I’m in what everybody calls limbo. They ask me what I’m going to do next and I say I don’t know and they say that this is limbo. But I’ve been in limbo for at least seven years if not longer. Limbo probably started when I left Adam and moved overseas to teach English, but it may have started even before that when I got my undergraduate degree in Literature and moved to the country with Adam. The Limbo, from Oregon to Korea back to Oregon and then to California, followed me around like a stray puppy dog. It begged to be noticed and fed and understood. I never understood it, but it wouldn’t go away and here it was being verbally returned to me because everyone else could see it again. For three years I was off the hook. For three years I was back in academia getting my postbacc degree and my masters in fine arts at a small private school off of curvy Lombard St in San Francisco. For three years I studied photography and conceptual art, I got a DUI and I moved three times, and I quit my job at the running shoe store, and I started smoking again, and I became even more of a hermit relying on social media as my contact with the outside world separate from the classroom.
The first of those three years I replaced my obsession with a coworker with a fairly miserable affair with a boy who I was positive was gay. I accused him of being gay and he proved to me that this wasn’t the case, though I later decided he was bi. And after him there was my friend’s boyfriend, but he had assured me that they were broken up and that she had cheated on him. Later he accused me of ruining his life and being the reason she nearly committed suicide on her birthday. After that I was raped. I guess it was a pretty lousy few years. They ended with graduation, and I walked across the old theater stage in a flowery dress, and watched as a boy with a fifth grader’s science project quality MFA show won best in show from our final exhibition, and watched as the main alpha dog of our class got up and gave a ten minute mundane speech about passion and commitment to our practice as artists. Twenty minutes later I was far away from all of the students, and except for an an hour one afternoon a week later to clear out the remaining trash in my studio, I was free and far away from everyone I had blissfully ignored this past year from school. The closest I had made to a friend was a girl who needed a ride to the graduate exhibition the last week.
Undergraduate was somehow a polar opposite experience and yet also very much the same. I was still a hermit, completely flattened over my bed, staring at the ceiling, and hiding from people, stoned and melancholic. That was five years of undergrad. The most outgoing was freshman year in the dorms when I bought a two-cd set of love and kindness meditations and made an intense effort to be sociable and find my clique. I did find them, and we four girls started an online journal called “poop in my butt” and each of us had nicknames of a similar embarrassing nature, and from there we created and dramatized the freshman year experiences for our online readership and for our scrapbooks and our later retellings subsequent years when we split into different houses and boyfriends and branches of friendships. We remained good friends until the very end of undergrad, when two of the girls moved to Portland, and one moved to California and I stayed in the country with Adam. This was when I first decided to be a hermit. Adam told me that I needed to be dead to the world. It was a concept meshed somewhere between Sri Aurobindo and Osho, and further enhanced by my recent class in Middle English Mysticism and the Cloud of Unknowing. I needed to close all my doors and burn all my bridges, and need for nothing, and become detached. And as I burned bridges and cut ties I placed all those cut ties around Adam, and cinched him closer to me, and together we worked and lived and made love and argued and fought for a year, side by side. At the end of the year he said he needed to live alone and I became upset and my restlessness and fear of ending up further entangled with someone who could never imagine marrying me sent me all the way to Korea where I taught children how to speak english better, or at least how to talk about recycling and global warming in english, and how to smile on camera, and conduct an interview from a tree.
In Korea I practiced being a hermit without a boyfriend. I shaved my head and wore a hat to school. I fell into a LOST marathon depression, curbed only by this new passion for photography and LOST and reading. I took bus trips to Seoul. I ran to the center of town and ate street food and bought cheap shirts with english writing on them from the local department stores. When the year was over and my contract completed I backpacked southeast asia, and then I flew back to Oregon and had sex with Adam and returned to this emotional limbo that echoed what I had been living inside. This was the beginning of a more externalized limbo. I no longer looked near marriage. I no longer had close friends or a job that could lead to a career or even made sense (I began working in computer sales and later running shoes). I no longer had a place that really felt like home. From Portland to New Jersey to Berkeley, California, I ran away from one mistake and into another that seemed like a potential something.
There’s nothing nearly so aggravating as someone telling you what you already know, and telling it to you like it’s going to be a great lesson and that this major insight will change your life. Because they don’t know that this is what everyone says. About love. About finding something. About settling down but not settling. That everyone says these things. About it all happening when you least expect it and not to sell out but not to wait and not to expect too much. Everyone says these contradictory things and they are all stemming from what we’ve told through contradictions of dreams and reality our whole lives.
School ended for the last time and my parents came to watch my graduation. The one boy I had thought was cute in our whole 100-person class said hello in the long warehouse hall the last day I cleaned my last pile of photos and frames from the studio. He said Hi and I said Hello as a Bye and Goodbye, and that was the end of a chapter. I even said as much on Facebook: “This is the end of a chapter” and my friend asked what was next and if I might return to Portland. I joked that the weather was better and that the people were too, and from that my crazy cousin lost her mind again and de-friended me. Is that even a real word? So another bridge burned, a flimsy one made of old twine that needed to go and fall into the river and be washed away along with the pretentious boys from my class and the timid professors and the spaced out narcissists.
Limbo is a series of fragments and distractions. It’s procrastination and moments of intense awareness and truth. It’s loneliness and clarity and desire. It’s little moments where you forget where you are and stare at a little green bug for fifteen minutes. It’s mistakes. It’s sleeping with a boy you met from the internet and wanting so bad for it to be destiny and getting mad when you know it isn’t. It’s panicking when all of the general goals you had are finished and not knowing where or how to create a new goal. It’s sitting over the sunset. It’s fearing meeting someone else who will try to cut all your ties and burn all your bridges and consume you completely. It’s realizing that there are no bridges left to burn. That’s one Limbo anyway. That’s my Limbo.
I moved to Calaveras County. Every American knows the name Calaveras. You may not remember why but you do. It’s from a short story by Mark Twain, The Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County. If you go to the little town of Angels Camp you’ll see plaques from all the winning frogs who jumped the farthest distance each year. The whole historic downtown is covered in them. The town I moved to is even smaller. It’s covered in wine tasting rooms and clovers instead. Clovers are painted on the street like little Irish emblems. People come to get drunk and sit and enjoy the sunset over glasses of wine and tapas. I moved to a hilltop looking over the vineyards. This isn’t a story about being in Limbo, but a story of moving to a small town three hours east of San Francisco.
Irma helped Buttercup farms find this house. She said she found the house and it was basically her house and she would be damned if anyone would steal it from her. She didn’t really say it like that. She smiled and looked at me condescendingly. She’s tall so she looked down at me and told me about he previous tenants who nearly ruined it. She was worried about my cat. “We’ve never had a cat here before. Your dog is okay but your cat has to stay in your room.” “But she’s an outside cat most of the time. She liked to go in and out.” “You have to keep her in your room and take her out yourself.” I opened the window a crack. At 5:30 in the morning she woke me eyes wide in panic. There was a grey wolf she said, and it had something in its mouth. “Is your cat inside??” “I don’t know. What time is it?” I went back to bed and my cat came in the window half an hour later. It had been a coyote. Two coyotes actually. An owl was hooting. Or maybe it was a dog howling. It was hard to tell. Maybe it was a coyote. I couldn’t sleep.
Irma went back to her husband and her actual house in Oakland. She would be back again a few days later to check up on everything. For the farm. For her house. She wanted to make sure everything wasn’t ruined. But I spent these days alone in solitary bliss. I swatted mosquitoes. I drank beer and watched shows and got a P.O. box and a bottle of expensive red wine that smelled like blackberries.
If you walked around at night with all of the lights turned off you could see Saturn and Mars and the sky looked like a giant black wall speckled with white paint. It looked a little like my old studio floor, and I downloaded an app for the stars and tried to learn their names. I unpacked my keyboard and guitar and record player and surrounded myself with music. I practiced with violin and the harmonica. I studied french. Mom called and asked me when I was going to find a real job. She got excited when I applied to the Pentagon as a reporter and got an email that I was qualified and might hear back. “Tell them your parents were in the military. Did you tell them that?” “When would I have told them that? On my resume?” “Whenever you can, it will help you. Tell them about your dad’s experience with the CIA.” They emailed me the next day and said the position had been filled. I ordered a telescope and bought a state parks pass. I took my dog up to the Sierras and hiked. I bought a peanut butter cupcake.
31 years old. This is when everyone I know is sharing baby pictures on Facebook. This is when I’m no longer a child but not really considered an adult. The old lady still looked down on me and frowned when I asked to redecorate. “I just want to put up my old paintings.” “Where?” I waved at all of the walls in my room. She took down the little cliche flower her husband had photographed and grimaced. “Well, that’s alright. But this is a trial period. I don’t know if you’ll be staying here. I don’t know if you’ll want to. Don’t do too much.” I took down the other flower and stored it in the closet with the ironing board. I hung the painting of the Alhambra, and the painting of the little girl with the cello. I vacuumed the worms and spiders off the carpet in all the corners. I dusted the bathroom. The mess apparently didn’t stop after the last tenants left, but Irma’s hip replacements made it hard to bend over and maybe she didn’t know about all of the worms and spiders and dust. I threw the trash out at the carwash. I left all of my extra books and clothes in the barn.
Murphys, the town of wine and clovers, was first started in 1848 by the Murphy brothers who came to mine for gold. One brother made nearly 2 million in gold and left to marry and become the sheriff of San Jose. The town burned down three times. The gold disappeared. Vineyards popped up around the valley. The first nobel prize winner in Physics was born. Mark Twain visited. Hells Angels camped out. Outlaws stayed. The town had character and wine and art and culture. Little Murphys with pastel sunsets and a haunted hotel.