Running

I forgot how good it feels to run outside.

Across the city, in perfect shorts-and-a-t-shirt​ weather. To hopscotch around ambling pedestrians, to find quick footing after stumbling curbs. Through bursting lights and Friday-night crowds and a lavender sunset. Up mile-long hills and down five-dozen shallow steps.

Running outside means drinking crisp air, trusting my body, dancing with traffic, becoming the moment around me. It’s forgetting to count miles, forgetting to count steps and breath, forgetting to do anything except exist. It’s an inexplicable pause; I leave home with the heaviest heart, the loudest mind, and without acknowledging any of the facts or worries or hypotheticals, I return with an unwavering answer, with certainty, with quiet. Every time.

Worn sneakers on cracked sidewalks is a lifetime removed from the detached, mechanical repetition of five-thousand steps in the exact same place, from glazed-over eyes begging the digital screen to step outside the construct of time and count minutes and miles faster. It’s a different plane, another dimension, some basal sliver tucked away from a hundred evolutions ago.

And so, in my footfalls, in my miles, in my aching joints and in my soft gaze and in my gulping lungs, I let go of some things.

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Year in review, 2014.

Never before have 12 months transformed me so thoroughly. I’m closing this year a completely different person than the one who started it.

I learned to be okay with leaving some things left unsaid. I learned to cast aside doubt in favor of whole-heartedly honoring the promise I made to myself five years ago to say yes to every opportunity. I learned to take what I need for myself, mostly in the form of time, but sometimes in the form of more espresso shots than I’m comfortable admitting.

In 2014, I spent too many days and nights feeling like I was, incredibly selfishly, on the wrong side of the country. Then I returned to Kansas City and found that I still felt that way. I began to understand the fluidity of the concept of ‘home,’ and how the more we stretch and explore, the harder it becomes to give just one place that distinction. No matter where I go, I will always be homesick for somewhere. I’ve found that to be a blessing; homesickness is a reminder of all the people and places I have loved.

I decided to start being direct. I told people how I felt. I asked for what I needed. I was honest with myself. With my friends. With my coworkers. I think some people prefer the quieter, more accommodating Caitlin. Too bad.

I wrote for myself more. Not by much. But I tentatively tapped out a few blog posts here and there, started digging through feelings and memories and words too-long unused. I stretched creative muscles and remembered that, just like my shoulders ache with tension the day after rock climbing, so too does my heart throb a bit after asking more of it than I have in awhile. I am so glad to have remembered what it feels like to be alive.

I took planes and trains and ferries and cars across prairies and up mountains and through choppy bay waters. I listened to new music and old music and bad music and life-changing music. I didn’t see enough concerts. I reunited with friends who are closer than family and met strangers whom it feels I’ve known forever. I went a little crazy trying to eat every squash I encountered, sampled a dozen incredible coffee shops, climbed every rock wall in my path, and watched one of my dearest friends get married in the most beautiful outdoor wedding on a perfect May afternoon. I made lots of bread. I ate so much falafel. I geocached. I wake boarded and surfed. I finally started mailing things. I finished editing a novel. I went galactic bowling. I met a ten-year internet friend in real life, and it was the best thing ever. In 2014, I went everywhere and did everything.

I wouldn’t change anything.

My 2014 goals were to eat fewer eggs, put my phone away at the dinner table, and to do more: cooking, reading, making, doing, living. The unexpected success of this year with such simple aspirations makes me feel good about my single resolution for 2015: use more limes when cooking.

Let’s go, 2015.

Most recently

River Market Saturday, arms hugged tight around bundles of chives and lemongrass and antiqued treasures, feet rubbed raw and sore from too-new sandals, transparent thighs blushing a light pink in the almost-summer sun, belly swollen with burrito, tomato jerky, strawberry-jalapeño salsa. Content.

A crisper drawer stuffed with raw vegetables, set aside for juicing and smoothies and cut and cold for lunchtime. Home-cooked dinners showered with love and learning and care in each sweet potato chop and red onion tear dripping down my cheek.

Great Lake Swimmers and Johnny Cash after an evening of Broadway music performed by an orchestra I love for its origins and members and history.

Tonight, Kansas City was rich and alive with orange-licked skies that disappeared into a sea of navy speckled with pin holes of light, all reflected spectacularly over the Missouri River.

Today, I bathed in Steinbeck’s descriptions of life next to Monterey Bay, sank deep until just my nostrils and eyeballs peeked out of lukewarm bathwater as I remembered the barbed wire fences and crumbling buildings at the end of the contemporary Cannery Row. Steinbeck and Ben Gibbard and a 408 area code make my heart beat a little faster, make my stomach lurch a little as I long for the West. One year ago, I put aside everything I was certain of and turned to myself for 90 days and 90 nights. I’m still looking for the right words to capture what happened in those sun-blessed days and fitful nights of sterile sheets and an empty bed. I’ve said so much without ever saying it at all.

Art

An hour on the 101 dumped me, exhausted, in front of your building. I left sunny skies and 80 degrees and poolside-lounging for low, bulging clouds and tightly zipped coats. Knocked on your back door, met your girlfriend, touched the books on your shelves. Down a steep hill and we caught the metro at the end of the block. I dug for a crumpled dollar or rogue quarter in my pocket and came up empty-handed and sheepish; you paid for my flimsy paper ticket.

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I exclaimed over buildings and forgot my self-awareness, forgot how naïve, how midwest, I must have sounded to San Francisco ears. Our train clattered past Dolores Park and you talked about girls sunbathing there on cloudless afternoons. A tunnel swallowed us up, leaving the windows black and useless for conversation. I scuffed my Sperrys against plastic ridges underfoot while you fiddled with settings on your camera.

Up, up, up stairs spiked with trash and filth, into scraps of sunshine fighting for space between buildings and clouds. I scurried after you for blocks, trying not to trip over grates or step off a curb into roaring traffic.

At the museum, you gave your name and the desk attendant slid a pair of tickets across the counter without looking up. Long strands of tiny white lights dangled overhead, slipping through patterned light shows that I watched, fascinated. You pushed one of the tickets into my hand, then gestured for me to follow you upstairs.

“Are you sure you don’t mind coming again?” I asked, feeling guilty for turning down your invitation to the exhibit the night before with your writer friend. “You already saw this.”

“Oh, stop. It’s fine.” I followed your quick pace up the stairs, stopping briefly on the second floor to stare at bells that rang when electric currents ran through their long, snaking cords nailed to the wall.

We turned a corner and a two-story tall Cindy Sherman stared down on us, brow furrowed and lips pursed. Hundreds of images of her, young and cigarette-wielding on the seaside, primped as a freshly Botoxed post-menopausal woman, face distorted into a dozen tongues and teeth and bits of garbage.

A seven-year old boy glided past us, pulling on his mother’s hand and speaking rapid-fire French. His jacket had elbow patches and an analog camera dangled around his neck. I nudged your ribcage, “That child is wearing the same outfit as you.”

You stared down at yourself. “Oh. Uhh….” You laughed. “My father is a photographer. When I was that kid’s age, I was dressed pretty much like this.” We both smiled at the child for a moment before strolling into the next room of framed photographs.

We left Cindy, browsed rooms with art I couldn’t understand, televisions flickering with snow and a giant stuffed rat and paper doll collages. We wound up and up through the museum, eventually stepping onto the roof to hunt for Waldo on neighboring rooftops and rest in wire chairs.

Small talk. Awkward talk. I’m never any good at new friends, new topics. You pulled out your camera and took photos of my hot pink jeans.

“That color is fantastic. They’re just fun to photograph.”

I laughed woodenly and pushed my hair behind my ears. Talking to you was so hard—why? Your voice, your words, your movement: familiar, comforting, two-thousand miles from home. And yet I could hardly part my lips, could hardly whisper a syllable. Surely you thought I was an idiot, a bumpkin.

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Coffee, pastries. I made you let me buy your muffin. It was the least I could do. Back underground. Rushing trains, musicians with guitar cases at their feet filled with change, shopping bags over shoulders and yoga mats strapped to backs. We stayed quiet and still on the ride home, shoulders swaying with each jerk of the train car.

We made it back to find your girlfriend’s brother and sister-in-law and nephew about to knock on your door. I shook hands and stayed around for just a moment, a moment too long, as the family settled in together.

“I…should go. Thanks for today. It was good. I needed it.”

You walked me out the back door and around the edge of the building.

‘I’m glad you came. Someone needed to actually take you out up here, otherwise you were going to rot away in San Jose and never see anything good in the city.’ Just before turning back to your home and family, you hugged me, your embrace surprisingly warm and welcoming. All of the words that had tried to bubble out for weeks caught in my heart and lungs and throat. Two-thousand miles, every inch an ache, a sharp jabbing in my soul, and you made me feel like home.

For a moment, in the middle of a lonely, uprooting summer, I felt safe and certain.