Bastendorff Beach, OR
I once had a girl, or, should I say, she once had me.
When we lose love, what do we long for? Is it the person or the feeling?
When we have love, what is it we have? Is it the person or the feeling?
I met Mrs. Goldenaxe in Newport. I was staying with Belinda, a couchsurfing host recently arrived in town to work on a service project through AmeriCorps. She was renting a small condo overlooking the bay; at night, the barking sea lions kept me awake.
The second night, Belinda hosted a small potluck. I cooked channa masala, my specialty. Belinda stuffed peppers, her friend brought olive bread, and Mrs. Goldenaxe made potatoes.
Mrs. Goldenaxe wasn’t always Mrs. Goldenaxe. After college, she had spent several years working with the Peace Corps in Mongolia. Over time, as she learned the language, she became a member of a group of friends. Mongolians have impressively translated names, she told me. Goldenaxe was a member of the group, a close friend, someone special. You know.
Towards the end of her stay, the group started laughing about how funny it would be if the two of them got married. When they looked each other in the eyes, both realized that it was more than just a joke. In a traditional ceremony held right before she left, Hannah became Mrs. Goldenaxe.
”It was just this bond, a way of showing each other we were going to be together, even if we weren’t going to be together.” They haven’t seen each other since she got back to America. When I asked her if she’d ever thought about going back to Mongolia to become Mrs. Goldenaxe, I watched the emotions flash through her eyes. Because, what can you do – what would any of us do? – when your love is somewhere like Mongolia?
Michael came up to me on the beach, desperate. ”Sir, can I borrow your cell phone? That bird can’t fly and I need to call my grandma to figure out what I can do!”
I thought for a second. Then I handed him my phone. Reason is for adults, not adolescents, I reasoned.
The phone rang and rang. Michael nervously shuffled the sand back and forth with his feet. There was no answer. He handed me back the phone. In my hand, the phone vibrated, and I handed it back to him. It said something to Michael and I watched the emotion flash through his eyes. Because what can you do – what would any of us do? – when your love can’t be saved?
Michael headed off down the beach.
I played with a spider. I lay on the bluff overlooking the sea. I watched the surfers.
A girl came walking down the beach, listening to her headphones. She was walking thigh deep in the ocean, wearing jeans. I smiled at her. She went and sat on a promontory of rocks overlooking the ocean.
I wandered nearby to where she was sitting, but for once I didn’t really feel like starting a conversation with a stranger. I sat back down on the beach and lay in the sun. She walked by going the opposite direction and waved at me. I waved back. She sat on a log 100 yards down the beach. She got up a couple times to walk in my direction before abruptly turning around and heading back where she had come from. I saw her flailing her arms: it looked like she was cursing her lack of courage. Eventually she headed off down the beach, dancing to the music in her headphones. I watched her go.
At dusk, the sun set sublimely. I was pulled over by Bobbie and Billie, driving a white pickup. ”Yes, those are our names, and yes, they’re both spelled with an ’IE’.” Bobbie (Billie?) explained their story: looking for work, living out of the cab of their pickup for the past two months. ”This is our kitchen”, she said, clearing stuff off the dashboard. ”This is our sitting room.” He told the story of how, one night, a lynx had pressed his nose up to the cab window, after they had left a hunk of fish on the truck bed.
I asked how their marriage was surviving living in such cramped quarters. ”We’ve been married 28 years,” said Billie (Bobbie?). ”Look at us. Would anyone want to date us? No way! We’re all we have.” I laughed along with them. I asked if they found time for romance. Billie (Bobbie?) jumped out at me, across her husband: ”don’t be asking about where I do the nasty!” Because what can you do – what would any of us do? – when that’s all you have?
I’m out for dinner in Charleston, and I go with the wine and the fish. My phone rings; it’s Todd. Todd? ”Yeah, Todd. I met you at the Barview campground a few weeks ago.” My memory runs through the hundreds of people I’ve spoken to since then. He gives me a few details to jog my memory; I vaguely remember. ”Just calling to see how you’re doing!”
”Well, Todd, I’m doing great. It’s my birthday and I’m out for dinner by myself.” We chat for a few minutes and then he bids me goodbye, promising to contact me later down the road. A minute later, my phone rings again. It’s Todd.
”Listen, I want to buy you dinner.”
”Where are you?” I look around with unease.
”At home.” I breathe. ”Give the phone to the waitress and I’ll give her my debit card number.”
When we love, what is it we love? Is it a person or is it people? It is someone else or is it ourselves?
When we get caught up with how our partner doesn’t understand us, is the question to ask whether we understand ourselves?
Mrs. Goldenaxe tells me a story of a team building meeting she had gone to before the potluck.
It was a mirror exercise. All of the members sat across from a partner. The idea was to look the partner in the eye and say things like: ”I am the love that I seek.” The partner’s job was to repeat what was said, multiplying the enthusiasm. This would go back and forth until it became comical. I AM THE LOVE THAT I SEEK!
”The thing that I learned,” said Mrs. Goldenaxe, ”was that it’s way easier to be the partner. It’s way easier to support than it is to look someone else in the eye and say that you’re good enough.” Sure, we can do it when it’s comical. It’s hard to do it when it’s real, when it’s balanced, when it’s aware and tolerant of our failings, our misgivings, our weaknesses. It’s hardest when we see our reflection in that person’s eyes. Because what can you do – what would any of us do? – when you know that you’re not as happy, strong, brave, tolerant, funny, compassionate, smart, enlightened, rich, powerful, experienced as you could be?
It was Wendy’s birthday too. She was 41. Jack was taking her for a walk on the beach.
The sun set sublimely, gently.
I wandered in the dunes, taking photos.
I ate dinner on Todd.
This is how I turned 30.
When I woke up the next morning, I realized that I am the love that I seek.