The chartered bus from Harmony Meadows Tennis and Event Center to Campbell’s Resort left at 11:15 PM and arrived sometime around midnight. There were multiple stops as well-dressed couples departed, said goodbyes to old acquaintances they’d pretended were friends for the evening, and stepped off into the night. The likelihood of reuniting between these parties seems relatively unlikely but, perhaps, just as likely when the stakes are this low. A few hours of conviviality are always easy to manage when free food, drink, and dancing are offered as a make-weight. Someone is playing overwrought, yet nostalgic, music from the last decade on the bus speakers, perhaps not quite ironically enough for me to find it enjoyable. It is in this moment, alone on this bus that is taking too long to take me home from a perfectly wonderful evening with a good friend and his future fiancee celebrating the marriage of his sister, another dear friend, that I realize the totality of my loss. I realize that losing the relationship that I had staked everything on, bet the entire house upon, may be the defining moment of my life. That there is so much wreckage at my feet that I cannot fathom the cost, the time, it will take to fully clean it up. If I ever do. I read recently, “A ghost knows who to haunt.” I should note, this piece will have nothing to do with Baseball.
At some point in your life you meet enough people to realize that the odds of being remarkable at even one thing, let alone many, is quite small. Most people, optimistically, have one or two traits that, if properly nurtured, could turn into something really great. It seems as if part of growing up is the slow realization that everyone you were taught to admire was more or less a fraud. There are, of course, exceptions. These generally were those people we never hear of. Those heroic enough to live a good life knowingly out of sight. Some folks take drugs to find different planes of thought, some are capable of producing truly monumental works, all from thoughts inside their head. I suppose I’m most-interested in whatever plane of existence we were all born into. Focused on whatever single trait I might attempt to master. I am personally unsure if this belief makes me pessimistic or if it’s relatively hopeful. Admittedly, I’m a poor judge of how we’re all doing here. Please, leave a comment.
I often feel disconnected from, well, almost everything. Starting a brewery when I was twenty-four, my concept of a typical day, a typical job, typical stress, typical anything, is all shot to hell. Without knowing it then, I’d started a very lonely road that demands to be walked almost exclusively alone. There’s no logical way to justify dragging someone else into this hole, most days. And there are days where the accomplishment feels somewhat worth the investment, but those feelings are minutes-long if they even come at all. Often I am asked a question that I am sure I, too, have asked other friends of mine who have dared something and succeeded, “Do you realize how cool this is? How much you’ve done?” No. I don’t. They don’t either. Nobody who does this sort of lunatic thing ever will. There is no finish line. There is only yourself looking in a mirror, on the rare occasion you find time to shower, and wondering who you are doing this all for. Without purpose, the amount of energy required can take a life of its own. Can overtake you. It needs direction beyond simply the task. You have to maximize your few, useful traits. Passion’s wake buoys and breaks in equal measure.
The chartered bus from Robert Mondavi Winery left around 10PM for the 90 minute journey back to the Robert Mondavi Center for Wine and Food Science. We’d spent the night at a catered party for my graduate department; fifty winemakers with the run of one of the wealthiest wineries in the world is quite the sight. She’d driven up from her new apartment in the Bay which she moved to after college landed her a high-paying job with a tech startup, and I had just begun to settle into a life with a future in a vineyard and a cellar. We were both, in that moment in time, desperately faking it and far from home. Desperately lonely, too. I assume, to this day, that she felt the same way about me the day we graduated college as I did of her, that we’d never see each other again. Yet, some random swirling of the universe rallied against this inevitability, and we are two friends from college, now sitting on a bus to a place neither one of us can really call home. In the darkness of the night on that bus I can convince myself that it’s just her and I and the feeling of the road. It doesn’t matter, then, where I was at all, just that she is there.
It’s in this moment, and over the course of the next two days, that we will spend a rather innocuous weekend in Napa Valley doing the rather earnest task of falling in love. We’ll drive around and fill the days in order to keep from saying what is on each other’s minds. Those days, now going on six years in the past, I can play back in my head with distinct clarity. The scream of awe the first time she sees Lake Berryessa from the passenger seat of my ’93 Landcruiser, the airplane bottle of Maker’s Mark she brought as a “gift” for me hosting her, the way she touched my badly-scarred hand, almost willing it back to health. I remember most the goodbye, though. It was a Sunday when she made the drive back from Davis to San Francisco. It sticks in my mind because it felt so oddly normal. The drive can be made, with traffic, in less than two hours. At some point during that drive, in a town maybe less than a half hour away from my door, she stops at a gas station and begins to cry. She won’t tell me this for four years. My day melts into a shapeless nothing and I become quite useless once she leaves. We, over time, develop a friendship, over the phone, that allows the comfort of sharing everything. We don’t know it on this sunny Sunday, but we won’t see each other again for two and a half years. Years after that, within a month of us dating, driving a rented car on the same highway that bus took us back to Davis all those years before, I tell her I’m going to marry her. The drive was less than two hours.
I was raised in the kind of house where Religion wasn’t the room you were required to occupy, but the door was always open. For this, and much more, I am eternally grateful to my parents. I tried it out, sure enough. Went to an elementary school that started every morning with chapel, a Catholic high school, even a Lutheran college. It just never stuck. For awhile I struggled with this, but it became entirely clear to me a few months ago, mourning all this loss. You see I can’t center my life around a relationship with a being beyond myself that will love me no matter what I do. That unconditional love is a baseline for a healthy coexistence. This is beyond the realm of my experience, and one that I could never settle with, knowing all this pain. Religion also prescribes a path to all things, one that simply, in my eyes, cannot exist. Often you will hear someone say that a great challenge in their life existed simply so they could have some other chance later in life, but that’s the catch. What if the coin just keeps landing tails? What if the great challenges continue to pile without the great breaks? There is no reason you must be loved. The Universe does not care. That’s, perhaps, what makes love so dear, so special. Nothing forces it to exist.
This, to some, would seem a rather pessimistic view of the natural state of things, yet, I would submit the opposite. There is no fate ascribed to my pain. No reason it exists. It simply does. There is no path to the dulling of my colors, the sleepless nights, the days I cannot eat, the songs and sights and places that I can’t bear to remember. There is only what is in the mirror. Every day, served a roll of the dice that has no string attached to it. What then you are asked is simply to play. And how you play is what, I suppose, your life is composed of. It would be simple, really, to allow the weight of the uncaring blackness of the night sky to knock you down. To keep you from ever getting up when the Sun rises. Why do it? The only object within the dimensions we know to exist that we can exert any modicum of control over is ourselves. That’s it. It’s a mighty short list.
And I can’t tell you why, or how, or if, or any of those things. I can’t tell you why the very foundation on which I built my life and my future is gone. I can’t tell you how to get beyond the simple mistrust of every single day feeling that this sand could shift yet again. I can’t tell you if it ever gets better. It ebbs and flows. I often am told that the pain will go away, or that I am young, or that it just wasn’t meant to be. I am doubtful, perhaps, of everything now. Most days it feels as if the outer, sharper edges of life have been sanded smooth. There is a tightness where once something was loose. A feeling as if I keep forgetting something, or an eternal waiting, maybe. Some days I wonder if I’m stuck running a simulation in my own mind of what happens if she leaves. If.
That’s sorta it, I guess. I don’t have any words of particular comfort. Doing what I do, most people don’t believe me when I describe the pain. The energy it takes to muster a smile and a will to press on is often more exhausting than the physical work itself. She helped build the place I have tasked myself to continue forward running and tinkering on and growing day by day. In the early days after it ended I would see a vision of her walking to a table and putting down a chair, or sitting at the end of the bar waiting for me to be done with some small task, until I could see no more. For weeks, maybe even months, I would disappear around the staff, just to go openly weep where nobody would see me. I realized then that I had built myself a prison of memory. It crushed me. It still can. Yet, I did press on and I still do, everyday. Not alone, but with the help of many who haven’t yet realized they are helping, even when I thank them for it.
My hope is that if you’re reading this, maybe it helps to know that your deep hurt is not unique to you. That I cannot stop feeling my own. That I have managed to get up, each morning since, and take it hour by hour. Perhaps, pressing on, not because of myself but in spite of myself. A ghost knows who to haunt.