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Entries in melissa mccain (6)

Wednesday
Feb272013

The Beginnings of Things +20

This is the second entry in a single story that spans over 10,000 words. Be sure to read The Endings of Things preceeding this entry.

Life would have made a lot more sense to me at the age of 19 if I'd been initiated in the Christ mystery of death and rebirth prior to some real messy times around then and for years later. Having a touchstone would have been handy. Instead, the world seemed pretty malevolent for sustained periods of time, and part of the reason for hanging on to the Melissa relationship was because for a period, that was about the only thing that brought form and meaning from chaos. So the dissolution of that relation in the span of a week hit me hard to begin with. Because Melissa's mom Marie was nice enough to mediate the breakup experience and see that I had a softer landing, I began the very next day at a life without Melissa but with some optimism and newness of vision that things might turn out okay. I'd meet new people and interesting things would happen. In other words, what died could be resurrected into a new form with a bigger meaning to it.

Melissa and I broke up on February 22, a Monday. The next day I was back at school and found myself talking to two girls in my philosophy class at Mesa. That took the edge off some, even knowing that I'd not retreated. I can't recall anything happening after that but the experience was a lift just as it was. Hitting up Subway on the way back home I saw a girl I'd had my eyes on for a while, Abbey. She and another girl or two were easy on the eyes and since I'd been somewhat regular there, I already had a bit of a chatty way with them. I told her what had happened. I don't know if I expected this to go anywhere but I asked if we might be in touch and I left my number. I think she was seeing someone anyway. The damage was done the day before. At this moment, there wasn't much to lose.

The Pig Solution

Matt Zuniga and I had a particularly juvenile evening on the first Friday after the breakup. Usually we were content to go out and play drums in isolated and semi-secure parking garages, increasingly so in the middle of the night. The Friday night just before the ill-fated ASB ball that I was supposed to attend with Melissa, we were out until 3:30 in the morning playing at a new spot that had a janitorial storage locker that we found open. We relished in the raiding of such a place. There were boxes of 4' flourescent tube lighting. We heisted the entire collection. We also opened several cans of paint and poured them out over the street. It was raining pretty mightily that night so by the time we made a return visit some time later, there was hardly a sign of paint. On this first weekend after the breakup there was a bit of boy frustration to get out so we sort of rampaged at the mall, with Matt doing his trademark antisocial grunts, charicatures of old people, some well chosen ventriloquistic obscenities, and worse. We took the bulbs we'd collected the week before and took them to a spot on the edge of the suburban buildout, near a freeway, and cast the tubes majestically down to ... well, it was really kind of pointless since none of them exploded in the way we hoped. But then we were off and running, dropping in on an adult bookstore. Call it a pent up need to be a guy. Or a pig.

The Little Black Book Was Mauve

At home I dug into the contacts book a little harder than I had since the summer before. I probably called everyone to reconnect and maybe sob with (a number of whom were high school people I really had not connected with since that era a couple years before), but the most notable contact in there was one girl friend of mine that I'd known for a couple years since 1990. We used to go to church together when I was still doing that. I don't think I'd seen her in some time, except maybe at Christmas Eve service, if anything. She was just a bit younger than Melissa by a few months but was uncannily mature for her age, and was one of those passionate color-outside-of-the-lines beings who jolts you awake. It was something I needed. I called her and we went out for some fun and talk on Saturday, just less than a week after the breakup. She was ready to go. I never expected I'd marry her one day. Yep, in some odd way, it was kind of a first date for Kelli and me. And yet not. But that one day put her on the map as a trusted friend and confidante. And more than the compassionate ear she offered, the story ahead sets up a whole set of resonsances that radiated out for a long time and really has shaped most of the life I've lived in the 20 years since the Melissa breakup. Curl up with a blanket and a nice drink, once again...

The Shifting Sands of Confidence

I'd seen my grandmother every weekend for all the time I went out with Melissa since I was coming and going to pick up the car. I might have seen her more often if I had other reasons, like practicing piano or doing other errands and chores to earn the use of the car. But all during the Melissa era, the relationship that she and I had was not as close as when I had no girlfriend, and therefore, no secrets to keep about my emerging intimate life with a girl. That kind of talk of course is kind of awkward with people anyway, but since I already knew her to be rather conservative but not totally close minded, I did keep hushed and would limit the talk about Melissa to discussion of the places we went or other developments of a pretty benign nature. But in that breakup week, I did not seek counsel with her. I didn't even tell her. Even a week and more later, I hadn't told her. The mantle of trust in my emotional life was starting to be transferred away from her as I rather foolishly thought I'd go it alone or limit myself to some friends and peers, few of which had the depth of perspective I'd need while maneuvering the minefield of life. At about the same time, calling upon my pastor Jerry happened less and less. The departure of our associate pastor Judy in 1993 also eroded my relationship with the church and folks constellated around it. I became unchurched. The road to any real faith was now beginning because I had outgrown the version of religion that gives the answers and the storybook versions of how things went. (I hasten to add that my church was anything but shallow theologically. But youth materials are geared toward, well... youth, and that is just foundational. Life itself build faith.)

Kelli Parrish was one notable exception. For several years she and her sweet mother Kay were about the only connection to the church congregation that a few years before had been a huge part of my life. There wasn't too much else, but as I found, friendship with Kelli kept me abreast of developments—and disintegrations—within the church. She was my lifeline to the church and even to a bit of spirituality for years to come. She and Kay were always ready friends of mine, and even though time might pass in larger or smaller blocks, the same spirit was always there. But let's not get too far ahead. There's that one Saturday at the end of February 1993, to start with.

Moving Violations

Until I refreshed my memory with my journal from then, I'd forgotten the part about not having been to her new house prior to spending that Saturday night with her. She lived in a place that came to be known as the "Treehouse" —a spot on the edge of the Mission Hills community of San Diego, overlooking the airport. (It's actually just a mile or so from my church now. In fact, for a time, she went there as a pew sitter herself.) Her place was up an insanely steep hill that juts off another road that itself is barely wide enough to park one lane of cars and let two other cars pass. Her street name did not appear to be anything more than a nebulous driveway up a crazy hill. That's what it looked like once I even found the first street after getting turned around in the odd combinations of dead end streets, one way streets, and other navigational oddness that defines that area. Her directions sounded clear enough. But in the downpour, everything got way more difficult. It took me 45 minutes to do what should have taken 20.

Finally I arrived at the Treehouse, a 2.5 story duplex up that nasty hill. It was indeed a sight, the balcony having a nice view of the harbor and airport and a bit of downtown. It was a place I'd get to know in the coming years. Often I'd been made to feel quite welcome there. For this first visit, we made small talk and headed out in the Ford Escort, not really knowing where we'd go. It was odd. She wasn't my date. No, at that point and for years to come, Kelli was kind of like a kid sister to me, and a church sister at that. This wasn't a date, and it would be years before our first movement toward our present relationship was made, and years more before we embraced it and went full on. But she was sometimes loud and outrageous. Colorful. Opinionated. Bold. Free spirited. Interesting. Too much for me. And she had lived a life or two by the time this night happened. Everything she was stood in stark opposition to Melissa.

My journal mentioned going to a number of places but didn't name any. Those details are lost to history, but let's set one thing down right here. Melissa lived in a newer suburb than I did, about ten miles northeast of where I was. Mira Mesa was (and still is) a place that I tolerated. It's technically not all so different than Clairemont where I lived but it feels different, maybe a bit stuffier. Really it might just be that it is just newer and with different particulars of merchants and street names. Oh, and maybe the considerable population of Filipinos that earned it a nickname of Manila Mesa. A point to make is that almost the entire relationship with Melissa was conducted in the suburbs, whether it was at her house or mine, or the parks we frequented, or the malls. Kelli on the other hand was far more urban and bohemian. This one rampaging night on the town was all in San Diego's more seasoned, older, and eclectic neighborhoods, or in downtown, about ten miles south of where I lived. Oh, she'd lived in many places, and she herself was in Clairemont not too long before this. In fact, she used to be on my bike route home from school and I dropped in on her a few times there. But her spirit is far more urban and alive with the stuff of arts and poetry and music arising from underground and repressed populations. Kelli herself was culture shock to me. The things she continues to introduce me to today still has that effect!

But that night we serviced some more immediate needs. The evidence shows we ate ourselves silly on pizza and gyros sandwiches after hitting up a few places. We got downtown while it was storming rain. If I hadn't run enough stop signs and lights just finding her house, I certainly met my quota while we went around looking for things we had vague inclinations to find but seemingly couldn't. She had just finished a first day of driving instruction and here I was showing her all the ways to NOT operate on the road! It was hilarious. With the big news of the period being the Melissa story, I'm sure we covered that in enough detail. Eventually we escaped downtown and its inside-out network of one way streets and all those damned red lights. We stopped for some time at Old Town a few miles away, and parked at the lot at the Presidio. That's the part I remember best, even if now it's more an impression on my heart that this time together was really the time that put Kelli on the map for me as a person I could really open up to and trust, and that was also hungering for a similar connection. With Melissa, I always felt like it took a lot of prying and coaxing to get a substantial exchange that communicated life's deep truths. By comparison, this was cake.

I think that we both had stories about divorced parents that kept us going for a while, and the lives we've led in the shadow of those broken relations. Indeed. Is there any way we would have known that early trusting time, peppered with some of the hilarity we experienced while running red lights would have paved the way for us to be married? Nope. We were just really kicking off a friendship then, sitting in the car on the side of the hill overlooking town, with rain pouring down around midnight on a cold February night.

We hit up Gelato Vero, a coffee shop at India and Washington, essentially across the street from her house (as the crow flies) but some distance away if you actually use the road. It was 12:20 am by the time we got there. That was pretty astounding since the 16 year old I was out with two weeks before had to be home by 10 and I had to be on my way by 11. Gelato Vero makes some kick ass gelato Italian ice cream. If I had any that night, it was probably the first I ever had. Already, Kelli was leading me into new areas of life. We retired to the Treehouse and watched Saturday Night Live. I suppose I went home at 1 am. Or later. What a time.

Serendipty is Her Forte

I don't recall exactly what day this part happened but real shortly after the Monday of Doom on the 22nd I happened into Kelli at Mesa College at the music department. I had taken the Basic Musicianship class because she herself had taken it a semester or two before and that got my interest up. Recall she was 16 at that time, so she was at Mesa not as a full fledged post-high school graduate but instead taking college classes there because it was possible, but also because her alternative high school was just next door. That day at the music department, she was talking to some guy named Josh. She introduced me as a drummer. Josh was a guitarist who could barely contain himself at the prospect of getting a drummer to help he and his other guitar buddy in their progressive hard rock band Forte. (I don't recall any of the material but I think they were into Queensryche or something.) I said I'd be interested especially if he could give me some demo of their stuff first so I could prepare. I might have to cover my early 1993 music activities in another post, but suffice to say that in that first week after Melissa, the stuff of new adventure was already taking form. And Kelli was right there in the middle of it.

But the Forte thing was small potatoes compared to what happened next while under Kelli's influence. Just a flash in the pan. I was just barely kicking tires and running my hand over the vehicle that was going to take me for the ride of my life.

But it Does Mean Beans!

It was just under two weeks after the Weekend of Doom with Melissa and one week after the Moving Violations tour with Kelli when it became time to do something to fill the new weekend-long void. Kelli suggested I go to a coffee shop with her to see a band she and Kay liked. They love acoustic music, folk music, protest music. The part about "coffee shop" threw me. Being so sheltered and suburban as I was, I was barely aware of what she could be talking about if it wasn't one of those kinds of Denny's-like greasy spoon places from the Ike's 50s and LBJ's 60s. You know...the places with glass and rock walls and odd diamond shaped roof panels that look kind of Jetsonlike, a cocky waitress with overdone makeup, and truckers with buttcrack issues? Oh! No, that's not what Kelli was getting at? Since I didn't drink coffee then and only now have adopted enough tolerance for coffee that I drink it about two days a month to kick my ass into gear for early morning work route driving to LA, I was clueless about the fair trade selling, earthy and colorful, free-thought-inducing bohemian dens she had in mind. The only coffee I knew about was gross stuff my old man drank: that freeze dried crystal crap that Folger's sells. I never drank it except to taste it once and that broke me of the habit immediately. Coffee was an adult drink. What did Kelli want with the stuff? Man, I was in for something new. Coffee? Coffee shops? Music in a coffee shop? I guess you'd be more likely to find music there. I doubt I ever saw live music at one of the Jetson types of coffee shops. That's why I was not really on the ball with her pitch. But she had an idea that might improve my life so I went along.

On March 5th I accompanied Kelli and Kay to Beans, ironically located in the shadow of University Town(e) Center, a major mall that us suburban rats would like to be seen at, and indeed, where Melissa and I launched into our relationship in June '92. Beans was just down the hill in a smaller strip mall, tucked into a corner. It's proximity to UCSD would have clinched it a smart and progressive crowd—all of which would have pretty much scared me then. It was high ceilinged, colorfully painted and inviting as those places tend to be. Art was on the walls. Since the entire area surrounding UTC was rather new, Beans too was new, and perhaps newer than the rest of things. Beans was a place I'd just drive past. But it became the stage (literally) for a huge new act in my life. My notes only indicate that I went there a number of times during that month and into April, always on weekend nights. I don't have but a couple notes indicating exactly who played one night or the next. But the band Kelli wanted me to see was Rekless Abandon, a duo with an incredibly imaginitive and sensitive acoustic guitar player named Paul Abbott and an equally incredibly dynamic and emotive singer, Randi Driscoll. Because I was deep into my progressive rock music and was only distracted by Melissa's gravitation to sappy soft rock, Rekless Abandon was foreign to me. First off, where was the band? It's just a dude and a chick strumming and singing! The drummer in me was unimpressed. But all this got me out of the house. There were a couple other musicians I recall seeing there. At first I was more impressed with a fellow named Dominick Giovanellio, a solo guitarist/singer who had some songs that I recall were tinged with some humor and wit. Another night I might have seen—and sat in with on drums—the Ray Iverson Quartet, a traditional jazz combo that I really had no business sitting in with, but they were gracious enough to let me do it twice. There was a blues band that I saw a couple times. Or maybe that was just their name?

He Played with Frank Zappa

But by far there is more at stake by returning to Rekless Abandon. They had a tape that I eventually got, and then another once it came out later in the year. Kelli and Kay had seen Paul and Randi play several times and were on first name basis with them. They even had them play a house party at the Treehouse. I was along at Beans and got to meet Paul somewhat. Enough anyway that after I'd seen the following spectacle at least twice I had to ask Paul what the hell I just saw. The thing is, while I remember certain things and certain impressions, since I was not steeped in the history of Rekless Abandon and did not yet have an inkling of how the San Diego music scene was networked, even now I don't have all the facts about the story I am about to tell. Yet I am certain I have asked people who were there those nights and who made it happen. Here goes.

At the end of their set, Paul and Randi did a boisterous song with a fierce chorus that I'm pretty sure went "Freaks! Freaks! Mother Fuckers!" repeatedly. That was obviously a crowd favorite as it got patrons into singing it too. But the curious thing was that they invited a bespectacled, long black hair flowin', trenchcoat and purple knit cap wearin' (or was it the purple and green pork pie hat?) guy up to the stage to sing that refrain in full vigor. Was it random? Could I get called up if I shouted and waved most enthusiastically? Once I saw it in two performances I knew there was something. He wasn't just another guy in the crowd. At the set break, this trenchcoat dude garnered some adoration and attention, even at a rather isolated coffee shop. Who was he? I had to ask Paul.

"Oh, that's Mike. He's a friend of ours. He's played with Frank Zappa..."

That got my attention. Not even so much because I was a fan. I wasn't a fan, and even now I'd be slow to call myself a fan of Zappa. Back then I had not one Zappa recording, but this sped up the process so that I had one by about June. It turned out that I started tentatively picking up some Zappa from the used CD shops. During the summer I was crafting some drum/vocal ode to Zappa for Rhythmic Catharsis. In early November I went to a Terry Bozzio drum clinic. 1993 was the year of getting into Zappa. It proved to be an oddly fated year for that.

The stuff I was doing with Rhythmic Catharsis was intuitively attempting to appropriate the dirty humor part of what Zappa did but never in a million years could I ever compose anything even as musical as his farts! Later in the year I crossed paths with Mike again at another Rekless Abandon show at another coffee shop, Rumors in Ocean Beach. It seems Mike was there to watch but had somehow become their soundman for the night. I was there with some new bandmates from New Electron Symphony, and Ian, the NES bandleader who surely would enjoy Zappa but did not know Mike, was really bugged at the sound that night. By that time in late November 1993, I'd gathered enough knowledge to wonder about Zappa, his studio, and his methods. At break time, I went outside and listened in on some open conversation and then proceeded to put my foot in my mouth. I hereby met Mike Keneally.

How's that Foot Taste?

Almost verbatim from my journal from December 7, I wrote, picking up on Paul's first mentioning of Mike's claim to fame...

He looked a little young [for having played with FZ who was in his 50s. Mike was 31]. Well, about two weeks ago I saw Rekless Abandon at Rumors, only about a week before I played there with NES. I saw Paul's friend again and talked to him. Sure enough, he played with Zappa in the last touring band in 1988. Since then he has played with (and still does) Frank's sons Dweezil and Ahmet. If that's so he's also been playing in a band [Z] which as seen the likes of Chad Wackerman, Doane Perry, and several others. The best in the biz. And the album he played on is one which also has Sting guesting on it! He told me a little more about Frank's studio and his history with Frank's band, and his solo stuff. I asked if Frank was still active in music. He said no. Frank is very very sick.

Who would have known that Frank died a week later on December 4th?

Strangely, I turned on the news today at 4 pm, something I never do. As I watched, a clip came in just before the commercial: something about the "late Frank Zappa." The LATE Frank Zappa?

Man. I felt so bad for asking such trivial shit of Mike just a week before his hero and mentor died.

I don't think I saw Mike for some time, but I did later hear his name in September 1994 when I went to a digital studio to do finish work on the Slaves By Trade recording that was new then. Joe Statt, the engineer, said Mike Keneally had been there recently with a whole mess of DAT tapes that he composited into his new album, Boil That Dust Speck. That Keneally name kept coming up. Was there a message in it? I found out when I saw my first Mike Keneally show in December of 1994—a year after the foot-in-mouth incident. And that was like losing my virginity all over again. But better!

Now, Where Were We?

Okay, so you saw I started this entry on one topic and then hovered for a while on Kelli talk, and then got to Keneally. Exactly. When I think of how all this stuff unfolded from that breakup with my first girlfriend (who as I said in the previous entry was someone who had her eye on me for some time prior to our dating, and whose parents were friends with mine before I was born...the story goes backwards and forwards), my mind is always blown. But this whole post is also a very diffuse thank you to Kelli who of course is my dear wife now. But even that was years in the future and was dotted with many stops and starts along the way. But the grand point that I have to make is how she's been accomplice to reshaping my life at some interesting times when I've felt, well, dead in my soul, defeated, lost. Kelli has often been responsible for sparking a new me into existence, for a rebirth of my spirit. And that's the honest truth.

The story of Kelli in my life is in some ways parallel (up to a point) with Melissa. But then there was an incredible divergence. Analogous to the prenatal history of Melissa's folks being party buddies with mine is the fact that before Kelli was born, Kay was at the same church as the one my grandmother helped found. Kay was my Sunday School teacher for a while when I was about 5-8 and Kelli and I used to have some play experience together. In both cases I was about three years older and had childhood experiences with Kelli and Melissa, even a few miles apart in town, mostly around Clairemont for a while. Kelli moved to Florida. Melissa to Mira Mesa. Both arrived back on the scene for me within about six months during the summer leading to or within my senior year in high school. To be honest, I didn't imagine a relationship with either until somehow circumstances seemed right according to the great mysteries and machinations of the universe. Back then, while I had made myself comfortable with Melissa because she was present and willing to be in a relationship, but I was really holding out for Shelby for no particularly tangible reason. Interestingly, it took until that imaginary relationship collapsed in 2000 before the way was clear to be open to Kelli. 

And that's about where the similarities end. I'm certain I got the better partner in the end. But try telling that to the tortured 19 year old for whom the world seemed to come to an end until Kelli, still pretty young but already wise beyond her years, was just a friend who was willing to connect at a substantial level that I didn't feel was possible with other people in general but certainly with Melissa. It's kind of odd how one had shallow roots and the other deeper roots. Melissa always (even now, from what I can see when I do a quick web search) seemed to be into stuff I'd never be interested in. Kelli was like an oasis the way she kept the light on for me, a living connection to matters of faith and spirituality, allowing life to be complex and messy because she too knew that was a major pattern. In one way it was good that the whole Melissa chapter was done by the time I was 21 (we had a short fling the following year), and good also that Kelli finally made sense to me in time to turn 30 (28, really). The years in between had a considerable darkness lurking that really set me up to recognize what Kelli meant after so many years of church youth groups, casual friendship, collaborating on a CD, and a bit of pre-dating foolin' around. Ultimately, as the story goes elsewhere on this blog, the summer of 2001, with two tragedies hitting us (9/11 and the murder of one of our church buddies, Daniel, a month before), we found ourselves cashing in our relationship capital and recognizing we needed to be closer if the world around us was going to keep descending into utter madness. And then closer still. It's quite a story. But now you just read one big chunk that hitherto had barely been mentioned.

And of course volumes could be written about how things worked out after I saw Keneally play in December 1994. The effect he had on my creativity was immense. Following leads opened up by interacting with him has taken me down many avenues. There are even a few interesting bits concerning how the Keneally and Kelli worlds have interacted. That is another entry altogether.

Taken together, it's all the story of my life. The greatest story ever told, man...

Friday
Feb222013

The Ending of Things +20

This is part one of a 10,000+ word story. Part two is the next entry called The Beginnings of Things.

Some months ago I wrote about my first relationship with Melissa. As much as the 19 year old me would like to report that we rode off into the sunset together, the reality was that the mismatch between her just being a 16 year old with those fluffy pink teenage visions of romance and my emerging troubled soul began to draw us apart. Oh, you can bet I stuck around the best I could for any further carnal experience that might come. And in perusing my journals from the period there was an interesting push and pull from one week to another that charted some "progress" and then regression from that. We never really closed the deal, and it was perhaps that see-sawing action that made me impatient and frustrated even as things unraveled for us as we closed in on eight months together.

Said another way, I was a 19 year old boy who wanted to get laid. And she wasn't giving in to it.

But she was sorting it out at her own pace, aided by her mom, auntie, and her one-year-her-senior cousin Chrissy. I did try to be patient because it seemed like it took so long before Melissa appeared on the scene in mid 1992. But it wasn't that we had just met like many other kids meet at school or just hanging out in some scene. No, we went back many years before. In fact, our parents used to be in some kind of scene before I was born. In some ways, Melissa was almost like a cousin to me because she appeared periodically when it was social time for the folks. Years after that when we started dating, she'd tell me she had her eye on me since she was eight years old! Our dads eventually both worked at the same company, one helping the other into the position. That bit about the old men knowing each other eventually proved unflattering to me when Mark, Melissa's dad, knew well enough what my old man was like and used it as a pretty harsh harpoon to jab me with when finally I crossed the line with Melissa in February 1993 during the eighth month we were together. We didn't quite make it a complete eight months though.

ASB? Ballsy!

The sharpest turn downward came when as the boyfriend, I was automatically assumed to be a date for the ASB ball at her school. I guess I still phrase it that way even all this time later because I have an instinctive reaction against doing stuff like that, and I guess the fact that this all happened means that events like that are marked forever. Given the background situation of being a rather manipulative punk wrapped in a cute loverboy, it was perfectly in character to say and do some of the dumb shit that brought a close to this relationship faster than the Harlem Shake spread on YouTube this month. Even I have to admit it took a lot of gall to pronounce to Melissa that I would go—but on my terms. (I guess there are folks who don't find that surprising even today.) Of course, that's not bound to endear me to the girl with whom I was seeking still-ungained carnal knowledge. And frankly, the week or so leading up to the ball was just one really rotten time, thanks to me.

The ball was held on a Saturday night, February 20. By then I'd been an ass the previous week at a pre-Ball casual dinner with a group of friends going together. (Or maybe it was just one more couple.) The day following that was Valentine's Day and my journal reports that was kind of a mixed day. I suppose now it should be evidently a "DUH!" that Valentine's Day was so strained since only the day before was so mishandled. As it turned out, that Valentine's Day was the last date and day of general good will toward each other. The following day, maybe attempting to make right or further complicate things (the two were hard to discern then), there was a kind of a comical episode when, while at her house, she was directed by her dad to go to the yard and pick up dog shit. The job shouldn't have lasted long. But it did. And then after some time, Mark and I heard the shower running and Melissa emerged freshly showered for, um, no apparent reason. Of course, it was perfectly apparent and she wasn't into the unintentionally mocking smirks that we both had on our faces. She took immediate offense and declared if I was gonna laugh then I could just kiss off and leave. Because things were so testy I retorted that might just be a good idea since I wasn't getting anything done there. I marched out and drove off in a huff. So that day, a rather random Monday at her house on President's Day with no school, was another that cost me some points. Okay, it wasn't my finest moment. It wasn't even my worst moment, either. That was yet to come.

By the end of the week, at the last minute I skipped out on the Ball after some hemming and hawing, even as late as Thursday when I finally said I wasn't going. She was able to get a date to go along at the last minute, but probably not so well dressed as I might have been. I seem to recall that the expense of the tux was something I decided not to incur, but also that the cancellation fee was rather notable and so the financial motive backfired for me, probably as justly as anyone could say. (Interestingly, now that I actually glanced at the correspondence from the period, it was mighty nice of Marie to actually refund the ticket price to the ASB Ball. I totally forgot about that. How totallyuncalled for that was, given my handling of the matter. I believe I had to eat it on the tux rental cancellation fee.)

The night of the ball, I was having second thoughts. After a real troubled week trying to talk on the phone and this particular day being quite silent because she was running around in last minute preparations, I drove up to her friend's place some mile away from her house, where they were gathering. I got there earlier than the others and must have caused some puzzlement for the hosting family when I appeared there, unshaven and without a tux. At first they didn't know I'd cancelled out. They seemed to be confused enough that a call was made to Mark, who directed them to have me leave right then. I sat in the car for a bit, hoping for any glimpse of Melissa in her dress. She didn't appear or was parked out of view. Not long later, her friend came out and saw me and reported to her dad that I was there. He came out and told me again to leave, and if I had a problem with that, Mark would entertain my complaint.

Rebel Without A Case

So I stormed out of there in the car, driving madly in a fit of rage as if I was in some teenage flick from the 80s. It must come naturally to a teenage boy to storm away in his car, even if it's not his own car and it's just a front wheel drive Ford Escort wagon. (But it was red so that makes it edgy and daring and James Dean-approved, doesn't it?) At that point, I was a raging, sobbing, mixed up dude. For the first time ever, I was confronted with the fact that my girlfriend was in the company of another dude. Okay, he was a pretty decent dude. But he was... not me. And to tell the truth, that wasn't anything I obsessed over. After such a passive time, Melissa was actually standing up for her own good. That throws dudes off.

Still, I was not ready to let go. After some settling down at the shopping center, I went to the park that adjoins her subdivision. It was cold as you'd expect in mid February. But somehow I sat there, trying to sort out the mess I made. I had a marker with me and upon the picnic table where I sat, I wrote some long, trite screed that strung together a range of cliches I was only then beginning to understand from the inside. I suppose it isn't so bad, but given my attachment to the events and the knowledge that some of these things have been cheapened by chain letters and other meme activity, I find it almost unbearably embarrassing to read now. I'll grant that there was a kid there that night trying to make sense of stuff and grabbing at any straw that might help build a house in which to hide my head. I guess I just gave myself the present of realization that you don't know what you have till you lose it. After having scrawled that, I copied it down for myself and not too long after that sent in a copy to the radio station that Melissa and I used to listen to for the dedications we used to pass back and forth to each other, usually for monthly anniversary dates. I gave it the title, "Inspirational Graffiti." It was read over the air in a slightly redacted version and for some years to follow I had a recording that I suppose is lost to time now.

Mother Marie Gives Comfort?

Later on once the dance party was definitely at the school, I drove around the block to her place and saw that mother Marie's van was not there. I sat it out and when she drove in, I went to the door and was welcomed in. I didn't know what to expect for an angry Mark. I got that much for certain. Her dad—who most certainly was pissed—unabashedly told me so, offering that "you have a lot of balls coming around here after what you did to my daughter, two of which you're about to be fed." (He had a workingman's approach to interpersonal relations and diplomacy, you see?) He continued to lecture me for a bit on the matter of playing head games and not respecting Melissa's feelings. It was during this talk when he produced a pound of kryptonite when he said I was just like my dad. Ouch. Take the balls first, dude!

My sack was left untouched for the evening, by both father and daughter. Mark did the heavy work and left Marie to do the more nuanced work. She and I spent about an hour and a half talking in the front room. Since we already had some rapport, I was able to settle down some and listen to her. I think she would like things to work out but she seemed to realize that Melissa was already moving on. Still the talk was good because instead of the lessons coming strictly from the angst and tension of the decaying relationship, at least part of the whole experience was enlightened by Marie's considered perspective. Of course, since she was Melissa's advocate, much of what she was about to say was going to sting in one way or another. One stark observation was that she said we didn't seem to have a relationship. This was new talk. It provoked a question in me that wondered what those last seven months and more amounted to. She said we'd not really know what we wanted in a relationship until we'd probably had a few different partners. This was pretty outlandish talk at that time. What about that puppy love, radio dedication fluff about staying together for ever and ever? Man... this was turning into a crazier weekend than when we started.

Needs Gone Unmet

Reading my journal written hours after that talk I'm pretty struck with the fact I put my finger on an issue that keeps recurring and showing its ugly head over and over: the lack of a cohesive family unit with some sense of rootedness and maybe traditions that anchor one in something larger than self. At the time I admitted there wasn't much of that fundamental relationship practice but tried to save face by saying I'd done okay. The more time passes now, the less I am sure of that, especially after all the drama of the last dozen years or so that this blog chronicles so well. But there it was, dated February 21, 1993, in my own hand.

Since the ache for a girlfriend was saved up until a few months prior to my 19th birthday, Melissa was the unwitting target for loads of expectations of what a relationship would be like. At 16, there's no way she could ever amount to what I had in my head. And as my adolescence gave way to young adulthood, the nearly three year gap in age put me into another life space by default. But the stuff I was grappling with was serious stuff and she had no way to deal with it. Even now I feel I load up too much on Kelli, but in our late 30s that can be processed a whole other way than twenty years ago. Heck, even 20 years ago, Kelli, a few months younger than Melissa, was better equipped to deal with life's heaviness. More later.

There was a theme that is rooted in my neediness because of that lack of relationship I feel plagues me. Somehow I adopted a very materialistic value system about the time Melissa and I spent together. Each visit was counted and marked on my calendar. Even after we split up I somehow decided it was worth the exercise of adding it up. Worse, I thought she'd be interested and so I reported my findings. I think it was somewhere like 800 hours over about eight months. That kind of itemization of things was an odd thing meant I guess to do some good to remind me how many good times we had, but on the troubled days like in the last weeks, it ended up showing some shorter times and reflecting trouble more than joy. Because Melissa and I were already at odds about how she watched TV so much, and I felt like when I was at her place I should be worth the attention instead of the box of glass and plastic and wires. She lived ten miles away (a pretty big distance then), requiring the use of my grandfather's car, gotten by riding my bike three miles in the other direction on Fridays and then back after the weekend wrapped up on Sunday night. Doing that routine each weekend, trying to wedge as much time in with her as possible, I got protective of time together and sometimes declared time a waste if we weren't pretty much together. There were plenty of times when I had to take second place to her school marching band activities, but for the rest of the time, when, say, the TV was an issue, I got frustrated. (That too has kept on as an issue, even being the last straw that drove me out of Robin's place a few years later. I still am pretty adamant that most TV viewing is pretty dumb. But I go easier on people and their motivations for doing so. I swore off TV in 1997 and never turn one on for my own gratification. Never follow any shows, don't really worry about if I'll get the news.)

Trying to argue my point about time being a waste was not something Marie agreed with. She knew I'd been keen to not work weekends at my job at Jack In The Box so that I could be with Melissa. She thought that was misguided and that I should just work when I need to and let the relationship fall in around it. It's not that she didn't want me around, but she picked up on how the counting of time made me rather expectant of results that would not always follow. She encouraged me to just take the work and earn some money and enjoy the relationship more because of the scarcity instead of placing so many expectations on it. This was a strange, early lesson in the economics of time.

Marie and I talked for an hour and a half or so. It was kind of a bitter pill but since she was so momlike I could receive it better than if the same job was done by a friend who didn't have the longstanding relationship. She gave me a card to write some words of apology and pathetic appeals to call as soon as possible.

Marie had said Melissa was mad enough that I shouldn't expect to see her that weekend. That was scary because the week prior had been really testy trying to work things out at all over the phone. I dreaded another week passing if it was going to be like that. Rhythmic Catharsis buddy Matt lived within walking distance of Melissa's. I asked him to go over and see if he could persuade her to call me on Sunday. I called Melissa's cousin trying to accomplish the same. The day after the ball was an agonizing time, for sure. She did call by early afternoon but things weren't rosy yet. I told her about the picnic table, and suggested maybe she read it. I told her I wanted to not let all this go on for a week, so she agreed to meet the next day (Monday).

Jerry to the Rescue, Again

Needing some counsel, I decided to head down to church where that afternoon there was a meeting of the Shalom Group, a group that I helped to co-found in 1989, intended to help provide teenagers with a safe place to talk to a few trusted adults and peers. It was set aside even from the default youth group. It's interesting that I'd choose to go there that very day since I had largely been out of church life for some time by then, maybe even counting back to 1991. And certainly with such a regular schedule with Melissa, crafted to fill as much weekend time as possible, there was little time for stuff like church. These days I wish I had made more time for it; for balance; for some scheduled adult perspective before the shit hit the fan. As such, I made what I could of it and got down to church and found that the meeting was going to be sparsely attended. It got called off. As long as we were both there, I asked my pastor, Jerry, if I could have some time to talk. By that point, he already had a few years' track record of giving me some life changing perspective. Just two months before he was responsible for talking me off my ledge during my first period of suicidal ideation

We spent a good while talking outside the church building, even on a rather cool day in the winter and agreed to meet Wednesday. At that moment, it didn't seem like that would be two days too late. I can't complain though. Jerry's insight has always had a long shelf life. For that troubled Sunday, I took what I could from the exchange and went on my way. What followed doesn't exactly make sense and I'm not sure I did it right, but at the time, somehow, like these things go, it was all I could do to get out of my head for a bit.

Intermission: Wayne and Pops

I drove from the church in Pacific Beach, headed down to one of the shopping centers there and parked. Only this wasn't like the day before. I walked to the Presbyterian church across the street. I met a couple of homeless fellows. Wayne was 52, and his buddy Pops, 62. Both had been in construction and trades. If anything, I think Shelby had put me up to this, or something like it. Shelby, while sometimes fire and sometimes ice, was kind of a scout for my consciousness in the world. I think I'd heard enough tales from her and had a few conscience-tipped arrows shot into me over the few years we'd been friends by then to know that I needed to take myself from the center of the universe once in a while. So here I was. I talked to the guys for a while then offered to get them dinner (at Subway, the actual center of the universe back in that era of the early 90s). They counteroffered. The church was about to serve dinner coming up pretty soon. Their treat! Their "normal" was parking their carts in the church hall and making their way to the serving table. Of course I was the fish out of water here, dressed decently and looking pretty much ready to head to school or on a date. Sure, I felt a little weird and one comment from one of the servers sort of put me on the spot, though not in a bad way. I just stopped into to see how others live, I said.

These days, after encountering Jubilee Economics and related bodies that are sympathetic to those who don't have, or encourage those who do have to live more simply, I'm pretty surprised at how Wayne and Pops were some of the first encounters I had with that kind of worldview. They lived simply not of their own accord but it seems they had made their peace with the reality and knew how to live on about $5 a day that they could earn recycling. They were a bit less generous in their political positions, with Pops chafing at the gubmint's practice of giving out loans to foreigners to start businesses here. The whole experience put a face on homelessness that I would not have had. It was petty of me to say I had to go because it was cold, but they knew well enough what I was talking about after a couple hours of talk and dinner. On parting, I realized I had a pretty good blanket that might help them out and donated that. All in all the experience was something that I sometimes revisit. For that day, it did prove to be a worthwhile diversion from the woe-is-me party I threw myself. It sort of had the effect of making me more ready to hear the news about to come the next day.

I headed back to my grandparents' place and attempted to keep up with my piano class homework for a bit.

Somebody Has a Case of the Mondays

Monday deservedly is much maligned. But not every Monday is so heavy as this one was. I started it though with new resolve to work weekends if that was called for. Okay, it might mess with Melissa time but that was now something to put on the back burner. I drove to Mira Mesa where she lived and dropped in at the Subway that was one of the remaining stores belonging to Chuck Perrecone after he sold the one where I worked about a year before. He and I were on good terms so I paid him a visit and inquired about work opportunities. I'd already been at Jack In The Box but at the moment was about 2/3 of the way through an indefinite layoff from that job since the whole corporation was in major damage control mode following the e.coli outbreak in January. Not knowing when that would end, and having been given the freedom to live a life I didn't really want to live, I thought it was worth asking. Chuck didn't have anything but it was good to see him again.

I got to her house at 3 pm after she got home from school and collected herself. The terrible uncertainty of the day let me really only say that I'd like to leave here on better terms than last Monday (dogshit day). She didn't think that was possible. She retreated to another room. I had my sandwich with me and was munching away, finished, and joined her. She gave me two pieces of paper, each with a poem. One was from her. Another from her ASB ball friend. She sat down and looked away as I read them and began to start feeling the poison arrows working their magic. She'd made up her mind. We were done.

It was one of those times when you think you're in a bad dream. Can this be happening? I can't believe it's her doing this. It was surreal, for sure. It wasn't of much use to sit on the couch and ask her to sit next to me. Those days were history now even if that was just last week. Suggesting we go outside, she accepted but we just stood in the yard with that awkward inability to look into each others' eyes, and for the moments when we did, the flashes of pain and confusion just singed the soul. I couldn't believe she really called it herself. I mean, sure I'd pushed a lot of buttons, but after so long a time knowing how passive she tended to be, this was out of character, especially given all the fluffy talk of the early days, professing undying love forever. But of course, she had many people in her corner who helped her clarify what was going on. I think I entered the denial and bargaining phase in one swift movement, making some plea to try having a nice long talk to hash everything out and maybe involving a mediating party. She wasn't too worried about the dance debacle. That was past now. Then I started hearing a familiar phrase from two days before.

The echo of Marie's talk was ringing in Melissa's talk. The matter of being in a steady relationship that was too steady had to be dealt with. The litany of things that our time together was blocking from happening normatively was offered. Too little time with friends. Too little time keeping at piano practice. Faltering grades. Even the TV wasn't being watched as much as she would have. It seems like she'd been thinking about it for a while but was afraid of making waves. Finally the dance proved to be the breaking point. She did say she didn't want to come to the decision but felt she had to.

The attempts to win her back fell flat. Funny, it was really her who initiated the whole relationship by calling me sometime in early 1991 and telling me she'd rummaged through her folks' address book and found my number. She made attempts to pursue me for over a year before I finally awoke one day from a dream of her and resolved to call her and ask her out in late June 1992. Of course she jumped at the chance. Her outer appearance on that first day belied the inner cartwheels she reported once she got her senses back. And almost immediately, we were off and running. The excitement was paused by my already-planned trip to Germany, but she didn't let that stop her from writing inordinate amounts of mail while I was there. I wrote back, and upon return we basically started the relationship off at about our second month "together." While puppy love seemed foreign to me, I bought into it and by the end was perhaps more into it than she was, yet as I said, the mismatch between my growing existential issues and their ripples out into the rest of life and her feeling of overwhelm was starting to make things difficult. I always had a knack for trying to unpack matters of relationship and the inner life, and she was almost unable to access that for the whole time. It might have been too ambitious for our age. Or maybe she was living in fear of her dad. And some people just don't even go there. But at any rate, it was always my modus opperandi to egg her on to get out of that box. Then she did.

She went inside and retreated to her room to talk to her mom. I sat around for some ten minutes before I thought it time to leave. I wanted to ask for a few things. First, I just wanted to collect stuff that was mine that she'd not need anymore. Maybe a bit of clothing or stuff like that. The second was coming from still not wanting to let go. Could we go out to the car and do one more of those prolonged farewells that we always did? Coincidentally the car was parked in the same spot as the day we started off in June the year before. Third, I wanted to ask for a hug and a kiss.

I read the poems again, still kind of in shock. I didn't like them any better the second time. I wrote a note, operating out of a fierce denial and willful cluelessness about what her words meant that day. It read, "When you want me back, you know the number. I love you..." Then I posted it where she'd be sure to see it. On the TV. 

I made my way down to her bedroom where she and her mom were. They let me in. Once again, for an hour and a half, Marie helped us navigate the troubled waters. Since Marie was already so versed in Melissa's thoughts, most of the time it was Marie and I talking, with her interpreting for Melissa, probably too choked to speak. Yeah, the new era was upon us. We'd have to settle on being friends unless some great unknown hand of fate moved us close to one another at some indeterminate time. Basically, don't hold your breath, kid. I put in my two cents about how and why things played the way they did in the last week, but that was neither here nor there now. At least Marie was there to soften the blow and help make the whole thing a learning experience with a dose of tenderness, looking out for her daughter, yes, but also knowing I needed a softer landing too. I've always appreciated the way she handled things.

Freedom Isn't Free...of Hurt

So there it was. The end of that era. By then, it was about 5:30 and there was a weeknight curfew of 6 pm. Okay, I didn't have to wait that extra week or struggle to work things out over the phone. I was free. It's not what I had in mind.

We went back out to the front room. The late afternoon sun was low in the sky. Clouds were spotty but the sun that did peek through was golden and shimmering. It was cold outside. The emotional situation made it cold inside too. Looking at Melissa then, knowing that there was an invisbile boundary fence around her, was surreal. In some ways, she was now back to that girl who used to appear now and then at picnics and bay days or just hanging out at the house. But she couldn't be that. Even that girl had an eye trained on me and that didn't apply anymore. Okay, she wasn't a girlfriend now. Nor a cousin figure. I guess for a bit, with a new hands-off policy enacted but with some feeling of love for her, she was now almost sister like. (I don't want to make too much of that because in a little over a year, we had a little fling that blew that out of the water.) If I didn't know what to make of our new relationship then, I'd have the time to think about it. The seven months and 24 days were over. I did ask her for a big hug to send us off. She obliged. She even let me give a few pecks on the cheek and forehead. Even a moment of rubbing noses. A few more hugs and tears. Then off into that scary world of the unknown. It was 6 pm.

Things unraveled pretty fast but the roots of the matter went back for some time. She wrote a letter on February 15, one week and a day before this final Monday. It was a mix of calling me on things that she finally knew she'd have to put her foot down about, and a bunch of the familar puppy love statements. She mailed it on the 17th and I presume it arrived on the 18th—the day I gave my final no to the ASB Ball. The letter was gentle but firm. Confused but optimistic. She hadn't yet really closed the deal. She still fretted over things getting worse. It's interesting how those moments of confusion really snowball. I guess my Saturday night appearance pushed things over. But it was clear she was chafing at my Ed-isms like TV, doing stuff I wanted to do, etc.

And that's the tale about a girl three years my junior who I happened to know from childhood. Wait until the next installment when you can read about another girl three years my junior who I happened to know since childhood. Yup. Kelli. It's the greatest story ever told, man...

Tuesday
Dec182012

On a String at the Bottom of the World +20 

My First Rebirth Day

December 18, 1992 was one of my birthdays. Or I guess we need to call it a rebirth day since it really has nothing to do with departing the body of another human being. Until a somewhat early breakfast that morning, there was a creeping depression upon me. It wasn't that depression was new. There had been some precedent, especially in the period since about two and a half years before. But at this time, it was a new thing that I began entering the dangerous thought space of suicidal ideation. Now, remember we're talking about 20 years ago when I was 19. The facts show a pretty ordinary list of happenings and life situations that are almost painfully ordinary on paper. But when one is experiencing the stuff of life that is unfamiliar, maybe without guides or a map, it can certainly be nerve racking and scary. So that period was a threshold time. The particulars are easy to name: I was going through my first couple years of community college courses with no idea what it was leading to; I was not employed and my last job went south so fast and furious it ended in a restraining order against me which was in full effect; I'd just returned from Europe in the late summer and felt rudderless because that also signified the last time I'd see my friend Steve (and so far that has been exactly the case, despite some occasional talk on the phone or Skype). The distance of dear friends and the pointlessness of schooling, and the oddness of my new "friend" Matt and our exiled drummer status all conspired. Matt, in the shadows of people who did seem to be true friends, was just too odd for the first year or so for me to feel we were friends. He was more someone to pass time with. Starting to get a bit of carnal knowledge of my first girlfriend certainly fired up feelings in this period about to be chronicled. But then finding that she was not the panacea I needed to mend all the other disruptions of life was cause for more despair.

Melissa, or, Don't Climb the Orange Tree Looking for Apples

Melissa was 16 and I turned 19 a couple months after we started going out. The fact that she was sort of a sometimes friend from childhood was always in my mind. Was this just a thing of convenience? She'd made overtures even a year or more before we got together, despite an almost insurmountable distance of .... nine miles! She came onto the scene as a girlfriend at the very end of June 1992, and with only two weeks before I went on my six-week trip to Germany, we spent an inordinate amount of time together. The events of the year or so prior led me to be really needy after so many alienating experiences. So when she came onto the scene and we had those misty eyed experiences, I was rearin' to go with it. Nevermind it was the sappiest puppy love fluff you ever saw. Dang. I was already 18! I needed something to happen. The emotional center of my trip to Germany was an odd thing, as I've written. Prior to starting with Melissa, I was singularly fixated on making the trip to make good on a promise to come back and spend a more proper period of time with my friend Steve there. But instead, once on the trip, the whole focus shifted in a big way: get back home to Melissa. I did not originally plan to be homesick. I planned to throw myself headlong into my experience in Germany. Coming back then was odd because I didn't really have a plan except to go to school and look for some work, and spend as much time exploring the world with Melissa as possible. The rest was a cloud of variables I had no comprehension of.

I came home in late August and started strong. I went to school and did pretty good work. Matt and I resumed getting out to parking garages to make drum mayhem on Sunday afternoons or at night. We even started to shift our approach to accommodate sheets of ill-executed lyrical material that at least gave us some structure and something to focus on, and then maybe laugh at upon playback of our recordings. I looked for jobs mostly because the expectation was to get some work, but I was quite distracted by Melissa and of course prioritized time with her. In nearly perfect clockwork motion, weekends from Friday afternoon till late evening on Sunday were given to her. That entailed my riding my bike three miles over to my grandparents's place to pick up the Ford, then to drive it up to Mira Mesa, nine miles from my house in the other direction. I got to keep the car at home for the weekend. But I'd go up there each weekend day—yep, three times. And each time would be filled with as much as we could wedge in, most of the time. And since I had the car, I sort of was the chauffeur for her and some friends. There were some instances of off days or other spontaneous occasions when I got up there midweek for a little mice-when-the-cats-away kind of play. I even biked up there once in the middle of the school week. So it went for a while during the fall after I returned in late August. On top of all that, there were letters and journals written to each other. The fluff factor was high. Because "these are the moments you hang on to forever," to this day I have a calendar marked with numbers reflecting how many hours we spent that day. And this went on the entire seven months and three weeks. From that, I could tell you now how many hours we spent together. Sick, eh? Teen love.

The irony is that Melissa was really kind of a closed up case who probably had ideas and words waiting to explode out of her but much of the time I found she was either in awe of my greatness (er... she wanted me that whole year before we got together, dig?) or too intimidated by her dad and other voices that encouraged her to shutup and be cute as a girl. So she liked to spend time but rarely could say what she needed to say. Some letters broke some ground but really it was quite stifled. Attempts to draw something more conversational from her were usually frustrating. She was at that point where her curiosity was leading her farther from her young girl moorings and she only had a cousin to talk to about what she should be doing with me. Her mom a bit, but obviously less so. The fact that her parents were friends of my old man (and her dad worked in the same factory as he) meant that we knew each other enough to have some history, but of course, the risk was ever that they'd talk. Her mom loved me and gave me some kind nudging in the right direction. Her dad was a no bullshit kind of guy who didn't mince his words much. Melissa obviously had to fear him. Lots of time was spent inviting her out of that fearful silence so we might have a more interesting relationship.

What all that meant was that the one person I was investing so much time into was coming to be found as kind of a dead end. She listened to me tell tales of frustration with distance and loss but she herself could not fill the gaps, even conversationally. Being only 16, her level of experience was even less than mine, so that further limited what we'd be able to cover. Her world was that of a sheltered girl's: a busy school band schedule with other extracirricular activites. Many weekends during that season she had to go to her marching band meets all over the county. I went along to many of them. It was very foreign to me but it kept us together on days otherwise occupied. Melissa was fond of fanciful, fluffy stuff and listening to all the sappy radio dedications at night on the soft rock station. She and I did our own dedications on the air, and I think that was a way for her to get something of her message across to me. But it was no less sappy, and while I played along, I always wished there to be more substance.

That Damned Television

She watched lots of TV and movies. (With that mindless habit, she set a precedent for my generally despising television, but particularly when it seems to be more important than whatever relationship I am in at the time. More outrageously for me is when the TV is on and it's not even really being watched. It's just overstimulating aural and visual noise. There are enough cases of that over the years.) The TV proved to be a major sticking point, in the way that it seemed we could never connect when it was on. And I needed connection. One journal entry recalls a sort of passive-aggressive game played with channel switching from her choice of Fox showing Married With Children and my preference for PBS. After that exchange I found it preferable to leap to and to do her family's dishes rather than be sidelined by TV. And dumb TV at that. I even went to talk to her mom in the other room...about math. As the fall season went on and I didn't find work within biking distance, and all those weekends felt like sugar highs and their resultant crashes when I could have used some protein to sustain me. My mood shifted downward. With the march of time I felt like we should be getting more physical if we weren't going to be having great and profound conversations. I was 19 after all. She was willing to tease me some but then retreated. She was 16 after all. So for all the time spent there, on one level or another did not meet my needs.

It seems that season of 1992 started to disabuse me of the lofty ideas I had of what a romantic life would bring. I mean, popular culture paints a pretty picture of it all, and while we had our fluffy expressions of fondness, at least doing it in a paint-by-numbers kind of way, I was finding that the kind of relationship I was longing for was not going to come from anyone three years my junior, particularly with her set of interests. I think it was the onset of this realization that started to take me downward more than I tended to. For all the time prior to Melissa, the imagination of some kind of love relationship was free to wander, unmoored to reality. The lofty visions of what might be possible with Shelby, for example—a smart, engaged and socially aware peer of mine (only nine days younger, even) —were met with a dawning reality that Melissa, the consumate couch potato and homebody with little girl dreams—would be only a way point on the road toward something deeper and more fulfilling. On the surface, frustration might have been because of the pent up 19 year old male energy to get laid and being "stuck" with a girl who wasn't going there yet and who could barely be persuaded to shut off the TV and be present in the relationship that she herself pined for, but who kept feeding a bit of carnal experience out then withdrawing. But seeing the journals now, it's quite evident that far bigger issues were trying to be met and enacted but with a partner who had utterly no ability to do so, if only because her life experience was as sheltered as mine, and a few years less, at that. The discord between us was barely understandable and I got to acting out some things that later on proved to be patterns that needed addressing, and some I'm ashamed to say, persist when I wish they wouldn't.

The Revolving Door of Friends

I never really bonded with anyone for the long term while taking classes at Mesa. Having no more than three classes at once kept the frequency and repetition of encountering people somewhat low. Since people there were no longer my peers from within a few miles of my house, there was little chance of crossing paths with these new classmates. In the same way, there was no history to draw upon. I liked school well enough but obviously I waited for it to be over with so I could get back to Melissa or to my silly songs and playing drums. I didn't retain much connection with anyone from high school either. But by the end of 1992, the social patterns were disrupted enough and that caused concern. It felt like someone else's life I was leading when confronted with my new options.

The life I'd grown to like included pursuing Shelby, despite her being so fickle and doing such a thing as returning a couple years' worth of letters to me in February 1992 for crossing her sense of moneylending decorum. Obviously, the pursuit of Shelby had to be put on hold while with Melissa. But that felt odd to me, and sometimes I resented that Shelby got a little too excited for me and Melissa hooking up, for that was to mean that she was demonstrating some relief that I'd not be able to pursue her. Shelby herself was in northern California by then and so the physical distance was then, as usual, a bar to doing much with Shelby anyway, even as friends.

Matt was a newcomer as of a year before and certainly a wildcard but shortly after my trip to Germany he had expressed some sentiment that we might be becoming friends—maybe because he was finding some home strife and he was eyeing the spare bedroom at my house just in case he needed an out. Since we didn't work together any longer, most of our time was spent somehow linked to Rhythmic Catharsis. We had one of those kinds of mutually abusive "friendships" but he weathered things better than I did, at least outwardly. I didn't always know what to make of it. Was it good natured ribbing that he was pulling on me, or worse? And some of the things he did to be antisocial... oy!

Returning from Germany was a troublesome thing because it closed up the in-person friendship with Steve. Once a fellow student (exchange) at my school, doing fun things and gettting to know each other on weekends for a semester, and chumming at school, that was now all over with, particularly after two trips to Europe. Who knew where the future would lead, but to this date, we've not seen each other in person since then. He is an intelligent, articulate, and balanced male peer of mine who also demonstrated perhaps the best openness of them all. (Funny, during the writing of this entry, Steve called me completely out of the blue. I can't recall talking to him for two years. He'll later make my point behind this entry.)

The Old Man

In scanning my journal from the period, I was rather surprised to have penned the following about my old man on October 5th, 1992:

I woke up. William gave me shit. Like usual. I asked him for an allowance for food. He gave me a lecture on getting a job. He just doesn't listen to me. Or if he does, it means so little. Or he reinterprets it to mean I'm stupid or whatever. After two or three tries, I just lost out on the allowance, and certain grocery items he doesn't like me to have. And I got the job lecture anyway. God, I hate it when he tells me that everything I know is wrong. I'm out of money [I find that a bit much, but Europe and months of unemployed time did wear things down] and all he's worried about is making a return in his motorcycle seat business [something he bought in early 1989 from his friend who made the company name, but that was never maintained enough to be more than an also-ran in the business]. Bullshit! He's got to pay himself off before he's going to help me. Maybe he'd rather not have my help. Does he deserve it? If he won't support me in something so simple as eating, should I help him? I'm almost getting to the point where I'd like to leave this ouse, perhaps in favor of my grandparents' house, where at least I'd be needed [ironic I'd say this since I used to be rather mercinary in helping them so I could borrow the car so regularly]. And it would almost be convenient. At any rate, I'm tired of being less than I am. Maybe I'm not much, but do I need to be told so? Can he encourage me rather than tell me I'm all wrong? And he also is trying to restrict me from using the car.

In 1992, I didn't yet know how some of those same things would play out over the years in ways that seem even more savage. At the time it was just maddening. Who was he to obstruct me in such ways? I watched him do a poor job of keeping a business even in his chosen field of interest. It was a precedent for watching the things he did as a landlord, driving me to more complete madness a decade later, while I indeed did live in my grandparents' house, having moved there and for some years feeling he held no sway over my housing. This habit he has of outright declaring things "wrong" to my face—stuff that interests me, that I enjoy—has been around for a long time and always came wrapped in a rather smug delivery style. And this talk about wishing he might just encourage me is nothing new, either. By the time I wrote this entry, the various ways he tried to get me to think of music as "just a hobby" and not as something worth my total devotion, were already well despised. Here I am these 20 years later and that damned voice still buzzes my ears like a fly I can't kill but that I keep swatting at. Sad as I know all you kind people would say it was, it's been the gift that kept on giving. And yet, for all his talk about education and "you can never learn too much," and other such talk and other admonitions to get a real job, he never saw fit to actually finance my schooling at a level beyond Mesa. These days, with such sickening comments to reflect on, it's easy to see how such crap kept things destabilized just enough. He could cast just enough doubt to weaken trust and thwart enthusiasm.

Drifting from the Woman who Loves Me

In another ripple, it was also becoming harder and harder to spend the time I spent with my grandmother, indulging in talk of life and relationships. With the unfolding events with Melissa especially, I found myself not able to let her in on the big news of my life. My grandmother, while as much of a confidant as I ever had, was 64 years older than I was. She was conservative but tolerant. It's hard to say what mind I had about reporting to her about Melissa. Maybe it was so simple as to expect that she knew what kinds of things would be entailed. Or maybe I realized well enough she might cast some disapproval upon the news of getting familiar with a girl so young. At any rate, this certainly began a period of increasing opacity. At that time, it might have been harmless, but in retrospect of course, that worked against us in later events. So I lost that vital connection with the one woman left in my family, and the one person who did not talk in doublespeak and sarcasm and did not rely on intimidation by a chosen word or look in the eye. I guess that's just the agony of growing up and getting oneself formed by the other things in the world. With the creeping depression, it would seem foolish to have not kept transparent and honest about how life was going. Major loss not welcoming input from her.

Distance from Church Life

Having been at some distance from church for about a year or more by the time this depressive episode was taking hold of me, I was at some loss, at least relative to the days when I used to be a regular participant. Work at Subway put the first crack in the wall when schedules overflowed on Saturday nights and kept me up way too late to get sleep and feel like getting to church on Sunday. And of course, if there were other things at church, scheduled later in the evenings on most any day, I passed that up for the newfound earning potential. It was a sad trade but certainly a needed misstep to ultimately shape the course of later, more redeeming events. Then, after Subway, it was just a period of drifting, and then Europe, and then Melissa. All that was the stuff of distraction from living among folks who at the time often demonstrated a lot more love and acceptance than the home life I knew. My journal tells me that in November I went to the first Shalom group meeting since January. That group was one I helped to found and for a while was the safe spot where those of us in high school tried to share and make sense of our evolving lives and struggles. (It was in that group where I got to know something of Kelli when she joined in 1990.) No doubt that staying away from that group helped isolate me, but since I was a graduate, I was nearly aging out of the group, and so it wasn't impossible to reason being gone. But in retrospect, I really could have used that setting to voice my increasing concerns.

Unmasking the Evidence of Despair

I was feeling pretty lost as the end of 1992 approached. My journal from November 26 that year was brief and to the point in one of the purest expressions probably found to that point. In giant scrawling, I wrote: "I hate this fucking life!!! and no one seems to understand it." And then, in my usual way, I went on for a few pages in some detail. (All were very original thoughts, I know. I suffered alone, yup.) Melissa and I had gone to the mountains one cold autumn day and I was feeling I should get out and just do some primal screaming. Maybe even she would like to do so herself. But at the stop we made, she retracted and we stayed in the car. The placid exterior that passed for my default identity was chipping and cracking. Melissa started to register some fear at what my various mood swings and talks were pointing to. The same journal from November 26 was grappling with what later was known as the shadow and feeling that the masks I'd worn for others must come off. Melissa would be one of the first to see the new, hurting, angry, confused me. It was the first real identity crisis. Not knowing who I was of course made it hard to articulate what I needed. It made it hard to see any role I might play as being worthwhile. Around this time, I had written a poem that bore the title of this blog post, trying, in fewer words than usual, to capture my feelings. The medium was only starting to become appealing to me. All of us who have passed that point can probably chuckle at how worked up one gets during those times. But at the time, those are the biggest questions. The darkest places. The mightiest challenges. In spiritual language now available to me, it's the agony of new birth into something else. Back then, maybe it would have done some good if someone stuck a copy of Catcher in the Rye before me.

Crisis of Faith

Perhaps the only safe harbor I had wasn't with family. It wasn't with a girlfriend. It wasn't in a work life. It wasn't even my "friends" such as they were then. It wasn't church, per se, but it did turn out that I'd need to call upon figures from church who had looked after me before and had a bigger picture for me to fit within. I did go to church with great regularity for the period of mid 1989 into early 1991. I say it was with "regularity" because it'd be misleading to say I went "religiously." That's because in the church setting where I went there was a very heady atmosphere that is still apparent these days, but more so then when certain figures were present and a certain dynamic formed around them. The effect was particularly notable because the pastor, Jerry Lawritson, has often been seen as intellectual in his liberal theology. At any rate, as a teen I barely understood a word he said but knew he had my back from some very key pastoral moments. He surely thought of the Shalom community in part because he saw need from some of us in high school who had deeper streams of concern than could be let to see the light of day in regular activities around church.

His associate pastor, Judy Slaughter, arrived on the scene at the same time in the mid 80s. She was a gregarious, attentive presence in my life. Early on she picked up on discord that I was far from being able to articulate and she let me tell it to her straight. Better still, she responded straight. Over time, the two of them operated in loving ways to nudge me along in a better direction as living in a home with just a dominating father and having recently met my mother for the first time, with the struggles that accompanied that reunion after the party favors were put away. They knew my dark side before I knew it and tried to hedge against it with only some help from my grandmother.

I was not really a believer even in the better times, and by this period, I made an early declaration that I was having a crisis of faith and starting to get nihilistic. I saw others' faith turning up good fruit, but I was not able to see it myself. Or maybe I was expecting the the apple while climbing the orange tree? Yet, in the same journal from late on Thanksgiving Day, I did express thankfulness for Melissa's family's taking me in (one time even letting me stay over when things got real hot and testy at home with the old man), and even her aunt's contribution of $10 when at the time I understood her to not really have a lot to give. (Years later, a picture emerged of her life then: living in a part of town known for being a meth alley, some notable dental issues, and then some talk from other sources, I came to think she might have been embedded in that scene. Hard to say for sure, but in my journal from December 14, 1992, she and I had talked about all sorts of things for hours and with regard to my jobless state, she offered help if it meant "lying, cheating, or stealing." Hmmm...) The last part of the paragraph ends with:

I'm not used to that generous behavior. They may not be saints but they all have warm hearts and take care of people when they can, even if they shouldn't. They treat me like one of their own. That's about all I have to be thankful for.

Even a few lines like that, following the lines above them, show what a confusing world it was then. Was that all I had to be thankful for? Was that not something pretty nice, for which I ought to give thanks? Such nuances were far from my mind then. Even now, I find myself in similar situations.

An interesting thing happens in my journals from time to time. I might write one of those despairing messages one time and then not write for a few days or weeks, maybe feeling I said all there was to say. And then the very next entry would start with some disclaimer kind of message announcing "what a difference a day makes." And then an entry would flow, celebrating all sorts of inversions and pleasant surprises and developments that somehow renewed me since the entry before. That has been the push and the pull of life for me for a long time. I suppose it's that way with everyone else. But I didn't really see it. It was just confusion. It took someone else to interpret such a thing in a way that I could digest.

Jerry and Judy to the Rescue

For the time I was involved extensively at church, I was a big participant in life there. In some ways, that might be far more evidence of meaningful belief than just intellectual assent to theological ideas. All that tended to be over my head, but I felt that in that community at that time, I was welcomed and offered an alternative path to get through the minefield of adolescence. Calling on that sense that there is some alternative to the world I knew, by the time December 18 rolled around and I was feeling at the end of my string at the bottom of the World, I called and asked if Jerry and Judy could give me some time to vent and seek some counsel. I met with Jerry for lunch on December 4th but don't have any record of what was taken from that meeting.

On December 7th, 1992, I got an hour to talk to Judy and I'm sure I spilled all the frustrations and internal mayhem before her. The journal says it was a day of some great relief, particularly since Judy was a real trusted person. Taking in all this mess I poured out, she used the word "depression" to sum it up. While I might have used the word before that, I suspect for me to have written it down, it would suggest that for a trusted adult to use it meant I felt validated, even if it was just in naming the beast. She had some things to offer as ways to meet it. Getting a job of any sort would help put the brakes on the emotional slide. It didn't have to be career stuff, just something to give shape to life, get some independence back, get out of the spiraling thoughts.

After being kind of a Subway snob and trying to get a job at any of the very few stores I could readily ride to from either school or home, but not being able to on account of being sort of blacklisted from the restraining order put on me by the Levys, I had to look at other options. In mid December, I paid a visit to the Jack In The Box on Genessee, perfectly between school and home. The Subway snob in me declared it unclean and beneath me, otherwise there was no reason not to have applied any time in the several months prior. Who knew that some clown would end up saving my life?

Let's not get ahead of the story here. This is pretty much why this entry was written, anyway. 

The record shows that December 15-16 reached a pretty low point where I was getting the first ideations of suicide. Apparently a friend of Melissa's had done the deed a week or so before and that sort of paved the way for me to ruminate and entertain such ideas myself. It was probably abusive but it was inevitable that I'd have to let Melissa in on this. This opened up a testy but revelatory conversation with her. In some ways, it might be seen as the first with that kind of honesty, forcing aside the puppy love which had become by then so nauseating to be surrounded with. She said she'd hate me if I went through with taking my life. That didn't register, especially since the six months before was all about loving me, blah, blah, blah. She couldn't really handle the talk and sort of froze up. I later heard she turned to some other dude, a mutual friend of her suicidal friend, for some ear time. For my part, I even found that a bit of a breakthrough with Matt took place when I let him in on what I was feeling and experiencing.

I at least had the sense to call Jerry and ask if we could get together with Judy. The next day, we did get together for breakfast at the Broken Yolk, a popular breakfast joint not far from the church. It was sort of like the paramedics arrived on the scene to defib and resuscitate me. These were two of the people for whom I had the most respect and trust. For them to take such an interest in my life has always registered in a big way with me. Both had recently been briefed on my increasingly confused and fragile state, and surely part of the morning was given to the latest news and confused perspective I bought that day.

Jerry in particular, being a pastor, knows the world hurts. He'd see it from working with his people for days after weeks after months after years. But his philosopical background and his interests in the massively disruptive 20th century and his "Jewish soul" no doubt give him profound insight into the kind of mental anguish that is the hallmark of our time. Since he realizes the world is plenty messed up, he doesn't need to be surprised to find it at the more granular level of the individual. I suspect to know the darkness like he seems to, he must surely have his own brushes with such existential despair. One can't just know what this is about having read it in books alone. Most of this I found out about him years later. At the time, I thought he just knew this because he was a pastor. Jerry got his place as pastor in no small part because he was asked why he should be the guy to pastor the church. He replied that he was a good listener. And so I could vouch for that, time and time again. A day like that Friday at the Broken Yolk is as important as it is not because anyone rolled up his or her sleeves and got to work under the hood of my life, but that he and Judy took the time to really listen and help me get things out of my head. But on a day like that, when the talk of suicidal ideation is more than garden variety downer talk, they needed to do more than listen.

Judy was always able to bring the down-to-earth, friendly, nearly motherly approach to her work. She had been ordained more recently while serving the church, and so people like me and our youth group were part of her educational and formational experiences as a professional. I probably gave her more than my share, but she was ever keen on helping any way she could and always was very appreciative of my trusting her to help.

The takeaway lessons that came from that day were perhaps few in number but great in import. All the things I said were validated and I felt heard. A great lesson from the day was one that I don't seem to have learned anywhere prior. Jerry said suicidal ideation is one thing, and perhaps far more common and normal than anyone lets on. He wanted me to know that to hurt is to be human, and to not wish that away. He cautioned that when that hurt is not accepted and aired is when things go tragically wrong. To hurt is human. It means one is alive and sensitive to the world. It's not a fault or a shortcoming. People who don't feel, don't hurt. But that's not the human lot. What he did want to clarify is that while the agony of existence is great, to snuff oneself is a selfish act, one that forfeits a hard won position of resistance against all that darkness that is already so prevalent and ready to move in on those who don't remain vigilant. It's as if to say "all hands are needed on deck for this life."

Another major lesson was just that if we take life as a book (where we simply can't skim ahead), we just don't know what the next page will bring. Or the next chapter. Well, hasn't that been the truth? Yeah, kid, what a difference a day makes. I left the breakfast with a renewed spirit, thanks to a steroidal dose of empathic listening, encouragement, advice, and a lot of love.

The Clown that Saved My Life

It wasn't merely abstract talk. The lesson of "what a difference a day makes" was about to be embodied in the day itself. Just the day before our breakfast meeting, I'd gone to Jack in the Box and after applying there got a callback with an interview offer for later on the 18th—hours after the breakfast wound up and left me with more determination to engage in life. I had thoughts about how the interview would go. Probably some question about why I wanted to be there, etc. What would I say? Since this was really the first job interview that seemed normal after the first two jobs I had, each with their own oddball ways of getting hired, how much of my life would need coverage? What if they found out I was depressed? Does that help or hinder? I'm sure when I got there it was far simpler than I would allow it to be in my head, and certain questions were to get certain answers and that's that. I got lucky. They had expressed at some point later on that they were looking for a friendly looking, white, native English speaker for their counter/register work. I got the job. What a difference a day makes.

So it wasn't the job that launched me on a glorious career in management at a major fast food company. Nope. I worked there for about a month, starting just the week following the booster breakfast. The five weeks that I did work there seemed rather lighter, like life was okay. Then the national e. coli scare happened and the company pared back their crews, and guys like me with no seniority were given several weeks off during the entire month of February. I would ride by to check in a couple times a week. And when I did get back, I was in there for a month or so and then with no real back up plan but feeling at some distance from the life I had when I started there, I turned in my notice sometime in April. Yeah, the job was not career stuff but it did do what I needed it to do: give me something to fill time, get some money for a while, start to see life differently. After a few weeks off, I happened upon another Subway that I could get to if I drove. I applied and got that job and it launched me into yet another major phase of life. But that's for another journal.

During that period of the layoff from Jack's, Melissa and I broke up and I was pretty torn up about that but not so much that I turned back to my despair before December 18. It was dark, but the lessons resonated in me: who knew what the next page brought?

As if to Prove the Point

This is a bit of a distraction from the core of the story about how fuggin' depressed I was at the end of 1992, but it makes a good point. Consider this. Just at the end of the year, in the last few days, I got a new boombox that featured a dual cassette player/recorder and a simple input for a microphone. In only a week, Matt and I went out to play some Rhythmic Catharsis songs out in our favorite parking garage. I took that boombox along and got a sound that surpassed what I ever had. And then most especially, the day after we did that, my life changed. It changed because for the first time, I was able to bounce the tape we made while adding new sounds of some additional percussion instruments and some voices. It wasn't what is properly known as overdubbing but it accomplished the layering of sound that gets you to the same place. That then was the bug that bit me, drawing me into the world of recording. For at least the next ten years from that point on, recording and creating music was a huge part of what I felt I was. The past ten years a bit less so but I still do it, and really, I have to say it was from that early time, just a couple weeks after I thought I was spent on life.

Keep turning the page. Keep turning those corners...

Thursday
Aug232012

Auf Wiedersehn, Deutschland +20

Some six weeks ago I wrote about the tearful departure on my first trip to Germany. This time, you get to read about the second trip, started a year and a day after the first trip concluded, and ending twenty years ago today, nearly six weeks after it started. This summer of 2012 has gone by pretty fast and in many ways has been an endless bummer, so even without my particular fondness for recalling some of these turning point experiences, I've found myself pining for what now seems like the best summer I ever had. Indulge me.

Six weeks can go by fast. And, after the emotional runup to the second trip to Germany—a period that essentially lasted the one year and one day between trips—six weeks seemed like a big ripoff. It proved to be enough though. Recall that most of my anticipatory time was spent with little on my mind but for this trip. I barely had a plan for what to do afterwards. But then all that focus was shattered by a girl. With Melissa appearing on the scene just two weeks prior to the trip, I found myself conflicted. Not about starting the trip. Not about being there. No, I'd say it was more that I had conditioned myself to not think much past August 23rd 1992, and here I was with a new girlfriend. My first girlfriend. And jeeze...that meant there was a reason to get homesick. A reason to come home. A reason to think of a future that consisted of more than taking three more classes at Mesa College and going out and wailing on the drums at odd hours in parking garages and other exotic locations. My plans sort of got spoiled with this girl stuff.

Of course, since Melissa was live and in the flesh, rather unlike the inaccessible and fickle Shelby, she at least served a functional role of being a girlfriend. She was young however and rather prone to the stuff of 16 year olds. I had no interest in the stuff of 16 year olds when I was that age, so that whole scene was not really anything of interest three years later when I was about to turn 19. However, since she did posess the body of a woman, I did take some interest. And with two weeks of a "taste test" before I left for Germany, I was of course now interested in returning to the exploratory prospects she offered. She proved something of a distraction from my great trip!

Oh, it got to be kind of an embarrassment when mail would be collected at the Rau haus in Garching. Melissa sent so much mail. One piece a day, I guess it was. Just halfway through the roadtrip, I got notice from Christoph that "[your] woman's crazy!" It was all that kind of coy, breathy, rose-hued kind of marshmallow fluff that 16 year old girls would write. Of course, it was totally welcome but I wish there was a way for it to not have reached the host mailbox. And then, you see, Steve and I hit the road for about half my time there and so the mail actually piled up for that time! I got the occasional phone notice that the pile was growing while we were gone. She may have timed some pieces such that I returned before they got to Germany. Jeeze. I wrote some stuff back to her but I can't imagine it being so prolific.

The Roadtrip


[View Ed in Germany, 1992 in a larger map.]

Steve and I did a road trip for just about two weeks. Originally my notes indicated we would have more of a crew going along, but it turned out to be he and I, which was probably as is should be. You can see the map here and if you follow from the cluster in the lower right, our trip headed westward from Garching (east of Munich) over to the French border via the towns of the Romantische Strasse (the Romantic Road, the charming and pretty well preserved Medieval towns that evoke old Germany) and then on up to Hildesheim and Celle, the northernmost point I have been to in Germany.

We mostly stayed in youth hostels while on the tour. That was an interesting thing because a lot of the hostellers were hikers, bikers, and other young itinerants from around the world who more or less arrived on foot and did larger leaps by bike or train. We arrived in Steve's dad's Mercedes Benz. Oh, it wasn't that the Raus were rich. They were comfortable, yes, but since Steve's dad Gerhard was a manager at a foundry just a few blocks from the house, he was willing to give up the car for two weeks (how cool is that?). If needed, Steve's brother Christoph was in town with the other car. Running around in the Benz of course meant I didn't get that quintessential Euro-touring experience, the Eurail trains, and the car's freedom did sort of cater to my American-ness. In some cases, at destinations along the Mosel River, there were some hostels placed in damn odd places, up the hills in old fortresses. I recall joking about that with fellow travellers and the ease of arrival thanks to the car. Hiking or biking some of those hills would have been a bear.

Other nights we camped or spent with a family friend or in the case of the few days in Hildesheim at the end of the roadtrip, Steve's aunt put us up in a gastehaus, a rather nice bed and breakfast kind of place. I think it was this one, just around the corner from his aunt's flat. In Saarlouis, close to the French border, we had a night at the house of a friend of Steve's father, who originated from that region. I don't remember our hostess but for the fact she entertained us for the day then drove us into town for the evening and gave us 100DM to spend on whatever, which must have been a bonus of about $70 of free money. Beers? Tasty dinner? Gelato? People watching? It was a steaming hot night and my notes recall it was a pretty good time before we caught a taxi back. That night was the last before it got so heavy it had to rain. For the weeks prior to that it was nearly unbearable. I remember sitting in the Benz, stopped at a parking space, just dripping while sitting still. Finally in Saarlouis, all that gave way overnight and the next day we awoke to the sweet sound of rain and a kind of permission to relax for a bit until we were ready to go.

I kept a notebook for the trip and it's actually of some use to me now, but there are plenty of Melissa distractions in there that I wish were piped down some. Not being a committed world traveller yet, I didn't have as much detail about the places I went. I wrote off a bunch of places as boring or tedious. Just recall I was there to see a good friend and to kill time. I couldn't really pretend to know or care much about the locations. Shallow American, I know. That said, while that is a failure of who I was in 1992, there is a lot of insight and understanding that even my shallow survey experience has added to my education that in the post 9/11 world has tempered my American blindness to the rest of the world.

Scattered throughout the journal book are some notes on the new food options that I tried: Greek (a little more than just a gyro sandwich from a mall food court, not to mention ouzo—an adventure for an 18 year old!), Yugoslavian, something more like authentic Italian, obviously several German dishes, including liver and onions, and a thing called leberkase (liver cheese). One night I broke off from Steve and had to suspend my Euro travels and do something familiar: eat Chinese.

Hildesheim

Hildesheim turned out to be a downer for me. Falling at the end of the roadtrip and close to the end of the six week trip, it naturally fell in that period of growing homesickness. Because it was not really a time of cafe-hopping and young person's fun times, instead spent with Steve's aunt Christina, with some family and social events (pretty completely in German, of course) during the time we were there, the fun went out of it in a big way. By that time in the tour my ankles and feet were complaining a lot. It also rained more and generally had a feeling of gloom over it all. Christina, a dentist and a socialite, did keep things happening with dinners, shopping (she bought Steve and I new dress shirts), and a day trip up to Celle a little farther north, but by this time in the tour my heart was already making its way home. This development alone startled me because of all the fervent anticipation that was building up before I landed in Germany. Melissa did her best to make me homesick, and I gather from reading my journal that Steve and I were getting a bit testy. He was probably impatient with me at points. It had that feeling that it went on about a week too long by the time we got to Hildesheim. It takes a distracted mind to do what I did then and consider all there was to see and do as "boring."

Last Days in Garching

On the 18th, we burned it on back across country from north to south in about six hours (the Benz on the autobahn was an asset here: my journal says we did some stretches at 120 miles per hour). All the sightseeing was done. No more stops but to take a piss and eat. Steve and I returned to our usual selves as we traversed the country and moved out of the area that was cloudy and gloomy. Once we were in familiar space and able to separate a bit, I retired to my domain there and read the stack of Melissa mail that had arrived while on the roadtrip. There were ten new pieces. I read all that and the ones I already had, twice through. My journal flowed with a couple pages of giddiness that today seems painful to review. We'd really only spent two weeks together and by this point, about five apart and I was dreaming of the future and looking for the great patterns of it all. Oy!

A couple days following our return were low key, amounting to time alone down near the Alz river behind their house, and making mix tapes from whatever I could gather from the Brothers Rau CD collection. (Steve had a quite cool tape deck that just seemed to mow down the stuff I had at home and those tapes are still in a box in the closet. Hearing them transports me back to this special period.) Little post trip duties like cleaning the car and tent and transitioning my pack to make ready to leave for San Diego were things that started to make the heart heavy as it was becoming apparent that the trip was indeed nearing its end.

On the 21st, just a couple days before landing in San Diego, there was one more trip out to Munich. This time it was the Brothers Rau and Steve's girl Ina who was along to see her brother in the hospital. We stopped in a huge music instrument store and Christoph bought a saxophone he'd been stalking. Steve bought a harmonica. For my part, I happened into a new line of Premier drums called Signia. It was a small jazz-fusion style kit with an 8, 10, 12, 14 set of toms that were some of the most amazing drums I'd heard to that point. I didn't realize that in just under two years, I'd end up owning a set of my own.

On the way back from Munich, we dropped Ina off at her home in Waldkraiburg. That was supposed to be the last I'd see of her. She was a lovely but timid creature who would write notes to me in English but hardly uttered a word in English. Later on that same day, the party at the church in Garching filled the evening. I doubt it was a party thrown in my honor but all the characters were there and I got a chance to see people who had brought some good times. Two girls, Simone and Pebbles (Baerbels), with whom a lot of fun was had that summer, were there. Simone had to leave a bit early but spent some time listening to tales from the trip. (I think she liked me. The pix all show her eyes set upon me in just such a way.) There was some free flowing drinks and a brewing thunderstorm that was quite the send off for this trip. Then, rather surprisingly, Ina appeared somewhat later on. Even more surprisingly, she spoke to me in English after not saying but a few words or sentences in all the number of times we'd seen each other that summer. She said that she felt the earlier farewell came up short so she got a ride over to Garching—about 16 miles—so she could say a nicer goodbye. No worries if she also planned to be with Steve too, but that was a sweet gesture. Once she did have to go, she offered a kiss too.

As the rest of the revelers were getting merry in their drink, there were fewer and fewer people to talk to. Fortunately, one fellow of about 16, Andreas, spent a couple hours from midnight till about 3 am talking about music and our novice philosophies on life. I seem to have enjoyed that talk as something of a substitute for talks that I'd hoped Steve and I would have had that summer. After Andreas left, everyone was making fools of themselves and that proved to be my recreation for the remainder of the party. I hesitate to report that the record indicates I dared do some karaoke singing once the crowd thinned. Even if it was just Dire Straits, that still makes me cringe, having some knowledge of what my vocal ability was in 1992!

The thunderstorm which was growing in intensity. I even naively tried to shoot pictures of it. While that was a silly pursuit, the thrill of waiting for the next burst of lightning was exciting. Not wanting to let the moment slip away so fast, in a lull moment, I had a chance to pull some pictures out and let my mind wander. Pictures of Melissa, Steve, and Shelby led me to wonder the ways the future would unfold, especially since now it would seem Steve would not be seen again—something that even these 20 years later has been proven true. At that time though, I was troubled by the distance that seemed to open up in the last week or so prior to this night of partying. It did feel that a period of history was closing and who knew what might come next. Eventually a very piss drunk Steve walked on home and finally at about 4:15 in the morning, Christoph and I sauntered on to the house too.

One Day Left in Germany

Saturday morning was low intensity. Eventually we all rose and got down to the church to clean up. On returning to the house, I packed up my stuff for real this time. The day had one of those quiet and reflective feelings about it. It was slower. The summer was still in force but since it was two months past solstice, the days were feeling shorter and of course the mixed feelings of impending departure and homecoming were heavy upon me. I milled around the yard. I went into the trees that lined the far reaches of the back yard. I visited the tree where I once carved EL+SD the year before. I updated it to reflect the current optimism embodied in the letters EL+MM. Christoph was playing his new sax in the back yard. Steve and I went a few streets over to where there were some horses. We took them a box of apples and fed them to the gentle beasts. The country feel of it felt welcoming and right. I was years and years from really feeling the rightness of it, but I got a glimpse of that slower pace, that more timeless world where even the technophilic Germans inhabit.

A further glimpse of that longer view on life was had while watching Steve's 90 year old grandfather Heinrich butter his bread that day. Or maybe it was that day that stuck most. I'd seen him do it over and over. A simple ritual repeated time and time again in his nine decades almost perfectly corresponding with those decades of the 20th century itself. I never got to talk to him directly, but his age suggests he might have been in World War One and of course deeply affected by the devastating Second World War. And all that rebuilding and change that followed. But I'll bet that as all that drama came and went, the task of preparing his breakfast didn't change all that much. I still think of what Steve's father Gerhard said to me about American bread: "You Americans have the best grain in the world but you make the worst bread ever!" In 2012, we Americans seek out "artisan" bread that tries to emulate the stuff Heinrich ate day in and day out for the better part of one century. We call those breads exceptional, but to the average German, bread is just a way of life. I can still see and taste the few of the endless varieties that I was able to sample while there. None of it is like the spongy and bland stuff we make here. To make it a bit more appealing, on the first trip I was shown the glorious goopy chocolate and hazelnut concoction, Nutella. A nice spread of full tilt butter and some good swipes of Nutella and even the most unusual dark grain bread was eagerly chomped up. For breakfasts, that and some of the best damned yogurt with fresh fruit mixed in, and full fat milk by the glassful was just like being in paradise. It was like that because back at home, all I knew was processed food. And, increasingly, food was more processed to remove fat and other bad stuff. But in Germany, I got a taste of real food, fat and all. It was glorious.

After dinner and some slide show of some pix Steve got, my night was real short. I got to bed close to midnight after saying all the requisite goodbyes to those who would not be seeing me off at 2:30 am. By that time in the summer, Christoph had taken a job at the foundry where his dad was a manager. (He had 3rd shift, starting at 10 pm, something that suited the insanely hot work around molten metal. Work like that was more a matter of financial independence and being responsible. He's since gone on to be a neurologist.) We left the house at 3:30 so we could get to the airport in Erding (northeast of Munich) by 5 am. This trip wound down in some ways like the first one. That is to say that the silence accompanied both of us all the way to Munich. But in some ways, this trip was far harder because there was really no idea of when we'd see each other again. It all seemed that maybe the trip had given us a week too much of each other. I had no visions for working at a place like Subway again so I could come back. This was it. If I was to travel, I'd probably want to see a different place for the simple reason that there are so many other places to see. It might be that we anticipated he'd come over to the USA for a trip eventually, but even these two decades later, that's not brought us together, even though he travels for work.

This send off at the Munich International Airport was brief and sorrowful, but for different reasons than the year before. This time words just failed us. Maybe silence would have been better than the poor attempts to cap the experience. "That's it." "Thanks." "Have a good life." "Keep in touch." "I can't come back next year." It led me to write thoughts on the plane trip back, thoughts that indicate some sense of a future I barely knew could exist when I was building up all that anticipation for the year prior. It seemed to me as I flew over the UK and the north Atlantic that Germany had filled the role it was to fill for me and that it was safe to move on, safe to get into whatever relationship would happen with Melissa. Even Shelby's departure for Alaska was something that made way for that.

The Return to San Diego

The fact was that as the sun was coming up in Germany on that Sunday morning of the 23rd, it was beginning the last day of summer for me before I'd have the cold water of a new school semester thrown upon my face. The very next day I was to sit in class, probably at 10 am. In fact, even that first day for me was everyone else's third day of class. I somehow got some pass to skip out since my trip was planned back in April and the semester dates weren't known. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. There was still one day to live. Most of it was going to be a travel day, but back at home there would at least be one special someone for me to see, and it looked like we'd get a couple hours to be together.

Eleven hours on a plane or two finally got me to LAX where I passed through customs without a hitch. There was some cause to worry about that because I was carrying three bottles of wine in a cardboard poster tube. I wasn't sure if that would draw attention and get this 18 year old in trouble. But nothing happened. Then, upon leaving the giant LAX airport with my old man, the first stop was just outside the complex at a Subway. Okay, I got trained on eating good German food, but I missed Subway. Despite all the drama at the store where I once worked, I was still of the mind that I ate better there than at any other place and better still than at home where my old man could be called on to make stuff that curled my lip and wrinkled my brow. I greedily gobbled down whatever sandwich I got there. And then we burned it on home to San Diego. At least it was a Sunday afternoon.

When I got home around 6 pm, I checked the mail, showered, and scrambled out fast so I could go see Melissa at her aunt and cousin's apartment just about a block from where I used to work at Subway. I went to get my bike from the shed and in my haste, I inadvertently knocked over a hopper of sand for sandblasting. I raced on over to the apartment on the bike, and must have been a blur as I carried that bike up to the third floor apartment. I locked up the bike out of view, peered in and sized up that I could make my bold entrance in one swift move. Striking a tough guy's rugged voice, I waltzed right in saying, "Hey, do I have to knock or can I just barge right in???" In no time, Melissa was off the couch! A few minutes later when we peeled ourselves apart, she started to shower me with little artifacts of devotion during that prolonged absence, et cetera, et cetera. Just recall that I had been gone almost six of the not quite eight weeks we'd been going together.

We walked on over to the local park and playground and found a place where we sucked face for a couple hours to make up for lost time. Around 9 pm we headed back toward the apartment but ended up at the Mickey D's across the street (and just across the lot from my old Subway, where I was officially on restraining order until May of the next year). I saw that buddy Matt was over at Subway so I sent Melissa over to give him the news that I was back. He came over and gave me a few minutes' greeting and rather surprised me by his being sort of not himself. That is, where did the rather crude and impetuous Matt go? This was a Matt who seemed to have missed me some. After he left, I dared walk by Subway on the way to the Baskin Robbins for a bit of a treat. Then it started to sink in how tired I was. I'd been up for 30 hours by that point. I woke up at 2:30 in Germany, which was like being up at 6 pm on Saturday night in San Diego. And prior to that I had only about two or three hours' sleep anyway. It added up to most of 50 hours if I was to consider Saturday in Germany. I was ready to drop. Melissa and I went back to her aunt's place where I collected my new collection of knickknacks and after a shorter than usual farewell, I made my way home on the bike. It was quite a day.

The Day After

I got to bed maybe around 11 and at 6 am the next morning I had to get up and take the rental car back to the Enterprise yard by 9. (The old man would ordinarily have a truck or motorcycle to choose from.) But before that I fixed up my room a bit and blasted some music that I'd brought back home, and some mix tapes that Melissa gave me. I don't know how many nights she had to sit by the radio, listening to the soft rock station KYXY, to capture those songs to a couple 90 minute tapes, but she did. (Even to this day, some of those crude starts and stops are so imprinted in my memory that hearing the songs played as complete recordings or with different DJ talk still sounds odd to me. I still have a soft spot for Chicago's You Come To My Senses for blasting out of the speakers that morning with punch and clarity. Okay... I digress.) I drove the car over to the yard and was nearly late to school. I recall racing that thing around like crazy, even though it was an automatic. Part of it was still a bit of adrenaline about being home, but really, I think I was just trying to emulate the style of driving I experienced in Germany. While there, I had a few minutes re-learning how to drive stick and must have picked up a "wait to brake" idea. I recall driving like a madman as I returned that car.

While at school, I found I was dropped from one class already and could not get one or two others, and then settled on a couple that I was able to get. There wasn't much to school that day except maybe that as I went to the restroom I took off my clip on sunglasses that I got earlier in the year and had worn all around Germany. I set them down on the porcelain and then walked off and left them there. Upon returning, I could not find them. Dang. I could get all around a foreign country with them but then I lose them in my hometown!

I rode off to get lunch at Subway on the way home from school. Stopped to buy some singles of hitherto unheard Def Leppard tunes and filled out an application at that same music store. I hadn't worked since mid April, so the funds were feeling low and the morale was still at a place of acceptability. That wore away as the months went on and I got more and more depressed as winter set in. As it happened, it took until December 18 before I got a job at Jack in the Box. Interestingly, that was the ticket out of a mounting crisis of depression that only earlier that day was being discussed over breakfast with Jerry and Judy, my pastor and associate pastor/youth leader at church—a place I had not really gone to in about a year. As for the rest of the first whole day back, my grandmother came over and helped me to run some errands in the car, and I told her all about the trip. Shelby called from her dad's place in Hayward, CA and we reconnected after the two months since we saw each other.

Life was just about to start all over. School. Job search. Playing drums and creating the basis of rudimentary songs with Matt. A new girlfriend who was new and yet not new at once. We'd been "together" for almost two months. I was planning to take her out to dinner later in the week when we'd mark our two month anniversary. But it was more like our three week aniversary. (I anticipated maybe one bottle of wine would go to that, but that idea was soundly trounced early on by parental pressure. So I donated one bottle to her parents.) 

Germany was in my rearview mirror now. Auf wiedersehn, Deutschland.

Saturday
Jul142012

Rückkehr nach Deutschland +20

...Continued from yesterday. But the story picks up a year later.

Not content with that Munich parting of the ways a year and a day earlier, I touched down in Germany once again and promptly kissed the airport floor. You read right. I did really kiss the stone tile floor at the Munich airport terminal on July 14th, 1992. The time between was a sandwich filler of, well, sandwich making at Subway, and a lot of filler time surrounding what little my life had been during that time of alienation and estrangement and frustration and even a legal matter that I came out the loser for. During the later part of that yearlong period, two things emerged that saved it from a complete writeoff of a life: the increased activity with Matt Zuniga, my fellow exiled drummer boy/death metal screamer, and the start of a new relationship just two weeks before I was due to fly off to Germany.

Pathetic Life

In the grand scheme of things, I had it good. But since it's a little like a fish not knowing what water is, my pathetic little life of broken hearts, work strife, the old man having a new girlfriend (and then just as quickly losing her) and adjustments after high school seemed to be the stuff of existential angst at times. Getting all the way through high school without a girlfriend does make one prone to panic or worry. Having your imaginary girlfriend send all your letters back after a misunderstanding over $4.20 loan for a sandwich did put me on edge during a period when so many things were new and unfamiliar. Hardly a one of my high school era contacts (from school) were durable personalities that remained in the picture that first year out. I was in an ambivalent period toward church. I began to let work dominate my life, with the sustaining community of church folk being pushed aside for the independence that work seemed to allow. The hours were pushing hard against church hours, and eventually I just stopped going. Meeting Matt at Subway was more of a shock than a salve to me then. But in that weird way, he did prove to be the leading buddy for that era, the guy with whom I spent time. I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel like a step backwards in those early days. Matt and Steve could not be two more different people. What a new thing, pondering that both had their place in my life. Sooner or later though, there has to be someone to help a guy discover porn!

With my return to Germany being about the only thing of any meaning to me that year, everything was just a hurdle or a pothole or other obstacle it seemed. It felt like I'd die if I didn't get back to Germany to see a friend. Maybe I invested too heavily that way, and maybe it would be a miserable failure or who knows what. But the trip was all that mattered. I had hardly any plan for how to live a meaningful life after it though. The late breaking developments with Melissa changed that — in my journal from July 13, 1992, I asked why that day had the extraordinary ability to make people sad (last year leaving Steve and this year leaving Melissa). But prior to starting up with Melissa, there was some hope of doing more exiled drumming with Matt, and a semester to return to at school.

(All you people should be happy that I'm telling you what a hard time I was having. That has been a longer thread in my life anyway, always having some existential discontent at work. I tell you this because if you were offered my sappy ass journals from the first months with Melissa — well, let me not even dwell there. I cringe at it. I'm a bit stunned by how fast my fretting about getting to Germany turned to the most saccharine and sappy fluff. Girls!)

The Teutonic Toil Trade-off

I'd also have to look for work. Having gotten fired from Subway in April, I guess I asked around for work for a little while, but probably didn't expect much, knowing that I'd be leaving soon and I'd be in an odd place to either explain that yes I was interested in the job but would need to leave for the summer. Or it would be a deal breaker to stay quiet and then make an announcement that I was leaving. More awkward still would be any request that my job be held while I was gone. At less than six weeks prior to takeoff, I pretty much gave up looking until my return in August. In June, local drummer Craig Zarkos was the first ever to ask me to be his drum tech, though his work involved trips to Los Angeles. I turned him down because I had other plans for the summer, and why the hell would I want to be a drum tech? The coming job search was gleefully delayed until my return to my default San Diego life, but even upon my return, it took most of four months to land a gig — at fucking Jackin' The Box. I do have to say though that by that time — December 18, 1992 — I was having my first real existential depression and suicidal ideation. Even getting the gig at JIB was cause to start to see life a little differently. It did just enough of that before the rather unfortunate e. coli scare nearly shut them down, causing dudes like me to get put "on call" for a month or so while all that got ironed out. Of course, I did not get called. Skeleton crew was good enough for them.

The miracle of getting to Germany was made all the more poignant because of the timing of the purchase of my flight ticket. I bought that on April 7, 1992 for something like $960 or so, but then was fired from Subway just under one week later on the 12th. When faced with a coincidence like that, the only thing to do is to take a breath and proclaim that Subway served its purpose. After that initial and financially bruising commitment to the trip, the next thing to do was to get a new camera that I would not be troubled by, and that would be automatically advancing and which would not let me do something so stupid as to rewind my film as I shot it! Maybe I had forgotten how hot it was the year before, and maybe I had no idea how hot it would be this summer, particularly since this trip would be nearly three times as long. Having not worn shorts for about seven years, I did not entertain the idea. Not long after getting there, it would become pretty apparent that my apparel was appallingly antithetical to the arduously antagonistic temperatures. I finally broke one day and some shorts were offered to me before the bunch of us headed down to the Alz river not far from Steve's house. Aside from all that, I was amply prepared to enjoy my time.

Fly Day

I had spent much of the Sunday before my flight with Melissa, and for part of the day, with Matt in a few hours of Rhythmic Catharsis jamming. I had this habit of making a note of how many hours Melissa and I spent each time we got together. This quantification didn't serve any real purpose except to make me a slave to stuff that never should have been. I guess it did have some use to a horny 18 year old guy who frankly got a little anxious about time slipping away outside of any relationship. Nonetheless, the record shows that on July 12, 1992, we spent 13 hours together. Understandable, considering it would be the last we'd see of each other for nearly six weeks. She had her mom bring her down for a special final send off that was documented as lasting 20 minutes on the day, just before I finally got in the car with my old man and drove off to Los Angeles. He had a few errands to run while in LA and my flight was not set to leave until 7:40pm and apparently it left an hour and a half later. We left sometime around noon, I guess.

I was impressed by the late setting of the sun in Europe. After all, the latitude is higher there and the summer daylight was just past its solstice peak. Getting to Munich at 9pm was still partially lit up. I was met by Steve, brother Christoph, their friend Werner, and most surprisingly, Steve's new girlfriend Ina. This whole girl thing threw us both off, compared to the experience of 1991. I think he'd gone out with her for a while but of course for me, Melissa was just a two week experience for me. Shelby, worth a mention because she was settling in a a friend after we made up following the nightmarish experience of her sending my letters back to me by USPS, was nowhere near the figure that she was the year before. While Steve and I have never been more than buddies who had some far-reaching conversations, of course, having girlfriends does sort of change the dynamic, and I think I must have felt something of a loss that after all those 52 weeks, things would not just be he and I. Of course, I did anticipate that I'd be immersed in his life among friends for half the trip or so, and then we'd go out for a two week road trip that was just the two of us. I don't recall having raised the issue. It would have only been stressful. 

Once I landed and kissed the airport floor, the whole crew of us somehow got to an outdoor carnival kind of event, probably in Waldkraiburg where Ina lived. I might have enjoyed it more if I were rested. Eventually we cut that short and were on our way to the Rau haus in Garching a. d. Alz.

My journal entry from the travel day (spanning perhaps more than 15 hours) was surprisingly short for such a momentous time, and also considering how long I was on the flights from Los Angeles to Geneva, then on to Zurich, and finally to Munich. In a lot of ways it was a total throwaway entry but there is a note to myself to refer to a microcassette tape that I anticipated would be my journal for the trip. I doubt I got more than a couple nights into that project before it lost its appeal. I think I still have the tape but no machine. I wonder what that kid would say to me if I were to play it now? I do still recall sitting in the Rau living room that first night, up until midnight or afterward, jet lagged and tired, but so bleepin' happy to be on German soil again.


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Friday
Jun292012

So Ed, Didja Pork Her? +20

The Mysterious Matthew

...So said Matt Zuniga on the day when I admitted to having gone out with a girl. It was the first such instance in the seven months or so that we had been hanging out as co-workers and frustrated, exiled drummer wannabes. But really, it was more the first time in my nearly 19 years that I had gone out with a girl, with any hope of it turning into anything of a relationship.

Matt had a very unfiltered manner of speech. By the time I met him, he was already 20 and I was a newly minted 18 year old. He came on like a total character. Since I never saw him as a younger fellow who might have been tempered by the presence of his folks, he came out of nowhere and blindsided me with some of his outrageous comments and behavior. I think I've told some of those stories on this journal, and you might do a search for Matt Zuniga if your curiosity is so perverse.

Slippery Shelby

Being a pretty uptight kid myself, and being hopelessly optimistic about my um, prospects with Shelby Duncan starting on December 18th, 1988, I didn't really look long at other girls. She too exploded on the scene for me that evening and by the time of this date in 1992, the essential parts of our 12-year drama were written, rehearsed, and nearly mastered. We were never an item; rather she kept me at some distance and we never did so much as a kiss. That is, outside of my imagination. But make no mistake, I was as committed to her as anything, particularly during the period shortly after our graduation from high school in 1991. (She was at Mission Bay and I was at Madison. We were also peers separated by just nine days in October—me on the 12th and her on the inverse of those numbers, the 21st, so that lent some poetic air of closeness too, possibly in lieu of the real important stuff.)

Melissa, the Patient One

In the background, there was Melissa. She's the daughter of Mark, a younger friend of my old man's from the days before either Melissa or I were born. Mark and my old man worked in the same factory at Solar Turbines and the social times carried on for some years. They used to live in Clairemont and I do recall faintly some times when we were at their house. They moved to the suburban tract of Mira Mesa in 1984. At the time that was on the fringe of civilization, or so it seemed. Melissa, about two and a half years my junior, was a play pal on some occasions when our dads got together to kill time, nothing more. Because Mira Mesa, just nine miles away, but about a world away to those of us growing up in our little suburban zones, was so far out, I basically forgot about Melissa for years.

Then sometime in early 1991 she called me at home, apparently having raided her folks' address book (that piece of technology preceded such items as we now take for granted, like smart phones and iPads. It was made of paper.) I guess that as a 14 year old, she was just curious and excited when she recalled I was a sometimes playmate. At the time, I was about to play a talent show at school and I might have mentioned it. She might have come down. At any rate, she did manage to notify me of a time when her grandmother, a singer in the Sweet Adelines (a barbershop style singing group for women) was to be singing at some flag waving rah-rah fest at the school football field not long after the first Gulf War came to a close. It was one of those times when she wanted to sneak around the back side of the bungalow where no one was looking. I don't know if she really had an agenda. She was way too young and even a year or two later did not seem ready to act on that kind of impulse. But it was clear she wanted to get closer somehow. And that kind of weirded me out.

First off, there really wasn't anyone but Shelby on my mind at that time, and nothing was going to pry me away. Shelby was a contemporary of mine and a far deeper personality that even I was intimidated by. She was also impossible to get close to, even at half the distance of Melissa's place in Mira Mesa. I can't say I ran from this attention but I brushed it off as a little misguided. I guess she dropped it. I don't recall hearing from her for over a year.

The Dream

And then, one Sunday morning at the end of June 1992, I awoke to a thunderous earthquake timed in such a way as to interact with a rather stirring dream of Melissa beckoning me to join her. It was one of those odd dreams when external stimuli (the earthquake) gets integrated into the dream. I shot up bolt upright. It was something of a revelation. At the age of 18, not having closed any deals with the opposite sex—and really, not even dating, it must have been rumbling in the subconscious that something had to change. Was this some kind of advertisement for Melissa being easy? Or was it some message that I need to stop with the Shelby illusion, er, delusion? That day I had to think on what it meant. I guess there was just one thing to do since the message did not seem to leave me to my own devices. I called Melissa. I offered to pick her up and go to the University Town Center mall, a place about equidistant from both our places. I'd pick her up around 11 the next day. I gather she did some kind of happy dance finally.

Was I just acting because this was all available to me? Was I really interested in her? Was I just curious? Yeah, probably all that. Melissa was a slightly rounded girl-next-door type who was into all the girly stuff. She was into fantasy fluff. Endless Disney movies. Radio dedications on the soft rock station. Who knows. Aside from being B students with dads who worked in the same company, I don't feel there was all that much glue between us. Sometimes you have to just leap into the river and see where it takes you.

I had to ride my bike to my grandparents' place about three miles in the other direction so that I could borrow my grandfather's Ford Escort. Their cars were somewhat available, but because I had a car accident at the close of the first month after I got my license, they were a bit shy of letting me drive too much. Well, that was nearly two years before and the caution had faded. Good luck for me because I had a date with destiny. 

That week I had some interesting gastronomic issues. My journal is put away nice and good at the moment but it caused me some distress. Eating was not all that rewarding. So I went up to Melissa's place to pick her up, feeling queasy. Or was it just the anticipation for the experience about to unfold? We drove to UTC, about halfway back to my house, and I suppose we strolled the place, ducking in and out of shops like people are programmed to do. I do recall we got to Sears (the one errand I had to make so I could get some new ribbons for my word processing typewriter that was recently worked hard with the production of my first fanzine, the Rhythmic Catharsette.) We were looking about and in some rather unfortunate coincidence, she twirled around with her purse just as some kid went whizzing by. Her arm and purse put a pretty quick halt to his running around. She was profusely embarrassed and apologetic, no doubt because she was putting on her best face for the day, no doubt a long time in the making.

At some point we got to the food court and set about having lunch. Was it a gyro sandwich? A hot dog on a stick? A slice of pizza? Taco Hell? Probably a gyro since that was where I first learned to enjoy the spiced meat and fluffy pita and veggies and creamy tzatziki sauce. We were sitting across the table from one another, chatting the small talk. It was never very deep with Melissa. I mean, she was 16 at that time and still very much under the sway of her father, a rather stern guy who could be loving, but always in control. I suppose he let her go out with me because of our history and he felt he could keep me accountable somehow. But then in a moment, somewhere as we're finding our eyes locking up more, I reached out and grabbed her hands and spent a good while holding them. It was electric. I don't know that it was because I was enthralled with this one girl. It was just one of those threshold moments that would have to happen sooner or later. But it was happening now. It was happening at last. Of course, she was receptive to it all, and I guess the world did get all soft and blurry and slow motion around us. The moment did seem to distort time for a while.

Boys Might Be Boys

I never really obsessed about being in any competition with guy friends about who'd get with a girl first. I never really was part of a crew where that was talked about much. Not until I met Matt, and even then it was more of a one sided thing where he regaled me with his tall tales. I was too uptight to engage in that, even as a matter of fiction. Still am, I guess. But after high school sent me on my way, and after one year taking my community college courses, and having spent time at Subway for about eight months, the sense that time was forgetting that I might need some companionship was upon me. I mean, here I was, nearly 19 and nothing but a few casual times out with a girl or two during high school (that led no where else) was all I had to show for anything of a love life. I was quite aware of it all. That year after high school was one of great alienation. A loss of the barely existent social life I had in school was acute; the distance between me and Shelby (who was by then in Northern California attending school, hosted by her step dad) and Steve Rau (back at home in Germany, where I was set to visit in just about two weeks from this first day with Melissa) was all too much at times. Having Matt around was small comfort. We had no history. He was not even nice to me sometimes. He was so contrary to my sensibilities that I was sort of embarrassed to be seen with him but glad that we spent any time together, else it would be a pretty desolate existence. 

One thing that would have been on my mind that season was the insane anticipation leading up to my trip toe Europe on July 14th. It was to be my second trip, and this time around, it was the trip that was by far my own initiative. It drove me to slave away at Subway, and to put up with Matt. In fact, it was one of those things that could well have been the end of all history. I had no plans of what to do upon my return except the vague knowledge that I'd start another school semester, look for work, and go out and play drums with Matt. My trip to Germany was so big a deal that I could have died after that. (I'll have to tell that story in another entry soon.)

Maybe my gray void following the trip was something recognized by the universal powers that be and maybe I was rewarded with Melissa's arrival on the scene. Telling her about plans to fly on the 14th elicited a plea to not go. Ah... the drama mounts. My heart began to know conflicting desires. But really it was a no brainer. I had already paid for my trip. I had spent a year in agonizing anticipation, hurting at all the experiences on the path to Germany. Sorry, but no girl was going to talk me out of it. The ball was already in play. Melissa's arrival on my scene did of course create a cause to become homesick where for that dark year, all I wanted was to escape San Diego and to get on my big adventure, my first solo trip—to Germany! Of course, it was more important to connect with Steve Rau, who had become perhaps my best friend to that date, doubly notable because he was male. The six weeks that we could spend together on untold adventures had all the gravitational pull of Jupiter.

Eventually our little moment at the food court returned us to real time with crisp colors. But walking out of there, hand in hand, and with a heart racing, was surreal. Driving back in the Ford Escort, it was a good thing I did not have to drive stick, or else the hand holding would have to come to an end. I don't recall if the first day at the mall ended in what became one of our signature half hour goodbyes out by the car in front of her house, but that was soon enough to come. After I left, I went home, no doubt buzzing with adrenaline and hormones. I had a date with Matt and Shelby that evening.

Dangerous Mixing of the Elements

The day before, I took a small drumset out to a commercial area in town called Kearny Mesa. Light industry, warehouses, offices, and all that. I was making early explorations into finding a place to play drums. This building, the Volt building, was the first that held promise and set the standard for places we'd use for a couple years to come. Slightly hidden area to play; AC power outlets for plugging in music to play to; hidden from weather, and unoccupied at nights and weekends. Having found it to my liking on Sunday, I told Matt we should go there together and do some Rhythmic Catharsis jamming on Monday the 29th. I may have only mentioned to him—sheepishly so—that I was about to go out with Melissa.

It was the news of the day when Matt and Shelby and I convened on this Volt building, and before or during some break, in the long daylight of the post-solstice summer days, we were eating some of Shelby's weird vegetarian concoctions and I was expected to give a debrief on the day's events. Matt, ever Matt, decided that my coy answers were not cutting it. How could I kiss and tell anything when we'd not even kissed?  So Matt just barged in with the question, "So Ed, didja PORK her?"

Uhhh...

That might have been a bold enough question in the company of each other at work or playing drums together, but man...that was a loaded question for me, especially in front of Shelby. I mean, Melissa was just a diversion from my longing for Shelby. And I had not even had my desired experiences with Shelby yet. (Nor was I ever to have them.) Part of me wanted to run from the question. Part of me wanted to smack Matt pretty good. So I gave the only answer I could give: an embarrassed and squeamish "NOOOO." I guess now was not the time to bring up that I was saving myself for Shelby. Meanwhile, Shelby, who never wanted anything of the sort with me, probably saw this as the golden opportunity to offload me onto someone else. I'm pretty sure she encouraged me that way, asking the kinds of questions that would cause me to hear my own voice speaking words of praise and fondness for Melissa, even protecting her dignity in my response to Matt's stunning question. It was almost a trap.

Shelby stayed a while, pretending some interest in what Matt and I played on drums and screamed at the tops of our lungs. Then she left. At least it was guy time again. Time to smack the drums with a newfound energy and passion. Aside from the obvious drama of the day, it was also one of the last times I was to play drums before leaving on my trip and I was channeling that energy. But the thought started to dawn on me that day: there might be a life after Germany after all.

There will be more tales from that summer. Melissa certainly held down the fort in terms of correspondence. I don't know if it's of any value to me anymore but I still have a box of letters she sent me, and a journal she wrote during my trip. I guess I can't complain about having an utterly unambiguous awareness that someone was thinking of me, wanted me, and couldn't sleep at night while I was gone. Coming out of the depressing and alienating year preceding our new time together, that was like fresh air and sunshine in my dark cave. These days I can barely stand to look at the words within (out of some kind of embarrassment that someone's looking over my shoulder, even Matt), or even how they're presented to me in the pen of a 16 year old girl, but there's something so remarkably pure and innocent and renewing in the message. I suppose I could do as I have done with a number of other documents and artifacts of my life, that is to burn it all. The day might come. But maybe in the overall record that has many troubled parts to it, I deserve to maintain some counterbalancing evidence that I was worthy of someone's devotion, particularly at that age, and even if I didn't pork her.

You gotta start somewhere.