The Road Taken: The Here, The Now

I hated the in-between days when we didn’t have classes. For, seeing Rick couldn’t come fast enough, and no matter what I was doing, all of my thoughts kept drifting to him. Yet, the thought of seeing him outside of class seemed insurmountable. I didn’t dare suggest it. I had no right to ask.

Now, Seattle has many memorials to Jimi Hendrix, but there was a time when there was only one, at the Woodland Park Zoo.

But, when we were together, there was no stopping us.  We were like gazelles in the night. We ran, as if we were afraid we’d lose our footing if we stopped. As if it would all end in a cloud of dust if we did. We’d roam giddily around the school grounds. Running. We were like night owls, bats, creatures of the night, never thinking about what lay ahead, and only focusing on this, that was in front of us. This, that we could touch. Emboldened by the immediacy and the connection that was between us.

This was real and all that mattered. The here, the now.

We started arriving at school early and staying later and later, stretching our time together. And when not in class, anyone looking for us could have found us walking purposefully through campus, and ending up in the fields by the fountain, where we’d lay in the grass and talk some more, feeling the blades of grass, the grit, the dirt beneath us. We loved talking, sharing our innermost thoughts, our dreams.  Rick wanted to know everything about me, but here’s something I didn’t talk about:  my marriage.

One evening, during a class break, Rick suggested we meet outside of school. Which is how we came to make plans for the following Saturday at noon.

I couldn’t wait. I spent the next few days as if in a dream. The anticipation of seeing Rick, and not being constrained by the duration of the class, was thrilling.

We met in Volunteer Park, high on a hill, south of the university, on a sunny and mild day. When I arrived at the park, Rick was already there, leaning against one of the marble, life-size camels framing the entrance to the Asian Art Museum.

Taking my hand in his, we walked aimlessly through the park grounds, observing the people. As we did this, we amused ourselves by conjuring up new lives for the passersby.

“That man over there, with the long hair and down vest,” I said,  “He’s been taking a fencing class and accidentally stabbed the instructor in the eye.”

“Well,” responded Rick. “See the lady wearing the orange pants, sitting on the steps over there?”

Yes, how can I miss those pants,” I exclaimed.

“She’s just got out of prison,” Rick said smugly, adding,  “And she’s thinking of joining the circus. Apparently, she always wanted to be an acrobat.”

We went on like this, taking turns creating new identities, and soon found ourselves by the entrance to the cemetery, one of the oldest in Seattle, just beyond the park grounds. I’ve always enjoyed browsing through cemeteries, particularly old ones, rich with history. I love reading the inscriptions, reminding myself that once these were real people living real lives. Cemeteries, I believe, have always been irresistible to writers, perhaps it’s the mystery, the ghosts, the very idea of confronting these past lives.

I asked Rick if he was aware that Jimi Hendrix, the Seattle-born rock star, was buried there. He shook his head. I wasn’t sure exactly where, so we decided to go in search of Hendrix’s grave. When we finally did find it, on the top of a hill overlooking the Space Needle, Rick took me in his arms and began to slow dance to music heard only in the breeze. As I swayed to his rhythm, I wondered again, how could I make this last forever?

Snap, the moment was interrupted by three young boys coming to pay their respects to Hendrix. Rick stepped back and, tugging at my sleeve, muttered something about the zoo. The next thing I knew, we were off and running. Out to the street, where his Toyota was parked, jumping in and speeding down Capitol Hill, over the Freemont Bridge to Wallingford, and then left, to the Woodland Park Zoo.

Once inside, we veered to the right, heading past the giraffes and zebras, grazing amidst the trees of the African Savannah, and past the dozing lions. We made a wrong turn, and ended up by the reptile house where a huge boa constrictor was busily devouring a mouse. Rick stopped to ask directions from a short, stubby man who was photographing the snake. Finally, we reached the spot that Rick had been seeking. It was by the aviary. The newly-constructed Jimi Hendrix Memorial walkway.

Apparently, when Hendrix died, he left a substantial sum to any public agency in Seattle with the condition that a portion of the funds be used to build a monument to his memory. Of course, just about every Seattle agency wanted the money, but no one, it seems, wanted to build a monument to a rock star, who had died from a drug overdose.  Which resulted in the money being left untouched for many years, until one day, the zoo learned about it and said they would build a monument to Jimi Hendrix. And here, we were, on the Jimi Hendrix Memorial walkway. A large rock next to the walkway bore a plaque with his name.

Standing there now, Rick looked at me and smiled. Our fingers intertwined, we sat on the rock, mesmerized by our surroundings. In the aviary, the birds flapped their wings, enveloping us in their celestial fanfare. In the distance, you could hear an elephant’s trumpeting call. Somewhere to the north, a lion roared. A concert, of sorts. I stroked Rick’s hand, loving this moment. The here and the now.

I don’t remember how long we stayed, but I knew it was getting late. The sun had begun to set, filling the sky with hues of deep orange and fuchsia. Rick stood up and, leaning in close, he kissed me. I could not fathom a better day.

Missed a chapter? Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.

The Road Taken: The Bluest Sky

Many of you who last week read my freshly-pressed post, Broken Hearts & The Road Not Taken, wondered what happened next, after leaving my life in Maryland behind. Here begins my story of the road taken.

CHAPTER 2:  When I arrived in Seattle, I had two suitcases, $100 in cash and little else.  Just five hours earlier, I had been standing in the JFK terminal, where my parents, older brothers and younger sister had all gathered to see me off. Of course, my parents didn’t want me to go, and I could see it in my mother’s forlorn face. But in the end, they supported my decision, though my papá did buy me a round-trip ticket. “Just in case you want to come home, hija,” adding, “It’s never too late to change your mind, tú sabes.”

We took snapshots by the terminal gate. There was my mother, whose eyes glistened with tears, and my father, whose anguish for me simmered just beneath his strained smile, while my siblings joked, teasing me one more time. César, my oldest brother, laughingly warned, “Timber–watch out for the lumberjacks!” Which is how we Medina’s imagined Seattle to be—filled with lumberjack men in plaid flannel shirts, amidst a forest of enormous, felled pine trees.

It was as if I was heading west in a stagecoach and would never see my family again.

As I prepared to board, I turned around one more time to look at them, trying to memorize their faces in that single moment. It was as though I was heading west in a stagecoach—and not in a jet—and would never see my family again. I was Laura Ingalls embarking on a new life. A regular pioneer gal. Only instead of Pa and Ma at my side, it would be G, the man who had once left me for another woman.  We were starting over, the second time around. Westward, ho!

I didn’t know anyone in Seattle but G. I had no friends, no relations, no job, and no bearings. I would be living in his home and dependent on his income while I looked for a job. His car had a manual shift, which I did not know how to use, but what difference did it make?  I had no place to go. Seattle was a long way from my east coast-centric life. I was almost 24 years old and all that was familiar wasn’t here. Westward, ho, indeed.

In fact, my only knowledge of Seattle was that the sky was supposed to be the bluest of all skies. This from an old TV series, Here Come the Brides about three lumberjack brothers, and their lumberjack pals, who were lonely because there were few women in town. So they had them brought in, a bevy of mail-order brides via Pony Express or something like that, and I couldn’t help wonder if history was repeating itself. Anyway, the lyrics of the show’s theme song went like this:

“The bluest sky you’ve ever seen, in Seattle.

And the hills the greenest green, in Seattle.”

And though the sky didn’t look any bluer than the skies back home, the annoying ditty kept going through my head during my first few weeks there.  G met me at the airport and was all smiles, excited to show me what was to be my new home. As we drove to the house he lived in, he pointed out landmarks: Mt. Rainier, Puget Sound and the Space Needle.  No matter where I looked I saw greenery–certainly the “greenest green” as the song indicated–that I felt at once how prominent a role nature must play here in people’s lives, something I’d never given a thought to before. Here, it was impossible to take the abundance of nature for granted, and soon I was mesmerized by the mountains, the dense and unusual foliage—such as the monkey tail trees and foxglove—the deep colors of the bougainvillea, sweet peas and bleeding heart flowers, the steep hills, and the countless bodies of water, visible wherever you turned.

We’d be living in the University District, by the University of Washington, where G was working in a lab, within walking distance of the campus. G was renting a room in a house among a row of similar homes with ample porches and roomy kitchens, though this particular house was located just under a freeway off-ramp. G told me how several months earlier, a bus took the ramp too fast, hurled off and slammed into a neighbor’s backyard. Everyone on the block was shaken by the late night crash and stumbled out of bed to watch the removal of the totaled bus. Luckily, there was no one on board except the driver, and he survived with barely a scrape and a broken rib.

As we approached the street which I would now be calling home, I felt a pang of dread.  As happy as I was to see G, I wasn’t looking forward to meeting my new housemates, Stan and his girlfriend, Jeannette, and, most of all, Marigold, who may or may not have dated G prior to my arrival. I had suspicions but G assured me that he and Marigold were just good friends.  And just like that, brushing aside my unspoken questions, he grabbed my bags from the backseat of the car and led me inside.