Friday, June 28, 2013

I'm Always In this Twilight

This week has been the strangest week of my life.

My week starts on Monday (do you start your week on Sunday or Monday?), and this one brought a heat wave and a ton of anticipation. Wednesday was the one year anniversary of the day the Waldo Canyon Fire came down into the city and we evacuated, and Tuesday was the two week anniversary of the start of the Black Forest Fire. If you've ever lived in a town sandwiched between the memory of fire and the stench of smoke you can likely appreciate the stress we felt as a collective.

Added to this silliness, my perpetual fascination with getting pregnant was a recipe for a swampy mid-week of melancholy, and I knew I needed to prepare myself for the impending meltdowns. In my Monday Madness I said a flippant little prayer asking to be relieved of this complex neurotic burden of inner turmoil and outer, well, fire.

So Tuesday came with sweet dreams and devastation. News of Jon's death rekindled the grief and sadness of a relationship lost, called to question how and why our friendship had faded in recent years, and the sacred postmortem speculation (was it an accident - a conspiracy - a relief - could I have stopped it - can I solve the mystery now - If I had been there everything would have been different).

This is part of my mourning, I know.

I'm a fixer, but there's quite little I'm able to fix about death, despite my efficiency, my effective worry.

Tuesday I wept on a grave.
Thursday and Friday I saw two new babies come into the world.

I've always said my religion is physics, mixed with a touch of Buddhism, but in the last week I feel somehow less alone. Never have I been so close to someone who has passed on, and I think before this week I would have said that I believe the matter and energy that makes us up goes on to reincarnate as something... like a cactus, or an orca, or a tablet of penicillin. My sense of consciousness has always been that it survives so long as the memory of the person survives, and beyond that, maybe it becomes cosmic static or something. Stardust.

But I feel differently now.

Maybe I have to.

If you know me, you know I call my male BFF my "second husband" and my husband's BFF my "third husband." But you might also notice that I don't call my husband my "first husband." I've never thought of Jon as a husband, because we never even discussed the idea of marriage, but now I feel this loss that is so profound and intimate... there is no opportunity to grow up and share what I've learned, or apologize for the mistakes I made, or ask for forgiveness. Especially if consciousness breaks apart and scatters into the four winds.

I have to believe that something survives, and that it survives beyond our collective memory. Chains of coherence, drifting through the cosmic mist. Surfacing in dreams.

Reborn each time a cactus blooms, or a new baby is born.

"I took the stars from my eyes
and then I made a map,
And new somehow
I could find my way back."
~ Cosmic Love, Florence + The Machine

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What You Should Know

Jonathan Christopher Bayless was born on Christmas Eve to two parents who loved the beach. While I don't know much about his time in high school, I know he must have been smart and was a talented singer, as he received a recommendation to attend the Air Force Academy. I met him there in 2000 because he was part of the show choir, and friends with my boyfriend at the time. Not only did he have a voice, but an ear for music. While I can't say for sure, I'll bet his best memories were scuba diving in the Cayman Islands. He studied English at the USAFA, and joked that he had a BS in English (which is hilarious for two reasons). He was also a talented pilot, who made the cut for fighter pilot training.

After he graduated, we took a road trip across the country and he taught me how to camp, how to fish, to play gin rummy, and how to relax for a few weeks. He showed me his stomping grounds in New Jersey (the pretty part) near Princeton, where the heat of the summer was greeted with tradition and NJ personality. We watched the fire works on the 3rd of July and spent time on the beach. He took care of my sunburn.

We stayed for one night with his father, who took us to dinner at the local country club and then brought us home to watch Rosemary's Baby. Later that night, his dad got so drunk that he started toppling furniture throughout the house. Jon didn't bat an eye, he just tucked me in and told me to lock the door behind him as he went out to try to wrangle his father back to bed. I could hear his quiet voice, his caring, his heart breaking. I could also hear that he'd done this a thousand times before.

Jon went to pilot training in Enid, Oklahoma a Godforsaken place that feels like wind and smells like loneliness. He was doing well when his father passed away, suddenly, as a result of his alcoholism. I met Jon back in New Jersey and helped him sort through the belongings, the office, the legalities, the stuff. I stood next to him at his father's wake because he didn't think he could face these people alone. There must have been more than 600 visitors who told Jon how proud his father was of him, which is something I don't think he had ever heard directly from his father.

After his father's death, Jon realized that life is short and he didn't want to spend his flying fighter planes, he just wanted to read and write. Instead of pushing him into one of the six journalist-type positions available in the Air Force or Tops in Blue, the vocal ensemble, he was reassigned to missile duty and moved to California. I moved with him.

It wasn't the best year of my life, but I did learn a lot during that time. We lived in a tiny apartment in Santa Maria, which is to say, the armpit of California. We hiked and ran different trails every Sunday, saw shows in LA and movies in San Luis Obispo (including Garden State, which was totally crazy because Jon looked like Zach Braff, was from New Jersey, and had just dealt with his father's untimely death). He wrote for the base newspaper and sang in a small ensemble for ceremonies and funerals. He volunteered at Memory Walks with me. We trained to be disaster response volunteers with the Red Cross (because it was across from our apartment and seemed like a good way to spend some Friday nights). We went to Solvang, Pea Soup Anderson's, and Neverland. He was the best roommate ever.

Even though the Air Force had made his life difficult on numerous occasions, he made it to work every day. He ironed and starched his uniform every morning before work. He followed the rules.

He taught me the following things that year:
1. To run a 5K (which took me months and months of run/walking).
2. To drive a stick-shift (badly, without obeying traffic laws, on an Air Force base)
3. The nuances of all zombie movies that had been made to date.
4. That I do not look like Cillian Murphy, even if he swore I looked just like him.
5. How to drive a stick shift VW GTI through the Korean part of Los Angeles.
6. To love Trader Joe's.
7. To boldly drive where no one has gone before to find a new running trail, even if that meant Bakersfield, where we were shot at, or a forest of poison oak, or the Montana de Oro State Park, which is absolutely breathtaking.
8. To play the guitar (badly).
9. To play Dance, Dance Revolution, watch internet cartoons, and hockey games.
10. To stick to my resolutions and not cave in.

When it was time for him to move on from California, he had four choices. I told him I wouldn't go to Minot, and he chose Minot as his first choice.

Our relationship ended by default. We were amicable, and still exchanged gifts for a couple of years. The first year I lived with my husband, he hadn't gotten me anything for my birthday, but Jon sent an enormous basket of fruits, healthy snacks, and fun. So I guess you can say he taught my hubby the importance of remembering a birthday.

I guess there's a reason I don't write obituaries, because this is long and drawn out. But what I wanted to say, and what I wished the world would hear, was that Jon was a very kind person who had an enormous heart. He was and is loved and left footprints on the Earth. He was honest and kind, and died too soon.

You would have liked him. And he would have loved you.
May you be free of suffering,
May you be happy,
May you love and be loved,
May you find the healing that you seek,
May you be at peace.

Dear Jon

I woke up this morning from the nicest dream.

Usually I don't remember my dreams, and when I do they are usually about packing for a flight or wandering through an enormous house with lots of strange rooms. This morning my dream was of a former boyfriend, the first and only other man I've ever lived with, who popped into my dream, gave me the warmest hug, and said it was good to see me. I asked him what he was doing there, and he said he was going to ask me to marry him, to which I replied, "oh, that's nice, but I'm moving to Arizona tomorrow with Arnold Schwartzenegger." He said he understood, and repeated that it was good to see me. Then I woke up and had this warm, fuzzy feeling.

Our breakup was the most amicable of any breakup I've ever even heard of. We went our separate ways after he chose to move to the one place where I promised not to follow, but we stayed in touch until a few years ago with Christmas cards and occasional emails and phone calls. He friended me on Facebook once, but I told him that there were things in my life he probably didn't want to see (like my wedding) and didn't accept that friendship.

So this morning, just before I left to teach yoga, I looked for him again. Even though I've tried to reconnect on Facebook in the past, I haven't found him, but didn't find that unusual because of his super-top-secret job and (possibly) that he would have blocked me for the same reason I didn't accept his virtual friendship. So I tried LinkedIn, thinking that maybe there was a better opportunity to connect on a professional front. I found him easily, but his rank and location seemed out of date. Then I hit the Google.

When one googles a piece of history, one expects a number of alarming results, like new relationships, new sexuality, distressing photos that remind one of how unkind aging and sun damage can be. I felt prepared for long hair, a new sexual orientation, a family with six kids, a fundamentalist religion, or even an arrest warrant.

Instead, I found death.

Long time death.

The first ten links that popped up were describing someone who had died, and I quickly scrolled past them and looked on. Then a year caught my eye, then a location, then a rank, then a hometown.

I scrolled back up. And clicked.

The reports were brief, unhelpful, and uncaring. They described the mysterious death of someone who had never been loved, never belonged. Cold and calculated, like, "well, we found a body and we don't know how he died. We're awaiting autopsy results." No further news stories. Then a few crazy conspiracy theory articles, describing the five other officers who died of mysterious causes in the last few months. And nothing further.

This was in 2009.

My BFF Kathleen helped me do a little additional recon, as she's an amateur geneologist with access to helpful tools, like where she helped me to locate his mother, his obituary, and a few other tidbits, like the fact that he's buried a few miles from my house.

Then I went to hold a baby who has the same name and a similar look. A miracle baby who was born early and just came home after a few months in the hospital.

I shelfed my baggage (sort of), moved on to do some real work for a few hours, and drove home.

I kept thinking of the dream.

So instead of calling his mother or returning to the bowels of the Google yet again, I drove to the Air Force Academy cemetery. The gate guard asked for my driver's license and asked where I was headed, and then told me to have a good day (yes, for real... "heading to the cemetery? Have a good day!").

I think I needed something more real than headlines, cold stories, and an absence on Facebook for me to feel like this was real.

The USAFA cemetery is quiet. Surrounded by trees, blue skies, and memorial plaques. There is a flag flying at half staff. I found his site in the Memorial section, reserved for those who died in the line of duty and sat there for a long time. I've visited my grandparents' graves before, but I was also present at their burials and know they lived long, happy, fulfilled lives. Their deaths were from old age and sun damage.

I was the only person there for a long time, until an older gentleman jogged quietly through and saluted me. I didn't find much to say, and what I did say came out in a choked whisper, through streams of tears. I told him I was wearing his watch, which I was, because he loved watches and gave me one that I haven't worn much but started to wear a few weeks ago. The rest, I think, is private.

When the cemetery closed for visitors, I drove on to teach yoga teacher training. The heart chakra. I stopped at Whole Foods for some therapeutic dark chocolate and kombucha and on my way out I was cut off by an older man driving a lime green VW GTI. No one drives this car (seriously, look for one) except Jon. He loved that car.

I taught teacher training, and started off my crying my eyes out and telling the whole story, as I've just told you. We talked about the heart, and I remembered the difference between healthy and unhealthy grief. Healthy grieving is protecting an open wound as it heals, and in time reflecting back on the scar that it left. Scars are our tributes to the stories we have lived. They remind us of what we have lived through. Unhealthy grieving is not allowing the wound to heal, but creating an environment where it will fester and grow worse in time.

I have a lot of healing to do.

So because it is nowhere else on the internet, because all that is there is sterile and unfeeling, I share with you what the world should have known about Jon.

And a follow up.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Season of Fire

Another tremendous fire is raging through my homeland, burning homes and singeing nerves still raw from last summer. This time, the sacred, secret place of fairy dreams and folk festivals is the scene of the crime. So many people liken Black Forest to The Black Forest... the ancestral homeland of Western wizardry and magical thinking.

The people who chose to live in this place are an unusual bunch. Many are introverted, prefering to surround themselves with the protective whispers of tall, dark trees and insulate themselves from so much modern convenience. They live with animals and make their own soap. Children easily believe that Hansel and Gretel live just over the hill. Magic is one step closer in this forest.

I will not pretend to understand why this is happening, nor can I rationalize this nightmare as it quickly changes.

Every day I see the scars left from last year's blaze. When I joke that we bought our home because of the view, which no one could ever take from us, I'm reminded that it was taken from us. The view we see is no longer rolling green hills but black, patchy bald spots with legions of skeletons propped up in the wind. It will take years to regrow, and it will never look the same to me.

It saddens me to think that this could be the experience of my friends in the forest, human and otherwise. The protective layer of magic is blowing north at 45 miles per hour.

The forest will regrow in time. Mother Earth will move on and forget these spirits. If matter cannot truly be made or destroyed, then I suppose the magic hasn't left the forest. It is the forest that has left the magic.

Perhaps this is the message for us? To take sacred spaces with us, to be the magic for one another.

To remember what it felt like and become the forest of the future, nurturing those gentle spirits between us.

Friday, June 7, 2013

How You Do Everything

I work all the time.

Like right now. I'm working at 11:49pm on a Friday night, in my bed, with my laptop. If you were here right now, I'd tell you that it isn't my fault. My neurotic parakeets are... responding to the sprinklers outside. I can't tell if they're terrified of them or hoping to mate. Maybe they're describing their terrible living conditions in extraordinary detail (that happens to sound like a car alarm).

But the truth is, I am working because I don't know what else to do. I work all the time.

Last night, when I was working at the yoga studio I took a class with a wonderful Baptiste instructor visiting from Denver, Dave Farmar. Instead of enjoying the class, like any normal, rational being, I thought of the following things:

1. "I should take pictures of this class in progress with my iPad for marketing/archival purposes." 2. "Does Dave have enough water?" 3. "The new guy who accidentally wandered into this 90 minute heated class... is he dead? ... is he a lawyer?" 4. "How many of the instructors are planning to kill me after this class, once they've rehydrated and I've showered, so they can recognize me?" 5. "I'm melting. Like, literally. I'm becoming a liquid, and all of my liquids are coming out. What will be left???" 6. "I should probably go and get towels for everyone because they are maaaaad drippy and we're creating a lake." 7. "When I teach next week, I'm borrowing this sequence." 8. "I think my iPad is floating in a pool of sweat/weakness." 9. "I miss just doing yoga." 10. "I work all the time." This might surprise you, because I'm fairly good with boundaries. When I'm on vacation, I'm on vacation. My problem, is when I'm not on vacation, I'm working.

At the start of class, Dave asked us to explore the opposite of a negative perception in our lives. My negative was (get this): working all the time. The positive? Connection. You see, when I'm working, the relationships are easily defined. I'm working for you, you're working for me, I know why I'm here and what we should be talking about. I have objectives. Outcomes. Billable hours. Rather than connecting, I fall back on these easily defined roles. When I'm working, I'm in charge.

And right in the middle of all of this, Dave said something that really pissed me off, "How you do anything is how you do everything."


There I was, taking a yoga class, not responsible for a darned thing for 90 full minutes and THERE I WAS, trying to be in charge of everything and work through it. Instead of practicing yoga, I was working. Atha yoga, idiot.

And JUST like that, I learned (again) that I work too much. I try to hard. "Stop trying, do yoga, stop trying, do yoga" I willed myself. Just about as effective as, "I am stronger than E. coli I will not throw up... I am stronger than E. coli, I will not throw up."

At the end of the 90 (110) minute class my mantra had shifted to, "keep breathing, do not black out... keep breathing, do not black out." Which turns out to be pretty effective. As we all snuggled into the swampy thickness of the lowest 12 inches of the room, Dave started playing a song that spoke to me (and many others). At the time, I thought surely it was simply the sweet relief of savasana, not any particular beauty of the words or melody. Sort of like when you go for a long hike and then eat a PB&J sandwich and think, "This is the BEST sandwich on EARTH!"

"I've decided to be kinder, I've decided to be glad..."

How you do anything is how you do everything, and you have the ability to put a positive spin on it.

I work all the time. But I do what I love, and I help people. And more often than not, it's fun.

I just needed to change my inflection.