Dear San Diego

The world's a strange place. Don't be a stranger. 
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Proof Of Life

Dear San Diego,

I stand by the intersection at night. Watch the rigs and cars whip by. Think of her.

You don't really know a person until they're gone. It's the catch of mortality. 

You can stand next to a rained out highway looking for glimpses of them, but you can never have them back. 

Puddles in the pavement, low clouds shuffling down the mountains as if converging on some decisive battle. Within you the cacophony of it. Only silence beyond. 

In 2006 I drove over sixteen hundred miles to this place. I was looking for somewhere to hide but instead found the shell of someone. And in the years that followed I became her wall. 

The woman that had left me, the reason I'd driven those sixteen hundred miles, was, ironically, far more troubled than Parker in many ways.

Go out, drink, do coke, flirt, maybe more, home at five. It's socially acceptable to want to be nineteen every weekend, or even four days in a row, and an easy thing to justify if everyone around you thinks it's fantastic. The fact that you're an embarrassment doesn't factor into it because you're "living your life". 

Schizophrenics, on the other hand, wander through unknown wildernesses of uncontrollable paranoia, insomnia, emotionlessness, rage, the loss of reality and the presence of foreign influences only recognizable to them - and on and on. 

Having lived through it with someone, it's certainly not as "attractive" as after work dinners, drinking and doing bumps in the bathroom with your boss's wife.

In Parker's case, given her medication, she would have periods of clarity in which depression or mania were prevalent but everything else faded somewhat. It was when she'd transition between the two that she'd take a pen to the walls convinced she could solve the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture in twenty four hours. 

For all I know she did and I unknowingly Windexed it away.

After my ex got her breasts done my brother used to say that she had a great personality but only 20% of it could talk. I used to get pretty pissed when he'd say it. Truth is, it's a wasted metaphor when you're confronted with someone who rightly could have been one of the greatest mathematicians of their time had they not been sideswiped by a hurricane of psychosis. 

So, for better or worse, I spend part of every night standing by the intersection looking for something. 

Proof of life. 

Proof of mine. 

All At Sea

Dear San Diego, 

The sky is vast, ever changing. There is hope in it, but it remains the same blanket under which all life transpires. 

War, famine, the list. 

It's a hopeful metaphor in timid places, places where under its wonder it's easy to sip a cold beer and relax. Over such sprawling backyards the sky is trite. 

Here the sky is everywhere. Then again, it's everywhere everywhere else. 

Up there, somewhere, are wonderful unicorns, shooting stars, and God.

Up there is forgiveness, despair, and everything in between. 

Down here is the sky's anchor. And we are all at sea. 

Hush In Light

Dear San Diego, 

One day it'll hit you. Like a wave. Like a cannonball. 

They don't teach it in school. 

Life; you figure that out yourself. 

Add and subtract, write and erase, spell names burned into you; the photographs of faces, of touch. Sunsets and rainstorms, laughter and screaming, birth and death. The war zones of the heart.

Love, loss, joy, regret, the truth. None of them, all of them, real. 

We are bound here together strangers, never the same field of vision, the guesses and agreements of shared perception lined with unknowns. 

I walk out sometimes at dusk into the field and just stand there and let the wind push and pull at me. Like the breath of the universe, of the past and train tunnel future. I close my eyes and spread my fingers and reach out looking for something, someone, that is not there. I hear the voices of children distant, feel the pure moments of youth; your first kiss, how your heart leapt, how you floated. 

I've been laying on the roof at night lately. I've been studying the stars study me. 

She is up there somewhere. 

And I miss her. 

This Mortal Coil

Dear San Diego, 

I was twenty four.

Ruckle Part, Salt Spring Island. Parked my car, walked down across the field to the rock outcroppings and found one with a ledge I could lay down on. 

I spent two days looking out at the ocean trying to decide if I should just walk in. 

Under the cold stars, the campfires dimmed out, the new fall wind pushing over the stones, rattling the birches. Didn't eat, didn't sleep, half a bottle of water. 

It was about a girl. The sort of girl that at that age you see without faults, just perfections. The sort whose being is in every tree, in the stones of every mountain, in every cloud, in every swirl of a stream. 

They are everywhere to you because they are gone. 

Some claim it the foolishness of youth. I look back on it now and think the same. But that's only because in age I'm jaded. 

I could have walked into the ocean on either of those nights and disappeared - perfectly in the arms of the agony of love. 

Instead I just sat there, immobilized, vanquished from myself. 

Eventually I got up, walked backed to my car, and drove back to the ferry. 

I sat in the line up listening to This Mortal Coil wondering where the future went. If there was a future. What it would be if there was. 

I would not accomplish anything of note in my life. It would turn out to be a series of disasters. But looking back on those two days by the shore, at least I knew a love powerful enough, even if only felt by me, that drove me to think of oblivion in place of it gone forever. 

And yes, it sounds foolish, but maybe, in the breadth of a life, it is better to grip the passions of Romeo than those of Caesar. 

Screwdriver

Dear San Diego, 

Charles put a gun in his mouth. 

When they found him he was sitting in the chair in his home office. Or, more accurately, a table in a nook in the garage. A metal filing cabinet on the floor. An old PC. 

He'd put a towel around the gun. Things went on as usual for a few days until a neighbour noticed the smell. 

He lived alone. He was married when I knew him. Had a daughter too. 

But even after they left he never moved his office into the house. Could have set up in the living room, in the bathtub. But he stayed in the garage. Conditioned, familiar. 

She'd put him out there and that's where he stayed. From that little nook he sold medical equipment to hospitals and clinics all over the country. Made good money, was responsible to a fault. 

We used to talk over the fence when we were neighbours. I'd be out back spraying the deck, he'd be cutting the lawn. 

We'd talk about the weather, the Padres, sometimes he'd talk about camping.

Camping had been something he'd done with his daughter when she was younger. He spoke about it as if they still did it, as if every upcoming weekend was going to be another adventure. 

Truth was, she didn't even notice him anymore. A teenager - him, camping, they were embarrassments. 

His wife was certainly not the camping type. She tanned in the back yard a lot, wore tacky jewelry, drank white wine. 

Her name was Loraine but I called her Reno. She reminded me of it. The falsity, the too-old-to-act-like-you're-young, the never-would-be-Vegas smell of desperation. 

She sounded like she looked. Like a high pitched slot machine. 

How she'd ended up with Charles I never knew. He was the type of guy that was routine to a fault. One of those up and showered, one of four different coloured golf shirts, kakis and boat shoes, eggs on toast guys.

Quiet as a mouse like he was avoiding an executioner.

She was the opposite. Loud, gaudy,  Mrs Robinson without the pedigree, without the elegance. 

I had my own troubles at home so I don't really remember the Reno leaving. One day while I was walking the dog and Charles had the garage door up and we got to talking and he told me.

Both of them just left, Reno and the kid. Moved to Florida. 

Two days before I left I went next door and asked him to forward my mail if he could. I didn't know the address but told him I'd call him and tell him. 

That was the last time I spoke to him, maybe two weeks after I got to Parker's.

So a package arrived a few days ago and, thinking it had to do with Parker, just put it on the kitchen table. The night before I'd laid out Parker's Will perfectly on the floor, every page, and then started photographing it. 

I was drunk and therefore somehow an artist. 

When I eventually got around to opening the package it contained two things - a note and a Phillips head screwdriver. 

The last thing I needed that afternoon was that note. After everything that'd happened over the preceding month it was like realizing you'd been poisoned too late to do anything about it.

"Sorry I didn't get this back to you before you left. Thanks for lending it to me.

Sincerely, 
Charles."

Confused I phoned an old neighbour, Nancy Bianchi, because I knew she'd still be living across the street. No offence to you Italians out there, but when you put that much effort into the statue and stone work in front of your place- you ain't going nowhere. 

She didn't remember me at first but eventually did. Then she filled me in about Charles. 

The Padres beat the Mets that night 6-3.

Rachmaninov

Dear San Diego, 

There's just silence. 

My coffee cup on the counter, my glasses on the table. No dishes in the sink, no mess in the bathroom, no beds to make. 

I still sleep on the couch. 

Parker's Will read like a Monty Python suicide note. Through investing money given her by her parents she'd amassed a fortune. They thought, in their naive, upper crust, New England way that they were paying handsomely for the family embarrassment to remain comfortably on the other side of the continent. Meanwhile, the embarrassment was living like a pauper and investing in things no one saw coming. 

Google, Apple, Facebook, this, that, the next thing, and most importantly - property.

That last one's important because one of the properties she owned was the building we lived in. 

Parker had hired a property management company to oversee the place, made Rusty the custodian so he could keep his shop, and they instructed him to deal firmly with the tenant because she was, according to their paperwork, "a financial risk."

Up until the moment I read it I thought Rusty owned the building. 

The contents of the paragraph following it made Rusty my tenant while still employing him to demand rent from me, which would be paid from a separate account to continue the rouse. 

The day her Will showed up was the first time I'd laughed out loud in years. I laughed so hard at certain points I actually had tears running down my face. It started right off the top - that I be given a copy for "my personal records", her way of ensuring I'd read it. 

The shit she'd pulled was genius, bizarre, nonsensical, compassionate.

She owned an apartment building in Boston in which she let select doctoral students live rent free.

She owned two motels and a gas station in three different small towns in Idaho. 

She owned an old, rusted French oceanic buoy ship built in 1949 that had been haphazardly converted into a pleasure craft and then berthed at one of the most exclusive marinas in Massachusetts just to piss yacht owners off. 

She owned 46 vintage Thompson machine guns kept in a storage space in Texas. 

She owned an original Braque - because "Picasso received too much of the credit for cubism."

She donated yearly to thirty-seven different charities, in one instance giving $750,000 dollars anonymously to a mental health program. 

She had it all detailed. Left precise instructions, the most hilarious being that if I at all altered the apartment I would immediately forfeit my ownership of the building and the monies paid each month, basically to myself, in rent. 

It was Beth Sears all over again.

I went to high school with Beth. She was the sort of girl that was oddly beautiful, but knew how to use what she had to get what she wanted. 

Her greatest triumph was Mr. Clark, our twelfth grade chemistry teacher. 

It started slow. At first she'd meekly raise her hand and ask him to look at something. As the year went on, whenever he went over to help her, he'd always be standing behind her. 

I sat in the row behind her. And for the longest time I didn't see it. But what she'd been doing was spinning on her stool casually so that she brushed her ass against his cock. Eventually she went from just spinning to subtle grinding. 

At the end of the year, at a party at Darcy Carr's house, she got lit up and started telling anyone who'd listen how she'd got a B in chemistry without doing anything but making Phil Clark hard.

I don't rightly know why the eccentricities in Parker's Will made me think of Beth. Maybe it was the calculation and subterfuge. Then again, Beth was sort of just a cover of Don't Stand So Close To Me while Parker was pure Rachmaninov. 

The day UPS delivered the package I inherited a building, was driven to hysterics, and polished off a bottle of bourbon.

I fell asleep, as I always do, on the couch - thinking about Phil Clark and strong words in the staff room.

Settled

Dear San Diego,

Fuck. 

Like a thunder clap locked in a prison of words for being too honest. Used in frequency but never understood. 

No one writes letters to try and get fuck out of jail. They just hold useless vigils and then say fuck it.

I was driving Maggie's truck. I was in a suburban neighbourhood. The houses were on fire. Someone banged on the windshield and yelled at me to get out and help. 

I got out, walked into a house, but once inside found a burning ice rink. I made my way up the bleachers, up to the announcers booth, and saw an old typewriter. 

I sat down, the room on fire, and just wrote fuck over and over again. 

I'm a man that was settled for. Long ago, in another place, the tanned confusions of a woman took me. I did pretty much everything right, made mistakes ya, but paid the bills, bought the house, indulged the flights of fancy. 

I got out of the truck and walked into one of the houses. No fire, a recognizable familiarity, the street outside its typical Southern Californian self. 

I was half asleep on the downstairs window bench. It was my birthday. She came in putting on a heel and exclaimed she wasn't wearing a bra because a big deal was going down. Then she left. 

Had I not mentioned it later that afternoon she would have forgotten my birthday entirely. We'd been married six years. 

I sat in the truck and said fuck under my breath. An entire neighbourhood on fire, people trying to use melting garden hoses, fire trucks and ambulances pulling up, kids screaming. 

"Get out and help!"

A hand thumped the windshield, my gaze locked on the flames licking the free air above the roofs, I sat there. 

"Are you gonna go or can I have my truck back?" Maggie said. "What are we going to do about Parker? We can't leave her in the back forever!"

She got home late. I was already asleep. I'd tried to wait up but couldn't. I thought she might wake me up. I thought a lot of things. 

All the palm trees up and down the street looked like burning flowers. Perfectly beautiful, born to burn, like some force beyond it all was conducting them from above. 

I got out and lit a cigarette off a stranger on fire, leaned against the side of the truck, took a drag. 

"Fuck it," I said. 

"Fuck all of it."

Everything In D Minor

Dear San Diego, 

The weight. Broken elevators. Long stairs. 

Holding a sleeping hand. Nodding off, coming to, nurses in and out. 

Sometimes lucid, sometimes not. Theorems, structures, all muddled. Looking out the window, looking at me, looking blankly into space. Spaces of function, transformations of function, muttering the language of it under her breath. 

The day after she was diagnosed she aged twenty years. Maybe it was that someone finally said it, that the words were spoken. She got lucid real quick for a bit. No chemo, no nothing. For her it meant a way out of years of being imprisoned by the virus in her mind. It would be an acceptable death. She would not fight the one thing only to let the other continue to win. She would go to war, the cancer in her an ally, to destroy the greater enemy. 

We left the hospital a week after she was diagnosed. Drove home, carried her up the stairs. It was hot out, so I took the mattress off her bed and set it up on the roof. She spent days going through things kept in the boxes under her bed or in her closet. Old trinket jewelry, photos, an old doll, Where The Wild Things Are.

I thought it would be harder, maybe she just hid it well, but besides the pain displayed when I'd help her to the bathroom, she showed nothing. She spoke to me in a clear voice most of the time, her usual outbursts few. 

Late one night she started to laugh. And she said to me... 

"You know, when you're a kid, sometimes you think about it. And it scares you, ya? Like what it'd be like to drown or what it'd be like to get shot. 

I dunno, I did. 
Maybe too young. 
But it's nothing like what you think. Like nothing ever is. 

But you know, I knew somehow you'd be here. Even before I knew you. Even when I was a little girl. I saw it like when you write something in a diary about believing in unicorns because unicorns have to exist. 

That might sound dumb. Maybe it is."

Parker died in her sleep that night. When I woke up I looked at her and I knew. I sat there for a while and thought about it all. The sky seemed bigger, the sun a greater disc. Every bit of evidence she'd left of herself on that roof a treasure.

The oldest and greatest friend of my life had left. In the end, in total contrast to the turmoil of her life, she was in control. And through the tears I could not stop that morning, I kept trying to remind myself of that. 

I didn't know who to call or what to do. I don't think I even thought about until at least noon. Eventually I called Maggie and told her. All she said was, "Okay hun," in a broken voice. 

Maggie took care of everything. An ambulance was sent and paramedics took Parker's body back to the hospital. 

The next day I phoned Parker's parents and told them. While they'd continued to pay for her expenses, she had long been an embarrassment to them. When they suggested her body be flown home to be buried I politely disagreed. They didn't put up an argument. 

In the end, Parker was cremated. It took me two weeks to decide what to do with her ashes. I went through a multitude of possibilities - the field, her garden, trying to somehow get her to the ocean. In the end I decided on something I thought befitting her, this place, our life together.

In the middle of the night, in the quiet that settles over valley, I walked out into the middle of the intersection out front of the apartment. In two directions the highway. In the other the road into town. 

And there I carefully spread her ashes. To be picked up on the wheels of trucks orcars and carried as to places unknown from just outside the door to the place in which she had hid, in which she had died. 

I stood on the side of the road gripping the urn praying I'd made the right decision. 

Eventually a rig came by, slipping the night heading east. He blew through the intersection and, as I watched his tail lights disappear into the distance, I put a hand up and said goodbye. 


Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman in history to win the Fields Medal, died five days before Parker from breast cancer. She was 40, a professor at Stanford, and specialized in moduli spaces, Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, Ergodic theory, and symplectic geometry.

Here At The End

Dear San Diego,

If there's one thing about Parker's schizophrenia that I envy, it's the ability it gives her to fearlessly tell people exactly what she thinks. 

If she knows you, she doesn't pull punches. If you're peddling shit she'll call you on it.

No filter. 

People don't like getting things straight. I'm used to it, I'm Parker's primary target. But most don't. 

It started with her not eating about a month ago. She was already incredibly thin, so it was easy to see the decline. 

On top of that she'd sometimes sleep for 15 hours a day, complaining about migraines, trouble breathing, pain in her stomach. 

I'm not a doctor by any means, but I'm also not an idiot. Calling an ambulance wasn't an option, so I fed her double her usual dose of Zopiclone one night, borrowed Maggie's truck, and drove the hundred odd miles to the hospital. 

When she awoke she was already on an IV, had had her blood work done, and found me sitting in a chair beside her bed.

"I know, you know."

I just looked at her, an uncontrollable panic on my face. 

"I'm not going to get angry," she said, "but you shouldn't have done this."

Her schizophrenia was one thing. That I'd come to know intimately. But in that confused maze it's easy to forget that there's a person in there capable of making extremely lucid decisions. When you're not having plates or books thrown at you, you're trying to convince her to do something she doesn't want to do, like change a shirt she's been wearing for a week. But that doesn't alter the fact that, if she had wanted to, even in her state, she probably could have won the Fields Medal. 

Given the limitations of the hospital, we waited five days. Five days of phoning Maggie and apologizing about her truck. Five days of not sleeping. Five nights pacing outside, smoking in a hot summer somber. 

And so, on the sixth day, the girl that I'd met in Cambridge more than 25 years ago,  was diagnosed with lymphoma. 

She was 47 years old and hadn't smoked a day in her life. 

There are people in this world that you love, or you think you love. Most of it, if we're honest with ourselves, is passive. The people that we truly love are the ones we cannot abandon in our hearts, no matter how far away, no matter how much time passes. They are in us completely, always perfect, the most infinitesimal details easily recalled. 

They are why we are here. 

I wasn't in the room when they told her. Not because I couldn't stand to be, but because I'd gone to get coffees. 

When I got back she was sitting up in bed, the curtains dawn, sunlight flooding into the room. The look on her face was one I'd never seen before, one of a woman tortured her whole life finally at peace. 

I stopped. She looked at me and smiled, and then stretched out one of her hands so that I might take it. 

Putting the coffees down, I took it gently, sat down on the edge of the bed, and, for the first time, kissed her.

Flashes And Blurs

Dear San Diego, 

Like a snake stretched out in the sun, I drove the I5 tip to tail. 

Slept in my car. Smoked incessantly. Nothing but coffee. 

Listened to New Grass on repeat as if it were the sole movement of the canonical hours. 

Crossed at Lynden in the middle of the night. All I had was Parker's number but no idea where she was. 

Called her. The entire conversation a whole other story, but got her address.

Kept driving. 

Car broke down. Fan belt. Walked into a nearby town and got a new one. Slept against a tree that night. Potato chips, cheap bourbon, an old blanket. Hobo no train. 

Found her place late. Parked in The Mountain's parking lot. Went over at about seven in the morning and rang her buzzer. 

Hadn't seen her in years, but she hugged me anyway. 

I had my car towed the next day. Didn't try to sell it or nothing, just told the guy he could do whatever he wanted with it. 

In short black and white snippets, that's how it happened. I try and remember it sometimes, the details, how I felt, but it's a blur. 

When your whole life explodes beneath you, when the person who's set the charges doesn't have a clear reason why, when indifference is king, when there are no answers, you get angry. But eventually you come to the realization there's nothing in it. You can't figure it out and never will. 

The reasons why people do what they do more often than not don't make sense. The funny thing is, as if an interrogator's light shoved in your face, you're confronted with everything you were forced to be that was never you. That for years, behind the false smiles of "all's well", you'd been ground down. 

And so one day you find yourself in the mountains in the middle of nowhere with one of your oldest friends that's a ghost of the person they used to be. You stand looking out over a field of tall grass, your body deflates, your face loosens, and you're overcome by an immense wave of genuine exhaustion. 

No matter the confused reasons for it all, you get yourself back. And at least that's something.

The Ones Without Secrets

Dear San Diego, 

Parker's in bed by ten. A glass of milk, her meds, a sleeping pill. She sleeps until eight or nine the next morning.

Unless I'm part of the crowd that scuffles out of The Mountain when it closes, I'm usually laying on the couch reading around two or three. 

The one great thing about living with Parker is her accidental library. In some places there's books stacked against walls almost to the ceiling, in others they're arranged in various ways to act as makeshift furniture - like the square pile next to one of the chairs in the living room. Euclid is under one of the legs of the kitchen table. 

We inherit almost all the books that Rusty gets downstairs because his mainstay is car parts, old lawnmowers, things like that.  People drop books off at his shop and he just throws them on our doorstep. So we get a lot of crap - romance stuff, that sort of thing. 

Not to disappoint Heine, but we usually burn those in the big syrup kettle we use as a fire pit up on the roof. 

So I'm rereading Miller's Tropic Of Cancer. Not the best, not the worst, but necessary after my third round with The Gulag Archipelago. 

I have a strange connection to Solzhenitsyn. 

Years ago my mother was taking a ferry from Nanaimo to Vancouver and while entering the cafeteria she noticed him sitting alone at a table. She was, as you'd imagine, flooded with emotion given what he'd been through in his life. They looked at one another but didn't say anything. My mom just walked up to him and put her hand on his arm. 

That was it. All that need be done. 

If I picked up anything in college it was that rereading things is a must. There's usually too much there to get the first time. I never finished school, and was never all that fond of Boston being a west coaster, but at least one life altering thing happened when I was there. 

I met Parker. 

Parker was at MIT and I was at Boston College. She was a introverted genius and I was an awkward Canadian that talked too much when nervous and felt out of place everywhere I went. The night I met her I had reluctantly gone with a few people to a restaurant in Cambridge. Parker was there eating alone. Her hair was a mess, she was wearing jeans that were too big for her, a big belt, an MIT sweatshirt, and flip flops. 

Had she not been wearing that sweatshirt I'd never have seen her again. 

I remember what she was wearing that night so well because even though I was there with people I wasn't paying attention to the conversation. I was uncomfortable, my leg bouncing uncontrollably under the table, everything too close and suffocating. 

After turning my attention from the girl sitting alone eating, I spent the rest of the meal looking out the window trying to figure out why I ever thought it was a good idea to go to school on the east coast of the United States. 

And that's when it happened. 

I felt a hand on my knee. 

Turning from my self pitying examination out the window, I found the girl in the MIT sweatshirt standing beside me, her hand pressing down on my knee, forcing my leg to stop bouncing. 

She looked at me and said, "Don't do that."

I would spend almost three weeks tracking Parker down purely on the hunch that she went to MIT because of that sweatshirt. After she'd said what she did that night she'd just left without saying anything else. 

When I finally found her she was walking across University Park Commons. I'd basically given up and was standing at a bus stop on Sidney Street. Seeing her I sort of froze and a million things went through my head. Was I a stalker? Why was finding her so important? 

There are moments in life when decisions are made that don't seem to be of significant gravity at the time, as in you don't think they'll have repercussions that'll echo into the decades ahead. I don't know why I needed to meet her, just at the time, given where my head was at, it seemed overwhelmingly important. 

When I met Parker that day there was no awkwardness, no judgements. It was if she had been waiting for me to come. 

We sat on the grass and she looked at me with a smile on her face that, even now, I can see as if it were a moment ago. She doesn't smile like that anymore, but the memory of it gets me through the rough days. 

She said to me that day, "You and I will be the ones without secrets." 

Twenty five years later, as basically her caregiver, those words hold true. 

I am often asked by people why I've now spent years living with her, taking care of her, putting up with her. Why I haven't left, or why I don't just put her somewhere and get on with my life.

My answer is always the same. 

My knee.

All Of Us

Dear San Diego,

"Life is fucking hard."

Yes it is. 

It's even harder when you take your clothes off for a living at a biker bar in the middle of nowhere. But it also has its upsides - you become a hidden paradigm of wisdom for part time movie ushers in said impossibly small town. 

Lucy. 

Lucy Luscious.

I call here Dianne. Because that's her name. Dianne McCarthy from Ames, Iowa. 

How she ended up dancing at The Mountain I've no idea. How she ended up all the way up here from Iowa I've no idea. I mean, I get let in on things, buy really only to the extent that Chinaski did in Barfly - that being little shards of glass and loose teeth tracing the trajectory of my undoing. 

I hide at The Mountain. From Parker, from my boss, from Rusty who's always after me for the rent even though it's not my place and I know full well that it's paid out of an account each month. 

I hide using bikers and dancers and drunk truckers as camouflage. And somehow, minding my business at the end of the bar, I go undetected. 

But there are a few people I talk to. 

The dancers tend to sit at the end of the bar near the door to their dressing room between sets, so we get to talking. Compared to the usual clientele, I'm harmless, so I end up hearing the gossip, the frustration, the money problems, the relationship strife. And every once in a while someone like Dianne will drop a bomb in the middle of a prolonged silence. 

"Life is fucking hard."

My ex-wife said that to me once. Maybe a few days before I got into my car and started driving north. It seems like another life now, like the verses of Tangled Up In Blue - regret and acceptance rolled into one. 

She'd floated away to find herself. To follow the daily affirmations penned by the Ronald Chevalier's of the world. She'd started a new job, got new friends that were instantly closer than family, and just sort of ascended up into the ether. 

The day I left I cancelled all my credit cards. Because even though she'd left I was still paying for her work expenses. 

The understandings of freedom come in many guises. 

No one picks up Dianne's tab. She makes tips, her wage, and lives in a one bedroom motel room at the Moonlight with her 13-year-old daughter Mercy. 

Mercy won't have to dance. She's an honour roll student and she'll get out of here. 

Whenever Dianne talks about her you can see the pride she tries to mask. But there's a sadness there because she knows eventually her daughter will disappear into a better life - far from here, far from living in a run down motel. 

I can picture her sometimes, years from now, sitting at the table in that room, the sunlight illuminating the old orange curtains turning her into a silhouette. She lights a cigarette, sips a coffee, stares at an old photo. 

Some of us are here to hide. Some because things out of our control led us here. Either way, one thing remains true...

...life is fucking hard.

A Big Voice

Dear San Diego, 

Roz is here. 

So are a bunch of her friends. 

Her magazine is covering some winery about sixty miles up the valley, so on her way through she thought it a fun idea to drop in on Parker. 

Roz was at MIT with Parker before she dropped out in the middle of her freshman year and transferred to Wellesley. When they met, Parker was getting her first masters - she was sort of the Ruth Lawrence of her time. Parker became somewhat of a mascot, though one derided behind her back. That's when she started to have problems, though they remained under the surface for years before finally overcoming her. 

Before his death, one of Parker's papers found its way into the hands of Paul Erdos. He wrote her a note saying that it was a good thing he was half the mathematician she was. 

She has it in a frame somewhere. 

She's received a lot of accolades in her life, and there are spells when she's good enough to go take part in symposiums and stuff, but even then the organizers know they have to treat her with kit gloves. 

People are usually put off by her until she starts to speak. First in whispers and then loudly, her hands usually articulating the things she's saying in sweeping motions as if at a giant chalkboard. By that point she's not the 'crazy cat lady' anymore. She's a goddess translating the unknown to mortals. 

Those in academia that know her story just sit and smile as they listen knowing they are seeing a glimpse of something truly phenomenal. For the most part they invite her just for their own pleasure, and by that I mean out of genuine respect. In my opinion, if they could make a movie about David Helfgott, they could make one about Parker. 

But ya, Roz. 

And Roz's fucking friends. 

It's not my place. I live here but it's Parker's. And Parker isn't good the best of days. Even though she appears totally chaotic there's an absolute rhythm to her daily routine. And when that routine is interrupted it's hard to predict how she'll react.

So when Roz and her friends showed up at the door I was flooded with unease.

Leading them upstairs you could literally smell the arrogance wafting off them. That and the non stop Bolivian induced chatter. As uppity New York socialites visiting some po dunk crossroads in the middle of nowhere, everything in their immediate experience was met with unhinged, mocking laughter. Roz, it seemed, thought showing off her bizarre, crazy, college token would be a treat for her wine country companions. 

After reaching the living room and offering them a seat, I wandered down the hall trying to figure out what to do. 

Maybe Parker should be 'asleep' and therefore indisposed. Maybe it was 'a bad time'. I didn't know what to do. My mind raced as I paused in front of her bedroom door, my hand resting on the doorknob. 

That's when I heard a very specific voice sound behind me from the living room that all at once solved my problem. 

Parker had been on the roof when they'd arrived. So while I was walking down to her room she had appeared in the living room. 

She was in her underwear.

Thankfully, that was about the only sign of her usual state of being that was present. 

She was using the big voice. The voice she uses when she's confronted with lesser beings and she's pissed off she has to waste her time telling them to fuck off, as if they should already know, as if being in her immediate presence were indication enough. 

I know that voice and that vibe well. I'm the one that's most often on the receiving end of them. 

Walking back toward the living room I paused just at the end of the hall. Because, if I'm to be totally honest, I wanted to hear what she'd say. 

The coke chatter had vanished. Roz's typically glossy, Pinot Grigio tickled voice silent. There was just Parker - in her underwear...

"Roslyn, you are absolutely adorable. Indefectible if I'm to be honest. But the museum is closed this afternoon. Thus, you find me quite out of sorts and, unfortunately, an inadequate show piece for these darling primitives that I've no doubt you scraped off some unfortunate floor on the Upper West Side to accompany you. 

Now, if you'll all excuse me, I'm going to take a bath and masturbate."

As she passed me in the hall she winked. 

Never underestimate the power of a schizophrenic with an IQ somewhere north of 180. 

Landfall

Dear San Diego,

It's night. It's always night. But always a clear night. The sort when the moon bounces the sun strong. You can see things. Enough to navigate. 

Despite perspective, the moon is always the same size everywhere in the world. Not like in the movies where it's too big to be true. Most everything is too big to be true. Most people believe everything isn't. 

Realists dream of the espied. Everyone else the convenient irrelevant. Life as a thing to live but in living it just a cast member in a commercial. They should print more Nietzsche greeting cards. More the truth of rough beauty. All the great and wondrous things we have lost. Souls in cast-off lifeboats speaking to the stars. 

No one may know another. Not in the connection of flesh, shared bond of child, in words spoken, or glances. We are all perfect strangers that are simply closer or further in physical proximity.

There is nothing in the proverbial India to find. No revelation to alter course. Just a long flight. 

Parker handed me an envelope.

"I want you to have this, but don't open it."

Sitting up on the roof later in the day I held it up to the sun and could only make out...

"...for no other reason than no one else in your life will ever send you the words that I have."

As has always been the case in the summer, I am often stirred by the wind that blows strong through the apartment at night. It whips down from the mountains, across the field, and streams through the place. It's then I get off the couch and find myself drawn to going outside and standing in the middle of the intersection. Quiet, forsaken, a highway in the middle of nowhere. Once in a while I'll see a deer or a moose. Sometimes I'll see myself. 

That night, the envelope stuffed in my back pocket, I went downstairs and out into the street. Pulling out a pen I flattened the envelope against the pavement and wrote...

"Esteem the loss of all the responses never written. The sea or landfall."