted. I had told my family I wasn’t coming home for the holidays. I booked a beautiful room on a creek with a luxe four poster bed and a fireplace. I thought I would spent my week journaling and doing inner work. Instead, I hiked, I read People magazine in the tub and ate Chinese food.

 

I drove back to LA on December 26, leaving early in the morning. It had snowed and as I followed the road along a creek to Flagstaff and the trees were dusted white. When I hit the Interstate, the roads were empty, everyone still asleep from their holiday revelling. At a point in the road I could see the straight clear path open, the high desert hills ceding way to the flat road. In that moment I had a flood of ahas about my divorce, truths about myself that were finally ready to come out – how I’d let myself be displaced and devalued. How I was going to be OK without my life before. I was crying so hard I had a pragmatic thought that I should pull over, but the road was silent. It was just me. I remember thinking it was like being reborn, that road was a transition from one world to another, the tears, the clear, inevitable canal leading to my future.

 

Two weeks later, I found my Seattle house online.

 

Here, winding through the back roads to my parents house is a parallel moment, the swarm of insight settling into a clear inexorable picture for myself. This is a birth, I think through my tears.

This is a birth.

 

Two weeks later it is a Tuesday, like any other Tuesday.

 

I’m at Starbucks writing the blog, writing the very words in the paragraph above -writing “this is a birth” – when I get an email from my adoption counselor.

 

There is a last-minute placement happening. They are inducing the birth mother today. She needs a yes or no within the hour if I want to be part of the pool for this baby. My heart flutters for a minute.

 

I’ve gotten other emails of this kind over the last year and a half. A month back I had passed on a similar email. It sat in my inbox for days and just never spoke to me. I had emailed the agency back past the three day deadline and said I was going to pass on it.

 

But here, my heart flutters.

 

I text Carina. There are some medical questions I want some advice on if I can get it within the time parameters. The birth mom only just found out she was pregnant, near full term. She reported occasional drinking and cocaine use over the course of the pregnancy.

 

Though it is Tuesday afternoon, by a stroke of luck, Carina is free. I send her the email and we go through it. “There’s nothing in here that I’m worried about,” she says confidently as Dr. Carina.

 

Then, as my sister-in-law she says, “Oh my god, what if this is IT?”

 

Heart flutters.

 

We hang up. I email my counselor saying “Yes. IN.” It is 2:22.

 

I get a text from Carina saying: “Today’s date, all 1’s and 7’s!”

 

I think, this is a sign. There is no way this is not happening.

 

This is happening.

 

C asks if she can tell Seath (of course!) and then she says, “Let’s get some work up on this.”

 

YES. IN.

 

I text a bunch of people asking them to hold space for this baby.

 

Among the many responses I get are Amy telling me that she and the girls had done a visioning that past weekend, thinking “it was time for this baby.” Neha reminds me she had a dream with me and a baby that past week. I get hearts and pregnant women emoji’s. Ashley says, “C’mon little Crab!”

 

I never run into Jill, but I catch her in the Starbucks parking lot, along with her son. I flag her down, an anchor as I settle into the jitters about the email.

 

When I talk to Maevey she says, “Dude, how are you going to handle the disappointment if it doesn’t happen?”

 

I think for a second. “I don’t think I’ll be disappointed. Then it wasn’t meant to be,” I say.

 

The girls are out of town at Barbie and Brian’s house and Seath texts me do I want to join him and Carina for dinner at la Medusa. I do. I’m all buzzy inside and need a drink. I feel calmed by being with my beloved family. We eat pasta. Carina talks for 20 minutes about how cute babies are with hair and she hopes the baby has hair. Seath has to cut her off with an, “OK, OK, that’s enough.” Carina only smiles her twinkly smile.

The next morning I walk at Seward Park. As I leave the trail and exit the park, my grandpa’s car, a 1968 blue El Camino is parked at the mouth of the park. I take a picture and post on Instagram, “Hey Kinnes, Stan is at Seward Park.”

 

Part of my day is spent at the doctor’s – I have to renew my health certification for the adoption. It’s the last piece – I’ve already redone my fingerprints and other details. My doctor comes in and says, “I felt kind of bad having you come in for a paperwork visit but I was excited to see you!” She is a lovely earthy woman who I’d love to be friends with were she not my doctor. I tell her about the email and that my sister-in-law and I are excited and let’s see what happens.

 

“You’ll have to let me know,” she says with a smile. She says they’ll fax the form to the agency.

 

After the appointment, I’m on Beacon Hill so I park myself at Victrola rather than go home. I get an iced chocolate hemp milk and spend 20 minutes on the blog. Then I have a work call at 530. I move my things out front. There are a few cafe tables on the street that I park myself at.

 

As I’m on my work call, Celine’s name pops up on my phone. For a second I’m confused, thinking I’ve somehow dialed her accidently since the email has been on my mind. They train you to expect a call from an unknown number when you get “the call” so I know it’s not that. I decline the call, and am texting her “Sorry, didn’t mean to call you” when she calls back.

 

I ask my co-worker to hold a minute and click over.

 

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to call you!” I say to her in a cheery rush, thinking I’ll pop back to my other call.

 

“No Jen, I’m calling YOU,” she says.

 

Heart flutter.

 

I am in a state of complete confusion. Celine’s tone is neutral. There is nothing to belie that there might be something ecstatic in the information she transmits. In her calm tone says the birth mom wants to meet me. The baby is a boy. Born that afternoon at 2:29.

 

Later I realize it one day and seven minutes from when I sent my email.

 

It is one month to the day since I quit my freelance project.

 

He is seven pounds.

 

Ones and sevens.

 

The mother is Mexican, the father is white. She chose me because she connected with a part of my letter that said I was from a big Catholic family. She is also from a big Catholic family. I immediately think of my grandpa’s car. Thank you Stan, thank you thank you.

 

There are some additional medical things to consider – i should take my time and think about it.

 

My brain and heart are flooded with exclamation points.

 

I ask her to hold on – I still have work on the other line. I click over and say, “I can’t talk, they’re calling me about the baby!”

 

When I click back I say slowly, “Celine, i need you to be really clear with me, are you saying I’m picking up a baby tomorrow?”

 

“You’d better get a car seat,” answers Celine.

 

Finally, I can hear her smile.

 

The rush hour traffic is clogging up the street in front of me. I am reeling with the news and can’t stop crying and laughing at the same time. I definitely am not safe to drive.

 

Instead, I pile into my car and turn on the air conditioning and call Seath with the news.

 

“Oh my god,” he says. “Congratulations – hey, I’m just getting on the light rail, I will call you when I get home.”

 

But when I call Carina next, she is right there with me. We both just laugh and cry and say “Oh my god” and “I can’t believe it” over and over.

 

I call my parents. I call Suzi and Maevey but neither pick up.

 

I call Z and she says, “JP, you have a baby!” about a hundred times. Words can’t match the emotion.

 

While I’m on the phone with Z, I stop and roll down my window to give a man asking for change a $20.

 

“Wow, really?” he says, registering the amount.

 

“I just found out I’m adopting a baby tomorrow!” I tell him.

 

“Now you’ve got me crying,” he says.

 

“What’s your name? I need boys names,” I ask him.

 

“Boomer,” he says. And then he corrects, “Thomas Alan, that’s my real name,” as if Boomer weren’t shiny enough for a new baby boy, as if this occasion pulled him back from his street persona to who he really was for just a minute. We both wipe our eyes. He is the first person I tell in person.

 

When I finally get to Seath and Carina’s, Jill calls as I’m parking. “Can I call you back,” I say, seeing Carina coming out to meet me. “I’m sorry but no!” Jill insists. I have to laugh. I give her the quick story. C meets me in the driveway with teary eyes and a squeeze. I can only sob into her shoulder. Seath meets me with a Paloma. We sit out in the shade of their patio and sip our drinks. There never was a more important time for tequila, to celebrate a brand new Mexican baby boy.

 

Then we go to Target.

 

I am lost, standing in the aisles as Carina picks things off the shelf. Seath pushes the two carts and provides comic relief, holding up Boudreaux’s Butt Cream and asking if we need it. We ask a woman to help us with a car seat. We tell her the story and she says she was a labor and delivery nurse for many years.

 

“Now I’m crying!” she says, and rubs my arm. Her last name is Love.

 

On the way back I am telling S&C that one of the reasons the birth mom picked me is that we come from a big Catholic family. “That’s why I saw Stan’s car, he’s the Catholic patriarch.” Then I muse, “Now I just need a sign from Vange.”

 

We eat Vietnamese at our normal place but to add to my existential confusion, it’s been taken over by new owners and had a paint job. The ordinary now looks completely different.

 

We eat egg rolls and discuss the middle name. I had been wanting a name in honor of my grandmother, the orphan, my soul mate, and was thinking of Turner, her father’s last name. When we text Barbie, she comes back with another option: Cutter. “Turner was her father’s last name but she didn’t take it until she was 18. And she’s kind of mad at the Turners right now,” comments Barbie. Cutter was my grandmother’s mother’s last name.

 

“Even better,” I text Barbie. A name from when a little Indian girl named Priscilla was still adored.

 

Thursday morning, I wake in the liminal grey of pre-dawn and head down to the lake. I haven’t gotten much sleep. It feels calming to be out in the fresh air and quiet. At one point a log on a small pebbly beach catches my eye. It looks remarkably like an owl. I walk past it, then turn back, wanting to get a better look.

 

The log is an owl. She is sitting in the shallows, preening her feathers. I stand and marvel. I’ve never seen an owl at Seward Park, and certainly not one sitting in water. After a moment the owl extends her wings and floats up into a tree overlooking the inlet.

 

I know this is my grandma Vangie, giving me my sign.

 

It isn’t until Kismet is seven weeks old when I realize my grandmother also gave me a sign. Months ago, maybe even a few years ago she told me she was adopting a little Mexican boy.

 

Of course, it was obscured by the Pope adopting President Obama as well. But there it was, the diamond. The sign.

 

At 730 Thursday morning, Seath drives me to the hospital. I have a bag for an overnight stay. A friend calls as we’re on the road. She hasn’t seen the post on social media and bursts into tears when I tell her where I’m headed. “When you’re settled, call me back about a work thing,” she says. I note the universe sending me flares even now that it’s all going to be fine, that work will work out.

 

Seath and I sit in a lobby with a view of a meagre garden. It is a grey day and cool, meant for staying inside and cuddling a new baby. Celine pops out to say she’s waiting on the mobile notary for the paperwork. Did we have any questions.

 

“Does he have hair?” I ask, thinking of Carina.

 

“He does have hair,” says Celine measuredly, not in on the joke.

 

“You’d better text Carina,” I tell Seath.

 

“Let’s not start all that,” says Seath with a mock eye roll.

 

Earlier, Celine had told me the birth mom didn’t want to see the baby or even know its gender. But that morning she’d changed her mind and spent time with him, telling Celine, “I just thought of all the people I never had closure with.”

 

“Um, that’s kind of amazing,” I say to Celine.

 

Finally, the mobile notary has come and gone. I follow Celine down the hallway to meet the birth mom.

 

I am flustered with what to say and make an inane comment about how beautiful it is that all the grandkids in our family are part Mexican. Then, thank you thank you thank you.

 

She is brown, with big almond eyes and black hair with subtle blonde highlights. She’s wearing a black spaghetti strap top and white jean shorts. She does not look like she’s just had a baby.

 

“You’re so beautiful,” I tell her. “You look like you’re just missing your cocktail.”

 

“Trust me, I cannot wait,” she replies.

 

It is not a conversation exactly, more of an exchange of questions. At first I offer stories about me and my family, but i realize she isn’t interested in bonding. So i change my tactic and ask her questions for the baby: what was her favorite food (mac n’ cheese – truly anything with cheese. By contrast, birth dad apparently hates cheese); what was her favorite children’s book (The Giving Tree, Ferdinand).  

 

She tells me the thing that stood out for her in my letter was that I was from a big Catholic family. I have a slight cringe when I tell her, “Just so you know, I’m not really Catholic. I’m not even baptized.” I don’t want to enter into this relationship with any false pretensions. She says not to worry, it was just something that stood out, she’s also from a big Catholic family. Her mother is one of 12.

 

At one point Celine steps out of the room and birth mom says to me, “It just didn’t feel like time to start a family.” Her eyes are teary. She had just moved to Seattle a few years ago from California. She’d just been abroad for the first time in her life. Piecing the story together, I can see why she’d chosen me.

 

I give her what I have to give: “You know, society has all these ideas about how women should live their lives, but don’t let anyone pressure you into doing something before its time. If this is something you want, you will have time. You have made me proof of this.”

 

We are both sniff and stare at each other.

 

There is a point where she says, “Well, you must be wanting to meet the baby.”

 

We chat for a few more minutes, then we both stand up to give each other a hug. She is unexpectedly tiny.

 

Then, the room. Carina has arrived, and she and Seath and I fidgit waiting for the baby to arrive. Eventually Seath has to leave for an interview at work. I sit on the hospital bed, not sick, but in a strange way the only place I’m supposed to sit somehow. As I adjust it, I think of Evie and her momentary joy and that “big bed” she had during her hospital stay.

 

Then, sound in the empty corridor.

 

A cart with a transparent box on the top of it, like a terrarium enters the room.

 

A black head of hair.

 

Like his birth mother, he is unexpectedly tiny.

 

I can only delicately pick him up and say “Ooooh oooh sweet baby” and cry.

 

He opens his tiny animal eyes. When he looks at me I’m struck: this tiny being, who I’ve been trying to connect to for years on a spiritual plane, is a real-life complete stranger.  

 

Carina is doing her best to capture the moment on camera but keeps saying, “I’m not a very good picture-taker!”

 

Auntie Carina, the midwife takes him and it is almost a relief to see his tiny body in her capable hands. She is used to meeting tiny strangers. She unwraps him from his swaddling and looks him over.

 

Like Lolo, he has faint black fuzz on his ears and a cold nose.

 

To go with the black head of hair he has tiny dark eyebrows and a pronounced nose. An Aztec face.

 

Celine comes in to confirm the name: Kismet Cutter.

 

“Some feminine power in that name,” I say. “Just like his coming into the world, all that female intuition.”

 

Seath comes back with champagne and snacks and a big grin on his face. When he holds Kismet, the baby gets the hiccups. “Your mom may have given you your first bottle, but I gave you the hiccups,” he says.

 

We three sit and marvel at new life.

 

After Seath and Carina leave, we are alone for the first time. I say to Kismet, “Thank you for choosing me, thank you, thank you little baby.”

 

A tinny cry.

 

The tiny stranger is someone who needs a bottle.

 

The next three days are a steady stream of bottles, diapers, nurses and visitors. My parents finally arrive. I can hear them coming down the hall and pop out to meet them and burst into tears. Brian tells the nurse, “She always cries,” and launches into how I cried when I picked them up at Heathrow when they visited me in London. Lenora later remarks, “Well, you did compress 9 months of emotion into two days!” and I feel thankful someone doesn’t see my tears as a deficiency to be explained, just a natural result of the big emotion of the day.

 

The next morning, the ward is quiet and they’ve closed the nursery so the only way I can step outside is to leave baby Kismet with the nurses if they have time. I wheel him down the warren-like halls and park him behind the desk. I tell them I’ll be back in 15 minutes.

 

After two days inside, outside is even more magical. The hospital campus is filled with trees. I find a fountain and sit beside it for a few minutes. As I walk back to the room i call Suzi. The call goes to voicemail and as I leave the message I am flooded with emotion.

 

I tell her, “I am blown away by the universe.” I can’t get over the synchronicities. I can’t get over being chosen.

 

Back at the nurses’ station a short-haired nurse is holding Kismet. Another says to me, “She was having a bad day so I told her to hold the baby.”

 

“You want him back?” Bad Day asks.

 

“No, no, you enjoy,” I say.

 

They ask me about how I’m doing and I tell them how I’m still blown away by the magic of the whole thing. I recount the story – the ones and sevens, the owl, the El Camino. By the time I’m done, there are six or seven nurses and doctors standing around, rapt with attention, tears in their eyes.

 

“Kismet, how perfect,” says a nurse, wiping her eyes.

 

Later, Jill tells me, “I think we all just needed a little bit of that magic, don’t you?”

 

When I get back to my room, a few visitors show up and Suzi calls back.

 

“I won’t keep you, but I have to tell you about getting your voicemail.”

 

She’d been at brunch with her spiritual mentor, Reverend Michael, oft quoted in our sessions and founder of an influential non-denominational church in LA. Suzi had been telling him and the rest of the party the story of the adoption, how it all fell together.

 

“‘And she named him Kismet?’ said Reverend Michael. And then he led a blessing for Kismet with us at the table, and it was right when you called!”

 

Carina has been gently wrestling with the attending doctor to see about and early release of Baby K. Instead of staying one night, I’m now supposed to stay three. She has determined he needs to be in the hospital because of the drug exposure during the pregnancy. If there were any addiction signs they would have shown up within 96 hours.

 

The doctor is intransigent until the very end, Sunday morning when she makes an effort to come in early and set us free. K is free of any withdrawal symptoms. Seath and Carina and the girls come to pick us up. Kismet is wearing a onsie that Carina picked out that says, “Hi, I’m new here.” The sleeves hang off his tiny hands. The nurse who discharges us is Bad Day. I give her a huge hug.

 

While Carina drives their car home, Seath and the girls and I pile in my car with Seath driving. Evie wants to sit in back right next to Kismet.

 

“What should his first song be?” I ask the car. “I feel like it should be a Beatles song.”

 

Seath and I grew up on the Beatles. We knew every word to every song. Brian had controversially insisted that since the Beatles there had been no good music. They had hours of Beatles on reel to reel. For that fleeting perfect summer when I lived with Seath and Carina, Seath would play the guitar and Edison and I would sing Beatle songs as part of our family band practice.

 

Edison’s bright face pops around the corner of the front seat to suggest “Here Comes The Sun.”

 

I pull it up on my phone.

 

We all start to sing but I can’t hold the words. Instead I sob and sob. Little Evie, her eyes big, reaches out and squeezes my hand. I squeeze hers back for the remainder of the song.

 

“This is a pretty special moment,” says Seath, reaching back to pat my knee.

 

Sun sun sun

Here it comes.

 

Sun sun sun

Here it comes.

 

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Jendate 30: Returned

 

It is the dark bedroom under the kitchen at my parent’s house.

 

We are sprawled in sleeping bags on the floor. It must have been in the early high school years, before Seath moved downstairs and filled the room with guitar amplifiers and strewn clothing. Before I fell in love with my high school boyfriend.

 

“By the time I’m 30 I’d like to be married and have two kids,” said one of us. The rest nodded agreement from the dark, the convention a safe blanket.

 

We giggled about a high school crush, aptly named Ted Savage (no John Hughes movie could have named him better.) He was a senior, tall, lean with long-ish hair and a chiseled face. He had a Daniel Day Lewis bearing – other-worldly and slightly out of place among the sporty boys in letterman jackets and skinny shy types yet to bloom. Seatha or Michele rhapsodized about running into Ted, who was constantly in hiking boots, shirtless in the woods.

 

Another set of muffled giggles.

 

As our naïve imaginations petered out on the wilderness fantasy, Michele said, “Do you ever look at the sky with all of those stars and think ‘what’s out there?’”

 

It is fall.

 

I tell Suzi that I feel like my life has emptied out. I’m holding space to be filled in: a dog, a man, a baby. I see a row at the cinema where I’ve dusted off the stray popcorn and stretched my coat out in a way that saves three seats. I sit, glancing at the people that enter, wondering each time if they’re finally here. Instead, it’s merely faces I don’t recognize.

 

It is a year since Lolo died. I no longer hear the echoes of a happy tail thumping on the floor when I walk in the door. I no longer have the sweet ache for a cold, inquisitive nose burrowing under the blanket. I can finally talk about him without crying.

 

Often when I am walking, a dog will pull its owner over to me, offering snout and then behind for scratching. I accept these gifts enthusiastically, grateful for this medicine. The same way dogs can sniff out cancer, they must be able to sniff out a heart broken by a dog’s passing.

 

I meditate on my next man. I look for signs: elevators held, compliments doled. I look for him in the aisles of the grocery store as I pick out my kale and carrots. My department fills in with men – proof of an invisible momentum, I tell myself.

 

Suzi gives my waiting life a fresh perspective: “Sometimes you have to get down to the bones to flesh it out again,”

 

Darek’s 50th birthday is being celebrated on Orcas. I hem and haw about going. Coming off the France vacation I’ve had a lot of group together time. Plus Darek’s hippie birthday fantasy is all of his friends nude hot-tubbing together which I am not exactly game for.

 

I also am pretty sure that my ex-crush is going to be there.

 

I am clear that any awkwardness is purely my own doing, a figment of my own imagination. A self-flagellation based on a two week set of feelings. But it’s still there, dangling just inside the radius of my self-perception. Like a cat, I can’t not swipe at it.

 

Finally, though, the pull of the woods gets me. I opt in.

 

Nude hot-tubbers and many clothed guests are staying at a beautiful property called Doe Bay. We meet there at twilight, the water smooth and lavender with the sun setting. There is a fire pit on the grassy lawn between the loosely scattered cabins. Darek and Amy’s cabin has an otter mural painted on the wall.

 

Seath and Carina pull up in front of me. As I park, I catch a glimpse of Seath hugging Ex-crush. I take a minute sitting in my car to get centered on the energy I want to be in for the evening: open and authentic versus socially awkward and wanting to run home.

 

I peek into Darek and Amy’s cabin, commandeered for the night by the children. The kids are already piled on the bed watching a movie. Amy has put out as appetizers in the tiny kitchen. The adults stand drinking wine and eating cheese and salami.

 

The door opens and Ex-crush comes in. Unexpectedly, I am just myself – not an awkward snail, recoiling into my protective shell. I give him a hug hello and I feel truly happy to see him.

 

Graduated into ease for the evening, we drink and dance and laugh with the bartenders. I meet a strawberry-blond woman whose energy I like.

 

It’s like a mirror to my former self, watching her. When we’re at the party dancing, she steps outside, saying she gets claustrophobic with all the people. She mentions her divorce and I say, “Oh I’m divorced too. Did you just break up?” She says no, it’s been several years but she’s just still “bitter about it.”

 

For as long as Juan and I have been apart, now 7 years, I wonder in what ways I’m still living in reference to my own divorce. I have a flash of the weekend after it was clear it was over. I’d stopped crying long enough to meet an old friend who happened to be in LA. She met me at my place.

 

“Did you do this?” she asked me, pointing out a drawing that was on the wall. It was the first art I’d done since Juan had left. The piece was a self-portrait of sorts, a me-like character with her heart outside her body. The drawing was black and white but the heart was painted in color, an indicator of where the life was – dislocated.

 

We walked to brunch at a little surf café that served cold cereal and breakfast burritos. We sat outside in the sun. I remember telling her, “I just never thought I would be the type of person who would be divorced.” At the time, I didn’t see divorce around me yet, even though it was in my own family. None of my friends were divorced. It felt like a scarlet letter I was having to adopt.

 

Jenny, my friend, sat patiently as I unloaded my confusion to her. “I don’t really think there are types of people who get divorced,” she said sanguinely. As she talked her dimple twinkled in and out. Despite the sun, despite the breeze, despite the kind words of a friend, all I could feel was the shock of my own failure.

 

Seeing this spunky strawberry-blond inhale her cigarettes, I feel relieved to not be living in bitterness.

 

There’s a point in the evening when I am done.

 

I offer to S&C to pick up the girls at Darek and Amy’s cabin and put them to bed. When I leave the bar, I pass by the table where Carina and Ex-crush are sitting to say goodbye. He takes my hands and says, “Such soft hands.”

 

Sweet Carina, her smile languid after several drinks, leans into him and says, “Yes, Jennifer does have really soft hands!”

 

I take back my soft hands, immune to any spell. As I drive the dark road, the headlights rove past deer in the woods. They raise their heads as I drive by, their big round eyes catching the headlights. Just as quickly they fade back into the peaceful dark.

 

At the otter cabin, the girls are still up. Evie looks like an anime character, her eyes painfully round from watching movies so late into the night. When we arrive home, I brush my teeth and then check in on them. Measured Edison is turning the Venetian blind closed against the porch light. Evie is already asleep. I give her a kiss on the forehead.

 

It’s been a year since I attended the first seminar for the adoption agency. I’m finally at the meat: finishing the home study, the official interview that will legally qualify me to be an adoptive parent.

 

Celine, my adoption counselor, sits in my living room and asks me unanticipated questions. How will I discipline a teenager? What I will do if my birth mother is extremely religious? Each time I think I’ve summited a set of learnings about what it will mean to be an adoptive parent, a new set of questions arrives. I am constantly acclimating to the altitude.

 

Armed with my answers, Celine thinks the report will be done by end of October.

 

She says I can move on to creating my book and letter for the birth family. I am happy to be in a more creative phase, trolling my Instagram for pictures that represent my life and writing a first draft of a letter one day in a sudden effusive outflow.

 

December starts in Hawaii.

 

My aunt T has found us a house on Kailua beach, Hawaii. We’re there to see Jane, the youngest of my mom’s sisters, and my cousins Nat and Dre who moved to Hawaii three years ago. My aunts T, Karen and cousin Ally Gee have gone to Costco. Barbie and Brian have waited around to pick me up at the airport.

 

I feel light seeing my parents walk down the hall at baggage claim. They’re each in shorts. Barbie has slung a bag over her shoulder and walks bobbing slightly to the side to side. Brian reaches out to take my suitcase. We climb into an orange SUV across the street at the rental agency. As we pull out, I open my window and put my face out to the humidity while the car cools. A Lolo move.

 

I haven’t been to Hawaii since I was in high school. My parents had taken us one year for Thanksgiving. We stayed a week in Waikiki then moved to Maui. I don’t remember much about the trip except for the huge fish at Hanauma Bay and the one day I stayed on my own while B&B and Seath went up Haleakala to ride down the volcano.

 

In hindsight, this day was one of the first times I remember opting out of the group to follow my own vision for myself. It was an early start on one of the last days of the trip, and I wanted to sleep in. I went for a jog in the late morning heat. At one point I had to stop on a patch of meaty tropical grass and put my head between my legs, feeling faint. When they came back with their stories, I had a pang of being left out. But I also remember the quiet pleasure of padding around the air-cooled condo on my own.

 

This time around, our house is a weathered sixties modern on the windward side of the island. It is one of those places I immediately start remodeling in my head. The essentials are fabulous: coral walls that flank a central fireplace in the living room; an open-air garden anchored by an elegant tree; a large, rectangular pool on the backside of the house, sheltered from the beach breeze; a wide front yard overlooked by floor to ceiling windows and bounded by Banyan Trees and a coral wall. But the door knobs are corroded from the salt air. The sheets are faded and have been in use since the 90’s.

 

Due to T’s generosity, I end up with a perfect room with an en suite bathroom. There are high long windows that look out to the coral wall blocking the house from the pass through. Occasionally, I hear people walk by on their way to the beach, but they are nothing more than disembodied voices.

 

Depsite its salty corrosion, the house is perfect for us. There is a high bar in a u-shape around the kitchen. Over the week there is always someone in the middle cutting up pineapple or pouring POG or shredding chicken for tacos. The pool is chilly but the back of the house is toasty and sheltered from the wind. We take turns paddling around until it gets too cold and then shudder across the pool deck back to the embrace of the sun.

 

I’m in love with the multiculturalism of the island. I take pictures of the local kids launching themselves off the pier into the deep wave break as it rolls towards Waikiki beach. They are like tropical birds, their black hair and brown bodies glistening in the sun, their brightly colored suits taking flight as the wave swells.

 

We go to the Food Court at the Japanese department store Shirokiya. There are stalls of bentos, skewers of squid and sukiyaki. I am in heaven – it reminds me of LA and the food court at Mitsuwa, the Japanese grocery store near my old house. Jane, who narrates the trip with tourist facts on the trip says that 40% of the visitors to Oahu are Japanese. I love her stories of the island culture – how in the island’s slow moving traffic people will pull over from the roadside to chat; how her patients at the VA hospital bring her offerings of fruit and squishy white Hawaiian rolls in thanks.

 

Brian has focused priorities. He gets his donut fix when we go to the Liliha Bakery for coconut and guava malasadas, pudding-filled donuts that are native to the island via the Portuguese settlers. “Portugee,” says Nat, who’s picked up pidgin like the other cool island teens.

 

One afternoon we sit in the viewing area at Dre’s martial arts class. The wall above us is filled with martial arts magazine covers with his instructor, Grandmaster Cho in various Enter The Dragon poses. The kids go through their forms, with various degrees of skill and aplomb. Some of the older kids are forceful and precise. There is an 11 or 12 year old Indian girl who barely musters more than a whisper and eschews the crisp movements for gentle gestures.

 

Grandmaster Cho is full of hilarious one-offs – “Do like that, you’re just like mosquito! They brush you off!” he tells one student. We fall in love with a tiny Asian girl, 5 or 6 years old, her black pony tail the girth of her arm. She shrieks out her forms then her mind wanders off as Grandmaster Cho talks. One of the other instructors has to wave her back into order, ushering the stray puppy back to the pack.

 

Pandering to the audience, Grandmaster Cho asks Dre, who he calls “Obama” to demonstrate some forms. When Dre is done, he straggles out with a big smile and says he’s ready for a snack.

 

It is sweet to see Barbie and her sisters together. When they walk, they gravitate towards each other as a little unit. My cousin Ally and I walk behind, laughing at how they talk over each other. At one point I snap a picture of Jane and Barbie each pointing at something in a slightly different direction, each with a look of conviction on her face: lots of determined personalities that somehow work together.

 

Jane, who has taken off work to be with us says, “What a great day!” with a wide smile that I haven’t yet seen on the trip. When I remark to Karen that Jane seems happy, Karen says, “Well you know, there’s nothing like family.”

 

The one task of the trip was to cast my grandparents’ ashes into the winds or waters of Hawaii. We debate Diamond Head or taking a boat out. In the end, it is one afternoon when Jane and the boys come to spend the night. We all head out to the beach with the small box of ashes. I have a welling up in my chest as we’re walking, but it is absorbed by watching the family interact – T dumping the ashes into the surf and then having the wave wash it back onto her legs; Ally hugging ten year-old Dre and lifting him up as the ocean comes in; Nat splashing his little brother and then the two of them taking off in a run down the beach, laughing, their brown bodies shining in the afternoon light.

 

There is a moment where I feel myself unwind. I take a walk on my own every day. On a whim I download some mariachi music and sing along to the songs as I investigate the neighborhood. I play la Vikina over and over again – the pace of the song like a trotting horse, the lyrics cloyed with heartbreak – dicen que pasa las noches llorando por el.  I have a flash of listening to these songs with Juan but then just as quickly I think of my friend Vivi from Miami who was a Mariachi fanatic, despite being Dominican not Mexican. I send her a text that I’m thinking about her.

 

When I finally part ways at the airport, I sit in the lounge at the gate. I feel mellower than I have in years. I call Maevey and she points out how I have been taken care of on the trip – by my parents, by my aunts – the buoy of the community. But I’ve also taken care of myself – taken walks, made time to meditate.

 

I think to myself, this is the energy I always want to be in.

 

My first day back at work one of my planners gives me an earful about the agency’s dysfunction in the week I’ve been gone.

 

“Oh I’m sorry, I just dumped a load of shit on you and you’re just back from your vacation,” she apologizes, laughing, when it’s all out.

 

“That’s OK,” I say breezily. It hasn’t broken my mellow barrier.

 

I’m only back at work a few weeks before it’s Christmas break. I spend the first morning cleaning out the closet in my office. In the boxes I find a pair of notebooks, one blue and one green. The green one says “Lickable Lime” and there is a sharp bite mark in the corner, a little remnant of Lolo. It is such a sweet surprise in all the clutter of cords and old paperwork that I can’t bring myself to throw it away, although normally I am not sentimental about things.

 

I snap a picture of it and text it to Juan.

 

I take the afternoon at Mio Posto, order a late lunch and work on my adoption letter and book, both designed to be introductory communications with the birth family. It is round two of both. I’ve gotten feedback from the agency – things to add or put more focus on. Oblique hints at what to take out. And things that I’m not sure how to read: “You definitely have a distinct visual style!” says Celine. I’m unsure if that’s like, “Wow, that is a bright shirt!” – something posed as a compliment but really just meant to indicate a broken convention.

 

It’s been hard to get the feedback – pouring your heart out on the page only to have someone say it’s not really adequate. I keep thinking of Celine and her gentle, social-worker ways – how adept she is at channeling empathy and letting me down easy. I feel sure that she understands me and try to keep the feedback in that context. But it’s a tightrope walk – they want it to be “authentic,” yet it is closely directed.

 

One of the more concrete comments is to add more pictures of me smiling on my own. I’m sitting in the window and take advantage of the light to snap a picture of myself that I post on Instagram with the caption: “Would you give this person your baby?” Someone comments that I look kind.

 

I write away, reworking the letter and the sections of the book. I’m happy with the outcome. It’s getting dark and the dinner crowd is starting to filter in. I fire off a quick email to Celine with the new pieces.

 

The next morning is chilly and I decide to go for a long walk along the lake. The weather isn’t sure yet whether it’s going to be sunny, but the sky is bright in contemplation. A runner passes me and gives a large smile. He is tall and lean, Ethiopian or Somali. He’s wearing neon orange shoes and green Adidas track pants. When I hit the boat house and turn back we meet again. He passes me and then circles back.

 

In broken English he asks, “You work out every day?” I say yes. Then he asks how old I am and if I have a boyfriend.

 

“You give me your number,” he says.

 

I hesitate for a split second and then I think, why not. But he doesn’t have a phone to record it. He smiles and shrugs and runs off.

 

I text Maeve, “I just got picked up by an Ethiopian runner!”

 

She texts back, “Abundance!”

 

I am struck by the runner’s easy conviction that working out everyday is enough for interest. I wonder if I am making things too complicated for myself in my singleness. Still, I take a different path home so as not to run into him again.

 

That afternoon, I finally hear back from Juan. Instead of a text, I get back a long email, the contents of which he asks me not to share in the blog. (“I’m sorry, but fuck him,” says Jill when I see her. My heart has a warm flicker of love for her undivided loyalty.)

 

The content of the email is a shock to the system, something completely unexpected.

I’m sitting on my couch with Barbie and Brian in the living room and as I start to read, I gasp, “Oh my god.” When I read it aloud to them my voice cracks.

 

When they leave to pick up the girls, I stay at home to cry by myself.

 

Juan is having a baby.

 

I forward Suzi the email with a note that says, “I am so sad about this, but it’s not really about Juan. It’s more about where my life hasn’t filled in yet. Like I’m sad for something that hasn’t yet come to pass.”

 

Suzi writes back the perfect note which starts out, “Aaah, Jen, of course this would sting.” She points back if I were at the place in my life where all of my wishes were answered – my baby, my next man – I would not be so upset. I would just be happy for him.

 

I know she is right.

 

I call Maevey and marvel at the timing – just finished my second round of adoption writings, the brief interaction with the runner. Like the universe was arming me with a few props to soften the blow.

 

I write Juan a note back, saying I’m happy for him and that I only have ever wanted the best for him. I ask details about the baby’s mom, about his life. But it is an aerial bombing meant to get the job done. There is never any reply.

 

Carina calls me at 5:30 and gives me a pep talk, forced into it by Brian. “Why don’t you come over,” she suggests, but I’m not ready to give up being sad.

 

“I don’t want to not process this,” I say more defensively than I’d like to. I feel pressured to feel better to please my family.

 

Finally I agree that Carina should text me when we’re going to dinner and that I’m feeling better. It is a lie, but I also know this cave isn’t forever. When head out to Mexican and I still feel hollowed out. I order a margarita, but it’s not strong enough to take away the sting.

 

The next morning, I am driving along the lake and I see a flash of white.

 

An eagle swoops low over the bank its huge dark wings outstretched. It is aggressing a huddle of black and white ducks that have clustered close to the shore. A sentinel crow flutters at the eagle in an attempt at intimidation. The scene is so dramatic I have to pull over to take it in.

 

The eagle dives once more and then takes refuge in a bald tree overlooking the scene.

 

My heart is beating.

 

It’s like an omen telling me to move on, to get back up into that tree where the view is long. That my vision will carry me through.

 

Christmas is busy, a swirl of food and people and wrapping paper that leaves sparkly dust on my carpet. The days following, I head to Santa Barbara to see Maevey. It feels good to be back in LA. Even driving down Lincoln towards the PCH I revel in the familiar low stucco buildings and scrawny trees.

 

Maevey has thoughtfully art-directed the guest room with a tiny vase of berried flowers and a mini bar of jelly beans and chocolate. The last time I saw Poppy, Maeve’s daughter, she was a baby, wrapped in blankets and fleecy hoods with animal ears on them. Now a toddler, Poppy isn’t sure about me. She steers clear, even though I try to read one of her books and offer her French fries.

 

Despite the baby cold shoulder, we sit in Maevey’s backyard and muse on everything, her neighbors’ chickens clucking in the background and the winter sun dipping behind the jungle of foliage. Maeve has taught Poppy to hug trees, so as we make our way down State Street, Poppy pauses for an embrace. I snap pictures with Poppy as my unwitting muse.

 

The final afternoon and we are on our way to the Four Seasons so Poppy can play in the garden there when I get a new note from Celine with comments on the pieces I sent her. When I see her name in the in-box I hesitate, not sure if I am ready to read it. In her note, there are a few big picture comments that I see the value of: be more invitational, keep the birth mother experience in mind. But my heart sinks in the tactical critiques, suggestions on order and wording. We park and run across the wide grassy expanse towards the tree. Following Poppy’s lead, I put my hands on it, remembering someone told me once that trees absorb negative energy.

 

The sun sets. Maevey takes Poppy into the hotel to change her diaper. I stay out in the dark and cry a minute, demoralized by yet another round of feedback. I put my hands back on the tree. I think about how my three days with Maeve have been a reminder about the adoption itself – the beautiful life to be had with a baby. I try to see the tears in this context, that they are simply a reminder that I still want to do this.

 

When Maeve gets back I tell her I had a little cry. “I’m sorry dude,” she says empathetically.

 

“I think hugging the tree helped,” I say with an inhale.

 

We stop at Whole Foods so I can pop in for some things. Maeve and the baby stay in the car. When I get back, making my way through the dark parking lot, Maeve tells me  Poppy burst into tears when I left the car. I want to cry hearing it, it is so sweet.

 

I spend New Year’s Eve with Seath and Carina and the girls at La Medusa. We have the usual table, in the corner window. It is late and Evie falls asleep on the bench after she finishes her pasta with butter. Edison is unconcerned with the time, but very concerned with the panna cotta. S&C and I drink martinis. I am home by 1115 and snug in my own bed in an empty house for the first time in more than a week.

 

New Year’s Day I have every intention to head to Darek and Amy’s annual NY Day party, but when I finally leave the house for the store at 2 o’clock, I realize I am in no shape for even a drive, much less a party. Instead, I return to bed.

 

I had been feeling the effects in Santa Barbara, but was unsure if it was a cold or allergies. “I totally think it’s a cold, a reaction to the Juan news,” suggests Maeve. Uncharacteristically she shows a blithe disregard about a germy houseguest. Emotionally-inspired germs are apparently not catching.

 

By Saturday night I’m feeling better. I putter around the house. At one point I pick up my phone and see that Juan’s sister has liked a photo of mine on Instagram. It hadn’t occurred to me that she was on Instagram, nor that her brother might be too. Within two clicks I am on Juan’s Instagram page.

 

Seeing the pictures populate the screen is like the moment you realize you’ve touched something hot. It hasn’t burned yet but you know the fire is coming. Laid out in the pictures are cars, motorcycles, a trip to Thailand with a petite auburn-haired woman. A dog curled on a rug. And a baby wrapped in a furry blanket.

 

A hashtag of #newdad.

 

What shows most in the pictures is the both surprising and obvious fact that Juan’s life has moved on.

 

There is something radical in this observation.

 

In the same way as I had been waiting for my life to flesh out, Juan had been stuck in time in my mind. Seeing his face and his signature pout I don’t have any flicker of missing him. But I do feel an ache about the holes in my own life.

 

I head out into the dark to walk it off along the lake. It is dry and cold. I’m in a puffy Darth Vader coat – like a shiny black sleeping bag. The pockets are fleece-lined. I am residually upset from seeing the photos. It’s past nine and I’m not sure who to call. I need company for my crying. Maevey is no doubt in bed. Seath and Carina tend not to be on their phones later. I remember Suzi telling me to share my vulnerabilities more broadly, to invite people to see all of me.

 

So I call my mom.

 

“I’m OK, I was just feeling lonely,” I explain to Barbie.

 

“Oooh I wish I was there with you to give you a hug,” she says. Her words are warmer than my coat.

 

“I think it was finally time for me to see it all,” I say, thinking about how it had never occurred to me to follow the breadcrumbs on social media before.

 

I get home around 10:30. The streets are still except for the smoky puffs of my breath in the cold. I take a shower and scurry into bed, piling on all of my quilts and covers. I feel emptied out but at the same time I feel free.

 

The next morning I write myself a vision statement for the year. It is about living more in my spiritual energy. As I write I conjure the low hum I felt at the end of my Hawaii trip – a sense of peace and infinite space. A deep water removed from the buffeting of surface waves.

 

A starry night within.

 

I’m due for my thyroid levels to be checked. When I get the results back, they say for the first time in 10+ years that my thyroid levels are lower than they should be. In hindsight I recognize the signs – creeping weight gain, needing more sleep, being cold all the time. I thought it was merely winter.

 

But there is also something related to Juan here – an energetic void to be filled. When I look up low thyroid in my Louise Haye book, she says the emotional cause is humiliation. “When is it going to be my turn?” is her encapsulation of the symptoms.

 

The cure is to tell myself “I move beyond old limitations.”

 

I start the year with a new brief for myself at work: decorporatize. I’ve decided that the corporate bearing of the agency is one of the biggest things that’s in our way. The dependence on process and hierarchy. The way of seeing people as resources rather than contributors or collaborators. The attitude of time-punching –clocking in and out of their jobs every day in a passive way.

 

There is a low-burning frustration there that I’ve felt. But very few people are willing to change it.

 

We have an annual agency meeting in February that I decide to take on.

 

My idea is to do the opposite of last year’s meeting. Last year was about the account leads talking about the financials of the business and the goals moving forward. Even for myself, who had barely been there six months, I had been bored.

 

My vision is to make the meeting about the people in the agency, not the business of the agency. And in so-doing, I want to get some new kinds of work jump-started. I want to break-through the culture of passivity and find a way to get people connected to their work.

 

I create a series of meetings for people to talk about projects they have wanted to do at the agency. Then encourage them to form teams and present their ideas back out to their peers.

 

The day of the big meeting feels great – there is a fun, buzzy energy in the air. People mill around with their drinks. Julie, the head of the office kicks things off and then hands the mike over to me.

 

I tell the story about why finding yourself in the work is important, and how I was saved by so-doing:

 

“I want to take you back to a dark time in my life,” I start. “I had just moved to LA. My clients were total assholes. The CMO wouldn’t use anyone’s name, he just said, ‘Have your strategy people look into that.’ We were on the verge of losing the business and the work we were doing was constantly being re-written by the clients.

 

“Plus, my marriage was collapsing.”

 

“There was a point where I went to my boss and said, I just need to work on something else. I started on a tiny piece of business that we were pitching called HTC. Within a few months, HTC went from being my side project to my full time job. On HTC, I started to do the work I wanted to do – to get back to real planning. I collaborated with clients. I did work the way I wanted to do it. And I got a lot happier.

 

“I think the best work is work that people find themselves in. And that’s why we’re doing this today. To share the work that your co-workers are enthusiastic about.”

 

I hand over the mike to the teams. They are funny and buttoned up and altogether more than I expected them to be.

 

Flesh on bones.

 

I get another round of feedback on the letter for the adoption.

 

I forward it to Maevey and she says, “Feels like micromanagement.” I let it sit in my inbox, not ready to really deal with what it says. Some of the feedback is useful – “Talk more about openness, talk about how a nanny will be part of the experience.”

 

Some of it feels small. At one sentence they have changed “I have worked with inspiring people” to “I’ve been inspired by the people I work with.”

 

Jess, my adoption mentor, and I catch up by phone. When I lament the nitpicky verbiage feedback she points out, “Those are two different things, by the way.”

 

In my frustration I write and rewrite an email to Celine to send about the feedback. I keep trying to know that it is all meant in a supportive way – they’re just looking to help me out. I keep trying to remember that at the end of all this is a baby. I erase lines and rewrite them. I tell myself I’m not going to send the email for a few days.

 

Finally, I send Celine changes with a wholly different note that says, “I’ve been holding on to this because frankly I wasn’t ready for the comments.” She offers to get on the phone and so I do. I know I will be appeased by her gentle ways.

 

On our call I tell her that I’m trying to understand the nits – “I mean, I get feedback for a living. But I’ve had less rounds of feedback on Superbowl ads,” I say with a little laugh that probably doesn’t disguise my frustration. “I feel like the point of this letter is to be me, not to be perfect. And all the rewriting takes away from my voice.”

 

To be fair, Celine points out, I did change my letter up pretty significantly.

 

“But sometimes we’re not good at just saying, “This is great!” she admits. “Listen, take what you feel is useful, discard what you don’t.”

 

I also need to go into the office to film a video for the website. I schedule a noon meeting on a Wednesday. Celine isn’t in the office yet, so Maria, who was originally my counselor, offers to film me. Megan, who works the front desk comes in too.

 

There is a comedy routine of several minutes around the camera position.

“Are you sure it shouldn’t be closer?” asks Maria. Megan says no but then Maria nudges the camera forward almost without noticing.

 

I try to not be attached to the camera position and know that no camera position will be the difference in whether or not my birth mother connects with me.

 

Just as we’re about to start, Celine walks into the office. I feel a cloud of warmth in my chest for the three of them, their enthusiasm unfettered by the mechanics of the shot.

 

The camera rolls.

 

At one point I choke up in tears over my answer. I’m telling the story of how Carina gave me a little Mother’s Day gift this past year and how touched I was by the gesture.

 

When they turn the camera off, Maria says, “The tears were great!”

 

I laugh and say, “If only it was my call! Celine makes me cry every time I’m here!”

 

I look at the footage and laugh at the horrible placement of the camera after all the debate. “Ladies,” I say with authority. “Camera down, not up. It’s the classic selfie rule.” Do I want to do it again, Maria asks. But Celine says, the first take is always the best.

 

I decide to leave my vanity aside and stick with the first take.

 

When I go back to the letter it is with a lightness. The comments feel less threatening. I make the changes.

 

Finally, I decide I’m ready to be done. It is round 6 of the letter. I have ordered a test run of the book and it comes in the mail. I drop by the agency to vet it with Celine. She seems a little tired and flustered that I’m there without an appointment. It is the end of the day and I get it. I offer to come back but she sighs and says its OK.

 

Looking at my book she asks, “Do you love it? I do.”

 

There are some things that I would change in the print out – the type is larger than I would like, for example. But given that most of the birth mothers will see it online (where the large type will have a visual advantage), I say I do love it.

 

Celine reads the letter and then says it looks good. “But how are you going to get it all on one page?”

 

I try to hold back from rolling my eyes: “One page? I didn’t know it needed to be one page,” I say flatly. Then I confess, “I’m not exactly the best at detailed instructions. Maybe I missed the instructions on the website.”

 

I tell her I will do some editing.

 

“So am I good?” I ask.

 

Celine says, “You just have to come back in with a printed copy of your letter.”

 

I sigh. “I’m not going to do that,” I tell her, full stop.

 

Celine gives an apologetic smile and little shake of her head, “Well, we just try to give everyone the same instructions, Jen,” she says.

 

As I exit back out to the parking lot, I realize that this experience has been a clash of two cultures. Me – big picture, little patience for detail. The agency – clinically obsessed with detail, uncomfortable with non-conformity. I have a little flicker of empathy for them having to deal with me. Anyone not willing to fall in line creates more complication for them in their world. Our relationship is summed up in their reaction to my book – they love the way it looks and feels, but they can’t give themselves away to it exactly.

 

Inspired by the impending paperwork finish line, I order curtain rods for the baby’s room. In fact, I start calling the room “the baby’s room.” Maevey says, “Dude, I just got choked up hearing you call it the baby’s room!”

 

I move my desk into my bedroom and reformulate the experience. Gone are my trays holding miscellaneous business cards and paperwork from my insurance company. I want my desk to be beautiful and creative. In a podcast I hear a story about Barbara Kingsolver’s desk, also located in her bedroom. Barbara tells her housesitter, “Everything I’ve written there has been a best-seller.” YES. I buy a small iron Buddha paperweight and a glass tray for papers. Maevey sends me a gift of a beautiful pair of scissors.

 

The baby’s room, still in flux, is now more of a library. It still has my overladen bookshelf. I’ve also moved the arm chairs from my room in to be housed temporarily. But the chairs offer a new vista. I start going in the room to look out at the oak tree next door. The top of a pink rhododendron is in bloom. I start meditating in there. The energy has changed.

 

I start singing lessons.

 

After years of singing in the car and the shower, I’ve decided to learn something new and creative. Carolina, my voice instructor meets me at my house. She is Columbian, but speaks impeccable English. She’s always in some version of a sporty top – weekend wear, I suppose – a form-fitting, aqua or magenta Nike with a quarter zip collar that shows off her trim figure – and huge stone-based jewelry. Big square purple amethysts, blue sapphires in ornate settings. It reminds me of Sao Paulo, where all the wealthy women had bleached hair and spend the weekend in yoga pants and diamonds, lest anyone be confused about their social status.

 

Carolina is finishing her PhD at UW. She’s an opera singer. When I first hear her sing, from the corner in my living room it is like a bird has taken flight. My eyes tear up.

 

We spend most of our time breathing.

 

Carolina shows me how to breath out, expanding my ribs horizontally rather than vertically. She shows me how to trick myself into higher or lower notes by creating a fan noise and letting my voice follow the large circle circumscribed by my hand. She tells me that the notes are about getting air to the vocal muscles – “They’re in there, they just don’t have enough air to come out.”

 

When she has me do scales she claps her hands gleefully as I progress up the piano keyboard, pointing out where I started and where I’ve advanced to. “You see? You had the notes! You had the notes!”

 

We start with Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps. I’m not a very diligent student (“I’m really only in this for the karaoke,” I confess to Carolina.) but in my few practice sessions I see how important it is for it all to fit together – the notes, the breathing, the words, the emotion.

 

She tells me I need to make room for the sound in my mouth and makes me put my hands on my jaw as I sing to keep it loose. I can feel the round hollow at the back of my mouth, a tiny cave, waiting for the sound to emerge.

 

We move on to Besame Mucho and Solamente Una Vez. It’s fun to sing in Spanish (“Sounds so much better than in English, no?” comments Carolina. She is right.) but it’s also challenging to learn the words in Spanish on top of everything else.

 

One morning, I wake up tired and decide not to go for a walk. Instead, I decide to spend twenty minutes singing. I do a few of my warm-ups – the fan, the me-me-me-me-me-me’s. I concentrate on my breathing.

 

By the time I am ready for a shower I feel alive.

 

I tell Maevey, “It’s so interesting I’m learning all this breathing as I’m waiting for the baby. It’s like a parallel universe Lamaze class.”

 

Spring.

 

I get a note from a friend. Her partner’s teen daughter has died. The funeral is that Monday in Portland. “U coming?” she asks. I think about it for 10 minutes. I am supposed to be in London and had stayed to work on a pitch. Then I catch myself and think, “This is why I stayed.” These are the moments I want to be part of, not some droning Powerpoint presentation in the basement of a luxury hotel.

 

I say yes, I’m coming.

 

It is striking to be at a funeral for a young person. There are dozens of high school kids there – clusters of tall boys whose baby fat hangs on, defying their height. Bangs swoop low to obscure their eyes. Pairs of long-haired reedy girls all in short black skirts lean on each other’s shoulders.

 

The priest starts the service by saying that there are things in this life that are important. Sometimes we get lost in our schedules and devices, but we’ve all chosen to be here today, not at work, and that means this is important. I’m already tearing up hearing his words, having already felt their truth.

 

The family comes in with incense and a huge cross carried by the priests. I watch a teen boy in front of me lean his head on his mom and hook his long arm around her shoulder. They are both dressed alike in fleece jackets and jeans.

 

The ceremony is a photo negative of of a wedding procession, the light of what should be joy reversed and blacked out in aching sadness. I am reminded of India and the aarthi on the Ganges – also full of incense and ritual, also light and dark. In the call and response between the priest and the congregation I feel the community of people who have come out to support them. Kenny Joe told me once this is why people go to church – for moments like these when you need someone else to do the lifting. At the point where everyone shakes hands and says, “Peace be with you,” I shake the hand of a man that reminds me of my Grandpa – tall, thin and kind, with a nice singing voice.

 

At the reception hall next door, the kids form a semi-circle around a video that is playing, cobbled together of clips of the girl in the car with her father, at the stables with her friend. I wonder what they’re feeling. In the main hall, the parents are crying and talking to each other.

 

I finally see my friend and give her a long teary hug. She’s smiling and crying and talking fast. I meet her mom and dad and re-meet her neighbors. I see old friends.

 

As I leave I think about the girl’s spirit floating around the universe seeking a new home. Out there in the starry night with my grandparents. With Lolo.

 

A soul that is someone’s future baby.

 

The sad start of my week ends with some exhilaration. I have offered to do a working session with a friend on her business.

 

We go to her friend’s office where there is a beautiful modern conference room with a wall-sized white board. Just as we’re starting her friend pops his head in the room to make sure we’re all situated. Jess introduces us.

 

“What’re you up to?” she asks him.

 

“I’m going to have a drink. I signed my divorce papers today.” Jess gives him a hug. It turns out he’s having a drink with his newly ex-d wife. “We’re celebrating that we were able to stay friends through this whole thing.”

 

When he leaves I think to myself that this is a door opening. A glimpse into a whole other Seattle full of interesting conscious men. It’s been right here in front of me, only I hadn’t seen it yet.

 

We whiteboard. We talk about her hopes, dreams, ambitions. We talk about her barriers. I point out some clear themes that stand out to me –where small and tactical thinking is working against her bigger vision.

 

“Wow, this is a lot, Jen,” she says. “This is hard work.”

 

“Actually, nothing could be easier,” I tell her. “it is a pleasure for me. It is the best way I could be spending on my day off.”

 

We talk about how I want to move into doing this work full-time.

 

“Do you think I need accreditation?” I ask.

 

“I think your reasons why are 20 years as a strategist.”

 

When we are done I want to skip to my car. I can feel an opening, an invisible curtain that has been pulled aside. The glow is palpable.

 

I talk to Suzi thinking I want to talk about the baby, but instead it becomes a conversation about my visioning workshops. “This is your baby too,” says Suzi. “You’re having twins.”

 

I ask her how I can turn it into a reality. “Just be in the work,” says Suzi. “The rest will sort itself out.”

 

It is Saturday. I wake early, bound and determined to get my adoption paperwork copied and shipped at Kinko’s. I throw on some sweats and take my partially charged computer, a jump drive, and the copies of my printed booklet with its unique visual style. When I get there the store has just opened. A woman is trying to ship and odd sized artifact – possibly a home-made piece of art. The guy working has a sandy goatee and glasses and a name tag that says Michael. People come in sporadically and want to print out their voter registration for today’s Presidential Primaries. A few of the people shout out, “Hey Mike!” as they print out their paperwork.

 

I give Mike the jump drive and have him print a copy of the letter. In the print out the margins are off so I go back into the document and print again. It looks better. Mike sets off printing 500 copies which are to be split between the Portland and Seattle office. He wraps one set up with the booklets for shipping.

 

Suddenly I realize the copies are not on the agency letterhead. THIS is why they wanted to check a print out – not for the writing, but for the formatting particulars. I send a silent apology out into the universe, aimed at Celine.

 

I ask Mike to pull the plug and find another version of the letter that is on the agency letterhead. I am a bundle of nerves and apologies for poor Mike. He seems unperturbed. He hands me a new copy on letter head. I stare at it for a minute and then remember that there needs to be a one-inch margin for binding as well. We halt the copies again, and again I make the change.

 

“I guess this was a bigger, more emotional task than I gave it credit for,” I tell Mike. I feel so thankful for his calm energy. He hasn’t had one trace of impatience. Finally, there are two neatly wrapped packages on the counter.

 

“I gave you a little discount,” Mike tells me.

 

“That’s so nice of you,” I thank him. I want to hug him but for the high counter between us. “You have made this all so easy for me. I’m really thankful you were here this morning.”

 

I am shaky walking back out to the car. It is a fresh morning. There are still traces of rain on the trees and streets from earlier, but the sun is out. When I get in the car I burst into tears. I sit for a minute and then head home. Close to my house, the Washington state presidential caucusing is starting. I see people walking into the middle school that is serving as the precinct rendez-vous spot. My eyes fill with tears again. I had wanted to be part of the caucusing, just to experience it. But I don’t think I can get through it without crying.

 

Instead, I go home, open my windows, and make a cast-iron pan full of biscuits.

 

I take a photo for instagram of the pan and tell the whole story. Aida, my ex-sister-in-law posts back, “siempre pensaba que tu eres incredible.” I sit at my table looking at the glittering lake, eating biscuits and apricot jam.

 

Three days after that Saturday I get an email from Celine. She has a few more comments on the letter, if I’m still editing.

 

I’m not sure I’m still editing.

 

I call Maevey for advice. First she says, “Jesus!” at the additional round of edits. But then she recommends I go ahead and do them. “It’s only a few more photocopies,” she says.

 

I think about how momentous it felt that morning at Kinko’s. And decide not to make the tweaks. I write Celine a note sharing how big it felt to do it and how good it feels to be on the other side. She is positive and I am relieved.

 

On the other end of the paperwork, I have a surge in energy. I make headway on projects that have been lingering for months – hanging curtain rods in the baby’s room, clipping back an insidious vine in the back yard that was taking over the fir trees that line the property. I even go back to my book. I spend a Saturday hopping from café to café and writing. I put down 12 pages, which feels like a good day’s work.

 

Julie has signed me up to moderate an internal session for Make A Wish Foundation, as she is on the board. They want to generate ideas for campaigns moving forward. My plan is to get them to all agree and be working from the same brief. The client is on board.

 

She tells me later, “I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but it was amazing.”

 

I start by having them close their eyes and thinking about what it feels like to give. How do you choose how to give? When to give?

 

When they open their eyes, I ask who wants to share their story?

 

One women volunteers and starts talking about how she’d gone on safari and seen rhinos in the wild. So when she’d come back from the trip she wanted to give to a rhino preservation organization. She found one in Minneapolis.

 

“Why THAT one?” I ask her.

 

“I guess I could just see the rhino with them.”

 

I write “See the rhino” on the board.

 

“This is what we’re trying to do here, people. Get other people to see the rhino in what we do.”

 

“See the rhino” becomes a saying for the meeting.

 

It is a sunny fresh day out and I smile all the way back to the office.

 

When I get back, the client has sent Julie a note saying “Jen is amazing!” In the following weeks, the team texts me a picture of themselves with a stuffed rhino. A few months later, they ask me to join the board.

 

It’s a Friday but I have to go to work.

 

I decide to do my call with Suzi from my car in Volunteer Park. I pick a shady spot on the roundabout encircling the water tower. It’s a sunny day and there are people out with their dogs and their coffees. The rhododendrons are in bloom, an unusual color red that looks like it was purple in a former incarnation.

 

After recounting finishing the adoption paperwork – my crying in the parking lot, the momentous emotion I felt – there’s a pause in the conversation. I tell her, “I’m not sure what else there is.”

 

She is quiet for a minute and then says, “I think the only thing left is to do a blessing for this baby.”

 

“Yes,” I say. But then am confused for a second – did she mean now? This isn’t something that we have ever done on a call, in seven years.

 

I put my left hand on my heart and wait for her words.

 

We are both crying, before she’s even started.

 

Suzi embarks. It’s similar to what she often does for our centerings, saying how grateful she is to be here in this time, with me. And then she goes in to welcoming the baby. She describes the center of a circle, with the baby at the center. I am just trying to keep from sobbing through the phone.

 

Suzi then asks me if there’s anything I want to add.

 

I say, “I’m just so thankful for all the people here rooting for us, so many people looking forward to this baby and supporting me in this journey.” I am thinking of Seath and Carina saying, “The minute you get that call we’ll do a Target run.” I’m thinking of Lenora volunteering Ben to drive me to Eugene to pick up the baby. I’m thinking of Barbie saying that even if they don’t live in Seattle yet, she will come and stay. I’m thinking of my adoption mentors Jess and Karen. I’m thinking of Celine. I’m thinking of Maevey and Poppy.

 

When I finish Suzi says, “You know what I just realized? It’s YOU at the center of the circle, not the baby. It’s you.” And we both start crying again together and then laugh at how much we are crying.

 

I tell Suzi, “And I also want to keep space for this man who is coming into our lives, to let him know that we are waiting for him.”

 

“Why don’t we do a blessing for him too?” suggests Suzi.

 

New York is rainy and dreary for May.

 

Mariane’s gallery is showing at the Contemporary African Art Fair. Plus I want to see friends and generally soak up the city.

 

The boarding is the usual hustle, people juggling luggage and coffee cups and cell phones. I sit in the aisle seat. In front of me a man, still standing orients himself at the window. His seatmate arrives and he introduces himself – it is clear they are old colleagues.

 

He does most of the talking. When she asks, “What’s new?” he says exuberantly, “I’ll show you on the flight.” I think, it’s gotta be a baby.

 

I hear the whole story. He and his girlfriend had been together 14 years. “I mean, I’m too tired to go out and meet someone new” (not exactly a rousing proclamation of love, even tempered by the engine noise.) But they had decided to have a baby as a way of moving their relationship forward. Now he’d sold his eye surgery practice and was finishing out a final year of surgeries on current patients. He had bought a ranch in Texas (I spy on the pictures through the gap between the seats). He mentions that his partner is only 39, so it’s her time now. She is thin and attractive, even in the earthy home shots with the baby. They might sell the apartment (upper West Side) –  probably worth $6 million. He rhapsodizes about having his baby son sleep on his chest in the morning.

 

There is something about this eavesdropping that is oddly soothing to me. The idea that this man, obviously driven and successful was taking steps to spend time with them and simplify his life. It feels like a narrative I can buy into.

 

My cab driver into the city is Guyanese. We crawl along the freeways, past la Guardia, across the bridge and then finally into the city. At first we talk politics. I ask him about the New York primary, which has just been held. We talk about why Trump and Sanders have been galvanizing.

 

He tells me that a passenger of his, a woman from Germany mentioned that the US shouldn’t have so much emphasis on liberal arts education – that we should be sending people to trade schools, that the big companies should be apprenticing people.

 

I have mixed feelings about this German approach to revamping. “Part of me wants to agree, but what the US really needs are people with creativity and imagination too. We’re not going to get that from trade schooling. That comes from a more generalist education.”

 

He says yes, but not everyone needs to do that.

 

What he sees as the real problem with today’s young people is their lack of spiritual education and connection. “I have a 24 year old step daughter,” he tells me. “All she wants to do in the world is be rich. But there are no thoughts, no opinions behind that.”

 

He is heavily involved in his church. “The church has made a big mistake being too dogmatic about the rules, not keeping up with the times. I see why the young people went away. The thing is, there is a hole there, a gap that needs to be filled in their hearts.”

 

I tell him yes, I see it, but in a corporate sense. “People are so unclear about what they want to be doing. They feel like their job is to go to meetings. But they’re miserable doing it. It’s also a spiritual gap, I would say.”

 

When we get to the hotel and I pay him, I reach over to shake his hand. “It’s been a pleasure,” I tell him.

 

“You keep doing your work, I’ll keep doing mine,” he says with a broad smile.

 

When I get up to my room I pull open even the sheer curtains to let more light in. Outside is still rainy and cool. The room looks out onto a large walled yard, studded with a few park benches. Every morning the green reminds me of home, like a grass candle burning below.

 

At first I am sad about the weather but it provides a cozy intimate backdrop for the trip. I see old friends including Poorna who happens to be in the city for some freelance advertising work that is stressing her out. We plan to get together in Red Hook for the Fair, in a big brick building called Pioneer Works. There is a Senegalese food stand and a few people milling around but between the rain and the early hour we are before the rush.

 

Poorna calls saying she’s on her way. “Bueno amiguita,” I tell her.

 

A gallerist from Nairobi approaches me and says, “You speak Spanish!” I spend 20 minutes talking to her. She is Italian and married “an adventurer.” She tells me about the artist. We switch to English to talk about the art.

 

When Poorna gets there we meet a South African artist who used to be in advertising. We talk to her nearly an hour. As we finally pull ourselves away, Poorna says, “I’m always thinking about things from an acting perspective, but it never occurs to me to think about making art.”

 

At another gallery we inspect a piece on the wall, a series of neat pencil drawings of men and text bubbles drawn onto the wall. When we ask the gallerist about the piece, he says “You can hear about it from the artist!”

 

The artist is half English, half Kikuyu, and grew up in the Middle East. She explains the piece is inspired by her experience on Tinder when she moved from London to Gothamburg, Sweden where her race created expectation and conversation. When she asks if we are also artists, Poorna says she’s an actress and I say I work in advertising.

 

Poorna had told me they were looking to turn her play, Nirbahya into an animated documentary film. So as the conversation digs into the deeper, uglier insights behind this woman’s work I tell Poorna, “You should tell her about the play.”

 

“You tell her,” says Poorna.

 

I give her the general overview, that it is inspired by the New Dehli gang rape and it took 6 true stories of sexual violence and wove them together. I tell her it is the most powerful thing I’ve ever seen live. I describe the moment when at every performance, where the actors take the stage one by one and reiterate that these are indeed their true stories. And one by one, the survivors in the audience hold their hands up in solidarity.

 

I look at Poorna and she has tears in her eyes. Then we are all crying. The gallerist comes over and says, “I’m feeling left out,” but the artist says, “This isn’t for you, this is womens’ stuff.” We cry and hug each other.

 

We find Mariane finally. She is in the hubbub of the show so it isn’t quality time, but it is enough to see her face. As Poorna and I wait for an Uber, the space begins to fill in.

 

“So many bougie black people,” comments Poorna. Indeed the crowd is filled with all types of Africans – Brooklynites in stylish patterned shirts and contrasting jackets; a blue-black-skinned man with yellowish eyes and long dreadlocks who says he thinks he knows Poorna from somewhere; two tall extremely good-looking light-skinned Frenchmen in satin bomber jackets.

 

When we get into the car, I catch our driver looking at us through the mirror and give him a smile.

 

“You are both dressed so cool, you look so beautiful,” he says. He is tall and thick, his trunk-like legs in red sweats. On his ID his name is Mamadou.

 

On the flight home I note how my energy is reminiscent of my return from Hawaii – fully in myself. It feels present and infinite, energized and calm.

 

It’s been over a week since I’ve seen S&C and the girls. Seath texts me to come over for dinner. They’ve had their Malm fireplace delivered for the yard. The evening is warm and sunny.

 

We eat outside – “al fresco,” I comment.

 

“What’s al fresco?” asks Edison with a derisive teen curl to her lip.

 

“Outdoors,” I tell her. “In the fresh air.”

 

“Huh,” she says, and stabs a shell of her pasta.

 

The girls go in to watch a show and S&C and I sit out in the new lounge with a fire in the new stove, white with a long chimney so the smoke pipes up out of the yard.

 

“What exactly is Suzi?” asks Carina.

 

“She calls herself a licensed spiritual counselor,” I say.

 

“I’d never go see someone called a licensed spiritual counselor,” Seath responds.

 

“You know, I never thought I would either.”

 

I think of how much of my current outlook is spiritual: changing the culture or spirit of an agency; detaching myself from the timing on baby Kismet and future man and focusing on the belief that they are on their way to me; meditating at home and at work. My vision statement for the year about being more connected with my spiritual energy.

 

“But now I’m totally into that whole side of things.”

 

A month after my Kinko’s finale, I get a note from Celine about a few more things I owe the agency. “Almost there!” she writes hopefully. I call her so I can get the process back to human terms. “Thank you for your patience,” says Celine. At first I’m not sure what she means, but then she explains that my Home Study, which was supposed to be done in October, is finally in Portland at the home office.

 

It is May.

 

I have an internal chuckle to myself, that even if I had moved faster the completed paperwork on their end wouldn’t have been ready for months.

 

“Well, I’m just trying to know that the pace is such that it sets me up with the exact right baby,” I tell her.

 

“I believe that too, and I think it’s so great that it’s your perspective. But not everyone is that evolved.”

 

The final bits are just a link to my book and a few photos of me. I send them in immediately.

 

Two days later I get an email that says, “Splash! You’re in the pool!”

 

Celine says be sure to tell them if I’m going out of town. They like to know where everyone is in case there is a last minute placement.

 

I’ve moved my call schedule with Suzi to weekly. On the longer schedule, I often had a concrete problem to work through. Now I spend a few minutes before the call trying to get back in touch with myself and what I want to accomplish. But the messages to myself are vague.

 

“Today I want to check in on intimate relationship,” I tell Suzi. I’m not really sure what’s there. I tell her about some observations I’ve made. Lunch with a friend of a friend that was so easy and interesting. There was no small talk, we just dove right in. We both were working on books. When I explained mine, he said, “Wow, that is a pretty radical idea. Powerful.” For the first time in a long time, I felt seen.

 

“In a weird way, even though it wasn’t at all a date it made me hopeful about dating again. Like, in all those dates I didn’t have one that was like this – I guess I wasn’t ready.”

 

I have a flash back to the parade of IJL dates, each conversation like grasping at a slippery wall for a hold.

 

Suzi reminds me that there’s no difference in a lunch with a friend and a date – the spiritual intent is the same.

 

I get to the bottom of the story and pause for a minute, wondering what else is there. I tell her about one of my planners who I’d just promoted.

 

“It was so gratifying because she told me, ‘I’ve been catching myself thinking – Jen would be so proud of me right now!’ I asked her, ‘Like what kind of moments?’ And she described a meeting where she came in late, and even though it wasn’t her meeting, and the she went to the white board and said, ‘It seems like there’s some energy around this right now, what else is there?’

 

“’That does sound pretty Jen,’ I told her.”

 

“I think I’ve opened myself up for adoration in a way that I haven’t before – I guess that’s why it’s connected to intimate relationships,” I muse.

 

Suzi reflects some things back to me – the receiving of compliments from my team works my intimate relationship muscle. I am wholly myself now in all environments and am getting positive feedback on that.

 

“Even the idea of muscles seems wrong, here,” I comment as I take it in. “Like I needed muscle when I was gearing for a fight, or trying to hold something up. Trying to prove something. But receiving love doesn’t feel like a muscle, it feels like a down pillow. It feels soft and light, not structured.”

 

I’m silent for another minute with my eyes closed. “I can tell this is going to get big,” I say to Suzi. I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes.

 

Then something clicks in my brain. “In fact, I think because I’ve untethered myself from Juan, I am able to receive more adoration. Like now I’m plugged into a future that is of my own visioning, my own making – this baby, this man. It’s no longer being tied to a past – a past SELF – that doesn’t feel worthy of love.”

 

Suzi does a big exhale on the other end of the line.

 

“Like being attached to Juan was being attached to a Jen that had all the guilt I felt about the relationship not working. And now my current self is free of that.”

 

“My post-Juan self is deserving of love.”

 

We both exhale. I sniff.

 

“I’m so glad I kept my mouth shut,” says Suzi. “I would never had come up with that.”

 

The blog has been neglected. I’m caught between knowing what I really want to write about and Juan’s request to not mention it. Still, I take a few steps forward on it for myself.

 

From my leather chair at Starbucks, I spot a man across the street. He is smoking. It’s hard to tell if he is young or old. I type away and then look up to realize he is coming into the store. Up close he is weathered and older, although his face and eyes have a baby-like quality. He has one tooth on the bottom row. He’s wearing blue hospital scrubs that are torn and dirty and a yellow t-shirt.

 

“Sister, sister, I’m looking for the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Affairs. It used to be down here.” He begins rattling off something about how he went to St Vincent de Paul and they told him he had to be a member of the church and that even the Veteran’s Hospital hadn’t wanted to help him. He just wanted to get home to Vancouver. He shows me the wrist band with his name on it – Frankie – from his hospital visit.

 

“I’ve talked to everyone in this world,” he tells me. “But I’m still human.”

 

He asks me to look up the American Legion, can I call them. I do. I have a swell of empathy for this man, teetering between this world and somewhere else, still human. He reminds me of my grandmother, someone balancing between our reality and elsewhere.

 

“You’re a human being, right?” Frankie asks me with his one-tooth baby smile.

 

“I hope so!” I say. I’m dialing the number I found for the American Legion on Mercer Island. It’s Saturday and the phone just rings. In the pictures online it looks like a banquet hall more than a place equipped to take in half-lucid vets in hospital pants.

 

“There’s no answer my friend,” I tell him. “What’s your plan then? What else can you do for yourself today?”

 

He asks me for $11.91. With that he can get back to Vancouver. I give him five ones that I have in my wallet. I offer my hand to shake. His skin is smooth and dark brown, with white at the wrinkles of his palms. He grips my hand with a surprising fierceness, like I’m a rope attached to a boat. I loosen my own hand to signal to him to do the same and he pulls me a hint forward, across the table. It’s not aggressive but it takes me off guard.

 

Then he releases his grip.

 

He thanks me again gives a salute. Then he makes a Star Trek reference, “What is it they always say? ‘Dammit Jim!’” and laughs. When he tries to exit the store he walks past the door and almost runs into a pole. He looks back at me and asks, “How do you get out of here?” I point out the door that he has just passed.

 

Two older ladies are sitting across from me and one says to the other, “She’s been very patient with him.”

 

From the window I see him wandering around again across the street, and worry that he’s been here all day. It’s a posh area, without a lot of services.

 

I ask at the counter if he’s been there all day but they haven’t noticed him. I wonder out loud if there’s someone to call to find him a bed or some services. When they ask me who, he is gone. I hope he’s caught the bus. I think about him as some wayward angel, floating around among us in hospital sweats.

 

Still human.

 

I hear an interview with comic Sarah Silverman’s sister, Susan, who is a rabbi in Israel and an advocate for international adoption. She says that we really have to admit that the reason most people aren’t open to adoption is that their hearts aren’t big enough. How most people see adopted children are seen as “less than” biological children.

 

This gnaws at me.

 

On the phone with Maevey she mentions an acquaintance in her early 40’s who had just gone to the doctor to investigate her fertility. Apparently the doctor told her her “fertility was in the toilet” and put a sad face next to her lab results.

 

We debate whether or not the sad face is callous.

 

“I’m just devastated for her,” Maeve says empathetically.

 

“I just wish our reaction to this wasn’t that it’s so final. There are so many options for her to have a child in her life. Why can’t that be the reaction? The abundance of options?” I say. I’m trying not to be frustrated but I feel it bubbling up inside me.

 

Maevey observes measuredly, “Dude, I feel like you just had this commitment on a cellular level to adoption. But that’s not everybody. I think it would be really difficult for some people to deal with a birth family.”

 

“Maybe,” I say. “But I think it’s also because it’s not commonly done.”

 

Maevey has to hop off so we don’t finish.

 

Later on my call with Suzi I tell her, “I still feel defensive talking about adoption. Like I feel like I need to protect the idea.” I tell her about the Susan Silverman interview.

 

“Like there’s this devaluation of adopted kids. The thing is, I don’t want to raise this baby with any baggage of being ‘less than.’”

 

Suzi agrees with me. “As a society we DO devalue adopted kids. So you’re having a protective feeling about this. We need to get behind what fear is really there for you.”

 

I’m sitting at a picnic table in a bucolic spot in Tillamook. I had spontaneously decided to meet Barbie and Brian at the beach and had texted Suzi to see if her schedule would allow for a later call. By 3:00, I wasn’t quite to Pacific City, but instead pulled over and sat next to the creek.

 

The grass is lush and freckled with daisies. The sun shines through the trees. I had texted Suzi a picture of the spot because she told me she always likes to see in her mind where I am during a session.

 

She has me close my eyes a minute. There in the momentary dark, it is suddenly glaring me in the face.

 

I choke it out: “My fear is that my child will see ME as less than, because I’m not it’s biological mother.”

 

I put my hands up to my forehead and let the tears roll down my face. I can hear Suzi on the other end, clucking empathetically.

 

Suzi goes on to say say, “It’s the spiritual connection that is important. And you already have this connection with this baby. This is the story to tell. Everyone wants to hear how wanted they are. If you haven’t already you should write this story down,” she suggests.

 

I think about how the flow of the day led so gracefully up to this point – that Suzi was able to do a later call, that traffic was light and easy, that I was just not quite close enough to the beach house to do the call from there. The sun reflects off the the creek as it corners the bend. A crow chases a red wing blackbird.

 

“I already know what to write,” I tell Suzi.

 

I get an email from the adoption agency asking if I’d be open to adopting a two-and-a-half year-old. The mother already has a 6 year-old that she is parenting and feels she just can’t do both.

 

I have a little cry for the mother, the pain of realizing after two years that it’s just too much for her to handle both children. But I am also in awe of her clarity and ability to make such a painful decision.

 

Only weeks into the pool, it is a long shot, but it reminds me just how close this baby could be.

 

I say yes.

 

At work I make a new commitment to the Wednesday meditation. For the past year, Monday has been flying along successfully, while Wednesday had been in a chronic mid-week slump. I decide the key to attendance is to prioritize it for myself.

 

One morning it’s just me and one other guy, a newcomer to meditation who I recognized but don’t know. We chat lightly as I put the sign on the door that says “Meditation in progress,” and close the blinds to make the room dimmer. By 11:35, no one else has shown up.

 

I always feel gangly leading meditation, unsure of my natural pace or strength like a long-legged colt . When I go to the Monday meditation, I’m always soothed by my co-worker’s soft voice and leisurely cadence, presumably honed after years of yoga.

 

Today I am even more awkward that it’s not 4 or 5 of us but just him and me.

 

We close our eyes and I put the rain soundtrack on for background noise. I suggest that we relax into our seats and feel where we’re holding energy and emotion in our bodies. I give thanks for this time to recenter ourselves in the middle of the week.

 

And a beautiful thing happens.

 

He murmurs an agreement.

 

My heart skips a beat, I am so moved by this tiny gesture.

 

At one point I peek open one eye to catch the time and am again reminded of the intimacy, how unusual it is at work to sit in a dark conference room with your eyes closed in the presence of a relative stranger.

 

Later I tell Maevey, “It was kind of intense. Like I could totally feel his energy in the room.”

 

“Erotic meditation!” exclaims Maevey. “Tell me more.”

 

“Not erotic,” I counter, laughing at Maevey’s enthusiasm. “He’s not for me. But it was like a reminder of what connection can be.”

 

The next day I pass him at his desk. I look curiously for a trace element of the moment then look away, embarrassed of my own wanting of connection.

 

At the next meditation, he is there again, along with some other regulars. When the time is up we take deep inhales and exhales to reconnect with the room.

 

“I heard a great piece that reminded me of how important it is to really be connected to ourselves out there in the meditative state,” I say. I share with them a story I heard on Fresh Air, an interview with the British actor Christopher Eccleston.

 

“He was talking about how his dad has dementia. They were playing chess and suddenly his dad didn’t know who he was. He said, ‘I’m your son, dad,” but this upset his father. He was worried his mother would think he’d had a son out of wedlock.

 

“Later, his mom asked his dad, ‘Do you know who I am?’ and his dad said, ‘Yes, I know who you are.’ ‘So who am I then?’ asked the mom, and the dad said, ‘I don’t know, but I know that I love you.’”

 

“Here is dad is floating out there, lost to the details. But he knows he loves her. I’m crying just saying it,” I can feel my eyes heating up.

 

“That’s a great story,” he tells me on the way out.

 

A few weeks later, he and I are both there early again, although eventually three others show up. While it’s just the two of us, he tells me he really needs to meditate because he’s been in court all week. I think he’s being metaphorical, but he says no, He was in court. It was for his divorce. It was finalized today.

 

The trace element I was looking for.

 

We have a family vacation at Yellowstone. Barbie and Brian and I decide to drive together and to head to Glacier first. The day we arrive at the Park, Brian’s mounting excitement manifests in a request every 15 minutes to “text your brother and see and see where they’re at?” We stop for lunch in Butte at a meat pasty restaurant, complete with wood paneling and a Miller Time clock.

 

We finally drive into Gardiner, and then the road into the Park. “I still remember Juan crying in excitement when we got to the Yellowstone sign,” says Brian. Juan and I had also done a road trip to Yellowstone with Barbie and Brian the year we’d gotten back from London. I can still see the picture in my head – how young and tan and thin we were, standing in our sunglasses at the stone arch.

 

We arrive within minutes of each other at Old Faithful. I come down the hall of the hotel and holler, “Dr Carina!” as I catch her heading the same way in front of me. We clog the hall with our family. The girls are abuzz with their rafting stories from the day before in Missoula. Our rooms are just off the main lobby, all in a row in the old wing of the hotel. They have log cabin walls and an iron-framed bed with white linens. Evie wants to know what kind of stuffie we have in our room. Edison is going to be my roommate for the trip, sleeping on an air mattress on the floor.

 

One morning I go for a walk out to the geyser fields. I catch Brian in the lobby, waiting for Barbie. “We’re going to go for a walk,” he says.

 

“OK, see you guys later,” I tell him, heading out. I can tell Brian is confused that I don’t want to stay and go with them. But I need my space.

 

There is a paved bike path that ends at Morning Glory pool and then continues on to a trail. Morning Glory is a fan  of surreal blues, oranges and yellows at the edges, and then a deep narrow pool at the center.

 

It’s still early and I head off the trail towards the river to see a wild twisty geyser that is on the river bank. I think about heading up the hill to see another site tantalizingly named Jewel Pool, but l I get a prickling up my neck about a bear. We all laughed that Carina came prepared with bear spray and bells for the girls’ backpacks. I wish I had some bear spray with me now and consider starting to sing, just to make some noise on the trail. I look around through the trees thinking there might be elk or a buffalo that I haven’t spotted, some less ferocious animal that is giving me the heebies. But there are just lodge pole pines and the breeze in the yellow grasses.

 

When I return to the bike path. Ahead of me, I notice a family who’s obviously spotted something. They start to run, then stop, then the dad goes off running. A ranger comes back in a truck. He has something in his hand. By the time I get there the family is gone but the ranger is still there, pacing.

 

“What’s out there,” I ask him with curiosity.

 

“Grizzly.”

 

Edison is the perfect roommate except for her constantly discarded clothing. I mention to her to pile it in a bag, but when she forgets I do it myself. She wrestles her air mattress upright and against the wall every morning. We fold the sheets and blankets, pinning the ends together with our hands and making the folds even. Otherwise, she reads.

 

“Nerds,” comments Seath. “You guys are the Nerd Herd.” We all laugh.

 

That evening we do the chuck wagon ride out to Pleasant Valley for a barbecue. There are over 100 people. We pull in in the nick of time after a long drive including a black bear sighting. The parking lot is dusty and dry. One of the wranglers, an older guy with white hair and a black cowboy hat on is telling the story about wrangling in Yosemite. At some part he takes a tangent off and talks about how his wife is the true wrangler, she grew up around horses and there isn’t a day that goes by when she doesn’t ride.

 

We are wagon #9 with about half of South Carolina and a few other Portlanders. The horses jangle in their harnesses and the guide tells us about the history of the valley and points out animals. She is a pale, round-faced young woman with light auburn braids. She is not 100% comfortable with her spiel, but she barrels through with a smile. The wrangler driving the horses announces that they are engaged. He is from Georgia with a syrupy southern drawl. He teases her and she punches him.

 

I muse on this foreign culture of ranchers and wranglers. There seems to be a reverence for the women, something I didn’t expect. Seath speculates that Georgia and Braids aren’t really engaged, that it’s a ploy for the tourists but I ante that she’d punched him one too many times for nothing to be going on. I wonder if, in contrast to Seath, fully vested in the comfort of his beautiful wife and children, I have more riding on the idea of a fresh love story.

 

It is late by the time we get back to the parking lot. The hills turn purple. At Mammoth Hot Springs the hillside is eerily white in the dusk. At one point the road rises above a shallow valley and there is a herd of 30 elk, mothers and babies grazing in the twilight. Brian pulls over and we climb out to the edge of the road. All at once every adult in the herd raises her head to look at us. Ears twitch. A handful race off with their calves following. Those who remain go back to their grazing, unperturbed.

 

There are ghosts in the park. A spot on the bank of a river where Juan and I may have spent an afternoon fishing. A lake where we stopped and caught an elk swimming across. I take these in neutrally as we drive past, data points rather than meaningful sightings.

 

More than the rushing streams or stoic buffalo, the thing I am struck by is the sky. I snap picture after picture of the cloud cover: ostentatious billows, streaky paintbrushed wisps. There is an exhilaration in seeing the canvas stretch out in an endless blue.

 

Our last full day in the park, Seath and Carina commandeer a table on the deck of the Inn and we play dominoes. Carina brings snacks from the car – Pringles and Starburst, both of which send the girls into fits of excitement. The rest of us finish up cheese and crackers. The day before, Evie had proven herself a bit of a bones prodigy when she’d handily won. Today she isn’t such a dominant force, but the competitive urge and excitement of play is still there. “Let me see your move! Let me see it!” she insists to everyone, bouncing up and down with her hands on the log arms of her chair.

 

The last day of the drive, I take the wheel. Brian had invested a long day before and needed a break. I put on Simon & Garfunkle to have something to sing along to with my Boomer parents. The song “America” comes on and Barbie says, “This always reminds me of Steve (my uncle, Brian’s brother). It’s kind of a lost song, and there’s Kathy in it, Kathy was Steve’s first wife. It came out when Steve and Kathy were breaking up so I always think of him.”

 

We’re driving along in golden wheat fields that have been mowed down for the summer. It’s a stark landscape, empty of people or cattle. I turn up the volume and glide along the road. As the song plays my eyes well up with tears and I feel the tight fullness at the back of my throat. For a minute I think I’m going to sob out loud and scare my parents that there is something wrong.

 

But I am also thinking about what’s lost, also thinking of a breakup.

 

I flash back the beginning of the year and the cheery and painful tiles of Juan’s Instagram – moments we’d had or I thought we would have–reskinned with another woman, another dog.

 

I’m breaking up with my own memories, the ghosts of us. It is a new floor placed right over the old one. The old one is still there, underneath. But it is now invisible, irrelevant to the shiny new layer.

 

I finally recommit to the blog.

 

I write 8 hours one Sunday, unable to stop my brain whirring even as I climb into bed. As I read through, I have a moment of self-doubt: have I spent too much time talking about Juan? Each blog I think there is nothing more to say about him or us, that I’ve truly moved on. I get up twice to turn on the light and type myself a little note in the document on my laptop. Finally, I let out a big sigh and look out my window. It is not fully dark yet, even though it’s past ten. The yard has a preternatural glow.

 

At work, I interview a friend of a friend for a position on my team, but it’s clear early on in the conversation that he’s not quite what we need.

 

“Actually, I just wanted to meet you,” he says. He tells me he read one of the blogs I’d written for work, about how competition in the workplace can be negative. He asks where that observation came from. I tell him my Deutsch story, about the meetings that felt like the lions taking down a gazelle where everyone was talking louder and more forcefully to be heard. How it didn’t feel like the energy I wanted to work in.

 

He tells me that he had a similar experience, where he leaned into the competitive culture of the agency and then was labeled an “angry black man.” We talk about double standards and the changing workplace.

 

There is a moment where I say, “OK, I’m going to get really out there,” and he says, “I’m about to go there too!”

 

The conversation is so engaging, I am almost late to lead my Wednesday meditation. When I tell the story to Jill she gives me the raised “did you ask him out” eyebrows.

 

“No, no, I don’t want to be in pursuit,” I tell her. “He knows how to get ahold of me if he’s interested.”

 

“Besides – he is thinking about moving to Mexico and I’m about to adopt a baby. I’m just looking at it as signs of life,” I tilt my head and raise my own eyebrows. “The signs are pointing in the right direction.”

 

At the office, one of the meditation regulars has made a poster for the sessions. They are diamond-shaped and the background is like a green nebula. “Did you see them?” asks the woman who leads Mondays, “He made a huge mandala and then cut the posters from it.”

 

They are hung everywhere in the office, on windows of conference rooms and the doors to the bathrooms. An office makeover.

 

Everywhere, little diamond-shaped windows out to the starry night.

 

I can’t remember the moment I fell in love.

 

Not with my high school boyfriend. Not with Juan. Not with any other man.

 

But I remember the endings.

 

Maybe because the endings were the beginnings of myself.

 

I do remember the moment I fell in love with Loli.

 

It was the first minute I saw him. Juan had called me at work and said, “Juanito bought me a puppy for my birthday.” We had some back and forth about whether or not to accept. I was hesitant. Seath and I hadn’t grown up with pets. I worried I would be the one stuck caring for it.

 

Juan got home after me. I was in the back yard watering plants. He came around a corner with a pair of floppy ears attached to a tiny black dog. I can still feel my hands wrapped around that little furry belly.

 

With Loli, there was no dance. No will he or won’t he. No need to reclaim myself from awkwardness.

 

I just gave all of myself.

 

And it was returned.

 

 

Jendate 29: Scars and Pools

Bull’s father has died.

Bull, normally a hulking figure, is shrunken and cowed. His right arm is in a sling from recent shoulder surgery.

Healthy, Bull was doing the feeding, the changing, the helping in and out of chairs for Pops. With an incapacitated shoulder, he could not.

“My doctor actually told me, ‘You need a break. You’re not going to be able to do all that,’” Bull tells me, rubbing his bald head with a large hand.

He had interviewed in-home African nurses and visited Filipino care facilities (“Pops wont have no white nurse!”) Finally, he settled on a local home that Pops had approved. They moved him in the week before the surgery. He died the week after the surgery.

I had only met his father a few times. He came to the gym daily, but usually later than I was there. He was a tall, thin man with charcoal skin and rheumy grey eyes, always in a straw fedora. He sat in the chair next to Bull’s desk. He was speech impaired because of a stroke, but his eyes were lively.

“You know, the day after the surgery I got up and I thought, I just have to go see Pops,” Bull tells me. “I don’t know why but I just felt I needed to see him. Flo said to me, ‘Where are you going? You’re not supposed to be driving,’ but I just knew I had to go. When I got there I asked the nurse ‘How’s Pops?’ and she said, ‘Oh he’s doing well.’ Then I go in his room and he’s slumped over in his chair, looked like he was asleep but his eyes were open. I went over to him and said, ‘Pops, pops you OK?’ He just gave me once last look and he was gone. Ain’t that crazy.”

I nod in agreement. Ain’t that crazy indeed.

The day of the funeral is sunny and warm. I see Bull at the gym that morning. He is in good spirits. “I’m not gonna speak, I don’t know if I can do it without crying,” he tells me.

“Well, it is a funeral,” I say. “Maybe crying is OK.”

I drive down to the service with Kenny Joe, who I haven’t seen in months. The church is in a modest retail space in a strip mall. When we pull up we see one of Bull’s sons in the parking lot with a few other men. They hoot and holler over seeing Kenny Joe and grip him in big bear hugs.

There are several people from the gym inside, mostly the morning crew of retirees and self-employed who happen to be off on a Friday: Ms. Green, retired PE teacher with short cropped hair and a neck that looked empty without a whistle; Evelyn, retired principal, petite with a beautiful smile; Pete, a bald, heavyset white guy and Gene, a light-skinned African-American from Boston who looked 55 but was almost 70. At the gym Gene is always in a red t-shirt. “Look how nice you clean up!” I tease him about his outfit. Gene grins.

Mick, one of Bull’s closest friends takes the stage first. In his reedy voice he recounts:

“We were driving across country for the World Weightlifting Championships in DC and decided to stop in to see Bull’s father in Tupelo, Mississippi. His house was a small shack that consisted of guns, canned food and dogs. Immediately Walter started calling me Milk, though I’ll never know why.”

The audience chuckles, because Mick is white.

“After the competition, it was decided we should drive Pops home to Seattle. So we piled him in with all the other guys and a bag this big.” Mick gestures the size of a toaster oven.

“Bull and I took turns driving through the night. I swear, in three days, Pops did not close his eyes once. ‘Bull, I thought Washington was only 8 hours,’ he said at one point. He didn’t realize we were going to Washington State.’”

Others speak. The stories are both sweet and funny. They are about Pops, but they are really about Bull and the care that he gave his father from the minute he picked him up in Tupelo.

Finally Bull and his brother Cornell take the stage. Cornell can barely choke out a few words.

Then Bull starts talking: “Pops was born onto the plantation where his grandparents had been slaves. He worked the land there, and it was always about hard, physical work. Hard was how you had to be in the south, how to be a black man. It meant never crying, that’s just how it was in Pops’ day.”

Here, Bull’s voice breaks under the weight of the story, under the burden of loss.

But also, perhaps, in the freedom to be a different kind of black man.

The funeral stays with me all weekend. I think of Bull, built like Atlas, holding up the weight of his family – not just his father, but his 5 sons who he raised for several years as a single father, his two nephews and niece, now his own adopted children.

His bulging arms and shoulders no match for the strength of his heart.

Later, when I share my observations with Suzi she mentions a sermon her mentor, Reverend Michael gave on Father’s Day.

“He had all the fathers stand up, and then all the men. He told them that this old masculinity about manipulation and control was over. The new masculinity is about care and compassion, with families, with the planet.”

“Just like Bull’s father’s funeral,” I tell her.

At work there is a sort of spring cleaning.

Antsiness starts to brew within my team. Someone volleys up multiple emails rewriting his job description and ending with “commensurate salary” suggestions. A few others quit to move home. Mostly I see this shedding as inevitable, invisible currents that were flowing under the surface before I was even at the agency. I try not to take the emptying desks personally.

I’m at work on a Friday, missing a massage in order to interview someone. I find out from HR that one of my planners has been asking about other opportunities in the network. I listen a minute. The office’s HR Director is a Nordic beauty that I had nicknamed White Velvet in honor of her favorite coffee drink, a white velvet mocha. But she was also that – smooth, but packing a punch. Over the last few months I had grown to respect her implicitly as one of the few people at the agency willing to have a direct conversation.

When she stops I reflect, “The funny thing is that I have the conversation about Aidan leaving about once a month,” I tell her. “He always thinks he should be somewhere else.”

But there are more layers to the onion. Aidan has vented to White Velvet on a number of things and she’s also read between some lines.

Ultimately, he feels conflicted by the vision I had set for him and the department.

I try and channel his frustrated haze. A talented mind, Aidan possessed a preternatural instinct for opportunity. At the slightest glimmer of light he knew there was space behind the wall to expand into.

I could see why he is frustrated with the vision. His account director, Camilla, wasn’t exactly on board with my new thinking about the need for strategic thinking on her businesses.

More than anything behind his comments, I could sense his impatience. Recently, Aidan had pitched the agency on a new role for himself, moving out of planning altogether and starting up a new discipline.

“Take him to lunch,” suggests White Velvet.

“Oh my god, the drama,” I sum up with a sigh, leaning back in my chair. I am thinking about how instead of my massage I’ve acquired additional stress.

“It’s really an opportunity,” she says firmly. She punctuates with a blink of long lashes.

I know she is right.

I feel depleted by the time I get home.

Needing solace, I head to Seath and Carina’s. All I can think of is how soothing the faces of the littles will be: Edison with her wide plum smile and rosy cheeks, Evie with her round eyes and pointy chin. Both beautifully oblivious to my day at the office.

When I get there they are finishing dinner, the family around the table.

“Grab a plate,” Seath says. But I am not hungry for anything more than their company.

After dinner I stand outside with Seath for a minute. I tell him that it’s hit me that I am not winning any popularity contests, that the change I’m espousing makes people uncomfortable.

“That’s what people find hard about working where I do,” he says. “It’s constantly experimenting.”

I tell him that I don’t know very many people who are happy there. He shrugs and says, “Maybe I’ve just learned to be flexible.”

I leave wondering if I’m really the one who’s not flexible.

I talk to Suzi about Aidan.

“Of course I want him to move on. He’s so talented. I don’t want to hold him back,’ I say. Suzi catches me in the phrase.

“Why would you think you’re holding him back?” she asks.

I sit on my couch, my eyes closed. “There’s something there about Juan,” I say.

“That’s what I was getting too,” Suzi says, always intuiting where I’m going. “I think you’re judging your own feminine energy,” she suggests. “You’re telling yourself that feminine energy is somehow a burden to masculine energy. With Juan, you felt unable to collaborate with his energy in the end. But you are not that same person. You want to update your sense of self. “

I jot my notes and take this in. “I just feel like I’ve been so heavy. Like everything seems so dark. Like I’ve lost my way a bit.”

“Mmmmm,” says Suzi soothingly, an acknowledgement and a balm.

“Darkness is a feminine quality,” she says, emphasizing the syllables like they are stitches sewing the concept together. “We don’t want to judge the darkness or be afraid of it. There is a Celtic proverb that is something like, ‘the luminous darkness.’ From that darkness comes light.”

“How funny, my last blog was about Kali,” I muse.

Even with a great call with Suzi, I fantasize about calling in sick Monday and driving to the beach. I need a break from work and the weather is beautiful, mild and clear. I can hear the ocean in my ears. I talk to Barbie and Brian on Sunday. I tell Barbie about the siren’s call saying, “I’m just so burnt out with work,” with an exasperated sigh.

“Well, you don’t want to cry wolf too many times,” says Barbie in her prudent way.

When I hang up, I think, “But I never cry wolf.”

Monday morning, I get ready for work as usual. But in the driveway I sit and stare at the dash and can’t put the car in reverse. I turn the car off and head back inside. I send an email that I am sick.

I call Maevey. “Dude, you ARE sick,” she says supportively. “It’s just not a cold. It’s emotional.”

I spend the day doing things I’ve been meaning to do. I start a painting. My studio has been in disuse for more than a year. With all the travel back and forth to LA, I was too exhausted to clean brushes and palates. On the canvas, I block out the start of something, inspired by a dream I had where a tiger’s claw catches the tender web between my thumb and forefinger. In my dream the puncture there seeps blood. Later I investigate the symbolism: the thumb stands for self-determination, the index finger for leadership. It feels appropriate for my current plight, caught between my vision and bringing people on board with it.

Tuesday I continue my office diet. Instead of heading to the office, I sit on a dilapidated couch in a Georgetown coffee shop and crafting a blog entry for work.

By Wednesday I am myself again. In my first meeting of the day a decision is made to move Aidan to his new position. When Julie and I tell him, he plays it low key but I can tell he’s elated. I smile at his tempered reaction but I can almost see his heart racing through his shirt.

By the time Aidan and I have lunch, there is nothing left for us to solve, only pasta to eat. He tells me a story about being at NYU during September 11, and how afterwards, all he wanted to do was join the Marines and go kick someone’s ass in the Middle East. This is a shock – he’s not exactly ROTC material. Then again, often, Aidan spoke in war metaphors. Once he made a video for a creative briefing that was cut from a trailer of Mad Max. It was full of bold titles talking about how SALES were a WAR.

The personal story highlights something about our relationship: He is deft and adept, but rarely revealing. Even in our dealings he was constantly keeping information cloistered, conversations hidden rather than open. Reverend Michael’s old definition of masculine energy.

I have a moment where I think, maybe I need to reveal myself to him.

I talk about the change agent movement at the agency – friends I’d made, others I’d made wary. How it was a challenge to realize you were the cause of uneasiness and discontent. How it was a challenge that change could only move at its own pace.

“I’ve realized there are runners and walkers. The walkers can’t be made to run. The walkers are only going to come at their own pace. I realize I just have to be OK with that.”

It’s the opposite approach of Mad Max, racing through the desert, popping off firebombs and leaving a trail of craters in the landscape.

He listens, but I’m not sure if we’ve connected. Behind his eyes I see him filing it away for later.

The next day I head back to my desk from a meeting and I realize Aidan’s desk has been cleaned out.

“What happened to Aidan?” I ask the rest of my team. Apparently, he’s moved to sit with his new team, but didn’t tell anyone.

“That’s so him,” says someone with a laugh.

His empty desk looks like a gaping hole. I stand and stare at it incredulously. I am taken off guard by how upset I am.

I realize it’s not just Aidan’s empty desk that has unsettled me. It is the tipping point in a critical mass of empty desks. What was once a thriving hub of conversation ranging from politics to the Kardashians has been routed. All that’s left are a few coffee stains and miscellaneous cords.

I decide that my assistant and I are going to infill. We’ve been sitting at the window in a palatial expanse of desk and lake view, our backs to the rest of the department. But I’m not attached to the real estate. I take Aidan’s desk, Sarah takes another. We wipe away the dust and coffee stains. We empty drawers. I bring my laptop over and set up my gum and hand cream bar. I roll my chair over and swap it with Aidan’s.

“Doesn’t this feel awesome?” I exclaim, to one in particular.

Aidan’s desk had been littered with odds and ends, the most notable of which was a picture of himself, his wife and his baby in old western wear. His wife and baby beamed, their modern selves shining through their wide brimmed hat and frilly bonnet. Aidan is wearing a black, narrow-brimmed hat that is less cowboy and more Walter White from Breaking Bad. His chin is down slightly, though he’s looking at the camera. The effect is that this is the true Aidan, gun-slinging, head cocked and ready for a fight.

James, another planner comes back and sits at his desk across from mine. “Hi,” I say, like we’ve just met.

“This is nice,” says James, looking around.

The cleaning frenzy is catching. Everyone is taking wipes and cleaning their desks.

“It’s funny, I didn’t realize how much of a barricade I had up,” James says. Indeed, as I look down the rows of desk I realize how much protection everyone had from their neighbors, disguised as pictures and plants.

One of the creative directors comes by. “You moved?’ he asks, stating the obvious. “You gave up the view?” I can see the machinations in his head, how this does not add up to his vision of leadership.

“Actually, this is the coveted second desk,” I tell him. It is part joke, part truth. It feels better there than it ever did at my old desk. At my old desk I had the prestige of space, but it was empty and unnecessary. Now I feel at one with my team, literally in the middle of them.

Later that afternoon, Aidan swoops around the corner. “You moved,” he says.

“I couldn’t stand the empty desks,” I confess.

“Facing inward to the agency,” he says, flashing a knowing smile.

After my January debacle of adoption paperwork lost in the mail, I slog through the 15 or so pieces I still need to get them. The assistant at the agency has sent me a checklist of everything needed – a helpful tool I wonder hasn’t been provided before.

Still, when I load up the documents and send them in, they reply that I still owe them a few things. I am not surprised. But I have an inward groan. The note sits in my in box for weeks. It’s only a few other things, but each additional request is an emotional hurdle. Besides, I’m waiting on my fingerprints to make their slow way through the FBI database, a process that can take 3 months.

I decide to take my time.

In another paperwork SNAFU, I have to extend my taxes. Because I had two cars, one for LA, one for Seattle, I had donated my second car to Bull’s charity. To claim it on my taxes, the donated car needed to be appraised and special forms completed.

After months of delay, Bull finally gets me the pieces. But my tax guy writes back, “This is the wrong form!” When I read these words I feel defensive for Bull. With the death of his father, he’s got a lot on his plate. I try and reign in my impatience, knowing it will be done in time. When I remind Bull about the revised paperwork he says, “I know, gotta get that to ya!” flashing a white smile.

Still, it lingers unfinished.

Just like my adoption paperwork, I think to myself.

After months of rescheduled and canceled meetings, I finally have a coffee with one of my key perceived detractors, Camilla.

Frankly, I am unsure if she is truly a detractor. What I know is that she has been in an extremely stressful situation at work. She’s lost team members, she’s had uncooperative creatives. She’s been buried.

But also, that she’s had no time in weeks for anything I’ve initiated.

I’ve tried not to take all of this as personal feedback and instead worked to channel my empathy. As much as we feel like opposites, I wonder if we are actually the same.

I send her an email about a candidate, attaching the resume. She writes back that she thinks we need someone with a different set of experience.

At first, I read her email and deflate slightly. It feels so expected to have a no rather than a yes. Then I regain my composure and I tell her simply, I would love to hear more, let’s meet for coffee.

I’m already down at Vivace when she comes in. I smile and wave, and she heads over to the table. When she sits down, I say, “I have just being wanting to spend some time with you.”

We catch up on some of the day’s drama. There have been some changes made on her team only this morning, and she smiles with relief as she tells me about how anxious she’s been in making them.

“I get it,” I agree. “Implementing change is stressful. I guess I’ve realized it can be kind of lonely being a change agent. Not everyone is on board, and its hard not to take it personally. I finally came to realize that when you are leading change, it’s like a marathon – there are walkers and runners.” I draw an invisible thread out, my fingers starting wide and getting narrower in a point.

“The runners are with you, they get it. But the walkers are coming along at their own pace. And you can’t turn walkers into runners. So I’m trying to just know it’s OK, that the change will happen at its own pace.”

I am talking about her obliquely, acknowledging her reservations. Giving her a pass.

Then, she gives me a pass.

“I get that you’re all about possibilities,” Camilla says. “And that’s good for me, because I’m so-“ she makes a gesture with her arms, like a bear collecting her cubs.

For the first time in months I think: she is in.

I am heading to New York with Barbie, my aunt Nurse Karen and my cousin Allyson. The event is prompted by Poorna’s play, which has finally made it stateside. I talk to Poorna on the phone before I leave.

“Dude, I’m like your groupie,” I tell her. “I want the Nirbhaya world tour t-shirt since I will have been to so many places.”

The weather is perfectly sunny and cool. There are beautiful moments of serendipity. Wandering the West Village, we stop under the sign for the Spotted Pig just when we are contemplating dinner. I run in to see how long the wait will be. The restaurant is packed. There are two women at the desk, a solid African-American with her hair wrapped in a scarf and a tall, raven-haired Russian. I ask how long the wait is, and Scarf says, “You’re looking at an hour and a half,” like it’s a jail sentence not time to kill before a meal. I smile and say OK without any annoyance. I’m on vacation after all. I start to ask if I can leave my phone number and Raven interjects, “I love your nail polish, such a cool color!”

“You’re so nice!” I say, smiling at them both.

Scarf gives me a sideways look and then says, “Is your party all here?” When I nod, she says, “Come on then.” I grab the girls from outside, and Raven escorts us to a cozy table in the back.

“Jennifer, what did you say to her?” laughs Karen. We can’t believe our luck.

The meal is delicious – we eat pork rind salad, mackerel ceviche, and obscenely delicious ravioli called gnudi that we talk about the rest of the trip. When the bill comes, Karen and Barbie say, “Stan’s buying dinner tonight.” The inheritance money from grandfather’s estate is starting to trickle in. I wonder if Stan ever went to New York.

The light lingers outside, turning the street purple. We walk home in the dark, a few streets strung with white Christmas lights, in constant celebration.

The play is as it has been: heart-breaking, sob-inducing, powerful, clever. But also, with a new ending. One of the original actresses had been replaced with a Canadian-Indian actress who came with a new testimonial. The end is softer, more delicate.

When I comment on this to Poorna she says, “Only tonight, actually.”

The rest of the trip is full of wandering and discovering. I catch up with a few friends who live in the city. We eat Salty Pimps at Big Gay Ice Cream and pork buns at Momofuku. Karen is constantly a half block ahead, while Ally and I stroll more leisurely behind. Barbie, amenable to any pace, keeps Karen company.

At one point in the Lower East Side we stumble on an empty lot between buildings that has been converted into a garden. There are trees and flowers in bloom.  A huge bird is drawn on the wall. “It’s so funny that my favorite place in New York is a garden,” I tell Barbie. “I guess I’m living in the right place.”

On Sunday we go to the new Whitney, which has just opened. I’m underwhelmed by the building and overwhelmed by the people. It hard for me to enjoy the art with the crowds. Instead, I start to take pictures of people, lying in wait for one man to cross just so in front of a painting, snapping tens of photos of another couple looking at a Chuck Close self-portrait.

We wander back past Magnolia Bakery and take our cupcakes to a park across the street. An older couple is sitting on a bench and Karen asks if the adjoining bench is free.

The man perks up and says, “You remind me of a story. A chair was left on the street that said ‘free.’ I took it up to my apartment and I painted it white. I had that chair for years, until this one made me put it back out on the street!” he indicates his wife with a nod of his head.

“So you never know when something is free what you’re gonna get!” he grins.

His wife smiles and looks forward, and says generally, “I should have put him out on the street!”

Their names are Walter and Harriet.

In his time Walter had been a social worker, Harriet a bookkeeper for a wealthy financier. She starts to tell the story about her boss and then he interrupts with a flap of the hand, “Let me tell it, let me! I tell it better than you do.” He punctuates his interruption by popping a kiss on the top of her head.

“That keeps her quiet!” Walter exclaims.

“He’s too much!” she says, with a grin and a little shake of her head. Her eyes twinkle.

We are all laughing. He tells the story, adding in details about the financier, his fortune, his quest.

“In all those years, he never knew my name, he just called me ‘that nice lady,’” Harriet adds the epilogue.

We stay and banter twenty minutes. Walter observes how much the neighborhood has changed in 40 years, how the gays once lived here, the marginal people, and now the young families have moved in. He points out the statue in the park, how it is representative of a family torn apart by the Holocaust. “But you see, they are always connected even though they are apart,” Walter points out. They have four children, none of whom live in the city still.

Harriet looks off into the park, her eyes animated. She tells us she doesn’t like Magnolia Bakery: The place she goes to has half-off after three o’clock.

Finally, we get up and move on, as though we’ve taken up too much of their time. I have a tinge of regret leaving them. As a salve for myself, I snap their picture.

As we walk back towards Union Square, I remember that Walter had said that this was his second marriage. I have an inward pang both sweet and painful, a glimmer of a park bench in the future.

A family finding each other through space and time.

On the flight home from New York, full of inspiration from the city, I suddenly know the name for the baby.

Over the last year, I’ve been thinking of names. There is a varied list. I tell Jill I’m thinking of Lydia, after our beloved 4th grade teacher. I’ve mused family names, but Evangeline, my grandma’s name already belonged to Evie, and Priscilla just seemed too painful to give a modern child. Evie volunteers Lavender and Chin Wei, the name of a girl in her pre-school.

“Um, it means cherry blossom,” nods Evie.

Mostly I’m wanting a name that goes with Patterson, all those syllables.

Sitting on the flight in a half doze the name appears on my consciousness, an answer to a question.

When I get home and sort through my mail, there is a padded envelope from an address I don’t recognize. When I open it up, it is a long-lost movie, loaned to a friend at my last agency over 18 months ago. The movie is about a Buddhist acolyte searching for the reincarnation of his recently passed master. He wanders the mountain roads of Nepal, seeking a baby who will take his master’s prayer beads into chubby hands. Babies turn their heads away or burst into tears when he waves the prayer beads at them.

Then, one baby reaches for the necklace: The Unmistaken Child.

Kismet.

Fortified by the name, I finish the adoption paperwork. I ask friends for recommendations. The FBI sends me official confirmation that I am not a criminal.

On the wave of this momentum, I get an email from the agency saying I need to resign my contract, their fiscal year starts in July. The email stipulates that fees have increased 4% and that they have changed the age ceiling for their adoptions.

Suddenly, I have a needle of concern. What if I’ve suddenly aged out? I ask myself, would I be relieved? Would I be devastated? I’m not sure. I surprise myself with my own neutrality.

They haven’t included the contract.

The next morning, I wake up and check my email. The contract is there. I open the document and scroll to the age requirement section. The ceiling is now 55.

I feel a huge rush of relief. I send a note out to a few people, telling them I’ve sent in my paperwork, and that I’m moving on to the interview phase. I thank those who’ve done the recommendations – the ones I read were radiant flames, so bright and beautiful I almost had to turn away from them. I tell the story about the email and the age limit, my anxiety and relief.

And, as real proof things are moving forward, at long last Bull also delivers me the paperwork on my car donation.

As I’m clearing off my side table, a New York Times magazine article on foreign adoption from months ago resurfaces. The article mostly talks about Korean adoptees that had been raised by white families in the US. Because of taboos about single motherhood, babies were often brought to orphanages by grandparents unbeknownst to the birth mothers. The adoptees are angry and haunted by their dislocation. As adults they had moved back to Korea, looking for their birth mothers and to reconnect with their ethnic culture. But as I read the article, I feel such sadness for the adoptive parents too. Also abandoned.

I’m in LA for the weekend and meet Carrie at the Brentwood Country Mart for brunch. There is a central courtyard with picnic benches and restaurants whose windows open up onto the seating area. Carrie is in a white embroidered Mexican shirt and torn jeans. We hug each other tightly and my eyes fill up. It’s been a year since I’ve seen her.

Just as we’re sitting down I catch two mutual acquaintances moving towards us. I point them out to Carrie and for a minute we freeze unclear if want to be spotted. When we are, they climb into the bench with us. They are both tanned, fit and successful: Classic specimens of the Southern California man.

As we compare notes, one of the guys starts to talk about how, despite his big job, he has committed to coaching his son’s basketball team. “We made shirts that say ‘The Hustle is the Muscle,” he says with a proud grin.

He tells us about a recent game where the ref made a controversial call in favor of his team.

“There’s this big scary black guy that stands up, I mean, REALLY big, with a ‘do rag and everything, and he’s yelling at the ref.”

He is used to telling stories, building the theatre and the drama. I see him leaning in.  But I am caught off guard, disturbed by this racial remark. I see his friend lean way back from the table, as if physically distancing himself from the words. I want to catch the moment but I’m paralyzed by what to say, how to say it.

He continues: “So I kind of know this other coach, and I go over to him thinking, you know, he’s going to be reasonable.” Reasonable is said in italics, a contrast to this other response. “And I’m like ‘hey, what’s all this about the call?’ And he’s like, ‘The call was fucked up, that’s what!’”

It’s a complicated story to course correct: in some ways, his own preconceptions are the butt of the joke. Still, even as they get up to leave I can’t help but think my chance to say something has fallen away.

Carrie and I move into catching up. Her family has just gone on a road trip around Baja in a VW van. She talks about how fun it was for her kids, Luna and Sebastian to meet other kids that lived in the villages they went to. They brought pencils and school supplies to distribute, and when those were out they wanted to give away their own things.

Carrie says that it was really good for Luna to be with other children that look more like her. “It’s really on her mind,” Carrie says. “When we were making the choice to go to Mexico I asked her, ‘Would you rather go to Honduras baby girl? We could try to find your birth mom.’ And she said, ‘No, I’m not ready yet. But it’s coming.’” Carrie and her husband were thinking about moving schools to find more diversity for the kids to grow up in.

“She even told me, ‘Sebastian isn’t as dark-skinned as me.’” Both of our eyes brim with tears hearing this. Carrie told her that even people who look alike sometimes don’t feel like they belong.

I tell Carrie how much this has been on my mind. “I feel like I’m getting ready for this baby, thinking about these things. Like I’m already channeling it.”

I tell Carrie the baby name I’ve picked out. She says it out loud, in a thoughtful way.

I tell her what it means and she says, “Oh my god, that’s so perfect.”

That night, after landing back in Seattle I write Carrie a quick note to say how happy it made me to see her. And how I was still thinking about the racially-charged comment, especially in the context of Luna – how those two conversations were related.

When I talk to Suzi at the end of the week, the comment is still on my mind. As I recount it Suzi I have a wave of disappointment in myself.

“I just couldn’t figure out a way to say something in a way that he would HEAR,” I say.

“What I wished I had said was, ‘Maybe for that guy, you being a wealthy powerful white guy with a Panerai watch and a Porsche is scary. All he was doing was being a father!’ But I couldn’t wrap my head around it in the moment. In his mind, this wasn’t the point of the story, it was just something on the way to the joke. I feel like if he were my friend I would have said something or a stranger, but he’s somewhere in between. I just couldn’t figure out a way to say it that wasn’t…hot.” I struggle to make all the ends meet.

“Yeah,” says Suzi softly, letting me hash it out a bit.

“I feel like I’m protecting this child already, that I’ve failed it by not saying something.”

Suzi reflects, “The moment is never lost. It may not have been the right moment to say something.”

She talks about Martin Luther King versus the Black Panthers – how they each delivered their messages in different ways. “Martin Luther King wasn’t looking for people to SEE something. He wasn’t saying, ‘Look, look.’ He was talking about something from inside his own experience. The vision that he had.’”

“This is why you’re amazing,” Suzi says. “You have a connection between your own compassion and wisdom. That you were able to see this man with compassion – the father that he was, not this big scary guy – this is your mission, to show people how all people have value. It’s been your mission with the agency, trying to make it a more diverse place. It’s been your mission with your friendships.”

I recount with Maeve on the phone, still surprised by how upset I was. “I mean, he could have been talking about half the people I go to the gym with. Or Bull’s sons!”

When Maeve hangs up she says regretfully, “Dude, I don’t think we solved racism today.”

It’s been months since I’ve seen Lacey, Lolo’s dog walker.

She’s dog sitting in the neighborhood and we book a date for her to come over. I make us tea and then we sit in the living room. It’s a grey day with no drama to the sky, just a flat cinderblock sky. Of course, we both cry over Loli. I tell her how hard it’s been, how much I’ve missed him. But that I’ve finally been thinking about another dog.

“You can help me with the breed!” I say. First I say German Shepherd and she scrunches up her nose in a no. “They’re not easy going. They’re really fixed on one person in particular. Plus, all that hair…”

Husky? “Never met a husky I’ve really loved.”

She volleys up some other breeds. I have to Google the standard xxx.

“Those are cute, but I can’t see myself with one. It’s like curly-haired dogs, I can’t see myself with one of those either.”

“What about a mastiff? We had neighbors in Portland that had two mastiffs and they were the coolest dogs.”

“Yes!” Lacey exclaims enthusiastically. “They are so easy-going and loveable.”

“Right? I have just been thinking, with a new baby I don’t want to have a dog that needs so much exercise like a lab. But I know mastiffs don’t need as much.”

“I can totally see you with your baby and your mastiff. You’d be one bad-ass bitch!”

I start to try out the idea of a mastiff on other people.

Carina says, “Why don’t you get a French bulldog? My sister is going to breed hers.”

Barbie says, “You just want to think about getting the dog and the baby at the same time.”

Seath says, “That’s a lot of shit to clean up” with a grim line across his face.

I have to laugh at this. “Like there are NO other considerations with a dog?”

Seath shrugs. “Not really.”

But something about Seath’s mastiff reaction pokes an anxiety deep down in me. I think of Seath coming over and rolling his eyes at my dog. Slowly, I tiptoe around the idea that my anxiety is not about dogs, but about the adoption.

We all go to Portland for Father’s Day. There is a wedding shower for my cousin’s wife to be. It is a perfect day in my aunt and uncle’s backyard, breezy, lush green grass. The babies pick up river rocks from the landscaping and hand them out like party favors. Evie chases an inflated plastic ball. Edison proudly declares she had three cupcakes. Nurse Karen hugs me and says, “Wasn’t that just so fun?” talking about New York. I agree.

On Sunday I go with Barbie and Brian to see my grandmother at her care home. She is hunched and foggy in her wheelchair, unsure who any of us are for a moment, even Barbie. We roll her into the living room, away from the TV. The sun streams in through the slats in the shades. I take off my glasses in hopes she’ll recognize me, but she’s not sure.

“How’re you doing?” asks Brian and sits down on the couch. Normally he teases or rolls his eyes at her. But she is so fragile, her cheeks sagging, her eyes hooded. This sweetness from him makes me cry.

Barbie talks to her, close to her ear. “Tell her about the adoption, Jennifer,” she suggests, but I can’t get any of the words out, I just hold her hand. Barbie says the medicine they give her makes her sleepy. They normally see her in the afternoon when it has started to wear off some.

When we get up to go I tell my grandmother, “It’s nice to see you,” and she says, “It’s nice to see you too,” the way she would say to a cashier at the grocery store, clipped and slightly formal.

We move her back to the dining room as we leave. Barbie and Brian step out and I take her hand one last time.

“Who are you?” she asks me, and again, I say Jennifer. But this time she says in recognition, “Oh my Jennifer,” and takes my hand and puts it to her cheek.

I stand for a couple extra minutes feeling the powdery warmth of her face.

There is a moment where I have a spurt of energy and I think, “Ah, so the mourning is over.” It’s been six months since Lolo died.

I remember when I had the same feeling coming out of three years of thyroid disease. For those years I had extreme anxiety, sweating through my clothes and nearly falling asleep at my desk. Then a slow descent into the opposite: stiff muscles, freezing extremities, daily weight gain on no appetite. When the doctors finally said my levels were normal, I looked in the mirror. My eyes had distorted because of the disease. I would never look the same again. But slowly, I had started to warm up.

One day I did a painting. It was a self-portrait in blue and greys and tans. I had never been a painter – the loose, slippery unpredictable quality of the paint had never adapted to my control when I had tried it earlier. I remember my art teacher in high school giving me feedback on a painting. The background was a planet that was in demarcated gradations of pink. “Use your brush, blend those together,” he had suggested innocuously. But at the time I couldn’t embrace the mingling colors. I had taken the failed painting as a sign of my artistic ineptitude. I watched a friend’s painting of a fairy come to life and remember a pang of jealousy when she went off to RISD for art school.

My self-portrait came to life in strokes I’d never tried before. It was loose and free. I remember thinking to myself, “This is what better feels like.”

This time, I also have a flurry of creative activity: I seek out a Spanish tutor on craigslist, someone to practice with. There are three possible candidates and I send a note to one, a Columbian who has included her picture with an enthusiastic profile with the stipulation that she may also include cultural knowledge as she sees that as important. I also seek out a French tutor, but the only one is really doing it on Skype. I also have been wanting to take voice lessons, but craigslist doesn’t have anyone on offer.

I also start working with a health coach. We have an awkward start. I find her a very unclear communicator plus feel slightly framed in by the methodology they are learning. My next session I approach go back into it with more empathy to my coach’s potential situation. We have a better session.

I get a note from the adoption agency saying they are ready to schedule the first of my two interviews with my social worker, the final step before I am in the pool to potentially be chosen for a baby. I am excited, for the first time it feels like the adoption is becoming real.

The Supreme Court upholds gay marriage and Obamacare. I feel optimistic, like I am part of a wave of progress that is bigger than me, bigger than a Spanish tutor, bigger than a baby.

Then, a pause.

After a brief exchange, I write the Spanish tutor asking when we can meet and never hear back. My health coach reschedules one session, and then the following week has thought I didn’t confirm so is out getting a pedicure instead. I’m sitting parked on the street outside the theatre where Sarah and I are seeing a play later, blasting the air conditioning against the heat. I try not to be annoyed but there is some part of me that is, since I’ve made time to get somewhere early and be present for the call.

Then, the night before my interview I get a call from my social worker saying she is going to have to cancel. A birth mom is going into labor, so she will reschedule. I text a few people that the interview is off, and give them the context. They all text back, “What!? A birth mom? Could this have been your baby?” which makes it worse since I am trying to just know that a few weeks wont make a difference, that time is not linear, that my baby is already out there, even in some zygote form, making its way to me.

Plus, the summer heat mounts. Each day is a negotiation to keep the house cool, windows closed and shades down in the morning. Even at 9 at night the sun is still beating down my front yard.

One day at work the air conditioning is not functioning on my side of the office. Even at 930 it’s already grim. “Is this building trying to put me in a bad mood?” I ask, flopping my bag down. I spend the day elsewhere, seeking cool in the form of shade and AC. When I call to groan about the temperature, Maevey, the Texan tells me, “Wet hair in a bun all day, dude. It will keep you cool.”

My yard is yellow and crunchy, the grass prickly on my bare feet. One morning, I am out front watering the hydrangeas and a neighbor walks by and shouts, “It won’t help!” He is walking is dog, a small, over-anxious brown thing who jumps excitedly as I near. We commiserate over the heat, comparing notes on what’s working – closing up the house, sleeping in the basement.

“Where’s your pup?” he asks as I give his pooch a belly rub.

“He died in November,” I say, unsure if I’m going to be able to get the words out.

“I swear I’ve seen him,” he says. “She always looks for him.”

“Maybe his ghost is roaming around,” I say.

I tell him that I’m going to go spread his ashes at the Oregon Coast in a few weekends.

I trim back some of the laurel hedge in the front, ignoring the blazing sun. There are shoots reaching up out of the hedge and up on the ladder it is a world ahum with bees flitting in and out, oblivious to the heat. I fling my arms as far forward as I can get them but only manage to clip about half the top of the hedge. I climb down and rake up the piles of waxy green leaves. When I toss the clippers back into the basket on the front porch, I catch a glimpse of a tiny bottle of shampoo I had left there for days when I would give Loli a bath with the hose. I remember on a hot day hosing down his skinny body, apologizing for the cold water. He would stand with his tail curled under, suffering. Mid-sud he would escape, dart to the front of the yard and shake off a couple times. Then grudgingly return for the remainder of soap to be rinsed off. When it was over, I’d wrap him in a towel. He’d bury his face and murmur as I scrubbed his nose and ears dry.

I step into the cool of the house and cry and cry, holding my hand to my mouth.

It’s the Fourth of July, and because the holiday falls on a Saturday, we all have Friday off. I take Thursday off too, since the office is closed a half day and I am listless that week at work anyway, feeling a little bit like I’ve lost my way. It’s a small affair at Seath+Carina’s, with only the essentials: Ben+Lenora and Darek+Amy and the kids.

We sit at the new outdoor table while Seath points out the symmetry in the design with their dining room set. We drink watermelon juice and tequila and rose. Seath’s Father’s Day present was a smoker and we regale the sides of pork that are shredded into a mountain on a tray on the stove. There is coleslaw and a vinegar sauce to pile on top. The food is delicious, but I am subdued, weighed down by the heat and memories.

I keep thinking of last Fourth of July when I came home to find a panicked Lolo, caught on the edge of the bathtub where he sought refuge from the fireworks. The floor of the bathroom was covered in urine as he struggled in vain to free himself. I didn’t know how long he’d been there, but I let him out in the yard where he peed and paced, panting in fear as the firecrackers popped in the surrounding streets.

With all the dry grass there is a burn ban but none of the neighbors are paying attention. Fireworks shriek into the night above us and pop into colors or pinwheels. I wander out into the street to see what the neighbors are lighting off next. “What are you thinking?” asks Darek, who has also come out to see the show. He holds up his hand loosely, an emotional high five. “Nothing,” I say taking his hand, “Just wondering what the next one is.” When he stands next to me I lean my head on his shoulder.

At the cross street, someone has set the grass in the roundabout on fire and the fire department and a police car come. The truck’s lights flash red and the cops stand around and talk to the neighbors. Larger fireworks continue to scream and explode above them. Carina laughs each time and points them out to the kids.

The kids throw poppers and wave sparklers in the air. The carport is a smoky, sulfurous haze. Evie is reserved, refusing a sparkler when her mom offers it to her. Finally she is enticed by an extra-long sparkler that Carina hands over. Evie holds it with a serious face. It droops like a fishing pole. Normally I would love this moment, the kids tracing circles in the air, their faces lit in the dark, the crackle of the wands. But all I can think of is climbing into bed. I turn my car around so as not to drive through the launching pad at the bottom of the hill. When I pass the roundabout, I see a black patch of charred grass.

Sunday is up to 93. When I wake up I open the front door to circulate the cool air. Mara and I have a Skype date. We had meant to have one the weekend before (another dropped ball) but had missed each other.

It is reassuring to see her face, those big sloped eyes, the wide smile, the gap between the front teeth. A face I have known for almost 25 years. We met in the pool at Berkeley, paused at the wall between laps. “Hey, I think you’re in my anthropology class,” that face told me, bobbing in the water. We became fast friends, first linked by our love for swimming, then by our love of art and dogs.

Mara had recently moved to Lausanne from Geneva with her new husband, a painter. I make her give me a tour of their new flat, the top two floors of a chalet over-looking Lausanne and Lake Geneva.

It feels familiar to me, like all of the many of Mara’s homes I have been in. Part books, part art, part plants. A kitchen with lemons in a basket.

“You are still a hoarder,” I tease her as she tours me by her corner, full of her trademark piles of objets. “The thing is, they are all beautiful things. But you’re still a hoarder!”

She laughs in agreement.

We catch up on her family in Mexico. They were finally selling the row of family homes in Coyuacan, where her father, great-aunts and grandparents had lived since the 1960s. They were amazing properties, mid-century modern architecture and jungle-like gardens on deep lots.

“Do you feel sentimental about it?” I ask.

“Kind of. It’s like with everyone all over the world, that was always the one constant. But none of us want to live there, so…” she shrugs. Another beautiful trait about Mara, the ability to be unattached.

I tell her about the pause I am in, how I’m trying to listen for what it has for me.

“It will be interesting to see when the baby is there,” she comments. She says when her husband came into her life, all her own soul searching went by the wayside.

“What I need is a swim in that lake,” I say. “Remember our trip? That swim was like my mecca. I need to come back to that lake.”

The year Juan and I had broken up I went to see Mara for a week. We went on a road trip through the Alps. Our first stop was at her mother’s house in St. Galen. We went for a hike in the woods. In our conversation meanderings, Mara mentioned that her grandmother told her it was a woman’s job to keep a man faithful and interested. I remember being angry at this comment, feeling it was aimed at me somehow, even though Mara’s energy was neutral and not pointed. She walked on like it was a comment on the way the trees clustered together or the water ran downstream.

Afterwards, we drove into the mountains. We felt the cold white-blue walls of a glacial cave. In one town they spoke Romanschze, a language related to Roman Latin. The cowbells clanged as a constant soundtrack. Geraniums cascaded from window boxes at each chalet. Still, the comment itched like a rash.

The last day, it was hot. We had driven down from the mountains and were heading back towards Geneva. We stopped and got a room at a small pension with wood-paneled walls and twin beds with wooden headboards. Once we’d dropped our bags we headed across the road and down to the lake. The water was opaque, a chalky blue and freezing. On the other side, a small castle was nestled into the rocks of the mountain. We jumped in off a dock and floated there in the cold chalky water. It was a reset button.

When I got home and told Suzi about the comment she said that my sensitivity was because somewhere, deep down, I actually did think I was guilty and responsible.

“But you are not. He made the choice to walk out on the relationship,” she told me firmly.

For my first few months of coaching, it had been about finding a balance in the uncertainty I was living in. But this was the first time I really focused on healing myself. After my session, the memory of the vacation filled in with that light blue chalky water, the comment disintegrating and floating away.

“You should totally go swim today,” Mara suggests.

“I have been contemplating it,” I say.

I’m still not sure about a swim, but I head down to the lake for a walk. My phone says 83. The air is hazy. The park is full of people, sunbathers on the grass, readers in the shade. Bobble-headed kids in helmets on small bikes. Kayakers paddling in threes. I walk partway around and then head up the hill to catch the trail through the woods. It is cool and quiet up there. After a bit my mind clears and I look up into the canopy of evergreens. The sky is white and sharp, but down on the trail the light filters through more gently. The trees reach out their mossy arms to grasp at the light on the trail. As the gravel crunches at my feet, I feel myself coming back to life. A woman comes around the corner in a floppy hat and a towel, wet from the lake.

“How was the water?” I ask her.

“Wonderful!” she exclaims. Her children and husband follow, the little boy in a blue and white polka-dotted terry cover up with a monkey decal on the chest. The sun streams in through the trees. In the trees I stop and put my hands on a huge redwood, the bark inches thick in texture.

When I emerge from the forest the lake is alive. There are tents set up against the sun. There are teens on inflatable rafts floating out towards the buoy. Speedboats roar along, sending waves and foam in their wake. I take off my t-shirt and my shoes but the rocks hurt my feet. I move gingerly to the water and wade in. The shallows are green with algae.

For a minute, I hesitate. It is not the lake of my dreams. The water is too dark. The chop from the boats rolls into shore. But I finally commit, taking a plunge forward and swimming out to the deeper water. I can see algae growing from the bottom. There are pockets of heat and cold. Suddenly, I have a moment of panic, not knowing what’s at the bottom. Immediately I think of Maevey telling me how water symbolizes the subconscious in dreams. “What am I afraid of?” I ask myself, and take a breath. I relax. I float.

Back on shore, I wrap my hair up – Maeve’s recipe against the heat, wet hair in a bun. My tights are wet too and for the first time in days I feel cool. At the final curve of the walk, the water lilies have taken over a small inlet, a green ruffled carpet dotted with flowers.

When I go for acupuncture, Ashley has some initial results from allergy testing back.

“Oh that lab. They’re taking forever,” she says rolling her eyes. “Of course then they make ME feel bad when I complained. They said, ‘Well, we have all these people working overtime!’ and of course I felt horrible. I’m so mid-west.”

I haven’t had allergy testing since I was twenty-five or so. There was one spring where I woke up with my eyes sealed shut every morning. The joints in my arm – forearm to upper arm, upper arm to shoulder were splotched with red raised welts of eczema. It was my first visit to a naturopath. He was a close-talker that made me slightly uncomfortable. When the tests came back I was most allergic to gluten and grapes. I had more or less gone cold turkey on grapes – no more grapes, no wine. Gluten was more of a pick and choose relationship. I weeded out unnecessary occurrences – no more toast every morning, no more Cheerios. But I still would have a cookie or a piece of bread once in a while.

Today, Ashley tells me I am no longer allergic to gluten or grapes. Instead, I’m allergic to eggs and whey.

“Great, I’ve been having one or the other of those every day for the past year at least!” I lament.

“But at least you can try wine again!” says Ashley, thinking about our impending trip to France.

When I am face down on the table, needles in the fleshy part of my hands and up and down my back, I think how interesting. Another reset, in some ways.

I decide to leave my first glass of wine to drink with Seath and Carina.

But on my way home, I buy a bag of organic green grapes. When I get home I pull out a bunch and pluck one after the other until the stem is bare. It has been months since I’ve tasted anything so sweet.

Thursday night I my plan am to head south to Portland. The next morning, I’ll head to the to the beach for the long-awaited weekend to spread Loli’s ashes.

The second I get home I feel my lungs fill with fluid. It is instant, like I’m suddenly drowning even though I’m not in water. I start to cough. I wonder if it is allergies. I make quick work at the house, packing a bag, cleaning up and putting the trash out for the next day. The house is warm still from the day, although a cooling trend is predicted for the weekend. I jump in the shower and put on comfy clothes for the drive. Then I lie down on my bed and try to take a quick nap. By seven thirty I am ready to go.

I pack up the car with my grapes, and some allergy tinctures in case this lung situation gets any worse. As I pull onto the freeway, I dial Maeve, hoping she’ll pick up and talk me at least part of the way down. Mt. Rainier looms at the foot of I-5, blue and hazy with the heat. Traffic is thinning out as the evening moves on, and I zip out to the far left lane. Maeve doesn’t pick up.

I’m almost to Federal Way when I realize I’ve forgotten something: Lolo’s ashes. He must not have been ready to go, I think, but then burst into tears and rephrase, I must not have been ready to let him go. I think of his jar sitting in the entry along with a photo Lacey framed for me. Waiting for me to return.

The beach is overcast but warm. My aunts Nurse Karen and T come down for the night. Nurse Karen sits on the edge of the couch and listens to my lungs with her stethoscope, which she has with her. “You’ve got some bronchitis,” she says, in her nurse voice. I tease her that she has gone from Aunt Karen to Nurse Karen in two pumps of the stethoscope, her voice and demeanor changing.

We walk on the beach, the three sisters, Barbie, Karen and T up front and Brian and I pulling up the rear. It’s evening and the weather clears a bit as is the way at the beach. Haystack Rock is backlit as the sun sinks into the ocean.

I’m coughing, but the cold doesn’t really hit until Sunday when I’m laid up most of the afternoon with a fever.

It strikes me that this is the same kind of cold I had when I went to India. There’s something about the bronchial distress, not being able to get air into my lungs with ease that I feel is symbolic. I feel like it’s connected to Juan, not Lolo.

By Monday I’m over the hump. On the drive home from the coast, the Sia song “Elastic Heart” comes through the speakers and I sob my way through Olympia and Tacoma. I’m not sure if I’m purging or swimming in the guilt sadness that is still there. I’m not sure if I’m celebrating or mourning my own elastic heart. When I get home, I glance at Lolo’s ashes where I left them in the entry.

On Thursday night, I have a little get-together planned with some people from work and Gemini Brett. He’s going to come and give a lecture about the zodiac.

“That’s some cough you’re nursing there, sister,” he tells me.

I spread the table with cheese and salami, grapes and blueberries, chips and guacamole. I pour rose. It’s my first work get together at my home, which I feel is kind of symbolic.

“You’ve really set your house up for openness and inspiration,” he observes. “I just spent a little time in your office, and even the position of your chair, looking out the window is so about that.”

One of my planners says, “I’ve learned so much about you being here. You’re very intentional, I see it in the house. Like it’s put together but it’s not uptight.”

Brett ruminates on the relationship between Venus and Mars for the first hour. The planets start out paired and then separate, then come back together. We go out to my front yard and see Venus rising above the tree line. Brett looks at some peoples’ charts and talks about their Venus and Mars. He talks about how every seven years is a rebirth.

In my head, I click back to seven years ago with Juan. It was the summer before I moved to LA. There were hidden signs then. Juan was in his own rebirth – he had started a new job, his first job in advertising. Even as a beginner his agency brought him to client meetings, counted on him for opinions. I could see his chest swell with pride. He lost a few pounds. He had bought new jeans and adopted a new look. I could still see him chuleandose in front of the mirror in our bathroom in Miami.

I realize that I am thinking a lot about the role I played in our breakup, about that moment when I shut down, when I checked out. I was starting up something new too: a job hunt to move us out of Miami. I flew to Hong Kong for an interview. My hotel room looked down the hillside lush with green trees and a forest of tall thin buildings. We agreed on Hong Kong, but the job fizzled in negotiations. I called my recruiter and said, “This thing is going away, I can feel it.”

I took the job in LA.

For months I drew a triangle around the country: Miami-New York, New York-LA, LA-Miami. When I came home on the weekends, Miami life seemed small and uninspired.  Maeve reminds me later, “Remember how in that time you were so hurt by Juan’s rejecting you. Remember how he never wanted to do anything new or different? How he would stay later and later at soccer? I totally remember you being so hurt by those things, like they were the seeds of what happened later.”

Once I had asked him if he was interested in the art museum on a Saturday. He said no, but then went later with people from work.

Juan started to hint that it was going to be hard to leave Miami. But I had started the job. I had an apartment in LA and had bought a car. I was angry at his subtleties, angry at his newfound love for a city we had only ever tolerated. Angry that he wouldn’t just come out and say what he was thinking. “You guys just need to have more sex,” a friend counseled with a laugh like a paper cut: innocent but drawing blood.

When I talk to Suzi she says, “Go back and look at that Jen from that time, see her from the mountaintop. Find compassion for her. See that she was acting in the only way she thought she could be.”

I sob on the call, but also I have finally, after a week, stopped coughing.

When I hang up, I spend the next hour writing a letter to Juan explaining how trapped I felt, giving context for how I was to him. As I write, I wonder if there’s a point where the thread truly starts to unravel, if it’s visible. Or if its just a series of fraying ends. I type his name in the “to” line, but remove it. It is not for him, it is for me.

When I close the laptop, I feel heavy but calm, like a weight is anchoring me to the ground.

My adoption interview is finally rescheduled. I work in the morning and then come home at lunch. I feel a hint overwhelmed by the week. There’s a lot going on at work, and I want to be centered and present for the interview, to give it its rightful place in my pantheon of priorities. I get a text from Celine saying she’s running late but on her way. Maybe another half hour or more. I settle further into the couch and gaze out at the lake.

Celine finally arrives, then apologizes that she has to make a phone call. She’s had no water at her house for days because of a leak somewhere in their water main. The plumber had come out to inspect it. She is thin and medium height with reddish brown hair. Despite her water main and being almost 40 minutes late, she has no frantic energy to her. I immediately feel so fortunate that she is my social worker. “Take your time,” I say. I’ve finally integrated back into my house and forgotten about work. I settle into the corner of the couch and watch the lake as she talks to the plumber.

“What a pain!” I say to her empathetically when she hangs up.

“I know, I’m dying to have a good shower! It’s been a week!”

We tour the house and she points out a few things that I need to address – doors with push-button locks that a child could inadvertently press, the need for a fire extinguisher.

Then she asks me questions about the adoption. Why open adoption? What are my expectations of my relationship with the birth family? How will I deal with differing value sets or expectations?

These are questions I’ve thought about, but it is also in some way a surprise to be asked them directly. Over this interview and another, held at their offices, Celine covers the gamut of the process and the players – my relationship to the birth mother and family; my relationship to my child – what are my philosophies on parenting, on discipline? My own relationship to my parents.

When she asks this I say, “I’m probably going to cry!”

“There’ve been some tears shed in this office,” she says. Her brown eyes are kind and non-judgmental.

I tell her what I know about myself to date. That open adoption feels right, but is not without challenge. I’ve been working on patience and understanding but that I’m not always patient, that I don’t always understand. That I’ve been lucky enough to have been living a parenting class for the last four years, mostly through Seath and Carina, but also through Ben and Lenora, and Maevey.

She asks me to talk about my childhood and any rough patches and I can’t think of any. “I have no traumas to report, nothing that I would do differently. I feel like if I could do half a good a job as my mom did with us, I will be in good shape,” I say, tearing up and thinking of Barbie. The closer I get to adopting, the more amazed I am at Barbie’s vision as a parent, how much I benefited from her conscious parenting in how we were raised.

“What about your father,” asks Celine.

“It’s funny, I can’t think of his parenting style,” I said. “But he always set the tone of adventure. We would go to the woods, we would go camping, we’d catch Star Wars last minute, just because it was on and playing. My mom set the tone inside, and my dad brought us out, into the world.”

“Maybe it makes sense too that because you’re doing this on your own you’ve been thinking much more of your mother’s parenting style,” she observes. I watch her as she jots notes. I feel like she gets me.

At work things are heating up. I am in two back to back pitches. They are fun, frustrating, exhausting as only new business can be. There are loopy evening moments of laughter and silliness while the black Sharpie slashes through PowerPoint slides pinned on the wall. It is a study too of new players, people I don’t normally work with so closely, including Camilla.

On the first pitch, the creative director isn’t at all collaborative. We see the work at 930 the night before the meeting. I don’t give any comments until I’m called out to add what I think. I don’t like the work particularly, but it’s not worth sharing that opinion at this stage of the game. Instead, I call out some things that are working that I think they could leverage more. I spend my efforts clarifying the story in the presentation which is often buried in detail and proof points. We hear back that the proofreader, seeing the new version says, “Oh, I finally get what you guys are talking about.” I feel a slight vindication.

The second pitch feels more collaborative and the work is good. As we’re sitting around the worktable on Saturday afternoon tightening it up, the project manager says, “These pitches have really felt different from others we’ve done on this client.”

I feel the small win there, another wall broken down.

“Well, I don’t believe in making things hard,” I say. “I want it to be easy.”

I am talking about ease with Suzi. I am setting the intention to have ease on my upcoming vacation to France.

“It seems silly to be talking about ease on vacation, but sometimes I feel like the odd man out in these large groups of couples and kids.”

“What I want you to think about though is being the odd man IN, not out. I don’t see you as an outsider. But you do think differently. Even when you have your baby, you still wont be the same kind of mother. Plus there is something expansive about being in versus out.”

We move on to talk about dating and she asks, “Well, what IS holding you back?”

I think about it for a minute. “That I am not collaborative enough with masculine energy,” I admit.

“I think you need to give yourself more credit than you are,” says Suzi. “I see you as farther along.”

Then I have an insight related to the pitches. “I think I’ve been thinking that I have to find a way to collaborate with this masculine energy that is un-collaborative,” I say slowly. “Like all masculine energy is like that one creative director.”

“That always felt stifling, like I was going to have to compromise myself. But instead, it’s about seeking the already collaborative masculine energy.”

“I’m getting chills all over!” exclaims Suzi. “You will definitely attract that collaborative energy. Earlier you were talking about seeking to free yourself from the rules and structure of how the dominant paradigm says things need to be done. Now you’re unbound, you’re unbinding. It feels like a good word for you.”

“Dude, that’s a big insight,” recaps Maeve. “Like you had some serious hueva around the dating that now you’re set free of.”

I think of how my unraveling with Juan has led to this unbinding.

The heat has driven the eagles away for the summer. Finally on one of my morning walks I spot one. The bird is brown, a juvenile, sailing into the high fir trees near the end of a small inlet.

I can almost feel the slow flap of a large wingspan.

The morning of our flight to France, Carina picks me up. I do a double take when she hops out of the car. She’s dyed her hair blond. I’d seen it the other night, but forgotten. “Seath’s still getting used to it,” she says with a cheery smile.

“I feel like it’s so you,” I say. There is something about the attitude that fits.

When we pull into the driveway at S&C’s, the girls are bouncing at the window. “Get your stuff together girls, the Uber is on its way,” sings Carina. On the flight I sit the row behind them. Occasionally I poke my hand through the space between the seats to scratch Edison’s little brown arm. She smiles through the crack. At one point she and Evie switch seats, and when I reach my hand through and tap Evie she glares at me like an angry anime character.

It’s been years since I was last in Paris, but as I say to the cab driver, the beauty of Paris is that it never changes. We drive by the Opera and down the Seine. He points out buildings of interest. He seems pleased we are traveling as a family.

The apartment is at the back of a long courtyard. It is modern with low-slung couches and pop art: a red Jeff Koons balloon dog graces the desk, a photograph of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin hangs on the wall. The coffee table is kept from floating away by heavy Phaidon books on interior design. The owner is there, handsome and young-ish, maybe in his mid-30’s. He speaks perfect English and has brought a packet of Evian for the fridge. Seath and Carina take the master on the ground floor and the girls and I take rooms upstairs where we’ll share a bathroom. “This means you’re going to have to keep clean, “ I tell the girls. “No leaving your towels and dirty clothes on the bathroom floor. You know how your aunt is.”

Edison smiles and nods.

It is morning but already hot. The streets are strikingly empty. “I’ve never been here when it’s been so quiet,” I remark. I’m happy to see that my last experience with le Marais that involved dodging copious amounts of dog shit, will not be repeated. The streets are spotless.

We wander towards the Centre Pompidou, and stop to look at the fountain with its colorful sculptures. Eventually we end up at a café where we order drinks and pate and sardines. The waiter is in love with Evie and keeps kissing the top of her head and pulling coins out from behind her ear. He tells me he also has a six year old. We are early to eat, but the café slowly starts to fill in, tables full of chic, multicultural Parisians in their sunglasses and their glasses of rose.

After lunch, we finally peer pressure Carina into returning to the house for a nap. Everyone is tired. Carina insists that we should power through but I’ve never gone without a few hours nap. Plus, the heat is mounting. When we get back to the cool of the apartment I take a shower and lie down. The trees in the garden filter the light. In minutes, I am out.

Hours later I wake up and head downstairs. Carina is there, the only one who didn’t nap. She says the streets are filling in with people. She rouses the girls. They struggle to wake, heavy with jet lag, especially Evie who comes downstairs, fusses and then promptly falls asleep on the couch.

Once Rocco and Delilah arrive, the jetlag is forgotten. D is chic in a sleeveless dress her wrist adorned with a small wicker purse containing a camera. Rocco has his hair shorn into an R on one side. I look into his dusting of freckles and give him a hug. Rocco says in his scratchy voice, “And you’re going to be with us the whole time?!” I say yes and my heart warms.

We stroll down to the river and through the square in front of Notre Dame. There are vendors selling tchotchkes – key chains of the church, figurines of the Eiffel Tower. Evie spots the mini towers immediately and asks her mom for one. The sun is low and the crowds are thinning. To combat jetlag, we decide the kids can use a snack and the adults can use some booze before we get on the bateau mouche at Pont Neuf. We pick a corner café. The waiter sighs when I tell him in French that we are nine. There aren’t many people out front, but it’s still nine is complicated.

Pizzas are ordered for the kids, wine and cheese for the adults. I break through with the surly waiter by commenting that everyone has come at once and he let’s on that it’s been a day, oh lala. When he brings the cheese platter he says, “Voila, the cheese, it’s so French!” in accented English. We laugh with him. The adults clink their glasses of rose together.

We are first on to the bateau mouche. The kids pile up in front. I sit with Evie. Ben goes downstairs to buy a bottle of wine that they pass back and forth. I’m too dehydrated to think about wine, even in my newly grape-approved state. When the boat pulls away, the breeze picks up on the river.

When the Eiffel Tower comes into view Evie squeals in delight. A few days later, when we visit it Evie picks out her Seahawks jersey to wear, a special shirt for a special day. As the night darkens the Tower shimmers with lights like a huge sparkler. We are heading the opposite direction but everyone turns around and ooh’s and aaah’s as it glitters.

I snap a few pictures of Ben and Lenora and Seath and Carina, the sun’s last light streaming in from the background, Lenora with wine bottle in hand. We clamor back into the apartment at 1am and climb into bed.

Paris is a whirlwind of monuments, gelato, sore feet. The Louvre is a madhouse, overrun by huge Chinese tour groups and under-air-conditioned. I can’t concentrate on any of the art. I’m reminded of the Whitney, where it was too crowded to truly enjoy. Instead, I hold Evie’s little hand and navigate her through the tour groups. At one point, I spot a miraculously empty corner at the velvet rope in front of the Mona Lisa. She slides in to take a picture.

I take the opportunity to practice my French on every willing cab driver – Tunisia, Senegal, Morocco. One night it is a white Frenchman. He knows Seattle because of the Superbowl. I tell him that I went to school in Bordeaux, but that my French has been suffering. He says, “Madame, vous etes adorable.” I tip him a Euro.

Every morning I wake and creep across the hall to the bathroom, stopping at first to take in the disarray of sheets, tanned legs and cupcake-covered nightgowns. The girls sleep on two twin beds pushed together, Evie with her little fist curled up to her mouth, Edison with her book beside her. It is these in-between moments that are my favorite, the down time with no agenda, the grey morning light filtering into the apartment. It reminds me of the months I spent living with Seath and Carina when I’d first moved to Seattle.

The coffee table at the apartment is scattered with magazines. I skim through an article about a woman who is a Hedge Fund manager and married to George Lucas. In one picture, she and George are tossing a baby girl in the air. The caption says, “Her daughter by surrogacy.”

The caption bothers me. I bring up the article with Lenora and Carina as we’re sitting around the apartment one evening.

“I just think why couldn’t they have just said that it’s their daughter?” I say. “Maybe the article is about surrogacy, in which case I see, but otherwise, why is that important?”

“Oh I always ask people if this is their natural child,” says Carina blithely, in doctor’s mode as if she had a chart in her hand. She and Lenora defend the caption from their perspective.

“But that’s because you’re in health care,” I emphasize. “Please when I get my baby, don’t introduce it as ‘Jennifer’s adopted child’!” I am heated, more heated than I mean to be on vacation in a posh Parisian apartment.

Later I flip open the article again and look at the picture. There is the baby, launched into the air. But I can’t find the caption that so incensed me.

I wonder about the phantom title.

After a week in Paris, we arrive at the Gare in Avignon. The heat is oppressive and the lines are long at the car rental places. While Carina waits in line, Seath and I find shade under the eaves at Avis with several other families and their huge pieces of luggage. There is a group of American boys playing with a tiny soccer ball on the grass. The mothers hover near. They look like New Yorkers, thin with the right skinny jeans and big diamond engagement rings. When Carina gets back to us she tells us how one of the women had thrown a fit inside, saying they had Preferred status in the US and why were things taking so long.

“Ooooh Americans,” I say.

We drive along fields with stone farmhouses. Squash peek out from coiled vines. Fields of sunflowers crisp brown in the heat. We stop at the Super U in a neighboring town to stock up on supplies. I stay in the car with Edison and Evie, who is flopped over like a doll, comatose with the heat and the ride.

The house is magical. As we unpile from the car and step down into the courtyard, it is impossible not to marvel. The stone house is shaped in an L, forming two sides of a graveled courtyard. In the center of the courtyard, a huge oak tree shades a long dining table. There are big wooden doors and sage green shutters.

The housekeeper is in the kitchen. She is a petite Italian with a beautiful tanned face and short hair. Her name is Angelina. She gives us a leisurely tour – here, the hallway; here, a bedroom. I revel in the details: the original patterned tile, a canopy bed, a claw foot tub. The pool is just past the courtyard, a simple rectangle of green water surrounded by a stone patio. There is an outdoor kitchen, with a wine fridge and sink and barbecue, and a trellis dripping with yellow grapes. Beyond the pool there are fruit trees, plum and apple.

We wait to choose rooms until Amy and Brandon get there. Amy is one of Lenora’s oldest friends. They are flying in that day from LA. They arrive haggard, without luggage. Brandon has also lost his carry-on bag, including his computer, phone and wallet.

But we are in France. Rose is opened, dinner is served. Angelina brings out a nectarine tart to end the meal, golden and shiny with glaze.

The Provence leg is Amy’s birthday trip and she’s found the house, so they take the master. It’s decided the kids will be in the annex, which has a loft with twin beds and a king downstairs. Carina and Lenora say that I can have the next pick of rooms. I am very touched by the gesture, especially since I am a bit of an interloper on the trip, invited as an add-on filler, and not a friend with Amy and Brandon.

But I accept.

I walk back through the three rooms. The room I like has a window in the bathroom. The bedframe is a modern, neutral linen and the lights are bulbs that are strung with red cord. The room is hot, and I hesitate for a minute, wondering if the heat will bother me. But I decide it will work out. I pull my bag up the stairs and fling open the shutters and the window to a view of the tree and the courtyard.

Amy has grocked Provence. She’s checked into the market schedules, the caves, the towns that we must visit. “She just totally knows what she’s into,” comments Seath admiringly.

The rest of us draft off her lead. Mornings we go to neighboring towns. We troll the market for nectarines, baguette, pate, sheep’s milk cheese, rose. Afternoons we pick tiny yellow Mirabelle plums and golden grapes from the yard. We swim in the pool, the adults leaving their plastic rose glasses on the edge. The kids scrape their toes raw from pushing off the stone floor of the pool.

Carina hosts a mini swim meet, first racing Seath and then Edison across the pool as the pink bottoms of her bikini slide off her backside. Little white-haired Rhys, Amy and Brandon’s younger son runs round and round the perimeter of the pool with a crocodile squirt gun and no clothes, ambushing swimmers that find themselves in the line of fire. One morning, with no market on the agenda it is overcast and the heat has dissipated into dark clouds. I stay in bed late, reading and listening to the sounds of the kids at the pool, Seath and Ben’s bike shoes crunching on the gravel as they arrive back from a ride.

On Amy’s birthday she has booked us a boat out of Marseille. We find our way to the quai but there is some confusion. Mathieu, the boat guy, claims he didn’t think we were coming, he hasn’t prepared the boat. He shows us a boat option, too small for our party and lacking a bathroom. Then prompts another larger boat with a cabin.

“That will cost a little bit more,” says Mathieu with a practiced nonchalance.

When we accede, he sends us across the street to an un-atmospheric café while he gets organized with the new boat. When we sit, the owner tells me in French that the kids are taking up tables for paying patrons. In the background, one of Mathieu’s buddies sidles into the bar. He’s got a mangy beard and a neck brace on, that later will become the source of much hilarity in playing charades. I tell the owner the kids are going to eat and he is pacified. But we are restless, bullied into petit dejeuner and most of all worried that Amy will not have her birthday.

At last we are met by Damien, who will be our captain for the day. The boat is perfect, with a snug cabin below and plenty of deck for sunning. We head out through the Vieux Port into the ocean. We take pictures of Amy wrapping herself around a magnum of champagne that Lenora has arranged for her birthday. Edison is seasick, and sits on deck with a tentative face.

“Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m going to swim in the Mediterranean!” sings Carina. She is in pink dress over her swimsuit, her newly blonded hair flying in the wind like a scene from an Italian movie.

Soon we are surrounded by cobalt.

The blue connects with some primal part of me too. I think back to my first glimpse of the Mediterranean the year I lived in France – diving off the rocks at Cinque Terra, speeding across the water to Santorini. A time when everything, all of the choices of my future adult life were still ahead of me. My heart races a minute.

As I dive into the azure sea, I realize, this is still true.

Whereas Paris was so busy with cabs to catch and places to be, something about the slowing down of Provence draws a faint circle around my being on my own. There is a beautiful dance between husbands and wives – Ben pours Lenora a Campari and orange juice, Brandon takes the baby from Amy’s arms. I try not to judge myself that there’s no one looking out for me – though maybe I am looked after by all. At the end of the trip I scroll through the copious pictures I’ve taken of everyone but myself.

One afternoon, after a particularly busy market in Gordes, I decide to stay home at the pool. The rest of the group has plans to taste wine at a cave at Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Despite my newfound love of grapes, wine still hasn’t been very friendly to me. After several morning headaches despite limited consumption, I stop drinking wine altogether.

I offer to stay with the big kids, since I don’t know Rhys and Rafferty that well. The kids jump up and down and Seath and Lenora give me “Are you sure?” looks but I know the pool will do most of the work. Plus, it’s a pleasure to release the chained entities from each other: the kids from a dreary afternoon of car rides and waiting for their parents, the parents from chasing down kids while tasting wine. Rocco exclaims, “Thank you JenJen!” in his most dramatic voice and wraps his arms around my waist.

In the end, Brandon does all the work. Rhys is down for a nap so Brandon stays behind. He chases the kids around the pool, scoops up Rocco in a bundle of skinny limbs and tosses him in. Rafferty comments on the action from the shallow end where he bobs up and down out of the fray. Evie chases after Brandon on land, squirting him with a squirt gun. Delilah asks exasperatedly can’t Brandon get into the pool and Brandon obliges by cannonballing in on top of the big kids.

I watch from the side, wiping the spray from my iPad where I’m half-reading my book. It’s a pleasure to watch Brandon calibrate – Edison all but asks to be thrown in and he obliges, but gently. Rocco squeals for more and climbs Brandon like a jungle gym until Brandon tosses him back into the water and follows after.

Finally, the kids are exhausted and ask permission to stop playing altogether. Brandon trumpets his success. The little kids retreat to a movie in the shade of the lounge and the girls settle in with their books. I stay out in the shade a bit longer, enjoying the quiet. The cicadas buzz rhythmically. The pool stills as if the afternoon’s melee had never happened.

I see Angelina, here to clean the house. We stand for 15 minutes in the kitchen chatting. She tells me she’s going through a divorce, after being married for 32 years. I share that I too am divorced, but that it was a beautiful thing that completely opened up my life. I mention the move to Seattle, the adoption. “Ah but you will be a beautiful mother,” she says in her honeyed French. “I can see it already.”

Somehow from her it feels true.

The week we arrive home I have my last interview with Celine. It’s a grey afternoon but hot. “I just wish you could write this home study,” she says. “Your bio was so well-written!”

She starts by asking me about my thoughts on a future relationship.

“Well, he’s going to have to be into a baby,” I say. “That’s what’s happening.”

She laughs and jots notes on her computer. We talk more about parenting, about my intended relationship with the birth parents.

“I think I have it all,” she says. “It will be 8 weeks or so for me to write up the home study.”

“And when it’s done…?” I mete out the words.

“You’ll be in the pool.”

That is, I’ll be waiting for a birth mother to choose me.

Later, Suzi says, “In the pool. Yes, there’s something to that.”

When Suzi says this I think: the pool is the cobalt of the Mediterranean; the chalky blue of my lake in Switzerland; the pool in Provence, full of little goggled faces and toes scraped raw from too much time on the limestone. Even in my blog description is about the dating pool.

On the other side of France, something has changed.

Edison and Delilah start sixth grade and carry themselves with a new height. At Evie’s birthday Delilah stands in the kitchen with the adults and puts a hand to a creamy forehead. “The noise is giving me a headache,” she says about the other kids. Edison wears her mom’s clothes.

“Evie is starting to pose for pictures,” observes Barbie. “She doesn’t shy away from the camera or make faces any more.”

I have a project with Aidan and relish our time brainstorming ideas. Later, he finds me to ask advice.

And, my checking account is suddenly full with my hefty tax return thanks to my car donation.

“Dude, abundance!” exclaims Maeve.

One day in the mail, I get a Land of Nod catalog. I open it to look at the baby furniture then catch myself as if I’d passed by a mirror.

On Evie’s 6th birthday the kids swarm in and out of the house like a cloud of bees. Evie has her hair curled, the ends dipped in pink. Her ears are newly pierced. Barbie comes over and gives me a hug. It’s the first time I’ve seen them since France.

Seath is at the barbecue, basting three chickens on a spit. It’s a bit of a reunion, everyone returned home at the end of summer, recollected by autumn and the start of the school year. It’s been three weeks since I’ve seen Ben and Lenora and the kids. After France, they had gone on to Spain. “Spain or France?” I ask D, kissing her white cheek. “Hmmm, that’s a hard one,” she says diplomatically. Ben is in jeans and flip-flops.

“I’ve been missing those bare feet,” I tell him, giving him a hug.

“I mostly wore shoes in France,” he corrects. “Just no pants.”

After chicken there is cake and presents. Then it is time to go, a school night that is not meant to run long. As we’re leaving I catch Brian cupping Delilah’s face with his hands and giving her a kiss on her forehead. “I want to see those pictures you took in France,” he tells her.

I have a pain, the tenderness of a bruise that you didn’t realize was there. It is the recognition that deep down I had been worried about Brian loving my baby as much as he loves Evie and Edison. The same fear I had about Seath with my future dog. The fear of the phantom title of ‘adopted child.’

A fear that this little gesture erases.

The next morning, still in the veil of sleep, I realize that I have let Loli go, that I am no longer living in the loss of him. My eyes fill with tears at this, but they are not salty with devastation. I think, I am no longer in relationship to him. I’m opening up to a new being for me to care for, to care for me.

Sarah and I are seeing a play. We meet for Mexican and then decide to take a walk around Queen Anne to kill time. It’s a beautiful evening, warm but with the light dipping low. As we walk, men keep saying hi to us: A man in his window with a little boy; A man in a Seahawks jersey stepping into his car; Another man on the porch. A man steps out from a construction site and helps us parallel park.

Sarah says, “All this friendliness is weird. I feel like we’re going to get mugged or something.” I laugh and tell her she is such a New Yorker.

But there is something there that is telling me that I am different. Normally, Sarah is the one I notice men noticing. She has an open energy to her that gets flirty comments at restaurants. But today, I know that these men are saying hi to me. Not in a concrete way, but in an abstract way. Like their energy is remarking on mine.

I wonder if I have indeed updated myself, as Suzi would say. Embraced a new collaborative spirit. Rid myself of the “hueva” around dating.

The play is a meringue – light and sweet. On the way home I listen to NPR. There is a story about an aerospace engineer that sent a GoPro camera on a weather balloon into space. It landed two years later in the Arizona desert, full of photos from space. They talk about one of the most dramatic photos, the Grand Canyon as seen from space. I imagine it in my mind, a red scar on the planet.

In my head I think of Suzi saying, “A wound is where the light comes in.”

 

Jendate 28: Kali

India looms on the horizon.

“Why India?” asks a guy I work with. He is a large man with a child’s face, one hand chronically attached to a Diet Coke. As he awaits my response, he squints his eyes and scrunches his nose, like he’s trying to move his glasses up his face.

The gesture makes it seem like he’s asking why Mars.

“I think India chooses you,” I tell him.

After loose attempts at the trip the past three years, India had finally chosen me.

Thankfully, it had also chosen Katie.

We spend weeks locking down our itinerary, choosing hotels and finalizing flights. We get our shots – typhoid, hepatitis. We compare notes about whether to go carry-on or check-in luggage. We’ve both been sick. My room becomes littered with small piles of clothing, electronics cables and bottles of herbs for the immune system.

The last time Katie and I talk before the trip, I tell her I am feeling nervous. She says blithely, “I don’t really have any expectations.” I am struck by this thought, an India without expectations.

For me, India was an anchor to a big year of change: I’d put LA and Deutsch behind me after 6 years. I’d fully committed to Seattle. I’d decided to adopt a baby on my own. I’d started a new job that fully embodied my vision – less than full-time work, a focus on the things I was truly motivated by – mentorship and creating cultural change.

I’d lost my most constant source of love, solace and humor. The last remnant of my marriage, faded away on a vet’s table in a series of syringes. Left for cremation wrapped in a fuzzy, powder blue blanket.

India is all expectation.

The last day before the trip we have a new business meeting with Starbucks. We were supposed to meet in January, but then Starbucks pulled the meeting up three weeks. They were in a hurry.

My last pass at working with them was in my waning months at W+K. After a rocky three-month introductory period, we organized an offsite to explore how to work better together. Our client showed up in a sweatshirt with another agency’s logo on it. She claimed ignorance, but accident or not, the sentiment was clear: we were not her people, and she intended to remind us of that every day. One of our creative directors shared an insight from his therapist. She told him to surrender to the fact that nothing would ever be good enough for her.

We started calling her Impossible Woman, a dark, comic book villain in Eileen Fisher tops and beige pumps.

In recent history, Starbucks had been on a hiring frenzy, unflinchingly pillaging talent from all the Seattle agencies. As we regroup before hand, it is hard not to feel suspect of the meeting, the timing.

Mike, who leads new business tells Steph, “Listen, we’ll probably go and they’ll offer you a job.” He raises his eyebrows and shrugs in a “it’s messed up but that’s the way they roll” gesture.

“Let’s just go in there with our dicks swinging,” is Steph’s reply.

We arrive at 8 and have two hours of propaganda: coffee tasting, a tour of the office including their “brand museum,” a few sentences reverently etched into the wall and explained to us by a wide-eyed brunette cultist. When we break before heading to the conference room, Steph and I head to the bathroom.

“Jesus,” she says. “Let’s get to the meeting already.”

At the meeting, I say hi to the CMO. I had met her last spring in a casual coffee in her office, connected by a mutual friend. She gave off a laid-back air, her bare feet up on the coffee table as we talked. When I left she gave me her card and said, “Well, if you’re interested, call me.”

About a week later I sent her an email saying that I was interested in hearing more, but never heard back.

Initially there is the appearance of congeniality, but the room soon chills. It becomes clear they are testing our expertise around the product they want to launch. But we have none, we’ve only just learned about it. We ask our questions, hoping to find a point of connection, to stoke the fire. But it’s like being on a date with a standardized test, short, clipped answers with no embellishment.

Soon, we can say nothing right.

I watch the CMO and her creative director. They are both diminutive, slumped in their chairs like dolls, their faces obscured in clunky glasses. They have blown out hair that is starting to gain volume at the roots from the curl growing back. Another woman has aggressive false lashes and bright red lipstick. She had been our initial contact, having worked before with the agency. But her energy is also distanced, disconnected.

Later, I am reminded of a pitch I once had years ago with W+K. We had flown to New York for the meeting. After several scripts were presented to a cool indifferent client, Dan Wieden interjected and said, “I get the feeling we’re wasting our time here.”

We got up and left.

I remember being thrilled by Dan’s confidence, his fearlessness of pointing out the obvious.

In hindsight, I wish we’d done the same here. But in the moment, I am downstream at the table, removed from Steph and Mike and our creative director. Instead I start to wonder if I’m at fault somehow, if I’m doing something wrong. I feel like a frog who knows she’s being slowly simmered. The heat is uncomfortable, confusing. The imminent boil is only foreshadowed by tiny bubbles popping to the surface.

When the meeting breaks, the four of us stand on the rainy street in front of the building and Steph says, “What was that?” We all laugh and exhale.

I posit my theory: “I think they’re under the gun and have been trying to crack this and failed. They need someone to come in and solve it. And it was clear that we didn’t know enough to solve it.”

We talk about their insane timing expectations, how we already see the misery imbedded: a new client, pressured timing. We agree we probably dodged a bullet.

I feel like I dodged a bullet by not ending up there.

Mike suggests a food truck nearby. The only solution for the moment is latke sandwiches. I order one with herbed goat cheese and lox. “The best part of the day,” quips my creative director, peeling back the greasy paper for a bite.

By necessity, the piles on my floor finally make their way into my suitcase. At the airport there is a small line of people checking in. As people come in they call out to each other, mostly Indians heading home for the holidays. “We always see someone we know on this flight,” says one woman, her voice spicy with an Indian accent. “Always.”

Something about this scene chokes me up. I have a nervous buzz in my stomach. Like I too am anticipating a reunion.

Nineteen hours later, I land in Mumbai.

As we exit the plane, India makes itself known: the smells of spices and cleaning fluid and humid carpeting. The corridors open up into a large area packed with hundreds of people in a loose semblance of a line. The disorganization is already jarring. I hear a woman say we need to get an Ebola certification since the flight has come in from Dubai. There are people ignoring the lines, moving through to the next room where they realize they need the form. They cut back at the front to get their stamp, reaching their arms past the queue, waving their forms in front of the government workers stamping approvals.

“Hello, hello!” A woman and a man in front of me call out to the interlopers. “We are in a line here!” I wonder if they are Indians that live abroad, who’ve forgotten the way things really work back home.

At immigration, my line finds out that none of us have a necessary form. An Australian rugby team mobilizes, tall teenagers with gelled hair and yellow and green jerseys. Their long legs jog easily across the atrium, returning with a bouquet of forms in hand that their coach dutifully offers out.

At customs, another line.

“Is it always this crazy?” I ask an Indian woman in front of me. It’s been nearly two hours.

“You know, I live in Portland now. This is a shock to me too, to come back to this.” She smiles a tired smile, her fatigue a contrast to her energetic magenta cardigan.

Finally, I am spit out into the humid night air and to a waiting placard that says Ms Patterson Jennifer.

Even though it’s 5 in the morning, Katie is still awake when I open the door to the room. She is in grey sweats and a sweatshirt that says, “Spiritual Gangster.” I hug her, and ask, “What IS a spiritual gangster anyway?” The sound of her deep laugh is a bell of welcome. I unpack in the foyer, take a quick shower and climb between the white sheets. Neither of us is tired. We are both hungry.

The hotel is exquisite. We are in the heritage wing at the Taj Palace, Mumbai’s finest hotel. Our room is down an atrium of white latticed balconies and marble floors. The stairwell has an ornate cupola, the outer corridor has a patterned ceiling in white and citron. The grounds are lush with palms and tropical flowers.

Breakfast does not disappoint. There are idli, steamed rice cakes, round and fat like white powder puffs. There is chickpea masala. There are chicken cutlets pounded flat as paper, dipped in egg and coriander. There is dragon fruit, speckled with black seeds. There are Chinese dumplings, lox and brown bread, cheeses and salamis. There are cocoa puffs.

We sit at a table in the garden beside the pool. A flock of pigeons erupts from the roof, swoops over the garden and then returns. Black crows maneuver in to steal butter pats off vacant tables.

“That wont be good for your arterties!” Katie waggles her knife at one of the thieves.

We finally see Poorna the next afternoon. “Pato!” she says, her nickname for me. “Can you believe it? Can you believe it?”

I give her skinny body a tight squeeze, collapsing her bones together. She is in a yellow top and white pants, her hair wild and long. Her son, 8 year-old Anav, sits on the swing on the veranda, observing the scene neutrally from behind his glasses.

We wander the neighborhood. There is a steady stream of people: Muslim women in black, their faces covered; Men in twos or threes, sitting in front of stores. At several places a bottleneck of people stops in front of stalls. The streets are a constant din of traffic.

Between the flight and the jet lag, my cold has turned into a persistent cough. It’s warm in Bombay, in the high 80’s and even the temperature is making me feel out of sorts. I walk. I cough. I sweat.

We climb the stairs of a gray, unassuming building to a store where Poorna knows the owner. It is a relief to sit in the window and enjoy the air conditioning. I Instagram a pair of canary yellow pants with a gold pattern. “World’s most awesome pants.” I state definitively. Seath comments, “Do they come in my size?”

Poorna’s friend materializes. She has heavy black hair in a top knot. She wears a chic tan kurta, a fitted tunic over jeans and a chunky choker. Poorna explains this is her friend’s first foray into fashion, she was originally a painter. Her friend takes us in the back room where has a few pieces hung. Her paintings evoke Egon Schiele, portraits of women that are angular and aggressive. I wonder where the angles stem from. They are a different dialect than the exuberant colors and whimsical lines of her clothing.

We decide on dinner at one of Poorna’s favorite places, also in the neighborhood. The chef is from San Francisco and the menu is decidedly Californian – microgreen salads, mac and cheese. The bartender makes Anav a mocktail of orange and pineapple juice with a splash of seltzer. He is ecstatic and stirs the drink again and again with a tall black straw.

“I feel like I’m only half myself, I’m sorry,” I cough to Poorna. I want to squeeze all I can from our visit and feel like I’m only managing to go through the motions. As I breathe, my lungs crackle with congestion. On top of my cold, the air quality is poor, a brown haze sitting out over the bay.

“Babe, even half of you is still you,” says Poorna in her Zen way, laying her reedy cool fingers on my arm.

I order eggs and fries and an orange juice, feeling the need for comfort food. The waiter bobbles his head and records on his note pad. I ask Poorna about the head bobble, a ubiquitous gesture we’ve noticed everywhere. “Anavi, what about the head bob?” Poorna asks. Anav looks up from his book. He’s seen a video on YouTube that he reinacts, directing his mom to give him prompts, questions that he will answer to illustrate the desired effect. To the first question, he bobbles his head and says, “This means yes.” Another bobble means no. Then another means maybe. The bobbles are all the same, part of the humor. We all laugh. Anav smiles politely to his audience, unphased by the praise. He returns to his book and cocktail.

I think about the head bobble and how it is such a sign of a culture. It is a gestural tentative, a delay in commitment that takes the edges off an inevitable answer. In a country of a billion people, it might be easier to be in the flow of things rather than assert hard boundaries.

The next day we tour Dharavi, the famous slums of Mumbai where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed. Our guide is part of a non-profit tour company whose proceeds fund a community center in Dharavi.

Dharavi is a bustle of activity. We see plastic pieces cleaned and crushed, divided by color and set to dry on the tin roofs of building. We see paint cans being washed and recycled. Down the Muslim streets we see dark rooms piled high with animal skins, smelling of blood. Everywhere in the narrow streets there are children with big brown eyes and white smiles. They hold out their hands for us to shake and call out, “Hello, hello, nice to meet you!” Some run along side us.

After our tour, we are dusty and thirsty. Poorna calls and gives our driver directions to Bandra, the neighborhood they live in. Their apartment is on the second floor. The door is cracked open when we arrive. Azad, Poorna’s husband is there with his warm smile and rich voice. “Do you guys want to take a shower?” he asks.

Someone who understands India.

We do.

When I emerge from the bathroom, I feel human again.

We sit in Poorna and Azad’s living room. It’s a 1960’s building with windows all the way along the wall of the main room. The windows are open and there is a slight breeze. The tile floors are cool. The flat still has a temporary look. The furniture is mismatched. There is only one piece of art on the wall.

“We’re trying to decide what to do,” explains Poorna. “If we’re moving back to LA or what. We haven’t really invested in this place.”

Still, it is familiar. Azad in the kitchen wearing shorts, stirring pots. Poorna offering us coconut water. Sitting with our bare feet tucked under us.

On the couch is a pillow of the goddess Kali’s, her face black, her tongue extended, her forehead alive with a third eye. Kali is the goddess of time, her terrifying expression a reminder that all things must die for the cycle of life to continue.

“I want this pillow,” I say to Poorna, holding it in my hands. The pillow is heavy, like it could be a real head.

“You know what you guys need is a mosquito bat,” says Poorna. She goes into Anav’s room and brings back what looks like a badminton racket. “You swat the mosquitos and it kills them.” She demonstrates with an unexpected seriousness. I laugh and cough at the same time.

We sit for lunch. Rice, daal, a salad.

A friend drops by, in town from LA. He’s just found out the funding for his latest movie has fallen through. The three of them compare notes on the vagaries of the Indian film industry. He slumps on their couch with a melancholy smile, rubbing his shaved head. He’s been trying to make the film for years and it had seemed like a go. “Oh babe,” says Poorna sympathetically, curled up on the couch next to him like a leggy cat. Azad brings him a chai from the kitchen.

After lunch we call our driver and pile in the car, Azad in the back with the luggage, Anav on Poorna’s lap in the front. They are going to a friends’ house on an island for the weekend. The ferry leaves across the street from the hotel.

We drop them a few blocks away so they can get Anav a snack before the ferry. Being with them was a momentary anchor, a steadying force against the heat, the swelling masses of people. As we pull away I turn to watch them, missing them already. Their figures are a familiar grove of trees on the bank as we merge into the sea of traffic.

Our flight to Varanasi is delayed.

Katie relates a friend’s assertion that flights in India only go when they are ready to. There’s no rushing them. We spend our time at the airport glued to a kind man who explains the chaos and gives us a wave when the flight finally boards.

The tarmac in Varanasi is hazy with wood smoke. I cough and cough, but am relieved the temperature is cool.

Whereas Mumbai felt like Sao Paulo or Bangkok, Varanasi is something different altogether.

On the drive into town we pass rural encampments of dirt-floored huts, adorned with tethered goats and pastel-colored plastic chairs. The fields are bright green with yellow flowers. When we reach the city the roads are congested with people and vehicles. Cows or stray dogs are often laying placidly on the medians, seemingly oblivious to the chaos that surrounds them.

“There is a body,” points out our representative from the tour company. He is a young man with the look of an animated beaver, big brown eyes and a round face, too many square teeth packed into his mouth. He could be twelve except for his mustache. We watch a Jeep drive by, a body tied to the roof, resplendent with silver wrapping and a flutter of ribbons.

A present for the afterlife.

We arrive at the hotel and are met by Jai, our guide for Varanasi. He is American, but dressed in the local fashion, his head wrapped in a scarf and a black shawl over his down coat. He informs us he will meet us in an hour and we will start our tour of the burning ghats on the river.

The hotel is an old Maharaja’s Palace with expansive grounds. Three men in white neru-collared suits play a little tune in greeting. We put our hands together in a Namaste and head up the wide staircase to our room, just off the veranda. It is elegant, marble floors, tall wooden windows, a yellow claw-footed bathtub that I immediately Instagram to Lenora.

Varanasi is Mecca for Hindus, the holiest city in India, a place devoted to completing the journey to god. The burning ghats are embankments where bodies are cremated, their ashes mingled into the chalky water of the Ganga, or Ganges. To die and be cremated in Varanasi is to complete your karmic circle.

We meet Jai at the steps to the river. There are people milling about and at least two cows laying on the rise like old people taking in the view. Dusk is settling in, melting the brown smoky haze into the grey twilight. A young girl, maybe 9 years old in a pink sweater offers us a basket of her wares. Jai buys two balsa wood cups with candles and marigolds for us.

“She’s one of my buddies, a smart little thing. She speaks English and some Spanish,” says Jai.

“Como te llamas?” I ask her, but she smiles and shakes her head. I ask to take her picture and she offers me a mouth full of white teeth.

The river is chilly with fog. Our boatman is a sturdy, dark-skinned man with a grumpy demeanor. Jai explains some family politics – this man now works for his nephew who inherited the family business over when his father died. The boatmen are a caste, generations of the same families running the boats on the river. While Varanasi is devoted to Shiva, the judge, the boatmen follow Vishnu, the protector of the world. They assert their right of way on the water, and don’t hesitate to barrel into holy bathers on their turf as they pull their boats into the bank.

Standing at the bow, he maneuvers us in between moored boats for a closer view of the burning ghat. The fires lick high into the night. There are boats ashore piled with wood. Jai tells us the fires burn 24 hours, maybe a hundred bodies a day. We light the candles in the little balsa wood cups and set them off down the river. I am caught up in the moment and forget to make a wish. A flutter of possibilities fills my head but there is no one thing that presents itself, a baby, a partner, a calling.

Like it already knows its mission, my cup floats out to the deeper water and joins the others floating downstream.

We land downriver. Surly Boatman offers his muscular hand as we wobble off the bow onto the sand. We wind our way up the steps behind the ghat. The narrow cobblestone streets are dark and cinematic, flickering with light from the fires. A row of Sadus, Tantric priests with dreadlocked hair and orange robes sits together. Their skin is black from bathing in ashes. They wait to be engaged in blessings for the dead. In another corner are barbers, squatting on the cobblestones, straight razors shaving the heads of the mourners in Hindu custom. They rinse their blades in metal buckets. Cows look on impassively, their eyes big and glossy in the dark.

Back on the boat Katie and I make eye contact and mouth, “Oh. My. God.” The whole scene is unreal.

I post a picture on Instagram with the caption: “Mind blown.”

At the end of the evening when we tip our boatman he bobbles his head in thanks and gives an approximation of a smile.

Morning comes too soon with a wake up call followed by an efficient knock from room service. They have brought us coffee and a to-go box of fruit and pastries since we will miss breakfast.

Our room is cold despite the heater being on. It’s unusually chilly for the time of year and the marble floors of the palace never warm. Katie, who is chronically cold, has slept with an extra blanket, a bathrobe and her down coat. She puts her icy hand on my forearm, “See?” she says.

I am tired from violent coughing. The air quality in Varanasi is even worse than Mumbai. I’ve taken to covering my mouth and nose with a scarf. The masking helps, but I am also conscious of how it cuts me off from the world. Occasionally, my cough gets so violent I pee my pants. I have a flash-forward of being old, having a willing spirit trapped by an uncooperative body.

We meet Jai at the river. The morning is foggier than the night before. There are twenty or so people here, women in saris and big coats huddled on folding chairs, men clustered in groups. Even though we are steps from the water, the river is obscured by fog.

We wave at our boatman and he gives a brusque bobble of the head. Jai says it’s too foggy to go out on the river so we’ll stay here for the ceremony.

This is the aarti, the morning blessing for the sunrise. Brahmin priests take the front and a group of women begin chanting. Jai points out it is unusual for women to be doing the chant, a sign of how progressive Varanasi is, home to a university for India’s gurus in song, tabla, sitar. “This Sanskrit chant, they have studied it at the university. It has sounded the same for the last 5000 years,” whispers Jai.

Their haunting keen wafts out into the fog.

The priests go through a series of motions, making circles in the air, first with camphor smoke, then with candles on tiered candelabras.

We are taking pictures and video. But after the first few minutes, I put my phone down.

I feel like I need to experience this moment, not document it.

I have never been a religious person. Our only exposure to religion was going to church with my grandparents, staunch Catholics who said grace before every meal and sent their six children to Catholic school. Church was miserable, a long droning sermon and then the mortifying moment when the whole congregation stood up to take communion while my brother and I were abandoned in the pews on our own. To me, this exclusion felt cruel, like being punished for something that wasn’t our fault. I remember being relieved when the pews filled in and we were absorbed back into the congregation.

The first time I noticed someone with a palpable spiritual energy was in college. He was a friend of a friend at Berkeley, a beautiful African-American with long dreadlocks and baggy jeans. Walking into his energy was like walking into a force field. He had extra gravity to his being. I felt foreign in his company, thinking myself too pragmatic to truly understand his kind of spiritual depth.

Through coaching I had become attuned to the energy that existed in the universe and gradually saw my own part of this energy flow. I mused about becoming an energy reader. I compared notes with Maeve on how her day was, how it compared to my own, drawing parallels when she and I both shared a chaotic morning or an inspired afternoon. I learned to read Tarot cards.

When planning the trip, our concierge had suggested Varanasi with Katie in mind. They shared a mutual friend who had passed away unexpectedly, still a young man. Varanasi had been his favorite place in India and our concierge had traveled there with him. “That is totally up my alley,” Katie had said to the suggestion. “Spiritual is totally my thing.”

It hadn’t really occurred to me that spiritual could totally be my thing.

Enveloped in the fog and the 5000 year-old chant, I think of Lolo. I think about my grandma, died two years ago. I think about fog, the introspection of it, the weather marker of my grandma’s passing.

I think about my adoptive baby, not yet born.

And then there is a liquid moment when being and absence merge.

I feel myself in the eternity of time.

A small balsa wood cup ornamented with marigolds, flickering it’s way into a continual stream.

I can’t stop the tears.

After the ceremony, a woman comes to Katie and me and marks our foreheads with a red dot and rice. We take a picture together, my face half-covered by my scarf, Katie’s face in a gentle smile. It is lighter now, though the fog still has not dissipated. The dias where the priests were is being dismantled, the magic of the moment dismantled with it.

“That was so intense,” I tell Katie. “I was crying.”

“What do you think it was about?” asks Katie in a perfunctory way.

“I don’t know,” I say tentatively and then am subsumed in a fit of coughing.

When the coughing eases, I realize I am not willing to share yet. I want to keep the feeling to myself, a warm flame in my core, for a little while longer. I think back to my nerves before the trip and wonder if this was what I was anticipating, a moment bigger than myself.

A feeling that cannot be unfelt.

An after to my before.

The fog is still too thick to take to the river again, so we wander the alleys of the old town. Jai is easy to be with. He has spent 14 years in Varanasi and speaks Hindi. In that time he has gone from being Jeremy to Jai. He runs a small tour company and is slowly making his way through a Master’s Thesis on Varanasi.

Locals come up to him and shake his hand. At the chai walla we see a group of foreign musicians that Jai knows. “They all come and study here for 6 months with their gurus,” he explains. “They throw great parties.” They stand in a circle, wrapped in shawls against the cold. One of them says something in Spanish and I ask him if he is Mexican. “Claro, guey,” he answers. I banter with him a minute in Mexican street slang. A local man holds a baby in a green stocking cap and a pink coat. The baby’s dark eyes are lined with kohl. Jai buys us marigold necklaces from a woman seated on the dirt street, her wares displayed on a cloth.

As we wander the streets, Jai points out what to see: buildings whose stucco has chipped away to reveal hand-made bricks, hundreds of years old; vendors selling solid condensed milk, used for making sweets; a mint-colored sari discarded on the steps a sacred pool where women bathe for fertility, leaving their old clothes and returning home in new garb. The streets are a watercolor of pinks, purples and greens. Walls are bejeweled with paisleys, elephants, and palm trees painted onto the stucco.

A beetle nut seller, his teeth red from chewing his wares, wants to be in a picture. I snap one and hold it back to him for his approval. He bobbles his head and then nods a yes, approved. We turn a corner and a cow is passing. We flatten ourselves against the wall and let the animal lumber by. Jai slaps its rump congenially. In the cobblestone alleys of Varanasi, Shiva’s pets have the right of way.

We visit a Tantric temple. As we remove our shoes at the front stoop, Jai explains that the Tantric tradition is the dark compliment to the light Hindu Vedic tradition. The priests wear black, they smoke, they eat meat. “I think you’re Tantric,” I whisper to Katie, whose wardrobe is famously black.

He has brought us here because it is the dog temple, thinking of Katie who has slowed on every block to take a picture of a dog. Indeed strays are curled up in corners, sleeping peacefully among the orange columns while the worshippers pay tribute. Jai says Hindus believe dogs are one of the lowest animal incarnations because they don’t contribute anything like goats or cows. In my heart I feel the dog-shaped hole left by Lolo. I wonder where the Hindu tradition rates love as a contribution.

Jai pays the priest for a blessing. The priest is seated on the platform leading up to the shrine of Kali, her face black, her tongue extended like a Maori warrior.

The blessing is a whirling dervish – the priest rocks back and forth, swinging a horsehair wand around my head and chanting rapidly. He is a younger man, maybe in his late twenties, with short hair and missing teeth. We remove our marigold necklaces and pass them to the priest for the Kali shrine.

Unlike the aarti on the Ganga, I don’t feel any particular spiritual energy here in the orange temple. The blessing is transactional, a piece of theatre for a few rupees. The only thing I take with me is the chalky mud from the wet temple floors staining the bottom of my feet.

In Calcutta, our tour company representative picks us up at the airport. On top of the cough, I’ve lost my voice in the last days of Varanasi. I do my best to greet our hosts but my voice has a squeaky scrape like sun-bleached wood rubbing together.

“I hear Miss Jennifer is sick, would she like to see the doctor?” he asks.

Yes, Ms Jennifer would.

The doctor comes to the room at 10pm. He is a bald man with the face of a toad – wide set hazel eyes, a wide mouth, an energy that feels light, almost joyful. His accent is the dramatic and exaggerated, like a Shakespearean actor.

“Who is the patient?” he asks, setting down his case in a gesture that is part efficiency, part flourish. I raise my hand. He asks me questions about my symptoms, feels my neck.

“You have a fever,” he notes.

When he asks how I would normally treat these symptoms, I tell him I tend to do natural remedies, that my sister-in-law is a natural doctor.

“That wont work here! This is India,” he says.

He prescribes me antibiotics, a codeine cough syrup and a maximum strength decongestant for the fluid in my chest. He whisks out of the room with a prescription to leave at the front desk. They will send someone to the pharmacy. It’s been less than 10 minutes.

As I lie in bed, I wonder what my cold represents. The gurgling in the lungs, and violent cough, like I am underwater, unable to get air into my being. Or a way of expelling something no longer needed. The fever, a sign of infection but also the body’s way to regenerate. The loss of my voice, the inability to say something to the world, or a way to keep the conversation close, interior.

In Calcutta, fortified by antibiotics and a cough-free nights’ sleep, I finally come to life again. Varanasi was frenetic with the business of dying: riverbanks choked with boats, the constant burning of bodies, traffic circles congested with motorbikes, tuk tuks, cars and cows. Kolkata is a city of being. There is an leisurely beauty that is palpable everywhere. The men and women selling limes and marigolds smile unabashedly as we tour the markets and snap their pictures. At several points while making our way through the crowded market stalls, vendors leave their wares and join our tour, chatting to Katie and me in Bengali, asking us to take a picture of their friend, laughing at the resulting photo. Eventually, they would retreat back to their posts, their curiosity satisfied.

In the streets, elegant lines and ornate detail shine through the moldering facades of the city’s colonial mansions. On the riverbank of the Ganges, a large heap of grey clay awaits its future incarnation as a statue of Parvati or Ganesh. The clay statues become living gods on the holy day, then revert to mere ornamentation and are tossed back into the river to return to their origins.

Our tourguide tells us that Kolkata is a city of art. He points to a mural of Tagore, India’s Nobel laureate, native son of Kolkata. It is painted on the side of the municipal police station.

“We are a lazy people, we Bengali,” he says. “We don’t like to work.” He says it as a source of pride.

Kali is Kolkata’s patron goddess. It seems fitting that a city devoted to a female deity is also one with a developed creative soul, an open heart and a humane pace. Kali’s fearsome destructive nature seems only discernable in the color palate: fewer candy-colored pinks and greens, more blood reds and mustard yellows. Earthy colors tending towards black.

On a whim Katie and I stop at Mother Theresa’s orphanage. It is part curiosity and part bathroom break. After finding the facilities, we make our way into a courtyard. A talent show is in progress, children singing and making chorographed motions with their arms. Orphans who have been adopted are back visiting their former home.

Nuns, mostly African, their black skin set off by their white habits carry babies in their arms. One pauses near us and I talk to the baby, rubbing the pudge of his brown little arm, his hand curled in a tight little ball of delicate fingers. I have to resist the urge to hold out my arms, knowing my baby is still circling through time and space and piles of paperwork. This baby is not for me.

Home feels foreign.

India has set me off kilter. It takes me a full week to recover from the jet lag. It takes three weeks to get on the other side of the cough. I unpack bits at a time. My clothes smell like jasmine from being laundered in Calcutta. They sit, still folded in my suitcase, acclimating to their surroundings. A few figurines I bought as gifts lie packed in their velvet pouch – brass Buddhas, quartz Ganeshes. The one Kali figurine I keep for myself, placing her in the windowsill of the bathroom, my deep tub the closest thing to the Ganges.

My psyche feels like a necklace that has been tangled. I can’t wait to find which way the chain is wrapped so I can wear it and let it sparkle.

My first day back to work, we are in Steph’s office talking about what’s in store for 2015.

Steph says, “I feel like this is going to be the year of death.” She mentions an uncle who is teetering between this side and the other. I add my remaining grandparents, both 90, are both slowing as well.

“As someone who’s just been through a big loss, I feel like the thing to remember is that death is an energy exchange – it clears the way for new energy. Yes it is sad. And then there is something on the other side.”

The room sits an extra second with my prediction, it might be too much woo woo for the first morning back after the holidays. Then Steph says, “See, that’s why I need you. I already feel better.”

Work is busy with new business. We spend one day in San Francisco for a meeting with a start up that is flush with cash from a recent investment. The founder was also a principal in Flickr.

When we walk into their lobby there is a felted wool pillow in the shape of their logo, a multi-colored hashtag with rounded ends.

“Oh my god,” I tell the receptionist. “I love this!”

“We just actually hired the woman who made it,” she tells me. “Our CEO was so impressed on how she got the colors just right. He’s really into the colors.”

I end up sitting next to the founder in our meeting, curious about his breed of genius, tech guru and appreciator of felted pillows. He talks fast that at first is slightly unsettling. But he also smiles on occasion, laughs with us.

One of the account people tells me he is 42 and divorced, with a shrug that says “fair game.”

I am excited about the meeting. I don’t walk away feeling like we’re going to get the business. “Look at our logo compared to theirs,” I tell Mike. We have a new agency logo but it feels lackluster and derivative. Meanwhile, the client’s logo is perfect: fresh, iconic, pillow-friendly.

Logos aside, I do walk away knowing we have left a mark from being exactly ourselves. “From that perspective it could not have gone any better,” I finish.

It is the opposite of the Starbucks meeting.

On the plane ride home, I have a burst of energy about my “book.” For the past 6 months, the book has been nothing more than a few scraps of paper and a loose vision talked about in air quotes. It started as a response to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. The more I talked to women about Lean In, the more I heard annoyance at Sandberg’s suggestions of how to work. Reading between the lines, I saw my friends didn’t want to work more like men. They didn’t want to adjust to the dominant paradigm. They wanted to work and succeed in a way that was true to themselves.

I realized I had a story to tell here. I had reached a point in my career where I felt trapped by working within the masculine paradigm. I had refocused on my own feminine energy: collaborative, creative, an emphasis on being over doing. I had flourished.

With the slow slide into Lolo’s passing and then the gear up for India, the book had become a passing percolation.

Now, something about the meeting has set me free.

I troll through the scraps of writing I’ve been able to cobble together. There is the start of a chapter on the Kardashians, about women working in the masculine paradigm. There are documents that contain nothing but chapter headings: “LA vs. Seattle” and “Productivity.” I spend about an hour dusting off the material. I read and reacquaint. In one document I write for about 30 minutes but then I close it out and turn to the blog, which has also been languishing. The book has only a temporary traction.

The next morning, I wake up with a nervous feeling. It’s still dark when I finally pull my self out of bed. I’m running late, but I decide to go for a walk to calm my inexplicable nerves. There is the usual morning traffic cutting down to the lake, tires hissing in the rain. I cross the main road and wander into the neighborhood. I notice houses that have remodeled, trees that have been taken down.

I try to get to the heart of my anxiety, and an article about Deutsch pops into my head. It was the typical trade write up, a picture of the CEO, the creative director and another woman I don’t recognize. The article said the top people at Deutsch had all been promoted to “North America” positions. After reading it, I had clicked “like,” happy for my friends.

But there is a lurking question if I’d missed my chance by leaving Deutsch.

I try and climb up above the thought (“Go to the mountain top!” says Suzi.)

The mountain top is clarifying. Though I’d made a conscious effort to leave that world behind – the grueling schedule, the title-worship, the “back up the truck” mentality that said more was always better, I realize am still measuring success by the same yardstick. I haven’t reset my own metrics for success.

For the rest of the walk, I channel abundance: many chances for success, success in the way I want to work. By the time I get home I am calm.

When I recount the moment with Suzi, I tell her, “Even seeing the picture, I knew where the bodies were buried. I could see the human cost behind those promotions.”

“Write that down,” directs Suzi. I tell her my insight, about measuring my own success in outdated metrics.

Suzi tells me I will end up influencing Deutsch from the path I am on.

“I see you like Richard Branson,” she says. In my head I conjure up an image, a photo I saw once of him in small yellow shorts with a smiley face on the crotch. I can’t see myself as his contemporary in any way. But then, that is the beauty of Suzi.

“I mean, he really does not live on this earth, does he? He doesn’t live according to any dominant paradigm,” she rhapsodizes. “He says, ‘why live by these rules?’”

I scribble down the notes and revisit them after the call. Why live by these rules, indeed?

Weeks later, I realize the uncanny timing – the crisis of faith in my own path just as I’ve recommitted to it in the form of the book. Sabotaged by my own subconscious.

The day before my birthday I decide to pick up Lolo.

It’s been almost two months since Loli passed and still the house feels empty and cold. In India while Katie stopped and cooed at every stray dog, I kept my distance. It was even hard to pet Roxy, Seath and Carina’s dog, whose square tan snout was often solicitous of affection.

When I pull up to the vet I sit in my car a minute and snuffle, my eyes filled with tears. I didn’t expect to be so upset at this task, but then for months I have avoided it. As I wait in line at the vet, there is a pug on a leash with a Seahawks jersey and a goofy lopsided smile. I smile at the pug and its owner, attempting to keep my tears at bay.
The girl behind the desk gives me a box delicately, with a gentle smile. It seems impossible all that bouncy life could be reduced to a carboard box that says Patterson Lolo Medium. I cry all the way home.

I put the box of ashes in the entry way. It was always his spot.

There have been some tectonic plates shifting at work.

First, the agency’s creative director leaves. He is a kind man, with southern manners hammered into him by a single mother. But I thought he stifled creativity. He operated tribally, surrounded by team members with tenure but not necessarily talent. He ran his department with command and control authority, so much so that none of his junior creatives would talk in meetings he was in.

He also led with criticism. Once, in a brainstorm when he opened the discussion with a “What I don’t like is…” I interrupted and said, “Is there something additive you can say right now? Classic rules of improv, you know? The ‘Yes AND.’” He took the comment graciously, with a little smile.

Later, he would repeat back to me things I’d said, but in the way a politician might when he is courting votes.

When I interviewed for the job, I asked him to define the creative culture of the agency. He didn’t have an answer.

I told him I thought that was a problem.

Since starting at work we had kept a polite distance from each other. After a few initial coffees, regular appointments on the calendar, I stopped going, telling Sarah to cancel.

Ultimately, I think I scared him.

And maybe he scared me.

I could never find his soul, I only slid along his carefully designed veneer of competence. A competence that was in the way of change.

The moment I hear the news, I see it as a sign.

The network also gets a new CEO.

He asks our office to work on the new agency brand. We are handed a few dry ingredients: a line, the aforementioned derivative logo and an uninspired color palate. As we dig into the assignment, we turn it into something with flavor.

Roger flies in from London to see the work and to meet the agency. He arrives from the airport, a slight man with salt and pepper hair in a collared shirt and neat navy sweater. The agency is assembled, curious, a drink or two into the gathering. Roger fields some questions. Someone asks about raises and bonuses. It is an emotional question, mired in a history of frustration and the collective liquid courage. His response is rational: he hasn’t come with a suitcase of cash. If we work hard, there will be money.

It is not an irrational response, but one that misses the entire point of the question. Not raises, but respect, partnership. The room grows cold.

I am intrigued with the meeting as a communications exercise, a misstep between the feminine energy origin of the question (how it feels) and the masculine energy answer (what you need to do). The next day, on my way into work I talk to and she says, “Dude, all this great fodder for your book.”

After the flat-footed meeting, I am unsure about how he’ll receive our work on the brand. We meet downstairs in an open area, pinning the presentation to the wall rather than projecting a Powerpoint deck. Roger comes in with a v-neck sweater over an open-necked polo shirt. There is something oddly vulnerable about seeing his neck. I am hoping his casual dress is a good omen for the meeting.

But when we motion for people to get up and come to the wall, Roger sits away and says, “I’m fine here.”

We walk him through our thoughts. His feedback is clinical. Where we’ve tried to give depth and soul to something shallow and soulless, he’s looking for functional pieces that can snap together.

When the meeting ends we all feel slightly deflated, except Steph who says, “I feel pretty good about his comments.” I feel a slight buoy when Steph says this. She’s spent more time with Roger and maybe reads him better.

Afterwards, one of my planners says, “It just makes me question whether I’m working at the right place.”

I take in a big breath of air. “This is one of those moments where we can’t let this define who we are or how we do things. We have to keep forging ahead with what we see as valuable.”

I say it as much for myself as I do for him.

Later I think even at, my foundational home, W+K there were things that weren’t aligned. A friend in town for business and I reminisce about the sexism at W+K. Lori tells me she once found out a contemporary was getting a $25K raise one year because his wife didn’t work.

“Can you believe it? You bet I got a $25K raise that year,” she laughs, sipping her wine.

I recount a birthday cake, inscribed for one of our favorite account directors that said, “If you had a penis, you’d be managing director by now.”

Lori now owns an agency in Portland.

“I know, I never expected to own an agency, but the other partners kept dropping like flies,” she gives a light laugh.

We talk about the change in the agency in the time she’s taken over. “It used to be so negative. Now I hug everybody all the time. We just have fun. I cried at our last agency meeting,” she says.

“This is exactly what I want to write this book about,” I tell her. “Managing from a feminine energy.”

With the creative director gone, I host a brainstorm for the remaining creative department. I check in with the interim creative director, Cameron. He is on board. The creatives file into the conference room tentatively.

“Not all of us are going to be able to weigh in on this new creative director we’re going to hire. But we can start the change we want to be part of. What kind of work we want to do?” I ask them.

The room is slow to warm up. We should be doing apps, one person says. Another suggests content. I scribble on the white board.

Then someone says, “I want to do Microsoft’s Superbowl ad next year.” He is a soft-spoken Australian but his pitch can’t mask the beautiful ambition there.

I write it on the board and put a square around it. “YES,” I say.

When I ask why we are not doing this kind of work, the litany of reasons is familiar: there are no job codes to do the work we want to do, the clients wont let us do the work we want to do, the crap work bogs us down from the real work.

I tell them that I have heard this all before. From my own group.

“Why are we waiting for permission to do our jobs the way we want to do them? You will find, if you stop giving time to the things you don’t think are important that work will find another doer, or go away. Nature hates a vacuum. So when there is one, someone, account services, finance, your clients are going to fill it. It is our job to push back out a vision we want to follow. To fill the void with our vision.”

There are a few who shake their heads. They are both unhappy and unwilling to create their own change. But there are those who are nodding. They want fresh air to breathe.

Afterwards, Cameron pulls me aside. “What do we DO with this?” he asks. “Should I have people come back with five new ideas to go sell?”

I lean back in my chair and rest my hands behind by head, my left hand clasping my right wrist.

“I don’t think this is about another work stream,” I tell him. “I think it’s a way of being. I think every time people come to you with work, you ask them: ‘Have we taken this far enough? Have we been big enough? Is this the kind of work WE want to do?’”

He nods, leaning back in his chair as well.

“We have to remind people to look at things laterally, to see their own opportunity in things. It’s kind of why I took this job.”

“Why DID you take this job?” he asks, leaning back into the table, weight on his elbows. He is a tall man in his forties, with blond-silver hair and a grey beard that popped up over Christmas. I was curious about that beard, a symbol of change. He has a booming resonant voice that matches his height, but there is also a hesitancy in him.

I tell him my story of interviewing – how I loved Steph and her YES energy. How I could see exactly the kind of work I wanted to do here – develop people, help create and execute a vision for the agency. “Ultimately I don’t really care about planning any more. This is the work I want to be doing.”

He leans back again, and puts his hands behind his head, unconsciously mirroring my body language.

“Actually, that’s how I see my job as well. I want to make Jedi’s,” he says. He talks about his protégé, one of his human case studies.

I nod and then say candidly: “I love that that’s your mission. But I’m not sure that’s how people see you.”

He goes into a complicated explanation about his mandate to sort out a bunch of things for the department, how the organization phase of his existence was almost through.

“I guess, if you want to be a Jedi-maker, you’ve got to come to work every day wearing that shirt. Right now, you’ve been wearing the Org Chart guy shirt to work every day. It’s hard to get respect with that shirt on.”

“You know, we should spend more time together,” he says.

I decide to focus my department by moving some different skillsets over to another department. One of the account directors says to me, “You’re losing power for your department, moving them away. All the work we do is with them.” She says it with concern, like a mom pointing out something hot as a child reaches her hand for it.

“I’m not interested in an army,” I tell her. “I’m interested in influence. The way we’re going to get out of our box is through this influence, not the work we currently do.”

She’s not the only nay-sayer. I see how the agency has gotten trapped by thinking small, by seeing only the immediate fix, not the long game. Not the mountain top. I put together a presentation for the agency’s management describing planning: what we do, what to expect, why its important. One of my planners comes up with a great metaphor – planning is about harpooning whales, not catching fish. It’s about altitude and growth.

One creative comments that creating a planning discipline will take away resources from creative. He was also at the creative brainstorm, glowering in the corner, shaking his head at the possibility that there might be a way to do things differently.

“Why are we thinking about such a small pie,” I ask. “There should be more, we should be asking for more.”

Steph agrees, saying this is just the new way we work, that’s it.

Others nod positively, but I remind myself how long it takes for new thinking to settle in.

Where there are hurdles, there are also wild successes.

One Friday, although I normally am not at work, I meet two of my planners for a coffee. They are both pretty brunettes, best friends, Beyonce fans. They have a new side project that they want to run by me.

They explain. We push and prod the idea. It morphs into something clearer.

“You guys, I just feel so proud of you!” I gush. I have a contact high from their enthusiasm.

“You said to find the things that make us happy, that we are responsible for our own happiness. So it’s because of you!” says one.

I think of how far she’s come in a very short amount of time. Not long ago she had come to me wanting to be promoted. I had challenged her on her leadership credentials. For a minute she fought for it, but ensnared herself in her own language. Her words betrayed that she saw herself firmly in the chorus not the front of the stage. She worried about stepping on toes. She worried her clients would be unreceptive. I batted down each of these assertions easily, saying simply, “Listen to yourself,” knowing no view is as powerful as a mirror. Now I saw her becoming someone else – someone who takes risks, who advocates for ideas. Growing her confidence.

It is like watching bulbs I have planted bloom into full flower.

I am still unpacking India. I take Suzi through the moment at the Ganges, the convergent harmony of fog and ghosts and future beings. I tell her, “I felt like, ‘am I supposed to be a Hindu? Is that what’s happening here?” The religious context still does not feel right, but I don’t have an adequate vocabulary for the moment.

Suzi waits as I talk it out, down to a dribble. Then she says, “Yes, your spiritual awakening. These are my words, at least.”

Weeks later, I watch a documentary interviewing spiritual gurus, from poets to rabbis to Buddhist monks. They all talk about their moments, in the woods, in New York City traffic. I think about my Uncle Steve telling me, “Kid, remind me to tell you about the time I saw nirvana.” Punctuated by a very Indian head bobble.

Suzi continues, taking the conversation somewhere unexpected: “It is a belief in your own spirit, in the message you are here to convey.”

Suddenly the disparate elements of my energetic pursuits, my work, the blog, the book, the adoption fuse together into one. For the first time, I see myself as an insider not an outsider.

I am inside my own conversation.

I am creating it in my own image.

“You just blew my mind,” I tell her.

High on my call with Suzi, I have a few glorious days reveling in my own knowing. I see back to the before, how I was still teaching, still convincing myself. The after is exhilarating. But also foreign. A place I am still learning.

Another lead at work seeks me out. She’s been out of the office. “I was thinking about you a lot while I was gone,” she tells me. I am surprised. And curious.

We walk to lunch at her favorite Indian place in South Lake Union. Fiona is English, vegetarian and elegant, always in tasteful camel or black. I can see why she loves the restaurant, it has an equal elegance.

We share samosas and a chickpea curry.

“I’ve been thinking, it must be really hard to be a change agent here,” she tells me. It is a beautiful opening to a conversation, full of empathy, like a hand held out.

“You know, it can be really lonely,” I confess. “There’s definitely times when I think, ‘Am I the one who just doesn’t get it?’ I’m trying to remember how slow change is, and to bring people along with it rather than force it down anyone’s throat.”

We talk about the agency culture, how it is often more NO than YES. How we see ourselves too small.

“You can’t change in a NO culture. There has to be some leeway, some openness to doing things differently,” I observe. She nods in agreement.

“What I want to do is get us thinking how are we going to charge MORE money!” she exclaims.

“YES.” I agree emphatically. “We can’t live in this forever shrinking pie that people are worried about. There’s more pie out there, people!”

When we leave I feel like I’ve won an ally in my cause.

As we walk, Fiona has her head tipped slightly back, like she’s thinking.

At the chiropractor, the light is diffused and he’s playing jazz. John was an instructor of Carina’s at Bastyr. He has a soft voice and cool gentle hands. Often when he takes my head, ready to adjust my neck he’ll say, “I’ve got you,” as he feels me tense up. Other times, when he stretches my neck out, contorting my head so that my mouth is touching my collar bone, he will say, “Just relax your right ear.”

He is a fascinating man. Originally, he thought he was going into beer. He and a couple partners were opening up a brewery. He went to the bookstore to buy a book for the project and was compelled to the back of the store by a book of spiritual poetry. “That yellow cover was just calling to me,” he said. Within a week he had given up the brewing business and committed his life to alternative care.

“Something has gotten you out of alignment,” he says, eyeing my stance. “Your hips are all out of whack.” I feel out of whack, from India, from illness, from change. I climb onto the table and he does the adjustments. As he works on my neck I feel my sinuses pop.

I am telling him how different India was. I tell him about my moment on the Ganges, my merge with time.

“There’s so much we don’t even know,” he purrs. “There are senses we haven’t even discovered yet. I heard this story about a tribe that greets each other with direction – like, ‘Hello, I’m going NNW.’ The language has an internal compass built into it. They took this technique and started training little kids with it, and these kids now have the same ability.

“They know what direction they’re facing, even out in the middle of the ocean.”

Later in the week at work, I debrief my team on the creative brainstorm. I tell them that the same frustration they told me about 7 months ago is what the creative are sitting with. I tell them why this is so important that we model the way, that we lead by creating our own permission.

After the meeting, one of them gives me a smile and says, “You’re like the Richard Branson of the agency!”

I stop for a moment mid-stride. “That’s so nice!” I thank her.

Then I immediately text Suzi.

Suzi’s reply is more exclamation points than words.

I realize that the reason my planner said this.

I am starting to believe it about myself.

I spend a three-day weekend in Santa Barbara to see Maevey and meet her baby, Poppy.

“Dude, you’re going to have to channel all your compassion,” says Maeve repeatedly before the visit. I have suggested how fun it would be to take Poppy in the pool or to head out together for an early dinner together. Maeve shuts these ideas down with an “I don’t know,” which is really a no. At first I am rankled, but then I remember that at the end of the day, I’m not there to do anything. It will just work out. Compassion channeled.

I book a fabulous hotel in the hills, the Riviera of Santa Barbara, where I have a tiny Spanish-style bungalow with a king-sized bed and a kind-sized bathroom. The front door has shutters that can be opened to let in light. There is a small table and chairs out front in it’s own private garden. The property is lush with California plants, succulents and palms and birds of paradise. In the distance, the bay sparkles blue in the afternoon.

Maevey, her sister Melissa and I brunch at the hotel. The service is slow. We ask three times for the drink menu and it finally shows up. Finally, Maeve orders a kir royale, Mel a mimosa.

Mel asks about the adoption and I catch her up on the scant details: fingerprints sent to the FBI. A packet of forms, filled and mailed out to an address given to me over the phone by the agency. Then returned to sender a month later: they’d given me the wrong building number. I want these details to be delicious, to feel like they are mounting towards an inevitable glorious moment. Instead, it feels bureaucratic and stale, like trying to create a story about your tax returns.

“Dude, I think getting your fingerprints done was a big deal,” says Maevey. “And picking up Loli? Symbolic.”

“I do think Loli is going to come back as my child,” I say, and can feel the tension pull my eyes and sinuses brace for tears.

Mel is like a comet, bold and shiny. Like all Maeve and the rest of her family she is a lawyer, a speaker of Spanish. She is also speaks French, Italian, Portugese, and that most Texan language, the tall tale. Mel regales us with stories from her exploits in the law world, including the time when at a Latin American law conference a fellow lawyer mistook her for the prostitute hired to entertain the group: “Hay nenas qui son tambien abogadas?” she asked him with pluck (“Are there prostitutes who are also lawyers?”)

“You should write these down,” I laugh. I love her spunk. Maeve has told me how Mel has a conference “persona” she puts on, nicknamed Seminar Sally. I tell Mel I need some Seminar Sally for myself, that attending conferences is a terrifying prospect: the cavernous rooms, the uncomfortable chairs, the people who read badges first and make eye contact second. Poppy is oblivious to the talk, the volume of her cheek pressed up against Maeve’s chest.

We talk some about my job and the book: I tell Mel about how I’m trying to reinvent, first my department, then the agency into a place that is more collaborative, more creative.

“What do you do about the feral cats,” asks Mel. “That’s totally me. I could never go and work in a company again.”

“I think the culture is what keeps the feral cats in,” I say after thinking a minute. “The culture is the rudder. That’s how it was at W+K at least. I guess ultimately, you have to have cats that believe there is some benefit to the collective,” I sum up.

“And the ones that don’t get it, you just escort out,” sums up Mel with a grin.

There is something grounding about seeing Maevey again after 6 months. We talk on the phone daily, but being together is sweet in a whole different way. Despite the insecurities of new motherhood, there is a new centered core to Maeve, a gravity.

“Dude, I have been thinking how much more interesting our conversation has been in person than on the phone! Can there be two more interesting women than Jen and Melissa?” exclaims Maeve. Analyzing our surroundings has been infinitely more fun than any trip to the pool, I agree.

I take her skinny arm and lean my head on her shoulder. “Oh Maevey,” I say simply.

One of the feral cats at work quits.

He spent his time lurking in the shadows, giving no visibility into his work. When I connected with him before Christmas to say I wanted more collaboration out of him his response was, “Who has time?” He saw his job in terms of hours billed. I told him we were apples and oranges, and asked him to consider if this was really the environment for him. When he gave his notice it had been weeks since I’d seen him at his desk.

I tell Steph, thinking of our January conversation, “You were so right. It IS a year of death. Only it’s the death of the old agency paradigm.” I feel hopeful about the clearing, a forest fire that will burn through the undergrowth but leave trees room to grow again, more connected to the sky.

“You are so RIGHT!” she shouts. “Year of change, people. Year of change.”

Two doors down, a house sprouts a for sale sign.

I call Barbie and Brian.

We have been talking about them moving up here, now that they are retired. Initially we had been thinking about building an addition onto my property where they could live. We had engaged an architect, toured one of the homes he had designed. The house was a glass-filled gem clinging to the hillside above Leschi. The view was breathtaking, 180 degrees of the lake shimmering like a silver skirt atwirl below the house.

“Makes me want to tear down my own house and do THAT!” I tell Barbie and Brian.

But when I hear about the house, I feel like we have to check it out.

Brian is hesitant.

I try not to sell them on something they’re not ready for, but to present a vision for how life can be.

Barbie in her usual way is serene. When Brian asks her what she thinks she says simply, “It’s a good option. We should consider it.”

Brian accedes.

We have several back and forths about the house. I talk to the listing agent, get details on the price and square footage. I contact an agent for us.

Brian calls me one evening and says, “I just want to thank you for being patient with us.” I am touched by this, and happy I’ve taken a light approach. It’s happening more quickly than we had considered, so we were all acclimating to the timing.

When we hear about the listing date, Barbie and Brian arrange to drive up to see the house. Steven, our realtor meets us at mine and we walk down the hill together, Barbie and Brian in front.

My heart gets a little pang when I think of this walk to their house, how I might be doing this with a little hand in mine, little unstable legs wanting to run despite the slope. We poke in the rooms, the closets. The house is in good shape but needs some major pieces redone: roof, electrical, plumbing. The view is expansive, even better than mine, with a direct shot at towering Rainier white and frothy with clouds in the distance. Steven and I pause at shelf full of bowling trophies left behind. Steven points out the outfit on one, a woman bowler in a skirt.

We run into the owner, Ruth on our way out. It’s hard to believe she is 87, she is still spunky and spry, her hair still brown.

“Someone left her bowling trophies!” I tease her. Her son shows us pictures of her new place. “It’s nothing by nothing,” she says wryly in her New York accent, a comment on the square footage.

We chat in the driveway. I tell Ruth, how I moved up to be with my brother, who lives a mile away, and now we’re trying to get the parents here.

“And where do you live,” she asks Steven.

“Oh I’m not the brother, but I’m hoping to be adopted,” he says and we all laugh.

Steven gives us an overview of the market, his gut on how competitive it’s going to be. “It can get crazy,” he warns. He has print out of comps with his notes on the top. His handwriting is clear, with a hint of the dramatic.

“I like your writing,” I tell him.

“Years of Catholic School,” he quips.

“You really are meant to be adopted by us!” I exclaim, and Barbie fills in the joke, she too is a product of Catholic school.

We spend that evening going through the details of possible mortgage splits, where the money is going to come from.

I feel a little of my own fear rising up as Brian talks about mortgage splits. Brian is sitting on one of the blue chairs in the kitchen, his glasses down at the end of his nose. I’m puttering around the kitchen, filling the dishwasher, wiping down the countertops. As he crunches numbers and throws out figures: “That would make it $1700 a month –“

I ask myself, Am I ready for another mortgage? Am I ready to spend the money that has been sitting in my bank account, awaiting a future as the rebirth of my yard or supporting me during time away from work during the adoption.

On my call with Suzi, we talk about updating my vision of collaboration with masculine energy. She points out where I’ve collaborated at work with men in my department, encouraged them to find their own voices, given them both direction and space. “You are not that same person you were when you were with Juan,” Suzi reminds me.

“Look at how you’ve been able to work with your father,” she says. “I just think that is so beautiful. It is what we’re here to do, evolve the generation before us. You have been able to prescribe a vision of abundance for the future for them.”

I tell her I think it’s really Barbie that gets it. “She just never lets her feathers be ruffled. It’s like she is completely secure in the idea that the universe is there to support her.”

I think about my mom’s path compared to mine. First as a 19 year-old mother, feeding her baby daughter from government cheese and peanut butter in a tiny apartment in Corvallis. Then as a mother of two in Chicago, still only 20 years old. Through all this, I think Barbie never let her context define her. She was always interested in music, she was always a reader. She always had a core sense of her own value, not connected to the money she made in the world.

“I think it’s Barbie’s energy I have to recognize and try to channel for myself,” I tell Suzi. “I know I can feel it sometimes in me. I just need to put my own spotlight on it.”

We don’t get the house.

I get a call from Barbie. I am at Seath and Carina’s to see them all for a few minutes. It’s been a busy week and I knew just one minute with Evie would level set things. Seath is out being wined and dined by Some big bank. Carina is cuddled up on the couch, already in her pajamas.

“Sounded like there were several other offers,” says Barbie.

I call Steven from the car. He has a slight frustrated resignation in his voice, knowing that the final sale price was right where he predicted. In the big picture we were only $15,000 away from the winning bid. But talking to him I feel a slight relief.

“Well, it just wasn’t the right time,” I say. Going through the process has brought up a lot – maybe Barbie and Brian aren’t quite ready to move. Maybe I’m not quite ready to build an appendage onto my own house.

The next morning I wake up and go for a walk. I head down to a small park on the lake where I used to take Lolo. It is cloudy up high but there is a clear band at the horizon. Mt Rainier’s midriff peeps white from the distance.

I catch a dark mass in a tree right on the lake.

It is an eagle.

I stand quietly and watch it for several minutes. Finally, I walk towards the tree it is perched in. When I am close to the base of the tree the eagle takes flight.

I can feel the whoosh of its wings.

Amy and I meet at Bauhaus to talk about the book. I’ve asked her to be my researcher. I know she is a tenacious brain, skilled in ferreting out answers. From our talks, I also thought she’d be conversant in the subject matter.

When I first started my job in Seattle, I had a plan to bring her on as a part time researcher at work. But once on the ground, I realized there wasn’t really a role for her there.

We sit upstairs at a bar that overlooks the stairwell. The room is dim and tables are filled with people heads down in their books and laptops. It is bookish rather than social.

At first, I feel exposed to show someone, even a friend, all my half-thinking. It’s like the first summer swim at the lake, your skin still in its winter pallor, the breeze still too cool as you remove your cover-up. I walk her through my loose structure, the chapter headings, my ideas of things to say. She nods her head, her red hair newly shorn. She jots notes. As we’re talking, I realize how great this will be. In Amy, I’ve found a collaborator, not just a researcher.

Somehow, the “book” sheds its air quotes and becomes real.

I leave for a conference in San Francisco called Wisdom 2.0. It’s devoted to mindfulness and business, a favorite of Katie’s for the last several years. Before I moved from LA we’d been talking about it and I suddenly thought, “I’m going to come too!” The second I joined the new agency I put in for the trip.

I text Katie as I leave Thursday night saying I am on my way. We haven’t talked since the return from India, only some cursory texts and emails. When I climb into my Uber I turn my phone on but haven’t heard back from her. Instead, there is a message from Barbie, saying “Give us a call.” Her voice is calibrated to provoke a return call but not to incite panic.

I am not quite ready to hear Barbie’s news. Instead I sign into the app for the conference, to get my bearings for the next two days. The app asks for a picture and I scroll through my phone, trying to find one that I like. I choose a picture of my grandmother, with me photo bombing from the side. Her cheeks are hollow and her eyes shrouded with saggy skin. My plump face is beaming in from stage left looks like a cartoon in comparison, a round bright moon next to a withered tree.

I take a quick troll through tomorrow’s sessions and double check the start time of the conference. I recognize a few of the keynote speakers and select them to my schedule. I will have the morning off to be on my own, the conference doesn’t start until noon. Even though it’s Friday, it feels like a luxury to have this time. I am away from my house, with no laundry to do or bathrooms to clean or errands to run. It’s already dark and the city twinkles in the distance. I take a deep breath and call Barbie.

“I just wanted you to know some things about your grandparents,” says Barbie measuredly. “I talked to Matt and your grandpa is not doing very well. He’s stopped eating and drinking, and doesn’t recognize anyone.”

I feel a lump rise in my throat.

“It probably wont be too long.”

I ask Barbie if I should come home, or not go to Barcelona next week and she says no, I need to do my things. There’s no guaranteeing how long it will be, she just wanted me to know. The lump in my throat swells hearing these words, always so supportive.

“And we may have to put your grandmother on hospice,” she says. My grandmother, adrift in the sea of dementia is losing weight. She paces the halls all night and hardly sleeps, a living apparition. She is down to 112 pounds.

“Maybe I need a month of dementia,” I joke with Barbie through my tears. “The dementia diet.”

Hospice will give her extra care and make sure she’s eating, explains Barbie. She can be on it for 6 months.

As I hang up I think, what a way to start a conference about consciousness. I think about the picture of me with my grandmother, the transfer of wisdom between the old and the young. We’re rounding the last bend before the exits to the city start. I cry silently in the back, wondering if my driver, a young polished and perfumed Arab, has overheard the conversation or my tears.

The next morning I use my free time on a long walk down to the Embarcadero, and back up through North Beach and Chinatown then back to the hotel. Along the way I stop and snap pictures: a retro blue textured wall; a tattered sign in Chinese characters; a market awash in locals buying produce. Since India I haven’t taken many photos. When I do I feel reconnected to myself.

That afternoon I head to the opening of the conference. I feel slightly nervous, the social anxiety of walking into a room of thousands of people on my own. I text Maeve, “Trying to summon my inner Seminar Sally!” But I realize my nerves are also about the news from Barbie, that I have a sob in me just below the surface about my grandparents.

The opening is hosted by two women. One, a spiritual Christie Brinkley, tall blond, with even, WASP-y good looks. She has the look of someone who used to be extremely put together who is transitioning to a more relaxed presentation: chunky, slightly earthy silver jewelry, but hair in a overly-coiffed puff. The other woman is a light-skinned African American, her hair natural, in a patterned black dress and shining black eyes. They tell us some tactical information, “Bathrooms are this way, emergency exits are THIS way,” says Spiritual Christie. She points to the left and right sides of the ballroom. “Urgency, left. Emergency, right.” The room chuckles.

They talk about who’s here at the conference. When they announce the name of the person, they put their hand on their heart and close their eyes for a second and inhale. Then they say, “Mmmmmm. What’s coming to me when I think of this person is compassion and love.”

They lead the room in a group centering.

For a second, I am off-balance.

So much of this vocabulary and conversation is familiar to me because of Suzi. Yet to see it acted out in a huge Marriott ballroom, on teleprompters is jarring. I have a moment of discomfort and then I catch myself, realizing the only discomfort is my own at acting this out in public, rather than the privacy of my bedroom. I close my eyes with the rest of the audience and join the centering.

They ask us to start out by telling a neighbor why we’ve come, what we’re hoping to get out of the conference. I turn to the blond woman next to me who greets me with an open smile. “So why are YOU here,” she asks. I tell her that I am wanting to move into a space related to this with my work, but haven’t fully commited to it yet. “I’m trying to exorcise my fear,” I say honestly. She tells me she’s in day one of a new job at one of the conference’s sponsor’s, an online university. She’s had the pleasure of doing a lot of coaching and mentoring work in the past. It doesn’t feel particularly revealing, but she has a nice energy to her, warm and positive.

After the opening I text Katie where she’s at and she says she’s already on to another session. I have a vague flash of disappointment. I had wanted to share my grandparents’ news with her. Suddenly I wonder if I will see her at all this weekend. I have the feeling she is there with a lot of people, a regular for the past five years. I try to be at peace with the idea that I may be alone for the next couple days, between sessions and escalators and long lines at the lobby Starbucks.

Day one is intriguing but Day two is epic. Pico Iyer, the writer, talks about living without a cell phone in the modern age. “Undistractedness is my greatest luxury,” he tells his interviewer, the Brand Evangelist from Google. Eileen Fisher is interviewed by another Google VP. She is spunky and bright with her white bob. “I’m 64 but I have more energy than when I was in my 30’s!” she says. She talks about starting meetings with a moment of silence, about being surprised that her voice counted, even at a company that bore her name.

I head out to the escalators to go to a break out session Byron Katie is running. At the top of the escalator in front of me, I catch a glimpse of Katie’s black hair and blond streaks. She turns and smiles to the person she’s with.

When I get to the break out room Katie is there with a seat behind her. I sit down and put a hand on her shoulder, channeling all my warmth. She turns around and says, “Oh my god, JP!” and stands up to give me a hug. I immediately feel thankful.

She is indeed with a posse of people: fellow coaches from work, clients from a company she works with, and one of her best friends who I’ve heard about for years and never met. I am happy for Katie, in her element, the hostess to all of these people enjoying what she feels passionate about. I don’t mention my failing grandpa or grandmother. Instead, I feel grounded by having made this small contact.

Byron Katie works the magic of her alternative therapy. She chooses on a volunteer from the room, a 40-something who I’d seen at the gym that morning. The man describes how his wife has cheated on him, tried to get him fired and destroyed his life.

Katie starts with some simple verbal acrobatics. Through flips and twists of his words she has him access his resentments through different angles. Instead of “She lied to me,” she has him flip the statement around to say, “I lied to her.” When she asks him how this could be true, he says, “I never really wanted to marry her.” He flips around “She tried to get me fired” to “I tried to get me fired.” When Katie asks, “Is this true?” he says, “I wanted to quit that job 5 years ago.”

It’s impossible not to marvel at the way Katie wrangles this man’s ghosts with empathy, humor and always a tart dose of the truth. But I am equally taken with this man’s courage to fan his anger, disappointment and tears in front of the room of hundreds of people. At one point, Katie asks him if he can say it is true that his ex saved his life, rather than destroyed it. “I really don’t want to say that,” he says. But then, with a deep breath he does. And we can tell that he sees it, believes it now, just one breath later. Katie says how lucky he is, that he should call his ex and thank her for all the truths he has now confronted. The audience laughs and oh’s in amazement. The veil of his resentment lifts in front of us, as clearly as if it were a physical curtain.

Hearing his story is so similar to my own, I sit with tears streaming down my face: Juan both lied and told the truth. I left him as much as he left me. These are not new revelations, but there is emotion in the revisiting. My own ghosts, still with me.

When the session is over, Katie turns around to me and says, “Wasn’t that amazing?”

“Amazing,” I say, my face still wet. “Amazing.”

Sunday night I invite myself to Seath and Carina’s for dinner. They went to Portland for the day to see the grandparents. I have a pang of relief that I haven’t made the pilgrimage. I keep thinking of Lolo, his grey wizend face, his skinny, wobbly legs. I don’t think I can handle seeing my grandpa in the same state.

Barbie sends email updates during the week, headlined in her signature all caps: GRANDPA STAN. It is a running joke with Carina, Seath and I, these all caps emails. For years, Carina thought Barbie didn’t like her because she would send these all caps emails that felt serious, urgent. Now in retirement Barbie retains all caps for titles only.

In her note, she says “Stan tucked in, very sedate, not anxious. Matt says Stan’s waiting for Vangie [my grandma, died two years ago] to swing by in a convertible.”

On Friday I head to Barcelona with Steph and Mike. That morning I am out on a walk and get a call from Sarah, telling me our original flight was delayed 6 hours so they were putting us on an earlier flight. “Stand by,” she tells me. 30 minutes later, as I’m arriving home she says we’re now on a 2:00pm flight. I quickly call and cancel my session with Suzi. I need to run to the pharmacy, to pack and shower, so the compressed schedule wont allow for a session.

“Well, I’m sorry we wont get to talk, I’m just so excited with where you’re at,” says Suzi. “But Barcelona!”

We arrive Saturday night. Sunday we have the day free and get last-minute tickets to see Barcelona play. We sit in a row in front of six season ticket holders. I chat with them in Spanish, one woman in her late 50’s adopts me and leans forward throughout the game to whisper in my ear something that at a certain time on the clock, the stadium will shout “Indpendenica!” for the Catalan independence.

“Vos crees in dios?” she asks me, leaning in close.

For a second I am confused about what to say. In my head I start to rattle through the true story, that I believe in energy, I believe in an abundant universe. But not the white robes and beard guy. In lieu of an answer, I give her a head bobble.

She isn’t really concerned with my answer. She barrels in with the punchline: “Yo no creo in dios. Pero creo in Messi!” [“I don’t believe in God, I believe in Messi!”] We laugh together.

Next to me is a young man who had driven all night from la Rochelle, France with 6 other friends. When I ask him why, he tells me because Jeremie Mathieu plays for Barca. And because they got a van for the weekend that sat 7.

Messi scores a hat trick and Barcelona wins 6-1.

When my Catalan friend leaves, she kisses me on both cheeks.

That night our meeting starts with cocktails on the hotel roof deck. It’s a sea of black suits, and nearly all men. I float around, trying to channel Seminar Sally. I introduce myself to a few people but everyone is interested in talking to someone they already know. When the call comes for dinner I grab Mike’s forearm, hoping to have an anchor for the meal.

“I don’t really know people here either,” he says, his New York accent coming through.

“More than I do,” I tell him.

Dinner is less traumatic than expected. I end kitty-corner to Mike, and near some Argentines, one of whom know the brothers from la comunidad. On the other side is a down-to-earth New Yorker who is pleasantly human. She tells me she’s still trying to figure out Roger, the new CEO. “I don’t have his number yet,” she says. I think of our Seattle meeting and I agree, I still don’t have his number yet either.

The next morning we’re all assembled in the odd basement conference room for the meeting. It is more akin to a wine cellar, studded with columns. Roger gives the opening. I observe, thinking about my conversation last night. He again has his shirt open an extra button, like in Seattle. “There is something in that open shirt,” I tell Mike later. “There is a looseness, a non-corporate-ness.”

We grind through a series of presentations. The meeting room becomes stuffy and uncomfortable. I have an inner groan about the corporate environment I’ve ended up in, wondering why I choose places without my people. But then I quickly counter myself, thinking about how lucky I am to be doing the job I’m doing, how it may be the best job I have ever had. I get up from the table and pace in the back of the room while the presentations drone on. A few others join. I’m not the only one.

There is a break out session. I am the only woman in my group, along with 10 men in their 50’s representing Singapore and Switzerland and South Africa. I watch curiously as the man taking notes doesn’t record three things I volley up. At first I think gender bias, but then he has a tentative approach to scribing anything on the flip chart at all.

Thinking of fodder for my book, I try changing my tactic. Instead of saying my idea directly I comment on someone else’s idea before adding my own, starting with, “I really like what you said because” or, “that really makes a lot of sense and.” Suddenly, I notice that the men in the room start to tell me their ideas, not the guy with the pen. I become the arbiter.

I walk out of the meeting marveling at what I’ve just experienced. How even men successfully running large pieces of businesses still operate with so much fear and uncertainty. Later, at the bar, one of the men from the session tells me, “You had a lot smarter things to say than I did at that session.” He is thin nosed, thin-lipped and balding. He has a whisky in hand and speaks methodically, his eyes slightly narrowed. It’s not exactly a compliment, it’s more of a confession, another sign of the angst and fear that rules the group.

Day two is less of a grind – we start later, are promised that we will do the second half of the day above ground to which the group starts to applaud. After lunch Roger has a special guest speaker, a tall blond Irish woman with chunky black glasses and leather pants. She starts out talking about how lucky we are to tell stories, it’s the best job in the world. Her energy is high, she is like a spotlight in a dim room. I love her already, but can feel the room resist. They are not sure where she’s taking them.

“I’m going to tell you a story about failure, and how failure can set you free,” she says, her sing-song accent making her speech even more lyrical.

She says as a child she wanted to be a motorcycle chick or work with elephants. She had a little sister who was congenitally blind, and she would tell her sister, don’t worry, I’ll take you with me on my bike, wherever we go. When she turned 16, she went to get her license to ride a bike. During the eye exam, the doctor tells her she is blind. She has the same disease as her sister, only her parents never told her.

“So I spent the next ten years running away from that diagnosis,” she says. The room is leaning in, rapt. You can feel a tragedy coming, that it will be painful and sweet at the same time.

As she’s speaking I watch Roger. He is beaming, watching her, with the sort of affection of a true friend. “He was our Bosley,” she explains of her relationship with Roger. She says Bosley like Bos-el-ey, so I don’t understand immediately what she’s talking about and then she says, “We were Charlie’s Angels you know.” I have a thought about Bosley, that the unbuttoned top button is finally making sense, the sign of a true heart and soul beneath a corporate persona.

She goes to business school. She becomes a successful consultant. One day, she runs head on into a door at work. She realizes she can no longer see anything.

She goes to the doctor and he asks, “Why are you here?”

Confused, she says, “Because I’m blind.”

“But you already know that,” he says. “Blindness is not who you are, it’s just what you have to deal with. Now the question is, what kind of life do you want to live? What did you want to do as a child?”

“So, you know, being a motorcycle chick is out of the question for a blind girl. An absolutely stupid idea. So I go to India, and study to work with elephants.”

She rides 300 miles across India to raise money for eye surgeries for needy children. She starts a foundation to advocate for people with disabilities, to get corporations to hire them and to see them for their talents, not their deficiencies.

“So don’t live only in your dreams. It’s the doing that counts,” she counsels passionately.

Recently, she was asked to join by two prominent and disabled CEOs on a fundraising tour for people with disabilities. They travel the world, followed by a camera crew. “And don’t you know I got to drive, the first time ever, on the track of the Malaysian Grand Prix. I went 195 miles an hour.”

There is applause, but mostly we are all stunned by the moving power of her story. I tell Steph, “I feel like this woman is what Roger is about, she’s like a proxy. And I’m all in.” I’ve finally got his number.

The room breaks up for the bathroom and to head to break out sessions. “This is such a sign of the challenge of this company culture,” I say, “That it’s straight into production mode. We should be taking in that amazing speech!”

“Yes, I need a glass of wine after that,” laughs Steph.

My phone rings halfway through the session and when we break and I pull it out of my bag. There is a text from Barbie: Vange swung by to pick up Stan in the convertible. Love you.

I catch Steph and tell her the news, my eyes filling with tears. I was supposed to present the findings from our group but now I can only think about retreating to my room and calling my mom.

On the phone, Barbie is her usual implacable self. “Are you OK?” I ask, snuffling.

“Oh yeah, I’m fine,” says Barbie peacefully. “It was his time to go, he’s been ready to go for a while.”

When I hang up I lie on my bed for 20 minutes, picturing my grandparents swanning around the eternity in a fabulous car. I think of what a decent man my grandpa was, a moral man. My memory of him from childhood was that he was stern. But he would tease us too, his eyes lighting up as he unfurled the joke. Even last fall I remember him at the cider pressing, slumped in his arm chair until Evie skipped by. His eyes lit up, his shaky hand extended, trying to get her attention. A rheumy smile on his grey face.

Through the gauzy white curtains of my hotel room I catch the brick Catholic church across the way. I am just above the big stained glass window, a six pointed star where pigeons are roosting in the corners. I roll over and snap a picture of the view. I post it Facebook with a note saying, “Just found out my grandpa died. As I was wiping the tears away, I caught this view from my hotel window. I think Stan would have appreciated a view of a Catholic Church.”

There are immediately comments, including one from my cousin who says, “Should we be drinking whisky for Stan?” a reference to the many Crown Royals drunk when my grandma died.

“I think we have to!” I reply.

I am done crying for the moment, although will choke back tears later when Steph asks if I’m all right. I stand up from the bed and open the French doors to the tiny balcony. The air has started to cool as the sun wanes. The chill feels fresh on my face, hot and blotchy from tears.

The pedestrian street below is filled with children. They are playing a game, a boy at the wall, hiding his eyes and counting, others moving in to tag him as he counts. The runners all have different techniques, some hopping tentatively around edges, another barreling as fast as he can up the middle. When the boy at the wall whips around, the runners freeze. But not all can stop their forward momentum. They squeal as they are caught in motion, sent back to the opposite side by the counter. The sweet cacophony of their high voices echoes in the narrow passage.

It is the continuation of a familiar, timeless song.

 

Jendate 27: Quantum Entanglement

My acupuncturist has her cool thin fingers on the blue veins of my wrist.

She tilts her head in concern. “Your adrenals are really sad,” she says.

Lying on the table, swimming into the foggy oblivion of the needles, I concentrate on restfulness. When the light comes back on in the room, I dress and then head into the bathroom. My face has a crease on each side, where I’ve been lying face down. My eyes look puffy. When I get home, I climb back into bed for a nap.

I Google adrenal fatigue and I see what she’s talking about. My sleep is out of sorts.
I fall asleep early only to go back to bed later in the evening. I wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning, unable to go back to sleep until 430 or 5. During the day, I have a buzz of low-level anxiety.

When I visit my doctor, she suggests the buzz might be depression, a result of my adrenals. She asks if I want to talk to someone to sort out the cause. I decline. Between acupuncture, coaching, going to bed at 7 o’clock and going to the gym in the morning I feel like I’m doing the right things.

“Yes, I wish you could talk to all my patients,” she says with a laugh.

She gives me a Hepatitis shot into my arm, in preparation for my Christmas trip to India. I gather up my little pile of prescriptions and thank her.

I mull over the source of my depression. I tell Maevey, “My life is so good, I’m not sure why I’m depressed.”

Poppy is gurgling in the background. The first several weeks after Poppy was born, Maeve and I could barely catch 2 minutes on the phone together. Now we are back in a groove. I call her when I’m in the car, commuting to or from work – “Am I your traffic bitch today?” she asks.

“Dude, you’ve got a lot of change happening. First the move, then the job, then the adoption. I wouldn’t be surprised if you just haven’t caught up to yourself.”

“You’ve very wise today, Maevey,” I tell her.

The more I mull, the more I wonder if I am indeed depressed. I’m in a sort of hibernation. After multiple calls to Comcast, my WiFi refuses to collaborate with my living room. So my web activities become tethered to my bedroom. At night I climb into bed early and plow through Netflix. Lolo clacks down the hall, nails on the wood floor and steps in just past the door. From my high bed, I can only see the tops of his ears, raised quizzically. He clacks back down the hall and flops down on his rug in the entry with a big sigh. When I finally turn my own light out, he ventures back down into the office across from my room, where his bed is.

I’ve gone to a couple adoption seminars. At one, I take in my new peer group: a pair of Tattooed Scots; a Christian couple who has re-married; a boookish city planner and his writer wife. I am the only one going it solo. But it is soon clear that everyone feels alone in this process. One of the Christian Re-marrieds, a tall, thick, milky-skinned woman in her early thirties asks about writing the profile,: what works? how do we set ourselves up to be picked? What are birth mothers looking for?

Amongst all of us, there is a fear of not being worthy, that we are in someone else’s hands to be judged.

At the end, the facilitator mentions there is a seminar in Portland that we should consider attending. It will give us a lot more information and fulfill the agency’s education requirement.

Though I was impressed by the session, day after day I don’t sign up for the next step. The seminar is on a Tuesday and Wednesday, smack in the middle of the week. At first I think, how inconvenient, and then I catch myself: the inconvenience also ensures a commitment. Maybe I’m not yet ready to commit.

Finally I call and book the seminar. I put a placeholder in the calendar to take a week off. I email Barbie to ask about going to go to the beach afterwards. I want to breathe in the salt air. I want to see Loli running down the sand.

I’m still trying to sell my car.

Initially there is a quick flurry of interest from it’s listing on EBay. Bull, who is playing my agent, connects with a guy in Florida who is interested. Florida sends his brother, who lives locally, to come see the car. The brother and his son show up. They kick the tires, look under the hood. They turn out to be from South Carolina, fellow southerners.

It is an easy afternoon, sunny with a few clouds. Bull chats congenially about the south, Mississippi where he’s from, versus South Carolina. The son recognizes Bull from powerlifting magazines. He is a dark-haired kid in his mid-20’s that was in the military and is now a nurse. He is slight, but his biceps are as thick as his neck. He hands me his phone and I snap a picture with him and Bull.

It feels like a sale.

But then Florida calls back. He hems and haws. The deal stalls. Bull is frustrated. He wonders if racism had a role to play in it. “They kept asking me who I was to you,” he tells me. “I kept telling him, ‘She goes to my gym, she’s a really good friend.’ But you never know how these southern folk are.’” I tell him it’s fine. I don’t want any racists driving my car anyway. It obviously wasn’t meant to be.

Besides, I’m not in a hurry. My ultimate plan is to sell it by the end of the year, and to split the $10,000 or so I will make from it between a few charities. In thanks for his help in the sale, I had mentioned to Bull I wanted to make a donation to his foundation. In my head I thought $1000. Bull’s organization focuses on using sports to gain at-risk kids structure and discipline. Inevitably at the gym there was a teenaged kid vacuuming the floors or wiping down the equipment. They couldn’t see how this would make them into better men, but knowing Bull, I could.

A week later, Bull asks me if I want him to relist the car on the site. I tell him, let me think about what I want to do.

He sends me a text back saying I could donate it to his foundation, for a full tax deduction, smiley face.

I’ve got you covered, one way or the other, I text him back. Let me think about it.

Meanwhile a spiderweb apprears between the side mirror and passenger door on the car.

At work, we’re in pitch mode. I work one Friday, normally my day off. My team flutters around me, asking if I really need to be there, ushering me out the door when my meeting is over. It is so sweet, I feel so taken care of.

I work Saturday, and then Sunday. After four day weeks I am out of shape for the long haul. By end of day Monday I’m exhausted again.

In a kind of cosmic convenience, the final meeting is scheduled for the week of the adoption seminar so I am unable to attend. I note that the balance is falling in the right place for my life. No one asks if I can change my plans.

There is a Thursday creative review scheduled at 6pm. It is my last meeting in the office before my week off. I’ve decided not to work that Friday or the weekend again. My sad adrenals need the rest before the seminar.

Someone orders Indian food for the meeting. At 6:00, people are still gathering, plating up rice and chicken tikka masala.

One of the art directors has his twenty month-old daughter with him. She is a tiny girl with brown wavy hair and an unsure face. She sits on her dad’s lap, blinking. Steph, the Managing Director and only mom in the room says, “What does she need? Does she want something to eat?” Dad asks her, talking into her little forehead as she curls into the crook under his chin. No, she shakes her head into his chest. Steph, true to a mother’s instinct pops out anyway and comes back with a plate of cheese and crackers. The little girl tentatively takes the cheese and starts to eat. She holds up a cracker to show her dad. He smooths her dark hair.

We’re finally all gathered and the work is on the wall. Still, there is a pause before everything begins.

“Wow,” says the creative director, standing at the wall of creative. “It’s really hard to not just look at the baby.”

Later I tell Maeve, “It’s just so impossible to ever imagine that scenario at Deutsch. First of all, a dad bringing in his baby to work? Then, sitting with her in a meeting? Can you imagine the CEO getting cheese and crackers for someone’s kid? It made me feel like I was with the right people,” I say.

The kind of people who would support an adoption.

On the weekend I go for a walk at the lake with Dave and Amy. They pull up at the front of the house and pull Elody out of the car. Lolo barks first, and then yelps in recognition. I open the door and he runs down the front walk, his tail wagging in a circle. After he’s touched his nose to everyone, integrating them into his herd, he wanders out into the center of the yard and pees on a select patch of grass.

“How’s Lolo doing,” asks Dave. He and Amy are buckling Elody into the stroller. I waggle Elody’s foot saying, “Who’s foot is this? Who’s foot is this? Is this Didi’s foot?” Elody grins from under the canopy, taking her foot off the bar and then putting it back.

“He’s pretty good today. No barfing,” I report. When we’re ready to go Lolo doesn’t want to go back in the house. I call him three times and with one last look back at Dave and Amy he saunters back to the porch. He pauses at the steps and then takes a hop up, leaving his weight off his hind quarters. When I close the door he stands at the glass, his mouth still half open in a tentative smile, hoping for inclusion.

The sun continues it’s reign. The lake is dark blue. As we walk along, Dave and Amy sip their coffees and Elody eats pretzels from a plastic bag lying across her chest.

“My grandpa is getting an award in South Dakota,” says Amy. “They’re giving him the key to the city. He and my grandma totally dressed alike for the ceremony, like wore the exact same thing.” We all laugh at the image, matching white shirts and bolo ties.

“Are those a thing? Those ties?” asks Dave. We all laugh again and chide Dave for his own fashion sense.

I ask Amy what the award was for. Her grandpa was a lawyer who did a lot of work for the Indian tribes in the area. They were honoring his years of service to the community.

“This is all making sense,” I tell Amy. “I’m always wondering how South Dakota produced two world-traveling liberals like you two. But now I see it!”

Amy continues, “One year, my grandparents gave all the money they made to charity. Anything above and beyond covering their basic expenses. And you know what, it was his best year ever!”

Elody is getting fussy to be free of the stroller. We stop at a rocky beach and she throws stones in the lake, then wants to go in the water.

“I love that story,” I tell Amy. “Proof that generosity breeds generosity from the universe!”

That afternoon, I decide I am going to donate my car to Bull’s charity.

I send Bull a text that says, “I know you were kind of joking when you suggested I donate my car to your foundation but I want to do it. You are such a great role model and generous person, I can’t think of anything better.”

I like the idea of easy generosity, putting that energy out into the world as I go into the adoption. Following the example of Amy’s grandpa.

When I see Bull at the gym Monday morning, he is all smiles. “Boy, when I saw your text I just couldn’t believe it. You know, I was really having a rough time of it on Sunday and we was at church and the pastor was talking about forgiveness. And I left and thought, I’m going to work on that. Then I saw your text and I couldn’t believe it, I just couldn’t believe it. You know, I’m so used to being the person that gives, that sometimes I don’t see it when people give to me. But my pastor told me, Bull, you gotta see that. And boy, here it is.” He gives me a white grin and runs his big hand across the top of his head, like he’s rubbing in the idea.

It is the night before my seminar, Darek and Amy are having a barbecue. Jason, one of their oldest friends is in town from Texas with his boyfriend.

I met Jason at Seath and Carina’s once and loved him instantly.

He has a kind of forceful optimism that had manifested in an a-typical career journey. Instead of playing by the rules he followed his heart and interest and landed in interesting places.

He was working on a spa line for a gay hotel in NY, developing shower gel and shampoos – the fragrance, the name, the branding. “All based on Greek gods,” he told me.

He had done the interior design for the Standard Hotel in Miami. I still remember thinking how refreshingly earthy it was for Miami. In a town of stark white lobbies with billowing ethereal curtains and low slung white couches, the lobby of the Standard was hanging wicker cage chairs, tropical plants and mid-century tables. On Sundays, locals could go drink and play Bingo.

He had no formal experience in any of these things. “I just fake it til I make it,” he told me when I asked. “I read a bunch, and I find people who know how to do it. I just apprentice myself.”

“And then it always turns out to be magic!”

His felt like a formula I would like to emulate.

We are in the dimming light and balmy warmth of the backyard at Darek and Amy’s new house. Darek, who is manning the barbecue across the yard, is uncharacteristically quiet.

“Darek says he isn’t himself since he stopped drinking,” says Amy when I ask about the exile. They were on a 30 day booze cleanse.

“Poor guy,” I say empathetically.

Jason and Matt are at the table in their formidable beards and shorts.

“You look so voluptuous!” says Jason as he gives me squeeze.

We eat the fruits of Darek’s solitary confinement at the grill: charred mushrooms and zucchini, sausages. Amy brings out a bowl potato salad.

When I look up from my plate, I see my ex-crush is entering the yard. Amy gives me a “I’m so sorry I didn’t warn you!” look and I have an internal flush. But I wave at him and he gives me a hug like everyone else.

I grab Amy’s arm and tell her I want a tour of the house – I haven’t seen all the work she’s put in.

“God, I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you he was coming,” she says the minute we’ve stepped away.

“I kind of figured he might be here,” I said. “It’s totally fine. It’s good.” We walk through the rooms and Amy points out where the new couch will sit. We peek into Lyra and Penelope’s room where Amy’s had new bunk beds built.

“Hey, no grown ups!” says Lyra. The kids are squirming around under quilts and between pillows. Penelope pops up her icy blond head.

“Heeeey!” she says with a laugh, showing her tiny pearl teeth.

Seath and Carina are there with the girls, and Ben and Lenora with DeLilaah and Rocco.

Jason and Matt marvel over Rocco. He flits in and out of the dark of the yard, barreling into Ben. Ben lifts him up over his shoulder and turns him upside-down. Rocco’s tank slides down, exposing his pale skinny torso. He screams, “No papa!” in his scratchy voice. As a protest, it is purely perfunctory.

It is a weeknight, so the parents and kids leave early. As the kids file out they all hug me around my legs, saying “bye JenJen.” I kiss D’s white forehead, squeeze skinny Rocco, nibble on Edison’s peachy cheek. When they’ve left, I have a lingering feeling of safety, the protection of small pairs of arms encircling my thighs.

When the first exodus is over, I catch up with Jason. He tells me he and Matt, his boyfriend, were talking about having kids.

“Whenever I’m here and I’m Magic Uncle Jason, I think it would be so fun. Then when I’m away it doesn’t feel right again,” Jason says. “We were talking about it on the drive up here. So we’ve pretty much decided we’re not going to.”

“Well, I’m in the middle of adopting,” I tell him.

“Get out of town!” exclaims Jason. He swats me on the behind once, then again two more times for emphasis. “How am I just learning about this now?!”

“Well, it doesn’t feel like the first thing you drop on someone you haven’t seen for a year,” I say.

Ex-crush has been on Darek support duty and is now clearing platters from the table. “What’s this? What are you doing?” he asks gently.

“I’m adopting a baby,” I say.

“Wow,” he says, and comes over to give me a congratulatory hug.

“Aw, that’s so nice,” I say, touched by the gesture. It is a marker of an evolution. When he and I first had our flirtation, this path hadn’t even entered my imagination.

The energy in the yard has changed. Jason and Matt are starting to question their decision again in the light of this news. They talk again about Rocco, part boy, part exotic being. There is a kind of awe about my decision. I am suddenly at the center of a circle.

Jason comments that fatherhood has always seemed important to Ex-crush. I know Jason’s comment doesn’t get to the true depths of his connection with his daughter, now college-aged. I remember sitting in my living room with him when his daughter called on the phone. “Get it,” I had encouraged. He had demurred out of politeness to me, but I saw him linger, looking at the screen a second longer before he put his phone back in his pocket. Everyday he sent her a picture, he told me. While he told me he could never be monogamous, it was clear that in other ways he was already singularly devoted to one woman.

The next morning I text Amy, “Every time I see the ex-crush I am a little scared I will still like him. But no, he is just a sweet, funny human like any other.” Then, “Nervous for my seminar!”

Amy replies: “I’m glad it was OK. When I saw him my inner cringe was massive. Had to rely on your innate grace, since I apparently had none. And of course you’re nervous about the adoption, it’s not like it’s NBD.”

As I hold my phone, the warmth of it feels as if it were Amy’s hand I was just squeezing.

I get to Portland around 11. I drop Loli at Barbie and Brian’s house. Loli trots excitedly into the garage, and then over to a water bowl Barbie had already put out. He laps up water and then throws up, but for a change it is clear. I head to the seminar.

When I get there I am ushered into a non-descript conference room. Tables have been set up in a horseshoe shape. I recognize several of the couples from the Seattle information evening I went to. Tattooed Scots, Christian re-marrieds, Bookish and Bespectabled city clanner and writer. There is a gay couple, originally from St Louis and now Portland locals.

I sit next to the Christian Re-marrieds and say, “Hey, I recognize you guys.” I try to ignore that my particular desk has been set up with two information folders. We are getting started and the last couple arrives, Aloof Lesbians, also from Seattle.

The woman running the session is in her fifties, clad in a magenta wrap dress and long black curly hair. Her name is Shari.

She starts with her own Open Adoption story. Open adoption is based on the idea that adopted kids grow up to be better adjusted when they have contact with their birth parents. Birth mothers pick the adoptive parents. They are visible people who are involved in the adopted child’s life.

She has two adopted children, and has close relationships with both birth mothers. In fact, she was going shopping with her son’s birth mother this weekend. She clicks through pictures of her family on the screen. Her blond, gangly 20-something son and round, pretty brunette daughter.

Shari then says, “Every adoption starts with a loss. It is the loss of being able to parent your own biological child. There is a grieving on both sides, on the part of the birth mother, on the part of the adoptive family.” Her voice is warm and smooth, like a therapist.

I feel an immediate flush in my chest when she says this, the words an X-ray revealing a hole I didn’t know was there.

She asks us to introduce ourselves. Bookish and bespectabled husband explains how his wife has a condition that would make child-bearing life-threatening. His wife smiles in a way that could be sad or serene. Gays from St Louis joke that they don’t have the necessary parts for child bearing, but that they are just so happy to be here on the more-accepting west coast where LGBT parenting is the norm. Christian Re-marrieds say both of their first marriages broke down because their partners didn’t want to have kids.

As the stories wind around the table, I try to breathe to keep my own welling emotion in check. But when it comes to my turn I feel my control slipping away. I’m only a vessel for the story that is meant to come out.

I tell the room, “While all my girlfriends spent their twenties and thirties trying to find a father for future children I always thought it was the one thing I had sorted. In our marriage, I was the income and it never seemed to be a good time. We moved around everywhere for my job – London, Miami. Then, I thought we’d move to LA and have a baby. But he’d just gone through a career change. He wasn’t ready. He left the marriage. When he left, it was the first thing that came to mind, is that I wouldn’t be able to have a baby.” At this point my voice gets high and squeaky. I worry that I’ve overshared, gotten too personal too quickly.

Wiping away my tears I say, “Oh, yes and I’m a crier, by the way,” and manage a laugh.

At this point, Brian, one of the St.Louis gays says, “Well I can completely empathize with Jen, I’m a big crier too,” His voice a slight twang, additional sweetner to the words. I send him a thankful smile across the table.

Aloof Lesbians tell their story. They have cold energy and I feel another wave of thanks for the lovely Brian. We’re only 20 minutes in and I already feel exposed and raw. It hadn’t really occurred to me that I might mourn the loss of having my own child. Adoption just seemed like such a natural option for me, something that was so easy to believe in. I hadn’t considered I might also feel a simultaneous sadness.

We meet two birth mothers who share their stories. We can tell why these two are the poster mothers for the program. Both are pretty and stylish. One was in her twenties, already with two children. When she found out she was having twins she knew she couldn’t parent them. The other was 15 years old when she became pregnant.

After their rehearsed stories, the group asks them questions. Someone asks about how they made the choice. They describe check lists and requirements. But ultimately, each made a decision based on an intuitive feeling of connection rather than a specific.

Someone asks them about their visits with the baby and the adoptive parents. I can feel my tears welling up again as they talk about their first couple visits, how they cried and cried. But that they knew it was the right choice for them. The birth mother of twins said that she called the adoptive parents one day. They were overwhelmed with parenting two new infants – keeping them fed, diapered and napped. And she said to herself, “Thank god that’s not me.”

That was the moment she stopped crying.

After the seminar I see Jess, my adoption mentor.

She’s at home with her daughter Lila. T, who I last saw months ago in LA, is there too. Lila comes to the door in a tutu and a t-shirt. She hides behind her mom’s skinny leg, but peeks around to flash a sparkling grin. We watch her eat rice and veggies, then pack into Jess’s bathroom to witness the bubble bath. “You’ve gotta see it,” T insists.

Lila does the usual toddler bath routine – dumping water out of a small plastic cup, flipping over onto her stomach, laughing at the bubbles. After ten minutes or so, Jess pulls her out, slathers on coconut oil with a few firm, efficient strokes, and wraps the baby in a pink towel. She is a terry cloth confection.

Once Lila is in bed, T and Jess ask about the course. I confess I like the principles of open adoption but I’m not quite comfortable yet.

“It’s like I’m such an introvert, I can’t see myself being this person reaching out to a birth mother and saying, ‘Why don’t you come over on Sunday?’ It’s definitely challenging my own sense of privacy.”

“Well, I can say I would give this house to know what happened to Lila’s parents,” says Jess with sober emphasis.

T is tired and heads home. Jess and I sit on her back porch and enjoy the mild evening. I love everything about her house: The worn-in roll arm couch where we’re sitting, a dining room is lined in books, walls covered in art. I think to myself, my house might be like this if I read poetry.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” she says, tilting her head slightly. “Being a single woman who’s adopted a child is like an aphrodisiac in the dating market!”

I laugh. “Really?” I remember my feeling before, that this process would bring me closer to my next man out there, wherever he is. I remember being in Darek and Amy’s yard, the sudden center of a circle. But I have yet to see any concrete proof.

“Yeah, it’s like there’s nothing you need from them, you’ve done it all. I think they find it hot.”

When I leave I give Jess a kiss and a squeeze. Her thin body doesn’t feel substantial enough to carry all the weight she’s been holding.

Aloof Lesbians do not to show up the next day. They are replaced by a couple who unpacks a breakfast of boiled eggs and a thermos of coffee. I’m drawn in by their vibe, how they just seem to make themselves at home. When they introduce themselves it becomes clear – they have already adopted once through the agency, and now are back to adopt again.

If day one was about the ideal – setting forth the philosophy of open adoption, introducing the best case scenarios – day two was the reality check.

Two adoptive parents speak. Their birth mothers and fathers are not the amazingly beautiful, successful, together mothers we met the day before. They are figures that float in and out of their children’s lives.

One of the parents says he thinks his birth mother chose him and his husband because she had a gay uncle who always wanted to have children. Then he adds, “And because she wanted to be the only mother in the child’s life.” Since their initial adoption, he and his husband had adopted two additional siblings from the same birth mother, their son’s biological brother and sister, who had become wards of the state.

The other adoptive parent looks slightly pained when she talks about the sporadic contact with their birth mother. But then says that she knows that these relationships can change from year to year, depending on what’s going on with them. She smiles, but looks slightly exasperated.

Eggs for Breakfast share a look between them, then say to the group that their son’s birth mom has been “going through some shit. But she is amazing. She will be just fine.” They look back at each other again and nod in agreement.

The room is heartened by their conviction.

The social worker reminds us that these type of issues exist in all families. I have a moment where I think, “They don’t exist in mine,” but then as I stretch further I see where there is similar dysfunction. And also how I’ve managed to be a social tether, pulling wayward family members back to the mainland.
They pass around books of pictures. Looking at their children’s dimpled, smiling faces it is impossible to see the vagaries and insecurity of their birth mothers. The social worker facilitator tells the story about a teen boy who asked his birth mother not to come to his graduation ceremony. “He told her she’d be welcome at the party,” she concludes.

We all marvel at the wherewithal of a 17 year old to handle the situation with such grace. But then, these are children of conscious thought: the birth mother, choosing to have the child and give it up for adoption; the adoptive parents, opting into adoption and continued contact with the birth parents. They’ve been trained for self-awareness from a young age.

At lunch we somehow all manage to convene at the same restaurant despite murky directions from the social worker. We sit at a long table and order Bloody Mary’s and beers. It’s been a heavy morning.

I sit next to Eggs for Breakfast, now known as Portia and Slim and across from Brian and Justin, the St Louis gays. We joke about the horrible snacks at the seminar and how both days there has been no coffee until the group was near rebellion.

It’s the day of Scotland’s vote on secession, so we grill the Scots about where their loyalties lie (divided). I find out Portia runs a record label and Slim is studying to be a minister. Slim stayed home for the first few years with their son, Finn (“one of four Finn’s in our adoption cohort!” Portia, says rolling her eyes, mortified to have been swindled into such a trendy name.)

“I was never interested in having kids,” says Portia. She is thin with reddish hair and a direct demeanor that I like. She’s wearing grey pants, possibly for yoga, but her attitude makes them read more like leather.

“What changed your mind?” I ask.

“It was Christmas. My mom had put together a stocking for me. I thought ‘I’m 39 years old and my mom is still giving me a stocking.’ Then I thought, ‘I’m ready to be a grown up.’”

Brian says he’s staying home with the baby for sure. He exclaims, “So aren’t you just so ready to get this going?” It is part question, part statement.

I feel a little overwhelmed in the face of their enthusiasm. I can’t say yes emphatically. “I am committed to adopting,” I say carefully. “But I’m still not 100% that this is my agency, that it’s going to get done through them. Part of me feels like it might just happen through a completely different avenue.”

“What about you guys, are you ready to go?” I ask.

“Oh yeah, I want a baby,” says Justin, his eyes wide, his blond beard sliced open in a grin. For a second I am taken aback at my own tentative feelings. But I decide not to rush myself. Maeve tells me not to worry about the timing, “Dreams are ageless,” she says, quoting a spiritual poet.

The next morning we head to the beach.

Barbie rides with me because Brian is coming later, telling me cryptically he “has some errands to run.”

“What are these mysterious errands?” I ask Barbie. “Is that code for going to the casino?” Barbie gives a little shrug and says, “Probably.”

We drive out Highway 26, down Wilson River. It is a nostalgic route, the way Barbie drove as a kid, the way Juan and I drove with a more puppyish Lolo when we lived in Portland. Barbie is full of stories of her youth. They’d pack all 6 kids into my grandparents’ green station wagon and head to the beach cabin for two weeks.

“Grandma always hated the beach because it was so much work. Can you imagine packing a week’s worth of food for six kids?”

We stop in Tillamook and poke around to see what’s changed. I get a coffee at a junk-laden coffee house. The counter features a large round package of Matzoh, postcards from various places, leftie political stickers. The grizzled man behind the counter gives me change in two dollar bills and 50 cent pieces. We go into a bakery with mediocre-looking cupcakes. I buy one for Brian, just to support the cause. Next door, dream-catchers, glass paperweights and taxidermy.

I feel my heart quicken as we turn onto the road that goes past Sand Lake, and then into Tierra del Mar. The A-frame my grandpa built there has changed somewhat but there’s enough there to evoke puzzles on the long dining room table, green and blue Japanese glass floats piled in the corner, a red leather Stickley chair, musty Archie and Richie Rich comics, bedspreads with chenille flowers, wobbly springed-mattresses.

Barbie reminds me of the week we spent at a neighboring cabin, when Lolo was just a few months old. He was too small to get up the step onto the deck. He would hop down and then yelp to be helped up. We walked to Sand Lake with him one afternoon. At a certain point, he turned and headed back to the cabin on his own. We chased him and carried him the rest of the way.

Here, the air smells familiar.

It is a perfect bubble of a weekend. The weather is sunny and unseasonably warm. Barbie, Brian and I are relaxed in each other’s company. We head down the dune and Loli romps down the sand, young again for a minute. I snap pictures of him standing in the surf, posing with Haystack Rock in the background. I want him to run, to chase seagulls, to pull logs, but he takes his time to the surf, stopping to vomit his breakfast up on the sand, then meeting the water line at a trot, not a gallop.

The next morning we go for a walk on Barbie’s favorite beach. The beach is socked in with white fog, the sun streaming behind it. I think of my grandma. This was the weather the morning after she died. I take pictures of jellyfish and a dead porpoise washed up by a storm. The porpoise is beautiful, smooth-skinned and grey fading to white. I poke it and feel the flesh push back. The birds have eaten out one eye, leaving a bloody hole. I wonder if it’s too dark for Instagram, but put it on anyway, transfixed by its beauty.

Where the beach ends we see that the arch that had once created a cave has fallen. There is a pool of yellowish foam, ushered in by the and unable to escape back out with the receding tide. The bubbles sparkle in the sun, finally coming through the fog of the morning. It is the moon or a science fiction set.

On the way back, the tide has flipped the porpoise over to his other side. This eye is still whole. His mouth smiles a small sweet smile.

In the afternoon Lolo traipses through the beach grass. He trots enthusiastically up the boardwalk to the beach, then skips down the dune. But on the return he struggles to make it to the top. Panting, he only commits one paw to the step up. I jump back down to the sand to give him a lift. Once on the decking, he vomits an orange pool of lunch, pumpkin, yogurt, ground turkey. As I scoop up a handful of sand to cover the evidence, he ambles downhill, leaving me behind.

We drive to the Hawk Creek Café. We drive to Lincoln City. We drive to Lew’s, the little grocery store, now rebranded as Chester’s. Each time, we pile in my car. It’s parked in the driveway while Barbie and Brian’s red Subaru sits in the garage. As I head home on Sunday morning, I realize it is the first time I’ve ever been such a consistent chauffeur for Barbie and Brian. I think of Portia, her realization that she was finally ready to be a grown up.

Maybe I am too.

My grandmother is literally losing her mind.

Barbie emails an update. My grandmother keeps trying to escape the home she’s living in. Her paranoia has gotten so bad that she’s constantly terrified someone is coming to get her. They are going to have to move her into a secure facility.

I’m buried in the week – I have a pitch Monday, a client dinner Tuesday, a speech at a conference Thursday.

When I finally call Barbie and Brian to check in on the geriatric jailbreaks, they say my grandmother is hunched over and weathered, aged even in the last week.

They moved my grandmother into her new, secure. Once she got to the house, she told Barbie, “Oh, this isn’t what I was expecting.” They don’t really have a choice – the other houses had a 9 month wait and wanted a pay-down before they started taking Medicare, something my grandmother has already done at her past place.

I feel for my parents, the stress of having to see the decline, to make choices that are for the best but don’t feel like it.

“There’s just nothing else we can do for her,” says Barbie. She is mostly her unflappable self, even in the face of this storm. But there is pain too.

A truth acknowledged, but not fully accepted.

Lolo continues vomiting.

Occasionally he’ll leave a trail of pumpkin pools in a circle around the entry way and into the living room. I play a shell game with his food, taking him off meat, then rice, upping the yogurt, all to see if he can keep it down. Occasionally I catch him pre-heave and usher him out the front door and onto the grass where he stands dejectedly as his abdomen flexes and his tail curls under.

Then one evening I get up to find that Loli has peed all over the entry way as well. I wonder if I’ve missed some crucial communication with him. Did he bark to be let out and I ignored him?

Then he does it again.

And again.

I go to the store and buy him doggie diapers to try to keep the entry way dry.

When I put a diaper on him, he stands and wags his tail.

The week has a small flurry of activity.

One morning I wake up and realize I haven’t yet sent out my passport for my visa for India. I spend part of my work day filling out paperwork, making copies. I plan to leave the office to get a passport photo. I also need a money order from the Post Office.

And I’m going to finally mail my adoption paperwork.

“Today’s the day!” I tell my assistant. It’s been sitting sealed on my desk, awaiting stamps.

As I’m compiling my documents, one of the account directors, visiting from maternity leave, walks down the hall with her newborn. She comes over to my desk and plops him into my arms. He seems big for a newborn, blue eyes and blond lashes, skinny fingers stretching out into the air like baby bird claws.

For the first time ever, holding a co-worker’s baby, I think, “I’m going to have one of these.” I get a lump in my throat and hand him back to his mom, giving him one last kiss on his splotchy, translucent cheek. If anything, he is a reminder to get to the Post Office.

Five minutes after I drop my adoption paperwork off, the agency sends me an email. If I’m still interested in adoption, here are the links. Contact them if I have any questions.

I email back: Uncanny timing. I literally just posted my paperwork.

Finally, I take Lolo to the vet.

Loli, of course, is excited to be going somewhere in the car.

He hops around on the grass, making his enthusiasm for the idea clear. I try to get him into the back but he barks and backs off, the leap is too high for him to reach now.

Instead, he puts his front paws on the doorjamb at the passenger seat. I lift him onto the back seat. Rainier Beach Veterinary has open office hours starting at 9. I sit with him outside and remove the diaper so he can pee freely on whatever catches his fancy.

An elderly Vietnamese couple with their cocker spaniel mix stops and says, “Oh he’s a handsome guy,” to Lolo on their way in. A black shivering dog with a pointy snout huddles at the shoulder of a red-headed woman with glasses.

When we move inside, a young African-American man comes in to pick up his runaway pit bull. Her teats swing loose under her stomach. The girls at the front desk ask about the puppies and he brings one in from the car, a fuzzy black and tan handful. As the office girls coo over the puppy, he takes his dog’s leash and says, “Why are you runnin’, mama?”

Finally we are ushered into a narrow room. Dr. Young has a shock of white hair but otherwise is compact and fit, making his age hard to gage. “So you’re not keeping your food down?” he asks Lolo, looking at his eyes. He suggests a battery of blood tests. “There may not be anything to do, but at least we’ll know what we’re dealing with,” he says. I agree. He tells me the combination of incontinence and vomiting can be a kidney or pancreatic issue.

A day later, the vet calls back. “If I were a 14 and a half year old lab, I’d take these results to the bank,” he tells me. He prescribes a human-strength antacid that I can pick up on Monday. I feel hopeful. When I get the little red bottle of pills I shake it optimistically, a medical maraca.

But the medical maracas are less transformative than I’d hoped. I’m supposed to call the vet back in 10 days but after 5 it’s clear that the situation isn’t improving. Some mornings Loli returns his food to the floor before he’s even able to digest the pill. In the orange puddle there is a little green dot, where the pill was starting to dissolve.

On Friday I have a call with Suzi. From the first words of her centering, I am already bawling. The sadness is no longer hiding in my adrenals.

“I. Am. Just. So. Sad,” I tell her.

We talk about Lolo. We talk about my grandmother. Both in their respective states of decline.

“You know, I believe that she is working on some themes in her subconscious, working through them as she transitions into the next phase,” Suzi says about my grandmother.

“I think my sadness is related to the adoption, like Lolo is my child and I’m not doing enough for him, I am failing him as a parent. But there’s nothing I can do to save him. All I can do is love him,” I say.

“Yeah,” says Suzi gently. She lets out a big exhale, like an engine depressurizing.

“All you can do is love him.”

She tells me not to judge my doing, that my being is the most important thing right now for both my grandmother and Lolo.

“You just want to hold a space for Lolo and your grandmother to transition peacefully. This is your contribution.”

That weekend, I head to Portland for our annual cider pressing event. I’ve decided to leave Loli at home. I think he’ll be more comfortable and I’d rather him barf at my house than Barbie and Brian’s.

As I near Portland I call Barbie. “I think I’m going to see Grandmother,” I tell her. She gives me the address of her new facility.

At the house, a sign on the door says ring the doorbell twice and proceed to the side gate. One of the caretakers greets me. He is Filipino with a youthful, smiling face. I tell him I’m Priscilla’s granddaughter.

“You know she’s confused, right?” he says with a kind smile.

I know.

She’s in the bathroom when I get to her room so I sit on her bed. I can hear her talking to herself. Finally I hear her fiddling with the door and I stand in front of it as she opens it.

“Hi grandmother,” I say. Her face lights up in a surprised and quizzical way. I can tell she doesn’t recognize me.

“It’s your granddaughter,” I say.

“Oh,” she says. “What’s your name?” and then “What’s your parents’ name?”

“Oh Jennifer,” she says, now sure on the particulars. “Maybe you can save me.”

She hobbles over to her room and I take her arm, helping her sit on the bed. I give her several kisses on her cheek and then again, and smooth her white hair.

She asks me if I have any money, she’s got to get out of there.

She wants to go back to the other place, and we can just walk. Do I have any money, I must have some money. Then she tears up and says, “You know my Pam is dead.”

“No, Pammy’s fine,” I reassure her about my aunt.

She tells me my uncle Steve jumped off the roof and is dead.

“I just had coffee with Steve and Selena on Sunday,” I tell her. “He is fine. He was sitting right in front of me.”

“Well, your parents are just sick of me. They want to be rid of me,” she says with a little angry snap of her head.

“That’s not true,” I tell her. I think of the trace of resignation in Barbie’s voice when I talked to her. “They’re doing their best for you. They want you to be safe.”

She looks into my face, her skin hanging from her cheekbones, her brown eyes cloudy. “Do you have any money?” she asks.

I smooth her hair and cry.

She mutters on about how she’d been adopted by Dr. Chapman, the priest who’d run the Indian boarding school she’d lived at as a child. Dr, Chapman had left her a house and a lot of money.

I tell her, yes, yes, and smooth her hair.

It’s all I can do.

“I’m going to go to the bathroom, then let’s get out of here,” she tells me, even though it’s only been 15 minutes since I got there. I watch her go across the hall.

And I make my own jailbreak, without saying goodbye.

The morning of the cider pressing is again a beautiful day, my grandma Vangie shining from behind the white fog. For the first time in years, I’ve invited a few friends to come to the event. Jess and Lila come meet me at my parent’s house and we drive to the winery together. Seath and Carina follow, with Barbie and Brian and the girls in tow.

In the car, I tell Jess, “I think I’m going to have to put Loli down.”

“Don’t wait too long,” Jess tells me.

When we arrive, all the cousins are there, passing around babies and pouring wine. “All your cousins are so good-looking,” says Jess. “Everyone’s so tall!”

“Yes, all the grandsons are tall and handsome,” I agree.

My grandpa sits in his chair, looking grey and emaciated but with a smile on. My aunt T has given him a goatee and buzzed off his comb-over. I kiss his cheek and say, “You’re 90!” He smiles and insists, “No,” and looks at me with rheumy eyes.

Jen and her boyfriend Ted come too. Jen is to lifestyle what Jess is to adoption, a perennially free-spirit with a rich, full, unconventional life that I have always loved. Jen is in a wool plaid shirt and a white scarf. She smiles in her sunny way and I grab her in a hug. Ted, a reporter, gets straight into the history and the craft of the event, immediately engendering himself to Brian at the apple press, my uncle Matt, who he grills about the winery and my uncle Mike, who he grills about the beach.

I catch up with my aunts who all ask about Lolo. I choke up saying he’s not doing well. But I realize it is a relief to be away from his symptoms for a weekend.

Jess and Jen and I take Lila down to see the pigs and the goats. She grabs her mom’s hand and then mine and hangs from both laughing as her feet drag on the ground. “Child abuse!” calls Matt from the house, as Lila squeals.

The leaves are glowing yellow in the low fall sun. The pigs are mucking about in the mud. Lila points and laughs, then points again. The goats approach the gate, their solemn long faces poking through the bars. I lift Lila up to see the chickens. She is a solid little chunk. The weight of her on my hip is grounding.

“It is amazing that you ended up with such an extrovert!” I say to Jess as we wander back up the road to the house.

“Yes, a melancholic German and an exuberant Ethiopian, who would have thought?”

Jess has a date so heads out in the late afternoon. Jen and Ted stay into the early evening. I force a piece of Brian’s chocolate cake on them. They are going to dinner but accept anyway. Brian is sitting across from us and over the din I give him the thumbs up on the cake, gesturing at Jen and Ted. When they leave, Brian goes to retrieve a jug of cider for them to take. Matt invites them back for next year.

After they leave, Jen sends me a text saying, “Ted and I want to be adopted by your family!” I am already missing her free, easy authenticity.

“I think you already have been,” I text her back.

As we pile in the car, I get an email from Lolo’s dog walker that says, “Peed, pooped, puked.” I sigh and buckle my seatbelt, looking out into the night.

At home, S&C crash in bed, even though it’s only 730. I stay in the kitchen with Barbie and Brian. We talk about Loli and Brian says, “Well, I can come up if you need me to.” And then again, “I would be willing to come up.”

I am confused why Brian would come up to help me scoop up dog vomit.

It isn’t until the next day when I understand what he meant.

We all leave the house at the same time. When I hug Barbie, she says to let them know about Lolo and I tear up again. I tell her I’m going to call Juan and make a decision. It’s finally clear what Brian had been offering.

Edison asks to drive with me, and I want to say yes but Carina intervenes and says, “Your aunt is going to be on the phone. She needs to make some calls.” Edison shrugs and says OK with a smile. She wasn’t committed to the idea, she just thought it was worth a shot.

On the drive home I feel darker and darker. Finally, I call Juan.

“What’s up, Mon?!” he answers enthusiastically. Despite my sadness, I have to laugh. We chat for a few minutes about how I’m doing, how work is going. I note how he hasn’t barreled in with his own story, that he’s let me fill the space. Then I start to cry, the tears a pre-cursor for the words. I try to tell Juan about Lolo but he says, “What what?” He can’t understand me in my high whine through the crying.

“I think Lolo is going to have to be put down,” I choke out. He is quiet for a minute, taking it all in. Then he says, “I knew it, I fucking knew it.” A friend in LA had just put his dog down and Juan had immediately thought about Lolo.

I tell Juan Lolo isn’t keeping down his food, he’s losing weight. A mystery illness consuming him from the inside, invisible to the blood work.

I am sobbing now. I can hear Juan take a few deep breaths, code for fighting back tears. We stay on the phone several minutes this way, joined in our grief.

“He sure has been the best fucking dog, verdad Jen?” croaks Juan.

“The best, the best,” I say. I am driving through Olympia but the traffic and signs for McDonalds have muted.

All that is there is this, this last bond between Juan and myself.

The only thing left in the world that we still have together.

After we hang up I choose an exit and head to a Starbucks. I pull over on a side street, not entering the lot. I sit in the car a minute, still raw from my call with Juan. I am conscious of not wanting to get home, afraid of what I will find.

When I finally pull up to the house, I see Lacey’s face in the window. She is wiping the nose prints off the glass door in the front. She waves cheerily and I am instantly relieved. Lolo runs out and makes to pee although he has his diaper on. I move to rip off the diaper at the Velcro to liberate him but it’s too late, he’s peeing out the top. His ribs push at his fur.

Lacey says, “Welcome home – to your own house!”

She is back to brunette from her wanderings in blond and pink. I give her a hug. “I am so happy to see you,” I tell her, tearing up.

We sit in the living room and I give her the update – normal blood work, but continual barfing. Lacey points out that you can now see the bones in his face as his skin loosens up. Lolo goes from Lacey to me and then back to Lacey, standing with his hind legs cocked and rubbing his nose into the side of the chair, curling his body around her legs. There is recently a spot behind his left ear that triggers a quiver in his hind leg. He nuzzles and shakes.

“He’s still such a happy guy,” says Lacey. We both have tears in our eyes. I tell her that I am going to call the vet and ask about putting him down, what the process is, when the right time is. My parents have offered to go with me.

Monday I have a slow day and decide to leave early and work from home. I have a call into the vet and am waiting to hear back. It is a sunny day, with low winter light and a dropping thermometer. I talk to Maeve on the way home and fill her in on Loli.

I am feeling more stable about his condition and what’s looming ahead. Maevey and I talk about what Suzi said about my grandmother, that she’s working through issues in her subconscious.

“Obviously Lolo’s only issue was with food if he’s also working through his issues,” I laugh.

“His tombstone will read ‘Are you going to finish those fries?’” suggests Maevey.

It feels good to have some lightness.

When I get home, I decide to take Loli to the lake one last time, even if he just stands in the water. He’s so thing now, I lift him up easily into the car. But within a half block out of the driveway he has vomited all over the back seat. I think, now I am officially in parent territory.

I unload Loli from the car. He heads back to the front door, as if that much of a ride was enough for him.

As I’m trying to wipe orange puke from the nooks and crannies of the back seat, I think that maybe Lolo is even beyond the lake. He is OK that his world has shrunk. He just wants to get back to his rug on the flagstones.

I get a call as I’m carting back in my supplies – wet wipes and paper towels. It is the adoption agency.

“I just wanted you to know we’ve gotten your papers,” she says. She confirms one of the case workers will call back at the end of the week to schedule a home visit.

The car is clean but still smells like yogurt. I try spraying Lysol to exorcise the smell. But it stays most of the week. Reminding me of the state of things.

I want to work on the blog but am unable to concentrate. Instead I watch some YouTube videos. One has a vet talking about the signs that say it’s time to put your dog down. Lolo has three out of eight.

Then I watch a video of a dog named Shadow being put down. It is both sweet and tragic. Shadow also had started vomiting uncontrollably. The video is a close-up of his face and his owner’s hand petting him. His eyes are glassy and they talk to him in hushed tones about what a good boy he was. Loli lies on the carpet near me, his face pointed towards the kitchen. I wonder if he knows what I’m watching.

The vet calls at 5. I tell him Lolo’s vomiting hasn’t improved. He has continued to lose weight and is essentially starving to death. I am ready for him to say it, that it’s time to put him down. Instead he offers up a Sonogram if I want to really see what’s happening. We would have a diagnosis. For a second I am disoriented, taking in the words and trying to find my way back to an unexpected conversation. Then he continues in his frank, efficient way: “Of course there’s not going to be much we can do for him.”

I realize this is a seasoned professional’s way of hinting at the inevitable.

To be clear, I say I don’t believe in doing any chemotherapy or surgery on a 14 year-old dog. It would just be too much for an already depleted body. I tell him I’m ready to move forward. He says, “I have to tell you if it were my dog I would be making the very same choice.”

There is a small solace in this.

The next morning on the way into work I call the vet’s office to schedule. I barely get out the words before I start crying. The vet tech softens her tone and gently puts me on hold to check the calendar. “Did you want to come in today,” she asks and I am taken aback – today is too soon.

I schedule for Friday afternoon.

I sob all the way into work.

The traffic is unusually light. I have a meeting at 930 with one of my team. When I come in Sarah, my assistant says, “How’s your dog?” and I sniffle out that I made the appointment. She comes around the desk and gives me a hug.

I apologize to Chris, who I’m supposed to meet with. “There may be some tears,” I warn him. “Perfectly fine,” he says in his English accent.

Another team member comes over to me and says, “I couldn’t help overhearing.” He gives me a hug. “Dogs are part human, you know. The neuroscience proves it.”

In the New York Times, an article on the theory of Quantum Entanglement catches my eye: “Entanglement concerns the behavior of tiny particles, such as electrons, that have interacted in the past and then moved apart. Tickle one particle here, by measuring one of its properties — its position, momentum or “spin” — and its partner should dance.”

I can’t help but think this a very dog-like principle. Scratch behind an ear, and a leg will quiver.

I think of the months I lived with Seath and Carina. I would travel to LA for work, and when I walked in the door at home, Carina told me, “Lolo was pacing the last 20 minutes. I think he knew you were coming.”

Lacey had noticed the same thing. Once I came home early from LA to find her at home. “I wondered why he was being so funny,” she said.

Quantum entanglement. “Tickle one particle here, and it’s partner should dance.”

The rest of the week is a slow blur, days lived in Vaseline. I wake up every morning at 3:30 to let Loli out to pee and to feed him a spoonful of yogurt and a small dish of water, hoping he will keep it down until later in the morning. He gobbles is up, like he might take the dish with it. When he bounds down the steps in the dark, his waist is tiny, his hipbones protruding.

I work, but it is hard to concentrate. I tear up in meetings. I come home early to rub Loli’s face and to scoop up the pumpkin and yogurt pools that dot the floor.

My life has shrunk. I have the living areas of the house are blocked off by chairs to prevent Loli’s roaming vomiting, wretch and step, wretch and step. But the chairs mean I too am living in a cloistered world. My perspective isolates on his condition.

I am conscious of the ring of fat around my middle, in stark contrast to Loli’s shrinking waist. I realize how repeatedly over the last few months I have choked on my food, inhaled whatever I was eating into my lungs. I remember the first time thinking, that was odd. But then I noticed myself doing it again and again, a nervous tick, a mirrored reflex to Lolo’s own.

On an evening walk along there is a moment where I catch a small pile of dead leaves in the glow of a street light. They are a creamy pumpkin color. I think, oh Lolo has been here.

I hide in successive episodes of my latest show, Sons of Anarchy. There is a moment when in between the violence and the betrayal I think how odd, this show now, at this time. The show is all hard edges. A world where death doesn’t mean anything.

I send out an email to a few friends relaying the sad news: Lolo is unable to keep any food down. He is wasting away. He will likely be put down on Friday.

I get a note back from my friend in New York who says, “This is so ironic and sad” because they too had to put their dog down this week. I leave her a voicemail saying I’m thinking about her and not to call me back. I don’t have any strength or solace to offer her, just my love.

Seath and Carina and the girls come over for dinner Wednesday night. Carina squats down and talks to Loli in her cheery voice rubbing him all over his body. Edison is upset. She’s made me a card that says “We love you Lolo” with a drawing of a dog. She climbs on my lap and hugs me.

Evie only gets the plot line somewhat. She asks if she has to finish her chicken and abandons her plate at the edge of the table. It is just at the top of Lolo’s nose range. He circles back to her spot and sniffing at the plate, torturously just out of reach. I suggest to Edison to give Loli a cornbread roll which is sitting on the table. She splits it in two and he gobbles it from her hand. I wonder how long it will take before I see it on the floor.

Carina says, “You should give Lolo an awesome last meal, like chocolate cake or loaf of bread or something!”

For a second I remember a time when a friend had brought Juan and I a huge loaf of bakery bread, a loaf as big as a soccer ball. We left for dinner, the bread on the counter. When we got home, there was no bread on the counter. Only shreds of the bag on the kitchen floor. Like a python, Lolo wore a round, bread-loaf shaped middle. The bread-shaped dog had put his ears down and wagged his tail low.

Evie asks me where Lolo will go when he dies. I tell her he will be cremated, and we’ll spread his ashes at the lake.

“But I really think Lolo will come back as my baby,” I say, my eyes watering up.

This does not clarify anything for Evie who juts out her lower jaw and stares, eyes wide.

Later, I tell Suzi this idea and she says, “I’m getting chills!”

After they leave, I pull Loli to me and tell him, “It’s OK to go.” But he is in a food frenzy from hunger. He whines and pulls his head away, looking at his bowl.

Thursday morning I wake up at 4:00 to let Loli out then climb back in bed until 830, watching the final spirals of Sons of Anarchy. When I finally get out of bed, my legs are lead. I can’t stand up straight. My heart weighs 1000 lbs. I slog through the foyer and see two new patches of phlegmy vomit. Lolo is marooned on his rug. He doesn’t go into his bed in the office anymore. He sticks close to the door, like he knows he will need an exit.

As I approach, he doesn’t wag his tail. Instead struggles to pull himself up off the floor and follow me into the kitchen, hoping for more food.

I let him out front walk out with him. It is a cold snap, the sun is brilliant and the shadows long. The front is still in the shade of the house. I breathe in the cold air and cross my arms against the chill.

When we return to the house, I decide to head downstairs to clean. I have noticed the dust and spiderwebs accumulating downstairs but have been unable to combat the creeping disuse. I vacuum, I dust. I remove the dried up spiders and flies from the various corners. I mop. I decide to do my bedroom, to clean my cave of the last several weeks. I strip the bed and wash the sheets. I fluff pillows.

I come back to life.

Thursday evening I decide to take Loli for a walk around the block. He is chipper in the cold. He sniffs at patches of grass, He pees at the appropriate places. As we head up the hill he plods away and doesn’t pant or puke. I feel a twinge of guilt, and wonder I’ve made a mistake after all.

As we’re walking up to the house I see a figure crossing the street with a dog. “Hey, it’s Hannah,” she calls out. My neighbor from down the block, artist and fellow dog lover. As she approaches with Nicky, her long-haired black and tan dog I squeak out, “Lolo is being put down on Friday,” but she can’t understand me through the emotion.

“What what what?” she says and I repeat myself.

She gives me a hug. “Oooh, oooh. That’s just so hard.” Nicky is wandering around the yard. In months past Lolo and Nicky would have wagged their tails and grinned at each other. But Loli stays up on the porch, waiting to head back in.

“When JJ died I told him it was OK to go,” she says about her last dog. “And he went.”

I nod and bite my lip against the tears. I think about the other night, my words drowned out by Lolo’s hunger pangs.

I take a hot shower and wash my hair. I feel purified after the dust and the grime. I climb into my clean sheets to finish out Sons of Anarchy, the only thing darker than my actual life at this moment.

Within minutes Lolo wanders into my room and throws up on the rug.

Friday, I wake up early and go for a walk at the lake. I have nothing to stay in bed for. Sons of Anarchy is over. Plus, I don’t feel as heavy. Lolo is low energy and sleeps in until 6am. I feed him a spoonful of yogurt and a little water. At the lake the mountain is clear and pink. Among the trees it is easy to be thankful, removed from the sad drudgery of creamsicle-colored pools of doggie vomit.

When I get home Lolo sits on his rug for a minutes and looks at me, not yet ready to get up. When he finally does, I sit on the flagstones and pet him and try a new tact, saying, “It’s OK, your job is done here. Your job is done here.” He leans his head into me then pulls free and leans back in for more. We sit this way forever in dog time, maybe 15 minutes. I kiss his floppy ears. Finally he pulls away in search of water from his bowl.

I meet Jill for lunch, a chance to be free of the mourning. She is in a berry colored fleece, sitting in the full sun of the café window. “Well, these guys are just with us for so long,” she says about Lolo’s 14+ years. “It’s such a big deal. I mean, most people don’t have friendships that have lasted that long, I mean, most people!” she puts her hands under her chin and flutters her eyelashes, since of course, she and I have been friends since were 7.

She tells me about when she put down her childhood dog, Toby, who I remember.

“My mom told me when he died that she didn’t believe in heaven for people, but there was definitely one for dogs. And she showed me where it was.”

“Where was it?” I ask.

“Above the fir tree outside my room. She pointed to it.”

“That is so cute,” I say. I note the convenient location, close to my house.

When I get home, Barbie and Brian have arrived from Portland. We sit in the kitchen and catch up on the week. Lolo paces by the door, coming in occasionally to check on what we’re up to, then returning to his post at the front door, his tail lank and straight down his backside.

While I’ve been doing visas for India and adoption paperwork, Brian and Barbie have been consolidating their retirement money. They’re finally putting together a will. Brian wants to talk about it, and I tease him that it may not be the best topic for this afternoon.

Juan calls to check in. He says his family are sad. His sister is also putting her dog down. He reminds me of the time when his parents came to visit us in Portland for Christmas and his dad couldn’t believe what a well-behaved dog he was.

“Just remember, you’re doing something nice for him,” he reminds me as I am crying.

I talk to another friend and she says, “His soul will be free of his body, and you’ll always be connected to that soul. That’s what you see in his eyes.”

When the time arrives, I have an anxious flutter in my stomach. I pull towels out from the basement to cover my car but as I’m doing this Brian lifts Lolo into the back and he vomits right into the bucket seat. In that moment I am glad I didn’t give him a loaf of bread or chocolate cake as a last meal.

Barbie takes a towel and mops up the vomit, and we go back to unlock the house and bring out wet wipes and paper towels. Loli wont let Brian pick him back up out of the car. He stands narrowly on the other seat, tail down.

“Thank god he vomited,” I tell Barbie and Brian, sniffling. “Such reminder of how he’s really doing.” Like final permission to set him free.

When the seat is clean I scoot in next to Loli and we drive the long mile drive to the vet.

Loli leans into me weakly, his ears down, his bony frame jostling with the ride of the car.

They place us in a small narrow room at the vet’s and we wait. There is a blanket on the floor for him. I sit with him on the floor while Barbie and Brian sit on the bench. There is a shelf in the room with porcelain figurines of dogs. The smell and closeness of the room is making me slightly nauseous.

I pat the blanket and Lolo flops down for a minute. Then suddenly he is up sniffing under the built-in counter for a crumb. He tries to get under at one spot but his shoulders are too high and he bumps into the desk.

“Of course Lolo is spending his last minutes looking for a treat,” I say through my tears, and we all laugh. It is so him.

Finally the vet comes in and explains the three step process, sedative, surgical sedative, then final shot. He is efficient but there is a kindness.

The doctor administers the first shot. Lolo doesn’t even flinch, he’s still so intent on the mystery treat. Finally though, Lolo flops down on the blanket. I stroke his face and tell him he is just the best doggie, that he is my sweet sweet puppy. I hold his paws and feel where his toes have lost their fat. I gently pinch the black pads of his feet. I feel his thin ankles. Lolo’s eyes get glassy.

The second shot.

I help the doctor lift Lolo for the table. Just as we move him Lolo vomits a modest pool on the floor but it is tiny compared to what I’ve been dealing with.

“Why don’t you come over by his head,” the vet directs. We all move over, squashed in the corner by the door. Brian reaches in a hand to pet Lolo, and then Barbie’s hand. I am kissing Loli’s face, smoothing his floppy ear and telling him he is my sweet sweet. The doctor takes a neatly folded white towel and administers the final cocktail, discreetly down body.

Lolo’s mouth pulls back.

For a magical second, his paws reach out, like he’s going to make a final run.

Then he is gone, his face unrecognizeable, sunken into a garish contortion.

The doctor tells us to take our time with him. I lean the full weight on my head on his torso, telling Barbie and Brian, “He never let me do this when he was alive.” His bony body isn’t much of a pillow. There is no comfort there now.

After a few minutes, I am ready to go.

The staff is gentle, nodding goodbye to us. They will have Loli’s ashes back in two weeks. When we step out into the parking lot it has gotten dark. We stand for a minute and I don’t know where to look. Barbie’s eyes are pink, and Brian is still crying, shaking and wiping his eyes. Suddenly I let out a huge loud sob, unable to contain it. I grab Brian’s green fleece and sob and sob into his side.

And then it is out of me, the worst of it.

For the first time in months, I feel light.

When we get home I post on Facebook a picture and a note that says: “What a privilege to love and be loved by a dog.” Within minutes there are tons of comments. I am touched by the remarkable life he had, in Portland, in London, in Miami, in LA. In Seattle.

One friend says, “Lolo will come back as Buddha!”

The day after we clean the rest of the house.

I scrub the flagstone floor of the entry and the kitchen, on my hands and knees. When I first kneel down, I suppress a cry. The floor smells like Lolo.

But I feel better after the cleaning. The walls of the foyer are clean of pumpkin spatter. Loli’s rug and toys have been put away.

For the next several days I look for him in the foyer, lounging on the floor or his head peeking out at the top of the stairs as I come up. When I hear noises in the house I think it’s Lolo stretching, circling, circling, flopping back down.

But the lightness continues.

My visa for India is delivered to my porch.

I schedule my first interview with the adoption agency.

The next week, at acupuncture, I say, “I think I’m going to impress you with my pulses.”

“Oh really,” she says, part challenge, part curiosity.

Cool fingers on my wrist.

She says, “They do feel better.”

“I think I was grieving about Lolo for months,” I diagnose. “Now I just feel relieved.”

“Yeah, your left pulse especially is…” she pauses and makes a light flutter with her four fingers, like she is playing the piano.

I ask what the left pulse is, and she says it is the chi.

The life force.

“Like it’s skipping,” I say.

I am thinking of Lolo on the table, his last impulse: limbs stretching, four legs ready for a run.

 

Jendate 26: The Mirror

For a few weeks, I am high.

I’m expecting the official offer for my new job. For a spell, the days aren’t a wait, they are exhilarating momentum towards a new kind of life.

Even a shoulder sore from recent dislocation can’t dampen my spirits.

In all the flux I’ve sent out texts and emails into the world, doling out various pieces of the story. To one friend at Deutsch who’s been on maternity leave I say, Miss you. Want to catch up. Have been interviewing for job in Seattle. Going to adopt a baby. She texts me back OMG OMG must hear all. Congratulations on your pivot.

We arrange a phone date. I hear about her baby. “Honestly, I could have skipped the first three months,” she says with characteristic frankness.

She chronicles the latest with work. She’s been unhappy. The agency has dangled a promotion and raise but has remained vague on when. In final ignominy, she’d come in from maternity leave for her performance review, only to find her boss had forgotten it was happening at all.

“I mean, I showered for that motherfucker,” she emphasizes.

“It just all sounds very disrespectful,” I tell her.

As I’m listening to the saga, I think about who she is in the context of the real world, beyond Deutsch. A pragmatist of the New York City ilk – direct, dry, sarcastic. She founded a magazine and was in the middle of writing a book. In every meeting I had with her, she asked the big question, made the clever observation. To boot, model tall, cheekbones like the wings of a jet.

The agency’s apathy was nonsensical.

“Plus, I’m totally underpaid. Like way underpaid. I did a fee proposal and saw what everybody makes. You would not believe it. By the way, you are one of the only women who is getting hers. Good on you guuurrrl.”

I tell her, “It’s so crazy how no one knows this stuff. How culture and companies have trained us not to talk. But it’s in our interest to share. We’re the ones getting screwed, women and minorities!”

She asks me for thoughts on her current status – she has a few other things in the hopper, which would mean leaving Deutsch. I share what’s been working for me: clarify her brief, what she wants and doesn’t. Don’t look at it in the context of an offer that’s on the table. Look at all she wants.

And then see.

“I’m going to totally do that, I know already what my brief is,” she says. “I always follow your advice.”

When I hang up I am left with a glow of her – sassy and earthy at the same time.

That afternoon, I see how much I am the true beneficiary of this conversation. My recruiter calls about the job. She goes over the title, confirms the four-day-a-week schedule, reconfirms the salary offer. She’s already told me I wont make an LA salary in Seattle, that I was well-paid even for LA, ”because of course they have to,” she had said about Deutsch. For a minute, it made me feel like I was getting away with more than I was worth.

Even before knowing my ranking in the Deutsch money hierarchy, I wasn’t sure about the salary for the job. When I interviewed, it was clear how much they needed someone like me, and how rare it would be to find my resume to come in and do that job. Now, fortified from my morning call, I tell her I’m not sure about the money.

“That’s all the budget they’ve got,” she says flatly. I can hear her reminding me silently that I said I’d do it for that amount. She wants to close the deal.

“I understand,” I say firmly. “I’m just telling you, I’m not happy at the current salary and I’m thinking about it.”

I catch Suzi for 10 minutes on the way to the airport. “It IS about the money and it isn’t,” Suzi says. “Some people have money in their dharmas, other people could care less.”

I get what she means, but it doesn’t feel like clarity.

“Let’s put it this way,” I try, “If I were getting married to this job, I would say no right now, with the current offer.”

“What I would say is to stand in your experience,” Suzi advises.

This makes sense.

When I land in Minneapolis, my recruiter emails me that HR said I’d be eligible for a bonus, depending on how well the agency did that year.

“That would add in another $25K,” she writes.

I call her back.

“I don’t know about a discretionary bonus – it’s not real money. For example, this year, Deutsch didn’t get any bonuses,” I explain.

“I’d be happy with $25K more in the salary,” I say. Its $5K less than my happiest number, but I feel like in the spirit of the negotiation I can let that detail go.

“So you’re saying you want that much. For four. Days. A. Week,” she metes out the syllables.

I can’t tell if I’m imagining disbelief in her voice as she clarifies. For some reason I am confused at the reiteration, the stark punctuation. I think to myself, isn’t she supposed to be on my side?

Then I have a flashback to my first negotiation with Deutsch. Then too I had asked for more money, though only half-heartedly. I thought Juan and I were moving to Hong Kong but the job I had been negotiating for had started to fade, a Polaroid of an exotic trip left too long in the sun. Wanting to get out of Miami, I had resigned myself to Deutsch. Asking for more money was a limp way of making myself feel better. “I can ask,” she had said then, but I knew she wasn’t serious. When she came back to me with a no, I wondered if she’d asked at all.

The point was, she knew I wasn’t serious.

This time, I have conviction: “I feel like I am A-list talent going to a B-minus shop. I think they need to pay for my experience.”

She listens and doesn’t try to persuade.

“So, I feel like you’re not going to take the job at what they offered you,” she posits.

“I don’t think I am,” I say.

“OK,” she says. She’s done selling and back to negotiating.

The offer lingers. I can’t tell if the wait is a sign of yes or no. I keep trying to read the energetic tea leaves – S&C are doing an inspection on their new house, Darek and Amy are waiting to hear on an appraisal for theirs – I wonder if my fate is tied into these real estate dealings, if there is a cosmic moment of completion on the horizon when all the pins will be struck down at once.

Part of me worries they wont come back with the money. Will I take it for less? I quiz myself. I don’t think so. I remind myself that I will be unhappy if I take it for less. It will be a tiny cut that festers and never heals.

Still, the offer lingers.

It is supposed to appear Friday. Then Monday. My recruiter calls to say it’s still moving forward, not to worry. But I have turned a corner on the whole thing. I start to think maybe it’s meant to be that the offer doesn’t come through. I will quit and freelance. It will be even better!

Wednesday morning I’m lying on my bed meditating before work. It’s warm in LA, and the windows are open. I hear the buzzing of the bees in the bougainvillea outside the bedroom window, the mechanical whirring of a garbage truck at the far side of the alley. The light filters in through the bamboo shades. I’m just near the end of my 20 minutes and my phone buzzes.

And I know what it is. I let the knowledge pass and stay relaxed on the bed, breathing steadily, willing my mind empty again. When my timer goes off a few minutes later I sit up and look at my phone. It’s full of thumbs-up emoticons.

I take a deep breath and call her.

We go through the bits and pieces about the offer and what I need to send back. How does it feel, she asks me.

When I hang up I stand on my porch and think about who to call – S&C, Barbie and Brian, Maeve. After such a draining, debilitating year, I can’t even believe how close I am to a new way of being. Instead, I turn my face to the sun.

It is a moment beautifully and wholly my own.

I call Jeffrey from the car.

He’s out of town for a few more days, but I can’t wait to quit.

“JB, I wanted to tell you I have an offer.”

“Do you really,” he says, in a way that is not a question or at all surprised. “Well, I was trying to figure out how we were going to do this transition. You know, I think you’re going to be a lot happier.”

“I think YOU’RE going to be a lot happier,” I counter with a laugh.

“That’s probably true,” he chuckles. “I’m really going to miss you.”

Sweet Jeffrey.

I feel the same way.

I have one final trip to Minneapolis. It is lovely. There are meetings and good-byes from heartfelt (one woman telling me “You always seemed like you had the brand in you”) – to comic (an email stating “This news is very disturbing!”). The women ooh and awww over the adoption. The men aren’t sure what to say about 4 days a week. I can tell it makes them uncomfortable, they’re worried I’m sacrificing rather then saving myself.

Janet, originally client, now friend brings me a card and two polished stones.

“It so funny, I got these from a friend years ago and have been carrying them around from move to move but not really sure why. Suddenly I thought, I think these need to go to Jen.”

She explains one stone is rose quartz, for the heart, and the other is tiger’s eye, for confidence in your path. “I feel like both of these are going to come in handy,” she says, her head bobbing in a sure way.

I’ve always admired her steady, gentle energy which she wields with equal measure in meetings and when she picks up her fussing baby. I hold the stones in my open palm and smile into her freckled face. She is nearing the end of her second pregnancy and I think how we are tied in our change, both of us letting go of the baton that has joined us, both of us moving on to another phase of life.

In LA, no one is surprised that I’m leaving, only that I lasted as long as I did in my bi-state set up. My apartment, which is leased through August, is taken over by a friend of a friend. My office sheds meetings and becomes a hub for people who want to change their lives. I have a moment of realization, that this stream of seekers into my office is my true legacy. After months of fretting about what I hadn’t been able to do, this is a long overdue reframing of my time. It is an exhale.

One creative comes in to give me a hug and say that he’d heard the news. He wants details. I tell him about the adoption and instead of hulking in the doorway he pulls up a chair next to me. He leans forward, his elbows on his thighs, looking out the glass wall to the agency beyond. He starts to talk and the themes are familiar: life has become one-dimensional, it’s become all about work. He misses his family, he wants to have a life, but he’s worried he can’t grow his career and have that too.

For a minute, I think of Juan.

I remember one of our early dates, a day at Seaside on the Oregon Coast. It was sunny but windy. We were with his roommate Alberto, a flaquito in big raver pants and a backpack that sported a series of buttons, including one that said “Ask me how I lost the weight!” Mara was there too, on one of her multi-week visits up to Portland from Berkeley in the months after graduation but before art school. Mara and the boys spoke in Spanish, Juan and Alberto teasing her for her Mexico City accent and old-fashioned turn of phrase.

On the hard sand we walked into the wind. I remember Juan saying he wanted to have four children. “Four!” I exclaimed. “Maybe two,” I conceded, laughing at the excess. He gave me his coat against the wind.

When we got in his car to drive back, Mara told me, “You know, he’s calling you his girlfriend. That’s what mi vieja means.”

As my 30’s unrolled, I started to bring up having a baby. I wanted him to know the real conversation around family was out there, in the near future. He would get muscle flicker at his jaw when I mentioned it. Even at talk of friends being pregnant, he would give a cursory, “Good for them,” in a husky voice.

“Why can’t I even talk about other people without you freaking out!” I yelled at him on multiple occasions.

But I knew why. He was drawing his line now, before I got too close. He wanted me to see it, to hear it in his rumbling growl.

Gradually, I put the conversation away in some back corner of my brain, sealed in a container to be opened when we moved to LA. Of course, when it was finally unpacked, the contents didn’t look the same as they had when they’d been stored. In one of our many conversations about the break-up, I had asked him what he wanted in his life. “To make a name for myself, at work,” he had answered. It was clear that anything else was in the way of that goal.

I had texted Juan saying I had quit Deutsch, was moving back to Seattle to work 4 days a week and adopting a baby holy shit. If he had time it would be nice to see him before I go.

He had texted back Holy shit is right. For sure Mona, let’s get together.

There was something in his text that made me sad.

I hadn’t wanted to call him; I didn’t want to put him on the spot to feel happy for me. But I recognized that pat answer about getting together.

It had been over a year and a half since I’d seen him, even though we worked less than a mile apart.

“Maybe Juan just isn’t ready to see you. Maybe he’s protecting himself,” said Maevey.

“It’s just weird, like I might never see him again. Ever.” I told her. It seemed inconceivable after 13 years together that we could be so absent from each other’s lives.

Absent, yet also still present.

My list of things to do in LA starts checking itself off. Dinner at a friend’s new house. His husband makes us dinner and we sit at their formal cherry dining table, inherited from grandparents. His four-year-old twins, white-blond and bespectacled, push around the rice on their plates, drink their milk with both hands. They are excited for ice cream. I run into another friend, a fellow transformer, at coffee on Abbot Kinney. She is breezy in a sundress and a wide beautiful smile. She has abandoned advertising for gardening. She has moved in with her boyfriend. I squeeze her skinny shoulders, laughing at my luck.

I also have a long overdue sleepover at Carrie’s.

Carrie is friend, pillar of strength, oft partner and mentor as a creative director at Deutsch. She was a rower at UCLA and still has the same fortitude and intensity of a competitive athlete. She is also thoughtful and considerate, a self-described hippie, a lover of Latino men, red wine and weed.

And, an adoptive parent.

Carrie and I had tried dozens of times to have sleepover at her house in Topanga Canyon. For months, we were forever foiled by mercurial travel schedules, last-minute work and family emergencies.

I drive out to her house Friday afternoon. The minute I turn in from the PCH, I see the appeal. I wind up a road straight out of a Steinbeck novel – gnarled almond trees and clapboard houses built into the rock walls that line the road. There are hairpin switchbacks. The sun stretches out low and orange. Many turns on the road are purple with shade as the afternoon wears on.

Even before I was thinking about adoption for myself, I loved Carrie’s intentionally quilted-together family. They decided to adopt when it became clear they couldn’t have their own without medical intervention. By chance, they ended up with siblings from Guatemala. First a baby girl, then her brother.

Carrie and her husband took their kids camping and rock climbing on the weekends. Her office was full of pictures of the kids in full outdoor regalia, her daughter in harness and helmet grinning from a rock face, her son in the woodsy warm light of a morning campsite. They were the anti-LA family, living among wild rocks and trees rather than pools and manicured lawns.

When I get to her house, Luna, Carrie’s daughter is playing at the bottom of a steep driveway. She waves at me tentatively and races up the hill. She’s wearing a Guatemala soccer jersey and shorts.

“Wow, how do you ever leave,” I ask. The house is a more of a cabin, modest with a huge deck that takes up most of the yard. But the view is the hills and depth of the canyon. The boys have gone camping in celebration of the end of the school year. Luna is riding her bike round the deck and listening to Taylor Swift. She is 8, a year younger than Edison, a brown face, bright smile and compact little body of muscled arms and legs.

“She’s super strong because of all the horse-riding,” Carrie says. “She was really into the Kentucky Derby this year because of California Chrome, this horse that wasn’t some fancy breed with one of those big long aristocratic names. When we were watching the race she totally noticed that all the jockeys were indigenous Latin Americans, she was like, ‘Mommy, they look like me.’ I was telling her how her build is good for jockeys because they are little but really strong.”

We eat tacos on the deck. It’s great to see Carrie in her natural habitat. The intensity often exhibited at the office is absent, and in its place a fuzzy, happy-it’s-Friday half smile. Luna is like a little sun, powerful and bright.

“Are you ever scared on your horse,” I ask her. “They’re so big. I’d be scared.”

“No,” she says with a laugh and a little eye roll, like what a silly thought. As a cautious child evolving into less cautious adult, I have a silent hope that she will always keep this fearlessness.

I watch her with Carrie and can’t help but think how like she is to her mom – the intelligence, the physical intensity – the universe could not have put two more like spirits together.

While Carrie puts Luna to bed and I sit on the deck with my feet up on the railing, huddled under a fleece coat and a blanket as the temperature drops. The cicadas trill in a constant ring and there are other night noises, the rustling of dry leaves, the muffled flap of wings. But mostly it’s a black sky beginning to reveal stars.

When Carrie comes back out we talk about my progress on the adoption. I’m still deciding between my path, but I’ve recently found out Ethiopia has put a hold on adoptions by single parents.

“I’m trying not to get caught up by where the baby comes from,” I say. “I just want to lean into the easiest route, the path of least resistance.”

I tell Carrie about a conversation I’d had the week before. A friend had asked, what happens with an inheritance when there are kids related by blood? I had said, “What do you mean? It’s MY child. Raised by me. Why would it be any different, just because it’s not a blood relative?” I’m aware of being protective already of this future child.

“Yeah, there are a lot of trippy thoughts out there around adoption,” says Carrie. “Like people who think you can’t love an adopted child as much as you love your own. But they don’t know, they just don’t get it. You can’t explain it to them.”

She tells me about picking up Luna from the orphanage in Guatemala, then two years later getting a call from the same orphanage saying the biological mother had just brought in another child, a boy.

“When we picked up Sebastian, he was delayed, like he wasn’t walking yet and his teeth hadn’t come in. He was totally undernourished. When we brought him home, within two weeks he was walking and his teeth had come in.”

I can feel the tears in my eyes at this story. A love that filled in a smile. A skinny brown toddler who filled in a family. We are silent for a moment, looking out into the night, each star coming more and more into focus as the evening fades.

On my last day of work I turn in my computer and pack a single bag with my candles, hand lotion and gum from my desk. Maeve walks me to the front door. “Dude, you know I was talking to my mom this morning and I wanted to tell you something. I actually wrote you a long text but then erased it, it felt to sappy.”

“You know I love a sappy text,” I tell her. I am walking on air. Jeffrey and Kim are gone at Cannes, and I’ve said my good-byes to almost everyone else. It’s a Wednesday early afternoon and no one is paying attention to my exit, everyone focused on meetings and emails after lunch. I am happy to slip away.

We get to the front door and I turn for one last look. Suddenly someone shouts, “No you don’t!” from the top of the stairs. Jeff comes running down, his laptop under his arm.

It is a divine synchronicity.

Jeff was my first friend at Deutsch. When I took the job at Deutsch, I spent the first two weeks in New York at the clients. When I finally flew out to LA, HR directed me to an office. Jeff was sitting two doors down and we were put together in a “he’ll tell you what to do,” kind of way. He was upbeat. “Gimme your cell number. I’ll send it out to the team so we can all start calling you!” he said cheerfully.

He had a salesman veneer, perennially cheerful and can-do. “He just seems so cheesy, like he’s not one of my people,” one of my friends told me when I raved about him. But I could tell he was not a salesman. Over the years I got to know him as much more: smart, genuine, amazingly thoughtful.

I still remember the Monday after I found out about Juan. I put on what felt like kabuki makeup and a bright icy blue blouse, armor to cover up a tear-splotched face and bleeding gash in my heart. Jeff walked by my office and popped his head in, saying, “You know, that color looks really great on you. You look really great today.” I almost burst into tears because I knew he was telling the truth, that I had created a tragically effective ruse. In hindsight, I wonder if I did actually look better. If there was a release to that day that showed in my face, a knowing of what had been unknown for the last six months.

As Jeff hustles down the stairs I yell to him, “You’re going to make me cry! My first friend coming and my last friend going!”

Jeff almost picks me up in a bear hug, despite me outweighing him. “You weren’t going to get away like that,” he snaps with a grin.

We chat a minute and then he goes over to the pager. “You’ve got a call?” I ask him, confused. He holds up one finger to me, and then I hear him say, “Anyone who wants a last hug from Jen, come to the lobby.”

About six or seven people come from around corners and down the stairs. It is a motley crew of people I’ve worked with over the years, many of whom I’m surprised to see – we are not close.

But I am touched to have made an impression.

I’m parked out front and Maevey walks me to the car. She’s in a black dress that is stretched across her protruding belly.

“So like I was saying, when I talked to my mom she said, if it wasn’t for Jen you might not be pregnant – you wouldn’t have taken this job, moved to California, met your doctor,” she tears up.

“Oh Maevey, but YOU did all that,” I tell her.

“But I wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for you.”

I say thank you, accepting the compliment, hugging her across her belly.

As I pull out of the lot, I don’t look back.

I spend the next day packing and waiting for the movers. They are stuck on the 405 coming up from Irvine. They’ll be there in an hour. Then another hour. It has been a warm day but it’s cooling. The property manager comes by for the final sign off on the apartment and my deposit check. “I assumed you’d have it cleaned,” I mention. “When I moved in this place was spotless!”

“Yes, we’re lucky in LA to have so much cheap help,” she says. She works part time for my landlord, part time for part of the Saudi royal family that travels to LA.

The comment is unsettling somehow, like the emphasis is in the wrong place. I imagine the Latina or Asian cleaning woman, how she would feel being described as cheap help.

I’m supposed to go to dinner with Cyndi, Maeve and Lisa. I’m spending my last night at Cyndi’s (“a tradition!” we laugh because Loli and I stayed at her house on our last move north). They trickle in and we sit at the patio table, under the tree in the shade in the courtyard. The movers finally show and make quick work of the place. I go through a few final things and hand out the detritus to the girls – Lisa takes home eggs; Cyndi, chia seeds; Maevey, coconut-scented body cream. I fill my hands with a few final things and head out front where Cyndi is parked.

And fall in the driveway.

“Oh my god, JenJen, are you okay?” calls Cyndi from ahead of me.

I’ve bumped the same knee, caught myself with the same arm as the fall at my massage. For a second I want to cry, I’m overwhelmed with everything, the fall, the move, the leaving. Instead, I summon a laugh and call back that I’m OK. I pull myself up. My left knee is already swelling but it’s just mildly scraped. I test out my shoulder flexibility.

“Oh my god, it’s the second time I’ve fallen in the last couple months,” I say to Cyndi.

“I fall all the time, like ALL the time,” says Cyndi sympathetically, laughing her deep laugh.

But I don’t.

I look down at the stones of the driveway, wondering what it’s telling me. Maybe it’s just take note of this moment. It is the end of a chapter.

Meanwhile, the movers have cracked off a huge jacaranda branch with their tall truck. They cavalierly open the back and toss the branch inside, Mafioso hiding a body in the trunk. There is a huge ragged scar on the trunk, yellow with the fresh break. They drive off, their secret awaiting anonymous finality in a roadside dumpster.

When the truck is gone, there is a halo of purple petals left on the ground.

In the morning, Cyndi, her chocolate Lab Rumi and I walk to a new bakery in Venice for breakfast. We ogle over the crispy croissants, deep slices of cake and bread pudding. We order eggs and then pause on drinks. The drink menu tops out at a $9 Hazelnut milk latte. “Nine dollars? Really?” we question the guy at the counter. Yes, it surprised him too. They fresh press the hazelnut milk on premise. It goes for $50 a gallon. Cyndi opts for a regular coffee with a free splash of the hazelnut milk.

“I have to get it, it’s my last day in LA.” I say. I’ve only brought $15 so Cyndi pays.

We sit outside and watch the people: willowy blonds with beach-wavy hair and flowy dresses; scruffy young men in straw hats and flip-flops. A tall possible-European in a seersucker suit is accompanied by a much younger woman who we are relieved to pronounce his daughter, not his date. Neighboring dogs on the patio perk their ears and eye Rumi from under their tables. Rumi, normally exuberant, relaxes. He seems uninterested in Lolo’s favorite on-the-town pastime, Hoovering up crumbs. Instead, Rumi succumbs with infectious enthusiasm to our waiter who kneels down to impart a belly rub.

“The boys love a big dog,” I tell Cyndi as the waiter walks back inside.

The waiter is muscular to the point of bursting out of his chambray uniform shirt. He’s wearing a gold chain. “Not from here?” I speculate. “Mid-west,” says Cyndi definitively. “Moved out to chase the waves.”

“Do you think these people ever think about the Mexicans who wash their dishes and clean their homes?” I am thinking about the property manager’s comment. I am thinking how this part of Lincoln used to speak Spanish. It used to be used car lots and obscure repair shops. Now reimagined in latte foam and crusty bread.

Cyndi suggests to not judge it. I’m not sure if she’s talking about the wealth disparity or the willingness of some to see through others. Either way, I let it be.

It is a rarified moment, perfect in its filtered sun, its laid-back lux.

My $9 latte is heavenly.

When we get back to Cyndi’s I jump in the shower and hurry to pack my things. I want to get on the road. As I get in the car, sweat beads on my upper lip. I’m still warm from the walk, the shower. Cyndi leans into my passenger window. “Do you need a water?” she asks and we both laugh because she’s constantly in fear of dehydrating. “I’m only going to the Valley!” I say. I squeeze her hand across the car, a thanks for the hospitality last night and over the past six years I’ve known her.

My last stop on my way out of LA is Suzi’s house.

She lives north, and normally we do our sessions by phone, so in these last six years I’ve never been to her home. We sit in her beige living room on white slipcovered couches and eat a salad her husband has prepared for lunch. We riff on ideas for her growing coaching empire. I have an idea for her, a book based on client notes from sessions. I draw out how I see it looking, it working.

“You are just brilliant!” she says enthusiastically. We beam at each other over our salads, a club of mutual admiration.

When I leave I am humming, the feeling I have after a long swim. It’s still early afternoon and I expect to hop on the freeway and coast out of town but the 101 is blocked solid. I turn off the radio and enjoy the molasses pace of the traffic. It is the last time I will do it for a while.

I stop three days in San Francisco. I stay with Anna and Paul and their dog Uli, Lolo’s BFF from the last trip north three years ago. Lolo had been a much younger dog then and he and Uli, both big dogs, had bumped rears and circled each other constantly, always on the verge of a friendly wrestle. Loli would often wear himself out and flop down on the ground while Uli stood, ears still cocked and hopeful, until he was sure the moment had passed with no other option but to flop onto his bed in the corner with a disappointed sigh.

This time, even without Lolo, Uli keeps me company. At every open-door opportunity he hops on my bed and settles himself, crossing his front paws delicately.

“He’s a FOMO!” says Anna, “He’s got total Fear Of Missing Out. He wants to be with you at all times. He’ll even try and come into the bathroom with me.” We both stand in the bedroom doorway grinning at Uli on the bed.

The night I arrive we go to a local French restaurant on the marina near their house in San Rafael. Anna and I eat steak frites, Paul eats roast chicken. They ask about the adoption and Paul says earnestly, “Any child would be lucky to have you for a parent, with all you’ve done in the world, all you’ve accomplished.” I can tell he’s not just saying it to say it. I can’t help buy think, he’s got it backwards.

It is me that is going to have to live up to this child.

Each day I take the ferry to the city and explore, first the ferry terminal with its scenic foodie vistas: $12 baskets of exotic mushrooms, silver-beaded cupcakes, flour-dusted pain au levain.

Then a modernist show at the DeYoung Museum. I Instagram pictures of people looking at the art. At one piece, a huge El-Anatsui, a docent hops in the photo and throws his arms out. The docent’s exuberance is somehow fitting, like an improvised moment of African dance.

My second day I head to the Mission District. I start at the hipster stores full of modernist furniture, Heath Ceramics and Pendelton Blankets. At one, the counter is occupied by a thin, bearded man in a boat-neck striped shirt. I ask him about lunch and he says, “Are you up for a bit of a walk? There’s a great Mexican place about 8 blocks from here.”

I tell him I’m up for a walk.

“You’ll totally go in there and know you’re not from the neighborhood, “ he says smugly. “Like it’s the real deal. Like, they only have one type of beans.”

I suppress a laugh that one kind of beans is the true indicator for authenticity. I don’t say I’m probably more from the neighborhood than he thinks when it comes to taquerias.

Instead, I walk the 8 long blocks to investigate.

Slowly the neighborhood changes from white to Mexican, from stores selling modern furniture and vintage glasses to bakeries selling pink sugared Mexican pastries and tiendas stacked with sports jerseys and knock off Air Jordans. As I walk by one café a elderly woman is in the door. The TV is on and I realize it is the World Cup. Mexico is playing.

“Que pasa con el partido, senora?” I ask her.

“Bueno, Mexico esta ganando,” she replies. I stay and watch for a minute, but my feet are aching and I still haven’t found the taqueria.

At the famous taqueria, I order a lengua and a carne asada taco. They come like a Japanese hand-roll, rolled up conically and filled with chopped tomatoes, onions and only one kind of beans.

It’s not exactly authentic in my experience (I guess I’m not from the neighborhood after all, touché my bearded friend!). But it is delicious.

I’m clearing my table when the game finishes. Mexico has won. The restaurant goes up in a cheer.

Meanwhile, less politely, the street erupts. Revelers climb on the bike rack of a slow-moving city bus, waving their Mexico scarves. The Asian bus driver looks like he’s seen it all. He pulls up to the stop without so much as a blink about his external passengers. Cars drive by with the music blaring, tubas and accordions pom pom-ing in the banda style. Young men wave from the car windows and others in Mexico jerseys run alongside. The street is a cacophony of whistles, honking and music. I stop to capture the din with my phone, then call Juan and leave him a message.

“No mames, you should be here,” I yell into his voicemail.

Juan texts me, Call you in a bit Mona, I’m in a meeting. For a second, I feel sad for him that he missing his country’s moment for advertising.

I text him back, Don’t worry about calling, I just wanted you to hear the reaction.

Here, among his tribe, it suddenly feels easier to let him go, a sadness dissipating in the happy ruckus, another green, white and red jersey absorbed into the welcoming crowd.

A realization that here, even without him, I am also at home.

My last morning in the Bay Area I have breakfast with Che, an old friend from college. At Berkeley in the 90’s, Che was a pre-med student who played in a classic rock band, often in a custom Prince-inspired purple velvet suit. His room down the hall of our house on Milvia was subsumed by his king sized bed. He was small and lanky with wavy black hair and brown skin. His father was Indian, his mother was American. He grew up in Denver where his father was a professor.

Che offers to pick me up as long as it’s okay that we drop his daughter, Indigo at camp on our way to breakfast. Indigo I recognize from Facebook. She is 7, with hair down to her waist and blue-rimmed glasses.

“Hi Indy, I’ve heard all about you!” I say, kneeling down closer to her height. She has the confidence of an only child. She presents me with a picture she’s drawn, a dragon. We pile into Che’s Mercedes sedan, grown up and substantial – a doctor’s car, I tell him.

“Jen and I used to have lunch together every Friday,” Che tells Indy. I’d forgotten this little ritual. Over the last several years since we’d been back in touch, Che had been inviting me to SF to see his band play, to have dinner. But divorce and middle age had made me shy and apologetic, in constant comparison to a lighter, more attractive former self. Now as we drive towards the marina, I have a flash of regret for all the time we haven’t spent together.

Che tells me they’ve just come back from a surprise weekend at Disneyland.

“I told Indy to pack her bags, we were going to surprise her with where we were going. But somehow she got it in her head we were going swimming with sharks so she started to get all stressed out about the trip.”

“Why did you think you’d be swimming with sharks?” I turn around to ask Indigo. She shrugs from her car seat, like swimming with sharks seemed as plausible as any other surprise for a kid’s vacation.

When we get to cooking camp, Indy unwraps herself from her sweater and scarf and shoves them at her dad, already on her way to be with her friends. A mom, blond in capri pants comes in with her daughter. Che asks no one in particular if the bar’s open yet. I giggle, but his humor is lost on blond mom who chides him with a glance.

We go across the street to the Lighthouse Café. I order eggs, bacon and hashbrowns. Che orders raspberry pancakes, bacon and a Coke. “You never started drinking coffee, did you?” I observe. The Coke has tugged something familiar in the recesses of my memory.

We catch up on the last 15 years of life in broad strokes, then settle on the recent. His brother, who was also in college with us, has recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor. His dad has leukemia.

He tells me a hilarious story about his dad, lost in translation. “You know my dad likes a drink in the evening, like a cocktail. So he goes to his oncologist to get his tests back and things are looking pretty good. So he asks her, ‘So, how about drinks?’” He says it in his dad’s accent. “And she gets all flustered and says, ‘Uh, my schedule is really busy right now.’ I know his doctor really well and she comes to me later and says, ‘I just had a totally awkward moment with your dad.’”

“‘So, how about drinks,’” he repeats in his dad’s voice.

My face hurts from laughing.

We catch up on others from the days of Milvia Street, our ramshackle Berkeley house where we lived with 10 other people and the constant stream of their respective friends:

Micho, Che’s ex-girlfriend who’s dancer limbs were always clothed in leggings and a twilight-toned off-the-shoulder top – lawyer, recently quit to become a yoga instructor.

Chris, lead singer from Che’s college band, Heavy Petting Zoo – “You remember he didn’t have one pectoral muscle? Sometimes he’d wear overalls with no shirt, and you could tell, there’d be like a hole in his chest.” – lawyer.

Alex, devotee of the rocker lifestyle with long black hair, dark glasses and jeans so tight Che used to tease him, “Alex, can I borrow a quarter? I can see you have one.” – lawyer.
(“I keep wanting to look him up but I can’t spell Stoichovycz,” comments Che.)

Arunan, a 6’2” Sri Lankan from Dallas and obsessive drummer, on stage or in our living room where he constantly rat-a-tat on leg or arm or shoulder of his nearest neighbor – “He still has all that hyperactive energy, I ran into him at a gig recently.” – teacher.

Allison and Davis, who were together and broken up and then together – finally together and working in urban planning in LA, although I’d never seen them.

Jim, the senior denizen of the house, affectionately nicknamed “The Dogger” for being an older man surrounded by younger women, famed for falling asleep on the toilet after one particularly rowdy party – recently married, still working at the UC Berkeley Library.

We wonder about people we’ve lost track of: Gwenn, disappeared into PTA stewardship in the South Bay; Cathy, who we speculate is wearing skirt suits and running a luxury hotel in Hong Kong, based on her officious manner and Chinese heritage.

As we talk I have such a fondness for that time of life, the derelict maze of a house with its random assortment of people, its thrift store couches, its ubiquitous perfume of rice cooking. The eclectic mosaic of rock n’ roll, hip hop and hippie values. Lives and people tried on, cast off, reimagined. Possibility constantly reflected with our faces in the mirror.

I ask him about his wife, Kathleen. Che and Kathleen started dating his last year of undergrad. For the years we’d known him, he’d been with a short-haired, magenta-lipsticked, grey-smocked Micho who was often a fixture around the house. After their amicable breakup, Kathleen had been deemed an interloper. In our eyes, Che had quickly disappeared from the house scene, ensconced in his new life with Kathleen.

Twenty years later, I was curious to be disabused of that assumption.

I ask if Kathleen, who I remembered had been a teacher, is still in education. He says she hasn’t done it for years. She does reiki on animals now, has written a book and does talks on reiki all over the world.

“We don’t really see each other that much,” says Che. “She rides her horses and does her reiki. It’s pretty much just Indy and me. Like, I don’t really lean on her for emotional support.” Che continues, “Even from early on, I was taking my board exams and it’s like this three day test that everyone fails. I called Kathleen from the test and I tell her, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to pass,’ and she told me, ‘You’d better, we just bought a horse.’” He chuckles at the absurdity of the whole thing.

It’s enlightening to hear about someone else’s marriage, in the context of my own dissolution. I wonder if he’s thought about leaving. He’s so sweet and funny, it’s heartbreaking to think of him in a relationship that isn’t fulfilling. At the same time I am intrigued by Kathleen’s individualistic reiki-and-horses existence.

I tell Che about the adoption, that I had finally just decided to move forward on my own without waiting for a man. “It’s a little more complicated as a single parent adopting, just fewer options,” I tell him. I go into Ethiopia versus domestic adoption, what I know, what I’m thinking.

“I always wanted to have more kids but Kathleen drew the line at Indy. She didn’t even want to have any kids.”

Then he says, “Do you think you can adopt as a single parent even if you’re married?”

I almost snort out my eggs from laughing.

When Che drops me off at the ferry I don’t want the moment to end, there is something so sweet and melancholy, so past and future at the same time.

On the ferry, I post on his Facebook page, “You still make me laugh!” and he sends me a note saying, “You’re still one of my favorite people, even after all these years.”

From the ferry, I get a note from Barbie saying Loli’s not doing well; he’s lost a lot of weight and can’t keep his food down. “We didn’t want to worry you,” Barbie says in her note. I call the vet who tells me a few things to try. I decide to head to Portland tomorrow and skip the meandering drive up the coast. It’s time to go home.

After 11 hours, when I finally drive into Barbie and Brian’s I hand Brian a peach pie I’ve brought him from a diner in Redding.

“There’s no spot in the house that dog hasn’t thrown up on,” says Brian laughing, taking the pie.

Loli looks bony. His ribs and spine protrude through his fur. But he wags his tail and comes to rub in snout in my hand.

A week later I start work.

It is a different world.

I have a sprawling desk with a view of Lake Union. I have a tiny workroom that I order a couch and two white boards for. I have an executive assistant named Sarah. She is smart as a whip. “We’ve got to decide what to name your room,” she observes. All the rooms at the office are named after Seattle bands.

My team takes me to lunch. It is an awkward affair. We sit at two tables and eat pizza. They are scoping me out as much as I am them. I decide to book coffees with all the senior members of the team, to get to know everyone and start to see what’s going on in the department.

Many coffees and iced teas later, there are clear themes emerging. There is apathy here – people who have lingered too long, treading water and not really interested in change. There is talent too, antsy to get going, racing dogs pacing in their kennels, waiting for permission to change.

I put together a presentation to share what I’ve learned – themes about disempowerment and frustration. I want them to be clear about what country they’re entering. “It’s not going to be me, telling this agency to respect planning. We have to find that respect in ourselves. WE are the ones who can change this. We have to stop pointing fingers at the creative not being good enough, or account services not allowing us space or project management not allowing us the hours. We know what we have to do. We need to tell all of them what we think that is. We have to create that space for ourselves.”

The room is politely quiet after I thunder out all of this self-empowerment talk. I note who has a comment – mostly weak refutations from the water-treaders.

Afterwards, one of my team says, “Great meeting, boss.” We are in the hallway, walking back to our desks. He is a lean, bearded energetic type with a healthy dose of Indiana-nice. I have my eye on him. He is smart, optimistic and hungry, yet refreshingly ego-free.

“Really? I couldn’t tell,” I say honestly. Whereas at Deutsch I was a frustrated change agent, someone with ideas and credibility, but no real power. Here I am a fully empowered change agent, and billed as such. Someone I meet in the halls tells me, “You’re the most anticipated hire this place has ever had!”

But I’m still defining my credibility.

I tell Suzi how I am conscious of my own masculine energy here. I feel it rearing up in me, judging my new team’s output for not being enough, not producing enough. I try to temper myself. I know the way of change is by being it, embodying it, not acting it out.

Suzi notes, “You’ve gone from a very masculine culture that you wanted to feminize, to an un-empowered feminine energy. You’ve been wanting to move into a culture that is feminine, recognize that change.”

“But I love what you said to them,” extols Suzi. “That is the empowered feminine – to be the change from the inside out.” Suzi, always my most vocal believer.

Still, I am continually conscious of being lost in translation. I call Mildred to debrief on LA versus Seattle.

Mildred, my account director on Deutsch Latino had also moved from LA to Seattle. When I interviewed her for Deutsch we met at a coffee shop on Capitol Hill. She’d worked with someone at Deutsch at a previous agency. We talked for almost two hours. Afterwards, I texted her friend at Deutsch saying She is my new BFF!!!

Before leaving LA, Maeve and I sat with Mildred in the shade of my office listening to her recount her move to Seattle about the culture shock she’d had. “My boss used to come by my desk at 5 and say, ‘Time to go home.’ One time I was on the phone with a client and I was like, ‘Sure, we’ll just get the creatives to work the weekend,’ and everybody was like, ‘We don’t do that here.’ It took me awhile to get used to it, I was always driving so hard.”

“The only good thing was I always felt like I had more game in Seattle, like I was more exotic,” she said. Looking at her lush dark hair, her eyes with a tiny bit of an Asian pull I could see what she’s talking about. “In LA, I’m just another brown girl,” she says self-deprecatingly.

At the time, I wondered if I too would feel exotic in Seattle, a product of another place, an import.

I had told Suzi I was feeling more optimistic about meeting my man now that I was in Seattle full time. I told her how I’d noticed a similar theme in my conversations at work. All the men asked me what they can do for me, to help my vision come to fruition. I got follow up emails, reasserting their willingness to help out on anything. One was titled At Your Service.

“No one at Deutsch ever said that to me, in those words,” I told Suzi. I feel like I’ve somehow turned a corner in who I am, and that these offerings are a sign of some kind of elevated posture, flowers at my feet.

“I’m getting chills!” said Suzi. “Because what you’re attracting at work you’re also attracting in your intimate relationship!”

Later, Lenora observed, “Or they may just be coached to say that. You know, Seattle business culture.” She ended with a non-committal shrug.

“I couldn’t help but think of what you said,” I tell Mildred. “When I’m here I feel so LA. Like I don’t speak the language yet. I’m coming in so hot. People here are too polite to say what they don’t like or what they need. Meanwhile, I’m too direct!”

“The Cali’s in you,” she says. I can hear her nodding on the other end of the phone.

We laugh about ourselves, the foreigners in a town of locals. I have a moment of thanks about what LA has done for me, how much more sure of my own voice I am, how unapologetic.

“Seattle needs a little Cali,” ends Mildred. We’re disconnected when I pull into the parking garage. As I pull into a spot and kill the ignition, I remind myself to stay in the air for as long as I can, riding the lasts gasps of helium, acclimating to the elevated view. Opting for the exoticism of the clouds rather than the brown, muddy familiar of the ground.

The adoption conversation finds me again.

I’m at coffee with Jill. Her 11 year-old daughter is getting a massage next door, a treat for some endured misery. Jill buys me coffee and a cupcake, white cake with pink frosting. We sit in the sunny welcome of the window. They’ve just come back from a European vacation – Venice, Paris and London. I ask her about some of my favorite tourist spots – the Tower of London tour (Beefeaters and beheadings – yes), the Tate Modern (no, but they walked by St. Paul’s), Westminster (“The hit list of English literature is buried there!” I prostheyltize to Jill, a fellow Comparative Literature major – they did a walk by).

Jill asks about the move, the road trip and then finally any baby news.

“To be honest I kind of put it on hold while I was moving,” I tell her. “About a month before I left LA I called the international agency her in Seattle and they said that Ethiopia had put single-parent adoptions on hold. “It just became too complicated to worry about at the time. But now that I’m more settled I need to get back to looking into domestic adoption – it may be my way after all!”

I have a little gleam of regret that Ethiopia is gone for now – my fantasy of me and Jen flying to Addis and playing with a beautiful two year old in the Addis Hilton pool, following on Jess’s pre-blazed trail.

As if a reminder to myself I say, “I’m trying not to get fixated on where the child is from. There are so many choices suddenly, like so many things you feel like you have to control or have an opinion about. I just want to know my child is on its way to me, and that I’ll pick the easiest path towards it.”

Jill’s daughter Alice comes in the door, a lanky pre-teen with her mom’s dark curly hair. She melts into her chair.

“I bet that was pretty nice, huh?” says mom. Alice nods an intoxicated smile, wide and lazy across her sweet face.

“Mom, can I get a cupcake?”

“No, I think you’re going to want a treat this afternoon with your brother, so I don’t think we’re going to have any cupcakes right now.”

“Any way I can have both?” asks Alice, her head lolling hopefully to her mom’s shoulder.

“I think you should have some real food,” punctuates Jill.

I watch this little exchange, jotting down notes in my mental book, each moment like this suddenly taking on new meaning as I head down my own path to parenthood.

Alice pads over to the refrigerator to see what real food there is to eat.

“You know Amara is right down the street,” Jill informs me. Amara is a local adoption agency specializing in foster-to-adopt. They have a progressive slant and a website focused on LGBT parents. I know the name from Carina who is pediatrician to many adoptees through Amara.

When we part ways, I walk to my car but instead of heading home I turn around and head back down the street to find Amara.

It’s on the corner, in plain sight from all the other times I’ve been on that block without my radar engaged. There is a parking lot with a happy, colorful mural on it. When I walk in there are two women behind the desk. The waiting room is full of toys and bulletin boards with pictures of happy families.

“Our email and phones are down,” says the woman who offers to help me. She hands me a packet. “We have a seminar tomorrow from 10 to 12 for parents interested in adoption.”

I pause for a nano-second, mostly I can’t believe my luck, the coincidence of timing. “I’m in,” I say. The first woman excuses herself and leaves me to fill out some paperwork.

The pen I’ve chosen is felt-tipped and too bold for the thin lines, like I’m really emphasizing my sign up. After filling in my name I glance at the pen jar for another option, but the black ballpoints have less appeal. I continue my graffiti.

“It’s so funny,” I tell the second woman, still behind the counter. “I was just having a coffee down the street and my friend said you know Amara is right here, and I walk in and your phones and email are down,”

“Isn’t that funny,” she says. She is probably mid-forties, with short black hair and a wide smile. “It was meant to be,” she says, speaking my language.

With the move I now have two couches, two king sized beds, two cars. I spend a day rearranging furniture, trying to incorporate my LA furniture into my Seattle house. My Seattle car I decide to sell. I remember that Bull’s pastime is buying and selling cars, so I make a point to ask him his thoughts at the gym one morning. He’s sitting at his desk in, his glasses down at the tip of his nose, sorting through checks.

“But you’re gonna keep the Audi!” he says confidently, with a grin when I tell him I’m selling my car. Yes, I’m keeping the Audi.

“After that drive up the coast I’m bonded with it!” I tell him. He takes off his glasses and rubs his huge hand from front to back of his head, smiling like he totally understands.

He offers to take care of the listing for the Honda. He’ll take the photos. He’ll pick up my car and have it detailed at his brother’s shop.

“So you’re back, huh, you’re really back?” he says with a smile, leaning back in his chair. I sit down next to him.

“I’m back, I’m working four days a week. And I’m adopting a baby.”

“Really. Really. Well now, that’s all right,” he says. “That’s how to do it.” Bull and his wife have recently brought home two young children, kids of his younger brother’s that needed a family, even though Bull is nearing his late fifties and his five sons are already grown.

We arrange for him to come pick up the car Saturday morning. Barbie and Brian are in town and so I usher Bull and his son Drew inside to say hi. Bull is embarrassed about his clothes and apologizes for the way he’s dressed, in red sweats and a maroon t-shirt. “No one cares how you’re dressed!” I say and wave him in as he hesitates on the walk. I have to smile about how his Southern ways have still not quit him.

Drew hasn’t been to the house so Bull takes him to the living room to see the view. Bull stops at the portrait of a Namibian Herero woman I have on my living room wall. She is standing straight and proud, in a garish pink floral dress, her face strong with years. “Look at those long arms, boy. She must be from West Africa with those arms,” he says. “That’s where a lot of the slaves were from.” He stares another minute, perhaps searching for a connection back to his own plantation roots.

They take the car. I tell him Barbie and I are headed out to the adoption seminar, but we’ll be back around noon.

That afternoon when Bull calls me back, He says Drew will come and drop the car off. Then he says, “You know, I know you’re not really religious and all that, but I’d like to offer to be the godfather to your child. I really feel that is my calling.”

I am touched. Before I can reply, Bull barrels back in, saying: “I mean a child can have tons of godparents. And I have this African blessing I like to do.”

“What a generous offer. Thank you, that would be amazing,” I tell Bull. I hope he hasn’t read my hesitation as anything more than taking in something so beautiful and unexpected.

I think about how easily Bull offers up himself, his easy generosity, his easy connection to the world. I have a moment of self-judgment about my own privacy. I can already feel how the adoption is going to force an opening that wasn’t there before.

Barbie comes with me to the seminar. At the beginning there is a video with two families. I can feel Barbie glancing at me to see if I’m crying, which of course I am. There is a speaker too, a woman named Molly who talks about her experience adopting her three year old daughter. She is raw and honest, all lean arms hunched forward as she talks. She and her partner had adopted together and then split up. I can hear the pain as she tells the story, I recognize it.

Someone asks a question about what she didn’t expect. Molly says, “You’re really not just adopting a child, you’re adopting their family. They come with a history that is different from yours. But you have to honor it, it is theirs.”

“And Band-Aids,” she says. “When you have your old biological child you kind of ease into some of these things. No one tells you when you get a 3 year old they are constantly falling.”

I feel like I might like hanging out with Molly. I appreciate her honesty and connection to her own fears, her willingness to share.

When we leave Barbie says, “I kept looking to see if you were crying!”

“You know I was!” I exclaim. I feel embarrassed for a minute, protective of my own emotion. I’m not ready to go home yet so we go for a coffee, hash through what we heard. Barbie is steady with her comments, as always, tempered and non-judgemental. She is impressed by the organization. For the first time, the process starts to take on the semblance of a shape.

I start to realize how much adoption is a metaphor for my new job and department, people handed to me with their own fully-formed personalities and culture. I want to do some weeding, but I also caution myself about making decisions too quickly. I want to be open talents here that are yet to be revealed.

Including with myself.

One project manager tells me he thinks an Account Director “doesn’t like my assignment on the business.”

“What does that mean?” I ask him. I am lost in the verbiage.

“He’s unhappy with who you’ve assigned to the business,” he says more clearly. It’s like working in the military, where the euphemisms hide the true horror.

“First of all, let’s just be clear the agency made a choice to wait nine months for this position to get filled and leave the current structure in place,” I say firmly. “Second, let’s be clear that hiring takes 6 months. So I hear you, but there’s nothing I can do for this moment on this.”

“I don’t think Ops [the money people] will care much about that,” he replies. I obviously don’t know who’s Sheriff in town.

“Well, I don’t really care about Ops,” I say. I can tell he’s taken aback by this. Despite the question marks I have about my department, I feel protective of them. I want to give them space in this new regime to find their way back to health without additional scrutiny by Operations or anyone else.

I leave the hallway conversation and head into the bathroom. I have a slight annoyance, like a sliver in my finger.

There’s no one to vent to but the sink.

I call Maeve on my way home. She’s in the midst of her own culture shock, two weeks into new motherhood, her life taken over by breast pumps and lactation consultants. “Gentle, dude, be gentle with yourself. That gentleness will pass on to others.”

“Yes, gentle,” I repeat. I hear it but can’t feel it yet.

It’s hot. The blackberries are already ripe. The plum tree sags heavily, the fruit baked nearly into juice in their purple skins.

I try various ways to trick my house into staying cool: leaving the back windows open and closing the front (where the late afternoon sun shines); closing all the windows (a success, although quite doggie-scented by the time I get home). Edison is in Portland for the week seeing her grandparents, so I suggest to Carina that we take Evie swimming at the lake.

Carina picks up snacks from the grocery and we sit on a blanket on the grass. Evie wont share her blueberries, but there’s plenty of crackers and goat’s cheese. Evie wants her mom to come to the lake, but finally I convince her to come with me. The shallow swimming area is packed with kids and inflated floaties. I float on my back and wrap my feet around Evie’s little body. “Uh oh, the octopus is going to get you!” I tell her. At first she scowls, but then sees the situation to her advantage. “Um, I’m going to be the baby octopus and you’re going to be the mama octopus.” Then, in a baby voice, blinking her eyes dramatically, she squeaks, “I’m a baby octopus!”

Carina finally wades in but it’s too cold for her, even with the heat outside.

Out past the swimming platform there is a flash of white. An eagle picks a fish out of the water. “Look, Evie, an eagle,” I point. The eagle flies to its tree and perches at the top. A crow flaps and caws around it.

“Why is the crow doing that?” asks Evie.

“Crows aren’t very nice birds,” says Carina. She’s up to her mid-thighs. In her modest striped one piece, shivering, she is a far cry from the tan, bikini’d, drink in hand Tulum Carina. She wades back out to dry land.

Evie and I float, Evie telling herself a story about the octopus and me watching the eagle calmly sitting on its perch, looking out across the lake. I kiss Evie’s cool wet check again and again and she lets me, engrossed in the tale she’s spinning to herself.

For a second, I have a flash of complete happiness, water, tree, eagle, the long light of the waning summer sun. Cool, loving tentacles wrapped around a baby octopus.

Through a friend I get in contact with another adoption agency. I call to get information and talk to the woman there for about 15 minutes.

The website is full of “waiting families,” smiling couples beaming into the camera. There is one single mother on the website, but no one else. In their stats they say 4% of their children are adopted out to single parents. But this has no context – are there pools of single women who are still waiting? Four percent does not seem like a high number to me, barely past the statistical margin of error.

I ask her about single parent adoptions. She tells me she’s seen it take one month or 52 months. She is cool and neutral, neither encouraging nor discouraging. She says she’s seen the number of single women applicants uptick lately, she’s not sure why.

I try to gage if there is a bias against single parents. I suddenly feel out on a limb, like I’m asking an impossibility. Later, I think about my own feeling of marginalization within this adoption world, and how there is a parallel there with an adopted child, a child come into a family through a different door, trying to gage bias, feeling out on a limb, wondering where it ranks with the biological set. Wondering if there is a difference.

As we are wrapping up, I ask advice she has for me.

“I would suggest you think about the adoption story for your child. You’re already building it. What do you want that story to be?”

When I come into work Monday, my team has taken a picture of Edison from my desktop and made it the image on the door for my little workroom.

“That’s so cute!” I exclaim. Another flower left unexpectedly in tribute.

“Aaaand,” I say, turning to Sarah, “We can call it the Edison after my niece – it’s perfect because she is named after a Seattle musician!”

I look at the picture. It’s black and white, from the summer I lived with S&C. Edison is wearing a bunny mask, her hands bent over like bunny paws. There is something pagan, something fairy tale about the picture. Something fecund.

Sarah starts to schedule meetings with the location as “Edison/formerly Modest Mouse”.

I can’t wait to tell Edison.

Saturday night it is a low-key get-together for Seath’s birthday. Carina makes baked beans and focaccia with ricotta, basil and cherry tomatoes. There is a huge platter of ribs.

There is a two-week old baby there, all tiny fingers and toes and yawns. Her mom is a firecracker, alternately taking a shot of tequila and breast feeling with the laid-back ease of a second-time mother. All the moms gather around and relive the births of their own second children. I stand quietly on the periphery, stroking the little wrinkles in the baby’s arm, watching her toes extend and curl.

It’s been a month since I’ve seen Ben and Lenora. Sweet Ben gives me a hug and says, “It’s great to have you back here full time. You look really relaxed.”

“It’s funny, I’ve had other people tell me that,” I reply. I think of that moment with Jeff, my kabuki makeup and icy blue shirt. What a different face I have today.

Lenora and I end up in a corner together. Her close friend’s mother has died after a drawn out illness. Their interminable remodel is still not finished. They are supposed to go on a family vacation to the Russian River to meet friends from LA and NY but now Ben is going to stay to work on the house.

“It’s just not the vacation I was expecting,” says Lenora. Her blue eyes are set off by copper shadow, her porcelain skin by fuchsia lips. “It’s the longest Ben and I have been apart since we’ve been together. Now knowing this I wish we weren’t going with all these couples. I guess I’ll just be the odd man out all the time.”

“Welcome to my life,” I say gently, with a laugh. In our context together, full of Saturday dinners and weeks in Tulum, I am almost always the odd man out, devoid of partner and child.

She asks about the adoption process and I give her the update. There’s not much real there yet, but as Barbie wisely told me, I’m “still gathering information.”

“I know there must be a point where you just surrender to the process and the timing,” I say. “But I’m not there yet.” Even saying this, I know I have to find a truce with the undefined.

I remember Jessica, my adoption mentor, telling me that at no point did she ever feel totally sure that she was doing the right thing.

Even this early on, it is exactly where I find myself, feeling around to recognize the shapes. A friend reminds me, “There’s no wrong way.” I repeat it back to her, knowing she is right. Reminding myself not to fear the myriad of paths before me.

That weekend I watch a movie, a documentary by Canadian actress and director Sarah Polley. In it, she chronicles her own quest to find her real father, after a family joke about her true parentage starts to take on evidence. In it her father quotes a line from a play he and her mother did together: All children are equal.

At the end, he says he can’t be upset that he isn’t Sarah’s biological father because if he had been her father she would have been a different Sarah. And this particular Sarah was one of the best gifts of his life.

For a second I have a flash, a strobe light that catches the alienation lurking everywhere, between a doctor and reiki practitioner, between a vacation and a home remodel, between a strategist and an agency. Between a would-be mother and a child.

The flash is garish, the lines too stark, the contrasts too defined.

Back in the dark, the lines rejoin together.

Week five of work, I feel a shift.

I’ve alerted the water-treaders that their time is up. I’ve angled to set the racing dogs free.

And I catch a series of crushes.

We’re working on a pitch with a partner agency from Chicago. I’m in, then out for the meeting. The dis-invitation is feebly positioned as a numbers game. “But we’ll still take you through the deck,” says the account lead from Chicago. She is tall and sinewy, in a preppy checked dress with a red sash.

“Don’t do it on my account,” I say cordially. It’s breeziness is easy from the clouds. I’ve been on the other side of this meeting, feeling the impulse to protect rather than collaborate.

When we go through the presentation, it is immediately clear that there are too many words, too many slides. I wait until about ten slides in and then make a suggestion to edit. I tread delicately, paying homage to the work, to the presenter. The minute I point it out, they see it too.

The strategist, mid-thirties, handsome with a kinetic energy, makes his excuses, how it was that he didn’t see the overlap before, how it really takes other people to help clarify. He makes the changes easily. I settle into a float, a neutral, positive state, letting him lead. It is not a choreographed dance, but one where we find steps in common.

At a break, checked dress catches me in the hallway. “You’re so great,” she gushes, relieved. “I’m really sorry about before, but I think you should come to the meeting. You and Matt have a really great chemistry. You could add some of that mom energy in the room.”

“Oh, I’m not a mom,” I correct, but then I see what she means – the supportive, experienced energy I was trying to channel in the review.

At the meeting, when Matt tells the clients about how we all worked together he says, “I met Jen and she was a planner after my own heart.” I feel a flicker in my own heart, a reminder of its precise location, lost for months off the grid.

A candidate comes in to interview.

I start asking him questions but he is vague, non-committal. He sketches, but avoids detail.

“I want to hear more about you,” he says. “Why did you want to come here?”

So I start talking. I tell him how I am choosing to see the job, to do the job. To live in the vision, not the execution. In a former life he’d been an actor, and I say how similar I see the mechanism between strategy and acting, the search for an essence.

He leans forward, hands clasped then open on the table.

“Look, I can’t see you coming here right now,” I tell him. We’ve moved beyond the pretense of an interview. He’s got his own department at a smaller agency. He shrugs, not a no but a maybe.

“But we should like, hang out,” he says.

I leave him in the lobby, he’s heading out to pick up his kids. He has a firm handshake.

When I get back to my desk, Sarah asks how it went.

“I think I have a work crush,” I tell her.

My crush streak continues in its wild path.

Sarah and I see Angels in America on opening night. We’re two rows from the front. The theatre’s new creative director, dashing in a grey fitted suit talks about his vision for the show and the reinvented company. He is young for theatre, 35 but when we break for intermission it is clear from the impeccable performance that he knows what he’s doing.

“I think I have an artistic crush,” I tell Sarah.

We meet him in the aisle and Sarah introduces us.

“You have great hair,” he tells me conspiratorially, his hand on my arm. “I was staring at you from the stage.”

“Leave it to the gays to spot a good hair night,” I laugh with Sarah.

After a busy week, I lay low on the weekend, binge watching The Borgias and obsessing over the lead actor despite his wardrobe of red gowns and Raphaelite hair. For a second I worry my crushing has gone in the wrong direction, starting in real life and spinning out into the fantasy land of Showtime’s Renaissance Vatican.

Then I’m reminded of a friend’s story. She had spent weeks on a project with a co-worker. They were so in-synch that found herself attracted to him. She wondered if she was going to have an affair. Then she realized that the crush wasn’t about him, it was about her.

The crush was a mirror, her likeness caught from a new angle.

The reflection of her own possibility.

 

Jendate 25: Loom

Sunday, I visit Geminii Brett, former mechanical engineer, current astrologist.

I am following up on the reading Carina gave me for my birthday. Geminii Brett plotted my chart and recorded his thoughts. He ended the recording by saying that some really big things were going to happen for me in the next 6 months.

Do tell, Geminii Brett.

His bungalow in West Seattle is low to the ground with a yard pleasantly verging on the wild. I knock and stand on the single step up to the house. It is a sunny day and the block is an advertisement for spring: puffy pink cherry blossoms adorn the trees in front. Bluebells flank a fence. A neighbor is gardening.

Geminii Brett opens the door and gives me a hug.

“Cute house!” I say and he says “Cute sweater!” He has a warm energy and a kind face.

He’s just finishing up with another client. She is small and icy blond, in a long black skirt and layers of grey and black sweaters, in denial of spring. Brett introduces us and I say hello but she barely glances at me. She is wrapped up in something more than sweaters.

As she leaves Brett tells her to hang in there. He closes the door and turns to me, commenting, “Sometimes it’s heavy, sometimes it’s lighter. Good to start the day with the heavy reading.”

Brett offers to make tea.

“I wondered what you were drinking on the last recording,” I tell him. “I wasn’t sure if it was tea or whiskey. But every once in a while I’d hear you take a sip.”

While he’s in the kitchen I glance around his house. His bookshelf is an eclectic mix of Aztecs, physics, astronomy and religious history. He has sheet music, Bach, set out on the piano. In one corner there is a lamp that is made out of a saxophone.

Brett comes out with two mugs and asks me to join him on the floor, facing him on a mat set in front of the fire.

The floor and coffee table are strewn with tools of the trade: crystals, Tarot cards, a pipe. “Wow, this place is a mess,” says Brett with a gentle laugh, like it fundamentally offends his orderly nature but today he’s letting it slide.

“I’m just going to…” starts Brett.

“Center us?” I finish. Centering is something Suzi does on all our calls, verbally drawing a circle around our conversation. It is a cozy energetic confinement, pillowed by sayings like “I know all the answers are here, already in Jen.” The centering makes the sessions less of a searching, more of a finding.

Geminii Brett isn’t as much about drawing circle as puffing a smoke ring. He takes the pipe from the coffee table and lights it. He puffs a few times, then takes his hands and wafts smoke over his head and down his shirt. Then he picks up a flat drum and beats it several times.

For a second I wonder if I’ve strayed into a living room too alternative even for me. But when Brett opens his eyes it’s still him there, not a doorway to the ancestors. He is channeling himself.

He asks what I thought of the last reading. I tell him that truthfully, I didn’t understand much of it and am hoping for more clarity. He nods but doesn’t seem phased. He gives me a copy of my chart where he’s scrawled certain dates on the back, each of which correspond with planetary dynamics. On the front is a circle representing the zodiac with colored lines drawn at various angles. A planetary embroidery hoop.

He starts to talk.

It is amazing.

He talks about how my divorce was predicted in my chart. “Pluto is the planet of evolution,” says Brett. “You are evolving what your vision of a relationship is, it will be totally different from the last one.”

I tell him how I’ve been working on this very thing for myself over the past few years, shifting my own energy to attract a different kind of man, to be a different kind of partner.

“When you were younger you were interested in this kind of bad boy energy, the rule breaker. But you also felt you needed to do everything in the relationship, which left you depleted. Now you will be looking for a different kind of man, a nurturing man. He may look boring at first glance, but it is that support that you’re looking for. You’re allowing that in.”

Love interest aside, my life is now filled with these nurturing men. Men like my brother who see fatherhood as an important part of their identities. Seath, beaming as he sets the final plate down on a fully extended dinner table. Ben, the velvet hammer, telling Rocco in a soft but firm voice that it is not okay to raise his voice that loud or run through the house. Bull, owner of my gym, father to five boys of his own and surrogate father to countless other wayward young men employed to vacuum the floors or wipe down the equipment mornings before school.

Brett tells me my purpose in life is to be a wise elder. “It’s the grandmother spirit I talked about in the last reading. You’re moving out of that Capricorn energy where you feel like you have to do everything, that masculine interpretation of Capricorn that is about productivity. Capricorn is really the she-goat. It’s feminine energy, it’s the earth. You will feel less and less the need to do something, you’ll be more of that grandmother – she sits back and watches, she lets people make their own mistakes.”

I think about a post-it I left on my desk at work when I was thinking about how I wanted to evolve my role. In all caps, it says GUIDE.

Weeks later, Lenora shows me a picture of myself on her phone. On the left, the kids run wild down the yard. On the right, I am seated in the foreground, my hands in the pocket of my poncho. I have a lavender glow as if I’m superimposed. My forehead is highlighted white, the light calling attention to some wisdom.

“You can see your aura!” Lenora says.

“Isn’t it just the light hitting me in a funny way?” I say.

“Don’t ruin it,” she chides.

Now I think she is right. I look like the Navajo women in a poster my grandmother used to have on her wall.

Brett goes through several other dates, one of which is coming up in the next month. “April 21 will hold a love interest,” he says, pointing to another glyph on my chart. I play it cool, but I have a little skip in my heart when he says this. I imagine myself meeting a man on a flight, talking and laughing, sipping tea with lemon.

As I’m standing up to go, he tosses out one last thing: “There’s this New Moon Progress that I put on here. A lot of people don’t pay any attention to it, but I wrote it out anyway, I don’t know if the date means anything to you?” It’s December 28, 2009.

“Wow,” I say. “I just wrote about that date in my last blog.” It was my day on the beach with Lolo, the first day I felt happy again after the breakup.

The start of my own new moon.

In my coaching, I’ve been working on being vulnerable. Suzi suggests think about vulnerability at the office. “Allow yourself to be taken care of.” At first I can’t see what she means. “I guess someone might offer to cover something for me?” I muse, but that doesn’t seem like a challenge. I’m not a workaholic, it is easy for me to step out of the office at the end of the day. Suzi says nothing, leaving the thought to marinate.

Maevey takes up the charge of letting the office take care of me. She leaves me fresh strawberries from the farmer’s market on my desk. Another friend leaves me a soda one day. But then, what Suzi is really talking about shows itself.

It starts with a bomb drop from Jeffrey: “I need more time from you in the office,” he says.

Hearing this, I want to cry, even though Jeffrey says it lightly.

I listen to him talk. He tells me I come in late on Mondays because of my flight, I leave early on Thursdays. He thought I was going to be in the office Fridays. In my head I go through all the reasons I have consciously set up my schedule the way it is. But I don’t contradict. It’s not a time to defend.

Instead I say, “You know, I don’t have more time to give.”

I tell him how my system in Seattle is starting to crumble – an aging dog, who’s been sick and needs someone home. I tell him how the weeks I go to Minneapolis and LA are the true killers. I tell him how I never have energy for my own life by the end of these weeks.

“I’m hanging on by a thread right now. I’m starting to wonder if I need a Seattle-based job. Like maybe this job just isn’t for me.”

“Well let me know if you go, I’ve got a guy in mind,” says Jeffrey. I note the comment as a tit for tat, like me saying I needing another job is an insult rather than what I meant it as, a question about how tenable my current lifestyle is.

“But travel, it’s just kinda what we do as planners,” Jeffrey tries to raise the ante. I’m not sure if he’s trying to convince me of something, but I am implacable.

“Yes, but you have someone buying milk for you. Keeping your life going. I have two houses that never have milk.”

Jeffrey shifts gears and leans back in his chair. “My wife always complains I work too much,” he says.

“Do you?”

“I work a lot less than I used to.”

He wont say for himself whether he works too much or not. Regardless, he’s come closer to me in conversation.

But I feel rattled. Like I’ve exposed my weaknesses unexpectedly.

Afterwards, I send Suzi a text: “Talk about being vulnerable at the office. Just told Jeffrey this job may not be for me. Was in response to him saying he needed more time from me in the office. I told him how hard it had been and that I didn’t really have more time to give. Felt terrifying, especially when he said he had a guy he wanted to replace me with if I took a SEA-based job.”

True to form, Suzi replies: “Good for you! The universe may have served you up the perfect job making more money by Fri!” I have to laugh at Suzi’s utter conviction that better is just around the corner. I can’t believe it yet, but I know I will get there. Better is a place I’ve believed in before.

Still, I feel unsettled the rest of the day, wading around in the wreckage of an explosion I’ve set off myself.

Maeve and Vicente come over that evening with Thai takeout and a drill to at long last hang a curtain rod over my gaping bedroom closet.

“I just think the timing is so interesting,” says Maeve. “That you wanted to hang the curtain today of all days.” We all sit cross-legged on the rug in my living room and eat curry. I still haven’t invested in a table.

“Well, even if I’m only here another two weeks, it still makes a difference,” I reason.

The curtains are linen, with a blue pattern that is both geometric and earthy. With the curtains up the room is softer, less utilitarian. My multicolored wardrobe and shoe boxes are no longer glaring out from their mismatched hangers and cluttered shelvess.

“Dude, you’ll feel better tomorrow,” says Maevey. “I feel like you just needed to say it. It will be a relief.” Looking at my cute curtains, I feel better already. I’ve covered up unnecessary noise with something beautiful. It is a metaphor for my day.

The next morning I wake up and it has rained. The dust has cleared out of the Los Angeles air. I shake water off the red bougainvillea that overhangs the deck. There is tiny puddle of water where the boards have an indentation. The flotsam and jetsam of the prior day is gone.

Though Jeffrey has asked for more time, I head home early to do Loli duty. In the cab from the airport I call Barbie and Brian to recount the news.

Barbie breaks it down: “You know, you never loved it there. There have been times when it’s been better than others, but you’ve never loved it.”

It is so true, and yet something I never would have said in such a clear way. I have a lump in my throat of appreciation for my parents and their unwavering support.

The next day, Brian calls me in the afternoon. “Oh hi,” he says, surprised that I’ve picked up. “I just called to see how you’re doing.”

He says he and Joe were talking that morning at Donuts and Dems, their Tuesday bear-claw and Republican-bashing ritual.

I laugh and say, “I’m glad I made the agenda!”

“You know, Joe was just saying it’s really hard to change a culture. Management doesn’t want to change, they want to keep things status quo.”

“Yes,” I agree. “And Deutsch totally has a formula that works. They’ve been very successful at what they do. Who am I to tell them that they should do things differently?”

But I see the future that’s coming. Yes, Deutsch has been successful. But Deutsch has always relied on age and experience, a homogeneous culture and hyper-productivity. The world is increasingly young, multicultural and female. There is writing on the walls.

Loli’s dog walker and I have decided that Lolo needs an additional walk in the evenings. She lives too far north to cover, so we both hunt for someone new in the mix.

The new dog walker meets me at the house at 10 on Friday. Lolo barks a big booming bark as he walks up the steps. He gives Loli a polite pat. I wonder if he even likes dogs at all. Despite his raingear, his boots, his burly beard, he has a formality about him. He takes off his shoes as he enters the house. We head into the living room.

As if on cue, Lolo starts to wretch in the entryway. When I round the corner there are five pools of pumpkin and rice on the ground. Lolo wags his tail low and does a little sniff at one of the pools, contemplating re-ingestion. “No, Loli,” I tell him gently and send him outside. He hops down the steps with less pluck than usual and trots out to the middle of the yard, turning back to stare at me, his tail curled under.

Awkwardly, I scoop up vomit with a dustpan. When I get the floor to a reasonable semblance of clean, I go back into the living room. He is a tall guy, maybe in his early thirties with small icy blue eyes. He has mellow, almost passive energy.

“I work in LA so I’m gone three weeks a month,” I say.

New Dog Walker says, “Like, always?”

For a second I catch myself reflected in his face. High-powered. Successful. Fast-talking. There’s a contradictory intimacy with his feet in socks, his tall frame slouched in a chair meant for relaxing rather than a business meeting. I am suddenly reminded of all the dates I went on, where I’d barreled in instead of letting the date ask questions. It is a silly thing, comparing who I am in a meeting with a dog walker and who I am on a date, but there is a parallel there: my need to set the pace.

I note this is not how to be with a nurturing man.

I give New Dog Walker a key and see him off down the rainy walk. Lolo pokes my leg with his nose then goes back to his bowl, wagging his tail hopefully, a dot-to-dot connection to tell me he’s hungry again.

On the plane on the way home, the woman sitting next to me asks me if I live in Seattle. She tells me she lives in LA and commutes to Seattle for work.

“How do you like it?” I ask her.

“I love it,” she says. “My husband is very self-sufficient, my kids are grown. I really like what I do.” She is late forties or early fifties, blond with a trim, compact figure. She’s wearing a bright pink sweater. She has an air of efficiency.

“My commute is wearing on me,” I tell her. “I just feel tired all the time, and like I never have a life anywhere. I’m recently divorced and I guess I just feel like how am I ever going to meet my next man when I’m never anywhere?”

I’m thinking about Suzi telling me I should start frequenting the places I’m into. My response was a grim laugh and an observation that I only frequent the airport.

My reveal is an inefficient response to Pink Sweater’s enthusiasm, messy with emotion. She gives a cursory hmmm and leans back to the window, disconnecting from the conversation. I lean away too, I don’t want to infect her with my doldrums.

After a few minutes she turns back to me.

“You know, I met my husband on a business trip. The reason I ended up in LA is because he lived there. We did long distance for 3 years.”

We start to descend into Seattle. It is twilight and I can see the eddies of water, the tree-covered islands. I take a deep breath, glad to be home.

I think, THIS is the place I need to start frequenting.

In Seattle on Saturday, Sarah texts me about going on a walk. It is a spectacular day, sunny with a hint of dark still in the sky that only emphasizes the bright. I suggest meeting at Alkai, thinking it will be fun to walk along the sound and watch the ferries.

We chatter along about Sarah’s dates she’s been on – a kayaker who she just wants to be friends with; a guy with whom she’d been on several dates but wasn’t ready to commit to anything further; her ex, who she has just seen in New York. For a second I judge my lack of activity in this arena. I admire her open, easy approach, unburdened by overthinking.

We admire the view, the glittering sound, the rocky beach. We stop at a tiny book exchange, like a bird house, in someone’s front yard. There are travel books to Berlin and Nepal.

We end up at Starbucks. Sarah runs into someone she knows, a woman who manages a dance troupe on Capital Hill. Sarah and I had gone to see the performance and had not liked it – Sarah worries she’ll be cornered into giving a review. But the woman has breezy energy like the day itself.

“What’s up with getting a cat?” I ask, knowing it’s something she’s been considering. We sit at a table outside with our drinks.

“I’m holding off. I want to be as flexible as I can for a guy.”

I hold my tongue for a minute and then say, “Why would you put your life on hold for a guy you haven’t even met yet? If you get a cat, you’ll probably end up with a guy who loves cats.”

As I sip my iced tea through its green straw, I note my resistance to the idea of putting my life on hold, waiting for a man. I think about something Suzi said once, about attracting someone into the fullness of your own life.

I remind myself the space to hold is internal, an openness of spirit, not an empty perch by the window where a cat should be.

In LA, I meet up with Tieneke, an old W+K friend and fellow part-time Angleno. We walk down to the Strand and along the beach, then back up the walk streets. It is a hazy morning, the weather undecided about its true course.

I tell her about my conversation with Jeffrey, about my push back on spending more time in LA.

“The thing is, we’ve been working really hard for almost twenty years,” Tieneke says. “It’s a long time. I’m tired.” Something about her saying this puts it into perspective for me. I’ve forgotten that my fatigue may be due to more than my commute of the last nine months.

I tell her about how much energy I had recently after an unusually slow week of work – how I spent my weekend hauling bags of compost, weeded and bark dusted my flowerbeds.

“I was like a different person!” I exclaim.

“I know,” says Tieneke. “Normally I have to spend the weekend recuperating!”

Later that day, I get a call from a recruiter.

“I’ve been sitting on this job for a week, wondering if I should call you,” she says. “I’m not even rep’ing the job. I heard about it and I called them saying I have just one candidate I want you to meet.”

It is based in Seattle.

She gives me a rundown on the place, especially on the CEO who she’s been dealing with. It’s not someplace that I immediately think yes to, but I tell her, “Well, let’s see.” Following on my meeting with Jeffrey last week, the timing is uncanny.

The recruiter asks me my salary and when I tell her she says, “Wow, you’re really well-paid. It’s going to be hard to find an LA salary in Seattle, you’ve topped out there, really,” she says.

“Tell them for the money I’ll do it four days a week,” I say.

I feel free and excited: the walk with Tieneke, the serendipitous call, my quick lateral thinking about how to say yes to the situation, have put me in a good mood.

That week, I luxuriate in thinking what I will do with my fifth day, a day that I wont have to spend recuperating from a flight.

I think about painting.

I think about the blog.

And then, I catch myself thinking about adopting a baby.

Maeve is the first person I tell about my new thought. She says “Oh my god, this makes me so happy.” She puts her hand on her own pregnant belly, temporarily named Poppy. “It’s like it’s happening to me or something!”

“I’m still just thinking about it,” I say neutrally. “But it’s funny. It totally crept up on me.”

But it is a sticky thought.

For Easter there is a plan coalescing for a trip to Rainier. Lenora has found a cabin at the foot of the park. Carina and Lenora are excited for snow, but I am over the cold. I feel like I need some fresh inputs into my life. I want to see my grandmother, to meet my cousin’s new baby, to spend some time poking around Portland.

I want to see my friend Jess, who has just adopted a baby from Ethiopia.

Friday is beautiful, sunny with cottony clouds, the neighborhood is a riot of bluebells and tulips. I do a few calls in the morning, but I’ve booked off an hour and a half to see old friends who are in town, Hamad and Michie. Hamad has just flown in from seeing his parents in Saudi Arabia. Michie has driven up from Portland to pick him since he’s flown into Seattle.

When their black Mercedes pulls up I open the door and Lolo goes bounding out.

“Lolo!” they both exclaim. He is ecstatic to see them, turning to his side and leaning into Michie’s legs as they pet him.

“He’s looking good!” says Hamad enthusiastically.

They’ve known Lolo since he was a puppy. Hamad had never been a dog fan, a cultural thing, he explained. In Saudi Arabia, dogs were dirty and low, not something to be loved. But he grew to appreciate Lolo.

Hamad and Michie had been some of Juan and my closest friends. Hamad and Juan played soccer together. In those years we were part of a fluid international group including Spaniards, Chileans, Saudis, Turks, and a few English. We spent many a Saturday night in the party room in the basement of Hamad and Michie’s old beautiful house clinging to the west Portland hillside.

When Michie went back to her native Japan for a year, we planned a two week trip. We stayed at her mom’s house, a newer home in a neighborhood by the beach in Fujisawa, about an hour outside of Tokyo. Every morning, Michie’s mother would go to the fish market and make us a five-course brunch of grilled fish, rice, miso soup, lotus root salad. Every morning she got Juan a donut to go with his coffee.

It was a magical trip. We took the train into Tokyo. We wandered warrens filled with electronics in Shibuya, strolled the grounds of the imperial palace, ogled the glamorous food court in the basement of Takashimaya on the Ginza. We bought delicate washi-wrapped boxes of sugared grapes as gifts to take home. We ate skewers of chicken cartilage and tiny crabs at an izakaya. We basked in the delicious contradiction of pigtailed and platform-shoed Harajuku girls and a gold Buddha, on display only once every 200 years.

When we left Michie and her mother stood out front, watching us pile into the taxi. We bowed awkwardly to Michie’s mom, thanking her for her kindness, wiping away our tears. Suddenly Juan turned to Michie’s mother and wrapped her in his solid arms.

“This is how we say goodbye in Mexico,” he told her, and Michie dutifully translated. Michie’s mother was as awkward in the embrace as we were with our bows. But it was clear the impulse touched her deeply. In that moment, I remember having love for and envy of Juan, able to abandon convention to show himself so truly.

We returned home changed.

We sit in my living room and drink tea and take in the view of the lake. We talk about Juan, who they haven’t seen in years. I tell them how well he is doing, how it made me happy that he was on his way to what he wanted. I tell them about how differently I look at my life now, in how many ways I’ve reformed my own notions about work and relationships.

“I guess I thought I would move to Seattle, go on some dates and get married again,” I say. “Now I don’t even think that’s important to me, getting married.”

“You are at the cutting-edge of a new lifestyle,” Hamad says. “You don’t need to be married, you are fine, you’re doing great, without a man.” When he says “great” he rolls his r’s slightly.

I take this in for a minute, both a truth and a compliment. Now I am the one who has abandoned convention, to show myself more truly.

When they leave Loli and I escort them back out to the curb. Hamad gives me a tight squeeze.

“The best thing is, after all these years you are still Jen,” he says, his smile wide.

I think, maybe more Jen than ever.

In Portland, Baby Sloane and my grandmother are both cuddly. Sloane is the mini-me of her father, my cousin. She has elfin blue eyes and shock of blond hair. She reminds me of Edison as a baby, a cautious face, hesitant around strangers but a luminous smile for her mom when she picks her up.

My grandmother is still in bed when we arrive, but perks up immediately, propping herself up far enough to carefully unwrap the Easter candy Barbie has brought. I kiss her soft, lined cheek again and again. Her brown eyes are bluish with cataracts. Her dementia has put her on a constant loop of repeating the same questions and forgetting the same answers. She says the Pope has decided to adopt President Obama. “He is a nice man,” she says, unclear if it’s Francis or Barak that she means.

On Monday around 11, I head over to see Jess. We meet at a taco place in North Portland. I’m on the phone, still in my car when I catch her out of the passenger window.

Attached to her hand is a tiny girl in a bright green puffy coat.

“Oh. My. God. I can’t believe it,” I say, hugging Jess.

Lilibet, her little girl is uninterested in our reunion. She tugs at her mom’s hand with full toddler body weight engaged, her face displeased at the pause in the progress.

At the restaurant we sit outside, Lilibet in a high chair, her chest armored in a silicone bib with a pocket to catch wayward food or drink.

“How IS it?” I ask Jess. I can’t tell if she looks pale from motherhood fatigue or because it’s not quite tanning season in the Northwest.

“Well, there is a reason why children traditionally have two parents,” she says in her wry way.

I grill her on a series of questions – what was the pickup like (a week at the Hilton in Addis Abbaba, playing at the pool.) How old is Lilibet? (probably almost two.) Is it overwhelming? (Yes.)

Lilibet sits in her chair and contemplates chips and guacamole, occasionally holding a chip in the air with special delight. Jess has braided her hair in tiny braids, each one wrapped in a sea green hair tie.

“I’m trying to take advantage of all the orphanage behaviors,” says Jess. “Like when it’s bedtime, she gets a bath and then goes straight to bed.”

“She does seem remarkably easy-going,” I observe. She has a toddler’s exuberance but also the self-reliance of someone who doesn’t need constant attention.

I wriggle my finger into one of Lilibet’s fat brown hands. She takes it and then rocks back with a half smile, not sure yet what kind of game we’re playing.

“You are my hero,” I tell Jess, my throat closing up. I can’t help but think how brave she is to do all this on her own.

“You know, when my mom had a stroke I just thought, when she’s gone I’ll have no one. I guess I just felt like it was time to have more meaning in my life.”

When we part ways I feel like I haven’t had enough time, that I’ve wasted it interviewing Jess rather than being with her. Jess and Lilibet come by the car to see Lolo. I open the door and he hops out, immediately peeing on the parking strip, equally unimpressed by our reunion.

When I get in the car I am breathless. Geminii Brett had singled out April 21 for me as a day for evolution around love. My initial thought was I would meet a man, but now I see it is about this, about a little hand, fingers wrapped around mine.

I think of being at Starbucks with Sarah. Asking her why she would wait for a man to get a cat.

For the first time I think, what am I waiting for?

Seath calls me on Monday. I want to hear about the weekend at Rainier, he wants to hear about Portland. We catch up on Sloane, my grandmother, Pope Francis and Obama.

“So I’m kinda thinking about adopting a kid,” I tell him. I recount my visit with Jess and Lilibet.

“I think that would be so great,” he says with feeling. “I’ve always wondered, but I didn’t want to bring it up, but it would just be so great.”

It is like he’s grabbed my hand and squeezed it through the phone.

“You’ve got so much support, you’ve got us and the crew, and Barbie and Brian are moving up.”

“Don’t say anything yet,” I ask. “I don’t know if I’m ready.”

I write a couple articles for work. One is called A Kinder, Gentler Corporate Culture. I start to pass it around to people. I send it to one of my favorite clients at Target. She sends me an email back full of positive energy and exclamation points. I take Maeve out to coffee to get feedback. “What I was missing was –“ she starts. I cut her off. “That was not my question. My question was, what did you like about it.” For the moment, I’m uninterested in negativity. Maeve laughs at my blunt redirect.

I send it to some of my planners. One of them writes me back, “In theory I love this.” The “in theory” is so scientific it all but neutralizes the “I love this.” Another co-worker at Deutsch tells me she’s read it and then says, “the one about being nice in the workplace, right?” which makes me wonder if she’s really read it at all.

The article basically says that competition within a workplace works against ideas and individualism. In it, I define my job as an empathetic manager, to help people find the best of themselves and channel that back into work. I’ve written it with Deutsch in mind, the rampant alpha-male culture, the meetings that feel like a western quick draw versus a conversation, a work day that never seems to have an ending.

The more I think about work, the more I see the need for this conversation at Deutsch. I find out one of my favorite wunderkinds there has suffered a breakdown at the end of a 130 hour work week. When I tell Jeffrey the news, I say “How can we have let this happen?” and my hand goes automatically to my heart.

Jeffrey tells me it used to be more humane, more like a family. His youngest son was recently working at Deutsch and quit after 3 months. “He told me, ‘It’s crazy there,’” There is a little twinkle in his eye, like Jeffrey might actually enjoy this brand of crazy. “He said everybody was miserable and wanted to quit. He said it wasn’t where he wanted to spend his time.”

I think silently God love Jeffrey for raising this child. I remember Jeffrey putting together a resume for his son. When he asked his son what he wanted to do in life, his son said, “Hunt and eat my own food.” I told Jeffrey it was the best resume header ever. I realize I admire him for walking away, that I have an envy there.

“So you’ve seen it too, the inhumanity,” I say.

“Yeah, but it’s kind of like there’s a Teflon at the top. They don’t see it.”

A Teflon ceiling.

“I’ll be gone before it changes,” he says, part resignation, part relief.

The Teflon shows itself later when I tell Kim the story. When it is just the story of the wunderkind, she is sympathetic. When I add on that there have been several departures on Target of late, all who have left because of the workload, she says, “Not one of those people came to me and asked if they could do something different.”

I think I see a hardened look on her face that was not there before. She is a beauty evocative of Renaissance paintings: clear pink skin, blue eyes, elegant features. In times past, she had been a protector at the agency, her office full of some of the odder birds at work. The hardness is out of place, a fluorescent light shining on a Vermeer.

“Yes, but Deutsch doesn’t encourage that conversation,” I counter. “Every meeting we celebrate all the people who have left their lives on hold. That’s what gets praise here.”

I leave it at that, knowing it is a bigger hurdle than this one conversation. In the Darwinian management style of the agency, only the strong survive. I’m not sure if I’m going to be around to see it change either.

I have my first interview for the potential job in Seattle. The CEO has incredible energy. She is my age, blond, Canadian, high energy. We talk for 15 or 20 minutes about the importance of vacation (she has just come back from 2 weeks in Hawaii). She tells me about the role. We are easy as old friends. Near the hour mark, her assistant pops in to wave at her for her next meeting, then again 5 minutes later, and 5 minutes after that. She tells her to let her next meeting know she’s running 15 minutes late. She walks me to the front desk.

Twenty minutes after I leave the building I get a call from the HR manager there, asking to set up another time to come in. I ask her a few questions about particulars.

“I just want to check what the culture is like,” I say vaguely.

“Well, it’s mostly 9 to 5, but some people may stay late. By 530 most people are gone.”

I laugh at my own surprise at this, an agency that works til 530. It seems too good to be true. Despite my excitement, I tell my recruiter I want to take it slow. I am thinking about my dating strategy, how I don’t want to rush into something too soon.

Barbie and Brian are in town for Mother’s Day. Sunday morning Brian is up early, clomping around like Godzilla. I wake up and head down the hall into the living room. “What’s all the activity?” I ask. Even Lolo is not sure. He gets up from his rug in the entry way and looks at me, his tail wagging tentatively.

It is sunny already and the lake is flat and glassy so we head out for a walk. Loli stays at home, he’s no longer able to make the full loop. I want to tell my parents that I’m thinking about adoption but I have a flutter of nerves. I take a deep breath and look out to the lake, pink and blue with the morning. I realize that this is a vulnerable moment, the type of vulnerability Suzi has been telling me to practice. Rationally I know my parents will be happy for me, irrationally I worry I’ll be met with all the reasons why it isn’t a good idea. I’m not sure if I’m ready to hear those reasons, if my idea is baked enough yet.

Finally, I get up the nerve and say, “So, I’m looking into adoption. After seeing Jessica, I think I just thought I could do this.”

Then I stop in the middle of the road and burst into tears. “I just don’t want to miss my chance.”

Brian is upset by my tears and puts a hand on my shoulder. Barbie, unwavering gives me a mother’s hug and says, “That’s so great, you’ve always wanted to have a family.”

Brian makes a joke about how they’ll have to move into an in-law suite in the back, how there will be a baby chute between houses.

I feel a relief, anchored the comforting weight of it being real.

Later, I talk to Jess. I have sent her an email with the subject line “I am seriously considering adoption!”

She answers the phone, “Happy Mother’s Day, future mom.”

Barbie and Brian and I go to a new coffee shop called the Tin Umbrella. I’ve been there a couple times, but it’s been a while. It’s bright and airy inside, with art on the walls and a big rickety table holding the cream and sugar. I drink a hemp latte (when in Seattle…), Barbie gets a peach tea and Brian, who’s been deprived of donuts for the day, gets a scone. As we’re leaving I ask the two women behind the counter where the name comes from.

One woman, in her 30’s with medium brown hair and round blue eyes starts in on a story.

“I was a data strategy and marketing consultant, and I was working all over the world in development. But I also did photography, so I was looking for a name that would encompass everything, so I just kept saying ‘I want a big umbrella’. Of course ‘Big Umbrella’ wasn’t available as a URL, neither was ‘Blue Umbrella’.”

Through some misnomer on a friend’s part, the idea of Tin Umbrella came into the picture, and of course, the URL was free. “It just reminded me of all of these tin roof houses I’ve stayed in around the world, and how they sound in the rain, and of course the rain is so Seattle…”

“When I got back to the states I was in a head-on collision at 60 mph. I had a brain injury and couldn’t work, I couldn’t do anything. Thank god for Amazon Fresh, grocery delivery saved my life! And as I was lying there I thought a lot about what I wanted to do with my life. I thought, I can walk two blocks to work. I can manage two blocks. And I’d worked already in all of these coffee-growing countries like Ethiopia and Indonesia.”

She goes on to say that she was then hit by a car two more times.

“Through no fault of my own,” she says. She is smiling but her eyes are watery. “Then I just had to ask myself, what’s the common thread between all of this? And it was me. So I had to make a change.”

She tells us about how the neighborhood is gentrifying – in addition to the nail salons and community churches plastering the storefront windows with bible verses, there is a vintage furniture store that has opened up. The block is going to have parking reduced on one side and the sidewalk extended for café seating.

“In some ways, it’s just like the work you were doing before, only here at home,” I observe. “Like you’re not really a coffee shop, you’re a force for change in the neighborhood. That’s kind of an amazing mission.”

I ask her name. It is Joya. She introduces the other woman, who is far less friendly. “She just was in a car wreck too!” Joya says, enthusiastically.

The enthusiasm of a believer in change.

I recognize it.

I tell Jen my news. She shrieks, “What?!! What? Oh my god, back up, back up,”

We meet at her new house. They’ve just moved two weeks ago and there are still empty rooms and remnant boxes lying about. The remodel is beautiful, fresh and fun, just like Jen herself. She points out the vintage lamp in the stairwell, three orange glass pendants, opaque and glossy like giant hard candies. “Don’t you love it?” she says and her face sparkles.

I tell her about my conversation with Jeffrey, the line drawn in the sand.

“I just saw that there were two lives, one on the side Jeffrey was standing on, another that was waiting to be built.”

She is beaming, her straight white teeth and tan face lit up like one of her new lights. “Jen, I am so happy, I have seen this future for you. I’m just so glad you’ve seen it for yourself!”

“Whatever you need, I’m here,” she says. “I’ll even go to Ethiopia with you.”

I think about how Jen and I have been tied together by big life moments. The early morning run before she left for Alaska to be with her mom when she died. The calls during the first weeks of my break up, trying to reason Juan’s abrupt departure. The Friday before her daughter was born when she and I sat on her son’s bed and cried, me for Juan, she for her father, men taken from our lives by divorce and death. Her week-long stay at my house after her mastectomy. I made her grilled cheese sandwiches and brought her glasses of water for her pain-killers. She lay on the couch in a haze, watching me vacuum up dog hair.

Now, Ethiopia.

Our eyes glisten with tears.

I manage to choke out the words, “There’s no one better.”

Tieneke texts me that Suzi has told her to call me. I finish up a meeting and dial her from my cell, earbuds in my ears. “I’m taking you with me to lunch!” I tell her as she picks up. I grab my bag and head to the front where I’ve parked.

“In the meantime, I’ll just center us,” says Tieneke and we both burst into laughter. It is like Suzi is here with us on the phone.

Tieneke is thinking about work. “I’m trying to figure out if I really love what I do.” She has her own business, a production house where she partners with a director. Listening to her talk, it feels stressful. She and her partner have different working styles, different priorities on what they should be doing.

“But don’t we all just have to do something, to make money I mean? Do you really have to love it?” she asks in a half-hearted way.

“Well, I fell like I fell into something I naturally do anyway – getting to the heart of something, trying to understand why people do what they do. I mean, I do that recreationally. There are definitely things I don’t like about my job, but I would say there are plenty of things I love about planning.”

Somehow the conversation makes me feel light and clear, like I am surrounded by an endless sea of options. I log this clarity for my future interviews in Seattle or beyond.

I tell her when I think she is well-suited to production – she has always been into music, fashion and culture.

“On your best day, on your best production, do you love it? That’s the thing to ask yourself,” I say. “Separate the emotions of the business and the complications of a bad production.”

I get to the café and order a salad. On the phone, Tieneke says, “OK, I want to switch gears now. Tell me what’s going on with you?”

I tell Tieneke about the interview in Seattle. And that I have decided to adopt a baby.

She is enthusiastic about both.

Then Tieneke says, “Maybe all that time you were looking for your international man it was really this baby.”

“Oh my god, that’s totally going in the blog,” I tell her.

I have a session with Suzi. I tell her about broadcasting the baby news.

“In a weird way, I feel like this will even be good for my dating life. When I told this friend of mine at the gym, one of the trainers there, he said, ‘Yeah JP, and your man is just gonna be like ‘let me get with THIS.’”

“I’m glad you recognize that,” says Suzi. “This is EXACTLY related to your intimate relationship.”

Later, I think about how nervous I was to tell even my parents. Now I can feel my defenses melting away, maybe even the defenses that have kept me from meeting the right man. How living in vulnerability has brought me to a place that is so much more charged and alive than where I was even two months ago.

“I can just feel your consciousness has opened up,” Suzi says. “You’ve created this whole new huge space!”

We talk about my interview. I am excited, and I also want to be clear on my evaluation of Deutsch. I don’t want to walk out from short-sightedness.

“It’s so funny, I spent months chasing the CEO at Deutsch and I could never get on his calendar. My meetings would get rescheduled. Then I started this project on the Latino market and he ends up wandering into our meeting. I explain to him what it is. Ten minutes later, he tours a group of new clients by us. Like when I just did what I knew was right, he came to me. It’s like I know I’m on to something, I just have to keep at it, and not worry it isn’t sellable.”

“It IS sellable, it just may not be sellable at Deutsch,” Suzi corrects. “There is nothing the planet needs more than what you’re on to.”

I take a deep breath and bask in the affirmation.

“There is a golden thread, and it will continue whether you stay at Deutsch or leave. Do you see that?”

“Totally,” I say. I am thinking about this new job, how there’s the potential to do the same thing I was trying to do at Deutsch – create more diversity, creativity and empathy.

“You’re at a change in consciousness. We don’t know if what you’re selling hasn’t been effective at Deutsch because of Deutsch or because you haven’t been living at this higher level of consciousness, of seeing yourself as the authority.”

I have forgotten my notebook, so I scribble notes on the back of Post-its I had in my bag. They are the notes I took from my first reading with Geminii Brett, notes about what my chart predicted. The past and the future, two sides of the same Post-it note.

Friday I have my second round of interviews. I am energized, even though I’ve come in late the night before and gotten up early. I sit in a conference room and people filter in to meet me.

The themes emerge. There is frustration. There is fear. There is antsiness to get going. By the end of the day, the real problems have clarified themselves. I see what I could do with this job, what I could make of it.

I see how big it could be.

Saturday I have a massage. I start out rattling away to Krista about the interview, about adopting. But quickly I melt into a hum on the table. Krista works out a few spots on my back then moves into reiki. I’m lost somewhere, face down on the table, with only the faintest awareness of her hands hovering over my back and cradling my head. Suddenly I have an urge to pee. It is searing, a light interrupting the complete darkness. Krista holds the sheet for me to turn over and I mumble that I need to get up to use the bathroom.

“No one is here,” she says. I can tell she’s thinking that I can sneak out naked.

“I’ll just put on my poncho,” I say.

Krista leaves the room and I pull on my poncho. Even through my fog from the massage, the poncho is shorter than my modesty would like. It’s only Krista and she’s seen almost every inch of me. Still, I pull at the hem.

I step out into the glaring light of the hallway.

And slip.

I let out a cry as I fall. On the ground, I am a human line drawn between the doorway of the treatment room and the kitchen on the other side.

Krista says Oh my god and rushes to my side. “My feet were slick from the massage oil,” I whimper, as if Krista required explanation. I stay on the floor for a minute. “I think I’m OK,” I say. I’ve fallen on my left side. Everything is throbbing from my neck to my foot. Gingerly, I hobble to the bathroom.

In the end, I hardly pee at all. As I climb back on the table, I say to Krista, “What was THAT about?”

“I don’t know! As I was doing reiki, I was imaging you with roots,” she says.

“Maybe that was it, pulling me to the ground!” We both laugh.

“It’s so funny, like my entire left side is sore. Reminding me it’s there.” I can’t relax into the massage anymore, my brain is puzzling through the possible message behind the fall.

When I get dressed my knee is scraped and swollen and I can’t raise my left arm. Later, Carina diagnoses me with a dislocated shoulder. She waggles my arm and pops it back in. For a minute I am nauseous, the shock of the relocation sends me spinning. I lie on Edison’s bed. Carina brings me a silver bowl in case I need to vomit.

I remember my graduation day from Berkeley, another moment where I had a lot on my mind. I was walking through the student union on the way to turn in my honors thesis. In one slight twist I was suddenly on the ground, my knee dislocated. I took the stage at graduation on crutches.

I think of the woman at the Tin Umbrella.

I hope I am not struck by a car.

Sunday I am writing the blog. The sky is considering rain. Lolo is asleep on his side next to me, his fur still patchy from a spring shed, one paw curled in towards his chest. After a bit I follow Lolo’s lead and turn over onto my side pulling a blanket over me. In my half-sleep, KEXP tells me about a band that has just played. Their album is called Loom.

And I have an aha. This is exactly what I’m talking about right now.

The loom of an unknown future, waiting vast and untenable out there in the darkness.

The loom where all threads, all disparate colors –an adopted child, a new job with a free fifth day, a nurturing man – come together to form one single fabric.

The loom that is a woman’s tool of creation.

 

Jendate 24: Old Trees

When I look in the mirror my face is unhappy. My skin is in protest, a new pimple or two every day. Carina prescribes me a gel and then a washing regimen requiring honey, which is anti-bacterial, and salt. The routine keeps the breakouts at bay, but barely. Meanwhile there is a splotchy line down each cheek which I cover up with powder. The red is hidden. But the face that looks back from the mirror doesn’t look like me.

I hurdle towards Christmas break. After an exhausting fall, the promise of freedom, of time at home, is palpable. Then, vacation crumbles. A work project needs to be repaired. Lolo has been sick, throwing up sometimes 3 or 4 times a day. The worst moment is when the mailman comes to the door. There are two booming barks and then a wretch, a pool of breakfast on the floor.

The Saturday before Christmas I babysit the girls. Seath and Carina are prepping for their Christmas party. I have a work call at 1030 to cover off our game plan for our floundering project. I stand outside in the front yard, earbuds in my ears, twiddling the cord and pacing around the grass. Evie keeps coming to the door and saying “JenJen, I need to show you something.”

“OK, I’ll be there in a minute,” I tell her.

When my call is over, the girls are downstairs playing Legos. I head down to make up the long-neglected guest room. I hear Lolo wretch and race upstairs. There is a pool of vomit at the front door. “Girls, I’ll just be a minute,” I call down, pulling out paper towels and a spray bottle of cleaner from beneath the sink. Lolo wanders around dejectedly. I feel like he’s looking skinny, unable to keep anything down. His ribs show through his fur.

As I’m cleaning I hear Evie’s voice and turn to see her sitting on the top stair, investigating what’s going on.

“Lolo threw up?” she asks curiously, her tiny body in the corner of the door jamb.

“Yeah, he’s been doing that lately,” I tell her. “He’s old.”

I turn back to the pool for a minute and when I glance back at her, I see her bobble suddenly, her eyes widen.

The distance is a mile. I can’t reach my hand out fast enough. I get to the doorway in time to see the cascade, first backwards then spinning round in a terrifying pinwheel of polka-dots, stripes and blond hair. She slides from the steps head-first onto the black floor downstairs. Her face is frozen.

I get there right when she starts to cry.

And I start to cry.

I say, “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod.” and scoop her up to cuddle her on the couch.

When I ask her where she hurts she pats her forehead and her bum and I am relieved. Having seen the fall I know she didn’t hit the front of her head and her bum will heal.

Edisont comes over and rubs Evie’s back for a minute, ever the sweet big sister. Through her tears Evie holds out her hand, fingers spread and says, “My nail polish is chipped.”

I laugh a relieved laugh through my own tears, and take the hint asking, “Should we do our nails later?”

When I drop the girls off at S&C’s, Carina comes down and I burst into tears again. Carina hugs me, the hug of a mother who’s seen it all. “What a sweet auntie,” she says but it only makes me cry harder.

At the party that night Evie runs up to me and says, “Um, JenJen, remember I fell down the stairs today at your house?”

Yes, I remember.

For days afterward I catch my breath each time I think about it.

Christmas is a muted blur. I drive the girls to Portland and Seath and Carina follow the day after. But I am tired the whole time, worried about a barfing dog and a glitchy work project, worn down by a fall full of travel and a 4-year-old tumble down the stairs. At coffee after the holiday, my cousin Allyson tells me that I didn’t seem myself.

After Christmas Lolo and I head to the coast with Barbie and Brian. The weather is sunny and warm for December.

When Lolo was three months old, Juan and I took him to the same beach. Barbie and Brian had rented a house on the dune. It was August, and the weather was perfect. He was a little round black belly that you could scoop up with the palm of your hand. Too small to bridge the distance from the sand to the first step of the deck, he’d give a sharp, plaintive puppy yelp when he found himself stranded at the bottom.

The last time I had been to the beach was the year after I moved to LA. Juan had left for Chicago in May and by June it was clear things weren’t going to go back to the way they’d been. It was a rough year, the hardest year of my life. But also the start of my life today. Tired of my own sadness, I started coaching with Suzi in August. By December I was on the mend. I decided to drive with Lolo to Portland for the holiday, then come back via the coast.

That Christmas had been blustery and cold, the waves crashing high over the cape. One afternoon, when the weather had settled, Lolo and I left Barbie and Brian at the house and went down for a run on the beach. The tide was pulling out, the sand wet and smooth with water. Sandpipers scuttled to avoid the incoming surf, their tiny delicate feet marking the sand.

Lolo chased the gulls and pulled sticks from the sand, bounding freely with them in the side of his mouth like an oversized cigar. The sun was setting and the light was purple. I turned around and snapped photos with my phone, calling to Lolo and watching him dash to me, ears pinned back against the wind. It was a cleansing moment, one of the first times in months I felt free and happy. Until it was stolen in Edinburgh, I had a picture from that day as my wallpaper on my laptop: Haystack Rock, clearing purple as the storm dissipated, the ocean line and sand turning magenta with the sunset. A circular path of paw prints and a black shadow in motion, ears flapping as he turned back to head home.

I anticipated this might be Lolo’s last trip to the beach with his age and the infrequency that I made it down. I had visions of a happy dog running free, playing tag with the waves, chasing birds. Instead, on our walk Lolo sticks to the hard sand and is exhausted at the end of it.

Back at the house, Barbie and Brian hunker down with their books but I still have energy and go back out on my own. It is late afternoon and the sun is drifting lower, the shadows long and thin off the beach pines. I walk down the road to the river, then up the access road and back by the beach. Farther down the beach is a huge break but I can’t catch it with my phone’s camera. Instead I watch the waves swell and curl, the breeze slicing mist off the top like an invisible knife. There are a few people and dogs, everyone elated with the unusual boon of weather.

I find a whole sand dollar, about half the size of my palm, even though there’s not much in the way of shells on the beach. For the first time in days I feel alive, back to myself.

When I get back to Seattle things are better. I realize I’m happy to be home, to be on my own schedule. We have a work call that goes well and I feel a weight released from my shoulders. I decide not to think about work until after New Year’s.

New Year’s Eve, I head to Seath and Carina’s house with a bottle of vodka. We are having oysters and steak then heading to la Medusa for a 1030 dessert. Ben and Lenora are coming over with Rocco and Delilah.

Carina is still putting on her makeup, and Seath is in the kitchen a wide grin spread across his face as he motions the steaks with his tongs. I pour myself a drink and keep Seath company as he cooks. Rocco bursts through the front door, in a green down coat and yellow pants, 7 year-old boy cum wild tropical plant. A minute later, the rest of the clan tumbles in, a cloud of winter coats, cold cheeks and a bottle offered to the host.

Several drinks into the evening, I get a text from Juan. It is simple, Happy New Years. Ando pedillo. He adds extra y’s to happy, extra l’s to pedillo. This is the first year he didn’t call me on Christmas. I only notice it then.

Yo tambien, I text him back. I’m drunk too.

That’s great, he responds. Pedilla for a change. With a smiley face.

Suddenly I feel tears coming on. I rush for the door and run headfirst into Carina who says, “What’s up JenJen,” in her twinkly voice, a smile on her face. Then she catches my look and says, “Ooooh.”

I tell her I’m just going to step out for a minute and head down the walk in the dark. Seath comes out onto the porch and takes me in his arms. I try and explain, “I keep thinking its gone, but it’s not,” but that’s not what it is exactly.

The tears aren’t for Juan. They are for me. For the me that was once part of a pair. The text an innocuous epitaph for a relationship long-since passed. Replaced by my own competent aloneness.

Lenora comes out to say gently that the food is ready. I unhook from Seath, leaving a wet spot on the shoulder of his sweater.

Around 10, Carina starts the process of getting kids in coats for the walk to la Medusa. I’ve brought sparklers for the kids, left over in my garage from 4th of July. The kids wave them in circles and we are enveloped in a cloud of light and sparks. As we walk down the hill into Columbia City, we amble through a crowd out front of a venue. Someone says, “Wow, you never see kids out on New Year’s.”

The restaurant is bustling. We order up the dessert menu, one of everything, plus drinks. Our waitress gives the kids party hats. They rotate from Evie’s head to Carina’s, Rocco’s head to Lenora’s. The light is warm and festive. We are sitting in the window. A neighboring table on their way out comes over to admire the children, an unexpected sweet on the menu amongst the Evie oil cake and profiteroles.

We walk back up the hill just before midnight. I have a pang about that horrible New Year’s moment where everyone turns to their spouse and kisses. When I am left standing alone until someone realizes and leans over for a conciliatory hug. But the moment misses us, we’ve gotten reassembled at the house too late, there is a question over what time it actually is. Then it’s just a fray of children in the blinking Christmas lights of the front porch hollering Happy New Year to the night. A few people in the street holler back, there is the pop of fireworks in the distance. The porch Christmas lights blink off dark and then light again.

New Years Day, sitting on my bed, I fan out a deck of Tarot cards I’ve bought. They are beautiful, done by a local artist in pen and ink and northwest imagery – fir trees, snakes, owls, butterflies. The directions tell me to get to know the deck. It is bound to me.

I ask the pile what’s in store for the New Year. I survey the cards. There are full cards exposed, there are chunky corners. I trace my hand over the pile and stop on a sliver peeking out. I turn it over.

Two Canandian geese flying in tandem.

The Lovers.

The end of that week, I stop at Hitchcock to pick up I ring I had sized. It is the end of the day and I’m hoping to catch Erica, the owner of the store, for a chat. Erica has been on my list of new favorite people in Seattle. But, we haven’t been able to get together for a drink. She has her own business, has a husband and a 3-year old.

And I’m always on a plane.

So I drop in at the odd hour, hoping for an opportune window.

Erica is indeed there.

“So how is everything going,” she asks. She has on bright red lipstick and a starched collared white shirt. She is always modeling the jewelry with amazing style, one day Rosie the Riveter with red bandana in her hair, baggy jeans and layers of chains and Maeves, another day trousers with suspenders, pink pumps and her hands bedecked in rings.

I collapse into the chair by her desk and launch into a summary of my miasma about work. Run down by the travel, no checking out over Christmas break, the new job looking different than how I’d envisioned it.

Two women come in and start perusing the cases.

“Let me know if you need any help,” says Erica congenially.

“Yes, or if want to weigh in with any advice,” I add with an acid laugh. One woman comes over.

“You know, I did the commute for 4 years and my only advice is to get out of it,” she says. “It is soul-crushing.”

We talk for a minute about the particulars of her job. I take it in but her blunt negativity makes me I realize I’m not quite ready to abandon ship. But I’m not happy to stay there, either.

Venus is in retrograde. Susan Miller tells me not to get plastic surgery or a new hairdo. But she also says it will be a time of questioning, relationships, of falling out of love.

I have a moment of grim acknowledgement. I am thinking about the job. I can’t yet see that the shadow cast will be even bigger.

It is my birthday.

I hear a story on NPR about old trees. Scientists found trees’ growth rates don’t slow with age. In fact, they accelerate. Not only do older trees grow faster, they do the most work pulling carbon dioxide out of the air. I have a light moment hearing this. I see my office, with a steady stream of people, coming in and closing the door to work through their particular bump in the road. I see their posture change as they get up to leave, the last lingering thank you as they head back to their own desks. The air cleared.

It’s been a busy January and I haven’t had time to plan anything for myself. Everyone I know in Seattle, myself included, is on a diet and not drinking. Suddenly I feel shy about asking people to come and celebrate me, like its an imposition. At the eleventh hour Seath sends me an email saying he’s booked a play for Friday, he and Carina have booked a sitter, am I in. I am not just in, I am relieved. I write him back yes, he’s saved my birthday!

But I am not saved.

In the week I’ve been gone there have apparently been some rumblings about room choices for Mexico. Seath and Carina are in the master suite because Carina does the organizing. The rest of us have drawn straws, longest to shortest and chosen rooms accordingly.

I was relieved about the straws. Last year, there was a negotiation over dinner. The moms wanted rooms that made sense for their kids – a napping baby in the shady room, the front ocean view because the little one still liked to climb in bed with mom and dad. I remember the table turning to look at me, asking what I wanted but I didn’t feel like I had a card to play. I didn’t know the house layout, I didn’t have a sleeping baby or nomadic sleepers to be available for. It didn’t feel like a choice when there was only one remaining room, childless and unclaimed.

“It’s a great room,” everyone assured me. But it felt like I was being convinced.

In the end, my room was beautiful.

And this year, when I draw the long straw I pick the same room.

But it is not settled. The short straws are considering renting a different place, just to get an ocean view room. Seath unfolds the story carefully, neutrally. We are in their kitchen, gathering before the play. He is eating lunchmeat from the fridge, and peeling and orange, dinner to the extent the diet will allow.

“So I don’t know what you think,” Seath says, letting the sentiment dangle. “We would do it but Carina can’t give up the double shower for the girls.”

There is an implied question: Will I switch rooms with the short straws. They are in the darker room facing the back.

I sigh. “Well, the whole point of me going is to be with everyone,” I say. “That’s why I’m doing it. So if it’s going to take me switching rooms to keep the house happy and complete, then yes, I’ll do it.”

It is a gut reaction, but one I realize isn’t as easy as I think. It strikes a nerve, a match that smokes first before it catches flame.

“The thing is, I don’t want to always be the person with the shit room, just because I’m single.” I think of our trip to Leavenworth in November, my twin beds and piano headboard, of our trip to Vegas a couple years ago where the couples had luxury rooms with king beds mine was the small room with two double beds. Each time I told myself, well I’m just lucky to be along.

“Why am I always the flexible one?”

But it is not a question for Seath. It is my question to answer.

Carina comes home from work and comes into the kitchen. “Happy birthday JenJen,” she says and gives me a kiss on the cheek.

“I’m the sacrificial lamb for Mexico.” I tell her with a tepid smile.

She tells me how the short straws were hoping to “do it like Jennifer, to put it out to the universe what they wanted,” she says with a little laugh.

“Well it worked,” I say.

I text the short straws to take my room. My text has the appearance of free will. I don’t want them to think I’m upset, even though I am. I get a thank you text back and I have a fleeting sense of levity that I’ve made them happy.

We go to the play. The performers are off, the actors can’t connect with each other in their emotion. When the play ends, the applause is lukewarm. One of the actresses has a tight face, like she knew the performance was poor. Afterwards, we stand out in the cold, me, Seath and Carina, Darek and Amy. I suggest going to have a drink, “like a tea,” I clarify, knowing a bar is out for the detoxers. But Seath and Carina want to get home and I’m not enthusiastic enough to force people to raise a cup of chamomile in my name.

I feel erased. It’s not just about the room. The room is just the cherry on top of a series of erasures – my Christmas vacation taken hostage by work. My exhausted Thursday night flights home. My stymied vision at work. I want to feel generous, full of love, in the flow. It is my birthday.

But Venus is on vacation.

“I think maybe I’ve been devaluing my life because I’m single,” I tell Maeve. “Like I believe my life is less valuable because I don’t have a partner, because I don’t have kids. I’m doing this to myself. After all, I said yes. I didn’t have to say yes.”

I think about my surroundings.

Maeve is pregnant. After weeks of nerves and doctors appointments, she is finally committed to the fact. She buys pregnancy jeans. Normally a food ascetic, she eats chips and ginger ale at lunch.

Another friend is united with her new daughter, a little girl she has spent the last year and a half adopting. In Facebook pictures the girl is first a solemn doll, large black eyes and small unsure mouth, tiny arms lax at her sides. Weeks later she is all cheeks and toothy grins, her chubby fist reaching for the camera.

I note every time Carina says, “my kids” that possessive modifier a claim on two little lives, a badge. There are the inevitable times where the moms gather around the kitchen and compare notes on pregnancy horror stories, a mother’s Vietnam that only the vets can really understand. I wander off and join the boys, but it’s not home there either. They don’t feel left out.

I admit to myself that in a perfect world, in a world where money were no object, where my own free time were abundant, I would have a child. It is something I’ve never really thought of in an unburdened, neutral way. I’ve always put an asterix by this subject, saying I wanted to have a child with a partner. When I brought up having a baby to Juan, it was easy to accept his response that he wasn’t ready yet. Because it was my own answer.

As much as I love kids I’ve also always feared their needy hands, the loss of my own independence. As much as I’ve felt an outsider the kitchen klatch of post-partem war stories, I’ve never regretted a quiet morning at my house, the hours spent writing my blog, the quiet. I never truly saw motherhood as an option. It was always a trade-off.

I begin to wonder if my life has meaning. Despite two cities, two houses, two groups of friends there is something smaller about my life than 6 months ago. I have taken a few passes at the blog, but there hasn’t been traction. My studio is still empty, the remnants of the summer’s last paint still soaking on the brushes in their solution. My own children, left unparented, left unloved.

“Are you over the room,” asks Seath a few days later.

“No, but I will be. I feel like this was a lesson for me. And I just have to believe that this is all meant for the best, that it will all come back to me,” I say.

Suzi sends me a note about my last blog entry: “I am dedicated to keeping the relationship on the front burner!”

In one session I start to wander into some work stuff and she says, “Yeah yeah yeah, your work is going to be what it’s going to be. But I really want you to focus on your intimate relationship.” I have to smother a laugh at her wrangling – usually not her style. But I appreciate the course correction.

“The thing with you is you don’t need a man,” she comments. Need in italics. “But because you are so self-sufficient, you also cut yourself off from being vulnerable.”

“Ahhhh,” I say. I scribble notes in my book.

“I want you to work on being vulnerable, being comfortable with that,” she says.

As I’m debriefing with Maeve I tell her, “I feel like I’m so vulnerable because of the blog. But the blog is also so private I guess. Only people who know me read it.”

“Maybe your brief is to live like you are in the blog,” suggests Maeve. It is a strange twist, living up to what I’ve written on paper about how I’m living. But I feel like she is right. More than an outlet, the blog is a contract with myself.

Day one of vulnerable, I see Amaan at the gym. I’ve seen him everyday that week while I’m in Seattle. He walks in and rests his hand on my shoulder. Sometimes he stops and does his best player imitation, cocking his head and telling me how good I look on the bike. But today is different. As I put on my jacket I catch him smiling at me, a genuine smile, a sweet smile, not a smile put on for attention. Like I am inviting his vulnerability with my own. I note what a sensitive barometer he is.

The week after, we have a big meeting at work on Tuesday. I am homesick after a week in Seattle. Monday is a slog. I have a mechanical delay on my flight, then rush in to meet a candidate who’s been waiting.

In allegiance with Susan Miller I’ve delayed a haircut and have started to pull my bangs back and put my hair up, exposing my forehead and the rest of my face. Even random people at work tell me, “I like the new look.” For the first few days I wear it I feel exposed. I catch my face in the mirror and it feels like too much. But I also recognize something clean and fresh about the look. It is honest, like I’m not hiding behind my hair any more. The grey flourishes at my temples.

“I’m not really sure what’s going on with my hair,” I tell Maeve.

“That is symbolic,” she says. “I don’t know if you’ve ever not had a vision for your hair.”

For the meeting I pull my hair back in the new look, and put on lipstick. As I’m lingering, one of my co-workers comes up and says, “Look how pretty you look,” and for a nano second I have to catch my breath, it has been so long since a man (at least one not related to me) has told me I was pretty. I give him a hug telling him he made my day. The word pretty sticks with me. It is delicate and feminine. It’s not “looking great,” which is powerful.

Pretty is a vulnerable word.

The meeting is with prospective clients. Jeffrey, who is out of town, has asked me to cover. Afterwards, Jeff, who put together the meeting calls me. I’ve gone home early, tired from the day and from the focus groups I moderated the night before.

“I just want to tell you how great you were in that meeting,” he says. He’s one of my favorite people at work, perennially positive.

“Oh, that’s so nice!” I am groggy from lying on the couch in the sun at my apartment. It takes me a minute to wrap my head around what he’s saying.

“You just had the lightest touch, you just sold everything so simply. It’s my job to watch the room and I swear when you said ‘we could try starting from the Latino side of the business’ it just blew their minds.”

I give a little laugh. “Well, I don’t think I’m trying to sell. It’s easy to talk about things I love,” I tell him. Still, it is a nice call. I wonder if Venus is on her way back in.

Celestine drops into my office. She is also pregnant, although her lanky frame makes her bump seem incidental. Her boss has quit, her department is in transition and the boys are jostling for control. I dole out some thoughts, rehashing my years of coaching, mostly telling her to be clear with herself about what she wants, how she wants to be here. Don’t arm wrestle the boys. Just own her own space while they duke it out amongst themselves.

She brings The Birthday Book, a compendium of insights individualized for each birthday of the year. When I open mine, it is the Day of the Heavyweight. Someone who is working in big emotion.

“You’re such a mama bear,” she says. “All the gay boys always tell me to ask you advice. And you know what? I always take it. Have you ever thought about working in HR or something?”

“Not HR, exactly,” I say. I can’t imagine navigating the in’s and out’s of company policy, of insurance and 401Ks. “But something like this.” I gesture around in a small circle. “In coaching, or something like this.”

“You need to start a blog and write a book. If you do it, I’ll make you famous,” says Celestine, nodding her head in emphasis. Her cloud of black hair bobs slightly. “That’s what I do, you know.”

Over the weekend I take a pass at a potential new venture, but I can’t crack the voice. It stays stagnant out there, still gestating.

For my birthday, Carina gives me a reading with an astrologer. He is a friend of hers, a former mechanical engineer who has spent the last several years training with a shaman and doing aiwasca, the Peruvian equivalent to peyote. He now goes by the name Gemini Brett. “Why Geminii Brett,” I ask Carina, knowing his birthday isn’t in June.

“He just feels like he identifies more with Geminii,” says Carina blithely.

Ah.

I listen to his recording. I am at the office, so I close my door. I wave off a few people who come looking for me. I think it’s going to be something that washes over me, that provokes a feeling, but instead it is dense. I end up filling my desk with post-it notes of mysterious metaphors like, “You are at the University of Libra, with a degree in Scorpio.” I have no idea what this means.

Halfway through, I email Carina. “Holy fucking trip!”

She writes back, “Oooh Brett. You have to admire his enthusiasm.”

I tell her I’m totally into it. “In all seriousness, he’s kinda my idol. I just love his personal journey.” I wish I were brave enough to quit my job and become an astrologer.

“I will just leave you with this,” I finish. “There is a Gandalf comparison.”

Geminii Brett breaks down a bunch of my houses. At one point he drifts off into a reverie about the history of the zodiac, involving Pallas Athena and Poseidon. He talks about how Scorpio was originally the Phoenix, standing for eternal life, the cycle of death and rebirth. The burning ashes, piling higher and higher towards the heavens.

Then at the end, Brett breaks into a personal commentary. “You have one of the most active charts I’ve seen,” he says. “Lots of planetary transits. So even if we don’t talk again I will be curious to see what you’re up to in six months. Like it may be time to quit that job and write that book.”

At the dermatologist I am checking in. The woman at the front desk is blonde and heavyset with a pretty face – upturned nose, blue eyes and blonde hair. “You know, you are so nice on the phone,” I tell her. “it was one of the reasons I chose this office.”

“Why thank you,” she says. “I guess I just try to treat people like I’d like to be treated. Although it’s not always easy!” She gives a light laugh.

The office empty and we chit chat while I’m waiting for the doctor. She tells me about moving to Jacksonville, Florida to help raise her granddaughter while her son was deployed in Afghanistan.

“But I just never liked it. I can’t tell you how happy I was to drive home back to Seattle. The minute I saw those big fir trees. I think we are all spiritually connected to landscapes, and this is mine.”

The dermatologist gives me a cream and a month-long course of antibiotics for my face. He says I have rosacea that’s been inflamed. Slowly, my skin starts to come back to normal. I wonder how much of it is the new regimen and how much is me, groping my way out of my funk.

It is awards season and I am obsessed with Matthew McConnaghey. Someone tells me the story of his success – spotted by a modeling scout, told he should try acting, he moves to LA and gets cast in Dazed and Confused. Even after years of playing bongos, playing Frisbee and ignoring sunscreen he rolls into being an incredible actor. Whether or not it is, I want to believe it is true.

Easy and awesome.

I watch the Golden Globes where he wins for Best Actor in a Drama. Later, I tell Carina, “If there is one person out there that is absolutely convinced the universe is supporting him, it’s Matthew McConnaghey.”

Mexico finally happens.

There are some initial complications to the trip but once we are all safely at the house the beautiful nothingness of beach vacationing begins. Far from being a dark hole, my room is shady, the light filtering through the palms. There is an internal window that overlooks the living room. I peek from above to see what’s happening in the main room, if dinner is starting, what kids are around in the house. The shade is actually comforting – I feel sheltered. When Seath asks, “How is the room?” I tell him it is actually perfect.

One of Lenora’s best friends, Marisa is along on the trip. One day I drive into town with them to the big supermarket at the mouth of the beach. Marisa also lives in LA. We talk about dating. “Have you had the pleasure of dating in LA,” she asks sarcastically. She’s tried out a new website called Tinder that is all about the picture and a tiny description. “The people on it are really good-looking,” she says. I glance back to the back seat where she’s sitting and think how abstract that now sounds to me. Months of meditation on the qualities I’m looking for have detached me from any particular jawline or wave of hair. But I can see how she would do well on that sight. She has a natural, almost exotic beauty.

“Mostly I’m just trying to experiment with dating,” says Marisa. “Not take it so seriously. Learn how to do it. I’m trying to be more open. Usually I project the ‘Get-away-from-me-I-hate-you’ vibe. I’m trying to get away from that.”

I laugh at her raw honesty. I wonder if that’s the vibe I also project, that no one is truly worth my time.

Back at the house, we revisit the conversation with some of the girls. Someone makes the comment that yes, it must be very hard for me to date. “That’s only because they don’t know how amazing Jennifer is,” says Carina, wrapping her arms around my neck.

“Aw,” I say, and touch my head to the top of hers.

On cue, I get a call from It’s Just Lunch. “We have some new candidates we wanted to talk to you about!” I tell them I’m in Mexico on vacation. She warbles off something about getting me when I’m back and I should have a great time.

A stomach bug has been plaguing the house and one night I realize I have a fever. The next day is a blur. I try to read but can only get through a few pages. I sleep in the green shade of my room. When I get up for the bathroom, I look down into the living area. Lyra and Edison are looking over a book. Ben is in the kitchen, pouring drinks. In my haze, I think how lucky I am to be in this room, hidden and muted from the bright of the beach.

Finally, around 4, I wake up and shower. When I open my door there is a coconut with a straw in it and a glass of water that Lenora has left for me. I am touched by the gesture, it will remain one of the sweetest moments of the whole trip. I’m over the worst of the nausea. I head downstairs, back into vacation.

That night at the house we have mariachi. Before going to Mexico I had volunteered the idea. Carina and Lenora were enthusiastic supporters, but several people were on the fence, including Seath. Now, seeing the mariachi walk up through the dusk of front yard, navigating the palm leaves I have a little flutter of excitement. They are in black fitted outfits, carrying their instruments. We usher them onto the deck. The horns pierce the twilight and the guitars follow.

After about three songs, I look around. Edison is sitting next to me, piled onto a corner of the deck’s built-in couch next to Delilah and Lyra. She has a wide, happy smile on her face that makes my heart fill up with love. She’d been moody and removed in the last few weeks, even on vacation. “Is she turning into her aunt?” I joked to Carina. But in this moment, she beams. The rest of us lean back in our chairs, our drinks beading with water in the fading heat.

On the other side of the illness, I lose myself in afternoon swims in the cenote, in chips and guacamole, in reading in umbrella shade on the beach. Carina and Seath are in their element. They take the chairs in the full sun. Carina is happier than I have ever seen her, bouncing down to the beach in her bikini and a semi-cold Modelo from the fridge. She oils up with Hawaiian Tropic, fragrant with coconut and unfettered by sunscreen. Seath rests his hand on her flat belly for a minute. I am happy for them, to see their love, happy to be part of it. I sit down behind Seath and he says, “I’m liking the grey,” referring to my hair.

I talk to the cooks in the kitchen. One is a 21 year-old from Merida, with wide cheekbones and amber eyes. He is curious about us, about America. He asks questions about what it’s like to work there. We talk about hip hop and he volunteers that he writes rap. He practices his English on the kids. He dances to the Tribe Called Quest we put on the stereo and takes a shot of tequila when offered, while the other cook declines.

Evie comes down with the bug next. I am well, but have taken in enough sun on a morning walk on the beach. I spend the day lying next to her on the couch. We read three books, then I load a movie on my phone for her to watch. Later in the afternoon she falls asleep wrapped in white blankets. Lenora and I greedily snap pictures for Instagram. Non-stop Evie is rarely cuddly or at rest.

One night we’re sitting on the deck with drinks. The kids have gone in to bed. Seath makes a joking comment about how I don’t even live in Seattle. It stings. I feel defensive. I start to say that I’m in Seattle every weekend, and the weeks I’m there I don’t see them anyway. But the argument feels feeble, and besides, he’s on to his next jab, aimed at someone else.

On the last night, the neighbor gets a piñata. They are a family who lives in Tulum full time and who the group has known for the past several years. The kids dash over to the yard and take turns beating a kid-sized Elmo. When the piñata finally breaks there is a melee of kids pulling lollipops and chocolate bars out of the grass.

Lenora relates the local news, that the neighbors are sad because of how busy Tulum has gotten. A rock star is building a multi-million dollar house on the property next to theirs. The star has bought up a cenote, which is supposed to be illegal. The traffic is dense on the road to Tulum Pueblo. Rumor has it that Jay-Z and Beyonce are staying at a house down the street, a rumor that gains steam when we all note the heavy security from the road and Carina strolls casually down the beach to investigate.

When we leave, Carina says, “I don’t know why, but it’s felt harder to say good-bye this time.”

“Maybe because we’re not sure we’re coming back,” I say.

Seath is silent from the front seat. He’s finally succumb to the bug, and has forbidden any talk of food in the car, or any direct talk to him at all.

The first morning back in Seattle, I am shocked to realize that I’m not putting on a bathing suit for the day. That night, I spread the Tarot cards out on my bed and draw one. A bird skeleton. Death. Closure and transformation. An ominous card, possibly. But I feel strangely optimistic. The Phoenix, who knows that death is just a step on the path to rebirth.

Friday is sunny. It is the end of the Mercury retrograde. I have a session with Suzi. She starts out with a powerful, energetic centering for the session.

“Wow,” I tell her. “You had some fire in that one.” I mention that it’s the end of the retrograde, I always feel the energetic shift, like a shoot of water that’s been dammed up behind a wall.

“That’s exactly what I’ve been feeling,” she says.

I talk to her about work, about feeling unhappy and dislocated.

“I feel like I have followers at work,” I say, thinking of the steady stream of people in my office, asking advice. “But I don’t feel like it’s visible work, I’m not sure that it’s valued by the people in power there.”

“It’s not valued by them, you’re right,” she says. “But the universe is giving you feedback that it is valued.” She’s talking about Jeff, calling me after the meeting. About Celestine, telling me she would make me famous.

I think of an email from Joe, a close family friend, Brian’s Donuts and Dems co-conspirator: “I think I’ve finally figured out what it is that makes your blog work. It’s the combination of revealing and self-reflection, leading to a change. I wish I had realized this recipe sooner. But I will start now.”

“You have your formula,” continues Suzi. “It’s about authenticity. You don’t need to sell yourself, you just need to be.”

I tell her a story about my new glasses. I wore them on a walk with a friend. After the walk, she asked, “Are those new glasses? Do you like them?”

“It was such a funny question, like she was saying she wasn’t sure about them. But it didn’t make me unsure about my new glasses. It made me more sure. That I was on to something, it just takes people a minute to catch up.”

“Yesss,” says Suzi. “That is your metaphor. You are on to something, who you are, how you are, what you believe. It will just take people a minute to catch up.”

“I guess I just need to keep coming home to myself,” I say.

“Write that down!” exclaims Suzi. She repeats it.

Saturday I meet up with an old la comu co-worker named Stuart. Stu and I bonded over Lolo. I used to take Lolo to work and they became fast friends. He would wrestle with Lolo, toss him the ball. When Juan and I went out of town, Stu and his girlfriend would babysit him. Once his girlfriend said to him why doesn’t he just ask to have the dog. Stu told her, “No, you don’t understand, this dog is awesome because of his owners. They made him that way.” I remember being touched at this, proud like Lolo had been my own child.

Stu was a writer, one of the few gringo creatives at the shop. He played rugby, drank a ton of beer and scotch, went fishing, talked graphically about sex. For a while he had a poster of a topless girl over his desk. He was tall with a head of blond curls. Once at the office he let me cut his hair off. We used the scissors from my desk. His hair formed blond piles on the floor. Afterwards, he dove in the canal to rinse off.

By superficial standards, Stu and I had nothing in common. I wasn’t a big drinker, I didn’t think topless girls had a role at the office. I wasn’t bawdy or racy enough to partake in the talk about his sexual escapades (unlike Maeve, who could tell a dirty joke. I called Maeve Vance-mouth, after her older brother Vance, the source of all her knowledge rated R and above.)

The best thing about Stu was his unflappable sense of self-confidence. He had dropped out of ad school when he had won an award for young creatives. He often talked about moving to the Bahamas to write the “great American novel.” Ultimately when advertising wore him down he applied to graduate school in creative writing.

He was in Seattle for a writer’s conference, fresh off of winning Playboy Magazine’s young fiction award. Literature’s Matthew McConnaghey.

I meet him and three of the guys from his program at Quinn’s on Capitol Hill, where I’ve reasoned the combination of beer and poutine, French Canadian fries with veal gravy and cheese, will appeal.

When I see Stu he gives me a loose, drapey hug, his arms over my shoulders. He’s back to long hair and is wearing khaki pants, his presentation outfit from his talk at the conference today.

The rest of the table is more writerly than Stu – a neurotic Jewish kid who has recently decided to eat kosher; a tall thin cherubic faced guy in his late 20’s with round tortoise-shelled glasses and a penchant for GMAT vocabulary words; a grey, bearded thirty-something with glasses and nervous gestures. The other guys aren’t that interested in talking, so Stu and I catch up on la comu people who we’ve seen in the past couple years.

“It’s funny, I don’t keep in touch with anyone from la comunidad in the era after you were gone, but I’m in constant touch with the people who we were there with,” Stu comments.

“Yeah, it was a special place then,” I say. “It’s kinda like we all lived abroad together.” I think of the office, a sprawling Scarface-style house on a canal, desks squeezed into bedrooms, a 1960’s kitchen with tiki cabinets. We were a motley crew of Argentines, Venezuelans, Puerto Ricans, gringos and even a couple French. We had lunch together in the kitchen three days a week, then often sat outside smoking in the hammock and fanning off the humidity.

When Stu gets up from the table, the Jewish kid says, “Do you have any embarrassing stories about Stu to tell us while he’s gone?”

I laugh a minute and shake my head. “I don’t think Stu gets embarrassed,” I tell him. “I have a lot of Stu stories, but that guy could walk down the street naked and not be embarrassed.”

He and the bearded guy nod in agreement. I think about what an amazing quality this is. When Stu gets back to the table I tell him, “You know, something I always have loved about you is that you just have a commitment to greatness. When you decide what you want, you’re always successful at it.”

Stu has a steady gaze, steadier than I remember. He lifts up his meaty hand in a high five, acknowledging the comment. “Sometimes I’m like, ‘what, am I kidding myself? I’m going to write a novel?’” he says, “And then I think “No, I have to do this. I don’t have any other choice but for it to be great.’”

At home, I take off my make up. I still have a bit of redness on my face. It’s hard to tell if my condition is really gone or just obscured by my tan.

I think about seeing Stu, a writer that lives without fear. Like a lucky omen, an eagle whose white head and tail I catch out of the corner of my eye from my living room window. Soaring over the lake.

I dig into my email and find the file from my energy reading two years ago, the one where Lee Harris told me 2014 will be my year. When I play it again, it is surprisingly relevant. “You have big energy, but you’ve learned to hide it to give people space to come in. But sometimes you lean too far back. You just need to keep an eye on that, to not take on too much of other people’s energy. The thing is, you have a tendency to help people. You can help them one by one. But when you keep your spine straight, you’ve elevated yourself. You are able to help many many more.”

The old tree, standing tall. Clearing the air.

Matthew McConnaghey goes on to win the Oscar for Best Actor. He does a half dance imitation of his dad, buzzed on Miller Lites and cooking gumbo in his underwear. He thanks his family, a crack to his voice and tears in his eyes. Then he thanks his future self. That is, himself in 5 years, the guy who he looks up to, the guy who he always follows.

I take a later flight than usual to LA Monday morning. I am awake in a way I haven’t been for a long time. I spend the flight writing an article about the competitive work environment. How I think competition can be detrimental, can work against good people and good ideas. When I close my laptop for landing, I reread the piece. It is rangey, and I can already see where to edit. But I love it. It is the piece I tried to write after my conversation with Celestine.

At the office I see one of my unofficial mentees, a guy who has decided he wants to be a coach. “Come in and give me an update,” I say, ushering him into my office. He tells me that he’s gone to a coaching seminar where he had to hug people for 20 minutes. “I’ve taken on some pro-bono coaching clients and I’m just trying to connect with coaches here and around the world to see if I need to be accredited. I’m not sure I do.”

“Wow, I’m so impressed!” I tell him. I love that he’s just gone out there and done it, and not worried about what his job title is, not worried that somehow being paid makes him a coach.

The next morning, I linger at my house in LA. Thursdays are when I head home, and typically there are a few menial tasks I like to get done – take out the trash, clean the sink, fold any piles of laundry. As I’m coming back from the trash cans out front, I see Mesha and Jordan wave to me from their kitchen. “We haven’t seen you forever,” they both say. “Come on in!”

We talk about the new neighbor who has rented the studio in the garage below my apartment. It’s a costume designer and his tailor.

“He told me, ‘I never work with pop stars, never,’” recounts Mesha. “I was like, ‘Really, there’s not ONE pop star you’d work with?’ And he said, ‘Well, maybe Beyonce, but only because she looks so good.’”

First, I stand in their sunny kitchen. The baby, Lavinia toddles around, an elfish grin on her face. She pulls cardboard packing from a box on the floor and begins to gnaw on it. Jordan, who is a freelance writer, has just pitched 30 ideas to a Hollywood pitch man – a guy who sells things into development. A few paragraphs might be enough to start a pilot, or a script for a film. His Broadway play has raised $6 million in funding.

“Wow, so much creative energy in here this morning,” I say.

“Oh, this is how we always are. That’s why we started dating, we’re both creative, we know that comes first,” says Mesha. She runs a 1950’s-style water ballet company called the Aqualillies. Their dining room has a huge photograph of a woman in a pool, done by a “pretty well-known” photographer friend of theirs.

“I think creative people just are more that way, it’s not just what they do, it’s who they are,” I observe. “it’s not a job, it’s a way of being.”

“My parents just taught me to always contribute,” says Jordan. “I’m never not coming up with something. I never sit and binge watch Game of Thrones with a glass of chardonnay, that’s just not me.”

Jordan bounces some ideas off me “just because I have an advertising professional here,” he says. He’s doing a campaign for Trojan. He has a couple of funny thoughts. I tell him what he needs is something to anchor each idea, or all three of them together. “Like, what are you ultimately saying about the brand? It will help the client understand the spots.”

He tells me how condoms are always positioned as protection, but he wants to talk about them as an experience enhancer. “Like ‘Own your experience,’” he says.

I’m leaning back in my chair, hands clasped behind my head, taking it all in like a scenic vista. The conversation isn’t epic, but it has its own beauty. Jordan is pacing, gesturing, pitching me. It is a physical act, the storytelling. Lavinia has taken a seat on a fuzzy horse on wheels in the living room. She bounces up and down.

I turn back to Jordan. “What about, ‘Set your night free’?” I suggest.

“That’s good, I might steal that. That’s good,” he says. He picks up his phone to jot it down as a note. “I’m definitely stealing that.”

“It’s yours,” I say. “Take it.”

It’s almost nine and I have to excuse myself. I want to get in a few things before heading to work. When I head back the light is on in the studio below my apartment. I pop my head in and introduce myself. The room is full of leather. The designer isn’t there but the tailor is working on a black leather jacket with red stitching. I think about the little creative compound my LA home has become.

In the mirror, my face looks happy. There is still some residual discoloration but I pack away my powder and brush. It’s not worth worrying about.

On the way to work I have an insight. I’m as good a writer, as good a coach as all these other people. But I don’t claim it for myself. Instead, I’ve put myself behind a cord to wait until some cosmic bouncer approves of me enough to give me title or paycheck that affirms who I am.

But only I can affirm who I am.

An old tree. A mother of ideas. A straight spine.

One of a pair of Canadian geese, flying towards each other.

This is my job.

 

Jendate 23: Totem

The fall is disorienting.

There crisp cold days where the light aches. There are rainy days where the sky is a black curtain. There are windy days when the leaves are forced to leave the high limbs where they’ve been living. They resettle on the ground, but their color is gone. They are immigrants to the grass. It is not where they’re meant to be.

Mercury is in an interminable retrograde. Communications are confused.

I have an odd conversation over email with my new landlord in LA. She starts out saying she wants to drop by and meet me, to bring me a coffee cake. Two emails later she asks me to wire my rent money to her in the UK. She writes, “it is somewhat important for you and for me too.” The grammar and phrasing are strangely evocative of an internet Nigerian Prince.  I read her emails aloud to Maeve. “Sounds weird, right?” I speculate. Maeve agrees. I send her a check to the LA address she provided earlier, telling her that in the end, I didn’t have time for Western Union. I never hear back from her or the Nigerian Prince. No coffee cake appears.

I back my new car into the edge of my closed garage. That morning, I wake up in a haze. The haze culminates in a crushed right tail light and a scratched rear bumper. When I get out to survey the damage the backup camera beeps steadily, annoyed. The Jolly Rancher-red shards of the tailight litter the ground of the driveway. They don’t have an inkling they’re dead, trash-bound, not still enshrouded by the socket of a Q5.

At the dealership, the guy says, “You poor thing, only 1900 miles.”

“I honestly don’t know where I was,” I say.

I’m still not sure even now.

At work I have become exactly who I preached against becoming – a person with no free time, chained to a schedule of meetings. One of our accounts is going through a difficult patch. I see the dynamic, how we’ve taken on our clients’ fear, made it our own. We’ve lost sight of our own voice, our own answers. We’ve closed ranks at the top to solve things, constricting the airways.

My recipe for a solution is fresh air, new inputs. I make several attempts to share my thoughts. But they fall on deaf ears. I am unable to communicate. I wonder if I don’t have belief in my solution, that I am not trusting myself enough.

I realize I haven’t furnished my LA apartment beyond the basics because I’m worried about being fired. Instead of doing one job I’m doing three. My simple plans for change, on that particular needy piece of business and in the department in general have gone nowhere. I feel trapped, my wings clipped. I wonder what’s happened to my own brief for the year, Easy and awesome. I start to catch a cold. My throat twinges tight.

“Maybe they just aren’t ready for the change,” suggests Suzi. “Don’t make it about whether you do or do not achieve your plan. Just be proud of yourself for doing what you can do, for bringing yourself 100% every day there.”

As she says this I am not sure if I am bringing myself 100%. I’ve felt so porous, a pitcher whose job it is to hold water, leaking from cracks at the base.

Suzi continues, “You don’t know why you’re doing this job yet, you can’t see the real reason. Maybe it will tell you you want to do something totally different. Maybe you’re there to meet your future partner at a meeting.”

Ah, the elusive future partner.

It’s been over six months since I put IJL on hold. Finally, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am the problem.

Dating has been conveniently inconvenient. My love interests in recent history have been the opposite of what I want, from the emotional armored car that was Chris to the “I could never be monogamous” crush. What a relief to have the luxury of setting dating off to the side, not to be revisited until next season, a box of bulbs in the garage waiting for a fall planting.

Only now it’s fall. I work the relationship conversation into my daily meditations, reminding myself of my brief: calm confidence, high limits. A friend at work asks me, ‘What’s your type’ and I can’t answer. I can’t get a vision to come to mind in the way I have in the past. He has been erased, replaced with qualities. It is both more specific and more abstract.

I tell Suzi I don’t feel like I’m making progress.

“You should start putting the relationship conversation first,” Suzi directs.

She is firm. I hear the italics.

I have a moment of constriction in my chest, like this thought has taken the wind out of me.

I tell Suzi, “This must be the right thing to do because I am scared of it.”

The fear lasts about a week. Every morning, I wake up and start with another conversation about my intentions for the day, then pull back to the relationship. I tell myself my heart is ready.

There is resistance there, a bike that pulls one direction.

Finally there is a morning where I can actually breathe in the thought. I let my chest cavity fill with it. I inhale it.

Despite a needy apartment in LA, I have a decorating spurt at my house in Seattle. On whim, I paint my hallway orange. It is a short hall that has always been painted white, an in-between place, neutral and innocuous. But the hall has started to speak to me, to ask to be more. I’ve tried swapping out the painting at the end, but even with the artist’s wild strokes of purple and green, the hallway remains dull. One afternoon, I tape the ceiling and the molding and loosely scatter newspaper on the floor. I block the way with chairs to keep Lolo out. He wanders over and sniffs, then goes into the living room. I hear him scratching at the carpet, trying to work out a ripple in the surface. He flops down.

The color is transformative. It brings the hallway to life, gives it a perspective it didn’t have before. It becomes an invitation. At the end of the hall, a room, a bed with two pillows.

But there are no flirtations on flights, no carts crossed in the aisle of the grocery store. Even my gym boyfriend is scarce. He makes a couple of passes by me on the bike, but it’s more because I’m an exotic bird whose migration patterns have made me a rare sighting. Across the aisle on my flight, a couple holds hands as the plane taxis. On my hand, the rose quartz on my left index finger sparkles pink with optimism. But I notice my hand is dry, the skin rippled with faint lines. There is no other hand clasped around mine. There is no evidence of change.

Seath and Carina and the girls are at the Oregon Coast with Barbie and Brian. I was supposed to go but in the end I couldn’t commit to the long drive with my travel schedule. When I land at SEA-TAC, I text Sarah, to see if she’s around. She says her dad’s in town, she’s tied up with him. I note this. The energy of the weekend is about reconnecting with important relationships. And mine is me.

On Saturday morning I putter around the house, abstaining from the gym. Around noon I finally get into the shower and decide to go downtown for lunch at le Pichet. After a gloomy morning it has cleared off. The restaurant is buzzing. I sit at the bar.  There is a couple to my right, I wonder if they are on a date. To my left is a woman in a pink raincoat.

I order a dirty martini and peruse the menu. “How’s your day been,” I ask the pink raincoat. She is eating beef stew, which looks delicious. I order the same, along with frites.

As fate would have it, she is basically a coach. “I don’t have a degree, so I have to call myself an alternative practitioner,” she says. She used to be a mathematician. She then went through a divorce and found this other thing that she now does. And she has never been happier. She has a salt and pepper pixie cut and blue eyes.

She asks what I do and I explain my situation – that I’m in advertising, that I work in LA and live in Seattle.

“How is that,” she asks, leaning in. “How does it work?”

“The reason I ask is that I’ve recently met a man who I think might be my soul mate. But he lives in Oakland and works in Seattle. I keep asking myself how this can ever be a real relationship, you know.”

I am honest. “Well, I’m new to this,” I say. “But I told myself when I took the job that I wanted more of everything I love, not less. More family, more friends. And so far it’s been that.”

“I guess it depends on how you define a relationship – I have a friend who’s husband works in Mexico and it drives her nuts because she defines a relationship as having dinner together every night. But I guess for me, I’m not that way. I want quality time – consistency is less important.”

She is nodding. “I just haven’t been able to figure it out,” she says. “I mean we really have something, this man and I.”

“Maybe he ends up moving here full time. Maybe you move to Oakland. You don’t need to make those decisions now.” I am doing my best to channel my inner Suzi.

“I have been thinking about taking my practice other places,” she says. I can see a door’s been opened for her.

“I’m just laughing that of all people to sit next to at the bar, it’s you,” I say. “This is so awesome.”

She agrees, “You know, it’s the one question I wanted to answer this weekend and you’ve really given me a lot to think about. But you know, this is how my life is. I just end up meeting the right people at the right time.”

“Yes,” I agree. Although I think my life could be more that way.

When she gets up to leave I say, “I want to give you a hug good-bye.”

Her name is Jenifer.

It’s is Carina’s birthday.

A plan is settled: karaoke. Carina and I are squealing and planning our song list, trying out lines of various songs in chorus. Seath is attempting a counter-insurgency. “No one will dance,” he says, trying to sound neutral. I see him try lawyer-logic to sway the decision: “You’re going to have all this awkward dead space with no one doing anything.”

Carina is adamant. “It will be fun!” she says, her eyes twinkling. She is immune to argument.

“Oh Seathy,” I say. But I understand his anxiety. Even I have a little flutter of nervousness in my stomach. I remind myself it’s not singing in front of “people,” its all of Carina’s friends. Easier to make a fool in front of family.

Over the next few days, I troll through the lists of songs to make a short list I can practice. I try on California Love by Dr Dre. Despite the seemingly slow beat there are a lot of words that I can’t keep up with and I end up stumped in several sections, even with the words right in front of me.

Eventually I pick:

Jack and Diane, by John Cougar Mellancamp. Clapping potential, everyone knows the words.

Lady, by Styx. Metal ballad with some challenging high notes, but also a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

Jay-Z’s Give it to Me. I know all the words already.

And finally Billy Joel’s Italian Restaurant.

Seath and I grew up with Billy Joel. Barbie and Brian had the Stranger on the bookshelf next to the turntable: Billy on the bed, his hair an 80’s puff of combed curls and no doubt hairspray, a faceless mask on the pillow beside him.

Last year, Seath and I drove to Portland with the girls when Carina was on call. I put on the Stranger and Seath and I sang every word of every song, including the interminable Italian Restaurant. The girls sat in back, not exactly sure what was happening. But Seath and I kept barreling through, looking at each other when we stumbled over the wording, cracking up when we rocketed through a particularly tough passage.

My secret hope is that despite Seath’s vehement opposition, enough drinks and a familiar crowd will entice him to join me on stage for Italian Restaurant.

The party venue decided, we spend our next Friday night car ride to Mexican food practicing. Carina is leading with the Scorpions “No one like you.” We dart through the dark Seattle streets, it’s already winter and rainy. Even Evie sings along and we all laugh with adult hilarity when her little voice says, “I imagine the things we do.”

Seath and I do Italian Restaurant and Carina films us on her phone, even though the visual is only the windshield. “You guys are so cute!” she screeches.

For the party we have a private room with a cute tattooed lesbian waitress. There’s lots of milling around at the back of the room, safely away from the stage, but Carina gets up and starts in with the Scorpions. I watch her up there and have a pang of love for her and her unabashed stage presence.

I do Jack and Diane. It’s still early, and I have a moment of panic when I hear my voice in the mic for the first time. But within a few lines, the stage isn’t frightening at all.

I’m followed by Darek, who at dinner has answered a confident “Oh yeah,” to the question, “Can you sing?” He does a well-intentioned but horrific version of Copa Cabana. There are others, and soon it is a party.

It’s my turn for Italian Restaurant. I look for Seath. Miraculously, he’s already headed up stage. I’m excited for me, but also for the birthday girl who I know will be happy her husband has fully committed himself to the party. We duet our way through the story of Brenda and Eddy, the summer of ‘75, homesteading and eventual decline. In its essence it is a sad song, a song about failed dreams and youth gone by. But it is too much fun to be melancholy, Seath and I together on stage, singing to our own youth gone by. We are so into the words, there together, I forget anyone is watching.

Later, I read that in pre-Christian times, women were cared for by their brothers, not the fathers of their children. I think of how many times Seath and Carina have saved me from an empty fridge, a lonely night or a 10-minute long Billy Joel song. I see how much this is true in my life.

The next day I wake with a severe hangover. I’m supposed to take the girls to see the play Pippi Longstocking. I struggle into the car feeling ill.

The girls are oblivious to my state. Edison chatters away, Evie wants to run up the hill to the venue. Inside, Evie sits at the edge of her seat, her hands clasped together as if in prayer, rapt with attention. I glance at Edison and catch her mid-laugh, her shoulders shaking up and down. What a perfect play to see, I think. The story of a girl who creates her own path, who’s unbound by convention or mores. A girl who’s father is a pirate and best friend is a horse. A girl who is fearless.

Something to strive for, still.

At the end of the play the actors come back out on stage and break character, taking questions from the audience. Evie climbs into my lap, suddenly unsure. “They’re dressed like Pippi Longstocking?” she asks. Yes, I tell her. But I understand how confusing it must be. Wearing the clothes, but being something else underneath.

It is cool and trying to be sunny when we leave. We go to the fountain at Seattle Center. The water jets cycle through different formations, high in the middle, wide out the sides, then pause. At the pause, kids sprint up to touch the huge base of the fountain. Some make it back dry, others are soaked as the cycle starts up again. Edison wants to run up and touch the fountain, “But it might take awhile,” she caveats.

My hangover is gone and it’s nice to be in the fresh air. “We’re not in a hurry,” I say. Evie runs up the bank behind me then runs down and puts her tiny cold hands under my shirt. “Cold hands!” I cry out and Evie laughs.

“Pretend you don’t see me, JenJen,” she says, and runs back up.

The cycle repeats: cold tiny palms against warm flesh, uproarious laughter, a request for feigned ignorance.

Edison makes a few cautious attempts at the fountain, but remains wary. After about 20 minutes, she abandons her quest, her prudent nature getting the better of her.

In the car on the way home, we listen to KEPX. They play Royals by Lorde. I tell Edison that the girl was only 16 when she recorded the song. Edison is quiet for a minute and then asks, “How does she do it if she is only 16? Like, how does she go to school?” I tell her about tutors and special schools for kids. I can hear her brain thinking, wrapping its way around an alternate way of being, a girl who sings instead of going to school. A real-life Pippi.

LA is a social buzz. I have days with a filled office. I catch dinner at night with my fellow Angelenos. And there is a wave of out-of-town visitors.

Michael is one. We worked together at W+K London. I fell in love with the way his brain worked – there was a fancifulness to his thinking, a childlike way of bringing to life the most mundane and inanimate things. He would say things like, “My chair is quite angry with me today,” when he wasn’t sitting comfortably. Everything had a spirit, a personality.

Juan and I spent time with Michael and his eclectic friends at his flat in Hackney, a big open loft with industrial windows. He’d hung a drying rack from the ceiling that he levered up and down with a rope. In another corner sat huge glass lanterns he’d bought in Morocco.

We sat on the low furniture in the living area, drinking around the candlelight and taking in the company. Once a hair-dresser spent nearly the entire evening talking about the vanilla beans he’d brought back from his trip to Madagascar. There was a Polish empath who read a house Michael bought. The basement kept filling with water, but there was no apparent broken pipe. She felt the presence of unsettled spirits, and after research found the house was built on a mass grave from the plague era in London. Michael’s boyfriend of the era was a gentle creative soul from Bangkok who sold hand-crafted bags and clothes at Spittalfields market. He made me a shirt with an appliqued chicken on it.

One of the most magical moments I had in London was with Michael. We were wandering through a new neighborhood down the canal near Michael’s house. There was a map shop on the high street. The ceilings were low, the small rooms cluttered with maps and books. The owner of the shop came out from the back and we started to talk. He said he could tell where we were from based on our accents. We were intrigued. He read Michael as Russian Jew (true). He said I was from a northwest American Indian tribe. He could tell by a clip I had to certain words. We walked out amazed. It was not the kind of map we expected to find.

Michael is in LA for a freelance project. I pick him up at his short-stay apartment in Venice. I stop at the bottom of the dark stairs, unsure which door was his when the light flicks on and he bursts out the door saying, “Jennnnnnn” in his lovely melodic voice.

I run up the stairs and give him a big hug, asking, “How ARE you?”

He waggles his fingers at me. “I’m engaged!” he says.

We go to Café Gratitude in Venice for dinner. The staff wears white. There is a question of the day, posed with the order: “What can you do without?”

“Probably dessert,” says Michael.

I order the Humble, Michael orders the Happy. We catch up on his wedding plans, his chaotic remodeling of a country cottage, his horse, his dogs.

I tell him about Edinburgh, how amazing and fulfilling it was. Michael was there a couple years ago when he’d acted in a play.

“I think I’m intrguiged by actors, because it’s something I could never do,” I say. “It’s similar to planning – getting to the heart of the emotion about something. But the performance part is terrifying.”

“Mmmm, maybe that means you should try it,” he says narrowing his eyes. He has a catlike quality to him, a purr, eyes that might be too blue.

“That’s interesting,” I say. It doesn’t have specific appeal. But I like his idea of doing something that scares. Like Edison, dodging the streams of the fountain.

I ask about his music. He is an amazingly talented writer in advertising, but his true passion is music. I remember I listened to a few songs he’d recorded in the bathroom of his Hackney flat. One made me cry. The words escaped me, but the feeling of it remained. I can remember my tears welling up as I held his mini-Discman in my hands.

He tells me about a recital he did, his first. “I was terrified the whole time,” he says. “Up until the encore.”

On his last day in LA we meet for coffee and sit on a bench in the sun. I tell him how I’ve been trying to reimagine my life, to have the creativity and freedom flow through everything I do and not be reserved for certain areas.

We talk about work styles. “I don’t really work all that much,” he says. “I kind of putter around until I have to get it done. Then I sit down and work for three hours  and have something.”

“Yessss,” I say. “I think there is this idea that people can be infinitely productive. But ideas take space to grow. You can’t idea your way through a day.” I have a fleeting glimpse of the freedom I once had, sitting in my house in Seattle not my office in LA. I tell myself I need to get back to this freedom.

“Besides, writing is so lonely, it’s good to get out a bit.”

“Really?” I am surprised. “I never find writing lonely. I get lost in there. I’ll forget to eat or sleep. I’ll just go and go.” While the memory is fresh, it is not recent. It’s been weeks since I’ve had the energy to write or do anything creative. I’ve let myself be sucked dry.

He tells me that his reputation is as the most expensive freelancer in London.

“I love that!” I laugh.

“Well, it’s not reallllly a good thing, is it?” he asks, tilting his head towards me, blinking his cats eyes slowly.

“It’s so hard to not take on the fear,” I say. “Like you don’t really care about advertising. So you’re not afraid to be the most expensive freelancer in London. When really, all you want to do is music, but it scares you.”

As I’m saying it, I see myself in the statement, the misplaced fear, the taste for something that isn’t the obvious choice on the menu.

“Yes, I probably should just commit to my music, it may be time,” he says with a little mellifluous laugh.

It may be time for me too.

We unpeel ourselves from the bench and hug. “You’ll come for the wedding,” he says. An affirmation, not a question. His gold ring glints on his finger.

I contemplate going to see an anthropologist cum marketing consultant named “Dr. Bob” Deutsch who is speaking in Santa Monica. He’s been recommended by our new chief creative, Pete, who’s worked with him before.

At first I am non-committal about the engagement, but as the day gets closer, my schedule tips in favor of it.

“Say hello, spend some time with him,” says Pete. I don’t know him well, but I get an affable vibe, warm and accessible.

I’ve had an unsettling end to my workday, a meeting that never found resolution. It’s with Scotty, one of my favorite people there. I am rattled from it. From the car, I leave him a long rambling message then immediately hope he doesn’t listen to it – I haven’t said anything helpful.

There are only a few people there when I walk in. I approach the man who appears to be Dr. Bob. He is standing by the hors- d’oeuvres table. There are several late 20-something women who are fluttering about like officious butterflies, introducing him to people, making sure his drink cup is filled.

I go up and introduce myself as a friend of Pete’s. Dr Bob is maybe in his late sixties, bald with has funky round green glasses, a linen jacket and striped tie. Preppy roots but glasses trumpeting not to confuse him with the status quo.

We have nothing to talk about. I barely know Pete and haven’t read more than a blurb on Dr Bob himself. Besides, Plus, I’m in an introverted mood. I hadn’t realized I’d eschewed one party for another. I am relieved when one of the butterflies swoops in with someone else and displaces me by introducing herself as Tiffany. She is tall and wearing a high-low silk dress with spaghetti straps, showing off her slim arms and tattoos, even though the night is chilly.

I stake a claim in the second row and take in the burgeoning crowd. There is an older French couple, the wife chic in the French style of slightly mussed hair, a striped sweater and pearls. There are a lot of Tiffany pals around – they all seem to know each other and have the obligatory young Angeleno accoutrements of beards or funky glasses. There is an actor in a navy sport coat, Japanese and handsome, a face I’ve seen somewhere but no name comes to mind. His wife is flawless and blond in a black cocktail dress. When they sit in the front row she keeps her hand on his back for several minutes, her diamond glinting.

Two hipsters in beards fiddle ineffectually with the lighting and the mic. The lighting is all wrong, and they end up killing it in favor of less direct, but also dimmer light.

Finally, Dr. Bob takes the stage.

He is not really a speaker, he’s more of a talker. His youthful stage presence is congenial. The crowd is rapt.

His is unexpected. Having read his bio, I expect him to talk about cultural anthropology, and the application outside academia. Instead, his book is about finding your personal story.

Dr Bob started in the field, working with Jane Gooddall, studying primitive tribes. When he wrote an op-ed about the Iraq War in the 90’s, he started to get calls to be a pundit, then a consultant. He’d worked for ad agencies, he’d worked for the Department of Defense, for the Japanese Government.

Then he starts to talk about his tenets for finding and telling your personal story. His first ingredient is openness. As he talks I am conscious about how un-open I am at the moment, layers of the evening working against me – the tony audience, the awkward meeting I’d left at work, the self-consciousness of being an introvert at a  party.

Dr Bob tells a story about interviewing people for the book. One of them is Wynton Marsalis. “I thought I was going to have about an hour with him and it turned into six hours. When Wynton Marsalis answers a question, it’s never about music, it’s about life. Finally Wynton says to me, ‘I gotta go, I’m meeting Paul Simon,’ so I say to him, ‘You gotta get me into meet Paul Simon’ – now that talk is a whole other story.” Here the crowd laughs, as if they too know how Paul can be.

The audience has a few questions, mostly from people who already know Dr. Bob personally – he calls them out by name. At the end he says, “Well, if there are no more questions, let’s continue to talk some more and enjoy the lovely food.”

I don’t stay, I don’t have it in me today to take another go at connecting with Dr. Bob. But as I walk down the dark parking lot and climb into my car, I realize he has stuck with me. His conversation is familiar. It could have come from Suzi. I think about openness, and my meeting with Scott. I think about Dr. Bob’s unapologetic way of being, his own conviction that he is as interesting as Wynton Marsalis, even though he’s not a musician.

I think Dr Bob is Pippi Longstocking in a linen jacket and glasses.

In the morning at the office, Jeff comes down to see if I have time to do a quick brainstorm. I stand at my white board, pen uncapped, but I am still thinking about Scotty, about clearing the air with him.

“I just feel so bad about that meeting,” I tell Jeff. “I was defensive, and I think I put him into a defensive position.”

“I totally get that,” says Jeff, leaning back in his chair. He’s a good listener, and I’ve purged what I needed to. We scribble on the white board, and both lean back to look at it.

Scotty pops his head into the office.

“What’s going on in here,” he asks, with a little smile.

“Heyyy,” I say. I’m at my desk and I reach my hand out to him in a little flutter of fingers. He is to far away to touch.

“I just wanted to catch you before our meeting at 10,” says Scotty, still at the door, too polite to intrude on our meeting.

“And I wanted to tell you, I realized I had some defensive energy around what we were talking about. I feel like I was trying to sell you on something that you weren’t asking to be sold on. You were just asking questions. So let’s not do that again today. Literally, it’s been on my mind since last night, it was the first thing I said to Jeff when he came in this morning.” I nod over at Jeff, still leaning back in his chair.

“It totally was,” echoes Jeff.

“I was going to tell you I might have just been in a confused state yesterday,” says Scotty. “I got some bad news and I think it was clouding my head.”

I don’t ask details. Instead, I reach my hand back out to him across the space over my desk. “Love you, Scotty,” I say. He reaches back and our fingertips meet in the air over my desk.

Instead of three weeks working in LA, one week working from Seattle I’ve stretched to five weeks in LA. When I get home Thursday night I’m exhausted. I’m leaving Friday for a weekend trip to Leavenworth to have a wintery get-away for Lenora’s birthday involving French Onion soup, bourbon and cards.

Friday night, while the group is revving up with red wine, I yawn and yawn. At one point Carina laughs at me and says, “Jennifer, you’re so tired.”

I crawl into the sheets at 830 but can’t get to sleep until 10 when the kids finally settle down upstairs. Still, my little plaid-covered twin bed feels like much-needed hibernation.

I wake up refreshed.

“You okay,” asks Seath. He offers me a doctored coffee, but it’s too early for me to drink.

“I think I’m over-socialized,” I say. The weeks in LA have been choc full of dinners out with friends, work dinners with clients. Seeing Dr Bob. I’ve hardly had a night home. I realize how I’m missing my quiet time with Lolo, puttering around my house at my own pace. How I haven’t had the energy for art or the blog.

Saturday is cool but brilliant with bright yellow and red leaves. We go for a hike along the creek. Sunday there are snowflakes. The kids wake up and pull their boots on over their pajamas. They run outside and catch flakes on their tongues. Even the dogs are joyous with the cold.

I leave early on Sunday, even though there is a schnitzel lunch scheduled at one of the Barvarian-themed restaurants in town. My tire pressure is low so I stop and fill my tires, visualizing being stuck over the snowy pass alone along the roadside. There is a 15 year old working at the Napa Auto parts next door. “I can’t tell if I’ve got a flat,” I say. “The gage is reading low.” He checks the tire pressure, and they are even all around, although low. “Seems like you just need some air, but don’t sue me,” he says. I am not reassured.

His co-worker, probably in his 30’s is behind the counter. “It’s probably just the cold,” he says confidently. “They used to say to fill your tires low in the winter for traction but these new tires are meant to be at full capacity.” I ask him which way to go. He tells me to take Stevens Pass, not Snoqualmie. No matter the weather, he always takes Stevens. I feel his certainty, a man who knows the roads, the elements.

The road is dusted with snow, the tiremarks tracking through the middle, the evergreens turning white. I take my time. I am still worrying about my potential flat tire or having to stop and chain up to crest the hill. As I drive, I realize my real anxiety is not the roads, but aloneness. Somehow a weekend with friends and kids and dogs has sent me into a social retreat. But I am also afraid to cut the cord. I’ve lost confidence in myself somewhere along the route. The snowflakes fall easy and unconcerned. When I reach lower altitudes and the road turns rainy I am relieved, knowing the worst is over.

On the other side of the pass, I start to regain my own certainty.

My apartment in LA slowly acquires the semblance of home. A rug arrives. A couch arrives. I buy two pots, two pans. I boil eggs in the morning. I meet my neighbor.  I recount my Nigerian Prince story about the landlord and she laughs. Her baby reaches out her arms to me and I ask if I can hold her. “I don’t think you have a choice,” she says. I bounce the baby on my hip in the sun of the backyard.

I am at an impromtu dinner with Maeve and Vicente and Jen. It’s suggested last minute by Maeve, Jen adding on 15 minutes later, free of children and conveniently in the neighborhood.

We go to Paco’s Tacos. I have horchata, Jen orders a beer. Maeve goes into full Scorpio mode and starts grilling Jen on her life. They haven’t seen each other since I lived in Miami. Jen is talking about how she got done with advertising and decided to go to school for a year in Amsterdam.

“Oh my god, doesn’t that sound awesome, school for a year in Amsterdam” says Maevey. “I want to do that now!”

Vicente counters with, “Nooo, go travel! Why would you want to be at school?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “You’ve got a PhD. You’ve done way more schooling than me. I love travel but I don’t feel like I need to take a year off to do more. I feel like I’ve seen a lot. But school seems like a luxury.”

“What would you study,” asks Maeve.

I pause for a minute. “I think I’d learn how to sing.”

It is a surprise. A thought that had been sitting there at the surface, unnoticed but waiting to be released.

“What!?” says Maeve. “You never told me that!”

“Well, I love to sing.” In the back of my mind, I am thinking of Michael, of Dr. Bob, of Pippi. Of Carina.

It is Thursday evening. It’s been a long six weeks leading into Thanksgiving. Even in the airport lounge, I start to melt, relaxing with the thought of coming home and having a week off to rest, snuggle Loli and rake leaves in Seattle.

When I walk in, Lolo is there at his post in the front. He wags his tail, his ears down. When I head to the kitchen he finally struggles up. I rummage around my empty fridge – eggs, Kambucha, a grapefruit from who knows how long ago. Finally I find some cheese in the drawer, and cut off a few slices to eat with dried figs from the cabinet. All I can think of is crawling in bed.

When I drag my suitcase down the hall into my room I notice two drawers have been left open. I don’t remember rushing out, but then again, I barely remember Monday. I look in my office for my iPad, but it isn’t on my desk. I can’t remember where I’ve left it.

The iPad is only two weeks old, a replacement for the laptop that was stolen in Scotland. I bought it in Portland, pleased with my deal – it happened to be on sale and no sales tax. I was getting to know it, loading apps, watching TV on it from bed. It wandered with me, to bed, from upstairs couch to downstairs couch. It was nomadic. It could be anywhere.

I head downstairs. It isn’t on the couch. And strangely it is breezy in the hall. The laundry room door is open. The cold storage door is open. When I peek around the corner into my studio I see that the floor is littered with glass. The window is open. The accompanying pane has a perfectly round hole broken into it, the cracks radiating out from the center.

Did I leave the window open? I wonder.

Everything occurs to me except that I’ve been robbed.

Finally my brain kicks in. I call the police. My phone pops up with a red light, like the one on top of a police car, just to make it clear that it’s an emergency call. I don’t feel urgent, however, I just feel tired.

I call Seath and Carina. Seath doesn’t pick up but C does. She asks if I’m alright, if I want to come over and spend the night. I don’t feel scared. But I feel lonely. I’m craving someone to commiserate with. Someone to mourn the loss of the peace and tranquility of my beautiful house. Someone who will offer to help sweep up the glass.

Excluding Edinburgh, the last time my house was robbed was when Juan and I lived in London. We were moving back to the states and took one last trip to Paris before the move. The day before we left there had been a pre-dawn pick up for Lolo for the airport. We were shipping him home to stay with Barbie and Brian while we moved. In Paris, we stayed in the garret apartment with a friend. We went to chic department stores and local cheese shops. We wandered les Marais.

When we got home and walked into our bedroom it was also unclear what had happened. Because of the move, our house was already a mess. But my jewelry box had been dumped out. Our cameras were gone. We saw the broken window in the kitchen where they’d come through.

At work a friend said, “Aw love, everyone in London gets burgled. It’s a rite of passage, in’it? At least they didn’t take your knickers.”

That night, Juan slept with a cast iron pan next to the bed. “What, are you going to sautee them if they come back?” I asked. Juan had his shoulders hunched over like he was ready for a fight. I couldn’t sleep because of his stiff posture in bed.

I hop in bed with my work laptop, the sole survivor from my exodus of Apple products, first my personal laptop that was stolen in Edinburgh, now the iPad. My in-box has an email from Poorna. I reply saying my house has been robbed and I’m now down an iPad.  She calls me on Skype. She has her long curly hair in a braid and a sleepy face. It is 930 in the morning in Mumbai, a 12 hour difference from Seattle. As she sits in the window in the kitchen, her housekeeper brings her a cup of tea, the brown hands enter the frame. Poorna turns the computer around and I see the woman who owns the hands. I don’t catch her name but I wave. She waves back from the stove.

We laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing. In Edinburgh, Poorna had been robbed two weeks before. She’d asked me to bring her my laptop to do some work on. It had been taken from her room.

About a month ago, Poorna finally bought herself a replacement MacBook on a recent trip to NY. She posted on her Facebook: “New laptop with LOWJACK, motherfuckers.”

“Babe, you should totally get lowjack,” she says, only half kidding.

Lolo starts barking at the door.

“Let’s see how Seattle PD compares to Scotland Yard,” I tell Poorna.

The police say there’s been a rash of robberies in the general area – “I’m doing 2 or three of these a night,” says one of them. They dust for fingerprints. They are pleasant. Then they are gone.

When I wake up in the morning I realize I’ve put the cheese back in the cabinet rather than the fridge.

I feel emotionally drained, I can’t get out of bed.

I have a call with Suzi scheduled.

“I wanted to talk more about the dating thing,” I tell her. “But I’ve got some other stuff to clear.” I tell her about the robbery.

“Oooh, but these things are related, they are both about intimate relationships,” says Suzi.

I tell Suzi that the room they chose to climb into was my studio, the symbol of my own creativity. The room dark and disused. I’ve been feeling so drawn at work, so empty. The robbery is a circle around the anemic relationship I have with the rest of myself.

“I’m on the edge of my seat!” she says.

More than that, I tell her that the rock they broke the window with bounced off one of my paintings, chipping the paint. “It’s the painting I did the year Juan left, my break up painting,” I say slowly. The story is slowly unspooling.

It is my breakup painting. It’s also the best painting I’ve ever done. The chip is on my face near my right eye, a jagged jailhouse tear.

It is Friday night and we decide to do Thai in Madrona. I drive, Carina snug in the back with the girls, Seath in front. We head down Genesee and I miss the turn, not thinking the best way is to along the lake. It is cold and dry. The houses are cheery with candy-colored Christmas lights adorning their eaves.

We take a few side streets down to the lake and as we’re coming down the hill, Carina cries out, “Oh look look! It’s a coyote!” A small dog bounds out from a yard, trots down the hill and stops in the park at the base. We creep up towards it, our lights on and catching his eyes with an amber glow.

Carina rolls the window down and does her best canine communication – high pitched barks and howls. The coyote stands still, there is no editorial comment on her fluency. As we turn towards the lake, the coyote lopes off into the grass.

“I love the little coyote,” says Carina. “I think he’s going to be my totem for the season.”

“I had no idea you had a seasonal totem,” I say.

“I wonder what mine is.”

Monday I go for a walk around the lake. It is bitterly cold – about 25 degrees. I’m bundled up except for a small patch of leg that is exposed where my capri pants don’t reach. It is a brilliant day, I admire the long stark sun bleaching white and casting dark within the trees along the path. Just as I hit the park I get a call on my phone: It’s Just Lunch.

I don’t pick up.

Walking back up the hill, I finally listen to my message. It’s Holly. She’s calling to let me know my membership is expiring. I can sign up for an extension and buy more dates or I can let the membership lapse. She ends with, “We hope you find love!”

I can’t help but think about the timing.

I decide to downsize LA. No dinners out. More time at home, committing to my apartment there. One afternoon, I leave work altogether and head home at 230. I take artwork to the picture store to be framed. When I get home at 430, I lie on my couch in the afternoon sun and start writing the blog. I aim to refind my balance, my freedom.

I take my morning calls from home and come to the office late, around 1030. Pete, our new chief creative is out talking to another friend. I stop and chat with them. We both talk about our need for fresh air in the process. Pete mentions that Bob Deutsch is coming in for a meeting. “You should try and come,” says Pete.

Bob Deutsch is the same as he was on stage. A sprightly presence. We talk about the  hurdles we’ve hit lately. He offers up some initial thoughts in a simple, unsalesman-like way. He is fresh and unconcerned about offending. “I’d give that line another beat. Like ‘Get in. Get happy. Get going.’ It wants something else.”

Dr Bob talks about the idea of self-expansion, that this is what people want from brands. “I want you to help me be more me,” explains Dr. Bob. “Becoming yourself just a little bit more is everything.”

I think about becoming myself just a little bit more. It was the idea with this job. To create a new dynamic, a new, more creative way of working. But I haven’t been that way myself yet, or at least not in any consistent fashion.

Afterwards I give Dr Bob a hug.

He might be my seasonal totem.

I see KJ at the gym. It’s been over a month. He bobs in, his heavy braid thick at the back of his head, his grin a block wide.

“Well now Miss Thang, give an account of yo’self,” he says.

We chat about what we’ve been up to. I report my comings and goings. Amaan sidles up and says, “How you doin’” and gives me his best devilish look.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” screeches KJ. “Do that again.” Amaan obliges and KJ cracks up.

“Is that what usually works for you,” I ask sarcastically. The three of us chat for a minute and then Amaan heads out the door.

“And what about that other thing,” KJ asks, eyebrows raised. “That relationship thing?”

“I’m working on it, I’m working on it.” I tell him. “I’ve decided I am the blockage. I’m trying to unblock myself.”

“That’s because your job is your relationship,” he says. “All that time you spend in LA, that is your real relationship.” He says it re-la-tion-ship, drawing the syllables out for emphasis.

“I don’t accept that,” I quip. “I don’t think a relationship is about how much time your spend, it’s about what you connect on. Besides, who knows, maybe I meant to meet someone in LA. Maybe I’ll meet someone on a flight.”

KJ scrunches up his nose. “Not in LA,” he says dismissively. “But on a flight, yes. I always meet people on planes.”

His comment has gotten my fur up and KJ can tell.

“You know I’ve always gotta instigate,” he says, leaning over to me from his bike so that we bump shoulders, a kind of apology.

When I leave the gym I think, why did that needle me so much? I wonder if he would have made that comment to a man, insinuated that his career was in the way of his heart. I think of Jenifer and her soul mate, a man living in Oakland. A non-traditional arrangement, but one I could imagine as gratifying.

Besides, after the last several weeks of overextending myself, what I’ve learned is the real relationship I need to invest time with is me.

It is the last day before Christmas break. It has been a rough week of cross-fire and confusion. Early in the week, wondering about the craziness I read my horoscope. Susan Miller confirmed crazy and went on to predict the ruin of my holiday break. Just when I think I’ve dodged the bullet on one project, another crumbles. My schedule over the holiday fills in with work calls. For a moment, I feel the cracks again, the porousness.

But on the flight home, I settle into myself. I start to write.

My seatmate offers me the chocolate from his meal with a smile. I take it, the gesture and the candy evocative of the sweetness of home.

When I land I have a voicemail from a friend in SF, wishing me happy holidays and sending Lolo a squeeze. Seath has sent me a text seeing if I can meet Edison and him to see the Hobbit at the local movie theatre. As I come up the escalator at the airport there is a family on the left with a handmade sign. They shout out, “Uncle Jerry!” and a man on the parallel escalator breaks out in a grin. A girl, maybe 7 or 8, in a pink taffeta dress and sneakers runs into the arms of an older woman who says, “Who’s this beautiful girl?” Two young men in their twenties hug, the one facing me closing his eyes, the embrace of brothers.

In the cab, I continue to write. The driver, a Sikh in a red turban chats away about the snow that slowed the morning commute. I toss out “really” and “yeah” but am only half-listening.

There is a package on my porch. In my living room, my tinsel Christmas tree shines silver.

I’ve missed the movie with Seath and Edison, but it’s OK. I give Lolo some love and dump my suitcase in my room. But I leave my coat on, my boots zipped. I settle into the blue chair in my kitchen. I want to finish the blog. It is home.

 

Jendate 22: The Bend

The Galactic Indians post of the blog gets comments.

“W.O.W.” emails one friend.

Maeve, of late a lapsed reader, sends me a text saying, “You are my favorite writer.”

My aunt, Nurse Karen corners me at a family party. “This one was really different,” she says, squeezing my arm and leaning in towards me. I can’t tell what she means, if it’s an observation or a critique. “Normally you’re so focused on relationships, but in this one you were focused on yourself, what was going on with you.” I counter that I’ve had several entries that have been date-free, but she insists this is a different flavor.

And here I thought the entry before was the big one.

Nurse Karen’s words stick with me. Has something changed? Am I at a bend in the road, a point of no return, where the path curves so you can’t see back around the way?

Other places, corners are turned.

I stop dying my hair. I am grey in the same places as my brother, a tuft at each temple. I am spurred on in my quest when I see a friend of S&C’s that is a stylist. She is younger than me, but her hair is salt and pepper. I start telling people it is my gift to LA, grey hair. “This is what a woman in her 40’s really looks like. You’re welcome,” I say, only half as a joke.

Edison goes from being a stylist of paper dolls and obsessive reader of Harry Potter to a dejected pre-teen. She lolls diagonally on the couch and moans that she’s sooooo bored. One Sunday I walk into the kitchen and don’t recognize her sitting on the chair. She’s cut her hair short. Her striped t-shirt shows two tiny pre-teen puffs at the chest. She shows me her collection of earrings, kept in a jewelry box. Harry Potter is cast aside.

Juan texts me to say his friend Nene has been killed. In that moment I can see Nene, “Baby”, his neatly gelled black hair, his square dimpled, freckled face, his polite bow to Juan’s mother in the family’s living room. His eyes brown but icy cold. Nene, who had graduated from robbing semi’s in his 20’s to running drugs in his 30’s. Nene, who regaled Juan with rides in his newest Audi, with drinks paid from rolls of cash, with tales of gangster glory.

I am not surprised at the news. On Juan’s last trip to Mexico, Nene told him that he would give anything to have what Juan had. Like he knew. Like the writing was already on the wall.

I feel like Nene’s death is also writing on the wall for Juan. A final break from his own past. A bend in the road where money is earned on talent, not stolen on muscle. Where work is done in conference rooms, not on the streets. A man’s life, moving forward, while Nene, the baby, is buried and left behind.

In the end, Nene was taken from a Starbucks by a rival drug gang.

Three days later, they dumped his body in front of his mother’s house.

I text Juan back how sorry I am, for him to call me if he wants to talk. He says he will call later, he doesn’t want to lose it at work. He spells lose “loose.” I think it is appropriate, the malapropism, a loosening of the emotions.

A week goes by and he never calls. When I have lunch with Jen and Alex in LA, they have seen Juan, had dinner with him for his birthday, barbecued at a mutual friends’ house. They have talked to him about Nene. I estimate that haven’t seen him in 9 months, maybe longer. I can’t remember the last time. When in LA, I’ve offered up meeting for dinner or coffee, but he is busy, he’s not sure if he can get away. I realize with a matter-of-fact neutrality that we have each officially moved on. I stop offering to meet up.

I have brunch with my old elementary schoolmates, Caitlin and Sarah. We go to St Cloud’s in Madrona and sit outside in the shade of the patio. The waiter sashays over and dabs his brow with a handkerchief. He is a big man, a “bear,” bald, bearded and ornamented with funky tortoiseshell glasses. “Well ladies, what are we having,” he says with a combination of efficiency and flourish.

We order eggs and coffee. We reminisce about growing up, what tomboys we all were in our yellow Capitol Hill soccer jackets. Sarah was the queen of the kickball, always the first girl picked, guaranteed to launch the ball just over the tip of the hill so it bounced down to the portables. She was always the tallest, “God, looming over everyone in every class picture!” remembers Sarah, horrified. Now Caitlin and I have caught up.

We talk about money and relationships. We have all been the primary earners in our relationships. None of us cook. Cait tells a story about one of her boys. When Caitlin asked what he thought about her cooking, he said she was “good at a few things.”

We laugh at his diplomacy.

“I felt so – effeminated,” Caitlin says. “Is that even a word?” She laughs and her eyes crinkle into little moons.

“That is such a great concept,” I tell Cait. It seems impossible that there is no female equivalent to emasculate. Like no linguist ever thought the loss of femininity was important.

I think of a time when Marianne and Pierre had dropped by my house. Normally they are dropping off art, a purchase from Marianne’s gallery, but this time it was a barbecue. They had moved into an apartment and weren’t using it. “Pierre wants more room in his mancave,” a garage they had rented near their apartment Marianne told me.

I was babysitting Evie and Edison. We were painting nails on the front porch. I was doing Evie’s and Marianne offered to do Edison’s.

Edison was hesitant to accept, so I said, “Oh, Edison, you’re so lucky, you get a French manicure. Marianne is from France.”

“Oh, but your auntie always has the best manicures,” said Marianne.

Edison, persuaded, outstretched her hand on the stone surface of the porch wall said, “Merci,” with the little grin of someone who knows her own cleverness.

“That’s right, that’s very good, Merci,” said Marianne. She smacked the bottle of polish on her open palm twice and unscrewed the top. “You know a little French.”

As she worked Marianne said, “You know, I want to rent some little girls for the weekend, and do girly things like this.” She surveyed her work with a critical eye, holding Edison’s dimpled hand close.

“You know, women in Seattle, it’s like they are at war with being feminine.” She pursed her lips and blew on Edison’s nails to dry them.

I recognized a past self in her comment. I looked at my own manicured hands and wondered if they were feminine window dressing, or proof of something real, if my own war with being feminine was over.

I am early for acupuncture so I stop in at one of my favorite stores in Fremont. It is before the lunch rush so it’s still quiet. I spritz perfume, I smell soap, I peer into the glass cases of jewelry. There is a tiered cement fountain burbling inside.

The woman working comes over to open one of the cases for me. She is maybe late forties and Seattle-chic with a brown sweater, pencil skirt and delicate gold jewelry.

I try on a few rings. One is a rectangular stone, clear with brown flecks. Another is ombre, purple to white, cut in an irregular egg shape. They are nice, but neither is compelling. There is another ring in the far corner of the case, hiding off to the side. I ask the saleswoman to see it. As I put it on my finger it dazzles.

“Wooooow,” I say, staring at my outstretched hand. It is a square gem-cut stone in a watery pink.

“Rose quartz, isn’t it beautiful,” says the saleswoman in the way of a true appreciator.

“Rose quartz? Healing for the heart! Just what I need.” I laugh. “I moved up here a couple years ago after getting divorced and my sister-in-law kept telling me, ‘You should get a rose quartz ring!’ And here it is.” The sparkle is intoxicating.

The saleswoman nods her head. “You know, back in the 80’s – wow, that really dates me – I used to be in the gem business and I bought this raw rose quartz that I had backlit over the mantle on my fireplace. I swear, it was like having my heart up there. At the time I was going through a really horrible break up and it totally healed me.”

“Well now I have to get it,” I say.

She tells me it will take about a month to get sized.

My finger is already missing it.

August takes the posture of fall. Something about a longer slouch to the light in the morning. Something about the way the dew shows up on the dry yellow grass evoking rain to come. The blackberries are finally in season. The sidewalks are full of walkers paused to sample along the roadside.

My plum tree riots with fruit. I spend a Sunday making plum jam and text everyone to come and help themselves to the bounty off the tree. The branches sag, so purple the green leaves are obscured. I YouTube videos on making jam. The one I watch is a young mother, her baby in a high chair, her kitchen counter full of jars, rings and lids. She starts talking about what I’ll need to get going then the baby starts fussing in the background. “She needs me,” she says cheerily, and pauses the video. I note how she doesn’t edit this moment, that in the world of jam-making how-to’s this moment of stepping away for baby is as important as going over the sugar to fruit ratio or how to boil and seal the jars. When she comes back on she says she talked to her aunt about how she does the canning and explains the differences. This woman has obviously never been effeminated, at least when it comes to jam-making. I wonder if she has any thwarted ambitions, desires beyond canning, wishes for her life that hang like ripening fruit she is unable to harvest.

From the video, it is hard to tell.

I make a dozen jars of jam. In the end I panic about how well I’ve sealed the jars. I am afraid to give any away in the event I poison Seath or Carina or worse, the girls. I think of the breezy YouTube mom, her waist cinched in by an apron, her easy way around cut fruit and boiling water. I have an envious thought that she’s probably never worried about poisoning her family with her canned fruit. That week I have visions of doing a second batch to improve my technique, but by the time I’m back in town again the fruit has become overripe. The tree sheds its remaining crop in a dark purple halo around the trunk. The branches trap the scent, heavy and fermented like wine. The rotting fruit attracts wasps.

The new job is happening. I troll craigslist for apartments. I troll the web for a car. Brian says he’ll drive it down for me, so I decide to get it in Seattle where I have more time on the weekend to test drive. I survey people about what kind should I buy. One of the planners I work with says, “Well, it’s LA. Let’s just say when you’re stuck in traffic you want to be surrounded by leather.” She is 25, a New Yorker, already more sophisticated than I am. I upgrade from considering VWs to considering a Lexus or an Audi. I email a car-savvy friend at work to get her opinion about a Lexus hybrid. She emails back, “What, like for your dad?”

Momentum builds for an Audi Q5. It is approved as a non-dad car by my work friend. Seath says, “That’s the car I want.” I text Jen, who has a Q5 what she thinks on a scale of 1 to 10. She texts me back “10. Love.” Pierre, who works for Boeing and is in a racing club for luxury cars says, “Let’s just say a Q5 is a perfectly acceptable car,” with an indulgent smile. Marianne says, “Watch out, Pierre will put you in a Porsche.”

I go to an Audi dealership in Bellevue. I drive a couple different models. The guy I’m with tells me a little about the car. I find his energy uninspiring. On the test drive he says, “Don’t be afraid to take the curve,” but that’s as excited as he gets. He is heading out on vacation the next day for a week. He connects me with Vlad, his co-worker to work with while he’s gone.

I try out a different dealer in the U District. It is busy and bustling inside. I am greeted by a young guy with a firm handshake who hands me off to his co-worker, Tyler. I tell Tyler what I want to drive and we head out to the lot. Tyler seems sleepy. He says, “What are you driving now?” as we leave the showroom for the lot. I tell him a Honda Fit and there is a beat where he says nothing. As we’re driving I ask him a few questions about the price of the vehicle and he has to turn around and lift up the sheet that’s stuck to the window.

When we get back to the dealership, I ask about colors and availability. I want to get one in August so Brian can take it down to LA in September.

“So why should I buy it here versus Bellevue,” I ask him. He tilts his head a minute and says with a grin, “We give you a free car wash.”

“Hmmm, but I’m going to be in LA with the car, so it doesn’t do me much good,” I say, narrowing my eyes.

He leans back in his chair and throws his arms out. “I guess you just have to like us better, then” he says with an easy laugh.

I laugh with him, but I like this answer. Plus, he seems to realize this is an answer. He digs into the inventory and prints me out six or seven sheets of paper that show what’s coming in so I can think about my options.

“Why don’t I take you down to the port tomorrow and we can see what’s there,” he says. I look at my calendar, but I have a break in the middle of the day that can work.

“You know, you were a little sleepy when I first met you earlier,” I tell him. “But I think you’ve perked up.” He laughs and says, “Really?”

I tell him I’ll meet him there tomorrow.

On the way home I pick up my ring which has finally been sized. It sparkles like it has been uncaged from its little velvet pouch. My finger feels happy.

The next day is grey and cool but I’m excited about my adventure at the port. I wear a guava pink sweatshirt and my new ring. I am feeling festive somehow, like I’m going on a date.

I meet Tyler at the dealership and he drives us in a white Q5 to the port. “So what’s your deal,” I ask Tyler as he drives. “How long have you been selling cars?”

He tells me he was in the Marine Corps and was deployed in Afghanistan and Japan. “It was awesome. You’re just out there with a bunch of guys. I was never really into school and I just knew college wasn’t for me, I just can’t concentrate like that. I was always into sports.” When he got done with the military he came back to Seattle and got a job at the dealership through one of his family’s friends, also a Marine.

At the port there is a huge lot of cars lined up snugly next to each other, cattle in a pen. Two Samoan guys wave at Tyler as we come in. They are sitting out in the middle of the lot in metal chairs, keeping an eye on the herd. We see a couple models but nothing is exactly what I want.

I pay close attention to Tyler, more so than the cars. He shows me his military ID. His face is thinner but it is still the same Tyler. “Your hair is better now,” I tell him. His hair is thick and almost black, tamed with an aggressive dose of styling product. “Girls like the longer hair,” I say, handing him back his card.

He has a nonchalance that is totally unsalesmanlike. I find myself comparing car sales to dating: that attractiveness isn’t about giving something away, it’s actually the opposite. I remember talking to Maeve once about Chris, the trainer I dated briefly before I left LA. “Just try not to do anything for him,” she said. “You’re very generous with your time and advice, even I have benefitted that. But I don’t think you want to attract someone who needs that.” I feel like I can learn from Tyler’s calm take-it-or-leave-it approach to life.

“I wasn’t sure about you at the beginning, Tyler,” I tell him.

“Why, what did I do,” he asks with a chuckle.

I recount his omission when he asked me what kind of car I drive, how he just didn’t answer when I said a Honda Fit.

“That is basically a dis, Tyler,” I tease him. “But you’re OK.”

He laughs with a little rock back in his seat, like he can’t believe himself.

I ask him what he’d be doing now if he could do anything. “What do you mean, selling cars, it’s a dream!” he says, but he is sarcastic.

Then he says, “You know, I would be moving to Hollywood to do voice-overs.”

“Let’s hear it,” I say, “Lay one on me.”

He asks me to pick someone and I say Al Pacino. He takes a minute, and then belts out some Pacino-esque lines from Scent of a Woman. He’s not great, but I am impressed he does it at all. The cabin of the car is filled with loud, forceful energy from his impersonation.

We do some final check on the inventory and find what I’m looking for, a black on black that is coming in on August 19. I tell him I will call him and let him know.

In the meantime I check in with Vlad in Bellevue. Vlad is cheerful, but he also starts to put pressure on, saying, “I have a couple black on black 2013s that will probably sell this weekend,” and “These have been going really quickly, people have been buying them pre-order.” Unattractive, Vlad. I hang up with him and immediately send Tyler a text that says, “You’re my guy. Let’s figure out what is my car.”

In a week, I have a black Q5 parked in my driveway.

My new job starts with a bang of old work. I am buried in meetings and travel. My account director says he’s going to have a panic attack because of all the new projects and overlapping timing. I am on vacation for a week in August. “How long are you gone for?” he asks me, his brow tightening between the eyes. I consider postponing, but there’s nowhere to move it to. I’m going to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, one of the biggest performing arts festivals in the world., to see Poorna and her new play. I tell Lisa my fleeting thought, about feeling like I need to stay, and she says wisely, “Vacations are important for work too.”

I realize she is right. And how appropriate that my vacation, my swim in the arts falls smack in the middle of a ramp up for work. It is a sign about how I want to actually be doing work – arts and creativity at the middle. Meetings at the margins.

I make small piles across my bedroom floor of things I want to take with me: a white and yellow scarf, a power adapter, my passport. The piles are signal fires for the trip to come.

Poorna and I have a series of incomplete emails in the days before I leave. I ask for the address to the flat we’re staying in. Poorna replies, “Babe, I love how you asked me that,” as if it’s an unusual question. She gives me a link to the pub next door.

Poorna wants me to bring my laptop. The flat was robbed that week, and her laptop had been stolen from her room. “I really need to get some work done,” she says. I was looking forward to being free of my laptop, not lugging the weight through the airports but I consent. I decide to bring my personal laptop so I’m not looking at powerpoint files every time I open it up.

When I talk to Maeve, she asks, “Dude, are you ready?” I still haven’t packed but things are coming together on their own time. I tell her how I still don’t have the address, but that I’m not worried. “Easy and awesome,” I tell her. It’s the least planned I’ve ever been for a vacation. “I’m just counting on it all working out.”

When I land in Edinburgh I am hazy with fatigue. My cab driver is talking but I can’t understand most of what he’s saying between the brogue and the glass separating us. He drops me off three blocks from Poorna’s house. Despite glass and accent, I piece together it’s because the street is closed for construction. I lug my bags down the street until finally I am hugging Poorna’s skinny body. It’s a stately house on a main street with wide grey bricks and tall paned windows. She takes me downstairs and shows me my room. It’s the basement floor where she and a couple other castmates are staying. The rest of the cast is littered through the rooms upstairs in the house. It’s a tiny room with a window with shutters, the view is the underside of the front steps and the trash that has accumulated in the tiny courtyard there. There’s a snug bathroom with a shower, the door opening so narrow I have to suck in my stomach to squeeze in. With my vacation eyes, it all looks perfect.

Poorna is staying down the hall – “I just moved so my room is a disaster zone,” she says, opening the door up just enough to catch the bedroom floor littered with clothes. We catch up for a few minutes about how it’s going and arrange to meet after her show, around 545. I have a play at 4 but I decide to take a shower and a nap beforehand.

My first play is a comedy, called the Six Wives of Henry the VIII. It’s a frenetic two man show that tracks the story of Henry VIII. Henry is played by a short, stout bearded actor, and three Catherines, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves are all played by a tall lanky actor. The highlight is Anne of Cleves who manifests in a black sheath, black chunky glasses and German techno music.

It is a great introduction to the festival – light and fun, but filled with the simple magic of theatre – the clever costume changes, the crucial objets that make the set, the transparent, porous wall between the show and the audience.

I meet Poorna and we go next door for dinner with Rukhsar, one of her castmates. She has a sweet, doll-like face and light skin. Her hair is thick and textured and falls almost to her waist.

Poorna has grabbed a flyer from the play and points out the small print on the back where it says, “Executively produced by Jennifer Patterson.” I laugh at the wording and the concept, that I might be an executive producer. “You’re an art patron,” Poorna tells me.

Poorna tells Ruksar I was one of the early contributors. “She sold her house and gave the money to the play.” I have an initial urge to correct Poorna, to make the amount accurate and not seem like I gave tens of thousands of dollars to the play but I resist and accept the compliment. Rukhsar grabs my hand, her eyes watering.

“You know, that really makes me feel good about people, about women.” Later, when I see the play, I see why she says this.

The next day I see several more shows and start to get the lay of the land. The city is bustling with people from the festival, yet the ambience is relaxed. Poorna has told me to come see the play today. I have a ticket for Saturday night, but I like the idea of seeing it more than once. I wait in the courtyard of an 18th century building, imposing stone and a serious statue of a bard or academic in the middle. I strike up a conversation with a woman I am sharing a bench with. She is English, from Darbyshire. It is her fifth time at the Fringe Festival, “I’m almost 70 and I am spending my retirement on books and theatre,” she tells me. I recount this later to Poorna and she says, “Is that what we’re doing too?” I tell her yes, it is a great plan.

We enter on the tail end of the line and sit off to the side. The theatre is beautiful, tiered with carved wooden panels between the sections. Poorna is the first one to speak, the anchor for the show. It is a thrill to see her up on stage. The play begins to unfold. Within five minutes I am already crying. I try to sense out of the corner of my eye if my retired neighbor is also reacting, but it’s hard to tell. A man in front of me holds his hand to his mouth, both thoughtful and protective.

The story is this: the news of the brutal gang rape of a Delhi medical student has conjured up past memories, broken open old wounds. Each of the actresses tells her own personal story of abuse and violence. One has been gang raped. One was sexually abused as a child, by family friends, by the hired cook working in the household. One woman has a burned face, her skin shiny and brown, her eyes and nose nearly hidden by the scar tissue. Her husband and brother-in-law set her on fire with kerosene. Rukshar, who I met at dinner, was forced into an arranged marriage at 17, subjected to physical abuse by her husband and emotional abuse by the women in the household, her mother- and sisters-in-law. When she tries to commit suicide by drinking bleach, her mother-in-law tells her if she wants to kill herself to do it at her father’s house. When she finally leaves her husband, she is forced to choose between her two children, a boy and a girl. On stage, she kneels, her hair wild with the horror of having to split her heart in two. She picks up a pink jeweled scarf, bundled loosely like a baby, a girl. The white scarf, the boy, is left behind.

When the lights come up, I look at my neighbor to see what she thought and she can’t get the words out. She chokes, “Tell your friend I think it is a very important play.” I invite her to stay and meet Poorna, but she says, “I wouldn’t even know what to say, I’d probably just cry.”

When Poorna comes out I am also too choked up to talk and just give her a squeeze. It is a confusion of emotion – the reveal of her abuse, of which the play is my first knowledge; the amazing production, her project that she grew from scratch; my own luxurious and delicious immersion in the arts, surrounded by people following their hearts. I hug a few of the other castmates I have met. They are normal, looking for their espresso and cigarettes like another day at work. I try not to wet their shoulders with my tears.

We step out and Poorna wants the debrief on the production. I talk about the details I liked – the sparse set design, the pink jeweled scarf, details like the description of fragrant flowers and the joy of a girl and her brother on a bike. I tell them I can’t believe the elegance of the play, the way things are woven together, the writing. “She’s a genius,” Poorna says of Yael, the playwright and director.

After dinner, I have booked a late show so Poorna and I part ways. I walk home in the rain. By the time I get back to the house I am soaked through. I open the door downstairs and Poorna is sitting in the hall, “No wifi in my room,” she says. I tell her to come into mine, to work on my bed while I take a shower and dry off. Rukhsar comes down from her room in flannel boxers and a t-shirt and piles in bed next to Poorna. Then Priyanka, another castmate shows up, a hand-rolled cigarette between her fingers. We open a bar of chocolate from a stack I’ve brought for Poorna. Rukhsar says, “Oooh 70% cacao” and Poorna laughs saying, “Not like the chocolate in India, only 1%.”

We talk about the dynamics of the house. “I haven’t lived this way since college,” says Poorna. It is a dorm dynamic, with conflicting personalities and small tribes within the group. Poorna says, “I always hated the dorms in college. It was me and all of these blond girls. The house used to fill up with the smell of turmeric when I’d cook. I was always paranoid about the shower, that the drain would be full of my hair, the only black hair when everyone else was blond.”

“Ya, man,” says Priyanka. She is beautiful, with wide eyes and skin the color of the chocolate bar we’ve opened. Her black hair bounces as she nods.

I see the three of them together on my bed and feel their bond. They’ve spent months work-shopping the play, weeks in rehearsal. And now the actor’s dorm, a house meant to smell of turmeric. In this scenario, I am the outsider, an American amongst the Indians. But I don’t feel isolated, I feel happy to have my own perspective and lucky to hear theirs. I feel happy to have brought them chocolate.

They recount insider stories from the performance. In one scene there is a critical crowd that scolds the protagonist as she walks through the neighborhood. Each performance the actors try to crack each other up with the ridiculous things they say as the irate neighbors. Poorna says her Hindi isn’t that good so she’s always a little off. There is an urn that didn’t work again this performance. Ankor, the only man in the play, father, husband, boyfriend, son, rapist, abuser, has fractured a finger and keeps reinjuring it. Everyone has bruised knees and thighs from falling onto the stage, from being dragged by the leg or attacked. It is acting, but only a breath away from reality.

I wonder about the psychic toll of the play, reliving these horrific moments each afternoon in front of a new audience. I’m not surprised at the injuries. I’m only surprised that life can revert back to normal. Rukhsar says she is thinking about her son all the time, the son she left behind. She hasn’t seen him in 15 years. A spectral wound that no splint or knee pad can protect.

We talk about a few of the cast members who aren’t part of the testimonials. How did they come to the play, what is their connection. Priyanka speculates there must be something there, some past hurt that they haven’t yet opened up about. They muse about the singer whose pristine voice haunts the play. “There is something in that voice, it is too clear to not come from pain,” says Priyanka.

“How do you get up night after night and relive these stories,” I ask them. “I’m nervous getting up in front of that many people to just talk about something like worse, much less a deep personal trauma.”

Rukhsar says, “You know I used to really get nervous getting up on stage. Then one day my husband said to me, ‘why be nervous, it’s a room full of people supporting you. They want you to succeed.’ I haven’t been nervous since.”

I tell them I feel like this play is a turning point for them. How can it not be, claiming their wounds in such a bold, public way. As the festival progresses, the play gathers stars from reviewers. We are stopped in the streets by people who’ve seen the show. They gush. The play wins an award from Amnesty International. I see pictures on Facebook, Poorna in a red dress clutching the award with a mild smile on her face. The cast, chained in a linear embrace.

Edinburgh starts to feel like home. I find a juice bar for a morning cocktail of spinach, ginger, cucumber, apple. I chat with the girl at the bar, we talk about kale. “My American friend in California is always talking about kale,” she says. “I’m going to have to try it.” The walls are bright yellow and covered with vintage, kitschy things. There are plants growing on the windowsill in front. If it weren’t for the lack of kale, I could be in Portland or Seattle.

I see a play about two 20-something men sharing a hospital room. It is funny and sad.

I see a play about neighbors who meet each other the day Hitler visits Mussolini in Rome. It is bittersweet. As we walk into the theatre the actors are dressing on stage. The woman says to the audience, “I’m going to be doing some cooking, so tell me after the play if I owe anyone lunch.” She is a beautiful woman, maybe in her 40’s, curvy with an open face and wavy caramel hair. He is tall and thick, an Italian Javier Bardem. The actors draw the set in chalk. When the play starts, she interrupts his suicide attempt by knocking at his door. Her bird has escaped its cage and flown into his window. But then it becomes clear she is also harboring her own sadness, her own longing, her own desires to escape.

I see a play about two people in an assisted living home. It is about being replaced, about watching life go by without you. In the end the woman makes a break for it, to reclaim her freedom.

We see a late comedy show. The comic is Canadian. He does white guy comedy, equal opportunity offensiveness for every creed and color. He makes a couple cracks about Muslims that offend Poorna, a Muslim herself. She is glad Rukhsar, who is from a very heavily Muslim part of India, did not come.

As we’re finishing the show Priyanka waves to us frantically from the front of the theatre. Rukhsar has sent a text. The flat has been burgled again. Poorna’s room and my room have both been ransacked. Poorna dissolves into tears, shaking to her core. She keeps telling me how sorry she is, she’s so sorry. I tell her it’s only a laptop. It doesn’t feel like I am at all connected to what’s just happened.

We pile in a black cab and head home. We’re with one of the show’s producers. The producer says Jen, do you have cash, can you get the cab? As we get out Poorna says, “We owe Jen 7 pound for the cab.” I wave it off saying not to worry.

When we walk inside the lights are on and everyone is sitting in the living room and on the winding stairs. Two policemen from Scotland Yard are there. I head downstairs to investigate but they wont let me in the room yet.

Poorna is quivering with fatigue and anxiety. She is still worried about my laptop, which was in her room, but I can tell the sobs are about something else. I remain light and detached from the situation. I only have one day left, and I don’t want my vacation to be discolored by two thuggish Scots and a stolen laptop. When I finally get into my room no jewelry has been stolen. My camera is still in my bag. Poorna has lost 300 pounds in cash and gold earrings. “They’ll think the burglars will have made that mess in my room,” she says of her mess.

Apparently, one of burglars walked into Rukhsar’s room. She talked to him calmly, asking what he was doing there. “I saw him plainly, I saw his face,” she says. She says this several times, her voice calm, but the fear shows in the repetition.

“Ruk, she’s so delicate, but she’s also a warrior,” observes Poorna. I think about the play and know it is true.

Scotland Yard is unimpressive. The two boys look like they’ve barely started shaving. One takes my statement about my computer and gives me a claim number. The only good news is that the pub next door caught the two on camera. When Rukshar sees the footage she recognizes them.

We sit on the floor of Priyanka’s room, debriefing and eating the chocolate I’ve salvaged from my room. Poorna and I have abandoned the basement. We will share Priyanka’s bed for tonight and Priyanka will bunk with Rukhsar across the hall.

They each tell stories about getting their visas to come to London. Poorna says the lawyer for the production company called her to see if that was her only bank account, didn’t she have a joint bank account with more money? “That was the joint account,” Poorna laughs, emphasizing the irony. Priyanka and Rukhsar have similar stories, rupees trickling away. I think to myself how interesting, here are people who have chosen their passion in life, but they haven’t embraced the financial abundance. I think of my new ring, my new car, my business class ticket to Edinburgh. And how I’m still sure what my purpose is.

I tell Poorna, “I always have computer drama when something is going on about my work.” She replies, “Babe, I don’t think there’s a silver lining to this.”

But I know there’s a message in this. It is my personal computer that is stolen. I wonder if it is about merging my worlds – my work and my personal.

There are a few things on the laptop I will miss. One, a photo art project where I’d drawn hearts on the inside of my wrist and on my chest and had photographed them. They were eerie and dark. When I had put one on Facebook Jen had scolded me saying that wasn’t right for Facebook.

Another was a page of writing inner thoughts and goals. I remember one of them was to be an art patron, that that’s what I wanted money for. That was who I wanted to be.

It is my last night there, the night after the robbery. The producer for the play takes Poorna and a couple of the others to see new accomodations, bright, third floor dorms at the University of Edinburgh. Poorna hasn’t been sleeping since the robbery, her sense of safety shaken by the consecutive break-in’s. We take a black cab there, and as we get out Poorna says to her, “We owe Jen 7 pounds for the cab last night, let’s not forget.”

“Seven pounds and a laptop,” I say, as a joke. Poorna and the other two actresses crack up. The producer does not.

That night we all go together to dinner at an Indian restaurant. The robbery has reunited the tribes and we sit at a long table, Yael, the playwright and director in the center on one side, Poorna in the center on the other. We eat nan and curries and daal. We drink sweet lassis.

Poorna recounts a conversation that she and I once had at Deutsch where she worked with me for 9 months. She had said, “I’m a great #4. I’m not cut out to be a #1 or even a #2. But I’m a really great #4.” We all laugh at her declaration, at her easy relinquishment of power and authority.

Back in Seattle, I feel a loss. It is more than just the jetlag, more than the inevitable loom of work the next day. It is the cord cut from a womb of creativity. I am in love with actors, with theatre, with India and Edinburgh. Poorna calls the next day and tells me, “Priyanka was saying ‘I miss Jen’.” I miss them all, but especially Poorna, her raw determination, her range-y creative spirit, her dark sense of humor.

Later, I send Poorna a text. I have a realization about her comment at the restaurant, about being a great #4. I tell her the feminine energy, the supporting energy versus the conquering energy is just as powerful, just as vital. I text her to look at all she’s done, the marvel of the play that is her doing, her baby. What I really miss is her limitlessness.

The next day, I get a phone call from University Audi. My down payment check has been returned for insufficient funds. I am confused. I check my account and there is plenty of money. The finance guy says he’ll try to put the check through again. He is mellow, there’s no hidden recrimination in his voice. That said, I feel unworthy of my car. Moreso now that I’ve practically stolen it.

The car is an interesting inflection point. It doesn’t feel like mine. Even driving home from the gym, salty from my workout I feel like I should have showered before being in the car. Seath and Carina keep saying how the car is just like Carina’s Jetta sport wagon. And it is in many ways – same leather seats, same Bluetooth, same sunroof. But there is something that rankles me, puts me on the defensive. A recognition that I am needing for myself.

Amy has invited me to a breathing class. Her friend teaches it. Amy has told me about the class before – that it is really intense, that people sob or groan out loud as they’re going through the experience. I am intrigued.

I don’t see Amy but I go into the studio. A woman with fit tattooed arms and crystal blue eyes steps towards me. “Are you Jen?” she asks. “I’m Tanya.” I hold out my hand and she says, “I’m a hugger.” I tell her, “I’m a hugger too” and we embrace. It is a real hug, not a light structured encircling, arms to back.

Amy arrives and gives me a happy smile. They had a party the night before that I was too tired to go to. When I ask her how it was she says, “It would have been more fun if you were there.” We laugh about her text invite, where she had said “No known annoyers” would be in attendance, no Burien, no ex-crush. “Only Darek.”

We lie on blankets on the floor and Tanya explains the practice – the physical act of breathing through the mouth, versus the philosophical act of breathing through the nose. She asks each of us to share our intentions. One guy with a neat hair cut and excellent posture says he’s into martial arts and it’s all about rhythmic breathing and he wants to try and break out of it. An older woman with long grey hair says she doesn’t really know, it’s all just so complicated. I say I want to heal some wounds in my heart, to set my heart free. I am thinking about Juan.

There are moments when I choke up with the breathing. It is primal, animal. Panting. The emotion is raw and unfiltered. In one moment I realize that my old would to heal isn’t about Juan, it is about creativity, something I’ve denied myself the truest, fullest truth of. In another I see my chest cavity, light and rosy like a warm open room.

I talk to Suzi and recount trying to breathe my way whole, breathe my heart clean. There are other things I want to purge as well – my defensiveness around the car; the itch like a mosquito bite when several times someone had taken credit for something I’d said, taken it as his own. I tell her about how work has filled in, but how the flood is old work, like I’m hiding behind my old self. I tell her about my computer being stolen, about knowing there’s a message for me but not quite seeing it yet.

Suzi says close my eyes and see what’s still there, any last hurt, any last thing I haven’t forgiven myself. I close my eyes. I can feel my jaw.

“The only thing I’m getting is like an outline of my jaw, like I’m not saying something about it. Like I’m not claiming myself.”

Suzi says yes, yes. That I have an opportunity to update myself, update who I am. To round a corner to somewhere new, someone new.

Now I’m saying yes, yes, “That’s what it is about the laptop. That was all writing about who I wanted to be, rather than saying this is who I am. Like I already am an art patron. I already am creative. That’s the message!”

I think of my new car, shiny and black in the driveway, too pristine, too luxe for the old me. But just right for the new me, the me of expanded limits.

Suzi says, “I’m getting chills!” She asks me how this makes me feel.

I say free.

“Is there anything else,” she asks me. We only have a few minutes left.

“Well, I feel like the final limit is about relationships. Like why am I still holding my heart hostage?” I tell her about my friend in Seattle who moved from New York, bought a car, and started dating her car salesman. It could be as easy as that.

“I mean it’s been 5 years. The math is starting to compete with how long we were actually together.”

We poke around it a little and then Suzi starts to say, “It’s related to not getting credit in a relationship,” but her next client is on the other line and clicks over to answer.

Then suddenly I see it, I see what she’s saying. Another chance to update myself.

For so long with Juan I let myself stand back – he was the fun one, the good looking one, the spontaneous one. He had the magic. It used to drive Juan crazy that on trips I wanted to know where we were going to spend the night. When he drove us and took a corner too fast I’d hold the handle above the window and he’d call me Juanita, his mother’s name.

I thought this was collaboration. He played his role, I played mine. I was in charge of infrastructure – making sure bills were paid, that we were saving for retirement, that kitchen and bathrooms were clean. But mine was a thankless task, a lonely job, a job of tasks, a job of no’s. In hindsight, I felt stifled. It wasn’t collaborative as much as it was holding up one side of a fence.

But that was then. Now I am free of duty. I am full of yesses. Now I have the magic, I see it in myself, in the silver strands of my hair in the mirror. I think how much I’ve changed in the last two years. There were things I was so sure I wanted – another marriage, children – that now I am breezy about. Maybe I will marry. Maybe I will adopt. Maybe I will content myself with the happy full love of being auntie to Edison and Evie.

Now I can see that there are other ways to love, other loves. Loves that enhance creativity, loves that inspire collaboration. An updated heart.

I start to tell myself everyday that my heart is ready.

My second check to the Audi dealer bounces. I call the bank. The woman posits all kinds of reasons why and then puts me on hold. When she clicks back on she says, “I found the reason and you’re going to feel bad.” Apparently I’d used a check from another account.

My main account is still the joint account that Juan and I had together. Every time I log on it says its name, since he was the primary account holder. I am a second-class citizen at my own bank, with my own money. When I moved to Seattle, I opened a second account, one in my name only. I meant to migrate my finances over to it, but became prisoner to inertia. Somehow, when I looked for a new book of checks I’d pulled out the checks to my second account, not the main one. So the check had bounced.

Then it occurs to me that this is also part of my updating. Giving myself credit for my success, for the money in my bank. The twice-bounced check was making the theme visible for me. I tell Maeve the story – how the car didn’t feel like mine yet how I couldn’t just let it be called a VW. Maeve tells me, “It’s like your old self was still paying, instead of your new self.”

We are in LA, in Maeve’s truck driving to dinner. Maeve is driving slow, Texas-style. There is a line in the Jay-Z song “New York State of Mind” that says something about driving all slow because BK is from Texas. It always reminds me of Maeve. Maevey has finally moved to LA. She has a desk at Deutsch, I see her in meetings and conference calls. She has rolled in easily, like she was always meant to be there.

Maeve tells me, “Dude, I feel like I’ve been a bad friend because I never bring up dating. I’ve never tried to set you up with anyone.”

I laugh and point out the obvious. “You did live in Texas until recently.”

I tell her it’s funny she says that now, that dating has been on my mind again, that I’ve been wondering what my roadblock is.

The next day at work, a new co-worker comes by my office. When she interviewed she had me at hello, a sharp, bright acidic New Yorker. She is overwhelmed by the move and the lack of process in her new role. She didn’t have time to get her hair done before she left New York and now it is driving her crazy. I tell her to get her hair done, that in the end, it will be worth 100 times more than any meeting she attends this week. I tell her about the moment when I started dying my hair, after the breakup, but now that I’ve gone back to grey.

She perks up and says, “Wait, are you dating? I totally have someone I want to set you up with.”

I say sure, OK, what’s he like. She says he’s 40 and divorced, and he’s really getting into working out. I tell her about my conversation with Maeve, how funny it is that she’s just brought it up, like I’ve changed my energy around it somehow.

After three weeks on the road, in Minneapolis and finally Los Angeles, I have a week home. I am looking forward to a blissful greenery-charged, airport-free existence. Bliss, however is not to be had. I have forgotten I am moving. I now have an apartment in LA. I have a king sized bed (Maeve told me, “You are buying a king. It’s like abundance thinking for future relationships. I wont hear another word about it.” She is rarely so definitive. I bought a king.) It is September. Brian is taking my car to LA on Thursday. There are clothes and dishes to be sorted through, choices to be made. Does the Vitamix stay in Seattle, partnered with my garden, or move to LA where it can make me weekday smoothies?

It is an even stranger move because it feels like it should be a full circle. I started in LA married, thinking I was moving to a new job, closer to family, to have a baby. Then Juan left. Then I left. Juan came back. Now I’m on my way back. Only to a separate life than the one I started with. It’s a circle that’s been drawn closed, but the beginning and end don’t meld into one infinite round. There is a jagged edge that closes the loop and juts off the end like a tail.

I’m on an earlier than usual flight to LA. My seat-mate walks on late, almost as the doors are closing. I am groggy, but take in a businessman in a pressed shirt and cufflinks. He hangs his coat in the closet. I sleep through the flight. As the ding from the overhead signals we’re going to land, he starts talking to me. . He is interested in advertising, wants to know how it works. He asks me questions about my job. I realize how easy it is to talk to him, to be the person asked not the person asking. He is Indian, from New Jersey. He has a company that helps hedge funds invest their money. He and his wife moved to Seattle 20 years ago for his job, then at an investment company. They loved it too much to leave. Just as we hit the ground he pulls out a tie, loops it loosely around his neck. It hangs cavalierly around his collar as he slips on his jacket.

As I exit the flight I realize what great energy he had. A calm confidence, an interest in the world, a humanity. I recognize it from other people. Matt, the doe-eyed Sylvester Stallone I had one date with. Tyler, my car salesman. But my seat mate had one crucial, additional thing: a high limit.

I realize this is what I have been looking for on all my dates, this energy, this match to my expanding limits. I’m not looking to settle down, to fit into someone’s life or have him fit into mine. I am looking to fly.

Suzi tells me, “If we are really honest with ourselves, we know our match, we know it deep down. But often we don’t have the courage to call it to us.”

I wonder if I’m brave enough to remove the roadblock, to call this energy to me.

I have a massage with Krista. I tell her about working on my heart, on expansiveness, on trying to rid myself of old ceilings when it comes to relationships.

“How’s it going?” she asks.

“Well, I haven’t met anyone, if that’s what you mean!” I exclaim. But I realize it is going well, it feels like the right place to expend my energy.

When I’m on the table she pulls my arm out long, bends it and stretches it out again. She works the muscles on my chest and down my inner arm.

“That feels great,” I slur, drunk with relaxation. “It’s a new technique, isn’t it?”

“I’m working on your wings,” she says.

I hear Tony Danza on NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.” Peter Sagol, the show’s host is asking him about becoming an actor. Tony started as a boxer. He tells Peter he was boxing professionally and one day an agent was at the ring and then he was cast in Taxi. Paula Poundstone, one of the regulars says, “You seem to have forgotten a few important steps in there.” The crowd laughs.

Tony says, “I know the moment my life changed,” I lean in towards the radio. He tells a story about getting knocked down twice in the two first rounds of a fight. “I’m sitting there as the referee is counting it out, you know, wondering if you get up and do it again, it doesn’t seem that smart at this point, or if you throw in the towel.” He pauses. I am unsure how the story is going to end, he hasn’t hinted.

It could be a story about riding out the count, knowing this wasn’t for him. Instead, he got up. He won the fight. And then he was cast in Taxi. Now he’s a high school math teacher. Some of the kids will tell him “Oh yeah, I think my mom likes you,” he says.

This doesn’t satisfy Peter, he’s still looking for the overt link to acting.

But I think it’s very insightful comment.

There is a place around the bend where you are now no longer a boxer, but an actor, a teenager, an arts patron. You are autumn, with its current of change in the air.

You are at a place where your heart is ready.