I made it alive out of San Luis Obispo, only to fall down nearly dead on the Cambria beach.
There was a time, I think, when I rode through these hills before. Maybe we didn’t take the 1…I don’t remember. The colors strike a chord of memory–flat grey, gold, loden green and pale blue. I remember seeing them ten years ago, giant irregularly shaped blocks like on an amateurish patchwork quilt, and I thought exactly that–“Someday I’m going to make a quilt from those colors.”
If I’m remembering right, that was on a day in the week before Easter; today, early autumn hasn’t changed those colors. The gold is overlaid with the color of a palomino horse, and the green was darker since we were approaching sunset.
We wanted to travel the 1–never mind that it was getting dark–so we cut across the 46, through Cambria, through layer upon layer of hills that look like when a child discovers how to draw mountains and only stops when he reaches the edge of the paper.
We wanted to put our feet in the ocean. Actually, Vincent said jump in the ocean, and I had visions of screaming cold and happy shivering all the rest of the way. Thank God we didn’t. We just ran down onto the heavy brown sand, throwing the biggest seagull flock I’ve ever seen into disarray, and let the tide bury our ankles.
Maybe I was tired, or hormonal, or whatever the usual excuse. Or maybe it was because we’d just left San Luis Obispo, and the stuff inside me that being there rattled loose, was at last ready to drop.
I felt the welling up of angst in my throat, and I shut my eyes and felt my face screwing up like a child’s. I wonder if Vincent will see and what he will say or think, and sort of hope he does see because he’s a kind person and that’s all I want…kindness…
That’s where the angst comes from. That accusatory prayer: You were not kind. That was not nice.
It hides because it has to. Left out for all to see, it makes people ask “What’s wrong?” and I don’t know how to answer.
There should be that kind of dread, when I have nothing to say in defense of God. But even that gets tired with use. It lies under cover of gratitude for where I am, secretly unable to be grateful for how I got here.
We have to work, I think. We have to. It keeps us in touch with the possibility of fulfillment taking place in real life, in real time. Work isn’t hope, but it reminds us of it.
The air was thicker, sweeter and colder, hanging heavy and blushing like fruit. The seagulls rise and fall as thick as the white on the waves. This is what I’ve always wanted–not just arriving on this beach, but arriving at it in the midst of doing what I’m doing now. The happiness splinters under its weight, and the anger blinks out like a wire from a broken casing.
I fall down on my knees, but I might be invisible. Vincent goes on playing in the sand. I wish he’d hug me, or that somebody would. Maybe it would get all the way down into that frayed, threadbare piece that the gratitude, burst by the weight of hope, can’t cover.
The road hits an uncharacteristic straight patch and ends in a heavy blanket of mist of indeterminate color, like a wool blanket that has been washed too many times. It tears in places, and we can see the heavy soft shoulders of the mountains, or bluffs, or whatever they are, behind.
On the right, we pass little flat houses in the side of the hill, their bright colors sun-faded despite the big trees that shelter them. These are somebody’s houses, or used to be. On the left side are rocks rearing back, like dinosaurs, just where the waves pick up speed. Are they somebody’s houses, too? As the light falls, it’s easy to imagine yes.
Then I realize that the road we’ve chosen will take three times as long to drive as the 5 would have. I try to call Jeff and Kathy, but there’s no cell reception. Soon, there’s also no light.
I’m suddenly very aware that this is my car, and Vincent is driving it. I think back to his cavalier proposal that we stop at the beach.
“Isn’t that why you’re doing this trip?” he asked me. “To stop places?”
I think back to the elderly man that passed us there, that I was too shy to approach, but Vincent walked right up to, and soon had the man’s full story out, of growing up in Brooklyn and moving to Guam and getting married and his wife dying and moving then to Cambria and learning woodworking and coming for walks on the beach before nightfall.
And now we’re caught in the darkness, riding the craggy edge of California in total darkness. I wonder what I’d do, if Vincent weren’t here, saying “Okay, let’s do it” to every crazy thing I propose.
I white-knuckle the handle over the door and remember that before he began vagabonding his way through the world on faith, he grew up in the woods of Pennsylvania, where there are generally fewer lights on the road.
I ask Vincent if he’s ever been lonely, and he talks about a time when nobody was coming around, so he had to be the one to come around to them. I don’t tell, and he doesn’t ask, about the loneliness that lingers even after you learn to stop waiting for people, even after you learn to find fulfillment in occupying yourself with them.
I’m glad he knows how to drive in the darkness. I’m glad that I don’t have to trust myself, for now.