The first of many reunions occurred there, in the southwestern heat, me and Steph on our second California road trip. She has been my foil in so many ways, we are such different women, and yet we understand one another's souls - our common sense of self-reflection, of ambition and love resonate - and so our mutual perspectives seem to help us always better understand who we are and who we are not and who we want to become. We climbed northward from the Seussian gnarls of Joshua Trees and ancient monzogranite, moving through the bounty of the Central Valley, and then climbing into the damp cool of giant Sequoias - the world's largest trees. Steph birdwatched with me, communed with the yellow-bellied marmots whom we surprised on a forest trail, and concocted the perfect backcountry dinner over our campfire. Then we were off again, breathless at 9,000 foot passes in the Sierras, at the wide expanse of grassy valleys, and then at the wide expanse of the great Lake Tahoe.
When we are out in nature, she said, I realize how long everything else has been here, and how small our own problems are, how quickly they pass.
The week swings by and Steph joins me in my parent's home in Los Altos. We celebrate my grandfather's 93rd birthday; my grandmother and dad help him blow out his candles, and I wonder if he is making a wish, what wish he would make. He tires easily now, doesn't always seem to know whether we are there, and yet the next day my grandmother tells us how happy he was afterward.
With only a few days at home, and work to be done, I don't see all the people I wanted to. It is also my first time home since we lost Heidi. It's hard to sleep at home without her, I miss the warmth of her, I miss being cuddled off the bed. My mom still has our Heidi look-a-like, a little stuffed Bichon, on the chair, and I know she misses our friend too. Pepper, our parakeet, drinks in our love though, flying to my shoulder to chirrup and singsong sweetly in my ear. My breakup from Ben opened so many empty spaces in my heart. Somehow by hauling my Prius from Los Altos to the East Bay and back, to San Francisco and back, to San Jose and back, and "catching up" on the lives of others whom I have loved, and do still love, I felt the presence of other important people expanding to fill those spaces. Ravi reminded me, in the days before his wedding, that if we truly love ourselves, we never stop loving the people who have changed us, rather, it is the nature of the love that changes.
And then, meeting my niece filled my heart to bursting. She has, unwitting, transformed us all. We are shuffled into new roles - aunt, grandfather, mom, dad, great-grandmother, and we delight in how she has made us all gentle and tender and patient. I spent five precious days with her, Robert, and Julia: seeing our cousin for the first time in over ten years, visiting the breweries, forests, and casual big cities of the Pacific Northwest, eating and enjoying the time we had together. Days cannot tell you how beautiful new life is, and when one sees day after day how much work it takes just to keep a baby happy, well, I certainly treasure my own parents even more after that!
To arrive at the endpoint, Whidbey Island and Seattle, was also to arrive in a new beginning. One of my dearest friends in the world, Janet, married the love of her life, to the backdrop of Puget Sound and a soaring bald eagle and two amazing musical performances that Janet played/sang/conducted. My brother and Julia now spend more time with Janet and Laura than I get to; they are ski buddies and food buddies. And yet Janet's deep caring, perpetual enthusiasm, and articulate thoughtfulness has ensured that our high school friendship grew and evolved with us into adulthood. To now bear witness, with all the others who also love this couple, to a marriage that we know will last forever, made me bawl like a baby - particularly when they held one another for their first dance.
There are so many lives I could have had. When I go home, when I am near my friends and family, I see those paths before me, I stand at the foot of my river before it split into a mighty delta. Decisions which I made (casually, it now seems, though at the time I know it was not so) were the turns that took me down one branch and not another, and I have ended up with this life. Were they good choices? Bad choices? From here they all still matter, and yet...
I am in New York now.
When I was 20, and I left this city for the first time after only 3 months, I knew I had unfinished business here. To visit and be back on the west coast, so surrounded by love and lost potentials, reaffirmed my place in New York. I find peace now. I find myself.