My weeks in California with the ex-boyfriend were a source of confusion and derision for my work friends.
I spent an average of two to three nights a week with these guys, sometimes more. Dinner, drinks, mimosa-soaked brunches on weekends that I wasn’t in Eugene, and about once monthly, time spent in the Suicide Girl laden strip clubs of Portland.
About once a quarter, though, I’d get on a plane, or I’d get in my truck, and I’d head south by about twelve hours, navigating the broad ribbon of I-5.
Once again, driving became an escape, and an outlet. I felt trapped until I could win my way to a new title that would let me leave the company, and it manifested partially as a wanderlust and a longing for the broad roads from coast to coast.
This was not an option. My options were to the north, in Seattle, or to the south, in Eugene.
I spent a lot of time in Eugene, but there’s an itch that can only really be scratched for me after six hours in the driver’s seat.
So further south it was.
South. South to Eugene, where sometimes I would spend a happy evening with mordel and karma_debt. South to Grant’s Pass, and over Siskiyou Pass, hoping for no rain and light vehicle traffic.
South, checking for the scrap metal dragon and the bull. The sharp cinder cone of Black Butte pokes up out of green hills in the cloud-dressed shadow of Shasta. South, past the Rogue River rest stop, and around the winding mountain roads, over the lake bridges.
South. The Central Valley is broad and flat, and contains many small farming communities. Rice paddies. Granaries. It contains Davis, where I do not go, and the soft, dull feeling of missing Chris.
North of there, I turn to the southwest, cruising I-405 until finally, after many orchards and few gas stations, I join I-80.
My refuge was the house of the dark man, the nigh-abandoned Spanish Revival home that his grandparents had left for a more elderly-friendly venue. There, moss devoured brick his grandmother’d laid down with the help of Beth, the gardener and close friend. There, the lemon tree put out copious amounts of fruit for the dark man’s limoncello, and quinces for his paste, his jam, and his chutney. I had my own efforts there: I learned to weave wire and stones together into jewelry, and began to learn how to tend to citrus trees.
I would pull in close to our well after midnight. If the dark man wasn’t there, I retrieved the guest key from under the eaves, threw open the sliding glass doors to the garden deck, and breathed in the flower and sea smell of North Berkeley.
If the dark man was there, we’d descend the hill of Thousand Oaks and head into Oakland to eat late night Korean over small bottles of soju and small dishes of kimchi. A few times, I’d pull in late, and we’d devour burritos from a cart and drink beer.
It was something close to heaven, and I figured as long as I could keep doing it, I’d be fine.
I told myself I was on vacation, but in reality what happened was: I told my manager I was working remotely, packed the work laptop with the play laptop, and ended up working twelve hour days at the kitchen table, plowing through french presses.
It was a season of regime change at the Company. A new CEO meant new upper management, and middle management scrambling to make themselves useful to the new way of doing things. A case of timing got me into the line of sight of one of the newer managers in my chain, which got me a pile of process documentation and reporting to do. The break I’d been looking for seemed to be in the offing.
The distractions of the thrice weekly hangovers were a thing that would get in the way of doing actual analysis. Sitting there at a rickety table, I started spending long, intimate sessions with Visio and the content management system. I video conferenced into my meetings at first, and then started pulling management in the department in to run them on days that I was “not working”.
Some of the company got the message that more things needed documenting, that the change management process was no longer a suggestion. My job began to become an actual job. The data center manager conveniently quit shortly after people started looking into the quality of the work he’d been doing.
Something about a complete absence of records was not a good thing to show to new management trying to track down where money was being spent.
I was productive in Berkeley. I hammered out processes for the things I’d be owning, handed off the work I hated, and got excited again - and invested in trying to fix the problems of the department. No was becoming a word with some meaning again, and I was making good headway in pushing operational excellence and responsibility.
Bit by bit, I began to push back the bad habits of the Company. Drinking sessions went down to two a week when I got back into town, and then averaged about one. With some geographical space between me, George, and the other members of the drinking cabal, I found it easy to set boundaries. I let myself believe, gradually, that I was safe, and handling things just fine.
Sometime in March, I went on a road trip further south with the dark man. We went to the aquarium, we wandered a beach in Monterey, we visited his college town, in Santa Cruz.
Sitting in the sunlight in front of a coffee shop, I looked over at him sprawling loose-limbed in his spindly chair.
Drunk on the light and the bright green of the mission hill, I saw him smiling, and, without even thinking about it, fell in love all over again.