Part One: Winter
It was a Saturday evening in January, the first month of the year—a time for rosy resolutions and earnest commitments. The new year is poised to offer fresh starts, but my life and and my heart felt barren and dead, fallow and dense as the earth outside. The holidays had only just passed and already I was homesick, as if that week-long jolt of familial affection wasn’t going to be enough to hold me till Easter.
It doesn’t really get cold in this part of California, not deep-in-your-bones teeth-chilling cold, but for as much as it does, it did, and it was.
The day had been filled with acceptable distraction—a blind date in the city over artwork in the morning, then a meet up over coffee and a walk in the afternoon. It’s always more of a game than I want it to be, (though I admit that I used to enjoy this when I was younger), trying to win someone over, to convince him that I’m worth another hour of his time, that I’m somehow better than the other three women he’ll be texting later that night or while I’m gone in the restroom.
By the time I got back Oakland, all I really wanted was to go home and finish the Redbox I’d rented the night before, but I’d already committed to meeting someone’s cousin over dinner, and I am not one to flake when there are humans involved.
I picked a place I had tried and knew I could afford, an Ethiopian spot not far from the lake, “a place so authentic the staff barely speak English,” which was the only real guidance I’d been given. I sat down at a table near the entrance and began scanning the menu for dishes I hoped I could work into sharing. When he walked through the door and came up beside me, I tilted my head and thought, “This might not be so bad.”
There was something in his eyes—it’s always in the eyes—that was hopeful and sad and somehow heavy with the tired that comes from searching too hard for an important and impossible solution.
It wasn’t a date—that’s what both of us thought—and maybe that’s the reason it turned out like it did.
The conversation was easy and endless, neither of us trying to be filtered or careful, neither one striving to do anything but listen. Hours after dinner and long past the deadline for my Redbox return, we walked around the lake and unpacked our lives the way you unpack a suitcase when you’ve decided to stay.
If you had a single shelf of books for the rest of your life, which titles would you choose? What is the story you most want to tell? How do you grapple with a world where there is so much need and so much abundance? Why San Francisco? What do you miss about home?
He quoted writers and named titles I hadn’t thought of in years, as I shared details about myself that I rarely reveal so early. It was like meeting a friend that I’d already known, a reflection of my soul who was physically present.
That night, which we did not let end without making plans for the next day, I got home just past midnight, my heart somehow warmed, the ground breaking loose. Something was coming alive that had been dormant for years. Long, cold, lonely years. I walked down the steps that lead to my door and paused for a moment outside. The moonlight was bright in stark winter sky, cutting through the naked dark branches of the plum tree that stretches over my deck. The light of the night exposed the death of the season, but still there was hope that spring would come.