Tag Archives: Unrequited Love

Two Dreams Diverged



Z is hounding me that October is almost over and I haven’t written a single blog this month. Not a word about my two weeks back in Indiana in September, Mom’s three week visit to Seattle, nor a week-long interlude with July, who we haven’t seen since this time last year when we descended on her cozy home in Wales. Nor have I mentioned Z’s birthday this week.

I also haven’t coughed up a sentence about how this is pretty much my favorite time of year from mid-September through my own birthday in January, and how though I generally find Pacific Northwest autumns subpar when compared to Indiana, it’s been stellar out here this year.

Nope, you’ve gotten bupkis from me. I’m beginning to feel guilty at night when I look over and see Z re-reading old blogs of mine, refreshing his browser, as if his wife in an alternate universe—the wife who is more productive, less anxiety-ridden, more inclined to clean and have a regular skincare regime—might have produced a nugget or two for him to read. (I just know that alternate-universe wife of his has a VERY popular blog that has a bajillion followers, just signed a three-book deal, and would not have banished half of his Zimbabwe-inspired art to his office. I also suspect she makes her own pie crusts, uses one of those plastic exercise balls to keep herself Olympically limber, and never takes a bad pic. I hate her.)

Even when I’m not blogging, I email Jane regularly about my joys and concerns of the day. She is the kind of friend who actually listens to me and tries to help me figure out what my really real (read: multi-dimensional/fully sensory/non-grainy) dreams mean, but her hot water heater is busted and I don’t want to bother her right now while she’s bathing with bottles of Aquafina and wet wipes.

So instead, I’m going to tell you about my dream analysis problems. Lucky, lucky you!


Last night, I dreamed Sandra Bullock had died and somehow I had gained custody of her son Louis. In the dream, he was just a toddler. In the dream, I didn’t know Sandra Bullock any better than I do in real life, which is to say not at all. I’m not sure how the kid ended up in my arms. I like her as much as everyone else in the world does. A couple of her movies are my favorites, but I’ll probably never watch Speed or Miss Congeniality 2, so I’m not like a Kathy Bates style #1 fan. A few months ago I was happy enough to read a cast-off People about how she loves being a mother to Louis and his new sister, but it’s unclear why her “death” featured in my dream or how I got saddled with her little son.

For the record, I did feel terribly sad that she’d died because she seems like a genuinely decent human, and I was relieved to wake up and realize she’s still out there raising her kids and donating her millions to worthy causes.

Anyhow, I was carrying Dream Louis around the house, wondering what to do. He was upset and I was upset: poor Sandra, poor kid, poor me. Even dream Beth seemed to know she wasn’t equipped for instant motherhood. There is no What to Expect When You Suddenly Become the Guardian of Sandra Bullock’s Toddler for sale on Amazon, so I couldn’t bone up on what to do. I was wiping away his tears and shoving food in his mouth and jiggling him around in a manner meant to be soothing. But also, I was pacing because I knew Child Protective Services was headed to the house and if it seemed like anything about me wasn’t legit, then they’d take this kid away from me. Despite concerns about whether I could rear him appropriately and how his presence was going to alter my daily life, I suspected that I’d be a better mother to him than some arbitrary person. Particularly a person who may or may not love While You Were Sleeping as much as I do. (Seriously, y’all can have your White Christmas and your It’s a Wonderful Life, but if I don’t get to see While You Were Sleeping every December, I feel like a major strand of lights has gone out on the tree.)

In the dream, I was frantic to paint a picture of serene maternity as the authorities pulled up to the house. I wanted to look capable, confident, and like Louis and I already had a unique bond. So I asked Dream Louis what he wanted me to call him— like a special nickname between us—and he said quite clearly in his little toddler voice, “Carrington.”

I’ve never written “WTF” in a blog before because I like to keep things halfway wholesome in the public domain, but surely this is an instance that deserves it.


Just as I was thinking, “This kid does NOT look like a Carrington. He’s got to come up with something better,” Z’s alarm went off, so I have no idea how it all turned out. Was I allowed to keep Louis/Carrington? Did I rise to the occasion like Sandra Bullock in Blind Side and make sure my young charge graduated from high school and went on to college? Would there be any money rolling in from the Bullock estate to help me raise this kid or was he going to have to get used to a lower standard of living, maybe eating the off-brand cereal and having a homemade Superman costume instead of a real one this Halloween?

Elements of the dream possibly worth exploring: motherhood, babies, Carrington.

Though there have been points in my life where I hungered to be a mother, this is not one of those times. There are a few small children I’m personally smitten with, but on the whole, I’m quite happy with my child-free life and the easy access I have to my non baby-proofed electrical sockets and cabinets full of poison.

So I don’t think this is about babies and the impending fossilization of my own womb.

In the mid 1990s during my “depressive” stage, I was briefly obsessed with Dora Carrington when the movie about her starring Emma Thompson came out. I read books. Studied her art. Felt cross that she wasn’t quite in the inner sanctum of the Bloomsbury group despite loving Lytton Strachey quite literally to the death. (One of the only times I haven’t liked Virginia Woolf was when I read something in her diary about Carrington that lacked compassion.) Two books about Carrington are sitting on the shelf by my desk here in my studio, but they are in the extra dusty upper reaches and are never taken down.

I suppose I did sort of date a guy in high school who turned out to be gay, but I wouldn’t have killed myself over him a la Carrington and I’ve never worn jodhpurs like her, so I don’t think this dream was about Carrington either.

I’m at a loss. It was all so real. Louis’s breath in my ear was kind of sweet and snotty because he’d been crying so hard and my arm hurt from the weight of him. My subconscious might have given me one of those “real” dreams to help me with something I’ve been struggling with (writing, geography, existential questions), but I’m not Robert Langdon and thus can’t decipher my own personal Da Vinci Code.

Hopefully Jane’s water heater will be fixed soon.

In the category of dreams becoming reality, it’s Z’s and my 10th anniversary of love today. If you’ve read this blog before or come within a mile of me, you already know our story, but it’s my favorite and all roads seem to lead to it eventually. (And why shouldn’t I prefer it to all others?)

Because it’s close to Halloween, I’ll tell you the extra eerie, woooooooo elements I sometimes leave out.

We met in the fall of 2001 when he was new faculty where I was teaching. We were at a faculty party, I saw him, felt the love instantly in a way I previously thought was entirely made up, and drove straight to Leibovitz’s house to say, “I just met the man I’m going to marry.” Over the following weeks, I gave him a battery of personality tests and listened carefully for him to say something that would put me off him forever, making special note that his delicious accent might well make something truly intolerable sound acceptable. He only ever said delightful and funny things though, and when he went home to Zimbabwe for the holidays, he left a message on my voicemail: “I’m just calling to say ‘banana,’” because I’d told him how much I’d miss hearing him say that while he was away. I played it for any friend or relative who would listen: all agreed, his accent was exquisite, and surely he must be flirting back to leave such a message.

This is not the wooooooo part, fyi.

He wasn’t flirting. For the next two years we were together almost every day—after work, having dinner, going to movies, shopping—but I made no headway and was choking on my love. Finally, a few days before he left to go back to Zimbabwe for good, I screwed up my courage and told him how I felt, vowing that I didn’t care where he went, I wanted to be with him.

(Note: I’m hoping this vow is not legally binding because we once stayed at a truly deplorable motel at Plymouth Rock and if he decided to take up residence there, we’d probably have to live apart. It was disgusting and the smell of the moldy carpet is still living somewhere in one of my olfactory receptors.)

He was kind when he said he didn’t feel the same way and that he’d always consider me his friend.

Later that day, I had a spiritual experience that I’m not recounting here because believers will say how could you ever doubt that you’d end up with him eventually after that? and cynics will say your brain simply invented that so you’d be comforted. Suffice it to say, while I had a sort of knowing that Z and I would end up together eventually, I was also full of doubt. Over the years, my brain has concocted a considerable amount of bullshit that did not ever come to fruition, so while I hung on to the possibility that maybe eventually we’d be together, I was pragmatic enough to know I needed to get on with my life in the meantime.

The next day, I dropped Z off at the airport, unsure when or if I’d see him again. I sniffed his neck when I hugged him goodbye and sent him on his way. I cried all the way home, stopped at the reservoir to collect myself and was greeted by a gaggle of goslings, waddling up the hill, which seemed to speak to all sorts of hope.

But none of this is really the weird, other-worldly part.

When he was teenager, he was an extra in a crowded market scene in that Richard Chamberlain-Sharon Stone “masterpiece,” King Solomon’s Mines. We’d watched it one night in his flat, and he pointed out the two very brief shots where he is in the background. He is playing the role of “European riffraff” and when there’s a kerfuffle in market scene involving the stars, the camera pans the crowd and there is Z—brows furrowed—as he looks to see what is going on.


Z and friend, on set but not scowling.

The night he left for good, I went home and moped around the house like you do. I don’t remember exactly what I did, but if the movies are to be believed, I probably cried and ate a carton of ice cream. What I do remember is that I couldn’t get to sleep that night, so I turned on the TV. What was on the exact channel the TV was tuned to? King Solomon’s Mines. Whose face was staring at me a second later, brow furrowed?

Until I’d met him, I’d never seen the movie, and I have never seen it airing on cable since. But there it was, and there he was, peering at me from the big screen, daring me to try to forget about him.

But wait, there’s more. Woooooooo.

Two months later, my brother and I went to Ireland to celebrate his 21st birthday. It seemed a good way for me to distract myself from the terrible ache of life post Z. We saw nearly the whole of the Republic in something like six days and we had a good time. He was several years younger than me and, I could only assume, not that interested in the quality of his big sister’s broken heart. I wasn’t inclined to point out to him that I’d just passed a hamburger joint with Z’s first name in neon just as I was thinking of him, nor did I mention the irony of the rugby poster above our heads in Temple Bar that said “Ireland vs. Zimbabwe” just as we were having a conversation with a couple about rugby. My brain was filled with the photos and stories Z had shared about his own rugby days, but I didn’t say a word. Surely to goodness these were all signs from on high that Z was back in Africa, realizing he loved me.


Stevie Nix & I keep our crystal visions to ourselves. Unless one of us decides to blog.

The night of my brother’s actual birthday, he was deep in his cups at the pub and I was tired and didn’t want to bring down the mood, so I left him dancing with a Scandinavian woman and went back to our hotel room where there was little to distract me from my thoughts. There was a tiny TV with bad reception that had sound on only one channel. Sadly, the channel with sound was playing a spooky old black and white movie starring one of those cadaverous actors like Peter Cushing. I was not interested in the plot but the company was nice and distracted me from the idea of Z. As I settled in to lose myself in a mindless scary movie, in his creepiest voice, Peter Cushing said Z’s very obscure and completely rare last name in reference to a developing situation with the occult.

I’ll grant you, the hamburger joint with his first name was just wishful thinking on my part. And the rugby poster with Zimbabwe written on it was probably a coincidence. But Peter Cushing in a movie I would NEVER have watched had there been even one other working channel on an otherwise soundless TV saying Z’s surname that if Googled produces only results for Z and a guy from Sweden?

Imagine some eerie music right here, would you?

If, three years later, Z had not come to his senses, then these would just be unfortunate coincidences, but because he did, I can only see it as messages from the divine or as an unbelievable plot device should I ever turn this into a novel.

All this week I’ve been forcing Z to remember how I arrived in Seattle right before his birthday in 2006, reminding him where we ate meals, where we walked on Alki Beach and badgering him about why he didn’t say right then how he felt. “Shame you slept on that foam egg crate all those nights in your living room and left me by myself in your bed,” I’ll say. And then I’ll pester him about why he let almost all the days of my visit go before he told me his feelings had changed.

Poor, poor Z. When I declared myself in 2003 (after two years of suffering in obsessed silence), IF ONLY he had gotten on board with my plan for his future he would have saved himself all of this future grief, wherein I force him to remember all of that wasted times. Total strangers on the interwebz would not be reading about his hesitancy. My friends who marvel at the quality of our rightness together now would not say to him, “What were you thinking? Why the delay?”

I’m insufferable on this count, and he’s a trooper. He’s put up with the teasing and the ribbing for a decade now. Though please note, he never will say, “You were right, Baby. I was SO wrong.” Instead, he says, “Things happened as they were supposed to.”

Possibly if he said he was wrong I might relent. Or possibly not.

Anyhow, today is the anniversary of the night we went to the Quarter Lounge around the corner from his apartment (and which you can see for yourself in the opening episode of Man in the High Castle—a First Hill claim to fame) and we had too much to drink and we were both being more honest than perhaps we had previously been, and soon enough he said what he said about us needing to be together, and I slammed down my hand on the table and said, “I KNEW I was right!” in a truly insufferable way (and so unlike how Sandra Bullock would respond as a romantic heroine).

This was not a cinematic climax to a love story with ocean waves breaking over rocks in the background as he wrapped me in a passionate embrace. Instead, something like “Play that Funky Music” or “Back in Black” was on the jukebox and I excused myself to the women’s room where I looked in the mirror at my red, bleary face and then did an honest-to-God happy dance with my arms raised in victory. Probably you will never see the story of our love on the big screen because of these details.

I may be incapable of deciphering my dream about Louis Bullock, but this Z dream of mine? The visions? The coincidental placement of rugby posters and hamburger joints? The late night TV programming of both America and Ireland? All those signs pointed to “yes” and that has made all the difference.


Flashback Friday: Secret World


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

[FYI, this entry covers my inaugural trip to Seattle to help my friend Z celebrate his birthday. Keep in mind, at this point, I’d resigned myself to the notion that he wasn’t interested in me as anything other than “good buddy.” I’d been in love with him for four years and the boy just would not budge.]

There’s a reason why Meredith Grey’s hair is so flat and lifeless on Grey’s Anatomy. It turns out, everyone’s hair, especially mine, is flat and lifeless here. I assume it is the weather (rainy with a chance of rain), yet it seems like that would lend itself more to frizz.

I’m here visiting my Zimbabwean. I like saying that. It makes me feel like Meryl Streep in Out of Africa when she refers to the people she makes work on her farm as my Kikuyu. He’s teaching here, and I am in his bed. Before you get notions of me, spent from a night of international passion, you should know that while I was in his bed, he was on the an egg-crate mattress on the floor of his living room.

I ruin all the best romantic scenarios I create for you by telling the truth.

My college friend Jane emailed that her eleven-year-old son came home from school yesterday and said, “I’m just starting to realize that girls have their own secret world, and it’s FREAKY!” The Zimbabwean and I laughed and laughed over that last night when I read it aloud, but I could tell he has no idea. No idea despite advanced academic degrees that we women have secret communication-interpretation skills no Navajo code-breaker could ever crack. So when you open his refrigerator and see he has two Cokes and a package of Dubliner cheese, just for you, you swoon a little even though you’ve sworn off swooning over this particular man. When you lament how awful and Meredith Grey-y your hair looks and he says, “I don’t think so” it is, after several mental contortions, the equivalent of his saying, “Your hair is as the sun shining on the Zambezi, and I wish to spend my days basking in both the glow and beauty of it.” When he refers to his apartment as “our apartment” it is as if he has said, “I want to share my living space for the rest of my days with no one but you.” When he says, “I took off the roll of scratchy toilet paper and bought you the kind that those bears use” it’s as if he said, “I love you so profoundly that I want only the very best—softness, absorbency, and four-ply bathroom experiences—for you.” In this sick, sad world, even his choosing to sleep on egg crates instead of in his own bed with you seems like a declaration of love.

Poor eleven-year-old boy. How can he ever learn to cope in a world where half the population is this indirect, this given to fancy. . . this freaky?

So, Seattle. We walked over half the city last night and so I’m reserving judgment until we rent a car tomorrow and investigate it when my feet don’t hurt. It’s nice. Lots of coffee. The people are friendly. Somehow I had in my head that it would look and feel like Vancouver, but it turns out it’s a whole different place. Yesterday, my Zimbabwean took me to Pike Place Market. While I don’t like fish and do not like to smell them, eat them, watch them, or see them manhandled by the stall vendors, it was a unique experience. Also, there is a lot there that is not fish. Like huge bundles of fresh flowers for $4, and hippies selling art, and little dogs in plaid raincoats, and jam sampling, and fudge sampling, and street musicians singing protest songs (just protesting in general, with an undertone of “This war is unconscionable” and “George Bush sucks” thrown in for good measure), and all sorts of useless crap you don’t need like Oscar Wilde action figures, “Aunt Flo’s Tampon Case,” and cardboard cutouts of William Shatner. From there, we went to Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, where you can buy other useless things and see oddities like mummified human remains and a stuffed two-headed calf. We took a bus to the Space Needle but opted not to go up because it cost $14 and was cloudy. My cousin G suggested I go up not because the views are spectacular or because it is a piece of post-Populuxe history, but because she didn’t go up when she visited in the spring and apparently the only thing people ask youwhen they hear you visited Seattle is, Did you go up in the Space Needle? I will wait for a sunny day. Or at least a day when there is a chance of sun.

Last night we walked up a San Francisco style hill to see his university. He wanted decorating suggestions for his office as some big wigs are coming to campus today, but it is a hopeless cause. I suggested he buy a plant and an Edgar Allen Poe action figure from Pike Market, but other than adding some doo-dads like that, it is a hopeless sea of glass and giant industrial office furniture in the space of a broom closet. While there, I met the man who hired Z, and he tried to entice me to their wine and cheese reception this afternoon. I will, instead, be buying a birthday card and maybe a cake or some gift-ish thing for Z’s birthday. Extroverts never seem to get that the invitation to spend three hours with total strangers whom you will never see again is like a prison sentence.

After that, we walked up Broadway in search of food and so I could see, as Z put it, “the freak show.” It’s a street that apparently delights in the counter-culture, so in the space of a single block you can see goths, hipsters, drag queens, the heavily made-up, heavily tattooed, significantly pierced and spiked, as well as people randomly dressed like super heroes.

Sadly, the freaks were not out, either because it was too early in the evening or two middle-of-the-week. I will have to save those human oddities for another day, though clearly I’ve got my own little freakshow happening right inside my head and don’t have to walk up any hills to get a front row seat.


Flashback Friday: The Rules of Engagement


Monday, October 16, 2006

[It’s worth noting that when this entry was written my life was about to change in a big, surprising Zimbabwean way in less than ten days. Tune in next Friday for more in the saga of Z and Beth’s Love: The Early Years.]

I’ve been thinking about the rules of attracting a mate lately. You know the ones. Some are probably holdovers from the days of courtly love. I’m talking about the ones no one really teaches us, but we can quote them more quickly and accurately than we can the First Amendment or the Ten Commandments. (Pick your politics.) They are:

1) Love comes when you least expect it.
2) Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
3) You must love yourself before love will find you.
4) Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

There are variations of the above but all fit comfortably in one of the four above groups. For instance, if you’ve read enough self-help books or watched movies like Runaway Bride, you’ll recognize a combination of one and three. That is, you might love someone, but until you quit being devoted to your idea of love of them and learn to make hideous lampshade art on your own like Julia Roberts almost always does in whatever movie she is in, you will not find true love. A variation of four that I prefer because I am mildly lactose intolerant is that you must withhold your love if you expect the object of your affection to return your warm feelings.

I’ve followed most of these rules, off and on, with some regularity, and I can’t say that any of them work. For me. That’s fine. Single is okay, so don’t think this is a blog of self-pity. It is not. For instance, I had a flash last night of all the horrible décor I’d be forced to live with if some of my former loves had come to a point of cohabitation: dogs playing poker, posters of Johnny Cash, farm implements as art, eagle blankets as window treatments….

It annoys me when people explain their newly found love by relying on these platitudes, usually because they are not true. You cannot believe anyone who says they weren’t looking for or expecting love. They were. Okay. They were. We all are. If you are between the ages of 12 and dead and you spend more than 15 minutes a day watching television or listening to non-talk radio, then you are expecting at some time to be “surprised” by love. If you weren’t expecting to be surprised by love, you wouldn’t have the good underwear and you would never shave your legs. Don’t kid yourself and don’t try to kid me. You might not have been expecting it today between 12:00 and 12:15, but you were expecting it eventually.

What annoys me even more than this, though, is when someone willingly breaks one of these rules and finds true love in spite of the rule breakage. For instance, I know a woman who loved a man who did not love her back, even though they had a steamy sex life. By all accounting with Price Waterhouse, this relationship was doomed, she was being used, he would never respect her, and thus she would never win his love, no matter what acrobatics were involved. It’s the cautionary tale every young girl hears from her mother or Sunday school teacher. Yet after a year of this FREE and FLAGRANT milk giving, the guy realized he loved her and couldn’t live without her. They are now married and have matching tattoos celebrating their love.

When you have been a rule follower your whole life, this is one of the jaggedest little pills to have to swallow: rule breakers win; rule breakers do not necessarily go straight to hell. (Though this is a young marriage, and so the verdict is still out on that one. Hell has many manifestations.)
What is the MOST annoying, however, is when someone willfully breaks the rules but presents her story of love as if she were adhering to the above. Recently, my mother befriended the wife of the first boy I loved, grades K thru 3. He was cute, smart, skilled at kickball, and was regularly awarded the title of “Good Citizen.” His wife (an excellent and good person by all accounts) tells the story of how she was not interested in dating anyone and told the friends who set her up with him that she wasn’t. She told him she wasn’t interested in him repeatedly on that first non-date, and three days later she moved in with him and they’ve been blissfully happy ever since. She followed those rules of courtly love and rejected him multiple times, but still, she went on the non-date. Still, she answered the phone after the non-date when he was calling to tell her he wanted to see her again. And when, later that same night, he drove through the country looking for her house so he could kiss her soundly and show her that there was something between them, she told him where to find her driveway.

So, at cocktail parties, she can tell people that she wasn’t looking for love and in fact discouraged love, but even so, she gave it directions.

My luck with absence making the heart grow fonder has been no better. It can make the heart grow fonder, but only in people who weren’t into you enough in the first place to realize they should stay put. Them joining the military and then realizing they really miss you is not really a testament to how lovable you are so much as it is a testament to how miserable it is in a desert. Or Duluth. People have had good, long marriages based on this absent, fond heart mythology, so perhaps I should not judge it so harshly. But I do, primarily because I am the kind of person who feels that the separation by just a two- mile stretch of road is too great. I do not need to go to Duluth to realize I am in love.

Also, statistically speaking, what absence does is make people unfaithful. They’re lonely, Van Morrison gets played on the jukebox, and they bump up against another lonely some body.

Am I too cynical? Bitter? Frustrated? A case could be built for any of these. But I don’t think so. I’m just wondering, that’s all. How is it that other people know when to follow the rules, when to break them, when to break them but pretend they didn’t? How is that whatever I do seems like exactly the wrong thing to do, but then if I switch to the exact opposite tactic, it immediately seems like the inferior one?

These are rhetorical questions, you understand. I’m beginning to suspect the truth is that no one knows anything, and the platitudes we rely on and untruths we tell are simply needed because it is an unbearable thought that our lives and loves are a crapshoot, that it is, at it’s very basest level, just an issue of timing: who was available at 12:15 on a Monday afternoon.

No, this version is even less satisfying than the lies. I find myself once again in the precarious position of needing to quote Fleetwood Mac: Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies.



Trying to Step in the Same Stream Twice

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

We hadn’t been in Santa Barbara for nine years when we arrived there last Wednesday. When we did the math and counted out how long it had been, we were both surprised. It has lived big in both of our memories all this time, and when we exited the highway and found ourselves cruising up Cabrillo Boulevard towards Hotel Oceana where we’d be staying, it felt to me like no time had passed at all. Maybe a few months.


In 2005 when we were still just friends, Z, who’d been in Zimbabwe for a year, returned to the U.S. to teach as a visiting professor at a college near Santa Barbara. Other than a deep affection for my Malibu Barbie collection in the 1970s, I’ve never been California-inclined. I had this notion of it as a place that was too thin, tan, sunny, and plastic to ever make me happy. So when Z invited me to spend my spring break with him all those years ago, let us be clear: I was going to see him, not to soak up the sun on some shell-strewn beach. I would arrive in Santa Barbara ready to assess the situation and see if he’d budged an inch since the year before when I’d told him I was in love with him. I even bought myself a new orange bra because I felt with such a thing beneath my clothes, I would subconsciously become more alluring and magnetic than I really am. It was huge and day-glo and I had to be careful what shirts I wore with it because it was not a bra to be trifled with. Even so, Z remained impervious to the super powers of my undergarments, despite the fact that at one point when we were on a trolley in San Francisco, my blouse came unbuttoned of its own volition and I accidentally treated about 30 strangers to my bright orange satin-encased breasts.


Z stared out the window, oblivious.


The trip nine years ago involved a mixture of emotions that started and ended with longing and confusion on my part. We were both happy, I think, to be back in each other’s company, exploring a new location, investigating the old mission, driving up Highway 1, sifting through bargain bins at what may have been the world’s most affluent Goodwill ever, and walking the beaches. Oh, the beaches! But then somewhere in my head I’d hear Kate Bush singing, “The thrill and the hurting/ This will never be mine,” and the aching would start. I’d wonder how much longer I could sustain our friendship in the face of it. Then he’d say something funny and we’d start laughing and I’d forget the hairline fracture in my heart.


I don’t understand time travel, but the first day of this 2014 trip, I felt as if time wasn’t linear after all. It seemed reasonable to me that we might bump into our younger selves, that maybe I’d see us on East Beach and I’d be able to take 2005 Beth aside and say something encouraging like, “Just hang in there—he’s worth the wait and right now he’s just moving on African time.” Or better yet, I had this notion that somehow I might be able to turn back time and reclaim those days that were lost to us. That there would be a puff of smoke and we’d get sucked backwards, and get our party started sooner rather than later. (It should be noted that in my memory, we are way younger than we were nine years ago, and I was much thinner and looked more like Malibu Barbie than I do in now or then. Also, we’re wearing really attractive swimwear and we’re much better coiffed than we are in real life.)  It’s just so lovely and magical there on the beach in Santa Barbara that it seemed entirely possible that either of these things might happen.


Poor Z! That first day, I think he was wondering if he’d made a mistake, bringing me back to Santa Barbara because I was acting like we’d returned to the scene of some crime. I was given to sudden storm clouds of regret that would form behind my eyes, and worse, torturing him with jabs about what he’d been missing out on back then (for instance, I no longer have that orange bra and he never got to see it). He was good natured about my ribbing. At some point on Wednesday night, I realized I was ruining now with my incessant reflection on then and what could have been. I mean, honestly, can you imagine having to listen to Elizabeth Bennett complain about how Mr. Darcy didn’t love her quickly enough, as she sits on the veranda at Pemberley? Please. Even I was getting tired of me. Frankly, I’m getting tired of me recounting the story here.


View from our Hotel Oceana room

View from our Hotel Oceana room

Eventually, I shut my mouth and directed my line of sight on the present. Hotel Oceana was delightful. It was right across from the beach and we splurged on a room with a view. Aside from the view, I was smitten with the Spanish style courtyard that the rooms opened up on. A fountain tinkled. Humming birds flitted around the stralizia. Even the opossum that was creeping up a tree right at eye level and scared me half to death seemed quaint.  When it isn’t a 100 degree humid summer day in Indiana, I’m always struck by the magic of how you can live your indoor life outdoors in climates like this one.

Hotel Oceana courtyard, Santa Barbara

Hotel Oceana courtyard, Santa Barbara

We speculated on the lives of the people in the neighboring room who left their door open, and when we peered in all we could see was a sea of plastic bags—we still can’t decide if they were some sort of bag people/hoarders or if they just did a lot of shopping and weren’t very tidy or safety conscious. We walked on the beach, laughed at the Californians who were bundled up like it was winter as we shuffled around in shorts and flip flops,  and said hello to a host of dogs. We drove out to Z’s old campus and poked around to see how things have changed since he was in residence. Then we investigated his old neighborhood to see what houses survived the fires a few years ago. Finally, we went to his old Von’s grocery store and lamented the fact that Jonathan Winters is dead now so there was no chance of running into him the way Z used to. We had apps with his former boss in an Irish pub and caught up on nearly a decade’s worth of events. Our last night there, we walked on the beach under a full moon, the way you do when there is a beach and a full moon available to you.


Maybe all the time travel I need in this life is the realization that when we are together, we have fun, just like we always do, always have done. Even before we were us.


Moonlight, Santa Barbara

Moonlight, Santa Barbara

(P.S. Should they make a movie of my life posthumously, would one of you please try to secure the rights to that Kate Bush song? I think it would work really well in the “longing for Z” sections of the film.)


Happy Birthday(s) to Z

Z's birthday at a random hotel with bad art a few years ago.

Z’s birthday at a random hotel with bad art a few years ago.



Z’s birthdays always start off with the ceremonial presentation of gifts while he is still in bed, with only the top of his head peeping out from beneath the quilt, and this Friday was no different. I’m not sure how this tradition got started, particularly since I was always a save-the-presents-until-the-end-of-the-day-so-there-is-something-to-look-forward-to kind of girl, but Z loves his birthday and likes to start it off right. Because I was born early in the new year, my birthday has always signified the end of the holiday celebration, and so those last few hours of gift joy were to be savored. Z’s birthday is on the other, better end of the holidays, so maybe this is why we have such different “birthday styles.”  Though we do both seem to be in agreement that we should stretch out the celebrating for multiple days. We’re extravagant like that.


This year there were very few surprises because he’d given me a list of things he wanted and I wasn’t feeling very creative. The bulk of his gifts were treats from Zimbabwe that he wanted, as well as a request for a duplicate silicon spoon for the kitchen because—full disclosure—I don’t always do dishes immediately and he’d like to have a spare so it’s ready for the next day’s meal preparation in case last night’s is still dirty. (Z is an excellent cook and I am not, nor am I an enthusiastic dish washer.) Honestly, the biggest surprise I could muster this year was one of those Slushee cups like I had when I was a kid—you know, you freeze the inner part and then later pour a soda or Kool-Aid into, scrape the sides a few times, and voila!, instant frozen beverage. That’s right. Z and I may be middle aged, but we act like eight year olds. A Slushee cup is a good present.  (I really am pleased with myself for thinking of it.) Had he not forbidden me to show you examples of his annual birthday gift bed, I’d post one here. We always do a before photo, when the presents are still nicely wrapped, and then five minutes later, I take an after photo and it looks like a windstorm blew through.


Twelve years ago, I met Z at a beginning of semester party at the nameless Indiana university where he’d just been hired as a visiting professor and where I was a lecturer. It sounds dramatic, but the minute I saw him leaning against a post, sipping a beer, and talking about fishing on the Zambezi with his brother and getting chased by hippos, I said to myself—and then drove immediately to the house of my oldest friend so I could have proof that I’d said it aloud on September 15 , 2001—I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.


Who I forgot to tell was Z. In fact, a month later when his birthday rolled around, he still thought we were just colleagues who shared pleasantries at faculty meetings.  His birthday that year fell on a faculty meeting day and he arrived with donuts in hand to celebrate. As luck (and a little pre-planning on my part) would have it, we sat next to each other at that meeting. During a lull, I asked what he was doing for his birthday. I’d never been so bold as to ask a man out, but I couldn’t stand the thought of my future husband sitting on a lawn chair in his apartment in lonely splendor on his birthday, so I decided that I’d see if he’d like some company. Before I could ask, though, he said he was flying to Minnesota to visit friends. Immediately, I imagined some horrible girlfriend there that I’d have to do battle with, but instead of walking away in defeat, I got crafty.


I’m a terrible, terrible liar, and that, more than morality, is the main reason I do so very little of it. I’m not even good at faking enthusiasm for things I don’t like. But I had to think fast, so I asked how he was getting back from the airport when he returned. He said he was taking a cab, and I said—seriously, my only successful lie ever—“As luck would have it, I’m visiting my step-mother who lives right by the airport on Sunday. I could pick you up if you like.” This was not a lie technically in that I do have a step-mother and she did live by the airport and I could visit her, but none of that had been planned. He didn’t immediately accept and I thought perhaps he’d seen through my ruse, but Z is a thrifty guy, and so after the initial pause, he agreed.




I spent the next three days while he was in Minnesota painting my nails and plucking my eyebrows and trying to pick out an outfit that didn’t look like I thought I was on a date but that was still alluring. (Very difficult to accomplish.) On the forty minute drive to the airport—and no, I never did make it to my step- mother’s—I constructed a list of conversation generators, and I showed up fifteen minutes early, pacing in the arrivals hall, wondering who this Beth was who was suddenly so convicted of what needed to belong to her. And there he came through the arrivals gate looking slightly hung over.


I don’t remember much of the drive back home, only that it was as impossible to figure out if he had a girlfriend in Minnesota as it was to figure out if he had any interest in me. We talked easily though I found it difficult to focus on the content of what he said because his accent was so intoxicating. I’d ask a question and realize ¾ of the way through his response that I had no idea what the answer was that he’d been giving me. (He would say I am still this way, and it has nothing to do with his accent and more to do with my under-developed listening skills.) The forty minutes flew by. Towards the end of it, I suggested an outing for the following weekend, and he agreed.


Much to my chagrin, it wasn’t a date. Nor would the next five years worth of activities and birthday celebrations. He remained completely oblivious to the fact that we were meant to be together, and even seemed to skip over the part where, after two years, I suggested to him that maybe it was worth considering. I spend a lot of time talking about how awesome Z is in this blog because he IS awesome. He was completely worth the wait. But I have to say, in the years between 2001 and 2006, I was the awesome one. If they gave one out, I’d have earned the Congressional Medal of Unrequited Love during this period. I was a trooper, though at the time, I think most people and one shrink thought I was either deranged or pathetic because I couldn’t let go of that idea I had of the two of us as a couple.


In 2006, Z had just moved to Seattle from Zimbabwe. He had been offered two jobs and because I was starting to suspect that possibly everyone else was right and nothing would ever change between us, I suggested he take the Seattle job instead of the Pittsburgh offer only because I’d never been to Seattle and it sounded like a good place to visit. For his birthday, I flew out to see him and met this city for the first time. While nothing changed ON his birthday, everything changed during the week of my visit. Z had had an epiphany of sorts and wondered if I was still free or willing to consider possibilities between us.


Was I free or willing? Ha. Like I was going to suddenly, after this long wait, start railing against destiny? I don’t think so.


So now, on the occasion of Z’s birthday, I feel extra happy. Not just because I’m glad he got born or because we get excited about things like Slushee cups and Chia pets that other people our age are probably too busy and mature to care about, but because it’s also like the birthday of us, twice over.


Though in retrospect, I’m thinking maybe I should start demanding presents on his birthday too.