Hours after the sun climbed above the eastern horizon, I wakened with a slight ache in the small of my back and thought, At which hostel am I? But then I realized that my bi-annual pilgrimage to NorCAL had ended. I opened my eyes to the sight of the 95-year-old knotty-pine-clad cathedral ceiling of the upstairs bedroom in my Brookside airplane bungalow. Home.
I heard the old dog rustling around on the first floor. She doesn’t make that tapping sound because Catherine, a better dog-sitter than I am a dog-owner, took her for a manicure. Or a puppy-cure. I grabbed my cell phone, which I’ve promised the two or three most worried of my loved ones will be my constant companion. As I passed the upstairs alarm panel, I punched the code and heard the lady’s voice say, System disarmed. Ready to arm. A comfort, unlike the GPS lady who delights in driving me mad by depriving me of the chance to hate her when she gets me lost in the most beautiful places. How can you hate someone who takes you to see breathtaking views that you didn’t know existed?
With the dog outside walking the perimeter checking for scents that indicate breaches of her territory, I started the kettle for boiling water and dumped some of the leftover ground coffee into the Bodum’s filter. I bought the ground coffee for the trip to California. With the dainty single-serve French press, it served me well. But at the last hostel, I had found myself drawn to the coffee bar overlooking the Bay. I plunked down a couple of bucks morning and night for a hot drink to nurse beside the electric outlet for my laptop. I sat in a red leather chair with a carved back, the only remnant of the hostel’s antique past in the modern Cafe at the end of the long tiled hallway.
On my first night at HI Fisherman’s Wharf, I watched a Jenga game in the Cafe and then walked through the lounge, eyeing the travelers hunched over computers and cell phones. When the power went out in the park, including the old hostel building, I slid my little black flashlight from its pocket in my computer bag and padded around the place introducing myself to the other transients. I found a little anteroom next door to my own sleeping quarters. I took out my tablet, opening On Tyranny to finish its twenty warnings for 2017 gleaned from mistakes of the twentieth century.
On my last day in California, a man from Argentina by way of Austin and Los Angeles asked me what I hoped to gain by my travels. We talked of my three failed marriages and his; my son and his; my medical issues and his. After an hour or so, we felt like old friends trying to cram six decades of stories into the hour before I had to return the rental car. He helped me clean out the trunk and laughed when his predictions of impending failure at sorting the jumbled clothes turned out wrong. I’ve got mad packing skills, I said, with a hint of false modesty.
Now I watch the rain drip from the eaves of my house and wonder if my past has been so thoroughly documented that only the bones remain. I’ve been writing these Musings since 2008 and have told all the charming stories. The frightful ones wouldn’t make for lovely reading, though they’d probably explain a lot to anyone who cares to understand. I think about the World War I poetry which started this crazy public babbling; on the list-serve that now exists only in archives and in the hearts of those who once communed there.
When my sister Ann turned sixty, she looked into her mirror with self-accepting eyes. Then she took herself in hand and changed her life. I wanted to follow suit. I wanted to go into the last third of my life with intention. I reckoned without the bludgeoning impact of events nearly out of my control.
Lately I have found myself re-examining the effect of those blows.
In my office, on a shelf, is a round rock about eight inches in diameter which a friend gave me in 1990. He claimed that he swam ashore in Mexico while sailing off the coast and hauled the rock back to his boat. He called it a geode. I’ve never been tempted to crack it open to see. But somebody recently asked me if I planned to do so. She said it might be worth a lot of money. She guessed that the inside would be stunning. I smiled at her and said, Now listen here, Missy, you leave my rock alone.
We had a good laugh. After she’d left I went to my office to make sure that she hadn’t made good on her threats to crack the thing. I held it in my hands, wondering if she had been right. Then I gently rested the rock back where I keep it, on a shelf, beside my other trinkets, its beauty still hidden and uncertain.