“Almost”

At the Deli in Prescott I sit at a table,
Next to the fence which separates me from the outside world.
Attached to the fence are two dogs, one smaller than the other and black and white.
The larger one looks like a golden lab, though I’m not sure.
They are just far enough away from each other that they can’t touch,
Though they are close,
About a foot away.
 
Almost together, but alone.
Almost touching, but not quite.

Sitting With My Back Against An Arizona Walnut Tree, by the Creek next to Montezuma Street, Opposite the Power Lines, Thinking About Things

I guess you could say I’m in love with the world as it appears to me right now. Walking on the street, the sun had warmed my back; now, my back against an Arizona Walnut tree, a hundred yards west of Montezuma Street, the sun warms my left shoulder.

My pants are rolled up, socks and shoes off. I hear birds singing in the red willow by the creek, I see a seven-layered power line that I do not understand. I don’t understand why there are so many layers to the power line; I think I understand why we have so many layers, but I don’t think I fully understand any one layer at any one time.

Never the whole of it.

I can’t see the whole tree all at once, all of the leaves that shake in the wind, so I shift my view from time to time. What I can see at any one time shakes me, leaves me breathless, almost brings me to tears. I fight it a little, the emotion. Don’t get so affected, I tell myself, it’s just the leaves shaking in the wind. Stay cool, calm, collected. You’re a stoic, you’re a man. I can’t do it. The tears come, the way they do. I feel more like a child of eight than a man of twenty-two.

Now the wind dies down a little bit.

I become a little bit calmer. Not necessarily stronger because calmer, though I definitely would appear so to others. But how we appear to others is not always how we are. Usually it isn’t. It takes more strength to show your weakness, how you truly are, than to look strong when you feel weak. The automatic response is to look strong, but the truth is in weakness.

I remove the shirt from where I’d had it, against the tree and my back. Now I feel the bark more fully.

My back is strong from pull-ups and pull downs. Hard against hard, which one is harder? No use fighting fate here, the bark of the tree is harder and will always be harder. Don’t compete with it, don’t try and dominate it. Sit with it, against it. Feel it, as you feel your back. Feel your back against the tree, as you listen to the cars go by. This is a sort of meditation for you, though you don’t necessarily have to use that word.

There is a thin line between being in a good place and being in a bad one. Especially for you. You’ll always live on that edge, that line, or at least you’ll try to. At least you’ll live close. The creek separates the woods from the road, but you can’t live in the creek; you’ve got to pick a side. You can go to the other side later. Where you are now is not where you’ll always be.

You start to go further inward but stop yourself. Another automatic response, this going inward. Good and bad things come from that. It’ll probably never be any different, and maybe that’s the way it should be. But stay present, present to and in the place you are now, the marvelous beauty of what is here. Do not repress the ugliness you sometimes feel in yourself, do not dwell in it either. You dwell and then you drown, though long ago you learned how to swim.

The coffee cup is almost empty. Soon I’ll be sitting alone with nothing to drink. Not my strength.

Apparently the house almost burned down last night; I wasn’t in it at the time. If the house is going to burn down, would I go down with it? Or would I be up at the School of Rocks, the City of Rocks, observing the world like Jeffers from a lonely boulder, watching the innocent settled people take the punishment of the guilty who flee. But though I admit my guilt to myself I can’t stand being told I am guilty. I already know that.

“Everybody’s restless and they’ve got no place to go

Someone’s always trying to tell them

Something they already know.

So their anger and resentment flow.” 

—From Mohammed’s Radio, by Warren Zevon

A raven soars in a descending circle around the walnut trees, then flies off over the power line, beyond, down. I feel myself shutting down, I’ve gone beyond the point of empowerment and into powerlessness. You can’t go back from that but you can keep going down. You go down and lose touch with the surface, with the simple beauty of sitting with rolled up pants, your back against a tree.

Sitting like Whitman did, observing a single blade of grass, seeing how the wind touches it, shakes it gently. Another blade of grass that is close is not touched by the wind. Thinking about how we touch some people in the same gentle way that the wind touches the blade of grass, how we leave others unmoved. How we do not always appreciate the times when others touch us. How we are moved by others when they don’t try to move us, how we are unmoved when they do.

I look over at the bridge to the south and see that two people are watching me. I had been singing and possibly talking to myself. I find that I have no more thoughts at the present, nothing more to write. I put back on my shoes and socks, my shirt and jacket.

I walk back towards the place I live, back towards the place that does not feel as much like home.

“Are We Lonely or Alone?”

Here’s the difference between me and you:
You don’t care tonight,
And you won’t care tomorrow.
I care tonight,
And you know I’ll care tomorrow.

Outside I see a cop pulling over some unlucky soul;
I feel for whoever that is; I feel more than I know.
This is the bullshit that will never make any sense;
This is our world: Can it ever have any true defense?

I need to keep going, I can’t ever stop;
I’ll be by what is flowing, the river of course.
The river is on course, but I’m off;
The river is going somewhere,
I’m standing at the gates of hell.

But hell is where I am already,
Though some people think of it as out of this earth.
I’m in the depths already,
I guess I’m trying to figure out what that is worth.
It’s the people who need to be saved that get pressed down most often;
It’s the people who just won’t behave that get put in that coffin:
Before their time,
Before it’s time.

It’s more than time that gets me thinking;
It’s more than the mine that gets miners drinking.

Press me and I won’t respond;
Listen and maybe I will.
Maybe I’m doomed;
Maybe you are too.
But let’s not get you involved,
Unless you are one of the many unloved.
Loved by others; never by ourselves.
You can relate?
Well, maybe we’ll make it.
Make it where?
Maybe you know because you have no idea;
That’s the way to live, that’s the way to be.

I used to be a great athlete,
Fans cheered when they heard my name.
I used to be the one the girls wanted to meet,
I guess I’ll hop that next freight train.

I’m just one of the many who stay up late,
Are we lonely or are we alone?

Just one, just another sentry, trying to send this letter;
Just another, dialing numbers on this ridiculous phone;
I’m just a man: I don’t know how to live life any better;
I‘m a man, trying to access that different time zone.

“They Tell Me”

They say, “No one wants to feel they are different.
“Everyone wants to feel they are not alone.”
They tell me, “We rely on you to treat us as you would a Higher Power.
“When we call, we suggest you answer the phone.”
 
They say, “No one can breathe when they’re under water.
“Everyone wants the practical means to succeed.”
They tell me, “We advise you to become a law-abiding marauder.
“It’d be best if you learned what you do and don’t need.”
 
I say, “I’m better off nurturing quietness,
Living in solitude and dancing alone.”
I say, “Maybe I’m just a little bit different.
“What gives me joy leads most to moan.”
 
I tell them,  “What feels like prison to one is freedom to another.
“When the leaders grow confident, I begin to have doubts.”
I say, “Maybe I take what matters a little too intensely,
But when most are deaf, those who hear must shout.”
 
They say, “Trust us, we know you better than you know yourself;
“We’ve seen your type many times before.”
They tell me, “Some specimens are more difficult to mold and shape,
But you’re just a type, that’s what you ought to remember;
You’re just a type, and nothing more.”
 
They say, “We’ve figured out the way to do it.
“We know now what has to be done.”
They tell me, “The goal is to get adjusted to upright society.
We stimulate the economy to debilitate autonomy:
At the end of the day, we hope you have fun!”
 
I say, “Still the earth remains in all her unserviceable and savage beauty,
“Still many know your surface victory is hopelessly hollow.”
I tell them, “As long as a few men and women observe astutely,
Not all will be hypnotized, not all will follow.”
 
I say, “Some will always search for something higher than regulation.”
“The more you try and control, the shorter will be your reign.”
I tell them, “What you do is a more subtle and cowardly form of degradation,
“But as long as there exists wildness, some will never be tamed.”

 

“She Said”

She said, “I always hurt everyone I want to help.
When it’s all said and done, I’ll be by myself.
I tried to be the peacemaker and started the whole war;
I decided to face my maker, he said I got what I deserved.

You say you feel trapped, don’t know how to get out.
Well throw out your map, that’s not what it’s about.
But I can’t help you, all I’ve ever done is escape.
I run when I get boxed in; I run so I don’t break.
I’m pulled into the cold without time to shiver,
Like a willow ripped from the banks of the river.
I sleep on the rocks, my prison yard bed;
No too soft pillow for this too hard head.

You said, “I love to see you here, that light comes back in your eyes.”
Well, the snow falls down, the cold wakes me up, and I feel alive.
In the woods there is peace; I know the trees can help me climb any slope.
Inner and outer, observer and observed, it all intermingles like sorrow and hope.
I wish I could feel the same way outside, but I never do.
So I return to the empty places to be restored and reborn.
I need these places as much as I need to live and to move.
For no one has died or is dying, yet I grieve and I mourn.

She said, “I always hurt everyone I want to help.
I can’t get past the first step, and I’m s’posed to do twelve?”
She said, “I’m limited by a world whose ambitions I do not share.”
I said, “No, you’re freed by that perception: free to yearn, to burn, to care.”
She said, “I guess I’m still a little bit fearful.
I confess I might not have what it takes.
I was told that what I lack is experience.
What I want back is life for life’s sake.”

She said, “You run so you don’t break,
But when I find you, you look shattered.”
I countered with some nonsense about how
To be healed you must first be torn and in tatters,
And how I’d rather be poor and miserable
Than one of the contented mob.
She said, “If you’re trying to find what’s integral,
You’re doing a demented job.”

The pianist strikes a melancholy chord,
As I wait in vain for the knock on the door,
To bring me the love I can never deserve,
And something to fix me that won’t hurt me more.

But there’s no quick fix, no magic contentment pill,
Nothing that satisfies, no easy way to feel fulfilled.
So I’ll wander and roam, like I always do.
Maybe I’ll find a home, maybe you will too.

“A Non-Meeting at a Coffee Shop”

I saw you at the coffee shop.
If you’re anything like the observer and people-watcher you claim to be,
It was you who saw me first, right when you walked in.
Because you saw me and didn’t approach, I did the same to you.

Pride: my downfall.

You left without saying anything.
I don’t know what I’ve done to make you avoid me.
I know if I ask you
You’ll just answer that I haven’t done anything.
Maybe you don’t know yourself what I’ve done,
Maybe it has more to do with you than with me.

Maybe you would rather an illusory isolation than a real connection with another,
A connection that would force you to dig beneath the surface and become honest about what you feel.
Your isolation affects me deeply while allowing you the comfort of ignoring your feelings,
Because I am someone who feels and you are someone who thinks.
But I think as well, though not always very well or sanely,
And you feel as well, though maybe you wish you didn’t.

If you are going to break off all contact with me,
Then do it.
But don’t avoid and then deny you are avoiding.
Because that’s bullshit.
Cut it off and give a reason, or say you don’t know, which would at least be honest.
I can’t have these in-between relationships, these surface relationships, these false relationships.

Either there is a meaningful connection,
Or there is no connection at all.
I used to think it was the former,
But I guess I was wrong.

An Unaddressed Letter

Dear _____,

How have you been? Still in school? I’m a student of the road no longer, a student in the classroom once again. Not sure if I’ve settled in yet, it takes me a little longer than most. I’ve been living odd hours: sleeping in the evening, waking up when most other people are heading to bed, writing and working for those six hours, midnight to 6 in the morning. I spend this time trying to understand the alienation I’ve been feeling since starting back at school. Nothing doing. I’ll keep writing.

There is much that I like about this school I’ve started at, Prescott College. I like that it is focused on the environment, social justice, liberal arts, the outdoors, wilderness. But it may be that no school environment can give me the independence and leisure time that is necessary for me to live a creative life. Of course not. A creative life cannot be given, and neither can the intangibles that lead to such a life. I must find those things out on my own, find how to live creatively in all types of environments: in school, at work, while traveling.

But I’ve missed being outside, sleeping under the stars. Maybe the alienation comes from feeling disconnected from the land itself. I’ve forgotten what a fire of mesquite and juniper smells like, I can’t quite remember the joys of waking up before sunrise, silently packing up the sleeping bag, putting it in the rucksack, getting back on the trail. Not being woken up by an alarm or some chemical stimulant; rather, waking yourself up by your own physical movement, awakening to your strengths, becoming aware of your weaknesses, sharing yourself with yourself fully so you can share yourself with others in the same way. Hiking or walking or biking all day, or however long you want to, then having some time in the evening to sit in the stillness, listen to the owls and coyotes, cook your simple dinner on the fire. Turn to the west and watch the sun set, turn around and wait for the moon to come up. Sit for a while, between the two, the sun and moon, feel the wind come, feel the white butterfly land on your shoulder and then fly off again, smell the fragrance of the burning mesquite. Watch the fire die down, fall asleep.

I’m listening to melancholy piano music as I write this at three in the morning. It’s hard to find these times of solitude when taking classes, but I need them in order to write with any sort of clarity or purpose. When I haven’t been alone for awhile, and when I haven’t been out in the wilderness and on the trails either, I become less confident, less happy, more confused, more prone to isolating and reverting back to the old habits that never worked and never will work.

I’ve been thinking that there’s a good chance I’m drawn to you because the distance between us is so great. It’s the space between that integrates. You’ve probably figured it out. In simple words, I want what I can’t have, what is just out of my reach, a little too far away. I’ve thought some about why this is, but I can’t remember what conclusions I came to, if any. Let me try again. When you can be with someone, your longing for that person decreases, is reduced to reasonable proportions. When you can’t be with someone, and you are like me and have difficulty accepting the things you can’t change, then that longing remains and grows the longer you are apart from whomever you want to be near. That’s the way I feel.

In a way what I tend to do in idealizing relationships is as dangerous as codependency. Idealizing from afar allows you to keep your independence, but at the cost sometimes of preventing you from having actual relationships.

But that idealizing, that inability to accept what is, that’s why I write, I wouldn’t write if that wasn’t an integral part of me. I’ll always plummet down into the depths of discontent and sort through the debris like a dumpster diving drifter until I find something that’ll keep me going until the hunger returns again. That’s why I wake up when everyone else is going to sleep, why I sit here scribbling words down for a letter I’ll probably never send, why I’ll always be drawn to people like you who are on paths that parallel mine. And they say that even parallel lines intersect at some point, but it might be a long time before they do. We are on separate paths, but that doesn’t mean we are separate. I sit here alone and wonder what you are doing right now. I guess it’s almost tomorrow there, it’s barely today here. Morning has not yet broken, I’ve not yet broken my fast, the darkness outside is intact. The moon was full two nights ago, and I took a midnight hike by its light. I thought of you on it.

“What business have I in the woods,” Thoreau asks himself, “if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” But I do not separate the woods from you, nor you from the woods. I walk through the woods on a trail here, in the desert sun on a cloudless day, the town below, a soaring red-tailed hawk above; you walk through the woods on a trail there, knee-deep in snow on a cloudy day, surrounded by mountains and lakes, the waves crashing on the beach somewhere far below you, an eagle soaring somewhere far above.

For a moment as I walk, I think I’ve come to some sort of satisfying answer to the complex questions of isolation, aloneness, solitude, alienation, and the differences between them. I am not isolated, not alienated. There are the woods and we both walk in them. The names are not important. I am walking on a trail in the Prescott National Forest, you are walking on a trail wherever you are.

I am here, you are there, and for a moment I do not want what is there. What is here is what is there.

But before I can go into that thought a bit further, a bit deeper, I find that the trail has looped around and I am standing next to my car. I get into the car and drive alone in silence back to town, stealing a glance in the rearview mirror at the woods I’m leaving behind.

Your friend,

Brian

Postcards From Europe in 50 words or Less

In Chamonix. Planning to hike the Tour of Mont Blanc, a 200-kilometer loop. Passed a hotel called Le Gite Vagabond. Tempting, but too expensive, so I slept on a bench outside the train station in the shadow of Mont Blanc instead.

gite le vagabond

________________________________________________________

I am writing you from a train filled with Aussies. Paris to Lisbon, Portugal; a long ride. I was in Paris for a day. I didn’t know what to do so I went into a movie theatre and watched Spiderman.

_______________________________________________________

Dublin is as dirty a town as they claim, and as beautiful. I drank Guinness today and sang dirty old town with an old drunk. I watched cricket and noticed that cricket players are faster than baseball players.

_______________________________________________________

I got to Madrid hours before my flight back to Ireland. I lay down shirtless outside the airport, as I had done in Phoenix a few months before, and did nothing. Much hotter here than it is on the coast. The temperature rises, the people get colder.

_______________________________________________________

London is packed for the Olympics. My brother and I came over from Ireland to watch the Marathon. I retreated to a bookstore and read The Perks of a Wallflower and then napped in a park. Rolled up my jeans, took off my shoes and socks, watched Londoners get drunk.

_______________________________________________________

Somehow I made it to Berlin to meet my uncle, though I had no money. Strangers can be kind, when you aren’t in France. Here, I biked in the downpour, looked at portraits of smooching dictators and gorged on continental breakfasts. I took some food for the road.

_______________________________________________________

Got robbed in Nice. Took the train to Marseilles, hid in the bathroom. Spent the week trying to get a new passport. I sat in the US consulate reading the dictionary and copying down words I liked.

_______________________________________________________

Wish you were here in Portugal. Lonely and melancholy tonight. For the past week, I have bodysurfed in the day, slept on the beach at night. I don’t feel lonely while surfing, riding the waves; the loneliness comes when the sun sets, and the couples walk off hand in hand

______________________________________________________

sunset portugal

beach life

_______________________________________________________

In France, most everything is forbidden, private, or impossible, usually all three. “Can I sit here?” “It is forbidden.” “Pourquoi?” “Dis table izze private.” “Can I climb this tree?” “No, it is impossible.”

_______________________________________________________

Hung out in Lyon with a gorgeous German woman studying abroad there. Saw a guy with a Redskins hat, he told me the Heat had won the NBA Finals. This news did not make me happy, but the messenger of the news did.

_______________________________________________________

Mark Twain wrote, “There is a friendly something about the German character which is very winning.” I agree. The difference from the French was noticeable the moment I crossed the border in Strasbourg.

_______________________________________________________

Met a group from Jersey (not the state) on a train. They were going to a heavy metal concert. I don’t like heavy metal music. They had a friend called Jim Beam. After meeting him I decided to go with them. I left the concert when Lynyrd Skynyrd was playing “Free Bird.”

train

_______________________________________________________

I feel invisible when travelling in the city. Not ideal for a life, good for a few days. Not a part of the city, not apart from it. In it, as an observer rather than a participant. An outsider by choice. I’m in some city, I forget the name, thinking of you.

______________________________________________________

Got to Hamburg a little after 2 p.m. on July 3. Watched a horse race. Met a group of 12 or so. They welcomed me with sandwiches, sausages, and lager. The next day I told them I had to get to Berlin, had no money. They paid for my fare. Gratitude.

______________________________________________________

Talked to a French bum today. Seems that all French bums have dogs, earrings, long hair. Renegades. Interacting with French people from the towns and cities drains me. But the bums are like mountain spring water from the Alps, refreshingly energizing, quenching that thirst for meaningful connection.

_______________________________________________________

A trekker named Bruno saw me trying to hitchhike. He came over to me, laughing at the pitiful sign I had made. I told him my story, he told me to come with him. I hiked for three days with him. I slept in a cave, he slept in his tent. We wondered where the french flies go at night.

bruno

bruno cavemen

“As Worthy As The Gift That Can’t Be Sought”

I.

At a certain vantage point,
In a certain light,
Maybe I look alright to you.
Don’t let that distract you,
Don’t let that part attract you,
It’s only a trick of the light.
 
You speak my language,
Which is why I haven’t heard you say a word.
They told you to focus on the positive,
But you know if you do that you’ll just get bored.
The world is a whole lot more interesting
When you see the whole of it.
Good and bad, joy and sorrow,
Don’t flee from the ultimate.
 
You wish there was something that could demysticate the mystical:
Domesticate the wild,
Force the adult out of the child.
You want something that will make it all clear,
But don’t be intimidated by what stays in the shadows,
By the silence that is harder to hear.
You fear what is not revealed,
What stays hidden, concealed.
 
Listen, if it was easy to find it wouldn’t be worth searching for.
If it was free to enter, there would be no use in having a door.
 
II.

There are beautiful things, like the piano that sounds the aching heart;
And ugly things, like the way you’ve been hurt from the start.
It is ugly when no one hears the lone hobo’s moan,
But beautiful the way you dance for yourself alone.
 
You’re a kindred spirit,
So don’t be afraid.
The world is harsh to those who hear it,
Hear the yearning, hear the pain,
Hear what is never spoken,
Hear what cannot be expressed or learned.
But here, take this simple token,
To remember that others feel the same.
 
I know you are looking for that piercing line,
The truth hidden underneath the lies.
But when it’s dark and you look out the window
Don’t you see a reflection of yourself?
Don’t you know there is nothing else?
Inside, outside:
There’s never been a difference.
It’s so simple yet so insidious.
I’ll share with you something,
I’ll share with you my precious time,
Which is not so precious and not so much mine.
 
I know it hurts you that the world laughs when you’re brave enough to cry,
But think of the beautiful things, like the startling clarity of the desert sky.
It’s an ugly disguise that you’re forced to put on to hide your mourning,
But nothing can conceal the beauty of the stillness in the early morning.
 
You’re a kindred spirit,
So don’t be afraid.
The world is harsh to those who hear it,
Hear the yearning, hear the pain.

Be aware of the walls
And watch them crumble before you,
As you stumble upon a recognition
That you aren’t quite as worthless as you once thought,
That you are as worthy as the gift that can’t be sought.

Wanderings in San Diego

I walk towards the spot where the ferry departs from Coronado, going downtown. I overhear a group of two older couples talking about ants. I don’t catch the whole story, but the concluding thought is this: “From that point on, we have always carried a can of Raid.” I pass two lesbians making out in the gas station where the price of gas has gone up from $4.39 to $4.45 in the twelve hours since I filled up there. And that’s if you pay in cash, it’s ten cents more if you pay with a card. One of the lesbians is in military attire. Lesbians in the military, that’s progress. Rising gas prices, not so much.

Everybody’s desperate trying to make end meet

Work all day still can’t pay

The price of gasoline and meat

Alas, their lives are incomplete

At Albertsons, I pick up a pound of oranges, apples, bananas, and a loaf of bread. I can’t afford gas and meat, but I can afford to walk and eat fruit. Instead of taking the ferry across, I get on the bus and head to the Sante Fe Depot downtown, then on another bus to Mission Beach. The beach is filled with college-aged students who are probably on spring break, most in groups of at least seven or eight. I do not see any others who are alone.

The beach is a strange place to be alone. I do it most of the time, but I don’t always like it. I lived alone one summer at Bethany Beach, in Delaware, and unless some friend was visiting I went down to the beach alone. There were some good times. There was time to read, people watch. But the beach is best for a romance, some summer love. Most beaches are so full of people that unless you an expert at finding solitude in the midst of the crowd, it is hard to be there alone and enjoy yourself. But that is if you are lying on the beach. When you are surfing, you are never alone. Or you are always alone. Either way, it’s preferable to reading on the beach surrounded by beautiful groups of San Diego women who you will not approach because they are in groups. So I rent a wetsuit and spend most of my time bodysurfing. The rides are long, I usually have to take a breath before the ride is done.

Image

After four hours of bodysurfing, I go and return the wetsuit. I pass a bar where the bouncer, clad in the San Diego attire of shirt and swimsuit, is chewing out a bearded and disheveled looking wino, clad in the universal hobo attire of dirtied hoodie and ragged pants, who I guess had been standing outside the rails of the outdoor bar, talking with people inside.  The outsiders and the insiders, the excluded and the included. I get the impression that this man has been barred from this bar before, perhaps for life. The interaction between the bouncer and the wino, though not at all friendly, is familiar, like it has all been said before.

The bouncer: “Take your cough somewhere else! Stop drinking on my fucking rails! Holy Fuck! You’re worse than my fucking four year old!”

I watch the wino, head cowed, as he turns to go.

People watching time on the boardwalk. A girl rides by on her bike, holed up jeans rolled up to her calf, an ankle tattoo. I want to find where there are more people like her, where there is something of a counterculture in this land of open-toed sandals and open-faced smiles, if such countercultures still exist. I think they do. The day before while roaming the streets I came upon what looked like an abandoned house. Written on its walls were a mix of quotes from political and literary heroes and rebels and thinkers: Abbey, Thoreau, Lao-Tzu, MLK Jr., Lincoln, Jefferson. The house only appeared abandoned; inside I saw a few people sitting cross-legged on the ground in the lotus position. There was glare from the sun and I didn’t want to seem intrusive, so I only peeked in for a second.

On the beach, I watch the sun making its descent, hanging on the horizon.

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I feel the wind as it picks up, hear the people talk about where they are going tonight, when the happy hours are. This is something of a happy hour for me, though I cannot quite ignore the separation I feel from the spring break partiers. It is not necessarily a negative separation, but it is present. What they are searching for I do not know, but I do not think it is what I am looking for. This is their vacation, this is my life. I’ll always be an observer, on the outside of the rails looking in. Surfing the waves like the rest, walking on the sand. Doing the same things but with different intentions. Not living to seek satisfaction, but to understand sorrow; Not living in avoidance of pain; instead, actively seeking pain, to see if it reveals anything that pleasure cannot. Fine words to write, more difficult to practice.

I take the buses and trains back to Coronado. On the train back downtown I talk to a Mexican-American woman a few years younger than me. Her father is a train driver, perhaps the loneliest of all professions, though not at all the worst for that reason. I don’t get her whole story, just a few of her thoughts, but it is a meaningful connection, for a bus ride in the city. Her name is Sofia. She dropped out of high school a few years back. She knows she is interested in something, but she isn’t sure what. She knows that there is something in this world for her to do and enjoy, but she hasn’t found it yet. She tells me that she is worried she may never find it, that she feels she has lost some of the joy in life that she remembers she once had. Life seems more like a burden than a gift; more like an obligation than an adventure. I tell her that if she knows she has lost some of the joy, she must still have some joy left yet; if life was once an adventure it can be so again. I ask her if the obligations are self-imposed or something forced on her from the outside

“A little of both,” she says.

“Who is imposing on you?”

“My mother is not a part of my life. I have to take care of my little brother and sister.”

“That sounds like you are imposing on yourself.”

“Maybe. I could go back to school, or I could travel, or get a job I like. I don’t do any of these things because I feel obligated to look after my siblings.”

“How do you think they would do on their own?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it, I’ve never considered it as an option.”

“Why not?”

“If I left them to cope for themselves, what if they didn’t make it? What if they ended up on the streets or in jail? I’d blame myself.”

“Even though it wouldn’t be your fault.”

“What do you mean? You don’t know that. It might be my fault. They are a part of me. If something bad happens to them, it happens to me too.”

“Your loyalty is strong, that’s a intense feeling. I can understand it, to a certain extent, although the loyalty I feel to others is not nearly as passionate as yours is. Perhaps that is because I grew up in relative comfort, in security. The harshness of the world did not influence my family as a unit the way it influenced yours. I have always perceived the harshness, but my reaction to it has usually been to seek independence for myself rather than becoming more dependent on others. So we react in different ways to mainly the same things. I don’t think either is necessarily better. One way might be better for you, the opposite might be better for me.”

“You’re full of shit,” she says, laughing. “I can tell you think your way is better. You’re one of those ‘my way or the highway’ people.”

“Sometimes,” I respond.

The train pulls into the Sante Fe Depot. We shake hands and go our separate ways. She is heading south, towards Tijuana.  I get on the bus to Coronado. The next morning when I wake up my dad’s old friend George has already gone to work. He’s an early riser like myself. I head out of town, in the dark, making my way east on a desolate desert highway.

As the sun rises and the desert floods with light, I am halfway to Arizona, hands on the wheel and gas in the tank, hugging that white line.

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