The first month I moved to New York as a 21 year-old I was caught in a sudden down pour while jogging.   I was half way around the loop in Central Park when the sky seemed to unzip.  There were no rain drops, no definition, only a curtains of water in every direction.  The luke warm, summer rain seemed to unfurl from the sky in every direction, so dense it was difficult, nearly, to breathe and the sound of it on the pavement was deafening.

But it was Central Park, my first month in Manhattan and the water was a gentle temperature.  What would be miserable a year later was, at that time, nothing short of magical.

When I rounded to West 72nd Street to make my way up to 9th Avenue I stopped at a light.  Still pouring, the typically packed crosswalks were sparce as people took cover in restaurants and covered patios, and as I waited for the light to turn I unintentionally made eye-contact with a stranger, a man about my age who, like me, was laughing at the sheets of rain beating down from the sky.


In first grade a classmate and I were kept or allowed to stay a little longer in one of the upstairs rooms, which usually housed the older students.  It was a thrill to be there, but it didn’t take long for the thrill to dissipate and turn to entitlement.  I’ve always been bad about that transition.  It’s fast and disgustingly furious and frequently my downfall.

When we were told we could return to the first grade room downstairs we grew wide-eyed at an even more enticing prospect: we would get to make the long trek…alone.  Of course, it wasn’t really that far. 

On a recent trip back to the Midwest I had a chance to walk through my old school, which was remodeled in my third grade year—and was amazed to see how small it was.  Miniature, actually: my adult foot (which has been adult-sized since second grade) didn’t fit the width of a single step.

But, as a first grader, my foot was perfectly stair-sized and before the teacher had even closed the classroom door on her two six-year old travelers, we had already decided to “take the long way,” back.  This constituted doing a giant loop of the entire building, going downstairs, back upstairs, and then down again. 

We were half way around when we ran face to face into the teacher who had sent us on our way twenty minutes before.  I remember quickly trying to explain, to help her understand it had been a special occasion, a leisurely walk to celebrate being able to make the journey alone…but it was all lost on her.

Instead she was furious and I felt terrible for disappointing her.  I didn’t feel badly about what I’d done, mind you.  It still felt that, if I was given permission to walk alone, I ought to be able to choose any route I wished.  But I do hate to have people upset with me.

It occurred to me, walking quickly around the block on my lunch break, knowing people expected me back in fifteen minutes; I have never changed.  To borrow from Modest Mouse: “I’m the same as I was when I was six years old.”  I rarely feel I’ve done, or am doing, anything wrong.  I feel as though, as a reasonable person, if it occurs to me to do something, I ought to be entitled to it.  But I wear a meek little mask of fear, only because I so hate to disappoint others.  It doesn’t seem like the disappointment should exist, if the fear is never really there to begin with.

When we were teenagers we used to walk to the grave yard. We sat on the ground in a semi circle and talked, or picked our way through headstones, admiring the old fashioned names, wistfully taking in the daintier stones that marked babies and small children—but it was never a frightening place.

The notion of a decomposing body scares me—but in a grave yard they’re neatly covered.  A place for everything, so to speak, and everything in it’s place.  I worry about corpses in rivers, in dumpsters or even basements and alleyways.  Places, basically, in which I am not already hopelessly aware of death.  But a graveyard isn’t so much death—it is the dead.  The long dead.  A place for quiet, for thinking and remembering—but not haunting.

I like to think they have something or nothing—that’s better to do than worry about me.

I spent my childhood thinking if I could just change locations, everything would be different.  While this isn’t the case long-term, it’s true enough in the sort.  My mother was wrong: it’s NOT just your attitude.  Being in Paris really DOES make you happy, at least for a few days. 

The issue, of course, is routine.  Once your life becomes routine, those mean reds and Wendesday blues can find you anywhere.

If only we had a spy glass to show us the way we look to everybody else, sound to everyone else, it would help sooth.  If I could hear my mother say “Jamie lives in New York,” or “Jamie’s visiting San Francisco and Big Sur,” knowing how much better it sounds than most places, I’d be fine.

I never swim in the ocean.  Truthfully, I’m unnerved by it—the constantly crashing waves, the sudsy foam and lank strands of kelp. 

I did not see an ocean until I was eleven.  I imagined it would welcome me, have missed me—be waiting for me. 

Instead I stared at the Southern California shoreline with furrowed brows.  There is no sea foam in photographs.  It looked like soapy water.  It looked polluted. 

The water was freezing and strands of kelp tangled around my legs while the dark water concealed what my mind told me must be a million deadly monsters and creatures. 

In reality I think the disapointment was only this: a two dimentional beach with white sand and clear waters is a postcard.  That was all I ever expected.  I was overwhelmed by the complication of the ocean, the vastness of it, the cool dark temperature, the moss-slick rocks and life-heavy smell.  It was, upon inspection, not the carefree beach of my imagination, but a stormy, deep, heavy thing.

When I think of it a symbolic, as burdensome and redundant, the heavy Pacific can become it’s own sort of beautiful.  But it will never be light or peaceful.  It is a wild and tercherous thing.