“Oh my God, that is beautiful!” I exclaimed to no one but myself and the shameless sun. I shook my head, moved. I stood on the cliff above Capitola, squinting at the bay creased with perfectly parallel swells. Ripples from up here, their size betrayed by the small black dots paddling around, tempting their power and avoiding their wrath. I waited until a seaward-bound surfer crested a wave and I started counting. Thirteen seconds until he crested the next. Perfect, symmetrical, head high waves marching in at thirteen seconds apart, curved to match the contour of the coast. As if a giant hand had dropped a giant stone in the middle of the ocean, scattering these ripples towards distant beaches.
“Probably Alaska, or the Aleutians,” said another observer, an older man leaning against the wooden rail. “That’s usually where our northwest swell comes from, storms up there that send it down, creating this perfect corduroy you see as it wraps right into our bay.”
Our bay. I looked out again and allowed myself to feel enamored a little bit, despite the California development and population. I imagined standing there as the first discoverer, looking across a wide, protected bay, full of life-giving resources. I let myself pause and breathe it in, just be present with it. Let my heart warm a single degree.
I had just been out surfing, tumbled and exhilarated by that beautiful swell. When I finally succumbed to the cold and exhaustion and could no longer catch the waves, I rode some in, ending up a half mile down the beach from where I’d started. The walk back was welcome, a barefoot stroll down a deserted sandy beach into the low winter sun. A chance to thank the ocean and the day. I caught up to another surfer who was walking slowly. He was a generation older than me, with peppered hair, a green board, and a gait that seems to favor a stiff hip. I slowed my pace and asked how he was doing.
“Ahh, I’m in my head,” he responded honestly, with a doleful smile.
“Have you been out yet?”
“I’m on my way.”
“That’ll help,” I said, smiling the calm, dazed, salt-washed grin of a good surf session. Nothing like holding your breathe as you’re tumbled under 53-degree water to slam you into your body. Nothing like getting slammed into your body to pull you out of your mind.
Back on the cliff, soaking in the magnificence of the pulsing, rolling ocean, the word “love” flew across my thoughts. I had felt a similar twinge of a heart stirring to life two nights earlier, looking out over the ocean from the Cabrillo campus. That was the day when phase two of my Santa Cruz experience revealed iteself to me. Phase one had been arrival, survival, settling. Phase two appeared to bump me up Maslow’s hierarchy-of-needs a few steps, to self actualization. I would be advancing in my two main interests, hands on healing and writing. Everything seemed to be falling into place.
Yet my heart still felt chilled. I’d been so wound up in the busy life of work and independence, settling in a new place, setting up a home, pushing back the loneliness of being single again. I felt like a business woman with a frozen heart, fortified in her solitude. I drove in traffic, I went to work, I got shit done, I kept moving.
But then my mother came to visit and I took the week off to spend with her, Laura, and Sophie. My mind revolted, unable to relax and enjoy the stillness. It became blatantly apparent how wound up and solitary I had become. The warmth of intimacy shocked my icy independence, and revealed my denial that I was indeed lonely.
By the end of the week, I felt frayed and exhausted. Driving back to the airport, alone with my mother, I tried to apologize and explain my grumpiness.
“Even driving this car! And the traffic!” I said, as I down-shifted and the old engine revved erratically. The muffler rattled, holding on by a thread. “I feel disconnected and stressed, spending too much time in a car, I think.”
“And…I really miss close connection!” I finally admitted, tearing up a little thinking of my good friends from Hawaii, and of my last boyfriend.
My mother, being my mother, understood of course, and the burden lessened a bit as I defined and expressed my sadness. A slight softening in my frozen heart.
We drove the coast up to Oakland, the glassy water folding up here and there into perfectly cresting waves. The hordes of cars cruising home after a sunny weekend at the beach. The hotel was near the airport, and we turned off the highway into a neighborhood that immediately put us on edge. “Hmmm,” said Mom, glancing around at the rundown buildings and cracking streets. “I hope this place isn’t a dump.” But we rounded the corner into an industrial zone, with several high rise hotels, and felt a little more relaxed as we located the Days Inn.
My mom once had a car broken into at an airport hotel, and she had cautioned me to offload some things at my house. I admit that my car was excessively packed as if I was living in it. I unloaded tools that didn’t belong to me and my surf stuff. I even pulled out my wetsuits and extra leashes for no particular reason seeing that they didn’t take up much room. It had seemed a little excessive, but now that we were in Oakland, we both felt inclined to take our valuables up to the room; computers, phones, all that. We grabbed our bags and headed up to have a relaxed evening together. As we fell asleep, I asked if I should turn off the heater, which was thundering it’s fan into the room.
“Will it keep you up?” Mom asked.
“I don’t think so, I’m just thinking we might get too hot.”
“It’s only at 70,” she said. I felt a slight tinge of argument, and then dismissed it, letting it fall to rest, and closed my eyes.
Mom left early, kissing me on her way to catch the airport shuttle. I intended to get up and drive back to Santa Cruz for work. I hadn’t quit the construction job right out, thinking I would still work part time, an idea that weighed heavy on me. What I really wanted was to move on fully into my new life.
I felt tired and frazzled by the week, so I kept sleeping until 7:30, when I finally rose and packed and headed down to check out. As I walked to the office, I didn’t notice my car, but I figured it must be hiding, as it tends to do when parked in the hulking world of unnecessarily large lumbering, gas-hungry monsters.
I dropped my key, thanked the receptionist, and took a stroll around the parking lot. Nope, not where I left her…maybe it had moved. Disbelief will play funny games with logic. How could she have moved, unless my 13 years of treating her as a sentient being had finally sparked some artificial life in her.
I looped through the back lot where there was a low gate “protecting” the cars. Silly because if you drove around the building the gate ended. Then back to my spot. Checked the ground, no glass, just an empty spot. I smirked in disbelief. Out of all our adventures! Stolen, huh?
My feet glided me back to the office, while my mind hung above, thinking through the situation, how I had kinda felt it coming, how maybe I wasn’t actually that upset. I wouldn’t go to work today, and that was a relief. I had wanted to make a clean break from construction…fully transition into a new phase.
The massage job was just a mile from my house, and I had a bike. Isn’t that what I had been wanting? What I’ve been wanting for years actually. I guess I just wasn’t acting fast enough, too caught up in my driving habits and daily routines. So the universe lent me a hand, dumped me out of the nest, forced me into action. I sat bewildered on the ground below, staring up at fate smiling down on me, knowing that she was right. It was time for a shift.
The sympathetic concierge helped to file a police report. “It’s only older cars that get stolen.” Surveillance tapes showed that the robber had arrived in an Acura around 6:30 am, after my mom left for the airport and after the security guard went home, but before I got out of bed. He left the Acura and took off in my car within a two minute period. “Can I have the Acura then?” I joked.
I headed back to the room, which the hotel graciously (and perhaps nervously) offered me for free. I sat down on the bed, looking out the window to my parking space, the heater thundering in the window drowning out any potential rusty muffler sounds from outside.
I stared, stunned. And contemplated, unproductively. Then started to cry. I cried a lot. I sobbed, one could say. But not exclusively for the car. I felt a bit of shame, perhaps, that I had been ungrateful to my trusty stead, and that perhaps she had been taken from me because of that. But honestly, the theft was just a catalyst. It was the summit of the long climb of emotions and tension that had been piling up. This was the welcome release actually. I cried without thinking, without dwelling, just emoting. Everything passing through and out, a wind blowing all the old leaves off my branches. It felt so good to just go soft, and not try to hold it together, as I had been for months and months.
I didn’t even plan my return for a couple more hours. I had been planning for months, going, doing, not feeling. Planning was my defense, and my affliction. I just needed to feel, to write, to be with myself and my thoughts. After a while, once I felt thoroughly clean and clear, I got up, cut my hair, took a hot shower, and called my boss to come pick me up.