Renewing the Lease

Joan Didion wrote in The White Album that she was holed up in a hotel in Honolulu “in lieu of filing for divorce.” The waves of the Pacific have a habit of seducing those on the brink of extirpation. This morning was no exception. I sat bundled in a worn blanket on the shore of Santa Cruz, watching the waves crash. Behind me loomed the dark tangles of brightly colored metal track traversing the boardwalk. A security guard slumped in his truck, flitting in and out of sleep. It was four in the morning. Only hours ago I had woken up on the floor of my shower, hunched around a pile of vomit. I had moved my face away from the putrid mess in a panic, my feet slipping about me. I felt the wall behind my head and turned the knob. Icy water poured over my head, and I sat frozen, watching the mess rise and spin about before being sucked down the drain. I cried then. Bitter tears erupted and a panic ensued. The water was beginning to heat up and I let it scald the back of my head. I rocked back and forth, clutching my legs to my chest. Shame inside me burned hotter than the water streaming over my raw skin. My hands in particular stung. I held them up. My knuckles were blue and swollen. The skin was marred with jagged cuts and smelled of burned flesh. They looked foreign to me, like the hands of murder victims on television shows, pale and lifeless but bloodied and swollen. I pulled myself up by the curtain and slowly washed my hair and face. I stepped out of the shower into the steamed bathroom. As I wrapped my body in a towel, I noticed how red my skin looked. I picked up my phone from the tiled floor and opened my messages, wincing at one sent at 6:35pm. I had remembered sending it, but wished for the slim chance that it wasn’t delivered. But I knew better, after all, I remembered the reply. “Hey do you pray?” Almost immediately I watch the animated ellipsis bounce in the text box. “Yea from time to time. What’s up” “Can you pray for me?” “Of course. Anything specific? Or just general?” “Just in general, thanks” And after a minute, “Of course! I hope everything works out.” I stared at the string of texts. How strange he probably thought I was. I remembered setting the bottle down with the message typed out on the screen, thumb hovering precariously over the blue send button. I focused on the screen, aware of my drunken state. Would I regret this? I bobbed my finger over the text for several seconds before finally hitting send and laying the phone facedown on the floor. I kneeled down, clutching the towel around me and thought about it, I didn’t regret it. Regretted involving him maybe, but not the message. Not my request. I should be embarrassed to have asked for prayer, a ritual I privately scoffed at, but I wasn’t. On the floor, an empty bottle of rosé clutched in my hand, it was the only thing in the world I longed for. Deep down I wished an omniscient being was watching over me, braced to save me from myself, but even if not, I wanted to be in someone else’s thoughts in case these wishes were my last. I closed the phone and pulled a clean shirt over my head. Hindsight is 20/20. It was a panic attack. I wasn’t going to die. As I put my makeup on and brushed my teeth, I typed “santa cruz” into Google Maps. When I had filled a basket with things I might need for the road trip, I turned off the kitchen light and locked the front door behind me.

Now, staring at the streaks of light from the dock stretching over the water, I realized I had a choice to make. I was Joan Didion, file for divorce or confront the shambles head on? I had to choose, pull myself together or go under. Sitting in the cold sand, watching the dawn break, I knew I had already made the choice. I must go on. Not I as in my spirit or my soul, I as a conscious being capable of sitting in jarring agony and sitting in quiet contemplation in a span of a night. I realized then what most tortured beings must come to terms with at some point in their life, hopefully sooner than later. It was that I would have to continually sign a new lease on life. Life was not black and white, a stark choice between life and death, it was a ceaseless leaning into the wind. The digging of one’s toes in the sand as the current pocketed the rest. Fighting to survive and fighting for the possibility of love after loss.