ghosts.

commute

Walk about one mile to the Highland Park Gold Line station.  Board the next train bound for Union Station/East LA.

Disembark from the Gold train and walk through Union Station to the Red/Purple Line  platform. Board the next train.

Get off the train at 7th Street.  Use the exit at Hope Street. Walk to my office in the fashion district.

Stop for coffee along the way.

This is my daily commute.  About 45 minutes in total, which makes me lucky by LA standards.  And of course, the journey home is the inverse, with a long uphill walk to my house.

I usually read on the train.  I consume approximately two books per week, lovingly chosen at The Last Bookstore.  But last Tuesday night, my eyes were dry from the unnecessary office air conditioning and my head ached from eight hours of meetings and spreadsheets.   I’m sorry to say, Mr. Hemingway, but The Sun Also Rises was incapable of holding my attention.  My eyes wandered around the train, reading the advertisements for personal injury attorneys with terrible design direction and a message in Spanish informing women that they were free to leave their unwanted babies at fire stations with no questions asked.   I scanned my fellow passengers, wondering once again, why I never see the same people twice on my regular and regimented commute.   That was when I noticed the man standing closest to the door.

He was the older version of someone I loved.  Or rather (and I’m aware this is incredibly cliche), someone I was trying to forget. Someone I almost hated myself for loving because the mere idea of loving this person would seem so foolish to anyone with the slightest bit of common sense.  But hell, if people weren’t feeling this way all the damn time, fifty percent of the  books and albums I love wouldn’t exist.

I tried to look away, but I couldn’t.  The resemblance was uncanny.  The old-mannish high waisted jeans.  The buffalo check jacket, brown boots, and even similar glasses.  But the Steinbeck paperback in his right hand just clinched it.  A wave of long-avoided heartache and its corresponding sad songs washed over me.  I could feel the slightest hint of tears creeping into my eyes.  For the briefest moment, I wondered if he was a ghost sent by some vindictive spirit to awaken the the emotional cyclone I had squashed into the darkest corner of my brain.

“Oh fuck no,” I told myself.  “I’m not allowed to think about any of this in my new life.”  But there I was, rerunning one of the major story arcs from the last year of my life.  A montage of moments both rapturous and wrenching.  If I allowed myself to fall down that well, I wouldn’t escape for days.  I had spent the last two months tiptoeing around the edge, promising myself all sorts of rewards if I avoided even looking in its direction. 

I turned my attention back to the stranger.  We exited the train at the same time. My biased assessment concluded that he seemed like the sort of person that would be heading to the Portland-esque string of neighborhoods near Highland Park.  I knew that I wouldn’t stop staring at him until we parted ways.  And so I intentionally darted for what I consider the “wrong” exit (it requires a more circuitous path through Union Station to reach the entrance to the Gold Line).  But there he was, a few steps above me on the escalator.  I decided that I had no choice but to follow him.  Well, I supposed it isn’t technically “following” if both parties are heading for the same place.  But I stayed behind him, as we walked down the long corridor of the train station, tapped our fare cards at the Gold Line entrance, and boarded the next train heading toward Pasadena.  I feigned intense concentration on my phone as I sat across from him.

“If he gets off at Highland Park, I will say something to him,” I decided.  Although I had no idea what that “something” would be.   The whole situation was making me sick.   Here I was, acting like a creep, only because a poor stranger reminded me of someone else.  And actually sharing a train ride with that someone else would change my day from mediocre to OMG NO ADJECTIVE WILL EVER ACCURATELY DESCRIBE HOW GREAT THIS DAY IS.  Oh wow, I wished I could just poke a needle through my eye and wipe out the vile brain cells that insisted on telling me to feel so lovelorn.

Much to my relief, the stranger remained on the train when I exited at Highland Park.   And I trudged up the hill alone while listening to the saddest parts of Bill Callahan’s discography.   That night I fell into the deepest sleep, filled with one of those dreams that seem to go on and on, lasting until the unwelcome sound of my alarm abruptly pulled me out at 7 am.   The thick grey cloud above my head threatened to crush me like an anvil as I limply brushed my teeth.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

While I moved to LA for a job, I had hoped the geographical shift would function as a miracle cure for everything that had been ailing me.  The shameful truth is this:  I HAVE moved across the country to escape troubled relationships and emotional minefields.  As a teenager, I left my family and all of the terrible events we could never discuss.  I have said foolish things like “I think I love you and that’s why I’m moving 3000 miles away. You will thank me later.”  I’ve watched impending disappointment and heartbreak disappear at 400 mph into the landscape as my plane ascended above the clouds.

 

It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

I’m starting to realize that maybe the Ol’ Escape Plan doesn’t always work.  My first night in my new house made me suspect as much.  I awoke for no reason several hours before dawn.  Immediately my brain decided to review everything that hurt me in even the slightest way in the past few months.   There was the terrible ex-boyfriend who reeled me in for more rejection just before I left Portland.  He was joined by a few catty former co-workers and the quasi-friends that never said goodbye to me.  And of course there were all of the unresolved romantic situations and the corresponding conversations I never had.  I felt myself moving from sad to hurt to angry and back to sad in a few short mental strides.  Sweat was soaking my temples and my sheets felt hot and staticky.  I was caught in a fiery cyclone of bad feelings and imaginary vindication.  Hours later, I wore myself out and finally fell asleep again.

The moment I opened my eyes in the morning, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of defeat.  This was my new and supposedly better life in Los Angeles.  And you know what?  It IS actually better.  My job is great.  The sun shines every day.  There are so many things to see and do and they are all new to me.  LA isn’t easy.  But new places never are.  I spend a lot of time alone and I miss those closest to me in Portland.  And yet, I don’t miss the familiarity of Portland.  I secretly love the sensation of being lost, even when it’s a bit frightening.

So if I’m so happy, then why am I also so sad?  I’m probably missing some sort of closure, right?

Closure is crafted by even those that would never fancy themselves artists.  What starts as a vague idea of vindication, becomes a full production.  Its planning consumes all regular daydreaming and even creeps into our deepest sleep. We build the sets and plan the costumes.  We tweak the lines for maximum impact.  We silently rehearse the dialogue over and over again.   And yet, the curtain rarely rises.

A friend recently said to me “Closure is only what one person wants to hear.” In other words, your idea of closure might leave the other party dangling from a tenth floor ledge.   It’s the unspoken words that tend to prop the door open forever.  And…now it’s time for an Elliott Smith lyric:  “Nobody broke your heart/You broke your own ‘cos you can’t finish what you start.”  In other words, the likelihood of both parties being actually, truly, one-hundred-and-one-percent honest is pretty slim.  We’re all holding our cards a little closer than necessary.   But in the rare instance that you actually get to hear what you wanted to hear, is that really going to change your feelings? I’m terrible at holding a grudge.  I often must be reminded by my friends exactly why I was so angry at so-and-so.  So inevitably, all of the hurt feelings that I carried in my pocket as I boarded my flight to LAX will slip away.  But feelings of love?  They stay with me forever, never fading in the slightest.  I’ve often wished that my heart operated with a simple on/off switch.

If closure is just a myth and a lobotomy carries a bit of medical risk, what exorcises the ghosts and cures the heartache?  Time helps a little bit.  Distance isn’t as helpful as one might imagine (however I’m certain it was a more effective cure in an era without iphones and social networking apps).  I like to think plain old stubbornness will pay off down the line.  However, I’ve realized that it’s my avoidance of my true feelings that summons these ghosts.  It’s my heart reminding me just how much certain people and events meant to me.  I believe that all of this will lead me to a place I will never, ever find if I spend my time and energy being so dishonest with myself and others.  But in an effort to cover all bases, I have bought a black candle that will allegedly absorb all of the pain that’s still circling around me.  I’m carrying a magical black rock in my pocket.  And no matter what, I’m not going to stop listening to sad old country songs.

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