“How you do one thing is how you do everything,” says the woman I hired to help me change my life.
“I never make my bed,” I admit.
She tilts her head to one side and recommends another self-help book.
I fire her a few weeks later.
She doesn’t understand me.
Once again, I find myself floating through the ethers, like a dandelion seed who holds dear to the illusion that it’s driving the wind instead of the wind driving it. Once again, I’m trying to figure it all out by myself.
It’s Thursday afternoon and I’m sitting at the baggage claim in San Jose airport, waiting for the shuttle. I’ve arrived thirty minutes ago and have thirty minutes yet to wait for the scheduled pick up. The driver calls. He’s early. He asks if I’m ready to go.
I tell him I’ll wait outside. He says he’ll drive by.
He doesn’t drive by.
Ten minutes later, he calls again.
“Did you see me,” he asks.
“Where are you?”
“Outside. Door A5.”
“Can you be more specific?”
“I’m by the baggage claim,” I say. I describe a sculpture and the parking garage.
“I’ll drive by.”
He calls again.
“Did you see me?”
“I’ll drive by again.”
This must be what life feels like in the lost and found. You know where you are. And you know someone’s looking for you. But you also know they’re looking in the wrong place.
He calls once more and I carry his voice through the double doors and ask the nice lady at the information booth to talk to him.
“Where are you,” the lady asks. She frowns. “Which airport?” She peers over her bifocals and straight into my eyes. “He’s in San Francisco.”
Forty minutes later, I’m sitting in his van. He apologizes. I tell him I’ve got bigger things to fret about.
“You’re being so cool about this,” he says, knit brow and all.
“You got lucky.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“I’ve been up since four,” I mutter. He hands me a bottle of water and drives the rest of the way in silence.
Friday morning, I meet an ex-almost-boyfriend in Santa Cruz. We’re going kayaking.
The last time I saw him, we made out at the Daly City Bart Station as our visit was coming to an end. He was seeing someone. I was not.
I sent him a simple email later that night. It read:
I like you. And I think you like me. If it doesn’t work out with your current girlfriend, or the one after her, or the one after her, I hope you’ll consider trying to build something real and lasting with me.
I was afraid you felt that way. I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression when I made out you at the Bart Station.
I am determined not to make out with him again. Thankfully, we are far away from public transportation, so I will not be putting myself at risk by waiting for a train.
“How are you,” he asks as he pulls me into a hug. He’s six-foot two, muscular. His hand nearly covers my back. “Do you have a boyfriend?”
There’s a word I have formed at the tip of my tongue. I carried it with me from the house to the beach. I chewed it, tasted it, tried it on. With that small word, I’ve committed to details and descriptions of a handsome, creative, and intelligent imaginary boyfriend and our imaginary us.
The word is “yes.”
“Sort of,” I say, and emphasize the timbre of my imaginary relationship with a shrug.
He glances sideways at me with a closed mouth smirk, but he lets it slide.
“Do you still have a girlfriend?”
His gravelly voice skips over the surface of the water. Even the sea otters, lounging in their kelp beds, stop grooming to look at him. His smile is wide and he cuts the waves with more grace than muscle. I watch him as the tour guide yammers on about otters and kelp. Over the horizon, the sky and the water are perfectly balanced hues of blue. If I knew no one would come looking for me, I’d row and row and row until l got lost in the ocean. I’d let seagulls and starfish be my guides.
I sit at a picnic table and watch the groomsmen set up chairs, my hand covering the clutch I borrowed from my mother two weddings ago and forgot to return. Inside the clutch is the wedding ceremony, which I wrote out that morning on my mangled yellow legal pad. I’ve examined the text three times this hour, making certain I can read my handwriting. So far, so good.
The groom’s best friend hands me a bottle of water and, sweaty, sits next to me in the shade. It’s nearly time for them to change into their suits. We look out towards the pond, where the turtles live, until he breaks the silence.
“Do you have a boyfriend,” he asks.
I pause for a moment to reflect on this evidently thematic question.
“Sometimes,” I say and leave it at that.
He asks me to go out for a drink later. I comply.
Sunday night, I’m sitting in the hotel lobby in San Francisco with my one of my favorite people and jewelry designers Mark drinking free hotel wine. Mark and I have known each other since my Berkeley days when we set our booths up next to each other at the Telegraph Avenue street fair. I fell in love with him that day and forgot to fall out of love. We were neighbors for a couple of years and when I knocked on his screen door, he would invite me in for lunch.
“You know what I learned on Friday? Sea otters choose a tool when they’re young to help crack open clams and things. They keep it in a pocket of skin under their arm and use the same tool their whole lives.”
“What if they lose it?”
“I meant to ask the tour guide that same question. If it’s their personal totem, they might be heart-broken. Don’t you think?”
We consider this for a moment. The wine tastes like juice.
“I don’t think that’s true.”
“I might have gotten it wrong.”
“But it makes me like sea otters even more.”
Check out Mark’s fun jewelry here: markpoulin.com.