Monterey: holding it together

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“I’d like to hold those moments again Turn them over like stones in my hand Before they fly…”

We’re sitting on the Monterey pier waiting for burgers and clam chowder.

I asked Toby to bring me to this town even though it would make our drive from LA to San Francisco even longer, because it’s one of those thumbtacks on the map of my childhood I haven’t had the chance to return to yet. We were so close, it was too good to pass up, so we followed the GPS to La Mesa Elementary School and called my mom to get our old address.

As it turns out, our apartment building – where I learned to read and learned the truth about Santa and begged to keep my pet snail - has been torn down, replaced with stucco duplexes, but the uphill path (much longer in my memory) to the school is still there. I walked in front of the school, looked through windows, and Toby patiently listened (and at least pretended to be interested in) the 15 or so memories I hold from the year I was five.

So 45-minutes later, we’re in the little restaurant when I look out the window and say: “I don’t really like coming back to these places.”

He’s surprised. “Why??”

“I mean – I want to go, I feel compelled to go, but after the excitement there’s… melancholy.”

And before even I see it coming, my face is in my hands and I’m having a full-blown breakdown in this little burger shack. He’s reaching out, unsure of what to say, and my throat is closing around the words.  All I've got is a whisper. “It’s just…it was a good childhood. And...I want good things to not end anymore.”

A deep sob rises up and nearly doubles me over, and my chest hurts, but as the waiter comes with drinks, I muster enough self-control to quiet down.

I chalk it up to last night’s lack of sleep, the day’s earlier conflict, hormones. All true.

But also true is that I’ve always had a sense of being a person in pieces, parts strewn across geography and time. Of being a whole person, but not belonging. Or…belonging in too many places, leaving little to just be right here.

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The artist – and the army brat - tends to think this inner tension makes him/her unique, but the older I get, the more I kind of think most of us human creatures feel this way, at least on some level.

We aren’t all here.

Contentedness we have to work at. Searching across fences comes naturally.

And the love - the deep, wracking attachment to the fragments & faces, good and bad, along the road – it’s there beneath the surface, threatening to erupt & send a mushroom cloud of crazy into the sky.  Sometimes I just don’t know what to do with all of it.

(Answer: Write songs.)

Rarity makes a thing more precious, so we treasure the moments as they pass knowing we won’t meet again. My little guy said the other day: “It’s so weird. This minute is gone already. It’ll never happen this way again.”

"My mother seemed older at my age but I'm just a baby 'cause the years behind me are a handful of days I am 26 and 17..."

I’m not stuck in the past. I’m stuck on the people. Stuck on the joy affixed to specific moments like a stamp on an envelope.

I don’t want to go back. I just want to be able to hold it all together.

The food arrives. I ordered too much. My plate is overflowing, and I pack most of it into a box to take with us as we get back on the road.